Jimmy Olsen #138 (June, 1971)

Behind an attention-arresting cover, which — like most others Jack Kirby produced for DC Comics around this time — was built around an imaginative photo collage (and which also, like the cover of the issue of Jimmy Olsen that had immediately preceded it, featured Neal Adams’ inks over Kirby’s pencils), the comics readers of April, 1971 — including your humble blogger — were treated to the thrilling conclusion of the first multi-part storyline (indeed, the first storyline, period) of the massive Fourth World project written, drawn, and edited by Kirby. 

As anyone who’d been following Kirby’s recent work would expect, the “King” (assisted on the interior art by inker Vince Colletta) starts things off here with a full-page splash…

…and follows it up with a double-page spread, featuring yet anther Kirby Kollage.  This one, like that on the comic’s cover, is somewhat unusual in that it includes color.  (Kirby routinely worked with color photographs in composing his collages, but up to this point, most had been printed in stark black and white.)

If he were to follow his usual recent pattern, Kirby would take a break from splash panels at this point, at least for a page or two — but he doesn’t:

OK, surely we’re done with splashes by now, right?  Not on your life.  After all, we still haven’t seen the titular hero of this comic book yet, or his even more famous “Pal”.  You wouldn’t want to shortchange those two guys, would you?

Finally, now that Jimmy Olsen and Superman — and, of course, their friends in the “new” Newsboy Legion — have taken the stage, Kirby does back off from the big splashes, transitioning to a couple of multi-panel pages featuring the gang’s fruitless, if comical, attempts to escape the “big, stupid alien egg” in which they were imprisoned by the 4AT (that’s “Four-Armed Terror”, to you) in the previous installment.

But then, come page 8…

Whew!

Page 8’s splash panel will turn out to be the last one in the issue.  With six out of the story’s twenty-three pages given over to splashes and spreads, JO #138 is not a record-breaker (#137 had eight such pages), but it does make for a breathless beginning to this closing chapter of Kirby’s Wild Area/Project saga.

We next see the 4AT briefly stymied by a lead wall; but the creature simply burrows beneath it, coming ever closer to the nuclear reactor.  As page 9’s final caption tells us, “it is nine minutes to holocaust!”

While Superman “follows the trail of torn rock and metal” left by the 4AT, Kirby shifts scenes to Metropolis, to check in on some of those folks who unknowingly face annihilation within the next 420 seconds:

Perry White would of course be a familiar face to regular readers of DC’s “Superman family” books, though this is his first appearance in Jimmy Olsen since Kirby’s taking of the title’s reins with issue #133.  Like the other “traditional” DC characters in the story (i.e., Supes and Jimmy), his face has been redrawn wherever it appears by artist Murphy Anderson.

Terry Dean, on the other hand, is something else.  She’s not an established member of JO‘s supporting cast, but neither is she a creation of Jack Kirby’s.  Rather, she had appeared once before, in a story published in Jimmy Olsen #127 (Mar., 1970). not long before the beginning of Kirby’s run.  In “The Secret Slumlord of Metropolis!” (written by Leo Dorfman, with art by Curt Swan and George Roussos), Jimmy met Terry while investigating the terrible living conditions in Metropolis’ slums for the Daily Planet.

Comics historian Jon B. Cooke has suggested that Kirby may have added Terry to his narrative at the edict of DC, so that the book would have at least one regular female character going forward.  That’s possible, of course; but it seems equally likely to me that Kirby himself recognized this need (admittedly, somewhat belatedly), and rather than create a new character out of whole cloth, he flipped back through some of the most recent issues preceding his debut and settled on Ms. Dean as a likely candidate for the role.  (Or maybe he asked his assistants, Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman, for suggestions, and one of them came up with Terry.  Or maybe it was E. Nelson Bridwell, Kirby’s fellow “Superman family” editor and liaison at the DC offices in New York.  I’m just speculating here, folks.)

Of course, Terry Dean doesn’t really contribute anything substantial to the present storyline, but her presence is nevertheless a harbinger of things to come.

Following this interlude, the story returns to the original Newsboy Legion and the Guardian, whom we last saw on page 4.  They finally emerge from the Zoomway into the Wild Area, and soon thereafter come upon the young Newsboys’ abandoned vehicle, the Whiz Wagon:

When I first read these comics fifty years ago, I imagined that the Evil Factory must be located not all that far from its “good” counterpart, the Project; I wasn’t discerning enough to pick up on the fact that Simyan and Mokkari’s use of a “dimensional threshold” to transport their DNAlien horde “to the scene of action” meant that the Evil Factory could in fact be anywhere — and when Kirby finally did clue us in to its location, some seven issues later, I was very much surprised.

