As the year 1972 began, Jack Kirby had only two issues left to go in his Jimmy Olsen run. According to Mark Evanier (one of Kirby’s two assistants at the time), the writer-artist-editor hadn’t been enjoying the assignment all that much, and it’s probably safe to assume that he wasn’t sorry to see the end of it. Nevertheless, before making his exit from the “Superman family” of DC Comics titles, Kirby would take the opportunity to deliver on an implicit promise regarding the Man of Steel which he’d made his readers at the end of Forever People #1, published a little over a year previously…
As heralded by the cover of Jimmy Olsen #147 (generally attributed to artists Neal Adams and Murphy Anderson), while the time may have been “not yet” back in December, 1970 — or even in July, 1971, when Clark Kent had almost made an unplanned visit to the dark planet of Apokolips, meeting the bright New God named Lightray along the way — in January, 1972, the time was finally, definitely “now” for “A Superman in Super-Town!”
But before finally taking the Last Son of Krypton to those “distant, gleaming towers” of New Genesis, Kirby (joined by inker Mike Royer) would need to check in with the series’ titular star — who, when we’d had our last good look at him, was still in a regressed, proto-human state — a “Homo Disastrous”:
“Angry Charlie” had been featured on the cover of Jimmy Olsen #145 — but excepting a single glimpse of one arm in that issue, this is his first interior on-panel appearance. And what an entrance he makes!
The Newsboy Legion’s Gabby, who appears to have a particular “touch” when it comes to Charlie, manages to get him more or less settled down, just as the authorities arrive…
The constable’s remark that Angry Charlie is “the last o’ the beasties” that we readers had previously seen being held in police custody (an assortment of critters that included a griffin, a chimera, a unicorn, and a basilisk), together with Tommy’s comment on page 2 that Charlie’s “the only survivor of the weirdies turned out in the Evil Factory” indicates that some disaster has befallen said critters since the last time we saw them. It’s not at all clear what that could have been — the police lockup wasn’t anywhere near the explosion that destroyed the Evil Factory (which was miniature-sized to begin with), and presumably any remote effect the explosion might have had on its living products located elsewhere should have been shared by Charlie. The fate of Charlie’s peers remains an untold tale — and since it’s probably a sad one, too, maybe that’s just as well.
Once again, Jimmy’s words portend a coming reckoning with “our respected employer Morgan Edge” that will never actually happen — at least, not in a story written or drawn by Jack Kirby. About as close as we’ll come is a post-Kirby tale in Jimmy Olsen #152, published five months down the road, that really functions as more of a wrap-up to the Fourth World-adjacent “Edge clone” storyline that had been running in Lois Lane for a while than as a direct sequel to Kirby’s work. (Not that that will stop us from covering it here on the blog come June, of course.)
Having decided to take their leave of Scotland, the only question that remains is whether all of the boys are comfortable flying back across the Atlantic in the Whiz Wagon (Morgan Edge’s private jet had gotten them to the U.K. in the first place), with the unpredictable Angry Charlie as an extra passenger. Of course, not one of them has any problem with that plan — and so, with that settled, it’s time for a scene change…
Take a nice long look at that “dark tunnel of unknown origin” in the final panel of page 8, because this is the last we’ll ever see of it; fifty years later, its purpose still remains a mystery.
Indeed, Magnar is quite impressively powerful — so much so, that one wonders why he never turns up again in one of Kirby’s other Fourth World books. On the other hand, perhaps Kirby’s whole point here is that New Genesis is full of folks who can knock Superman on his ass.
At this point the story shifts scenes back to Jimmy and the Newsboys, as the Whiz Wagon at last departs the Scottish town of Trevor; soon thereafter, the boys (and a supposedly tranqued-out Angry Charlie) are cruising high over the Atlantic…
The boys struggle to get Charlie back under control before he wrecks their vehicle — but they quickly discover he’s not the only thing they have to worry about…
Once brought down to the landing platform, Jimmy and company are overpowered by a band of metallic-looking figures calling themselves “Pseudo-Men”. Meanwhile, back on New Genesis…
If the above image of Magnar and his three young fans looks familiar, it’s because we’ve already sen a version of it on the cover, where someone (presumably either Neal Adams or Murphy Anderson, but who really knows?) has either traced or copied Kirby’s figures and added them to the composition.
