Regular readers of this blog may have noticed, and perhaps even wondered at, the absence of Jimmy Olsen in recent months. After all, beginning with the advent of Jack Kirby as writer-artist of the adventures of Superman’s freckle-faced pal with JO #133, we’ve devoted an entire post to each and every issue of the series, sans one (that one being #139, featuring the first half of the “Goody Rickels” two-part storyline) — or at least we had done so, up through #141 (the second half of said two-parter). Since July, however, there’s been no sign of the red-headed reporter for the Daily Planet around these parts. So, well might you wonder: what’s up with that?
To put it in the simplest terms — I wasn’t all that crazy about Jimmy Olsen #142 and #143 when they were first released fifty years ago. And today? Well… let’s just say that there were plenty of other comic books that reached their golden anniversaries in August and September that I was more interested in writing about than these two.
Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with #142’s “The Man from Transilvane” and its follow-up, #143’s “Genocide Spray!” But in 1971, my fourteen-year-old self was a lot more interested in seeing the “real” Count Dracula in a comic book than I was in what seemed like a cheap knockoff, i.e., Kirby’s “Count Dragorin”. In retrospect, it’s rather ironic that the cover blurb of #142 promises “the vampire bit! But like you’ve never seen it before!” — because as of this point, most comic book readers under the age of twenty had never seen the traditional vampire “bit” depicted in a comic book — at least, not one approved by the Comics Code Authority. Sure, we always had the non-Code-approved Dark Shadows to fall back on, not to mention Vampirella and its black-and-white ilk; still, now that the Code had been revised to allow for the presentation of vampires, I for one was ready to see some straight-up Satan-spawned undead bloodsuckers in my DC and Marvel comic books. Enough with the alien energy drainers and the scientifically-mutated hemoglobin addicts, already.
The same thing went for the storyline’s other characters based on the classic Universal Studios movie monsters of the 1930s and ’40s. Why should I be interested in a science-fictional facsimile of a “wolf-man” like DC’s “Lupek”, when Marvel was simultaneously introducing the world to a legitimate lunar-cursed lycanthrope in Werewolf by Night?
Of course, if you were going to have an SF-based “explanation” for the presence of apparently supernatural monsters, the one that Jack Kirby came up with for JO #142-143 was a pretty impressive one…
…even if the basic idea of an artificially-created miniature planet on which an Earth scientist has grown and evolved a race of sentient beings appears to have been derived by Kirby from a 1964 Outer Limits TV episode. (Still, one has to ask: Was the planet in “Wolf 359” surrounded by movie projectors bombarding it with old horror movies 24/7? Did it have devil horns? I think not.)
All that said, the sham monsters represented only part of the reason I was less than enamored with Jimmy Olsen #142 and #143, and not even the largest part. My main gripe was that the storyline had nothing to do with any of the concepts and situations that Kirby had been developing ever since taking over the book — nothing to do with the Wild Area, the Outsiders, the Project, the D.N.Aliens, the Evil Factory*… and most important of all, nothing to do with the war between New Genesis and Apokolips. As far as I was concerned, that latter conflict was what defined Kirby’s quartet of DC titles — Jimmy Olsen, Forever People, New Gods, and Mister Miracle — as the ongoing, interconnected epic we would eventually come to call the Fourth World. I didn’t necessarily expect Darkseid to show up, or even be mentioned, in every issue of all four titles; but if there wasn’t at least a sense of the machinations of the New Gods behind the scenes, was it even a Fourth World story?
The closest that JO #142 and #143 came to the tetralogy’s central conflict came by way of a subplot involving the Newsboy Legion, whose early (and unauthorized) checkout from a Project medical ward led, quite improbably, to the discovery of the underground hideout of the man who’d killed the original Guardian, the friend and mentor of the boys’ fathers:
The connection between the murderer (who ends up being killed by his own confederates via a remote-controlled explosion) and the larger Fourth World mythos is fairly tenuous — he’s a member of Inter-Gang, the human criminal organization secretly under the control of Darkseid — but at least this subplot felt connected to the larger Jimmy Olsen story arc, in a way the Transilvane business just didn’t.
