In considering the last third of Jack Kirby’s run on Jimmy Olsen — a run of five issues beginning with #144 that starts out pretty well, but finishes up rather anticlimactically, with a number of tantalizing plot threads left simply dangling — it’s probably worth remembering that Kirby was never all that excited about chronicling the adventures of “Superman’s Pal” in the first place.
In a 2011 blog post concerning JO #144, Mark Evanier (one of Kirby’s two assistants in 1971) wrote:
Jack didn’t much like working on Jimmy Olsen. It was someone else’s character, someone’s else’s book…and when you worked on the “Superman family” comics then, you had to coordinate with a half-dozen other editors who also had Superman (and sometimes Jimmy) in their comics… Many at DC hated the way Jack drew Superman and Olsen and his renderings of those characters were being redrawn by others… and Kirby was just sick of the assignment.
According to Evanier, Kirby had begun planning for he and fellow assistant Steve Sherman to begin scripting Jimmy Olsen under his editorial supervision; then, after a few issues, they’d try to get DC to go for having someone else draw it, as well. The plan had gotten about as far as the two assistants coming up with the rough outline of what Evanier calls the “Loch Ness Monster” story, when the Kirby team received an unwelcome surprise:
…Jack finished Jimmy Olsen #143 and at the end of it, he wrote in a “coming attraction” blurb about the Loch Ness story. He sent the issue off, then went to work on an issue of New Gods. A day or so later, [Kirby’s editorial liaison at DC] Nelson Bridwell called him to say they’d received #143 and needed him to stop work on the New Gods and immediately do Jimmy Olsen #144 since the book was dangerously behind schedule. Jack, who was never late or behind on anything, was baffled how that could be until Bridwell explained it to him. Because of strong sales on Jack’s first issues, the comic had upped from eight-issues-a-year to monthly — but no one had told Jack nor had anyone thought to readjust some schedules back in New York.
Under deadline pressure, Kirby ended up scripting “A Big Thing in a Deep Scottish Lake!” all on his own, and his plans for easing himself out of Jimmy Olsen writing and drawing duties never went any further (though, as Evanier notes, the odds of DC ever going for the idea in the first place seem pretty remote). But one significant change — a positive one, in your humble blogger’s point of view — did come out of JO‘s suddenly accelerated publication schedule; before we discuss that change, however, we ought to take a look at the last issue produced prior to its implementation, i.e., Jimmy Olsen #145.
The issue leads off with a cover pencilled by Kirby and inked by Murphy Anderson, providing readers with a rare opportunity to see what JO‘s interior artwork might have looked like had Anderson been assigned to ink the entire book in place of Vince Colletta, rather than having his contribution limited to redrawing Jimmy and Superman’s heads.
It’s also the second in a series of four consecutive JO covers (beginning with #144’s) that juxtapose figures of Superman and Jimmy despite the fact that the two characters never appear together within the story; this one is at least a bit less misleading than the others, since the curving “panel border” that divides the image implies its symbolic nature in a way the other covers don’t.
Beyond the cover, the story picks up where the previous issue left off, as Jimmy and his Newsboy Legion pals, still in bonnie Scotland, continue their investigation of the mysterious “orm” that resides in the waters of the fictitious Loch Trevor. It’s an inquiry which has led them to the doors of “Scotland Yard District of Trevor” (no, Kirby doesn’t seem to have been aware that “Scotland Yard” is a name for the Metropolitan Pollce of London, England, with no jurisdiction in Scotland itself), where they find that the lake serpent is far from the only weird lifeform that’s recently been discovered in the area:
One additional not-so-wee beastie, less obviously derived from a mythical model, is kept hidden from us readers save for his arm/foreleg (at least within the story; we get a much better view of him on the cover, oddly enough). This is “Angry Charlie”, who’ll play a more active role in later issues.
Did Jack Kirby believe that “Brigadoon” was a legitimate “Scottish fairy tale”, rather than an original creation of Broadway musical makers Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe? Maybe, but who cares? “Brigadoom” is still a clever name.
While Jimmy and Scrapper follow an alternate course, their fellows in the Whiz Wagon hope to locate Brigadoom by finding, and then tracking, the lake serpent (which Kirby keeps insisting on calling a sea serpent) to its lair. (One might ask why they didn’t use their vehicle’s “marine drive” in the previous issue, rather than take a small raft out on the lake’s surface, but whatever.) And soon enough…
At this point our story shifts scenes to a weirdly overgrown woodland nearby, where Jimmy and Scrapper (and the latter’s mini-clone, the “Scrapper Trooper”) are following up on another lead of “Scotland Yard”‘s Inspector McQuarrie regarding the location of Brigadoom. As they pause to rest, Jimmy explains why he’s glad to have the little guy along:
Why doesn’t the compressor wave shrink the Scrapper Trooper as well? I can’t think of any reason (except for the obvious one, of course, which is that it’s simply more fun this way).