The sky gondola proceeds to descend into the volcano’s crater; once it’s docked and anchored, the boys’ strange “host” finally introduces himself: “Gentlemen, welcome to the dominion of Professor Victor Volcanum!! — Soon to be your most benevolent and respected sovereign — the King of Earth!!” To which Big Words replies: “Now really, sir! That’s the kind of premise sold in ‘Golden Age’ comics!!” (And also in Bronze Age ones, evidently.)
The elderly-looking gentleman sharing a bench with Superman is, of course, Highfather, the ruler of the New Gods, while the “fierce young one” he mentions can only be New Genesis’ greatest warrior — and the secret son of Darkseid — Orion.
I believe that Highfather’s dialogue here would be affecting even to readers who hadn’t yet experienced “The Pact!”, published just twenty-three days prior to JO #147 in New Gods #7, in which Kirby presented the very first meeting between a suspicious, hostile young Orion and a freshly grieving Highfather — but it certainly gains greater poignancy through one’s familiarity with that scene.
Back in January,1972, my fourteen-year-old self was pretty happy with how Superman’s trip to Supertown turned out, even if nothing much happened beyond our hero’s wandering around having awkward encounters with the natives. For me, the subtlety of Supes’ all-too-brief interaction with “that old joker“, Highfather, worked quite well — and it wasn’t like this would be the only occasion on which Superman would take the full journey through the Boom Tube, or otherwise spend some quality time with the New Gods. Right? At the time, it seemed obvious (at least to me) that Superman would still be playing a significant role in the New Genesis-Apokolips war; he was a major part of Jimmy Olsen, after all, and so long as Jimmy Olsen represented one-fourth of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World tetralogy…
Of course, as it turned out, Jimmy Olsen wouldn’t be a part of the Fourth World after the following issue (and as we’ll see in a bit, one can make an argument for this issue, #147, being the last “real” Fourth World one). But I didn’t know that in January, 1972, as neither Kirby’s story, nor the letters column overseen by his DC editorial liaison, E. Nelson Bridwell, gave any hint that a major change in the series’ status quo was on the way. And thus, I had no idea that this story represented the last time that the Man of Tomorrow would have any significant interactions with any of the New Gods of either New Genesis or Apokolips — at least so far as Jack Kirby’s Fourth World comics were concerned.
So this story, viewed in retrospect, occasions some feelings of regret for what might have been and never was, along with the fond recollections of how much I enjoyed it the first time. Still, that’s a lot more than I can say for the following issue, which wrapped up the Victor Volcanum storyline along with Kirby’s 15-issue tenure on Jimmy Olsen. I was very disappointed with that story at the time it first came out, and I still find it pretty underwhelming by Kirby’s standards, circa 1972 — so much so that I can’t see myself devoting a whole post to it next month. But, as regular readers of this blog know, we hate to leave you wondering how cliffhangers got resolved a half-century ago; and so we’ll be spending most of the rest of this post on a somewhat abbreviated recap of Jimmy Olsen #148.
First, though, we’ll take a moment to say farewell to the Guardian, via #147’s “Newsboy Legion” reprint story by Kirby and Joe Simon:
The modern version of the Guardian might have made his last appearance in the pages of Jimmy Olsen in issue #146 — but the original hero he was cloned from would continue to hold forth in these backups through to the very last one, in issue #148.
Kirby’s final Olsen outing featured a couple of throwbacks, artistically speaking. The first of these came by way of the cover, which was inked as well as pencilled by Neal Adams as a solo art job — something we hadn’t seen since issue #135. On the story side, Vince Colletta returned as inker for one last go-around — as did Murphy Anderson, who resumed his DC-directed duty of “fixing” Kirby’s Jimmy and Superman heads (something that Mike Royer had handled on his own for the last two issues).
