Omega: The Unknown #6 (of 10):
This one's really found its level, I've gotta say. Even when it draws close to being too cute, it has a habit of slowly, cleverly backing away. Hell, it's got a Watcheresque character who doubles as a Harry Naybors-like in-story critic ("The Overthinker," haw), but it somehow comes off as more a playful tribute than anything. This issue kicks off the second half of the series, and brings with it a few new locales and some character development, but what really caught my eye was a shitload of doubling going on.
Some of it is really obvious - in the first three pages, we've got two funereal splash pages, one for boy hero(?) Alex and the other for sly superhero The Mink, each of them helpfully bearing their own tone-setting title. Alex's ("Omega the Unknown, Chapter Six") is straightforward and dispassionate, while Mink's ("The Unparalleled Mink in: Night Hideous") is kitschy and overcooked, seemingly a put-on. Writer Jonathan Lethem ("with" Karl Rusnak) risks overstating some fairly obvious differences between the characters, but the dimension given to both does hold some interest; Alex can't function properly in front of grieving parents without telling lies, while artist Farel Dalrymple (with colorist Paul Hornschemeier) suggests a genuine rage inside Mink, in spite of his rampant playacting for ever-present cameras.
There's also one of those familiar sequences in which the action stops for a few comic-within-the-comic pages, rendered in a simpler style (here by Hornschemeier). I've read enough Alan Moore to kinda never want to see this stuff ever again, but this issue is clever enough to make the contemporary Mink superhero comic pretty moody and sexual -- moreso than the actual story! -- playing up the perceived absurdity of merchandise-ready costumed characters drinking heavily and leaving the bedroom unhappy, while also maybe revealing some things about Mink that the showman himself could never say in public. The fiction is silly for its misplaced maturity, but Lethem (with Rusnak) also positions it as potentially honest in a way that a more detatched, less embarrassing type of 'realism' can't manage.
Feel free to compare it to Alex's double-page splash of robot doodles, a second bit of art reflecting personal concerns. It also brings me back to last issue's neato fight scene, with onlookers trying to identify the participants from what comics they've read, and going so far as to extrapolate their intents. It's an old Marvel trope that the superheroes have their own comic books going, and its nice to see that stuff brought back in a thoughtful way (and it allows for Gary Panter to show up next issue!).
Of course, the nanotech plague is also spreading, which means Mink also gets compared to his own right hand, which has sprouted legs and is already acting far more superheroic than Mink himself, in that it commands the love of nanotech zombie hordes and shows some interest in bulking up for... a future issue. I'm trying to resist getting too far into my reading, since I suspect that a lot of things are going to be kept unclear until the very end (and, honestly, probably beyond), but I wonder if the zombies aren't acting as wicked forces of normalcy, joining Alex, Mink and taciturn Omega (who's kind of Alex's future, naturally) in their oddness? Even the book's world seems very anti-Marvel, with dramatic deaths taking place either off-panel or in an utterly unexciting way... will it face an incursion of action?
Er, anyway, it's has developed into a nice, low-key superhero/weird mystery series. I'm glad a lot of the scenery has shifted to university eccentricity, since Lethem (with Rusnak) seems a lot comfier with that than city high school bullies; a lot of that oppressed nerd material was too arch for me, and its dramatics mixed poorly with the series' tendency for understatement. But this issue is VERY GOOD, and I'm really looking forward to the rest.