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.