“Monarch of All He Subdues!” begins just where its predecessor left off — with Jimmy and the Legion trapped in a steel cage, and their would-be savior Superman pinned by stone walls that have closed on him suddenly. But though the Action Ace may have been taken by surprise — and though the mechanism controlling the walls is fueled by volcanic power — the outcome is never really in doubt. This is Superman, after all, and these are simply stone walls:
Professor Volcanum takes this opportunity to fill in Superman and the others on his backstory, explaining how, years ago, a misfortune during a hot-air ballooning expedition resulted in his taking a plunge into this very volcano…
“Nonsense!” retorts Victor Volcanum. “I’m superbly fit to rule the Earth!” And he proceeds to send a troop of his robots, or “Pseudo-Men”, against his foes. Of course, even armed with guns that fire high explosives, this metallic mob is no match for our Metropolis Marvel, who dispatches them in short order.
Our heroes still have to get out of the volcano, however, as well as put a stop to Volcanum’s schemes. And even as they make their way past fire-pits, rivers of lava, and other dangers, the would-be King of Earth prepares to depart his long-time abode:
Meanwhile, Superman and the boys have discovered something rather interesting:
What’s more, the spinner can even destroy missiles sent against it, making it impervious to any nation’s defense system. “In that gondola,” Superman solemnly intones, “Victor Volcanum is invincible!”
Sorry, Supes, but even my generally forgiving fourteen-year-old self couldn’t swallow that one. I don’t care how spectacularly powerful Victor’s spinner is — he’s still just one guy in a flying bucket, with no backup. (The dude doesn’t even have anyone to cover his bathroom breaks, for cryin’ out loud.) Really, now — I wouldn’t believe that this scheme represented a serious threat to world security if Victor von Doom was behind it, never mind Victor Volcanum.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the guy can’t cause a lot of damage before he gets shut down — beginning with his own former home. The volcano begins to be rocked by explosions, as Prof. Volcanum turns the spinner against it in a bid to destroy his enemies, along with his faithful robot servitors. Time to skedaddle, guys. Luckily, the Newsboy Legion has discovered where Volcanum’s robots parked the Whiz Wagon…
It’s disappointing that Angry Charlie never gets a chance to do anything in this final Kirby Jimmy Olsen story. And the creator seems to have basically forgotten about the Scrapper Trooper clone, who hasn’t been seen since the final pages of JO #146 — although maybe he just couldn’t think of anything for the little guy to do. Oh, well, at least we know they won’t be left behind to die in the exploding volcano.
Volcanum, meanwhile, has reached the eastern seaboard of the United States — and more specifically, the great city of Metropolis. His hand grasps the lever that will unleash the destructive power of the spinner…
Jimmy brings the Whiz Wagon around for a second firing run, all guns blazing — but Volcanum quickly turns the spinner against his attackers, emitting sonic rays that threaten to tear the vehicle apart.
And then Superman drops in.
And that’s all she wrote — not just for this one, rather forgettable adventure of Jimmy Olsen and his friends, but of Jack Kirby’s ongoing chronicling of their adventures of a whole. (Not that my younger self realized the latter fact at this point, though perhaps the absence of a “next issue” blurb should have been a giveaway.) Still, that’s not quite all for Jimmy Olsen #148, as, following the conclusion of “Monarch of All He Subdues!”, the comic book continues with one last “Tales of the DNA Project” two-pager (this entry being a take on whether “criminality” can be passed on genetically, which is actually fairly interesting in and of itself — but nevertheless seems sort of pointless, given the context), as well as one final “Newsboy Legion” reprint, which ends with the following panel/blurb:
Yeah, I’m pretty sure that that “big announcement” never happened. Outside of a couple of stray stories here and there, fans of the original Simon & Kirby Newsboy Legion would have to wait until 2010 for a continuation of DC’s NL reprinting program.
The very last non-advertising page in JO #148 is the latest installment of the “Jimmy Olsen’s Pen-Pals” letters column, handled as usual by E. Nelson Bridwell. The final missive on the page, from frequent letterhack Matt Graham, expresses concern that Kirby has been pushing himself “too hard and too quickly”; the response from Bridwell that follows closes out the column, the issue, and Jack Kirby’s tenure on Jimmy Olsen, all at once:
And that, faithful readers, truly is that.*
I may not have felt sucker-punched by the termination of the Fourth World version of Jimmy Olsen n March, 1972 — certainly not to the extent that I’d be stunned by the cancellations of both Forever People and New Gods, just a few months later — but I was definitely disappointed. I was especially sorry to see Kirby’s run end with a story which was, as far as I was concerned, barely a “Fourth World” story at all, seeing as how it didn’t touch on the New Genesis-Apokolips conflict in the slightest (Superman might as well have flown in to Victor Volcanum’s lair from the Fortress of Solitude as have arrived from New Genesis by means of Highfather’s Wonder Staff, for all the impact the latter event had on the narrative).
