Talking The Omega Men with Tom King
The Omega Men are back in an all-new series! They’ve murdered White Lantern Kyle Rayner and now, the universe wants them to pay! What do you do after the entire galaxy watches you do when the universe sees such an act? Who are these intergalactic criminals – and is there more to their actions than meets the eye? murder the White Lantern Kyle Rayner? Run.
Launched as part of the latest initiative by DC Comics, The Omega Men is written by Tom King with fantastic art by Barnaby Bagenda.
We got a chance to talk to King about the series’ influence as well as how his employment history plays a part.
Graphic Policy: Thanks so much for doing this! Lets just dive into the questions. The series launched with the Omega Men beheading Kyle Rayner with a nod to ISIS/Al Qaeda. Why start with that? That’s a pretty shocking real world thing to kick a series off with.
Tom King: My favorite science fiction is the science fiction grounded in real world events. I of The Forever War being a Vietnam metaphor. And this is what we see every day. This is what we’ve been seeing every day for 20 years. This is what my generation think of in their mind when they think of the most horrible violence and I wanted to bring that into a science fiction tale. To do the best things that science fiction does which is stretch normalcy into fiction until it becomes truth.
GP: Sci-fi has an amazing history of reflecting real world politics and society. I can’t think of another genre that does it quite as well. What is it about sci-fi that lends itself to be able to be able to discuss issues that other genres really can’t
TK: I wouldn’t go that far… If you look at Game of Thrones which is a fantasy series, that’s all about our modern paranoia and power sharing. Other genres do that just as well. But, even you an look at romantic stories. Look at Pride and Prejudice, which is a commentary on 18th Century England morals. I do think the genre in general, can confront issues because people don’t want authors to rant and rave about their own political views. I thought that interesting, and what’s science fiction is for. I think what an author’s purpose is, is to reveal the deeper truth which can’t be said explicitly through story from Homer to the Bible, to beyond. That’s the point of fiction, there’s some things you can’t quite get at, and that’s what we’re supposed to do. I think science fiction does that fairly well because it allows you to escape into a different world so you relax a bit.
GP: It really comes out in the second issue that one man’s terrorist is another’s revolutionary. How much of each side are we going to see and exploring that concept as a whole?
TK: I mean, it’s important to know the Omega Men aren’t Al Qaeda, they’re not ISIS, the evil empire we have here, the Citadel, are not America or Britain. But, what we’re doing is using hyperbole, we’re using extremes to get at something. These are rebels, this is the revolution. The American Revolution. The French Resistance. These are resistance fighters around the world. They’re willing to do anything to win because the enemy will also do anything to win. In the latest issue we see something I stole from the what the Nazis did in Yugoslavia. The Omega Men had a victory, they killed 39 soldiers, and the Citadel says “that’s fine, we have a deal if you kill 39 of ours we kill 100 to 1 for each one.” So 3,900 people. That’s asymmetrical warfare, and that’s what the book is about.
GP: Thank you for bringing that up. I read that and it seemed familiar as far as history. I just couldn’t place it.
TK: Heh, oh that horrible thought I never want to think about again… eh, I’ll put it in a book.
GP: You have a fascinating background working with the CIA as part of their counter terrorism unit. How much of your background and experience will we see in the book?
TK: Sure, I was an operations officer in the counter terrorism center for the CIA for about 7 years. I was just one of those guys that after 9/11 I tried to do something. And in terms of what I bring… I can’t and won’t talk about anything operationally relevant, a sources and methods sort of thing. Not only because I don’t want to get in trouble, but I still have friends that are there, and really believe in what I did, and I was really proud of it. I consider it a betrayal. That said, I can bring my experiences of emotional content. Being in a place where religions are clashing, where things seem primarily true to different people, and the idea of being in a situation where things should be black and white, and nothing is.
GP: I too wanted to join the CIA after 9/11. They didn’t want me, so I went to work on the Hill instead.
