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'Omni' #1 review: A smart new chapter in the ongoing H1 saga

Comic Books

‘Omni’ #1 review: A smart new chapter in the ongoing H1 saga

Dr. Cecelia Cobbina is the cure for bland superhero comics.

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Yeah Boy!: It’s safe to say I’m AiPT’s unofficial expert in all things H1. Thus far, Humanoids’ new superhero universe has offered up some rather entertaining titles: Ignited, a slow-moving drama about superhero teens and a school shooting, and the espionage rom-com that is Strangelands. Now, though, the imprint arrives at something of a personal high point with Omni, written by Devin Grayson (duh) and art by Alitha E. Martinez (Batgirl, Iron Man). The premise is simple enough: while working for Doctors Without Borders in Africa, Dr. Cecelia Cobbina gains super intelligence, using her newfound abilities to try and solve the mystery of the Ignited. But it’s within that framework that some really exciting developments start to occur.

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'Omni' #1 review: A smart new chapter in the ongoing H1 sagaCool Power, Yo: One of the most essential elements to the H1 universe is its realism (or, at least realistic enough given the hyperbolic nature of comics). And one of the most effective channels for that mission statement are characters’ various powers. Even compared to the fairly realistic powers in Ignited and Strangelands, Cobbina’s powers earn the vote for “Most Likely To Occur (But Still Won’t, Duh).” That’s because they’re based on Gardner’s 9 intelligence types, which touch on everything from intrapersonal connections and an understanding of the natural world to savvy in language and music. Cobbina is depicted as seeing colored thought bubbles for each type, providing otherworldly insight that, when pieced together, lets her diagnose people, diffuse situations, or basically solve any problem she faces.

It’s not some deus ex machina thing; Cobbina pulls from all of her knowledge and observations to react, albeit with inhuman speed and efficiency. It seems like a minor point, but this power is going to do a lot of heavy lifting — for the basic narrative, for helping readers understand Cobbina’s desires and influences, and for expanding the scope of the universe. It’s just another testament to how much thought went into H1, and how little elements are so important for telling a great story within a dynamic universe.

Not Too Shabby: As far as debut issues go, it’s hard to say whether or not Omni had the better beginning compared to its predecessors. On the one hand, #1 feels more efficient than the previous two titles, and we jump right into the action before flashbacks help flesh out the larger story. By the end of issue #1, we know a bit about Cobbina’s family life (she and her sister, who is also a doctor, have a great dynamic that should prove essential down the line) in addition to her Ignition story, what she’s doing in the journey for a “diagnosis,” and even the sort of person she is in the face of these groovy powers. That’s a lot in just 20-ish pages, and Greyson’s keeping the pace moving to help highlight the essential bits without getting bogged down in the art of universe- and character-building.

At the same time, there’s a lot trying to be done in this  issue, and just such an approach may not be as effective in subsequent issues. Which is to say, there’s going to be a point where the narrative is advanced enough that their simply may not be room to get across all the emotional goodness or social commentary, and if there is, there just may not be enough material for everything to be all that impactful. But for now, the rapid-fire approach works, and Omni doesn’t pander to audiences with hand-holding as it runs headlong into a great story.

'Omni' #1 review: A smart new chapter in the ongoing H1 saga

A Helping Hand (Or Two): What does every superhero need? No, not a giant penny in a secret base — sidekicks! Cobbina actually has two: Antony, aka Phaze, who can, well, phase through matter, and her assistant, Mae Walters. Phaze is cool enough, but it’s Walters that’s really exciting for the series as a whole. She basically fills the role of Jimmy Olsen, that wide-eyed, annoyingly optimistic friend who wants to support and empower Cobbina as she learns to become a superhero, going so far as creating a web comic depicting the good doctor’s adventures. Even in just one issue, Mae feels like the nougaty core of emotion, someone to help ground Cobbina’s super intelligence and remind her perhaps not of her humanity (Cobbina seems to be clinging desperately to that sentiment) but the fact that she’s transcended us mere mortals for a higher calling.

As part of that whole dynamic, it feels like Omni is exploring some very meta ideas surrounding superheroes. Like, how Walters is creating an actual comic, or Cobbina’s insistence on “no capes.” H1 is meant to be as realistic as possible, and by exploring the very confines and archetypes of the medium, the creative team’s having a little fun while also making readers question their own basic assumptions of superhero comics. Through that, we may begin to dismantle stereotypes and tropes and better understand what it is that makes a superhero in 2019.

The Brilliant Beating Heart: I believe that Martinez’s art — not mention Bryan Valenza’s coloring — deserves some attention at the close. On its own, the artwork is engaging, this brilliant mix of gritty realism and minor fantasy that drives the narrative goal without foregoing the playfulness we expect from big superhero titles. But more than anything, the art falls in line with the other titles, fostering that shared universe and creating the sense that this is all one grand story. And that’s a really important point: Omni thus far feels like the title that could help ground its brethren while also helping to push forward H1’s larger objectives and overall output. It’s still early enough, but this series feels like the perfect final entry, that thing that sheds light on the previous titles and helps set the way for the path toward larger, more decisive storytelling. It doesn’t take a genius to see there’s something great a brewin’.

'Omni' #1 review: A smart new chapter in the ongoing H1 saga
Omni #1
Is it good?
Dr. Cecelia Cobbina is the cure for bland superhero comics.
A great premise with crisp, highly effective execution.
The book fosters impact across the entire H1 imprint.
Makes room for sidekicks and methodical world-building.
The book may eventually take on even too much for a superhero.

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