A look at Jonathan Lethem's new comic ''Omega: The Unknown.'' Plus: the exploits of a chocolate investigator, an astronaut dog, and a badass librarian

By EW Staff
Updated October 03, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT

Jonathan Lethem goes graphic

Jonathan Lethem (with Karl Rusnak) and Farel Dalrymple
At the very least, the comics debut of geek-friendly author Lethem (The Fortress of Solitude) is certainly intriguing. Omega — a reboot of a trippy-smart ’70s series steeped in reflective post-’60s ennui — tells the tale of Titus Alexander Island, who ain’t like other teenagers. And we’re not just talking about his innate intelligence, worldly innocence, and awkward name. Island’s got robot parents, a mute superhero bodyguard, and alien assassins that want him dead. And then there’s his super-powered stigmata, shaped like the Greek letter Omega. What the hell?! Exactly. FOR FANS OF… Michael Allred’s Madman; Daniel Clowes’ Eightball; Michael Chabon’s Escapist. DOES IT DELIVER? The original Omega was a forerunner of today’s writer-driven comics. Filled with bombastic musings about Big Ideas and seasoned with counter-culture spunk, it definitely wanted to say something. Collaborating with acclaimed alt-comics artists Dalrymple (Pop Gun War) and Paul Hornschemeier (Mother, Come Home) — who, respectively, serve up stylishly primitive DIY pics and sophisticated, melancholy colors — Lethem honors the soul and legacy of his predecessors with a sensibility that’s resolutely indie. What remains to be seen, though, is if Lethem is as interested in using the superhero lexicon to address the larger culture. Ultimately, it will be the difference between an Alpha-grade achievement or a Beta-ranked homage. B+Jeff Jensen

David Yurkovich
Agent Swete is a detective made of living, breathing chocolate. His tales — written and drawn by Yurkovich since 1994 — are collected in this Redux. Eventually, Swete is recruited into the FBI’s ”Food Crimes Division.” The best of the stories by far is the X-Files-ish ”The Metabolators.” Here, the title characters are a trio of World War II-era scientific experiments-gone-awry; they turn an entire small town into chocolate and must be stopped. In this black-and-white collection, Yurkovich frequently frames white figures against black backgrounds — the effect is starkly dramatic. His drawings have an uneven style: sometimes intentionally sketchy and cartoony, at other points ravishingly, gruesomely realistic. FOR FANS OF… Film noir; dark chocolate. DOES IT DELIVER? It delivers so copiously that, if anything, you’ll go into sugar shock. Yurkovich squeezes every pun, joke, and allusion out of his organizing metaphor. At a certain point, you wish he’d excise lines like ”death by chocolate” and milk these rich crime stories for all they’re worth. B
Ken Tucker

Nick Abadzis
Fifty years ago, the Soviet Union became the first country to send a living creature into space — Laika, an abandoned puppy fated to carry out a one-way mission. British author Abadzis weaves fact with fiction to chronicle this crucial moment in history through the eyes of the engineer heading up the Russian program, the lab assistant responsible for the canine’s care, and of course, the sweet-but-scrappy dog herself. Her mission made for powerful propaganda, while her death sparked a global debate on animal rights. FOR FANS OF… Joe Sacco’s graphic novel Palestine; Old Yeller. DOES IT DELIVER? Laika is a true testament to the storytelling power of graphic novels. Abadzis’ impressive research (he combed through Russian state archives) could have been a bore. But combined with the heartbreaking history he imagined for Laika and the humanity she summoned in the humans around her, Abadzis’ efforts make for a surprisingly powerful tale. B+Abby West

James Turner
Turner’s hero, Rex Libris, a thick-bodied librarian with a distaste for overdue books, has all the muscle (and weaponry) of a debt collector. Born in Ancient Greece, Rex has worked as a member of the ”respected caste of librarians” for centuries, enough time to study up on vanquishing evil samurai demons and delinquent alien children. Now stationed in the present, at the info desk of Middleton Public Library — a suburban book house with a bird-headed branch administrator claiming to be a lesser god from antiquity — Rex splits his time between shelving books and trading blows with library-card-eschewing demons. FOR FANS OF… History; Princeton Review vocabulary builders (betcha don’t know what sesquipedalian means). DOES IT DELIVER? Maybe for disgruntled librarians with bloodlust and an extended lunch break. But for the rest of us, the book’s tendency to ramble — exacerbated, no less, by frequent interruptions from a caricatured book editor — make I, Librarian a lumbering read. Illustrated in black and white and grey, this cumbersome farce is, in fact, about as colorful as a dusty old library. C?Fred McKindra