Posts Tagged ‘Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #133’

With the 100th birthday of the undisputed King Of Comics fast approaching, we’re taking an extended diversion from our “regularly scheduled” programming around these parts to talk all Jack Kirby, all month long (my usual Twin Peaks reviews notwithstanding). I’m open to changing things up “on the fly,” so to speak, but the rough plan goes as follows : I’m more or less “contractually obligated” to review all of DC’s forthcoming one-shot specials based on Kirby characters and concepts (a couple of which I actually have something approaching optimism for), and I’ll be taking a close look at Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ Mister Miracle #1, but the main “backbone” of our month-long celebration will be my appraisals of several of my all-time favorite Kirby comics — and where better to start than with the October, 1970 cover-dated Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #133?

Oh, sure, there are more important entries in The King’s lengthy C.V. than this one, but I think a person would be hard-pressed to find a single issue that attempts to do more than this story does — after all, this was the very first comic that Kirby produced under his then-new contract with DC, and given the shock-waves that his departure from Marvel sent through the nascent fan circles just bubbling to the surface at the time, it’s fair to say that readers were expecting something more unbelievable, more exciting, more imaginative, more awesome than they’d ever seen before.

There was no need to worry, though, as Kirby always delivered the goods — in fact, giving his all was the only way he knew how to work. There’s been a long-circulating rumor/urban legend that Jack insisted-by-default on being given the Jimmy Olsen gig since he firmly believed that he could turn DC’s lowest-selling title into one of its biggest, and while I have no idea whether that’s true or not, he certainly arrived on the title with a bang, eager to revamp everything in sight in order to lay the groundwork for his Fourth World saga. Certainly if Kirby had been paying attention to what had been going on in this book’s pages before assuming its reigns it doesn’t show — he wiped the slate clean, immediately making his inherited “cub reporter” protagonist actually competent for the first time ever, and even  putting him at odds, albeit briefly, with his super-powered best bud, as the cover plainly (if exaggeratedly) shows. Things were gonna be different from here on out, and this issue is a thunderous overture hinting at the scope of the grand cosmic symphony to come.

I still wonder how Kirby managed to pack so much into this slim comic — hot on the trail of a whispered-about “miracle car” that’s been seen around Metropolis, Jimmy meets the “new,” Guardian-free iteration of the famed Newsboy Legion, who may not have their costumed leader with them anymore (at least for now), but do have a new member in their ranks named Flippa Dippa, as well as the amazing “Whiz Wagon,” the staggeringly advanced land-air-sea vehicle that our ostensible hero has been searching for. Just one question — why are all the Newsboy kids the same age as they were back in their 1940s heyday? They claim to be direct blood descendants of the originals, but is that the whole story? In any case, when Jimmy tells them that he’d like the help of them and their “super car” to make the trek into a foreboding district just outside Metropolis known as the “Wild Area” the kids are all-in, hence this issue’s title, “Jimmy Olsen Superman’s Pal Brings Back The Newsboy Legion!”

Forget all that for a moment, though, as next we meet the scheming Morgan Edge, president of Galaxy Broadcasting and new owner of the Daily Planet, who oozes sleazy menace as he confers with Clark Kent for the first time. Edge is essentially Rupert Murdoch a good couple of decades before anyone outside of Australia knew that execrated name, and therefore stands as yet another example of Kirby’s amazing precognitive ability. It’s Edge who has assigned Jimmy with task of entering the Wild Area to make contact with its hippie-ish residents known only as the “Hairies,” and while Clark would like to go along to ensure his young friend’s safety, Edge will hear nothing of it since he has it on good authority that the “Hairies” don’t trust anyone over 25 years old. It’s when Clark leaves the office of his newly-ensconced “superior,” though, that things really start to get interesting —

Okay, fair enough, we all know that a “no” from Morgan Edge isn’t going to stop Superman from going where he wants to go and doing what he needs to do, but Kirby’s portrayal of Clark/Supes (re-drawn faces aside) is entirely different to anything we’ve seen before — this is a moody, introspective, and thoughtful Man of Steel, fundamentally lonely and with the weight of the world on his shoulders, a super-being well aware of his ability to do almost anything and openly and actively questioning the perhaps-outdated moral code that holds him back from making the world a better place on anything other than a “micro” scale. Kirby’s Superman saw a world in distress, fraying at the seams, further slipping into the insidious grasp of big business — and, like his author, he saw the surest signs of hope for the future in the emerging “peace and love” youth culture of the time. No one had written Superman like this before, and all of these various themes — and more — would be expounded upon by The King not only in the pages of this series, but in The Forever People, as well.

For his part, Edge’s interior monologue also reveals more about him than the “poker face” he kept while meeting Kent did — he has his own surreptitious reasons for wanting Jimmy to penetrate the “Wild Area,” and it all has something to do with the dictates of a shadowy underworld organization that he’s a part of known as Intergang, but it’s abundantly clear that even this group of malefactors is only a means to an end, and that they are pawns for another, larger power that’s positioning them on a grand, three-dimensional chessboard.

A series of confrontations with a biker gang on the outskirts of the “Wild Area” known as the “Outsiders” ensues — first Jimmy and the Newsboys take them on, and then when they win that skirmish and Jimmy is made their de facto “leader,” they take on Superman, who’s been tailing his protege — and while falling back on a chunk of Green Kryptonite to bring the second fight to a conclusion stands out for its utter predictability in comparison to the rest of the events taking place in this otherwise-breathtaking story, it’s a situation that Kirby reverses quickly enough, and when Superman wakes up, he, Jimmy, and the Newsboys quickly arrive at a surprisingly tentative truce, and we get out first look at the sprawling forest kingdom known as “Habitat,” a kind of “super-commune” at the very heart of the “Wild Area.” The visuals, in true Kirby fashion, are absolutely spectacular — so spectacular that not even Vince Colletta’s lazy, sloppy inks can fuck them up —and if you need any further evidence that the so-called “Boy From Kansas” ain’t in Kansas anymore, well, look no further than page page 20 :

I would argue that this splash image represents the first significant distillation of the artistic through-line that would inform the entire Fourth World opus : Kirby grand-scale epic visual storytelling wedded to the ideals and ethos of the so-called “flower power” generation. The cliffhanger to this issue — which sees Jimmy enlist his once-and-future best friend in his sure-to-be-perilous journey to something called the “Mountain Of Judgment,” which can only be accessed by means of a hidden drag-strip known as the “Zoomway” — hints that further wonders are to come, of course, but the tone of the epic-to-be has already been set : Jack Kirby, WWII veteran, keen and learned observer of humanity who still hadn’t lost his fundamental sense of optimism, was putting his faith in a better future future, and in the youth — the same shaggy, hairy, “drop-out,” “hippie” youth that so much of popular culture, including the comics, was openly demonizing every chance it could get — who were going to make that better future happen.

It didn’t all work out the way that Kirby hoped, of course — nor did the Fourth World itself, for reasons entirely beyond his control — but Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #133 reflected the exuberance, idealism, and promise of its times. There have been better stories told in the funnybooks than this one (although not that many), but very few have been this significant, this heartfelt, this revolutionary. And Jack Kirby was only just getting started.