I love this cover (by Neal Adams, I think) but sadly, a “horde of [midget] Killer-Supermen” never arrive, and are only briefly implied in the comic itself. I presume the cover artist was working on an early plot synopsis that got changed midway through the issue.
We open with Simyan and Mokkari, two self-confessed evil scientists, who are cackling about how the Earthmen have no defense against the superior biotechnology from Apokolips.
Superman and the Newsboy Legion take their leave of the Hairies, who urge them to investigate a mishap at “the Project.”
So: an anarchic motorcycle gang (the Outsiders) are providing security for a bunch of techno-hippies (the Hairies) who provide traps and diversions to protect the United States Army. And who’s the Army here to protect?
Teddy Kennedy, some guy, Gregory Peck, and a young Dick Nixon? No! They are the original Newsboy Legion from the early 1940s. (No Flipper Dipper back then, alas.) The gang hanging out with Jimmy Olsen in the past few issues are their sons. Except their sons look and act exactly like them and no one ever mentions the kids’ mothers…
So the Project has cloned Jimmy Olsen at least forty-three times and have deployed Clone-Jimmies as infantry soldiers. And:
digression: okay, wtf
Superman, let’s have a little talk. The Project is apparently a top-secret military genetics research laboratory (protected by hippies and the Hells Angels). Your employer, The Daily Planet, presumably one of the nation’s leading newspapers, gathered DNA samples from its teenage interns without their consent, and turned those samples over to the Army. The Army then grew a squadron of child soldiers grown from your best friend. Plus you keep a petri dish full of microscopic naked Jimmy Olsens. Do we need to have an intervention, Superman? You used to be a journalist for God’s sake.
back to the show
Meanwhile the evil scientists report on their progress to Darkseid via video conference. This is one of Darkseid’s earliest scenes, and we’re still learning about him: he’s in charge of both Inter-Gang and the Evil Factory, the latter of which is explicitly some kind of advanced expeditionary force from some place called Apokolips tending toward the conquest of Earth. Darkseid had been trying to blow up the Hairies last issue, and now is operating the Evil Factory, so whatever the Project is up to must matter a lot to him.
Then the evil scientists’ giant, which Darkseid calls an “uncontrollable organic murder machine” gets loose and runs amok:
The scientists use the Penetrator Beam to teleport the giant into the factory. The giant, of course, turns out to be a mutated, enlarged Jimmy Olsen with kryptonite skin. Superman gets knocked out when the giant reveals its identity. You keep dozens of him naked in a petri dish, don’t act so scandalized.
As a soldier (Olsen 43?) exclaims, “Holy smoke! Someone’s bred a giant renegade Jimmy Olsen!“ The Project sends its own weaponized Jimmy Olsens from stolen cells to fight it. Meanwhile,
… another Kirby revival:
This issue is . . . strange. The villains of this piece are unmistakably bad guys: they’re aliens bent on conquering Earth on behalf of Jack Kirby’s ultimate villain, Darkseid (who orchestrated the plot to kill several children last issue), and they work in a place called the “Evil Factory.” And yet their dastardly deed is to clone Jimmy Olsen without his consent for use in war, which is apparently exactly what Superman’s buddies in the Project are doing. Superman is a dick, but in this issue he’s verging on Mad Scientist’s Henchman level villainy.
This is one of the most interesting aspects of Kirby’s portrayal of Superman. Superman means well, but seems very uncomfortable with the idea that other people have agency. In issues 133 and 134, Superman is ostensibly worried that his boss, Morgan Edge, is plotting to kill Jimmy and the Newsboy Legion, so he has to warn them off their news assignment at any cost–but rather than explain his concern like a rational person (“I believe Edge tried to have Clark Kent murdered. Let’s do this together, Jimmy”), Superman’s impulse is to give orders and throw his weight around. He doesn’t see the kids as his moral equals, and in this issue he and his friends straight-up treat them as lab experiments. To dramatize this point, Superman is completely defenseless when he sees the giant’s face: the idea that Jimmy, even a cloned Jimmy, might resent and hate him is a disarming shock.
The other frustrating thing about this issue is that the really promising antagonism between Jimmy (the real one) and Superman fades totally into the background here, as if it never happened. Maybe a day ago in fictional time, Jimmy Olsen was hellbent on finding the truth of this story, even if it meant crashing a motorcycle into Superman’s genitals. He was fighting the most powerful man in the universe because the dude was getting in the way of his job. By now, though, Jimmy is a wonderstruck observer to Superman’s cascade of revelations. He is surprised, but not noticeably dismayed, that a major American newspaper is colluding with the Army to conduct ethically dubious experiments on his own DNA. Two-fisted Jimmy is gone, and we may never see him again.