Taken together, the first six issues of Jack Kirby’s run on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen — beginning with #133, and continuing on through #138 — comprise one long story, which, for purposes of discussion, can conveniently be broken down into three discrete parts, each two issues long.
In the first part (#133-134), Kirby hits the ground literally racing, introducing such new characters and concepts as the new Newsboy Legion, Inter-Gang, the Wild Area, the Outsiders, Habitat, the Zoomway, the Mountain of Judgment, and the Hairies — oh, and some fellow named Darkseid — without giving Jimmy, his pal the Man of Steel, or us readers, a chance to catch a breath.
Moving into the middle section (#135–136), the writer-artist-editor slows things down a bit, as the headlong narrative comes to rest (at least temporarily) at the Project, a secret U.S. government initiative successfully experimenting with human cloning. In these issues, the majority of scenes function in an expository mode — though that mode is significantly interrupted at one point by violent action, in the form of an attack from the Project’s rival operation, the Evil Factory.
Finally, in the third and final part, the pace ratchets up again, as the Evil Factory unleashes a second, more deadly assault on the Project — one which threatens virtually all of the characters and locales we’ve met in the series to date, including the entire city of Metropolis.
But before we dive into this penultimate chapter in Jack Kirby’s first extended storyline at his new home of DC Comics, let’s take a quick look at issue #137’s cover — the first since issue #133’s to have been crafted primarily by Kirby himself, albeit with an assist on inks by Neal Adams, the artist who’d drawn every Jimmy Olsen cover since that first one.
Here’s how Adams himself described the cover for the 17th issue of The Jack Kirby Collector, back in 1997:
The perfect match between the two of us. I think for a time there I was convincing people, “Just let me ink the covers and we’ll be fine.” An example of someone who knows how a cover layout works. He [Kirby] does it on several levels, not just the one big figure concept. The argument, “Let Jack do the covers and I’ll ink them – they’ll be fine,” won out. If you had to satisfy the Editor to make the books look more like DC Comics – by having me ink them – that would do it. That philosophy lasted for a little while.
The pairing of Kirby’s expressionistic, even geometric style with Adams’ photorealistic technique seems like the kind of thing which shouldn’t work, but in fact does, and splendidly. At the time these comics came out, I don’t know that my younger self cared that much whether Kirby or Adams drew their covers — I liked both artists very much — but today, I’m glad that Adams’ argument won out for long enough for us to enjoy multiple successful results of their collaboration, beginning with this one.
And now, on to our story…
Prior to this opening splash, Kirby had merely teased the full appearance of the Four-Armed Terror (henceforth to be referred to as “the 4AT”) — first, in the final panels of issue #136, where he’d only shown us the creature’s arms as it hatched from its egg; then, as a mere (if menacing) shadow on his and Adams’ cover for #137. The artist who’d designed dozens, if not hundreds, of monsters over the course of his career doubtlessly had faith in his ability to deliver on the promise of those earlier hints; and he delivered, though it’s interesting to note that the beast we finally see in its full glory here looks a bit different than we might have expected from the glimpses of pink, sharp-nailed limbs we were given in #136 (see right).
This is the first we’ve seen of Yango or any of the other Outsiders in Jimmy Olsen since Jimmy, the Newsboy Legion, and Superman left them behind on the Zoomway, mid-way through issue #134. As I blogged about just last Saturday, however, the second issue of New Gods — published the very same day as JO #137 — had devoted a full-page splash panel to the Wild Area and its denizens, even suggesting that the secret for which Darkseid and his minions had come to Earth — the Anti-Life Equation — might be found among them. This may well have been a throwaway line of Kirby’s, included simply as a means to justify plugging Jimmy Olsen in the middle of New Gods (a conclusion supported by the fact that he never followed up on the notion) — but, at the time, it certainly served to remind us faithful Fourth World followers who the Outsiders were and/or to maintain our interest in them.
Yango’s blaster fire causes the 4AT to drop Gandy, allowing both bikers to hightail it out of there (on foot, unfortunately) to warn their fellow inhabitants of the community called Habitat. Meanwhile, at the not-so-far-away Project…
As noted in our Forever People #2 post earlier this month, Kirby had gone on the record in 1969 as being opposed to the use of recreational drugs. Still, this sequence, as well as the somewhat similar one in FP #2, suggest that Kirby’s imagination was stimulated by the psychedelic experimentation of this era, even if he didn’t trust the particular mechanisms used within the counterculture.
The “dance” in JO #137 is, perhaps, not quite so close an analogue of the drug trip as is little Donnie’s experience in Forever People. For one thing, it’s communal; for another, the Hairies’ Solar-Phone technology, which quite literally generates good vibrations, has a lot less physical resemblance to an actual controlled substance than does Forever Person Serifan’s Cosmic Cartridge — which, even if you can enjoy its effects simply by holding it in your hand, sure look like something you might ingest.
