Saturday, June 3, 2017

Don't Ask! Just Read It!

I've lived a long time now and have been reading comics almost all of that time and I doubt I will ever experience anything remotely like the earthquake which happened when Jack "King" Kirby took his skills across town to DC Comics, leaving behind the plethora of characters he had created in tandem with Stan "The Man" Lee. I mark his departure as the end of the Silver Age which began many years before at DC with the arrival of the new Flash in Showcase and amped up with the debut of the Fantastic Four reaching arguably its zenith with the classic Lee-Kirby-Sinnott Galactus epic in that same title.

Now we had something brand new to look forward to, the dazzling creativity of Kirby unleashed upon the sleepy hamlet which DC had become under the guidance of men who had been in the game a long long time. The simple statement "Kirby is Here!" said all that needed to be said to fanboys who had gleefully slurped the King's comics at Marvel and were hungry for more. We didn't expect though to savor our pure Kirby hotdog wrapped in a Jimmy Olsen bun. That was weird then and it's still weird. But weird can be good, as we shall see.

The saga begins in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #133 when Jimmy takes an assignment from his new boss Morgan Edge and meets up with the Newsboy Legion. They quickly head off to an unknown country dubbed the "Wild Region" and encounter a peculiar gang of bikers dubbed "The Outsiders" who live in an elaborate and enormous tree city called "Habitat". Jimmy knocks out the leader of the Outsiders and so becomes their new leader. While all this is going on, Superman heads off to assist the gang because as we'll learn he knows more about this situation than he's saying.

The Outsiders under the leadership of Jimmy Olsen seek out the Mountain of Judgement, a giant rolling machine which rides along a vast road called the Zoomway. Inside the Mountain of Judgement are the "Hairies", a dropout community dedicated to technological invention. The Hairies invite the Newsboys and Jimmy to hang out with them while they learn more about this weird world in the caverns beneath the city of Metropolis.

The story opens up when we learn that the Hairies are the product of "The Project", an even larger network of labs in a military facility which has cracked the genetic code and is using the stuff of humanity to create all sorts of variations on the theme. We have the super-intelligent Hairies, as well as dopplegangers for Jimmy Olsen who served as security personnel for the base. Also we meet the Scrapper Troopers, tiny soldiers built on the model of Newsboy Scrapper. We meet finally the original Newsboy Legion who are now key parts of the Project functioning as scientists, doctors and otherwise.

Alongside The Project is the Evil Factory run by two of Darkseid's agents -- Mokkari and Simyan. They use stolen materials to create monstrous versions of the clones that the Project develops. One such D.N.Alien is a giant Jimmy Olsen clone which radiates Kryptonite. This monster is unleashed into the Project and it takes the combined might of Superman and the Newsboys and a resurrected Golden Guardian to bring it to heel. We also encounter Dubbliex, a clone so far removed from humanity that's called a "D.N.Alien".

But the threat from the Evil Factory is not done. When the giant Jimmy doesn't do the trick they unleash the Four-Armed Terror, a giant beast which consumes radiation. One of the these gives Superman, the Guardian and the Newsboys a big problem.

When a horde of these Terrors is unleashed the whole Project and even Metropolis above is threatened with nuclear disaster. All of the military might of the Project is unable to fend off the threat and the Habitat is demolished and the Outsiders are routed when the creatures storm through. But Superman is able to find a solution at last.

As Jimmy Olsen and Superman plan to leave The Project for a time, they must leave the Newsboy Legion behind for medical reasons, though the boys quickly escape on their own. Along with the Golden Guardian, Superman and Jimmy return to Morgan Edge and report, though by this time we have learned that Edge is an agent of Darkseid and in fact has already made one attempt on Clark Kent's life. This time he contracts with Inter-Gang boss Ugly Mannheim to off all three of our heroes and as it turns out a low-level employee named Goody Rickels, who just happens to be a lookalike for comedian Don Rickles. Inter-Gang does indeed capture our heroes and poisons them with a material which cause them to combust. Meanwhile Clark Kent (aka Superman) has been stranded in a device which is taking him to Darkseid's kingdom.

The story comes to a quick conclusion. Don Rickles shows up at Galaxy Broadcasting and the employees are fawning fans and Rickles is in fine insult mode. While Morgan Edge tries to wheedle the celebrity Jimmy, the Guardian and Goody fight for their lives and the Guardian attacks the Inter-Gang rolling headquarters to get a cure. Superman meanwhile meets Lightray from New Genesis who helps him escape the trap and returns him to Earth via Boom Tube. All the heroes are rescued and or cured and the stage is set for the next rollicking adventure. Don Rickles by the way voluntarily heads to the insane asylum after all he's witnessed.

In the Fourth World, the Jimmy Olsen book is the odd man out. Darkseid in available but the great war which comes to dominate the other books is only told in a tangential way here. The book has a wonky craziness about it that made it a bit difficult for me to grok at the time, but I've grown to love it more and more over the years. The first storyline in The Project is epic and the later stories feel somewhat less epic in scope but nonetheless have that zany aspect which marks all of Kirby's Jimmy Olsen stories. As the "King" put it so eloquently -- "Don't Ask! Just Buy It!".

More to come.

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  1. To me, this was the best thing Jack did at DC. I've got the originals and the reprints.

    1. It's really grown on me over the years. Seeing now how he took the whole Jimmy transformation motif and made it his own really appeals to me.

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