In August, 1970, when DC Comics released Jimmy Olsen #133 — the first new comic book produced for the publisher by Jack Kirby to make it to print — they marked the occasion with a “Kirby Is Here!” banner headline (a consummation of the “Kirby Is Coming!” promotional campaign they’d been running the last couple of months), topping a cover drawn (mostly) by Kirby himself.
Two months later, when the publisher brought out their second Kirby comic, they continued to use his name as a selling point, with the cover’s banner headline now proclaiming “A King-Size Kirby Blockbuster!” (“King-Sized” was in fact not an entirely accurate description, since both the physical comic itself and the featured story within were of standard length; perhaps DC was trying to evoke the “King” nickname that Kirby had acquired at his former employer, Marvel Comics.) But the cover illustration itself wasn’t by Kirby, this time; rather, it was the work of Neal Adams.
Having a different artist than the one responsible for the interior art handle the cover was hardly an unusual practice for DC in this era, of course. But it’s still rather odd, at least in retrospect, to see the company attempting to sell the book on the basis of Kirby’s name, while not even featuring his art on the cover. It may be a sign of a certain ambivalence on DC’s part regarding their new star creator, as discussed in our issue #133 post back in August. Or maybe it’s just that DC had rarely (if ever) tried to use a creator’s popularity as a marketing tool prior to this, and they were figuring things out as they went.
In any event, once you get past #134’s cover, the book’s all Kirby. Well, Kirby and inker Vince Colletta. Oh, and Al Plastino, who redrew most of the Jimmy Olsen and Superman faces throughout the book, uncredited (another sign of that aforementioned ambivalence on DC’s part). And, of course, letterer John Costanza, also uncredited, as was DC’s policy at the time. And, OK, sure, the unfortunately unknown (as well as uncredited) craftsperson who handled the coloring. But other than all that, it’s 100% Jack Kirby!
Jimmy and his new friends, the new Newsboy Legion, have been sent by Morgan Edge — the head of the Galaxy Broadcasting System, and brand-new owner of the Daily Planet newspaper — to get the scoop on the mysterious Wild Area; and as part of their assignment, they’re capturing their experiences on television camera, and sending the signal straight to the office of the mysterious Mr. Edge:
In Jimmy Olsen #133, the Man of Steel didn’t seem to have any more idea what was going on in the Wild Area than Jim and the Newsboys did; his motivation to follow and intercept them there appeared to stem entirely from his suspicions about Morgan Edge. Here, however, Superman intimates that he knows things that the boys don’t; as the story progresses, we’ll see that his knowledge is indeed quite extensive, suggesting that Kirby was figuring out this part of his story as he went along.
As with the previous issue, #134’s cover’s depiction of an instance where “Superman’s Pal” has apparently turned against him — a familiar trope for Jimmy Olsen prior to Kirby’s arrival, but one which usually had some other explanation than any genuine conflict between the two friends — turns out to be a pretty accurate representation of what actually happens in the book.
You might have read that last page and thought, “Wow, those Outsiders just crashed and died, and Jimmy just kept driving! Cold, dude!” But, as we’ll discover in a few pages, the “smash-ups” we just witnessed weren’t quite as fatal as they looked.
And here you were thinking that a guy who goes through life wearing scuba gear was a ridiculous notion…
From here, the Whiz Wagon skids right into a series of Kirby Kollages — the artist’s first for DC. (The Outsiders, on the other hand, end up who knows where; we won’t see them again this issue.)
We’ll have a special Kollage-related bonus later in the post — but for now, let’s keep the story rolling as we check back in on Superman:
As soon as his young attendants are out of his room, the Metropolis Marvel is out of bed, out the window, and on the trail of Jimmy and co.:
See? I told you nobody died back there on page 9.
While I don’t actually recall my thirteen-year-old self’s initial reaction to the preceding double-page spread, I’m pretty certain that the revealed Mountain of Judgment wasn’t quite what I’d been expecting. I’m also fairly confident that I wasn’t the least bit disappointed.
As this scene progresses, we see the malevolent Morgan Edge muse over the coincidence of Superman getting involved in this affair immediately after Edge had attempted to have “snooping Clark Kent” murdered. “Kent — Superman — hmmmmm.” Pretty ominous, huh? And then, it’s back to the action:
As you’ll recall, back on page 5 Superman appeared to be completely ignorant regarding the Hairies. Since he’s now revealed that he actually knows quite a bit about them, his earlier cluelessness is probably best interpreted as an attempt to fake-out the Outsiders; though whether Kirby actually meant it as such, or, as previously suggested, it’s an example of his working out the extent of Supes’ Wild Area knowledge on the fly, is something we’ll probably never know.
