Tony Fyler has a big O.
The O Men collected volumes being promoted as part of Titan Comics’ #bestbritcomics season are a journey through the early career of writer-artist Martin Eden. Volume 1 is about as early as it gets – the ‘origin story’ of the O Men, but in a way that origin stories have seldom been done before. It takes a bunch of flawed and in some cases seriously messed up people who have superpowers, and it doesn’t exactly fling them together as give them an extra day job on top of trying to make a living and a life in the real world. What’s more, there’s a ragged relationship with previous incarnations of superhero teams – Doctor O *cough, cough, Professor X with hair, a beard and working legs* is trying to cobble the O Men together out of remnants of a previous incarnation called Psi Squad, some of whom have family relationships to the ‘original’ superhero team, the UK Ultra Knights (UKUK?). It’s all a little muddy and confused at the start, and the black and white, fairly raw artwork doesn’t help keep tabs on a cast of superheroes about as numerous as The Watchmen (or come to that, The Avengers). Unless you’re really concentrating, it’s actually quite easy to get lost in terms of which male is which hero, and which female has which powers. So – running before you can walk syndrome, then?
Not really. The writing itself is more than engaging enough, and it does the thing that modern comic books are all about – it grows up the idea of the Spandex-wearing superpeople and makes them deal with real life. There are also at least three really rather well delivered supervillains here, each with a different modus operandi and a very different mindset, as the still loose group that will become the O Men battle psycho-bitch from Hell, Blackie, creepy rage-meister Frenzy (this, of the three, being the most solidly interesting concept of evil, especially in competition with his own brother and sister) and back-from-the-dead ex-Ultra Knight Anathema – because after all, every superhero-team-building know-it-all deserves a solid dose of Ultimate Heart-Ripping-Out Enemy to kick their ass and make them whimper. That’s almost what comic-books are for, isn’t it?
Along the way of Volume 1 with its three – or technically four (spoilers) supervillains, there are plenty of ‘real life’ entanglements – one hero’s partner leaves them because she has HIV (not entirely sure how that works, but OK), and much heartbreak and moodiness follows, one couple with longstanding issues find their love again – or do they? There’s confusion, betrayal, broken friendships, secret agency (Miss Scarlet, the secret stalker in question, being one of the greatest strengths both on the team and in the book – a kick ass Black Widow type, with vampiric tendencies and an ability to do, apparently, literally anything, or conjure anything she needs out of thin air simply by saying it). There’s a healthy dollop of backstory too, including incestuous crowd-avatar-based sibling rape (which is the sort of thing you can expect when you have two brothers and a sister who each feed off a specific emotional resonance in others, from love to rage to pain), and more than one reunion, including one of people we’ve never met before, but had referenced to us in early, info-dump-heavy panels. What there isn’t, really, is much of a sense of leavening in Eden’s work, which comes as a surprise from the man who, in Issue #1 of his sort-of-partly-but-not-quite sequel series, Spandex, gave us the Attack of the Fifty Foot Lesbian. But as we said, this collection represents the very early stages of a journey through his work – Eden first began working on The O Men while still at university, and revivified them when he later arrived in the commercial world, so there’s a sense of relatively youthful ‘take me seriously’ determination in both the storytelling and the artwork here. But if the plethora of characters and abilities is a little perplexing in the black and white panels, and the artwork has a ‘talented homespun’ feel to it, rather than a slick professionalism, what’s definitely in evidence here is a mind thinking about superheroes, and real people, and how the two can be the same thing in a complicated, emotionally uncertain world.
Check out The O Men Volume 1 to get in on the ground floor of a series arc of a diverse, indisputably British set of modern superheroes, and immerse yourself in a kind of This Life With Superpowers world.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk