Jimmy Olsen #136 (March, 1971)

In early 1971, when the subject of today’s post blog first showed up on spinner racks, Jack Kirby had been producing new comic books for DC Comics for almost half a year.  Not only had three issues of Kirby’s debut project, Jimmy Olsen, been released by this time, but so had the premiere issues of his three brand new titles — Forever People, New Gods, and Mister Miracle (the latter actually hitting stands on the very same day as Jimmy Olsen #136, January 14).  He was becoming established (or, more accurately re-established) at the publisher, in other words.  Perhaps that’s the main reason that this fourth Olsen outing, unlike the first three, didn’t feature Kirby’s name anywhere on the cover; after five months, DC may have figured they no longer needed to tell us readers that Kirby Was Here — by now, we must know that, surely. 

Not that the cover’s art made Kirby’s presence obvious, of course, as it was by Neal Adams.*  And despite the addition of “The New” in front of Jimmy’s name in the title logo, readers who hadn’t been keeping up with Mr. Olsen lately might not realize that anything had changed very much — after all, it’s not like bizarre transformations of the book’s title character were what you’d call unknown, or even rare, in the series’ pre-Kirby era.  That said, however, the cover does provide a fairly accurate depiction of what readers will find inside the comic — although, as anyone coming in cold with JO #136 will discover in the first few pages, the green giant appearing thereon isn’t really our boy Jimbo at all, but rather a a giant, green, super-strong, Kryptonite-enhanced clone of same.

The story’s sole creator credit, given at the bottom of page 4, leaves out a couple of people.  One of those — inker Vince Coletta — was almost certainly skipped over by mistake.  The other — artist Murphy Anderson, who redrew Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen and Superman faces at DC’s direction — was just about as certainly intended to remain anonymous, even as his predecessor on previous issues of Kirby’s Olsen (as well as on Forever People #1), Al Plastino, had been.

Over the next couple of pages, the newly-emerged clone of the Golden Age superhero called the Guardian battles valiantly against the giant Jimmy-clone, while the original Jimmy and his new pals in the Newsboy Legion can only stand by and watch — and fruitlessly speculate on who made this creature, as well as where he could have come from.

Then, a “sneak punch” from the giant suddenly levels the Guardian, spurring Jimmy to sprint to the still-stunned Superman’s side to try to revive him:

The Guardian, having quickly recovered, now leaps once more to the attack; this move distracts the giant long enough for the Man of Steel to do a Hulk-like stomp, shattering the cement floor and temporarily burying their foe…

These “micro-paratroopers” — all of whom look exactly like the Newsboy Legion’s Scrapper — quickly take charge of the unconscious giant, dousing him with liquid nitrogen until he’s been completely encased in “an icy coat as strong as steel!

We readers have now reached the halfway point of the issue (or close to it), and though we don’t know it yet, we’ve already had our full quota of action for this installment of Kirby’s storyline.  And that makes sense, actually — because not only has the action been practically non-stop since the opening pages of JO #133, but so has the barrage of new concepts birthed from the creator’s prodigious imagination — the Wild Area, Intergang, the Outsiders, the Hairies, Darkseid, the Project, the Evil Factory, and on and on.  It’s a good time to slow down for just a bit — at least for long enough to unpack everything we’ve had thrown at us over the last three and a half issues, as both we and our surrogates within the story itself — i.e., Jimmy and the Newsboys — try to get a handle on how it all fits together, and what it all means.

Of course, we readers have an advantage Jimmy and company don’t, in that we’re able to check in directly with the insidious menace which for now remains a completely opaque mystery to them — the Evil Factor’s Simyan and Mokkari, and their master, Darkseid:

This is Darkseid’s third appearance in Jimmy Olsen, and the dialogue in this scene provides a fuller account than we’ve had before both of his long-term goals and the strategies he’s presently employing to achieve them.  But, of course, if we’ve also been keeping up with Kirby’s other Fourth World titles, we have an even more complete picture of Darkseid and his machinations — for we’ll have learned by way of the first issues of Forever People and New Gods that Darkseid and his servants have come to Earth from the world of Apokolips in quest of the Anti-Life Equation — an “ultimate weapon” which somehow secretly resides within a living human mind, somewhere on our planet.

Page 13’s cutaway model of the Project and its environs is something of a godsend for those of us who’ve been trying to figure out just where all these fabulous places are in relation to each other, and on what scale.

But even though we’re mostly in exposition mode here, Kirby still takes time to move his story forward, as we’ll see on the next page:

Are the beings gestating within “these egg-sacs” destined to cause trouble for Jimmy Olsen and his friends?  Do you have to ask?

Meanwhile, back at the Project, the members of the Newsboy Legion are thrilled to meet the Guardian, who’s the spitting image of the hero their fathers — the original Legion — shared adventures with in the 1940s.  Then, as Tommy’s dad (a physician) takes the Guardian off for a quick medical exam, the other grownups give their sons the lowdown:

The fact that the one person of color in the “new” Newsboy Legion doesn’t have a precursor in the original group occasionally makes for awkward moments in Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen, and the panel above of Flippa Dippa and his father standing alone, obvious outsiders in this scene, provides a prime example.  One can admire Kirby’s impulse towards diversifying the Newsboys while still wishing that, once having determined to bring the earlier generation into his narrative, he’d given a little more thought to fleshing out the senior “Mr. Dippa”. Has he known the other Legion fathers for very long?  Does he have an official role at the Project, as they seem to?  We’re never told, one way or the other.

While the Newsboy Legions old and new hold their impromptu father-son conference, Superman gives Jimmy a tour of the Project.  Along the way, Supes explains to his young pal that he’s been a part of the whole enterprise since its inception: “My cell tissues were the first grown when the genetic code was broken and deciphered!

That Superman has been subjected to cloning by the Project isn’t exactly news — we first learned about it last issue, and even got a look then at some tiny Super-clones that had been grown by Simyan and Mokkari in their Evil Factory, presumably from stolen tissue samples.  But the tantalizing questions raised then by this basic information still remain, e.g.: How the heck to you get tissue samples from an invulnerable Man of Steel in the first place?  And do Superman’s clones share his powers?  Maybe Jimmy would be willing to ask his friend about this stuff for us — but, alas, Superman doesn’t give him the chance…

Living human children, created in a lab, then raised in an institutional environment so that one day they can serve a secretive, off-the-books government facility as its homegrown “personnel”, apparently forever.  From a contemporary perspective, it’s a nightmare scenario — but in 1971, I (and apparently a lot of other readers) accepted it as being just fine.  Perhaps that’s partly due to a relative dearth of cloning stories in mainstream American comics at the time; but it probably has at least as much to do with the moral authority of Man of Steel in the DC Universe.  If Superman says the Project is on the side of the angels, then that must surely be the case.  Right?

If Kirby’s seemingly Utopian view of the wonders of genetic manipulation has a focal point, it resides with the “Step-ups”, aka the Hairies.  As the creator had elucidated in his essay published in the previous issue, “THE HAIRIES — Super-Race — or Man’s Second Chance”, he’d found a source of “strange hope” in this new and improved breed of human beings, whose “minds are fresh and new, clean slates unmarked by rigid, hardening, conflicting indoctrinations… they fear nothing, hate nothing, worship nothing but their own compatibility with the rest of Creation…  They wing it with a zest to live and learn and make existence an art form instead of a mad, grim march toward death.”  How can one possibly respond to such a vision, save as our boy Jimmy does? “Wow!”  But for such a vision to come to fruition, one must begin, as Jimmy notes, “with reading a little DNA molecule!

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the redrawing of the faces (and sometimes figures) of Superman and Jimmy in the three previous issues of Jimmy Olsen — mostly done by Al Plastino — went completely unnoticed by your humble blogger at the time.  But that all changed with this story, as Murphy Anderson took over the job.  And while I’m sure I must have copped to the visual dissonance prior to this point in the story, it’s page 19’s full-page splash panel — possibly because with its photo collage, it’s such a very Jack Kirby illustration — that stands out in my memory as having cemented for me the wrongness of what I was seeing.  What in the world was a Murphy Anderson head doing on top of a Jack Kirby body?

I might have been completely on board the Project train already, but if any other reader was having any ethical misgivings at this point, they may well have had them allayed by the advent of the operation’s resident “DNAlien”, Dubbilex.  I mean, this guy is such an obviously cool Kirby Kreation that he makes the case for the Project being a worthwhile endeavor, all by himself:

“Do you realize what weird, and perhaps dangerous, channels are being probed here?”  Here we have the first suggestion (outside of the scenes featuring the Project’s dark twin, the Evil Factory, of course) that Kirby is at least aware of the ethical ambiguities inherent in the kind of aggressive genetic manipulation he’s speculating about here.  But Superman sidesteps Jimmy’s pointed question, choosing to focus instead on their “hidden enemy!”  Speaking of whom…

Four arms, huh?  Gee, you think it’ll have four legs, as well?  Or hey, maybe it’ll have no legs at all.  Wouldn’t that be weird!

For the answers to those and other such questions, we fans back in January, 1971 had to wait a month, and thus, faithful reader, I must ask you, too, to wait.  (Unless you have your own copy of Jimmy Olsen #137 to enjoy, in which case, go to town.)  But, you’ll be happy to know (or so I hope, anyway), you won’t have to wait nearly that long for another installment of “Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books”.  There’ll be another one coming along in just seven days.

*Mostly by Neal Adams, anyway.  According to comments Adams himself made in 1997 to The Jack Kirby Collector (and which were published in the magazine’s 17th issue), DC Editorial Director Carmine Infantino laid the cover out, while the faces of the Newsboy Legion were “all that was left of Jack [Kirby]”, presumably referring to an earlier version of the illustration.  Also, the Grand Comics Database reports that Murphy Anderson claimed to have worked on the Green Giant Jimmy figure.  Hmm, I guess you could say this one took a village.

21 comments

  1. whisperstothesurface1909 · January 16

    Great post, Alan– so I’ve caught up with Jimmy Olsen, now to check out the other titles up to this point! I see that Kirby has managed to include some women this issue– child-minders!!!
    There really is a lot to take in with this stuff, isn’t there! It’s fascinating to read about how you as a child responded to some of these ideas– it’s like a million miles from things like Lois Lane.
    What’s with the weird long ‘socks’ the colorist has given Jolly-green Jimmy? Have they been added for the reprint? And was Darkseid recolored for the reprint or had his colour changed in the originals by now? (Reminds me of the Hulk changing from grey to green)
    I’ve started blogging about the big changes in the Superman world at this time, starting with Superman #233– I hope you don’t mind me dropping in a link–
    https://whisperstothesurface.blogspot.com/2021/01/superman-233-jan-1971.html
    As always, thanks and appreciation–
    Andrew

    Liked by 2 people

    • Alan Stewart · January 16

      Andrew, glad you liked the post! I have no idea about what was up with those socks, but the coloring in the Jimmy Olsen reprints is pretty consistent with the originals. The one exception I can think of right now is the first appearance of Darkseid, from the end of JO #134, where he appeared to be an especially ugly white dude. 🙂

      And no prob with sharing the link — I haven’t read your Superman #233 review yet, but I’m looking forward to it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Don · January 16

    I was about to make note of the disparity between re-drawing Jimmy’s face everytime and then letting Kirby draw “Giant Jimmy’s” face, but now I see in your footnote that Anderson drew that, too! I’m not all that sure DC understood what they had in Kirby back in the day; they certainly didn’t seem to know what to do with him or treat him with any respect. I wonder how Adams and Plastino and Anderson felt about the fact that DC had so little respect for Kirby that they wouldn’t even let him draw the faces of his own characters? Or if it bothered them at all?

    On the story-side, you certainly couldn’t tell this story today without exploring the moral issues involved in cloning human tissue and creating intentional mutations and “slave labor.” Though DC certainly has a history of this sort of thing with the work of Project Cadmus and N.O.W.H.E.R.E. and Star Labs and Luthor and the creation of the Superboy clone and even Doomsday, if I’m not mistaken. The only difference is that Superman opposed these later groups where he seems to be “all-in” with this one. What a difference a decade or two makes in the outlook of not only us as readers, but Supes as a character.

    I’m also amazed at how little time passes in these Kirby Jimmy Olsen stories. Three or four issues in and only a day or two has passed in “story time.” I guess time flies when you’re subverting the laws of God and nature. Has anyone gone back and revisited this stories in a more modern context? That’s something I’d love to read. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

    • whisperstothesurface1909 · January 16

      Hi Don– I’ve written a review of this issue as a complete newcomer to Bronze Age comics, so it might be of interest to you– Andrew
      https://whisperstothesurface.blogspot.com/2021/01/jimmy-olsen-136-april-1971.html

      Liked by 2 people

    • Alan Stewart · January 16

      Actually, I think those Giant Jimbo faces within the story are all Kirby/Colletta (Anderson just worked on the cover’s version). I guess DC didn’t care so much about Jimmy staying “on model” when he was all monstered-up.

      I believe that Adams, at least, was bugged about DC’s attitude towards Kirby and eventually prevailed upon them to let him ink Kirby’s pencils for JO‘s covers — we’ll have the first of those coming up next month, with #137.

      It’s been forever since I read those late-’80s Superman stories, but Project Cadmus was essentially the post-Crisis version of Kirby’s “The Project”. The Newsboy Legion, Guardian, and Dubbilex all showed up in a storyline or two, if I’m not mistaken.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alan, yes, as someone who read the Superman titles regularly from the late 1980s thru the mid 1990s, I can confirm that Cadmus was the post-Crisis version of Kirby’s “The Project” and the Guardian, the Newsboy Legion, Dubbilex, the Hairies, mad scientist Dabney Donovan and several other characters & elements from Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen run would often make appearances throughout that time period.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Don, in regards to DC having Superman and Jimmy’s faces redrawn, I agree, from a modern-day perspective it seems ridiculous. And given the specific circumstances of DC making a concerted effort to lure Jack Kirby over from Marvel, it feels odd that they would not let him do his own versions of these characters.

      However, in the 1960s and 70s it was actually a somewhat common practice at both Marvel and DC, and possibly other publishers, for editors to have other artists come in to do corrections or alterations to bring characters “on model”so to speak. Stan Lee frequently had John Romita redrew characters’ faces on covers to make them fit the specific Marvel “house style” of the time. I seem to recall that Romita was even asked to do this on a few occasions over Kirby on characters like Captain America and Thor, which seems ridiculous, since Kirby had actually co-created hose characters, but that’s what happened. I think Marie Severin was also tasked with doing these types of corrections. At DC I’ve heard that since Kurt Schffenberger was the regular artist on the Lois Lane series sometimes as asked to redraw Lois when she appeared in other titles. There were probably other examples of this practice at both publishers.

      Still doesn’t make it right, but it wasn’t quite a case of DC just singling out Kirby’s work for alterations.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alan Stewart · January 16

        All true, Ben. I think that that part of why the redrawing seems especially egregious in this case is that, as you note, DC had made such a big deal about Kirby’s arrival — “The Great One Is Coming!”, “Kirby’s Here!”, etc. — and another is that it was so glaring and unappealing in its execution. You could read those Marvel comics where Lee had Romita redraw Kirby’s Sharon Carter (or whomever), and likely not even notice, but Murphy Anderson heads on Jack Kirby bodies were hard to miss!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I bought this (and several other issues of Jimmy Olsen by Kirby) as a back issue in, um, I don’t remember the exact year, but I guess it was the mid to late 1990s. Reading these at that point, I found the idea of a top secret government project cloning civilians without their knowledge & permission to be a pretty dodgy, if not downright sinister, prospect. Well, this issue was published a year and a half before the the Watergate Hotel break-in and subsequent cover-up, so I suppose at the time most Americans held a somewhat more idealistic view of the federal government.

    That said, I do admire all of the creativity Kirby showed in this storyline, and in the overall “Fourth World” epic. He had the most incredible imagination, as well as the talent & drive to transform his ideas into engaging, entertaining stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alan Stewart · January 16

      That’s a good point about the timing. I wonder if Kirby would have handled things differently, if Watergate had already occurred when he conceived this storyline.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Stu Fischer · January 20

        Not only that, but this issue came out five months before the stolen Pentagon Papers were printed showing how our government had lied about the “progress” in the Vietnam War.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Stu Fischer · January 20

    I had gotten through 16 pages of your review and screen shots thinking that all I would be writing afterwards was “see my criticisms about Jimmy Olsen #135.” Then I couldn’t contain myself.

    Interestingly enough, when I was nine years old I thought that The Project was great stuff. Re-reading it now, I remember all of the exposition at the end of this issue as well as the illustrations (including the Kirby Kollage). I used to role play working at the project with my younger brother (who always suffered through these comic role plays of mine even if he had no clue what it was all about). Even though it would be only five years later, amazingly I never made the connection between Kirby’s “Project” of 1971 and his nightmare of Armin Zola’s “research” in “Captain America” in 1976 when I read the Zola stories. Yeah, I’d say that Kirby completely changed his tune on genetic engineering in five years.

