The month of November, 1970 brought comics readers the third installment of writer-artist Jack Kirby’s run on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen — a book which also happened to be the third installment of the massive, multi-title, interconnected epic that we’d eventually come to know as Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, though few if any of us who were reading the comics as they came out fifty years ago had more than the vaguest inkling of that fact.
But it hardly mattered, because Kirby was giving us so much to thrill to and wonder at in each issue of Jimmy Olsen on its own, with no need for reference to any larger narrative. The “King” had come roaring out of the gate with his very first issue, #133, which set Jimmy and his new best friends, the Newsboy Legion, on a mission into the mysterious Wild Area, where they immediately got mixed up with a community of motorcyclists called the Outsiders, who made their home in a “tree city” called Habitat. The next issue, #134, found Jimmy and company taking their super-vehicle, the Whiz Wagon, out onto a subterranean drag strip called the Zoomway, joining the Outsiders in a quest for the Mountain of Judgement — which turned out to be an enormous, high-tech mobile home, the headquarters of yet another hidden society, the Hairies. In the issue’s climax, a bomb that had been surreptitiously placed in the Whiz Wagon was discovered and — with the help of Superman, who’d followed Jimmy and his colleagues to the Wild Area — dealt with just in time to prevent the Mountain of Judgement and its inhabitants from being blown to bits. The issue ended with Jimmy’s new boss, Morgan Edge — the man who’d built the Whiz Wagon for the Newsboys in the first place, and then sent them and Jimmy into the Wild Area — reporting in to his own, secret boss: a forbidding-looking fellow named Darkseid.
Quite a lot to take in for just two issues, wouldn’t you say?
Heading into #135, Jimmy and his friends naturally had a lot of questions — and so did we readers. Kirby would answer some of them over the next 22 pages, while also (of course) raising new, equally tantalizing ones. We’ll be digging into all of that, momentarily — but first, a few words about the book’s cover.
Jimmy Olsen #133, DC’s first new Jack Kirby-drawn comic book in over ten years — and the culmination of the “Kirby Is Coming” promotional campaign they’d been running for a couple of months — shipped with a (mostly) Jack Kirby-drawn cover. But with #134, DC started putting the book out with covers by Neal Adams. On one level, there wasn’t anything particularly remarkable about this; Adams was DC’s primary cover artist at the time, and he drew a lot of covers (often from layouts by DC’s Editorial Director, Carmine Infantino) for comics that had interior art by other hands. But considering that Kirby was primarily known at this time more as an artist than as a writer, and that DC was going to great effort to promote his return to the company, it still seems odd that they’d put out books that used his name as a selling point (“A King-Size Kirby Blockbuster”), while hiding his art behind covers by someone else — let alone someone with such a drastically different style.
For Adams’ first JO cover, appearing on #134, he illustrated a scene pulled directly from Kirby’s story within; for the second, however, he apparently wasn’t given that option. As the artist recalled for the 17th issue of The Jack Kirby Collector in 1997:
That’s all me. It’s a Carmine Infantino layout and I think what happened was he rejected Jack’s cover, I believe, and there’s maybe something of Jack’s layout there. In this kind of situation usually they had no time, and basically they would come to me at the last minute and say they needed a cover. All the Superman figures were a really big pain in the ass. Jack could have done it a lot faster and a lot better, but for me it was at best a pain in the ass.
So, let’s not blame Neal, OK? As to the question of why DC was so hesitant to use Kirby’s art on Jimmy Olsen’s covers, while at the same time using his name to hype the books: the most charitable view, in my opinion, is that the publisher still had very little experience in doing creator-centric promotion at this point (this being an era in which DC still didn’t routinely run creator credits in all their comics). A somewhat less charitable view is that, for all of their respect for Jack Kirby as an “idea man” — and their appreciation of the commercial success his ideas had brought Marvel Comics — at the end of the day, the DC brass (including Infantino) didn’t really have a lot of regard for Kirby as an artist. (Which could also be one reason they were so keen to have most of Kirby’s Superman and Jimmy Olsen faces re-drawn.)
But enough about the cover. Let’s move on to the splash page — and to Kirby’s own take on hose mini-Superman figures that Neal Adams found such a “pain in the ass” to draw:
Kirby has a couple of big surprises coming up later in this issue, especially for fans of his Golden Age work for DC — or, he would have, if only he didn’t give them both away on the first page, in the text box at the lower left. It’s almost as if the King is so excited by these developments, he just can’t keep ’em to himself for even a few pages.
It’s worth noting here, I think, that nothing that we saw in the past two issues even hinted that the replication of human beings from their cellular tissue — cloning, in other words — was about to become a major component (perhaps the major component) in Kirby’s still-developing Jimmy Olsen storyline. Everything that we’re being shown now is brand new.
The names “Mokkari” and “Simyan” are early examples of what would prove to be a frequent and significant element in Kirby’s comics writing of the 1970s and later — both are names which tell us a lot about the nature of their owners, at least if we take the trouble to read them phonetically (and then, manage to pronounce then correctly). I have to confess, however, that though the derivation of these baddies’ monikers from the words “mockery” and “simian” seems all but self-evident in 2020, I’m pretty sure they went right over my head in 1970, at least on the first reading. I’d eventually catch on to what Kirby was up to with his character (and planet) naming, but it would take a little while.
