Jimmy Olsen #152 (Aug.-Sep., 1972)

Regular readers of this blog will recall how, over the past year, we’ve been tracking the Fourth World-adjacent story material that appeared in various “Superman” family titles — mostly in Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane — during the period that Jack Kirby was writing, drawing, and editing Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen.  The most significant piece of this material was that having to do with Morgan Edge, the head of Galaxy Broadcasting (and thus the boss of Lois and Jimmy, as well as of Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent).  Originally created by Kirby, Edge was introduced in his first Fourth World comic, Jimmy Olsen #133, as being secretly involved with the criminal organization Intergang — and thereby, as shown in the very next issue, also an operative of the dark lord of Apokolips, Darkseid.  More recently, however, it had been revealed in Lois Lane #118 that the Morgan Edge we readers had been reading about in all the Superman books wasn’t the real Edge at all — rather, he was an evil clone who’d been created by Darkseid’s minions in the Evil Factory to pose as the media mogul. 

Kirby himself never referenced this revelation in any issue of Jimmy Olsen, and it’s been speculated that the whole idea was imposed from somewhere above him in the DC hierarchy, in the interest of keeping Morgan Edge viable as a supporting character in the other Superman books regardless of how Kirby ultimately resolved his Fourth World plotlines.  But however it came about, the “Edge clone” subplot did have the result of integrating Kirby’s mythos more closely with Superman’s world (and thus with the overall DC Universe) — at least for a while.

By June, 1972, however, the whole Fourth World project was on its last legs — although this wasn’t obvious at the time to us fans, and probably not to most of the people working for DC, either.  Kirby had already exited Jimmy Olsen as of issue #148 (released in February), reducing the original tetralogy to a trilogy; and this month, Forever People and New Gods would ship their penultimate issues.  The end for both of those bi-monthly titles would come in August; and while the last title standing, Mister Miracle, would limp along for another fifteen months, it would be as a shadow of its former self, with virtually all references to Kirby’s broader cosmic vision absent from its pages.

In the meantime, the Superman books had been going through some changes of their own. Around the same time that Jack Kirby left Jimmy Olsen, the editorship of Lois Lane passed from E. Nelson Bridwell to Dorothy Woolfolk.  Bridwell, one of DC’s great early continuity mavens, had been the driving force behind the Darkseid-referencing stories in Lois Lane (despite the scripts being by Robert Kanigher), and was likely more invested in the Morgan Edge plotline than anyone else in the DC offices; in any event, it would ultimately be left to him to resolve it.  I have no idea whether Bridwell tried at first to get his editorial successor on Lois Lane, Woolfolk, to OK a story to wrap things up in that title, and was unsuccessful in the attempt, or if he went straight to Jimmy Olsen‘s new editor, Joe Orlando, to begin with — but either way, Jimmy Olsen was where Morgan Edge’s evil clone was destined to meet his ultimate fate.

In the first issue under his tenure, JO #149, Orlando had pretty well dispensed with almost all of the concepts and characters Jack Kirby had brought to the series — not just the Apokolips-versus-New-Genesis stuff, but also the DNA Project, the Wild Area, the Guardian, the Whiz Wagon, and (save for one short backup tale in #150) the Newsboy Legion.  My fourteen-year-old self had not-so-coincidentally dropped the title at the same time; but I must have kept picking new issues up out of the spinner rack and flipping through them, because otherwise there’s no way I could have known that JO #152 featured the conclusion of the Edge clone storyline.  (There doesn’t seem to have been any promotion of the issue in DC’s “Direct Currents” column in June, and the cover [drawn by Bob Oksner — maybe] certainly gives no clue.)  And if I hadn’t known prior-to-purchase what the story was about, I wouldn’t have bought the comic and brought it home.

But, fortunately, I did buy it — and thus, I get to share it with you…

Our story opens with a rather unusual splash page; though we appear to be joining the narrative in medias res, the image and caption are actually depicting a scene that doesn’t occur until page 5.  That makes this a “symbolic” splash of the sort that had been the standard at DC not so many years before (though it must be said that those old-school splashes usually included a more explanatory, context-providing sort of caption than the one we get here).