    Let’s see, what’s bad here. Well first, you said it best: “Living human children, created in a lab, then raised in an institutional environment so that one day they can serve a secretive, off-the-books government facility as its homegrown ‘personnel’, apparently forever.” I can’t really add to that perfect summation. Then there is Kirby’s conception of the Hairies (admittedly in essay in an earlier issue) as a perfectly bred human without any negative indoctrination. I did comment about this in your post on that issue by making a John Lennon “Imagine” joke, but kidding aside, are creatures like that really human? Creatures without parents and a development over the years? Is the idea to replace the current human life on Earth with these unified minded creatures? This is a good thing? Hasn’t Superman, or Kirby for that matter, ever read Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”?

    I did find it interesting that Superman refers to the Hairies on page 18 as having evolved “hair trigger minds”. That explanation for the otherwise hippie-dippie name actually makes sense, whether Kirby meant to write that as an explanation for the name or not. Then we get to the idea of creating “aliens” from human tissue. Why would you call them aliens if they are from human tissue (I guess if they called them “mutants” Marvel would have sued)? Then Jimmy says “Oh come now! I’m just not ready to come face-to-face with campy bug eyed monsters” as if Jimmy has never seen any “campy bug eyed monsters” in the past. Then again, (as you pointed out in another post) this comes just a month after Denny O’Neill has Green Arrow thinking that the idea of Amazons is foolish so maybe there was something in the water in D.C. at the time. On page 21, Superman says that Dubbilex got his name “because his powers are still unknown”. What? In that case, a name like Enigma would make more sense. Dubbilex soundls like something you take to fight stomach upset.

    Moreover, as far as internal continuity goes, how does the Superman who is so involved in the Project (and who has apparently been so involved for some time) relate to the Superman in “Forever People” who is so grouchy and alienated about being alone and wanting to go to Supertown?

    I have a lot more to say, but, again, it would be a repeat of my comments about Jimmy Olsen No. 135.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alan Stewart · January 20

      “Dubbilex sounds like something you take to fight stomach upset.” That made me chuckle out loud, Stu.

      It would be fascinating to know what Kirby made of this material decades later; as far as I know, he was never asked about it in interviews (although I can’t claim to have read all of those, so maybe there’s something out there).

      Like

  5. James Kosmicki · February 7

    Kirby had played with cloned subservient workers years earlier with the Alpha Primitives in Attilan. Given where he went just a few years later with Arnim Zola, as referenced by Stu Fischer, I believe that Kirby was setting up a long-term storyline here. Intent seems to go a long way with Kirby – why is this science being done? Thus the difference between The Project and the Evil Factory using pretty much the same technology.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alan Stewart · February 7

      That’s a good observation about the Alpha Primitives, James. As for Arnim Zola — it’s been forever since I read those stories (well, maybe not forever — but probably 44 years 🙂 ). Your comments, and Stu’s, have me thinking I need to revisit them.

      Like

  6. JoshuaRascal · February 8

    “Do you realize what weird, and perhaps dangerous, channels are being probed here?”

    Finally, ace reporter Jimmy Olsen asks the million dollar question about the Project after four issues [or should I say multi-billion dollar question, given the probable cost of such a secret government project]. Jack Kirby, by having Jimmy Olsen ask this question, was quite aware of the moral, ethical, and religious quandary that the Project represented. Why else should a project like this be kept secret? Superman more than just sidesteps the question, he completely ignores it. That’s Superman for you. Then again, what makes Superman a ‘superman’? Superman has godlike powers. Does he have a godlike attitude to go with it? The way he keeps talking, it not only appears that he was aware of the Project, but was a prime instigator if not the prime instigator for it. Superman thinks humanity should be more like him, judging from his attitude. The DNA Project was a way to make humanity more like him. Superman wanted the government to instigate a DNA Project, so they did. If God wants you to do it, you do it. According to Jack Kirby, Superman is God in the DC Universe.

    Superman in Kirby’s JO sounds remarkably like Reed Richards during the Lee/Kirby era. Mr. Fantastic had a similar attitude. Great things should be done because it was possible to do them, if for no other reason.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alan Stewart · February 8

      Superman as instigator of the Project, hmm? Thanks for the provocative analysis, JR.

      Like

  7. Pingback: New Gods #2 (Apr.-May, 1971) | Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books
  8. Pingback: Jimmy Olsen #137 (April, 1971) | Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books
  9. Pat Conolly · May 4

    Seeing the size of the hands and forearms coming out of that egg makes me think there’s not much room left in it for a torso and legs. I would be annoyed, but not surprised, if the revealed creature turns out to be at least 5 times bigger than the egg it was in. Well, we shall see.

    Liked by 1 person

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