As I recall, the revelation that “Brigadoom” was actually the Evil Factory — as well as very, very tiny — came as quite a surprise to fourteen-year-old me, back in December, 1971. I had assumed that it, like its U.S. Government-funded counterpart, the D.N.A. Project, was probably in the vicinity of Metropolis (and normal-sized) — but (as I may have proven to myself at the time by flipping back through the earlier issues) Kirby is playing completely fair here. Every interaction between the Evil Factory and any other location that we’ve seen to date has either involved teleportation equipment, which may easily be assumed to incorporate “decompression” technology, or has occurred off-panel.
On the other hand, one has to wonder why in the world Morgan Edge, being every bit as much of an ally of Darkseid as are Simyan and Mokkari (indeed, according to the non-Kirby-authored Lois Lane #118, Edge is a creation of the latter two Apokolipticans) would send Jimmy and the Newsboys to Loch Trevor in the first place. Yes, they were all supposed to have been assassinated by “Interrr-Gang” operative Felix McFinney before they ever got anywhere close to discovering the secret of Brigadoom, but it certainly seems to have been needlessly risky to drop them on the Evil Factory’s doorstep in such a fashion.
For this reason, I’m inclined to think that while Kirby may have always intended to reveal that the E.F. was located very far away from the Project, or much, much smaller than it in actual size — or both — the connection between that notion and Evanier and Sherman’s “Loch Ness” story came relatively late in the game. (Though I could easily be wrong, of course.)
With a second blast of mental energy, Dubbilex releases the San Diego Five String Mob so that they fall to the tunnel floor — though the feedback knocks him on his ass, as well:
You probably don’t need me to tell you this, but in the absence of any editorial footnote, I feel obliged to mention that Superman is alluding here to events that took place about a year ago (at least in real-world, comic-book publishing time), in Forever People #1.
Meanwhile, back in Loch Trevor, the Whiz Wagon’s missles have driven the lake serpent towards a phenomenon that, though strange to the Newsboy Legion, should be familiar to readers who were paying attention back on page 9:
Meanwhile, even as the compressor waves shrink the water-going Newsboys, their already miniaturized comrade Scrapper and his “naturally” economy-sized Trooper clone are being forced to watch in horror as Simyan and Mokkari prepare to conduct vile experiments on Jimmy:
This full-page splash may not be quite as icky as the one from Forever People #4, featuring Desaad and Beautiful Dreamer, that it immediately recalls. But it’s still pretty creepy.
Back in the lake, the boys have finished passing through the compression wave. They discover very quickly that they’re now just the right size to make a tasty snack for some nearby trout…
The opening leads to a tunnel, which they follow into what at first seems to be some sort of submarine pen. But then…
Unaware as yet of these new interlopers, Mokkari and Simyan have imprisoned Scrapper and the Scrapper Trooper in close quarters with a beast “produced” from a monitor lizard, figuring to put them out of the way permanently while they continue to bombard Jimmy with “regressive genes”…
With the revelation of Jimmy Olsen as “Homo Disastrous!!” — clearly a call-back to the bizarre transformations Jimmy regularly fell prey to back in the series’ Mort Weisinger era (just as “Giant Green Kryptonite Jimmy” had been back in issues #135 and #136) — we’re ready at last to move on to December, 1971’s issue #146, and to the welcome change to the book’s status quo I alluded to near the beginning of the post.
That change is evident from the comic’s very first page, which gives us a decidedly more savage and intimidating-looking “Neolithic” Jimmy than had the single close-up shot we were allowed at the end of #145. That’s because the latter was inked by Vince Colletta, while the former represents the debut of Mike Royer within the pages of Jimmy Olsen. (While Royer had contributed to the covers of JO #142 and #143, as well as that of the present issue, this was his first appearance on the interiors.)