Interestingly, the credited creative team for “The Double-Edged Sword” is, with the exception of inker Oksner (and editor Orlando) new to this issue.  To date, penciller Mike Sekowsky’s primary experience with the Superman titles had been on the “Supergirl” feature in Adventure Comics, which he’d drawn, written, and even edited before being replaced in the latter capacity by none other than Joe Orlando, about a year earlier.  (Of course, he also had plenty of experience drawing the Man of Steel from his eight years as the artist on Justice League of America.)  As for the writing, E. Nelson Bridwell had penned plenty of scripts for DC on his own over the years; his sharing a credit for this particular story with Steve Skeates may indicate that he simply contributed the plot, this time… or it may not.  For his part, Skeates was doing a good bit of work for Orlando during this period, though his byline appeared much more frequently in the editor’s “mystery” titles than in his superhero books.

With page 2, my fourteen-year-old self was introduced to a couple of the new supporting characters that had come on board Jimmy Olsen since Orlando’s arrival:  Percy Bratten, a fellow reporter of Jimmy’s at the Daily Planet; and Lieutenant Corrigan of the Metropolis Police Department.

After miraculously making it all the way to the downed officer without being shot, our hero cheats death a second time by repeating the feat — this time, carrying Lt. Corrigan on his back!  Hey, who needs Superman, when you’ve got Jimmy Olsen around?

As it turns out, the Metropolis PD does need Superman, as the tear-gas grenades they start lobbing into the house aren’t going to be able to deal with what waits inside.  It’s a good thing, then, that Jimmy and Percy’s colleague, Clark Kent, arrives on the scene about this time in his “T.V. mobile unit” — though, naturally, he parks the van out of sight, allowing him to change into Superman and exit through a secret floor panel without causing suspicion.  The Metropolis Marvel smashes his way into the house, and we come at last to the menace we’ve seen highlighted on both this issue’s cover and on its opening splash page — though the fight between it and Supes is pretty much over before it even starts:

Yeah, Percy’s an asshole.  But you’d probably already guessed that from the way he bravely stayed with the car, back on page 2.

Meanwhile, the revelation of the tunnel beneath the crime house occasions a rare post-Kirby nod to something that had happened during his JO run — though since this is a Fourth World-adjacent story, the reference probably shouldn’t come as all that much of a surprise.

And now, it’s time for a recap to fill in Jimmy — as well as any of his readers who hadn’t been following Lois Lane recently — about how the real Morgan Edge had been kept prisoner by his evil, Darkseid-serving clone, prior to his escaping and finding refuge with Yango and his fellow Outsiders — still more creations of Jack Kirby’s, who, since he’d last written about them in Jimmy Olsen, had abandoned both their badass biker lifestyle and their forest home in the Wild Area, and become commune-living Jesus freaks, instead.  (OK, that very last bit hadn’t been explicitly spelled out in LL #119, but it had been strongly implied.)

As stated earlier, I have no real idea how much of this story is E. Nelson Bridwell’s, and how much is Steve Skeates’ — but the character “Professor Savin” can almost certainly be attributed to Skeates, who’d previously used the name “Warren Savin” as a pseudonym on occasion, and had also dropped it into at least a couple of other stories besides this one (“The Perfect Crime” in Charlton’s Many Ghosts of Dr. Graves #3 [Sep., 1967]; and “The Creature That Devoured Detroit!” in DC’s Aquaman #56 [Mar.-Apr., 1971]) as a gag.