In any event, when JO #144 showed up in the spinner racks in October, sporting its “Far-Out!!” cover pencilled by Kirby and inked by Neal Adams, my younger self was somewhat apprehensive, yet still hopeful that this issue would see the book getting back on what I believed to be the proper track. Happily, that hope turned out to be well-founded… though that wouldn’t really become evident until some ways into the story. Indeed, as far as one could tell from the first two pages, we were simply off on a new tangent — but looks can be deceiving…
As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, Vince Colletta (“that great Scottish inkie laddie”) had recently been removed from his duties on the other three Fourth World titles at Kirby’s insistence — but he’d kept his gig on Jimmy Olsen, over which the DC offices in New York still maintained strict control, despite Kirby’s supposed editorial authority. Similarly, artist Murphy Anderson continued in his uncredited role, redrawing the heads of both Jimmy and Superman throughout the book.
Way back in Jimmy Olsen #133, Kirby had kicked off his run by having the new owner of the Daily Planet, Morgan Edge, send Jimmy and the Newsboy Legion off to the Wild Area for a story. Though Clark (Superman) Kent was suspicious of Edge’s intentions, only we readers knew that the media mogul was involved with Inter-Gang. But then, in the climax of issue #134, a bomb had been discovered in the Whiz Wagon, the vehicle Edge had had built for the Newsboys at his own company’s expense.
Ever since then, the matter of confronting and questioning Morgan Edge had been hanging around in the series’ background. While the breakneck-paced storyline hadn’t allowed for a breather of any sort all the way through issue #138, the very next installment had seen Jimmy and Clark attempt to bring their concerns to Edge at his Galaxy Broadcasting Systems offices, only to be deflected into their adventure with Goody Rickels. The two reporters had made yet another attempt in issue #142; this time, Edge’s unavailability led to Jimmy and Superman getting inadvertently drawn into the otherwise unrelated, Transilvane business.
Now, here we are once again. Clark/Superman is absent, but the Newboys are back in town, and they’re just as keen for answers as the Man of Steel. It looks like we’re finally going to see the confrontation between our heroes and the nefarious Morgan Edge that we’ve been waiting for for the last ten issues…
Um… what? Edge says “Poppycock, Olsen!!”, and that’s it? Say it ain’t so, Mr. Kirby!
The idea here seems to be that Jimmy and co. can’t openly divulge anything they learned at the top-secret, U.S. Government-run D.N.A. Project, and so have no “proof” against Edge. But surely Jimmy and Clark would already have considered this problem, as they’ve been running around trying to talk to their boss since JO #139, and come up with some plan to deal with it. Wouldn’t they?
It’s possible that Kirby realized here that he’d written himself into a corner, and this was the best way he could come up with to get Edge off the hook — at least if he wanted to continue to use Darkseid’s man in the media as an ongoing villain. It’s also possible that he was stalling for time, while his fellow editors and storytellers of DC’s “Superman family” titles elsewhere executed a plan that would ultimately let Kirby do whatever he wanted with the Jimmy Olsen version of Edge, while also allowing the character to continue to be used as a regular supporting character in the “family”‘s other titles going forward. (And if that sounds absolutely bonkers to you, be sure to check this space in November for our post on Lois Lane #118, when all will be revealed.)
And just like that, they’re in. Head off to Scotland on the say-so of the guy they suspect was willing to see them all blown to Kingdom Come, even if they weren’t his bomb’s ultimate target? Sure, why not? And Edge seems to have anticipated the group’s answer: “All preparations have been made!” he informs them. “You boys leave immediately!”
Kirby allows Jimmy a brief “this ain’t over” moment, but it’s not very convincing:
Yeah, “dig these cats!!” Just a couple of costumed superdudes, strolling down the street together. Not something you see every day, even in Metropolis.
This is the first time we’ve seen the Guardian (who’s the clone of the murdered original, if you happened to come in late) since the conclusion of issue #141; and I, for one, have some questions. Where’s he been staying in Metropolis since he left the Project? What does he do all day? Is he planning to establish a new secret identity as “Jim Harper, Jr.,” or some such? Has anyone even gotten the poor guy a change of clothes?