The scene now shifts back to Metropolis, and to the man who sent Jimmy and the Newsboys into the Wild Area in the first place, back in Jimmy Olsen #133: Morgan Edge, head of the Galaxy Broadcasting Company:

Since his introduction by Kirby in JO #133, Edge had been picked up for use by other editors and creators at DC, and by now was a fixture in the “Superman family” titles.  In most of those appearances, however, readers saw only the outward facade of an abrasive, difficult boss who didn’t care for Superman — almost the DC equivalent of Marvel Comics’ J. Jonah Jameson.  Here, Kirby reminds us that Edge is more, and worse, than he appears — that he’s a truly Bad Guy, in the service of the Fourth World’s Biggest Bad, Darkseid, and the kind of man who (as Kirby shows on the next page) is callous enough to bail on the hundreds of employees in his building without a thought, so long as he himself escapes the coming catastrophe.

Meanwhile, back at the “scene of action”:

The 4AT hurls the reactor rods at Superman; of course, they bounce off him harmlessly.  But that  doesn’t help with the real problem, which is that without the rods’ regulating effect on the radiation flow, the reactor will soon build to critical mass.

The punch delivered by the Guardian on the panel above is the only real action that the revived Golden Age superhero gets in this issue.  Kirby has a whole lot planned for the clone of slain police officer Jim Harper, but there’s just not enough room this time out to get into any of it.  (The poor guy doesn’t even get a line of dialogue until the last page.)

Damn, that was close!  But what a thrill ride, huh?  Some might say that the plot element of the “test tunnels” gets introduced a little too late in the story for it to be seen as “playing fair” with the reader, but I’m not one of them (hell, I’m just sitting here trying to catch my breath).

And so, the six-issue story arc which began with dissension between the young and the not-so-young ends with — well, with more of the same, actually.  But the conflict seems rather less serious and more ephemeral this time, so… progress, I guess?


The first six issues of Jack Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen are, in my opinion, the high point of the creator’s run on the book.  Whether we’re talking about imaginative concepts, resonant themes, or exciting action, this is the peak.

Which is not to say that there aren’t any great stories from here on out — far from it.  Going forward, however, I’m going to be somewhat more selective regarding which issues receive a full post, rather than blogging about each and every installment the way I’ve been doing so far.

(Don’t worry, though.  There’s no way you’re getting out of here without meeting Goody Rickels.)


As a special bonus, here’s Kirby’s original, full-color collage which served as the basis for the background of Jimmy Olsen #138’s cover, followed by a sketch done by Kirby for DC’s production department to indicate placement of the collage, the drawn figures of Superman and Jimmy, and the cover copy.  Enjoy!

15 comments

  1. grandpachet · April 10

    Whew!

    It felt like I had held my breath during the entire issue. The full-page panels effectively made the story read at a pace that only increased with each page. By the time I got to the final 10 seconds of the countdown, I felt as if I had run five miles in as many minutes. Kirby’s pacing remains unmatched.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. frodo628 · April 10

    I (perhaps blissfully) don’t remember what was going on during this portion of 1971; whether I was broke and had no money for comics, whether I was fighting with my folks over my comics buying (my folks were dedicated Werthamites), or what, but I don’t remember this issue at all. I don’t remember reading it and I no longer own it (I lost a great deal of my collection in the infamous “Broken Water Pipe Disaster of 1984”), but whatever, it was nice to take it in today as a (for me) relatively new story. This issue is a great example of Kirby’s tendency to be more of a visual storyteller, than a literary one; i find in issues like this one where he’s pushing to an exciting finish, the King tends to communicate as much of the story through his awesome visuals as possible and not weigh the panels down with a lot of text and word balloons and in that regard, this issue pays off hugely for artist and reader alike. While it is undeniable (and unforgivable) that Murphy Anderson was drawing Superman’s face (and Perry’s), I’d swear once or twice Jimmy’s face was drawn by Jack and Coletta. Check out the image of Jimmy on the title page; the pinched nose and the shape of the mouth. Both of those are standard Kirby stylistic choices and look nothing like an Anderson drawing. Don’t know how Jack slipped that one by editorial, but good for him.

    Another sign of my comics-amnesia, is that I don’t remember Terry Dean at all, though I cringed when Perry called her “Honey” thirty seconds after meeting her. From your comments, I assume she becomes more important to the book going forward, but I don’t know her.

    All in all, a great conclusion to a great story, though I hated the last couple of panels. It really says a lot about Kirby’s opinion of young people that the day would get saved and Jimmy and the Legion would sit around grousing that they didn’t get a chance to help. Especially Jimmy! I mean, the Newsboy Legion were new, relatively speaking, and maybe they were that selfish, but it was way out of character for Jimmy to behave that way.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane, even if I no longer remember the street or my address. I’m off to take some ginko-baloba and rest my head.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Alan Stewart · April 10

      Good eye on those Jimmy faces, Don. I checked the Grand Comics Database and they include this note for this issue: “Murphy Anderson inks Superman and Perry White faces throughout. Colletta inks most of the Jimmy Olsen faces, with the exception of page 23, panel 3.” ( https://www.comics.org/issue/24316/ )

      I didn’t take that last scene as Kirby showing disdain for young folks so much as a joke that just didn’t land — after all, he practically mythologizes “youth” throughout the whole Fourth World project — but that’s just me.