Knowing that the longer the fracas continues, the more likely it is that one of the armed “hog men” will plant a slug in either him or one of his companions, Jimmy cuts a rope that drops a stage flat between the two groups.  They then hurry out of the studio, looking for a place where Edge can hide…

Killer continues to crank up the volume louder and louder, until the sound effects lettering grows so huge that it almost crowds Jimmy and Yango’s writhing, pain-wracked bodies off the page.  Meanwhile…

Now why in the world should Clone-Edge tell Tombstone Greer that he believes his lookalike is dressed like him, after Percy specifically told him on the preceding page that the other “him” is dressed differently?  It’s a major error that seems out of character — though, as we’ll soon see, it rather tidily serves the narrative convenience of our storytellers.

After Tombstone assures his boss that the “neutron-gun” he’s holding — a deadly piece of technology come straight from Apokolips — will turn their intended victim into a pile of ashes, the call is ended — leaving Clone-Edge to wonder at the strange circumstances that have put such “ultra-science” at the disposal of “that dumb hood.”  But then, he goes on to muse, “there are times one must combine brilliance and stupidity to get the job done!” Um, if you say so, Morg.

Mike Sekowsky has the distinction of being the third artist to draw Darkseid in a DC comic book, following Jack Kirby (of course) and Werner Roth (in Lois Lane #116 and #118) — and while Sekowsky’s version of the villain doesn’t come anywhere near Kirby’s, naturally, it’s actually pretty convincing, probably due at least in part to inker Bob Oksner’s generous application of blacks.

Readers who’d been following the Fourth World titles had seen Darkseid employ the Omega Effect before, in Forever People #6 — and thus knew that while its awesome power could be used to wipe a person out of existence, that wasn’t its only function…

After knocking Real-Edge to the floor, Clone-Edge looms over him, telling him he’s prepared to kill him with his bare hands to save himself from the eternity of pain he can expect for failing Darkseid.  He’s so focused on his rant that he doesn’t hear the figure entering the room from behind him…

Um, what just happened?  The way that Sekowsky and Oksner have rendered that last panel, it sure looks like Superman intentionally turned Greer’s gun around so that it fired at him instead of Jimmy.  Why didn’t he tilt it in another direction instead, so that he could have captured the bad guy without killing him?  It’s hard for me to believe that Bridwell, at least, would have our hero be so cavalier about the loss of a human life.  On the other hand, the writers have made a point of calling Greer a “cop-killer” multiple times, thus emphasizing what a very bad man he is — and Superman certainly doesn’t seem all that concerned about how things have turned out, per the next panel:

Real-Edge is actually being pretty generous with his forgiving of Superman here, as the Action Ace didn’t exactly cover himself in glory in Lois Lane #118.  There, he refused to believe that there could possibly be two Morgan Edges because the fingerprints, voice-print, and number of skin pores (!) of Real-Edge were identical to those of the Morgan Edge he knew (i.e., Clone-Edge).  This from a guy who’d recently been knee-deep in clones for more than half a year’s worth of Jimmy Olsen stories…

Reporter Meg Tempest was another new supporting character introduced by Joe Orlando since Jack Kirby’s departure, evidently as a potential “love interest” for our series’ star — although why Jimbo would ever want to bother with someone who calls him an idiot (even if only “at times”) behind his back is beyond me.  “Tee hee!”, indeed.

Anyway, if you’re wondering how the Jimmy-Meg-Percy “triangle” worked out, I have no idea, as I never purchased another issue of Jimmy Olsen.  The series was, at last, done with the Fourth World — and I, for better or worse, was done with it, as well.

Panel from Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man (1976). Text by Gerry Conway; art by Ross Andru and Dick Giordano.

Truth to tell, I was a pretty intermittent purchaser of the whole Superman family of titles from this point on (at least up until 1986) — so I’m not sure exactly how or when it finally came to my attention that the “real” Morgan Edge had turned out to be as disagreeable and unpleasant to work for as his clone had been, though his character failings fell short of outright criminality.  (It may have been through the first official crossover between DC and Marvel’s characters, which I did buy; see right.)  However I learned about this development, it annoyed my younger self to no end, as it seemed to fly in the face of the characterization established in these issues of Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane — which, sketchy as it was, did have our man Morgan Edge hanging out with Jesus people for an indeterminate amount of time, and evidently being fully and happily integrated into their community.