But if Jack Kirby knows the answers to those questions, he’s not tellin’ — at least, not in this episode. For now, it’s all about the two heroes’ responding to a newspaper ad inviting them to…
This is the first time we’ve seen Terry Dean since #138, when she shared a brief scene with Daily Planet editor Perry White. As we covered in our post on that issue, Terry had appeared in one story prior to Kirby’s run (in JO #127), and appears to have been added to the series’ ongoing cast to add a bit of female representation (which, with the exception of Morgan Edge’s secretary Laura Conway, is otherwise all but nonexistent, at least as far as named characters go).
“Great Darkseid!!!” Now that’s the kind of thing I expect to see in a Fourth World story.
You may note that the five servants of Apokolips introduced on this page — the San Diego Five String Mob — all have fairly distinctive physiognomies. Could they have been based by Kirby on some real-life individuals? Why yes, they could have, and were:
In 1969, 36-year-old comics fan Shel Dorf — the soon-to-be “founding father” of the San Diego Comic-Con — began taking groups of younger fans to visit Jack Kirby at his home studio in southern California. On one of these visits, one of the guys suggested that the King put them in one of his comics, and that’s just what he did.
Using Kirby’s 1971 SDCC sketch and Dorf’s accompanying photo “key” as a guide, the members of the mob shown on page 8 can be identified as follows (clockwise from top left): Bill Lund, Scott Shaw!, John Pound, Mike Towry, and Roger Freedman. (Barry Alfonso? He’ll be joining them on page 13.) All of these guys eventually helped start and/or grow the San Diego Comic-Con, and a couple of them — Shaw! and Pound — went on to professional careers in the comics industry.
Gee, I’m kind of surprised to see Supes so reluctant to hit the dance floor, considering the way he was shakin’ it with his girlfriend at a Metropolis teen center in Lois Lane #116, just a few weeks prior. (Well, I say he was dancing — but see what you think.) Maybe he’s just worried Lois will find out and be jealous? Yeah, that tracks, actually.
As for Dubbilex, this is only the second time we’ve seen the D.N.Alien, his only previous appearance having been a single brief scene in Jimmy Olsen #136. As far as we know, he’s never been outside the bounds of the top-secret Project, so it’s small wonder that Superman is surprised to see him at a discotheque.
Indeed, within two hours, Jimmy and the Newsboys have crossed the Atlantic — and are strapped into their seats in the Whiz Wagon, waiting for Edge’s crew to “drop them off” in the vicinity of Loch Ness, er, Trevor:
The gentleman waiting for our young heroes is one Felix McFinney — who speaks with a comically broad accent, naturally, and finds himself somewhat baffled by Scrapper’s efforts to blend in with the native “Scotchers”:
That’s the last we’ll see of Superman and company for this issue. When they next turn up, in #145, the action will open with Superman, Terry, and Dubbilex (no Guardian) confronting the Five (?) String Mob in the tunnels beneath the club. We’re left to surmise what happened in the immediate aftermath of Barriboy’s bringing the roof down on the Cosmic Carousel’s clientele.
Intriguingly, Kirby actually drew a page that illustrates that scene, evidently planning to include it either in #144 or #145, but set it aside for whatever reason. Here ’tis:
(The page appears to have been signed some time later; to the best of my knowledge, the inker is unknown.)
It’s interesting that on the unused page, the Guardian takes the lead in heading into the tunnels, whereas in the published version of #145 it’ll be Superman who takes that role.
But, getting back to issue #144 — there’s still plenty of story left to tell concerning events on the other side of the pond…
And yet another named female makes an appearance. This must be a record.
We’ll skip the next couple of panels of the boys eating, bantering, and ogling Ginny, so we can get right to this part:
As MacFinney explains, this device is sure to wake “the Orm of Loch Trevor!!” (I think he means “worm”, but I may be wrong.)
After dinner, the MacFinneys’ house guests turn in for the night — including one very small guest they don’t even know about:
We’d first met the “Scrapper Troopers” — an elite unit of micro-paratroopers, all cloned from Scapper’s D.N.A. — in #136., where they’d helped take down a giant green clone of Jimmy This particular soldier had joined up with his full-sized doppelgänger and the other Newsboys in #139, where he’d facilitated their bust-out from the Project, and has evidently decided since then that hanging out with the big’uns on the outside beats spending the rest of his life in the Project, waiting for another crisis that requires an elite unit of micro-paratroopers to handle. Hard to blame the little guy, really.