In the veritable nick of time, the Hairies’ investigator finally locates what he’s looking for — a bomb that’s been planted in the Newsboy Legion’s television camera:
With Jimmy and the Newsboys’ expression of solicitude towards the Man of Steel — and his exasperated but essentially good-natured response — the Superman-Olsen conflict angle in the storyline pretty much comes to an end. Next issue, the dramatic “Ex” will have vanished from the logo, as Jimmy Olsen is once more billed as Superman’s Pal™.
The Hairies represent Kirby’s strongest statement yet of his optimism regarding the idealistic, iconoclastic youth counterculture of this era — though they’d would be overshadowed in fairly short order by the advent of the Forever People in December.
And here he is, folks! One of the greatest villains ever created for the medium of comic books, making his rather modest debut in the next to last panel of this story’s final page. And not looking quite “himself”, if we’re going to be completely honest.
If you’ve only ever seen this story before in reprint or digital editions, in which the coloring has been “corrected”, you may be surprised to discover here that Darkseid, in his first published appearance, looked like a Caucasian human male. As inked by Vince Colletta, the countenance of Ole Stone Face wasn’t even all that craggy; ugly, sure, but no more so than many another human Kirby villain.
Kirby already knew what Darkseid was supposed to look like, obviously — we have the early concept art he used to help sell DC on his “Fourth World” project (shown at right) as proof of that. And, indeed, the Lord of Apokolips would start looking a lot more like the cosmic alien baddie we know and loathe as early as his very next appearance, in Jimmy Olsen #135. Still, it’s interesting to contemplate how little the people the King was working with at DC — especially Colletta, and the anonymous colorist — knew about even the most important figures in his just-a’borning magnum opus at this late stage of the fame.
Especially since DC already had the first issues of Kirby’s three new titles in production. Kirby had in fact written and drawn those books before starting work on his first Jimmy Olsen; it was DC’s decision that saw the creator’s first three Olsen issues published before any of his new series made their debut. And by October, they were all far enough along in the production cycle for their covers to be used in a house ad DC ran in their comics shipping that month.
And so, via a two-page spread in Jimmy Olsen #134, on the facing page from a Kirby-penned essay, “The Whiz Wagons Are Coming!” (which was accompanied by the self-portrait shown at left), many readers would get their very first look at the primary protagonists of this new “Epic For Our Times”:
Note that there’s nothing in that full-page ad to suggest that Forever People and Mister Miracle, as well as New Gods, will all be part of the same “Epic” — or, indeed, that they’ll have any connection at all (besides them all being produced by Kirby, of course). Nor is there a hint that all three books will tie into the “vast, ominous intrigue” associated with Darkseid in Jimmy Olsen, as mentioned on the last page of “The Mountain of Judgment!”.
But that piece of information was hardly necessary to sell my thirteen-year-old self on picking up those issues as soon as I saw them, let alone the next issue of Jimmy Olsen. The incredible level of invention and imagination in Kirby’s first two Olsens, with the promise of so much more to come, had already done the job.
Of course, by the time January, 1971 rolled around — and we fans had learned that all four of Kirby’s DC series would comprise a single, interconnected, ongoing storyline — the excitement was pretty well off the charts.
Well, mine was, anyway. I look forward to sharing with you what it was like to see the Fourth World unfold in real time, in the months and years to come.
Before we wrap this one up, here’s the “Kirby Kollage” bonus I promised you earlier — color reproductions of the original art for two of this issue’s collages. (I’d love to show you the third, as well, but to the best of my knowledge, that one hasn’t surfaced.)
Between the summer of 1970 when I inherited my starter collection of comics going back to the latter 1950s, and coming current by the end of the year, few creators within those thousands of comics were as prolific as Kirby. My young self thought then that this guy’s imagination needed to be linked with a writer who could pull it into a strong narrative. All the re-reading since has re-confirmed this impression.
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I happen to disagree with your assessment, Burns — while I’m willing to accept some criticism of Kirby’s prose-writing skills, I have nothing but admiration for his narrative sense. But I respect your opinion, and very much appreciate you taking the time to comment.
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What is that saying? Everyone’s personal Golden Age is 13 years old. (Or 7 or 10 or whatever young age you want to use.) I remember when I finally got into reading comic books regularly in 1989 when I was 13 years old how incredibly excited I was by the stories and artwork. So I can only imagine what it must have been like to be a 13 year old comic book fan in late 1970 as DC Comics began publishing the early issues of Jack Kirby’s magnum opus, the Fourth World saga. Alan, I am very very much looking forward to future installments of your blog as you look back on those now-classic stories, and your reactions to them.
