It's fitting that "Omega: The Unknown" (Marvel: unpaged, $29.99), Jonathan Lethem's first foray into comics, should come with a blurb from Michael Chabon. Chabon, after all, is the only other literary novelist I can think of who has made the jump to writing superhero comics -- with "The Escapist," which grew out of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay."
Unlike "The Escapist," "Omega" isn't an original creation; it's based on a little-known Marvel series from the 1970s. (It lasted just 10 issues.) For Lethem, though, "Omega" was influential, helping to inspire his 2003 novel, "The Fortress of Solitude." He's a fan, in other words, as is his collaborator Karl Rusnak, and that's a defining factor in their "Omega," which also ran for 10 issues, in 2007 and 2008. Gathered for the first time in one volume, it is a strange and wonderful hybrid: a superhero comic that reads with all the ambiguity of fiction, set in the Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood and -- like "The Fortress of Solitude" -- merging the fantastic with the most mundane aspects of teenage urban life.
The story has too many strands to summarize, including infectious robots, school bullies, a sentient statue, a fake superhero called the Mink and a race of ubermen (the Omegas) sent to protect truth, justice and the American way. That, however, is what makes it so much fun.