After losing communication with Flippa, the other boys are poised to don their scuba gear, grab some spear-guns, and dive in after him — but then they get another unpleasant surprise:
“The monster lunges!” Kirby’s next caption tells us. “Loch Trevor heaves and lashes with the beast’s descent! And as suddenly as it had appeared, it is suddenly — gone!!!”
MacFinney has been carried to the bottom of the lake — and evidently also to his death — by the monster. Jimmy and the Newsboys who were in the boat are all OK, however, as is the Scrapper Trooper, who’s used big Scrapper’s tam o’ shanter as a raft. But what about Flippa Dippa?
My fourteen-year-old self finished “A Big Thing in a Deep Scottish Lake!” feeling pretty confident that Jimmy Olsen was back on track. Besides the obvious Fourth World-centric elements driving the Metropolis-based subplot, the involvement of “Interrr-Gaang” in the main narrative seemed to bode well for the future. Of course, the involvement of Darkseid’s forces might not go any further than Morgan Edge’s continued attempts to silence Jimmy and his friends — and the origins of the big “Orm” might turn out to have no more to do with Apokolips than had those of the inhabitants of Transilvane. Happily for yours truly, that would prove not to be the case — but more details will necessarily have to wait for a future post.
Recent issues of all four of Jack Kirby’s DC titles had found him supplementing his lead stories with brief 2-to-4 page stories exploring the background of his Fourth World mythos. Both Forever People and New Gods featured installments of “The Young Gods of Supertown”, while Mister Miracle brought us “Young Scott Free”.
And in Jimmy Olsen, readers were treated to “Tales of the D.N.A. Project”:
One doesn’t learn an awful lot about the Project from these vignettes — and in retrospect, we might wish that Kirby had used the limited space to give some consideration to the very dodgy ethics of the whole enterprise, rather than just embellish its lore. Still, I’d take one of these over a Joe Simon-Jack Kirby Real Fact Comics reprint of the same length, any time.
And, speaking of Simon and Kirby…
Interestingly, issues of Jimmy Olsen from this period have two pages less new material than those of their Fourth World cousins — probably because the reprinted stories of the original Newsboy Legion and Guardian, coming in at 14 pages when you include the accompanying Star-Spangled Comics cover, are on average longer than the S&K features running in the other books.
Of course, editor Kirby could have squeezed out an extra page for new stuff from writer-artist Kirby by dropping the reprinted cover, which after all is just another version of the same scene that was utilized for the splash. But then, we’d miss seeing how the artist managed to give us two such very different renderings of the same subject matter via changes in staging, angle, and so forth…. and that would be a loss. Or so thinks your humble blogger, at any rate.
*Before someone hastens to point this out in the comments section, let me assure you that I’m aware that the creator of Transilvane, Dabney Donovan — who never appears on panel in Kirby’s story — was eventually revealed to be a founder of the D.N.A. Project (or as it was later known, Project Cadmus). But that idea was a later innovation, introduced into DC’s post-Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity by writer-artist Karl Kesel in Secret Origins #49 (Jun., 1990); so, while it’s a cool notion, it’s not part of Jack Kirby’s original conception of the character.
This one was memorable for me as it was set in my country, Scotland. I remember being surprised that someone in America knew about the Loch Ness monster, I was unaware of how far its fame had spread. I also remember thinking that Flippant Dippa actually did something this issue. Could Kirby have been thinking so far ahead when he created him to know that he would need to use a diver for this story, or was it just a convenient coincidence when he subsequently thought up the plot for this issue? Thanks again Alan.
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Brian, as an actual Scot, what did you make of Kirby’s comical Scottish accents and the like? Was it just par for the course for pop culture coming out of America?
