The Wire: How Michael K Williams’ Omar Little Became a Baltimore Superhero - Bliteoc

The Wire: How Michael K Williams’ Omar Little Became a Baltimore Superhero

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The late actor Michael K. Williams touched countless people with his iconic performances. Among his most memorable roles was that of The Wire’s Omar Little, an openly gay stick-up man who robbed Baltimore’s drug dealers for a living. Despite being a career criminal, Omar was probably the show’s most honorable character. Series creator David Simon has compared The Wire to a modern-day Greek tragedy, and in that context, it is difficult not to see Omar as a contemporary Greek hero. However, in the show’s final season, he undertakes a dramatic transformation, becoming the closest thing Baltimore has to a superhero.

The Wire’s first season focuses on a newly-formed Special Crimes Unit within the Baltimore Police Department as they work to take down a major drug kingpin, Avon Barksdale. Just before police raid the Barksdale Organization’s drug stash, Omar robs the gang, stealing their drugs and cash. In retaliation, Barksdale’s soldiers kill Omar’s boyfriend, making the conflict personal. To get his revenge, Omar works alongside the police to help take down Barksdale’s crew, even as he attacks the gang in the streets with guns blazing.

In a 2008 interview with Variety, Simon said, “We were always adjusting where characters were going to end up, what parts of Baltimore we were going to depict when, what we wanted to say with the overall theme of the show. It was a Greek tragedy done in a modernist urban way, with the city as the main character.”

Omar exhibits several characteristics of a Classical Greek hero. In fact, his grandmother raised him on tales of Greek mythology. In an oft-quoted scene, Omar tells Detective Bunk, “A man got to have a code.” Examples of this code can be seen in Omar’s sense of compassion and mercy. Even though he is one of Baltimore’s bravest and deadliest killers, he often shoots to wound instead of kill, and he never uses violence against civilians. As openly gay, he serves as a foil to the toxic masculinity of the gangsters he fights. He is also the only major character who avoids swearing.

Omar eventually moves to Puerto Rico to start anew and leaves his violent past behind him. However, his mentor, an old blind man named Butch, is tortured to death by Marlo Stanfield, the new sociopathic kingpin rising to power in Baltimore — and a man Omar previously robbed. Seeking justice, Omar returns to take down Marlo. He is no longer interested in money or “the game” but in settling a personal vendetta.

The Wire depicts the complexities of Baltimore’s many failed systems, paralleling gangs and the police as equally cruel, corrupt, and dishonest while highlighting the lack of justice within the judicial system. Likewise, almost all of the characters are deeply flawed but sympathetic. Marlo is one of the few truly villainous characters, while Omar is among the only not trapped within the confines of the corrupt systems. Even though Omar seeks vengeance, the show frames him as a righteous crusader and a modern-day superhero by pitting him against the unambiguously villainous Marlo and showing the failures of the courts and cops.

When Marlo’s soldiers ambush Omar, he escapes by jumping out a fifth-story window. The fact he survives the fall is miraculous. He does not seek medical treatment for his broken leg, further proving his nigh-superhuman toughness. When Marlo sees the height that Omar jumped from, he says, “Don’t seem possible. That’s some Spider-Man shit.”

In many ways, the character’s final arc is reminiscent of the line from Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben, who says, “With great power, there must also come great responsibility.” With the power of his shotgun and convictions, Omar challenges the most brutal killer on the Baltimore streets. He continues to attack Marlo’s soldiers, destroying whatever money and drugs he finds. However, he refrains from murdering Marlo’s men. There are no traditional good guys or bad guys in The Wire, but there is at least one hero unafraid to stand against the city’s greatest villain.

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