And just as I’d had basically no interest in Jimmy Olsen prior to Kirby’s advent, I had no intention of sticking with the series following his departure. Especially since the cover for JO #149, the first issue produced under incoming editor Joe Orlando, made it pretty clear that, aside from the spiffy new logo (designed by Gaspar Saladino from an idea by Marv Wolfman, according to #152’s lettercol), everything new was old again when it came to the adventures of “Superman’s Pal”; indeed, the situation depicted thereon by artist Bob Oksner could have appeared on virtually any issue of the pre-Kirby Mort Weisinger era with no problem.
While I can’t say that I never bought another issue of Jimmy Olsen after #148 — as I’ve already mentioned, I felt compelled to spring for the resolution to Lois Lane‘s Fourth World-adjacent Morgan Edge storyline, which appeared four issues later — I didn’t pay very much attention to it. And so I missed a “Newsboy Legion” back-up story in #150 that might have indicated an interest on the part of Orlando and company to build on some of Kirby’s innovations, or at least to not jettison them wholesale. (For the record, said story is a pleasant but inconsequential affair that involves Angry Charlie temporarily escaping from his cage built of “Supermanium”; before his ultimate retrieval by the Newsboys, Charlie is found by a little girl and taken home, where he successfully defends her grandpa’s storefront from the depredations of some young hoodlums. Awww.) But that story would prove to be an anomaly, as neither Charlie nor his owner-handlers would make another appearance until 1978, when they’d turn up in a four-part serial in Superman Family. That story, which ran in issues #191-194 of SF (the successor title to the by-then-cancelled Jimmy Olsen), also featured the Guardian (whose genetic original, Jim Harper, was revealed to be related to special guest star Speedy, aka Roy Harper. Who knew?), the DNA Project, and even Dubbilex — though, as far as I know, it didn’t reveal what that tunnel running from the Project to just below Terry Dean’s Cosmic Carousel disco was all about (dammit).
Still, a true revival of the “new” Newsboy Legion, as well as many of the other characters and concepts introduced to the Superman mythos by Jack Kirby during his Jimmy Olsen run, would have to wait about a decade. Beginning in the late 1980s, such creators as Roger Stern, Karl Kesel, and others would commence to mine that material with a vengeance, integrating Kirby’s innovations — especially the DNA Project (now re-named Project Cadmus), which was revealed as being responsible for the creation of the new Superboy — into the DC Universe more fully than they ever had before. These “post-Crisis” versions might have been reworked and retooled from Kirby’s original conceptions, but in virtually every instance remain clearly identifiable as the King’s handiwork. Today, Rao only knows how many multiversal reboots later, they remain a lasting legacy of Jack Kirby’s fifteen-issue sojourn in Superman’s world.
Of course, in the end, the single greatest legacy of Jack Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen run remains the stories themselves. Yes, it’s true that Kirby never sought the Olsen assignment, and he probably wasn’t all that broken up to see it come to an end. But it’s also true that, after having deliberately held his creativity in check for his last several years at Marvel, the first flood of stories Kirby produced upon his return to DC in 1970 — including his initial 6-issue story arc for Jimmy Olsen — offered an unprecedented flood of exciting new ideas from perhaps the most prodigious imagination the comics medium has ever seen. Whatever else you can say about Jack Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen, it was a hell of a ride — even if most of the biggest thrills did come in the first half.
*Kirby’s “new one in the works” referred to by Bridwell was almost certainly The Demon, the first issue of which would ship in June, 1972. The premiere issue of Kirby’s next new title, Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth, would follow in August.
Who in the world would have Neal Adams draw a cover and then make his work completely unidentifiable by having it inked (read: re-drawn basically) by Murphy Anderson? Probably the same people who hired Jack Kirby, but then refused to let him draw his own covers or the faces of Superman and Jimmy Olsen in the first place , I suppose. We’ve talked about how Vinnie Coletta used to “leave stuff out” when he inked Jack, but can you imagine what Murph left out on this Neal Adams cover? I’d love to see Neal’s original pencils of that one, just for comparison.