As for Flippa Dippa, I’ve read that the character was inspired by a character played by the late actor Cleavon Little (best remembered for the movie “Blazing Saddles”) in a stage play called “Scuba Duba”. I figure that Kirby came up with Flip first, then looked for ways to use the scuba angle. But I could be wrong. 🙂
I was fine with the Scottish accents because they are more or less authentic for some Scots. Kirby was also doing the same with Scrapper and his New York (Brooklyn?) accent. 😀
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I’ve always felt that the character of Flippa Dippa is at best “politically incorrect” and once Kirby came up with the idea of a street kid who ALWAYS wears scuba gear, he finally created this story as a way to justify the character’s existence beyond a seventies need for diversity. Even so, Flippa gets sidelined fairly quickly as we never see him escape Ginny or follow and capture her. I know you said you thought this issue got Kirby back on track, Alan, but to me (and what I vaguely remember thinking fifty years gone by), but to me he was still in the weeds at this point, especially in Jimmy Olsen, trying his damnedest to make the Fourth World fit into mainstream DC continuity, even though very few of the other creatives at DC were supporting him on that score.
Also, why are they called the Five String Mob when it looks like every one of them is playing some kind of horn? I guess one or two of Kirby’s fantastic instruments could be stringed, but when they all play them together on pg 14, they certainly don’t look like it. An odd choice for Jack to make, but then again, Fourth World Jimmy Olsen is an odd book.
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I have a lot to catch up on comment-wise but I think I’ll start more recent first this time. I think that this is a very strange issue (and it appears that the previous two you touched on were as well). I don’t remember these issues at all even though I know that I read them in 1971. Alan, while your 14 year old self might have thought that Kirby was getting back on track with the Fourth World in this issue of Jimmy Olsen, I have to respectfully disagree. The only things in this book (at least the Jimmy Olsen part) that’s really Fourth World is calling the group that tries to kill Jimmy and the Newsboy Legion “Intergang” and having Morgan Edge order the hit. OK, “Scrappy Doo” as well (sorry, but that’s what comes to mind even though it pre-dates the character).
What strikes me is that by this point Kirby’s three original Fourth World titles are dealing with dark, gritty and disturbing topics while Jimmy Olsen has stereotypical broadly characterized Scottsmen and predicatable dialogue jokes that could be found in any comic of the era, particularly light hearted ones. I wonder if Kirby was given the order from management to steer the Jimmy Olsen book into more traditional comics territory for fear that making it like Kirby;s other books would a) lose traditional comic book readers and/or b) damage the franchise. Alternatively, perhaps Kirby, being chained to this book, decided on his own to give it short shrift compared to his original masterpieces. In any event, this issue is quite traditional, including the subplot of Superman and The Guardian (which does include Apokolips related characters although it is quite a coincidence that the disco innocently invited Superman and the Guardian to the one place where the Apokoliptans have a tunnel to the Project–of all the discos in all the towns in all the world and they walk into mine. I see this as another example of Kirby disinterest.
Also, rather than see the story through, wouldn’t you think that Jimmy Olsen and the Newsboy Legion would want to immediately pack up and head home to confront Morgan Edge? If there wasn’t enough evidence before that Edge was trying to kill them, there certainly is now. And while I’m at it, if Morgan Edge wants to kill these guys, why does he have to send them all the way to Scotland to do it?
As for Flippa Dippa, Alan you were very kind to Kirby by not including the page (which I re-read online in D.C. Universe) in which FD calls himself a “Ghetto Guppie” (in bold print yet). Cringe. You also left out most of the pages with the most egregious Scottish stereotypes, although if commenter Brian Morrison, a Scotsman himself, doesn’t mind, I guess I shouldn’t (although I don’t know if he’s read the pages that you did not include) and he does note that Kirby also broadly stereotypes his own local roots (Brooklyn).
I’m looking forward to reading the next chapter in conjunction with your blog post on it to see if I have to readjust my harsh opinion.
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Stu, I think you’re right that Kirby was less interested in Jimmy Olsen than in the Fourth World series he had conceived on his own. That didn’t matter as much at the beginning, when his enthusiasm and pent-up creativity came pouring out in everything he did, but by the time of this installment, the bloom was well off the rose. It probably didn’t help that DC increased JO’s frequency around this time without telling him, making him have to scramble to make his deadlines (the book’s sales had improved under Kirby’s watch, it appears).
Also, FYI as you plan your own monthly re-reading — I won’t be blogging about JO again until issue #146 in December (just too much else going on next month for me to work #145 into the posting schedule).
Thanks for warning me Alan. 🙂
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