      Anyway, I’m glad that you enjoyed reading “The Big Boom” again for the first time. (Or whatever.)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ian Christie-smith · April 12

    Really enjoying your articles on Kirby’s Fourth World but please stick with the Jimmy Olsen books, i really feel they are integral to the overall feel of the epic. The Rickles 2 parter, the Dracula 2 parter and the evil factory in Scotland must be included

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alan Stewart · April 13

      Thanks for your interest, Ian! I will definitely be covering the Rickles and Scotland storylines; I’m just not planning to give each issue its own individual post. I’m not as certain about “Transilvane”, which, TBH, I wasn’t all that crazy about when I first read the issues 50 years ago. 🙂 But we’ll see.

      Like

  4. Chris Lindhardt · April 13

    Bring Back the Guardian!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Stu Fischer · April 13

    Another great trip down memory lane. I don’t remember this story vividly, which was actually good because it did keep me on the edge of my seat to see how Kirby was going to get out of it. I know I say this every time out, but this is another indicator of how Kirby was somewhat sadly ahead of his time. No other artist in 1971 would get away with so many splash pages–to say nothing of the fans wanting them. They are all terrific. On the other hand, when you consider how Marvel artists in the late 1980s/early 1990s completely redrew core characters (best example, MacFarlane on Spider Man/Peter Parker) without resistance (and, in many quarters but not mine, praise), its even more of a disgrace how Kirby had his Superman Family faces redone.

    Speaking of artwork, I have two entries in the category of “Is it just me?” First off, I realize that the character of Gabby originated before Richard Nixon was even elected to Congress, but I just can’t look at his face or his Dad’s without thinking that it resembles Nixon (except for perhaps the ski nose). I think I felt the same way in 1971. Second, I think that the egg that our heroes are trapped in resembles Silly Putty from the exterior.

    I had forgotten all about Terry Dean–I’m sure that I haven’t heard the name in at least 45 years, probably longer–but I do recall her now. I too thought that the final sequence in this issue was just a Kirby joke gone flat, rather than a serious rebuke by Jimmy and the Newsboy Legion.

    I re-read this on D.C. Universe right before I read your blog post and I was ready to conclude with I hope that you weren’t going to do the Don Rickles story. Well, you probably won’t be getting any comments from me when you do. I hope that you are going to review the next Green Lantern/Green Arrow book though. I’m curious about your thoughts on that one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alan Stewart · April 14

      My GL #84 post will be coming your way on Sat., April 24th, Stu!

      Like

      • Stu Fischer · April 14

        Great! It will give me time to re-read Superman issues 234-238 on D.C. Universe before I get to your post for today. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Superman #238 (June, 1971) | Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books
  7. maxreadscomics · April 15

    I first read this story in one of those four softcover omnibuses that I always mention 🙂 And when I did, the proliferation of splashes didn’t bother me one bit! As you mentioned, Alan, there were more in a previous issue, which I didn’t mind, either! This issue is one of the greatest examples of Kirby’s bombast and rocket-fuel pacing that is likely to ever be found, in my opinion. And those splashes, all of ’em…are gorgeous. Thanks for including the original cover collage, and thanks again for the excellent post!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Mark Evanier revealed in his introduction to Jimmy Olsen Adventures by Jack Kirby Volume One that Kirby had originally intended his initial story arc to run one issue longer…

    “Jack had plotted (with a little unnecessary help from Steve [Sherman] and myself) a story that would span #138 and #139 and would wrap up all dangling storylines. He had it partially drawn when Nelson Bridwell phoned to discuss some cross-continuity plans with the other Superman books. What the other editors were planning conflicted with several key plot points in Jack’s two-parter so he did a major course correction, scrapping seveal finished pages and wrapping things up in one issue.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ooops, hit “post comment” too soon. Evanier goes on to relate how 25 years later he came across his notes on the original two-parter, and he used those as the basis for “The American Evolution” story featuring Superman and Jimmy Olsen that he wrote and Steve Rude drew which appeared in Legends of the DC Universe #14, cover-dated March 1999.

      That does explain why the ending to Jimmy Olsen #138 is relatively abrupt. If you have not read Legends of the DCU #14, I highly recommend seeking it out. It’s a fun story with amazing artwork.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Alan Stewart · 25 Days Ago

        Ben, I’d read that intro by Evanier back before writing my first Jimmy Olsen post eight months ago, but I’d completely forgotten about it in the interim. I’ll definitely haul out my copy of Legends of the DCU #14 and give that story a fresxh look.

        The anecdote about the phone call between Bridwell and Kirby is especially interesting to me, as I’ve just begun working on a post about the first issue of the Bridwell-edited Lois Lane to heavily draw on Kirby’s concepts (look for that one in May 🙂 ).

        Regardless of what changes Kirby had to make to wrap his initial JO story arc up in #138, the conclusion still works remarkably well, in my opinion.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Lois Lane #111 (July, 1971) | Attack of the 50 Year Old Comic Books

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