TK: I was shocked when they accepted me. I was a philosophy major, I don’t know what happened. I kept going up the line, and was like “ok I’ll come to the next meeting.”
GP: The Omega Men have quite a history with DC Comics, how much did you know before?
TK: I read it here and there. Like Alan Moore had written two short stories, I studied those like the Zapruder film they were so amazing. I read the first 13 issues, which are pretty amazing. They’re a fairly obscure property, but were pretty revolutionary too for the time too. That was the early 80s when comics were they realized they could grow with their audience, and The Omega Men was one of the first titles where they realized that they’d show you something a bit more adult. It was a big step for comics at the time.
GP:The group reminds me of peacekeepers where the UN (the Lantern Corps) can’t/won’t go. There’s some vibes I get of Syria right now. Are there events and locations your drawing from as far as inspiration?
TK: Absolutely. Yeah, the Omega Men exist in this world that’s six systems, six different planets. Each is drawn from a metaphor. So far we haven’t seen much of them, but you’ll see more as we move forward. The current is the people are treated as servants and the rich people go and served as the poor people. An obvious metaphor for quite a few locations right now.
GP: That stuck out to me about the second issue. This diplomat shows up and the first thing he’s focused on is tea. Very much an aloof haves/have not aspect of it all.
TK: That’s a main bad guy, a Darth Vader type guy named the Viceroy. He’s based on the worst aspects of myself in that role. There’s a thing when you go overseas, and I don’t mean this badly, you sort of adopt other people’s culture and master it better than they have. I tried to put it into that character. It’s a dangerous feeling, sort of haunted the British Empire, back home you’re a normal person, but when you find yourself in India and find your money can go so far, you have 4,000 servants, you start seeing yourself as a king. That is arrogant for that character.
GP: The covers play off the propaganda aspect, whose idea was that?
TK: That comes from Trevor Hutchinson, an Australian graphic designer. It was an organic thing, I don’t remember who said it first. He’s known for retro propaganda posters, he had done some famous Transformer comics that were amazing. So we said “propaganda” and he came back with this scrawled Omega Men thing, and we said what if the word “Omega Men was illegal” and the concept of putting it on a poster. All the first 12 will be propaganda posters with graffiti on them.
GP: How tied will we see the comic to other series? Is it self contained?
TK: For the first 12 issues, it’s fairly self-contained. It takes place in the DC universe. Stuff in the DC universe can and will have impact on this. But, what we wanted to do was tell one complete story like a novel with a beginning, middle, and end for the first 12 issues. That makes the stakes high, where people can live and die. That has meaning. The next 12 is planned, and a bit wider spread.
GP: There’s a lot with Kyle and his religion in this second issue, he’s reciting prayers, why show that aspect? It’s not something I think of usually for that character.
TK: It’s not a traditional thing, so a little of me putting on it. The character is half Mexican, and Catholic. And he comes from that culture. That’s a culture that prides itself on religious fate. The book is about religion and religious fate. The theme of the second issue is prayer, I thought it’d be interesting that when he’s waking up his first words were an old memory of a Spanish prayer, the Prayer of the Guardian Angel it’s called. And so, it was appropriate for a Green Lantern who are the Guardian Angels of the galaxy. By the end of the issue he says another prayer which comes from his vocation instead of his religion. I wanted to make a contrast between those two moments of what comes to him instinctively versus what he thinks will save him.
GP: In this issue, symbols is also important. You have the cross throughout and then what Kyle does at the end. Is it another theme that plays throughout the series?
TK: That’s a huge theme of the book. The symbol of the Omega… the idea we worship the beginning and ending of life. The idea of the symbols between those and what it means for these characters will run throughout the whole thing. There’s all sorts of hidden Easter eggs related to that. The omega symbol will be powerful throughout. I’ll give you this one, when you take a 52 and scrunch it together, it looks like an omega.
GP: Anything else before we wrap up?
TK: Grayson #9 was out last week, the first trade is out, check it out. It’s the best thing ever.