Kirby’s assistant Mark Evanier has stated that Kirby very much plotted his stories “on the fly” as you say. So, yes, there was probably some of that here, with Superman’s changing knowledge about the Wild Area. I do think there is an easy explanation for why early in this issue Superman doesn’t know anything about the Hairies, but by the end he’s revealing he has detailed information about them. On the bottom of page 19, when Superman meets Jude and his followers, he says “You — you’re the Hairies!” I really think his surprise is that he was not expecting the Hairies to be people about whom he already knew. They were (if my memory serves me well enough) created by the DNA Project (more on that next issue, right?) which is how Superman knows about them, but “Hairies” is the name they adopted for themselves, or that the Outsiders gave them, which is why at first, when Superman hears the name, he doesn’t realize that this is a group he already knows about. Simple, right?
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Well done, Ben!
And I absolutely agree with you that “the Golden Age of Comics is 13”. The fact that I’ll soon be moving into a period of posting at least twice a week because there are just so many comics I absolutely love is evidence of that.
Though, of course, when young whippersnappers such as yourself offer high praise of certain comics before your time, e.g. Kirby’s Fourth World, it only serves to reinforce the secretly-held conviction of geezers like me that in our case, it’s objectively true. 😉
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I remember buying all those books off the racks. I distinctly remember being upset that Jimmy Olsen would be such a cruddy pal for Superman and that the comic in general seemed so weird but I did get used to it fairly quickly. The forever people no.1 had Superman on the cover so I bought that also. Again, it was strange to me, not my normal Superman story. I still have those books. My parents never moved so they stayed put in boxes to keep till I croak. I’m sixty now so we’ll see how long I’ll be able to keep them.
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I’m 63, Steve, and I’ve still got most of my original comics as well. Let’s hear it for moms (and dads) who didn’t throw away our stuff as soon as we were out of the house!
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Put me down on the list of people who lost my comics to fire, flood, and mice – including a full run of Marvel from mid-1962 through 1965. And then 1969 and Kirby nearly unleashed with a saga that left me breathless with each new issue! Thank goodness I turned 16 the following year and could drive the 25-mile radius to find ALL the titles in my poorly-distributed area AND could work many hours to afford all the Kirby experiences that even the discovery of girls couldn’t distract.
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I feel your pain. I lost the entire Fourth World series in a flood in 1972. 😦
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As someone whose first encounter with the New Gods was in an issue of the JLA (with George Perez art) that tried to wrap up Gerry Conway’s run on the characters, and whose first major exposure to Darkseid came from the Great Darkness saga in the LSH, I am very much looking forward to reading (more) about your memories of your own “real-time” reactions to the Fourth World Saga! As I’ve rambled on about already, my timeline with the Fourth World goes something like: JLA -> Great Darkness -> Super Powers -> Evanier New Gods Title – > Cosmic Odyssey (blech) – > Hunger Dogs Graphic Novel -> Who’s Who Entries -> etc, and then finally, only a few years ago, getting the four TPBs that collected the actual Kirby run! So! I am a bit of a patchwork monster from the planet Transilvane when it comes to my Kirby history! It will be nice to experience it all through a much less kaleidoscopic lens! Great post!
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Thanks, Max! The best is yet to come — from Kirby, for sure, and, I humbly hope, from yours truly as well.
I always thought that Kirby’s tenure at DC was summed up with “We got him, now what do we do with him?”
It seemed like their plan ended with getting him away from Marvel
I don’t know about DC, but Kirby definitely had plans regarding what he wanted to do — most of which were ultimately stymied or aborted by the publisher.
Thanks for posting the original color version of the “Kirby Kollage” for Jimmy Olsen #134. The reproduction of the artwork for Jimmy Olsen #134 in digital form on this blog entry is a revelation. Even the “Kirby Kollage” in black and white as posted is better than the version published in the original comicbook (I know because I have a copy of Jimmy Olsen #134 that I am looking at while I am typing this.) Too bad comics books weren’t published on better paper stock back in the day. Then things like the “Kirby Kollage” could have been published in their original full color glory.
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Great post. I only saw one little bitty typo.
‘his exasperated bu essentially good-natured response’
‘his exasperated but essentially good-natured response’
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Alan, I agree with everything you wrote in the post and in your reply to comments except regarding what a person’s Golden Age of Comics is. Mine was seven to eleven, which encompasses your Golden Year, and it ended, coincidentally, when the 1972 Agnes flood destroyed almost all of my comics collection. It wasn’t the flood that ended it of course, but by then comics were producing less volume for a higher price due to inflation. Also, when I turned 13, I developed competing interests although I regularly read comics until I went to college in 1979.
