Bizarro Back Issues: Omega Red And His MUTANT DEATH FACTOR!!! (1992)
If you’re a regular reader of the Bizarro Back Issues column, then you may have realized that I’ve been reading through some of the “classic” ’90s X-Men stories lately. A few weeks ago, I broke down the mind-boggling saga of Gambit’s ex-wife and Ghost Rider fighting the Brood, but a few months before that there was another milestone that was far more important to the X-Men: The introduction of Arkady Rossovich, better known as Omega Red.
You know, the weird communist tentacle monster that wouldn’t shut up about his MUTANT DEATH FACTOR!!. I miss you so much, The ’90s.I don’t think it’s the same for people who were even a few years older or younger, but for people that are around my exact age, Omega Red was a pretty important figure. I have friends who cite him as one of the few characters that they are legitimately afraid of, and while that’s not quite my experience, I definitely remember him being a pretty big deal. For me, it all probably comes down to his action figure, which had retractable tentacles made of pure carbonadium (or, you know, white plastic) that you could use to swing Wolverine around while Gambit got into position for power kick action.
Really, though, he’s one of those perfectly ’90s characters, designed with everything he needs to appeal to twelve year-olds and absolutely nothing beyond that. He looks like an albino samurai, he has whips for hands, he’s got a cool name that doesn’t actually mean anything — although it honestly makes me wonder why Marvel didn’t counteract all those different Lantern Corps by introducing Omegas Black, Blue, Green, Fuschia and Mauve — and best of all, the DEATH FACTOR. Which, again, is kind of just a fancy way of saying that he drains your life force, but it sounds like the opposite of Wolverine’s healing factor, and that’s enough to make him seem like an unstoppable badass.
And when he first shows up, it’s a pretty big deal. His appearance spans four issues that are plotted and drawn by Jim Lee, with the first half scripted by X-Men architect John Byrne and the second handed off to Professional Comic Book Writer Scott Lobdell. It brings in a ton of stuff, fills in pieces of Wolverine’s mysterious past, and introduces a whole bunch of brand new villains.
It also starts with a giant picture of a naked albino.
A few things about this sequence before we move on:
1) There sure are a lot of dudes in ’90s comics that have Wolverine’s hairstyle, which is odd since it is a coif that has never actually appeared in nature.
2) If those wisps of smoke are meant to hide Omega Red’s “carbonadium tentacle” in order to make sure this thing could still be approved by the Comics Code, then Arkady’s genitals are positioned in a weirdly high spot on his crotch.
Congratulations: You now know more about Omega Red’s ding-dang than you did five minutes ago.
While a living communist super-weapon is being brought out of whatever kind of storage they keep communist super-weapons in (see also: Rocky IV), the X-Men are doing what the X-Men always do when they’re between storylines: SPORTS!
In this case, it’s basketball, which I assume was a slap in the face to Chris Claremont, whose preferred recreational activity for the X-Men was softball. It’s canon. Also worth noting is Rogue’s recreational attire, which consists of an off-the-shoulder tank top worn over a skintight catsuit with long gloves and thigh-high boots.
That ensemble, however, pales in comparison to the one that we get once Lee introduces the villains behind the Omega Redsurrection: Andrea and Andreas von Strucker, collectively known as Fenris:
Seriously, y’all: A hot pink minidress with an inverted exclamation point cleavage window, a blue fur-collared trenchcoat, and thigh-high open-toed dominatrix boots held up by a garter belt made of chains. That s**t is so fierce that I think this may actually be the first appearance of twerking in a Marvel comic. It’s no wonder that Lee just basically swapped out blonde for brunette a few years later when it came time to design Ivana Baiul for Gen13, because why even try to improve on that level of perfection?
Eventually, after a bunch of stuff involving Moira McTaggart that I am medically incapable of caring about and Gambit’s thirtieth attempt in six issues to charm his way into the bone zone with Rogue (complete with the thirtieth instance of Rogue angrily explaining her powers for the benefit of the kids in the back), half of the X-Men are ambushed by the von Struckers’ goons and we start getting into the action.
But first, it’s another great appearance of Cyclops, the X-Men’s Boring Dad!
“No time for Levity, PSYLOCKE.” Oh Cyclops. Of all the Scott Summerses, you’re the Scott Summersest.
There’s a daring rescue where dudes jump out of a plane and bust up cars with their fists and eye-beams (a sentence that accurately describes about 85% of comics published between 1991 and 1995), in which we learn that Wolverine was wearing his full costume under his clothes. Sadly, those ceramic epaulets were not enough to keep him from being dragged off by Fenris and locked up in a tangle of wires:
Hey, here’s a fun game: Let’s take a closer look at Andrea in these two panels that are right next to each other on the same page.
The ’90s: Because looking at what you’ve already drawn and then drawing the same thing is for grandpas, bro.
I’m willing to forgive Jim Lee’s artistic inconsistencies though, (or at least this one particular artistic inconsistency from 20 years ago; every thing else is still fair game), because as Wolverine is hanging there, a mysterious new characters is climbing through the air vents like a masked John McClane, getting ready to say one of the greatest things that anyone has ever said:
Be advised that from now on, I will now be looking for any and all opportunities to say “I’m gonna remix this little party” whenever I can.
Said remixing involves un-bondaging Wolverine and letting him snikt out on his assailants, and in a lesser and/or more coherent story, that would be that. Here, it just leads into Wolverine having some flashbacks, getting Death Factored a little bit, and eventually being shouted at by Maverick, who threatens to replace Shatterstar, Cable and ADAM X THE X-TREME as the most ’90s dude of all time:
Maverick! Those others may have more legitimate claims to the throne, but between the cybernetic leg armor, the crotch harness, the bee-pattern mask that lets his hair flow free, a gun so improbable that two banana clips feed into a single rectangular lazer barrel and ties to Wolverine’s Mysterious Past™, I’m shocked that he didn’t just wink out of existence on January 1, 2000.
Wolverine is so paralyzed by Maverick-induced sepia-toned flashbacks that he ends up re-bondaged (remix to the remix!) and we’re pretty much back where we started. But just in case this story wasn’t quite Wolverine-centric enough at this point, the X-Men show up and get Death Factored (which, despite the name, utterly fails to inflict any actual death), followed quickly by Sabretooth. With five different villains and Maverick (who remains unaffiliated), I imagine it goes without saying that this whole thing turns into a mess, but there’s a pretty nice fake-out where Psylocke uses her powers to run a con on the bad guys, setting them up for a jump kick that last long enough for a truly impressive amount of Scott Lobdell’s Professional Comic Book Writing:
Ah yes. She psionically convinced him that he actually released his death-inducing ability. That explains it.
From that scene, which might be the only time that a lady ninja fights a tentacle monster in a comic and it doesn’t end exactly the way you expect it will, the tide turns. The bad guys are roundly trounced, Psylocke stabs Andrea in the head with her psychic knife (you know, the focused totality of her psionic powers?), Maverick shoots some dudes, Wolverine uses his safeword and claws up Omega Red, and the X-Men show up to solve their problems in the usual way: Dramatic poses with lots of talking and rubble that obscures everyone’s feet.
And yet, we’re left with so many questions. Who is Maverick? What other horrors from Wolverine’s past are waiting for revenge? And, perhaps most importantly, how have we gone 21 years since this comic was published without “All adamantium and atttitude” appearing on a t-shirt that I own?