Thursday, 29 May 2014


"KIRBY IS HERE!" announced the cover of "Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen" #133, or as the logo proclaimed "Superman's Ex-Pal the New Jimmy Olsen". And so it begins...

Jack Kirby made his DC debut in August 1970. The story goes that Kirby had boasted that he could take the worst selling title of the DC line and make it a best-seller. Well, why let the truth get in the way of a good story? What actually happened was that Kirby asked to be assigned to a title that had no regular creative team so not to put anybody out of a job. The title he got? “Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen”.
Kirby's cover to Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #133
Probably not the title he was hoping for, but “The King” took over the Superman spin-off title with issue #133 and immediately started to weave together the threads of his great cosmic tapestry. There are very few hints of the great epic to come in this first episode, although it does introduce the Daily Planet's new owner Morgan Edge and the crime syndicate known as "Intergang", both of whom we'll find have connections to the cosmic opera about to unfold.
Incidentally, although this was Kirby's first published work since his return to DC, it wasn't the first written or drawn. That honour belongs to the first issue of "The Forever People", which we'll come to in due course.  Anyway, back to Jimmy Olsen.
Morgan Edge sends our favourite cub reporter to meet up with the sons of the 1940s kid-gang-come-crimefighters “The Newsboy Legion”.
Who? Well, the original Newsboy Legion had had their own feature (initially written and illustrated by Kirby and his partner Joe Simon) in the pages of “Star-Spangled Comics” in the 1940s. The foursome, Scrapper (who liked a good fight), Gabby (who talked a LOT), Big Words (who used a lot of... well, you figure it out) and Tommy (who... er, was called Tommy) were orphans who lived in the aptly named Suicide Slum, scraping a living by selling newspapers (and occasionally acting as kid reporters). After one scrape too many with the law, the lads were threatened with reform school, until kindly local cop Jim Harper took them under his wing and became their legal guardian. Shortly afterwards Harper ran afoul of some hoodlums and was beaten to a pulp. When he recovered, Harper went after the thugs, in the guise of a costumed superhero called... The Guardian. With help from the Newsboys, The Guardian brought the criminals to justice. But although the Newsboys suspected that their guardian was in fact THE Guardian, they could never prove it.
Anyway, thirty years later, a new Newsboy Legion consisting of Scrapper Jr., Gabby Jr., Big Words Jr. and Tommy Jr. are the reason that Edge sends Olsen to Suicide Slum. Oh, and the Legion has also gained a fifth member. The original Legion were four white kids. Kirby obviously decided to mix it up a little by adding a lad of Afro-American origin, the scuba diving Flippa Dippa (or, occasionally, Flipper Dipper). Good job his dad wasn't around in the forties. Flippa Dippa Junior would have been a bit of a mouthful. Bizarrely, even his father calls him Flipper Dipper (or is it Flippa Dippa?). But I digress...
Turns out Big Words has designed an all-purpose vehicle he calls "The Whiz Wagon". The shifty Morgan Edge has financed the construction of this ugly amphibious, flying car in exchange for Olsen and the Newsboys undertaking an assignment for The Daily Planet. The mission is to find a bizarre hippy society (hey it was 1970, after all) in a strange land known only as "The Wild Area". And just where is this strange, lost land? Er... just outside Metropolis. Well, they couldn't have been looking TOO hard for it then, could they?
Now, the dodgy Edge has an ulterior motive for sending Olsen and the Newsboys to search for the Wild Area that becomes apparent an issue or two down the line. For now, we have to take him at his word that the reason he's sending the youngsters is because the Wild Area's inhabitants, the "Hairies", won't trust anybody over the age of thirty. As Edge says to Clark Kent "It's a generation gap type of scene, you know". Now Edge, in his infinite wisdom, decides that Kent and Superman are old friends, and doesn't want Supes involved, so contacts the mysterious crime syndicate "Intergang" to arrange an "accident" for Kent, who is promptly run down as he leaves the Daily Planet. Boy, that didn't take long to organise did it? And surely, knowing Kent is a friend of Superman, the last thing you'd want is the Kryptonian investigating Kent's supposed accident. I don't think you really thought that through Morgan, baby! Of course, Kent survives (being Superman and all) and promptly hides himself away in his apartment to "recuperate". Meaning, of course nobody's going to wonder where Kent is while Superman follows Jimmy to the Wild Area.
Iron Mask and Vudu - Dr. Doom is consulting his lawyers!
So the youngsters arrive in The Wild Area and bump into a couple of biker-types called Iron Mask (hang on, wasn't he an old villain from Kid Colt, Outlaw?) and Vudu. Our pair of Dr. Doom rejects (see left), seem to be impressed by the Whiz Wagon. "I like that set of wheels they're driving, Vudu", says Iron Mask. "When my hand drops - - plow in on them!"
"Your word is law, my commandant", replies Vudu. "The Outsiders take what they want!"
In they charge, with Iron Mask yelling "GO! GO! GO! Vudu! Death is fast! Death is loud! Death is Final!". Man, Kirby had a real way with words didn't he?
One short fight later, Olsen decks Iron Mask with a roundhouse right. Next thing you know, the rest of the Outsiders ride up, take one look at the situation and make Olsen their new chief. "That's our leader you just zonked, hero" says one biker.
"So," says another, who we'll later find out is called Yango, "According to our code - - that makes you our new leader!"
So Superman finally catches up with Jimmy. And Jimmy promptly orders the Outsiders to take him down! Which they do with a handy dandy (and very convenient!) Kryptonite powered ray-gun. Looks like old Morgan Edge was right about that generation gap!
HABITAT - Looks like a cool place to live!
When Supes comes round, Olsen apologises, but tells him that he'll not let anyone stop him get the story he's after. Turns out that The Wild Area, and the bizarre "Habitat" tree-city (a masterpiece of Kirby design that you can see over there on the right) are just minor mysteries. Olsen's real assignment is to find the Mountain Of Judgement (hereafter referred to as the MOJ). What exactly the MOJ is, is unexplained as yet. As Yango says, "Man, you don't grab it! The mountain-- I-it's not like a place! I-it's more like a thing! Like Moby Dick! You go out and meet it - and die!"
At which point the ground trembles. The MOJ is on the move. Jimmy orders the Outsiders to get their motors running. They're off to hunt down the MOJ. And as they're heading out, Olsen warns Superman not to stop them. And that's where this first chapter ends. The Fourth World saga has begun. Not with a bang, but certainly not a whimper either!
Kirby's art is at it's peak here, although DC executives decided that his versions of Superman and Olsen didn't quite meet the DC house style and had many of the figures touched up by Al Plastino. The plot is typical Kirby of the period. It thunders along, maybe not quite making sense at times, with some ideas disposed of in a couple of panels, that writers today would spend a four or six part mini series on. It's crazy, but great entertainment.
Next time on Fourth World Thursday or Friday  - things start to get weird!

1 comment:

  1. Okay, I've just realized that the layout of the blog is different on my mobile than on the laptop. So where I have put see left or see right for the pictures, just look around. You'll find them...