As we discussed on the blog a few months ago, Kirby had managed to replace Colletta with Royer on his other titles earlier in the year; on Jimmy Olsen, however, DC had insisted on sticking with the existing arrangement (which had Murphy Anderson rendering Jimmy and Superman’s heads, while Colletta handled everything else). But the increased publication schedule gave Kirby an additional argument for bringing Royer on to JO, as well. As Mark Evanier recalled for a panel at the 2017 San Diego Comic Fest:
All of a sudden, he [i.e., Kirby] had to do a bunch of issues in advance, and there was no way to keep Mike busy. When Mike took over the Fourth World books, DC insisted on keeping Colletta on Olsen so they could maintain some control and keep changing the heads and such. Mike was fine with that because he had other work he had to finish up or withdraw from before he could ink Jack full-time. But then Jack suddenly realized one day, “I’m doing three Jimmy Olsens in a row, and if I keep sending them back there, Royer will have no work.” So he called DC and said, “Royer’s inking the next Jimmy Olsen whether you like it or not. I’m responsible for Mike’s income.”… Mike did those two issues [i.e., JO #146 and #147] and soon, Jack was ahead enough so there would be no lull on Mike’s drawing table.*
Colletta (and Anderson) would return for Kirby’s final Jimmy Olsen (#148) — but the two-issue break was nice while it lasted.
Despite his seeming wariness of Simyan’s weapon, Cave-Jimmy rushes him and Mokkari, and causes a fair bit of damage to their equipment before they’re able to subdue him. It’s practically a reprise of a similar scene involving the Green Giant Jimmy from back in #135, which suggests these guys aren’t all that great at learning from past experience. You have to wonder, are these two really the best that Darkseid could come up with to head up this project?
Right after the unconscious Jimmy hits the floor, our Apokoliptican baddies are distracted by a loud clanging noise…
Dubbilex spins Terry Dean around in the air a few times, then sets her down (more gently than he’d managed with the Five String Mob in the previous issue) — just in time for the Guardian to emerge from the secret tunnels below, where he’s been looking for any sign of the vanished Five String Mob…
I have to say I don’t really recall my specific reactions to Royer’s taking over the inking of Jimmy Olsen back in 1971. As I’ve mentioned before, my younger self didn’t actually mind Colletta’s softening effect on Kirby’s pencils, and Royer’s bolder (but also more faithful) approach to finishing the King’s artwork had taken some getting used to on the other Fourth World books. But considering how much I’d always hated the interpolation of Murphy Anderson’s very different style into the Kirby/Colletta art of previous issues, I believe I must have been pleased to see that Superman’s face finally looked like it had been drawn by the same artists who’d drawn the rest of the book.
As Mike Royer explained to the San Diego Comic Fest panel audience in 2017:
Well, I called DC and I said, “If you want to change Jack’s Jimmy Olsens and Supes, send me the model sheets and let me refine them so that they’ll please you, but it’s all inked by the same hand.” And so, on those couple of issues, I did the “fixes.”
Unfortunately, we won’t see any more of the Kirby/Royer Superman this issue — though, thankfully, there’ll be plenty of Supes coming in next month’s JO #147, as the Man of Steel takes center stage for an issue. For now, however, it’s back to Scotland, where the Whiz Wagon, still careening through the corridors and chambers of the Evil Factory, is suddenly struck by a “repello-beam“:
Simyan and Mokkari waste no time in dealing with these latest intruders; at the press of a switch, a large metal hook appears and attaches itself to the Whiz Wagon…
Satisfied that they won’t be disturbed further, the two alien scientists return to the lab where they left the tranquilized Cave-Jimmy — and discover to their shock that he’s no longer there.
Picking up the vehicle, Cave-Jimmy swings it at the two Scrappers — and while he misses them, he does manage to short-circuit one of the electric cages, releasing its occupant…
Unable to rouse his friends, Flip attempts to put the Whiz Wagon in reverse, but the vehicle remains held fast to the track by the huge metal hook…
The Newsboys speed towards what they hope is an exit — but soon realize that the Evil Factory’s clone workers are all running in the opposite direction from the way the Whiz Wagon is heading…
Seeing the stampede heading right for them, Simyan and Mokkari attempt to shut themselves behind heavy titanium doors…
The climax of “Homo Disastrous” is indisputably rousing stuff — probably the most thrilling sequence Kirby has given us in the pages of Jimmy Olsen since the conclusion of the original Wild Area/Project story arc, back in issue #138 — but it’s marred by the accompanying death toll, at least for your humble blogger’s mature self (the younger me probably didn’t blink an eye). While I’m disinclined to shed any tears over the demise of Simyan and Mokkari — indeed, I find the irony of how all their grand schemes end in the Evil Factory’s complete, but almost unnoticeably small destruction quite satisfying — the violent deaths of all those clone workers are difficult, if not impossible, to shrug off. In re-reading these stories today, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Kirby doesn’t really think of the clones spawned by either the Evil Factory or its supposedly benign counterpart, the Project, as being fully human; perhaps we, as readers, aren’t supposed to view them that way either, but the problem there is that Kirby gives us no real reason not to do so — and, in the presentation of such characters as Dubbilex and the Scrapper Trooper, argues quite eloquently for the opposite point of view.
