Once And Future War
In DC Comics Presents #61 (Sept 1983) Len
Wein, George Perez and Pablo Marcos (with
assist from Rick Hoberg) give us "The
Once And Future War."
We begin in the far-flung future, where
Jack Kirby's OMAC (One-Man Army Corps) is busy
busting up an "unlawful laboratory" run by the
nefarious Intercorp organization. As he trashes the facility,
a team of Intercorp scientists fire up a "time transmitter"
and use it to transport a robotic "pre-programmed assassin"
to an unknown destination. At the last second, OMAC leaps
into the transmitter and follows the robot to its mysterious
We cut to current-day (well, if you're wearing Izod shirts
and listening to A Flock of Seagulls) Metropolis, where
a group of crooks is holed up in a liquor store, surrounded
by a heavily armed police force and biding their time until
the final shoot-out.
Suddenlty the Intercorp robot appears in their midst, identifying
itself as "Murdermek...Intercorp Death-Droid
Classification 42119." A quick scan of the crooks confirms
they're not who Murdermek's looking for, so it blasts out
of the building and wades through a hail of police gunfire,
smashing cop cars and officers out its way while the delighted
crooks use the distraction to effect their escape.
Down swoops Superman, slugging away at Murdermek, which
in turn blasts the Man of Steel across the street into an
abandoned building (Comic-book Chaos Rule #32: any building
destroyed by a superhero in an uncontrolled fall shall be
uninhabited). Now the crooks are really impressed, and decide
to follow Murdermek wherever he might take them.
Now OMAC arrives, still on the trail of Murdermek and a
bit confused about what's going on. The police assume he's
in league with the robot and attempt to detain him. He's
in a hurry, though, and so throws them off, just in time
for Superman to emerge from the rubble and misinterpret
the scene. He says hello with a punch to the head. (Comic-book
Chaos Rule #12: any two costumed characters meeting each
other for the first time shall assume the worst and come
With protocol now satisfied, cooler heads prevail and the
two heroes have a kibbitz on a nearby rooftop. OMAC recaps
his origin as nebbishy Buddy Blank, transformed into a futuristic
super-soldier (hey, it worked for that other guy) and now
battling to save mankind's future. Meanwhile Murdermek explains
to his new gang that he's looking for one Norman Blank,
ancestor of Buddy, on the theory that by killing him he
will prevent the creation of OMAC.
After a search of the city, Superman spots Murdermek at
Metro Central Station, where he's finally found Norman Blank
and opens fire. Superman swoops in just in time to rescue
an unwary commuter, placing him in a seemingly safe corner
of the train station before resuming the fight with the
robot. Meanwhile Murdermek's hapless "gang" enters
the scene flying futuristic weapon-vehicles constructed
by the robot and open fire on the poor commuter. OMAC shows
up and engages them in a side battle while Superman takes
on Murdermek in the main event. The robot proves surprisingly
tough against a Man of Steel with pre-Crisis power levels.
In fact for a moment it seems he has Superman on the ropes,
before our hero rallies with an everything-I've got punch
and a decidedly immodest declaration of how freaking great
Even after this punch, Murdermek keeps moving forward (giving
Superman a scare), but then he keels over and explodes.
Finally taking a moment out to talk to the suffering commuter
at the center of all this chaos, they learn he isn't Norman
Blanks at all, but rather one Arnold Berkowitz. Confused
but glad it's over, OMAC returns to the future and in the
last panel we learn that "Norman Blank" is actually
a sanitation worker who's always been near the action but
"invisible" to us because of his uniform and Perez'
careful placement of him in his panel designs. The final
image of Norman resolutely working away with his pushbroom
amidst a giant pile of rubble and robot parts makes for
a neat, Eisner-esque coda to the tale.
So...a relentless, seemingly invincible robot sent from
the future to destroy the one-day savior of mankind by preventing
his birth. Sound vaguely familiar? The interesting thing
is this issue came out in the summer of 1983 (with a September
cover date), which places it a full year ahead of James
Cameron's Terminator, although Cameron's script
was supposedly already in place in 1983 (with filming delayed
nearly a year to accomodate Arnold Schwarzenegger's work
on Conan the Destroyer). However both the comic
and the film have echoes of Harlan Ellison's Outer Limits
episodes, "Soldier" and "Demon With A Glass
Hand", so maybe that's the common thread.
Anyway, this issue made a big impression in 1983, largely
because of the dynamic, gorgeous Perez art on a title that
tended to be a bit lackluster, visually. Also, with the
Byrne reboot and Superman's consequent Marvelization still
three years away, a cover-to-cover slugfest was still a
novel and exciting concept at this point. But for me the
most interesting aspect of the story is the way it feels
like an "homage" to a film that still hadn't come
out yet, right down to the inclusion of an "Arnold"
character in the dénouement. Freaky.