The scene now shifts to a location that’s at least slightly more familiar to readers than the Evil Factory is, at this point — namely, the Mountain of Judgement, where Superman, Jimmy, and the Newsboy Legion are preparing to take leave of their hosts, the Hairies:
There’s something of a mystery regarding the art credits for this issue, especially in comparison to the previous two. Most authorities appear to agree that veteran Superman artist Al Plastino inked as well as pencilled the re-drawn faces (and occasional re-drawn figures) of both Supes and Jimmy in both JO #133 and #134. In #135, however, Vince Colletta’s feathery finishes are in evidence pretty much throughout the story, although it’s likely that Plastino (and perhaps also Murphy Anderson, according to the Grand Comics Database) still did some re-drawing at the pencil stage. In any event, the final product gives the art a more consistent look (to my eye at least), although I would still prefer that DC had seen fit to give us Superman and Jimmy Olsen as Jack Kirby had drawn them.
When our heroes at last arrive at their destination, they’re greeted by well-armed troops:
By the time the group passes the final internal checkpoint, the Newsboys don’t know what to think:
The appearance of the original, Golden Age Newsboy Legion at the mysterious “Project” is a genuine surprise, as the “new” Newsboys’ involvement in this whole adventure is presumably, a matter of happenstance; after all, per JO #133, the group was only engaged by Morgan Edge to investigate the Wild Area after Big Words sent the malevolent mogul his plans for the Whiz Wagon on an apparent whim. So is it truly pure coincidence that both Legions find themselves mixed up in the same business? It’s hard to say.
Meanwhile, let’s take a moment to sympathize with Flippa Dippa’s dad, who, as an after-the fact addition to the original Newsboy Legion created just for this storyline, never even gets an actual name. I guess we’ll just have to call him “Mr. Dippa”.
Quite a lot to unpack here. The Project — by all appearances, a United States government facility — has been harvesting tissue samples from people without their knowledge, and using those samples to grow full-sized adult humans (entirely autonomous and sentient beings, as best as I can tell) — and Superman, the number one bellwether of what is right and good in the DC Universe, is 100% on board with it. Heck, he’s even a willing participant!*
Kirby does in fact have a sense of the darker implications of genetic experimentation, and we’ll see that expressed as the storyline continues (and not just in the form of the Evil Factory). But in these early scenes set at the Project, he seems pretty gung-ho.
Let’s not think too long about the implications of a whole bunch of teeny-weeny Jimmy Olsens, all made safe for Comics Code approval by the consistent application of tighty-whities. I mean, do the little fellows dress themselves (when they’re not “in shock“, that is), or do they have a, um, “handler” (ew)?
“Death can eclipse life! A great lie can smash truth!” This represents the second ever appearance of Darkseid. And Kirby already has his personality (and his speech pattern) nailed.
Visually, on the other hand, the Lord of Apokolips (who is yet to be identified as such, incidentally) might still be considered a work in progress — although this is mostly a coloring issue, at this point, rather than something under the control of Kirby, or even Colletta. Or maybe we should just assume that Simyan and Mokkari’s viewscreen tints everyone blue. In any event, Darkseid is definitely looking more like the granite-faced god we readers would soon come to know and loathe than he did in his first appearance at the end of Jimmy Olsen #134 (see right), where he presented as a broad-faced male human of the Caucasian persuasion.
Simyan’s assurances to his and Mokkari’s master that their “uncontrollable orgaunic murder machine” is, in fact, under control, turns out to be overly optimistic, as, while they’re still on their call with Darkseid, the kryptonite-coated giant breaks free. Indeed, he appears likely to bring the whole Evil Factory down upon his makers’ heads, until…
You might think that the giant’s green hue would help Superman quickly deduce what he’s up against — but nope. Nevertheless, the Action Ace manages to break free of his opponent’s grasp long enough to deliver a solid punch to the face, which dislodges his headgear — and then…
This was a “wow” moment when I first read this comic book in 1970, and it still lands, fifty years later. I’m not sure, however, that my thirteen-year-old self fully appreciated Kirby’s audacious feat of managing to evoke both his own rampaging, green-skinned co-creation at Marvel, the Incredible Hulk, and the grand Silver Age tradition of bizarre Jimmy Olsen transformations (hey, Giant Turtle Olsen was mostly green right?), in this single character.
