Alonzo Washington is justifiably praised for helping bring killers to justice as a community activist. He has also earned criticism for being a vain self-promoter who insults other activists and bloggers, whom he says are beneath him.
Could the origin of Washington's real-life crime fighting - as well as his unyiedling hostility - be rooted in some horrific trauma? Like, say, the death of his greatest creation, Omega Man? The comic-book hero who was, according to the cover, "Too Black -- Too Strong" for evildoers hasn't been heard from in a long time. When Washington posts online pictures of himself dressed as the character, is it just because he thinks he looks good in spandex and a Bluetooth, or is it a tribute to a fallen legend? We called the metro's comic stores to check on the status of KC's greatest -- it's only -- superhero.
Clint's Comics, 3942 Main
The Pitch: Hi I was calling to see if you carried Omega Man comics.
Clerk: Who? You mean the one that the local guy does? You mean that guy, Larry?
Oh, Alonzo Washington? Oh, yeah, I know who he is.
So do you have copies?
We've got that. Maybe one or two issues. I haven't seen one in a while.
Comic Cavern 5404 Northwest 64th Street
Do you guys carry Omega Man comics?
I've had them in the past, but not for a while.
Oh, are they not making them anymore?
I don't know what's going on with it. They're not really big sellers. There's an audience for it, but we don't order a huge number.
That's sad, because kids need positive role models.
I don't honestly remember the last time I saw one come through. A new issue.
Lawless Comics,3117 Troost
Do we have what?
Omega Man. He's a very powerful, 'too black' superhero.
I think we have one Omega Man comic. Hold on ... [off -phone shouting] Do we have Omega Man? The thing in the back? [returns] Yeah, we have an Omega Man toy if you're interested. It's autographed. He'll sell it for $25. [Holds phone away again] This is Omega Man, right?
Wow I can't believe you're willing to sell one signed by Alonzo himself.
The local guy? [Yelling away from phone again] What's that guy's name again? Oh, gosh, what the hell is that guy's name? Alonzo Washington? [Returns] Yeah, it's signed by Alonzo.
Isn't he still doing comics?
He used to be hot. I'm not so sure now days. Nobody's been asking for Omega Man.
I though he was really popular.
One Million Comix,5336 West 95th Street, Prairie Village
I don't even know the company you order that from.
I got into it because of the character's amazing superpowers. He can fly.
Yeah, he's apparently not a big character. I guess I can order it for you.
That would be awesome. You know he's local, right? Alonzo Washington?
I have no idea who makes it. I've never heard of the guy, never met him.
B-Bop Comics,3940 Main
Hey, I'm looking for Omega Man.
I don't think I've seen one of those in a while.
What? How could you not have Omega Man? Are you serious?
No, none. It was never widely distributed.
But its creator is a celebrity.
Alonzo? No I've never met him. Like I said, it was never widely out there.
But he dresses like Omega Man. And he solves crimes. He's never come in just, you know, looking for clues?
No. This is not a good place to look for clues.
How could such a beloved character simply disappear from the cultural landscape? Does no one remember the Omegamania that gripped children everywhere? According to an April 10, 1998 Los Angeles Times story, Omega Man toys flew onto store shelves nationally at Toys R Us. The manufacturer, Precision Design Workshop of Hong Kong, molded versions of the figure in two skin tones (light and dark). On the back of each figure was a thin plastic strand, to represent the hair braid signifying African royalty.
Unfortunately, Washington's toy likeness never flew off the shelves. As Washington told The Washington Post in July 1998, Target, Wal-Mart and Kmart failed to get behind the figure; in the toy stores where it did appear, parents refused to buy the toy for their children. Why? Because those parents, Washington told the Post, were racists. "It's almost like they'd rather their kid would be following a Satan-worshipping white rock star than a strong, moral, black image," he said.
Washington boasted at the time that sales of the figure at Toys R Us, which paid for Washington to appear at several in-store events, were strong, though he didn't offer numbers. Heroes have bigger tasks than bookkeeping, after all. "When white kids tell me, 'I want to be like Omega Man,' I know I've created a true hero," he told the Post.
These days, Omega Man's most notable superpower is invisibility. None of Washington's figures show up in searches on eBay or Google. The Pitch could find the toys only on Washington's own Web site, which also offers a bobblehead version with a lot less visible muscle tone.
-- Peter Rugg