As far as the rest of Jack’s final two issues of Jimmy Olsen, they’re basically the same kind of filler that we’ve seen before. One of Jack’s tricks as a writer is to set up a “thrilling conclusion,” ie: Superman in Supertown or what have you, and then proceed to put it off for several issues while the heroes fight to get to that promised pay-off. This is fine if the distractions are entertaining and if the pay-off is exciting, but “Superman in Supertown,” was not only neither entertaining or exciting, it’s boring, it hardly takes up any page space in the issue, and has absolutely no consequence for the characters and the over-all storyline. I’m glad Jack got to tie this plot thread off, but thanks for nothing, you know? I agree with you, Alan, that Supes’ chat with Highfather is significant when read through the lense provided by “The Pact” and it’s revelations about Orion and Scott Free, but really, so what? How did that help Superman? Did we really believe he was considering moving to Supertown? Did it take Superman out of the story and leave Jimmy in a particular amount of danger? No and no. Superman was never going to abandon Earth and Highfather got him to Jimmy and the Legion right when they needed him, so its hard to imagine what it was all for. So why did we take this three or four page detour? Because Jack promised us that we would. He just never promised it would mean anything.
The meandering trip through New Genesis along with the truly ludicrous plans of Victor Volcanum truly demonstrate how tired Jack was and how unhappy he was at having to work on Jimmy Olsen in the first place. First of all, Jimmy and the guys aren’t in any hurry to get back to Metropolis, so this detour doesn’t heighten the danger resulting from their delay. And why did Volcanum capture the guys in the first place? He could have simply let them fly right on by and his plans, as ridiculous as they were, could have proceeded without interruption. Plus, Volcanum himself is just a cardboard cutout Mad Scientist/Supervillain with dreams of conquering the world that were less than half-baked in the first place. Jimmy and the Legion could have stopped Volcanum without Supes’ help and the fact that he was there, made the conclusion all the more foregone. The only thing that saves this issue is it’s trademark Kirby artwork and really, when I was 14, that’s all I was interested in anyway.
You can tell Jack was over-worked and disillusioned at this point. Here, at DC, he’d gotten everything he’d wanted at Marvel, but couldn’t get…control, creative freedom and most of all, credit for the work he was doing and STILL no one appreciated him. They wouldn’t even let him draw Superman’s freakin’ face, for crying out loud. Here he is, creating some of the most memorable characters and storylines in DC history, hell, make that comics history…storylines that would not only affect comics, but movies and TV shows for decades…and Jack was still tired and unhappy. No wonder he became so bitter in the last years of his life. Jack Kirby was instrumental to the rise and success of the comic book industry from it’s creation through the seventies and yet he still felt like he was unappreciated and never received the credit he was due. Maybe I’m reading too much into the last two issues of a comic Jack never wanted to write and draw in the first place, but it’s a sad story all the same.
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Rereading these fourth world books I’m always gobsmacked by the sheer volume of ideas Kirby was throwing out, maybe not on the level of FF before he lost interest, but still unmatched by anyone I can think of off the top of my head. And DC is still mining this bonanza five decades later. Neither Marvel or DC seems to have realized just what they had in him. And while as a kid I thought his art was slipping a bit, getting cruder and looser, I’ve really come to love it
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Alan, thanks for your insightful comments regarding Jimmy Olsen 147 and 148. A few thoughts of my own here: It appears that by this time, it is likely that someone else (Nelson Bridwell?) was handling the cover copy and responsibility for the covers of 147 and 148. The covers just don’t read like Kirby. I could be wrong but would be interested in your opinion. I am also the same age as you (64). I remember that I was buying Jimmy Olsen before Kirby came to the title but don’t remember much about the pre-Kirby JO, except that it was not very memorable or honestly very good. I can’t even recall why I was buying it then. But I completely agree that Kirby’s arrival, especially in the first 6 issues was quite exciting and the flood of new ideas was great. I do remember that I was very disappointed when Kirby left with JO 148, and while I did give the book a chance with 149, I didn’t care for what I saw, which now I don’t even remember, and dropped the Jimmy Olsen book. I was beginning to drop a number of DC books, such as Teen Titans (I no longer cared for the stories Bob Haney was writing for TT). In retrospect, it is possible that the price difference (25 cents to 20 cents) between DC and Marvel books was starting to make a difference. I may have been starting to buy more Marvel books and to make up for that was dropping some DC books (and yes, around this time I believe I also dropped Lois Lane as well). I never did read the story of how the Morgan Edge clone was addressed (although I did hear something about it so I know generally what happened). I look forward to your discussion of that issue. I also noticed (and I’m sure I never thought about this at the time), that “Victor Volcanum” bears a vague resemblance to Vincent Price. Knowing how much Jack loved old movies, I’m guessing that he may have been influenced by the many horror and sci-fi movies that Vincent Price made to use a kind of vague likeness of him. Of course I could be wrong but I don’t think so. I haven’t thought about these books in quite a while; thanks for the review.