Today, of course, I understand why DC had no interest in having Morgan Edge become a “nice guy” following the severing of his Fourth World ties.  What would have been the point of keeping someone around who would have been little more than a younger, slimmer version of Perry White?  And, in retrospect, it even makes a sort of story sense; after all, the mogul seems to have established his reputation as a “smiling cobra” long before the Evil Factory cloned him.  That said, one still might have expected all that time Edge spent experiencing a simpler, more spiritual way of life on the Outsiders’ communal farm to rub off on him just a little bit… but that’s how it goes, sometimes.

There’s one other thing that strikes your humble blogger about this story fifty years later; and it’s how it serves as a sort of preview of how Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters and concepts would be utilized in the DC Universe going forward.  At the time it was published, Jimmy Olsen #152 seemed like an adjunct to the main narrative unfolding in Forever People, New Gods, and Mister Miracle — interesting primarily for the way in which it underlined the fact that, yes, the Apokolips-New Genesis war was happening in the same fictional reality as the adventures of Superman and his friends.  But in retrospect, the comic seems more like a prescient harbinger of the “Fourth World” as we would know it in the years and decades to come, down to the present day — an extended era in which the New Gods have occasionally been front and center in their own title(s), but in which they and their milieu have much more frequently served simply as a big, fun toybox for DC’s storytellers.  Those latter-day storytellers have delivered some truly excellent comics, no question about it — and many other ones that are, if not exactly great, still more memorable than Jimmy Olsen #152.  Still, virtually all of them have at least one important trait in common with it…

They’re not by Jack Kirby.

5 comments

  1. DontheArtistformerlyknownasfrodo628 · June 22

    Well, I can guarantee that I never read this one back in the day. I had no interest in JO beyond Kirby’s involvement and as soon as I flipped through and saw that Jack had nothing to do with this one, I’d have put it down and moved on. And Jimmy’s lucky he got a flip-through. If it had been Lois Lane, I wouldn’t even have picked it up.

    That being said, there are a few pieces of wheat among the chaff. Kudos to Bridwell for trying to tie up the continuity of the Fourth World in the Jimmysphere and even more kudos for being one of the few at DC at the time who cared about that stuff. The story he and Skeates have put together here ties things up pretty well, though I never would have recognized Yango from Sekowsky’s rendition of him. Mike is an OK Superman artist from his time on JLA, but not my fave. As for Oksner’s inks, they’re a little heavy, but, as you said, that was certainly a blessing for Sekowsky’s version of Darkseid, if not for the whole issue.

    The really memorable thing about this issue of Jimmy Olsen is what it means for the Fourth World as a whole. Jack’s grand experiment (that he probably never saw as an “experiment” at all) was coming to an end and his creations left as playthings for lesser talents to muck about with in years to come. It’s funny, Marvel knew exactly what to do with Jack, except give him the credit he deserved, DC gave him credit galore, but seldom anything else. What a shame.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Bill B · June 22

    You spell Bob Oksner, “Oskner” throughout, so I’m guessing it’s not just a typo and thought you’d want to know

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alan Stewart · June 22

      Arrgghh! I got Mr. Oksner’s name wrong not only in this post, but in two others as well. (When I make a mistake, I go all in. 🙂 ). Thanks for letting me know, Bill. Cleaning up now…

      Like

  3. John Auber Armstrong · June 22

    Man, DC just couldn’t wait to run back to the same old shit that hadn’t been working in the first place. They never could get their heads around what made Marvel special – even when the had one of the chief reasons it was working for them. God save us all for people who “know better”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. In the post-Crisis continuity of the Superman books they went right back to it being the real Morgan Edge working for Darkseid and Intergang.I think a lot of the creators who worked on the Superman titles in the late 1980s and early 90s grew up on the original Jack Kirby “Fourth World” books, and they really threw in a whole bunch of references to the those stories.

    Liked by 1 person

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