For that matter, so does the central character of this issue’s “Tales of the D,N.A. Project” back-up feature…
On one level, this brief vignette of “Arin the Armored Man!!!” raises the same ethical red flags as almost all of Kirby’s other D.N.A. Project material — the very idea of raising a sentient being in a sterile, isolated environment on purpose is frankly repellent. Yet, even in 2021, I find myself touched by the reciprocal tenderness expressed by Professor Packard and his “son”, as well as by the almost palpable joy of Arin in the third from last panel, as he embarks at last on his true destiny — a destiny that will provide him with experiences we “ordinary” human beings of today can never share — but which Kirby suggests our species might aspire to, some day in the distant future, through the proper application of scientific knowledge. Is that possibility enough in itself to justify the Project’s existence? Probably not — but Arin, along with Dubbilex, the Scrapper Trooper, and the Hairies (remember them?) represent the best PR Jack Kirby ever came up with for his vision of a better future through genetic engineering. If they don’t quite manage to clinch the sale, it’s nevertheless a tribute to Kirby’s craft that they come as close as they do.
Of course, we’ll never know where Kirby might have gone with the general subject of genetic experimentation had his tenure on Jimmy Olsen lasted longer than it ultimately did. Obviously, he’d closed one door — the ongoing rivalry between the D.N.A. Project and the Evil Factory — with the cataclysmic finale of “Homo Disastrous!!!” But he still had the business of the secret tunnels between Metropolis and the Project — which seemed to represent another initiative of Darkseid’s, distinct from the goings-on at the Evil Factory — hanging out there, unresolved As the next-issue blurb at the end of the lead story teases: “The Guardian and Dubbilex are alive!!! And they may soon wish they were dead!!!” Aren’t you curious to see where that goes?
So am I — or, rather, I would be, if weren’t already painfully aware that Kirby won’t be returning to that plotline, or those characters, for the duration of his Jimmy Olsen run — which has but two issues left to go. Whether the writer-artist had big plans in mind for the Guardian, Dubbilex, and Ms. Terry Dean, or would have just made something up when he finally got back to them, we’ll never know — for not only do these characters not appear again in Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen, but the mystery of the tunnels doesn’t get resolved in any of the other Fourth World books, either. Of course, if Kirby was indeed as “sick” of working on Olsen as Mark Evanier says, one can understand why he put that storyline out of his mind as soon as he had the chance. Still, even after fifty years, it’s hard to look back and not wonder what might have been.
But even if Kirby was wishing mightily that he was writing and drawing something else at the time, we can yet remain grateful that he took the opportunity provided by his next-to-last issue of Jimmy Olsen to give us readers what at least some of us had been waiting for avidly ever since the final page of Forever People #1, back in December, 1970. I hope you’ll join us back here next month for our look at “A Superman in Supertown!”
Before we put Jimmy Olsen #146 back in the longbox, however, let’s take a quick look at the comic’s final backup feature — this issue’s reprint of a Joe Simon-Jack Kirby “Newsboy Legion” strip from the 1940s. (The clone of Jim Harper might be gone from JO‘s pages after this issue, but the original Guardian would continue to appear in these reprints from Star Spangled Comics through Kirby’s last issue, #148.)
The opening splash page of “Prevue of Peril” doesn’t have much at all to do with the rest of the story — which, as the introductory caption will tell you, is all about the original Newsboy Legion making a documentary film in an attempt to bring attention to the poor living conditions of their city’s most impoverished residents (and running afoul of gangsters along the way, because systemic poverty wasn’t enough of a challenge by itself, I guess). But it’s also probably the most fun thing about the strip, as it gives us all the opportunity to play Name the Old-Time Movie Star. (Scrapper, Sr. has already spotted us actress/inventor Hedy Lamarr. Who else can you name?)
This post is going live on Wednesday, December 22nd. As regular readers of the blog know, under normal circumstances you could expect a new post on Saturday, as well — but, as this coming Saturday is Christmas Day, your humble blogger is planning to take the weekend off. We’ll be back next Wednesday, however, for our last post of the year, which just so happens to concern my favorite comic book of all time; I hope you’ll join us then. In the meantime, I wish a very Merry Christmas to all of you out there who celebrate. (And to those who don’t, I hope you all have a great weekend, regardless.)
*John Morrow, with Jon B. Cooke, Old Gods & New: A Companion to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World (The Jack Kirby Collector #80) (TwoMorrows, 2021), pp. 98-99.