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You’re welcome, brucesfl! Regarding the JO covers, I think that they were something of a hodgepodge from the beginning, with Kirby’s supposed “editorship” obviously not extending as far as being able to make the final calls on them. You have some that are very Kirby, and others, like for #135, that look like almost all Adams (though he may have been working off an idea or even rough layout by Carmine Infantino). My own favorites are the ones that Kirby pencilled and Adams inked, though that’s a matter of taste, and I know not everyone agrees. (I’ve seen the combination of their styles referred to as “mixing oil and water”.)
Interestingly, there’s an alternative version of the JO #147 cover, pencilled by Kirby and inked by Royer. I wasn’t aware of it when I wrote the blog post, but someone shared it on another online forum earlier today. Here’s a link: https://comics.ha.com/itm/original-comic-art/jack-kirby-and-mike-royer-superman-s-pal-jimmy-olsen-147-unpublished-alternative-cover-original-art-dc-c-1972-/a/7087-92123.s?ic4=OtherResults-SampleItem-Thumbnail-022817&tab=ArchiveSearchResults-012417
Thanks Alan. I thought I had seen most of the “rejected Kirby covers” (for Marvel books such as Thor and FF) but I definitely never saw this one. Thanks for sharing. It’s a shame it was not used; most likely rejected by Carmine or other powers that be. I agree with the above comment that the decision to have Murphy Anderson ink Neal Adams on the actual 147 cover does not make sense. I believe I did think that was a Murphy Anderson cover and was surprised to learn years later that Neal Adams had penciled it.
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I loved Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen, even the cornier stuff near the end. Jack’s art was still amazing, and the thing I loved most? He actually made Superman interesting. This version of Supes is one I would’ve followed for a long, long time. Thanks for another great post, Alan!
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My pleasure, Chris!
That alternative cover for 147 would at least have been better than the feeble cover they ended up with. Nelson Bridwell says in one of the letters pages that company policy dictated that Superman had to be on every Jimmy Olsen cover, which is a curious restriction – basically it meant that Jimmy was the second-billed character in his own mag.
Actually, I can see the logic behind that restriction — the only real reason Jimmy had his own book in the first place is that he’s Superman’s Pal, and I think DC was correct in thinking that most readers would expect to see the Man of Steel on the cover. But it seems they may also have had a thing against “split” covers, which is unfortunate.
Ah Alan, as you know I like a good reprint, especially if it is a golden age one. After reading your comment that you didn’t think any of the newsboy legion’s stories were reprinted again until 2010, my immediate memory was that one was reprinted in a Detective Comics 100 page super-spectacular. I checked Mike’s Amazing World and sure enough “The House where time stood still” from Star Spangled Comics 21 was reprinted in Detective Comics 442. Also their first outing from SSC 7 which was reprinted in JO 141 was reprinted again in Adventure Comics 503. Thereafter, I think you are right and they had no further reprint appearance until 2010. Looking forward to your posts on the remaining issues of Jack’s fourth world comics.
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Oof! You’re right, of course, Brian. I’ve made the correction.
As pedestrian as his evil plan may be, Victor Volcanum still has one of the more memorable designs from JO, at least in my opinion. Proof, as if we needed any, that Jack Kirby couldn’t draw a forgettable character if he tried.
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