You also said in a comment reply something better than the way I said it in my Jimmy Olsen #133 comment. Kirby was an excellent plot and character creator, he just had problems with implementation and writing sometimes. Part of the implementation problem might be that he was winging it–although his juggling all of the plot threads through four books shows that he could be disciplined when he wanted to be.
I had several thoughts re-reading this book (and I read the parts you did not repost while I was reading your post through D.C. Universe) for the first time in probably 50 years. First, there is the sheer, unhidden joy that you can see in these issues that Kirby was feeling to be unfettered from Marvel at last and thinking (wrongly unfortunately) that D.C. was the start of a beautiful, productive and undisturbed relationship. It’s easy to see this in the burst of creativity, spectacular artwork, ideas, plotting, even dialogue. Kirby used everything in his bag of tricks for these issues, including the Kirby Kollages (I did not remember the skull though, that would have scared me in 1970). Kirby did these first two issues of Jimmy Olsen before he found out that D.C. did the 1970 artistic equvalent of photoshopping out his Superman faces. A fully happy Kirby can’t be surpassed by anyone. Now that I am revisiting his Fourth World books in detail, I fully appreciate that this is likely Jack Kirby at his absolute best, which is saying a lot.
While I won’t be able to really make a judgment on this until I re-read the upcoming premieres (and, again, I’m going to wait for your blog posts on them instead of cutting to the chase on D.C. Universe–you should feel honored), the interrelationship must be better done that the mega-crossovers that became the rule in comics in the late 1980s and 1990s. Right now in Marvel Unlimited I am slogging through the early 1990s in my quest to read all of the comics I did not read after I quit in late 1979 and I am very irate at all of the wasted issues, lack of continuity and, yes, overall lack of creativity in a bloated, formulaic mess. It will be a breath of fresh air to revisit a crossover story arc crafted with love, interest and (mostly) care.
As with Jimmy Olsen #133, I remembered a lot of what happened in Jimmy Olsen #134 vividly when I reread it 50 years later. I’m very proud that when the hairies were looking for the threat and one of the Newsboy Legion asked the guy to look at the camera, that I thought, “I remember this now, there is a bomb in the camera!” (I had not scrolled to see the next panels yet). I can tell you that I remember that back in 1970, unlike you, I was very disappointed that the Mountain of Judgement was just a dressed-up monster truck (double meaning there). I loved mysterious, mystical, philosophical and grandiose themes in those days (see also the concurrent Thor series we are both revisiting). I did think that the name of The Hairies was a little silly (now I find it a misguided attempt to evoke youth culture, but, unlike D.C.’s and many of Marvel’s attempts to do the same, I don’t find it embarrassing or cringeworthy because everything else is done so well). I guess having the Hairies call themselves the Hairies is the thing that I found most objectionable. It makes sense that the Outsiders call them that (for whatever reason, it isn’t made clear, Imean they aren’t ZZ Top). Still, 53 year old Kirby, Brooklyn bred, does an amazing job at making a convincing (if stereotypical) portrayal of counter-culture youth.
A couple of stray thoughts: the Outsiders certainly aren’t an equal society–the women stay home and minister to Superman (and of course are beautiful and express a romantic interest in him). On the top of page 15, there is a caption that Superman speeds along “searching for his young friends”. My thought was “:considering how they’ve treated Superman up to that point, with friends like those. . .” Seeing the Clark Kent recording equipment to respond to Morgan Edge’s calls, I thought “here is the world’s first telephone answering machine!” It’s a good thing that Clark didn’t tell Edge to leave a message at the beep. I wonder if D.C. released these Jimmy Olsen books when they did, ahead of the new titles, partly because they were about to eliminate kryptonite as a danger and kryptonite plays a vital part in this story to get Superman out of the way at times. By the way, how did the Outsiders get the Hairies weaponry and how did Yango get so far himself earlier? I could write a lot more, but I’ll stop here. I learned my lesson from being overwhelmed with comments for Jimmy Olsen #133 and then throwing out a stale hodgepodge months later. 😀
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A “stale hodgepodge”? I say thee nay, Stu Fischer! 😉
I take your point (also made by Ben Herman) that one’s personal Golden Age of Comics doesn’t have to be 13. Can be earlier (as in your case); could even be (gasp!) later. Different strokes, and all that.
Good observations re: the Outsiders having Hairie tech, and Yango making it further on the Zoomway on his own, earlier, than is ever explained. Like other inconsistencies in these early JO issues, however, I think we have to chalk it all up to a newly revitalized Kirby basically flying by the seat of his pants in his heady early days at DC.