The concept of sharing a sense of “oneness” through music is also reminiscent of the ideas of Inayat Khan (1882-1927) regarding music and mysticism; while it seems unlikely that Kirby would have encountered the works of this Sufi writer firsthand (though it’s obviously not impossible), Khan’s ideas were out and about in the zeitgeist of the era, influencing the rock band the Who’s aborted Lifehouse project, for example.
Beyond the psychedelia and musical mysticism, comics historian Jon B. Cooke has also found in this sequence an anticipation on Kirby’s part of the coming of virtual reality technologies. Taking into consideration both the headsets worn by the “dancers”, and Scrapper’s experience of flowers that seem real enough to be “from Kelly’s Funeral Parlor“, it’s not hard to see where Cooke is coming from.
Murphy Anderson’s Superman and Olsen heads sitting on top of Kirby-pencilled, Vince Colletta-inked bodies continue to strike a visually jarring note. It’s especially irksome in the very next panel — an extreme close-up of Superman’s face in which virtually no trace of Kirby’s actual pencil art remains, beyond his basic layout:
With Neal Adams’ cover for this very issue providing a sterling example of how Kirby’s versions of Superman and Jimmy could be made to “look more like DC Comics”, in Adams’ phrase, without sacrificing the integrity of Kirby’s own work, DC’s failure to find a more aesthetically pleasing solution to their dissatisfaction with the King’s renditions of Superman and company seems all the more egregious.
As the scene continues, Superman tells Jimmy and the Newsboy Legion to sit tight while he goes to investigate what’s going on. Jimmy takes umbrage at his pal calling him and the others kids (“I’m over 21!” he insists to Supes as the latter strides away) — and as soon as the Action Ace is out of sight, the boys resolve to follow him into the fray, regardless. As part of this discussion, the Newsboys also decide to elect Jimmy as their official leader, based on his having held such a position with the Outsiders for about five minutes back in issues #133-134 — which seems a little random, but whatever.
This is the last we’ll see of Yango and the Outsiders this issue — and, in fact, the last time Jack Kirby will ever draw Yango (or any other members of the biker gang, for that matter, outside of a couple of panels in a 2-page back-up feature in Jimmy Olsen #142).* It’s hard to believe that Kirby didn’t have any other plans for the characters, especially considering the attention he’d given them this month in New Gods, as well as in this story; perhaps he was simply unable to fulfill those plans prior to DC’s shutdown of the Fourth World project, although it’s also possible that, over the coming months, his prodigious imagination came up with newer, more compelling ideas that ultimately crowded the Outsiders outside of his long-range thinking.
Perhaps the Whiz Wagon is fast enough to “tail a comet”; but even if it is, Superman is faster yet, and he quickly leaves the boys well behind. Soon he arrives at the trouble site, and then immediately heads underground to confront the rampaging 4AT:
You have to wonder, reading Superman’s dialogue in the next to last panel above, what the Project’s end result of experimenting with human cells “treated in a manner to simulate atomic war conditions” would have been like, compared to the Evil Factory’s product. We already know, courtesy of the appearance of Dubbilex in the previous issue, that the “good” research scientists of the Project aren’t adverse to creating extreme variants on the human model — “D.N.Aliens”, to use Kirby’s term. Presumably, the Project’s version of an “atomic war survivor” wouldn’t have been a destructive, rampaging monster; still, the whole business helps point out just how murky the morality of the whole enterprise is.
Having arrived on the scene at last, Jimmy and the Newsboys attempt to aid Superman, using tech on loan from the Hairies:
But before Superman can bring his strength, or any of his other powers, to bear upon breaking free, the 4AT lifts the now-complete egg-like energy shell up, knocking those inside off-balance — and then hurls it forcefully across the cavern…
As this chapter of our story nears its end, the scene shifts to the Evil Factory for the first time this issue — where we’re reminded that the current crisis is a result of Darkseid’s schemes, and thus represents one thread in the overall tapestry of Kirby’s Fourth World epic.
And thus we come to the end of “The Four-Armed Terror!” Only one more chapter left in our story, and things look grim for Jimmy, Superman, the new Newsboy Legion, the old Newsboy Legion, the Guardian, Dubbilex, the Scrapper Troopers, the Hairies, the Outsiders… pretty much everybody we’ve met in the last five issues who’s not from Apokolips, really. Oh, and the entire city of Metropolis, to boot.
Will our heroes manage to save the day? Well, it’s fifty years later, and DC is still publishing Superman comics set in Metropolis, so I think it’s a pretty safe bet. But, as always, the fun is in getting there; so I hope you’ll rejoin me here in April, when we’ll find out if Jimmy Olsen #138 does or doesn’t end with a really “Big Boom”.
*Kirby’s abandonment of Yango and the Outsiders didn’t mean that DC’s readers had seen the last of them, however; they would in fact reappear while the Fourth World was still a going concern, just not in a Kirby-authored tale. “Inside the Outsiders” would appear in December, 1971, in the pages of Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane #119. Will we be discussing that story on this blog, ten months hence? Do you really have to ask?