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…
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!