Leaving the helpless Superman behind, the Incredible Olsen goes smashing into another section of the Project, intent on fulfilling his mission of destruction:
You’ll notice that not only does “Mr. Dippa” not get a name, but we don’t learn his profession, either. Granted, he’s not an original member of the ’40s Newsboy Legion, but you figure he’s got to have some reason to be hanging around a top-secret government research facility other than simply being friends with the other men (or, even worse, simply being the father of their sons’ friend). In any case, the original Legion don’t seem to know him too terribly well, considering that Big Words, Sr. refers to him simply as “Flippa Dippa’s dad” in the very next panel:
And if we readers will only recall what we were told via that text box back on page 1, we should be able to guess who the shadowy figure in the Life Chamber is, as well. Though, if you were like my younger self in 1970, and had never heard of any character called the “Golden Guardian” before picking up this comic, what you were about to see on the story’s next and final page would still be a surprise:
The original Guardian — as he was called throughout his Golden Age career — had made his debut at the same time (and in the same place) as the original Newsboy Legion, in Star Spangled Comics #7 (April, 1942). Today, he’s generally considered to be a variation on the particular heroic type that Kirby and his partner Joe Simon had introduced in 1940 with Captain America; having been forced to abandon their classic patriotic superhero after their falling out with Timely (later Marvel) Comics publisher Martin Goodman, Simon and Kirby stripped out the overtly patriotic iconography and replaced it with imagery referencing the typical American police officer, with his blue uniform and golden, shield-shaped badge. Then they slipped him into their new Newsboy Legion feature for DC, which would run for fifty-eight issues of Star Spangled Comics (something of an ironic title in retrospect, at least in relation to the Guardian and his origins).
As explained on the first “Newsboy Legion starring the Guardian” story’s splash page (see left), the Guardian was Jim Harper, a big city police officer whose beat was Suicide Slum (originally established as being a New York City neighborhood, but relocated to Metropolis as of Jimmy Olsen #133). After being jumped and beaten up by some hoods one night — when he was off duty and heading out to see a movie, no less (!) — Harper, still only a rookie, decided he’d had enough, and after breaking into a costume shop to pick up a few choice pieces (don’t worry, he left cash on the counter) immediately went into action as “a Guardian of Society” (as he put it to the quickly-apprehended hoods). Soon afterwards, Harper interceded with a judge on behalf of four neighborhood boys whose petty crimes were about to get them sent to reform school until their 21st birthdays. Placed in Harper’s custody, the Newsboy Legion began to straighten up, and even helped out the new neighborhood superhero, the Guardian (whom the boys suspected was their very own new legal guardian, though they were never able to prove it), with his crime-busting.
Like most of the comic book heroes of the Golden Age, the adventures of the Newsboy Legion and the Guardian ended when their strip was discontinued, and they immediately fell into a limbo — where they remained, until their co-creator brought them back (after a fashion), twenty-four years later. In reviving the Guardian, Kirby made a few tweaks to the character’s visual design — “slight differences”, as he calls them on page 22 — including a narrower belt, and an extension of the metal helmet to cover more of the hero’s face. (The latter change, in particular, was probably well-advised, as it reduced the Guardian’s resemblance to Marvel’s Sentinel of Liberty just a tad.)
But to see the Golden Guardian in action, I and every other reader in November, 1970 would have to wait nearly two months — by which time, Jimmy Olsen would have been joined by three brand-new Jack Kirby titles — and the full scope of Kirby’s Fourth World would be starting to take shape.
Jack Kirby’s contributions to Jimmy Olsen #135 didn’t end with his writing and drawing the issue’s story. They also included his authoring the following text page:
There are a number of notable things about this essay, but I’ll mention just a couple. One is the reference to “Apokolips and New Genesis” in the second paragraph; to the best of my knowledge, this is the first appearance of the names of Kirby’s two opposing god-worlds in print. Though I have no direct recollection of this, I imagine that I (and other early readers) must have been somewhat mystified by the reference, as Kirby invokes the names allegorically, without explanation. (It’s a known fact, however, that Kirby actually completed the first issues of the other three Fourth World titles prior to beginning work on his first Jimmy Olsen, and he may have expected them to be released first; it’s possible, therefore, that when he wrote his “Hairies” essay, he believed that most readers would have already encountered the names in those comics.
Another notable aspect of this piece — and a more central one — is its elaboration of Kirby’s vision of how genetic manipulation may be humankind’s best hope for survival “in the shadow of the atomic silo”. Human beings may not be able to rise above their inherent limitations on their own, Kirby seems to be saying, but perhaps we can create better versions of ourselves, through science. Yet there seems to be an allegorical aspect to the Hairies, as well — with their (generally) longish hair (hence the name, one presumes), their idealism, and their new ways of seeing the world, they come across at least in part as a representation of how Kirby (then 53 years old) saw the late-’60s youth countercultural movement — the hippies and their ilk — or, at least, the most positive aspects of that phenomenon.
Of course, the Hairies wouldn’t be the only avatars of youthful idealism to play a role in Kirby’s opus of the Fourth World — nor, as things turned out, would they the most important. That distinction belonged to the Forever People, who were waiting in the wings to make their debut even as Jimmy Olsen #135 went to press — and whom we’ll be discussing here on the blog, in just ten days. I hope to see you then.
*The question of just how the Project managed to collect a tissue sample from the famously invulnerable Man of Steel isn’t really addressed, though one imagines kryptonite — still a “thing” in Jimmy Olsen at this point, at least in synthetic form, despite the events of Superman #233 (on sale when this comic was published) — had something to do with it.