Archive for October 13th, 2011


kirbsday: Jimmy Olsen 133

Let’s get started on the Fourth World stuff!  Anything that kicks off with Superman being slammed in the junk by a motorcycle has to be good.

After leaving Marvel Comics, Kirby’s first gig at National Comics (later to become DC) was on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen.  To non-comics readers, this would be like if Steve Wozniak had quit Apple Computers to design electronic gizmos to put in McDonald’s Happy Meals.  Even by the standards of a genre where men wear their underpants on the outside of their clothes, Jimmy Olsen was juvenile.  But all of the bigger titles had established writers and artists, and Kirby didn’t want to kick anyone out of a paying gig.  So Jimmy Olsen is where he ended up.

Enough talk!  Time for action!

Jimmy Olsen meets his colleagues for a new assignment to the mysterious Wild Area, and checks out their fabulous vehicle.

The Newsboy Legion is a poverty-stricken, scrappy-as-hell kids’ gang consisting of four irritating white kids, plus Flipper-Dipper, a black kid with such an unquenchable obsession with scuba-diving that he apparently walks around the streets of Suicide Slum in full diving gear including an oxygen tank at all times.

Flipper-Dipper is awesome.  You can just picture Kirby at the drawing board, chomping on a cigar, thinking, “Gee, I’ve got a blabbermouth kid, a nerdy kid, a handsome kid, a tough kid . . . what would round that out?  Oh of course!  That most beloved archetype in all of children’s literature, the scuba-diving kid!”  And then one of his assistants says, “But boss, how are you gonna squeeze scuba-diving into the plot every month?”  And Kirby shakes his fist and growls, “Bah!  Just watch me!”

Meanwhile Clark Kent is bitching to his new boss, Morgan Edge, that the Wild Area assignment is too dangerous for Jimmy.  Edge is pretty chill about possibly sending six children to their deaths . . . But he then puts a hit on Clark Kent to keep him from snooping around.I love that hiring a hit-man sounds like it’s easier than ordering a pizza.  The Inter-Gang telephone receptionist must have a fun job.  Anyway, the hit fails because Clark, of course, is Superman (spoilers!), and he decides to stop farting around with this job stuff and just go to the Wild Area himself.  Meanwhile Jimmy and the Newsboy Legion go to the Wild Area in their flying car thingy . . .

And they get attacked by some anti-social motorcyclists called the Outsiders.  When Jimmy punches out a guy who looks like Doctor Doom, he becomes the leader of this chapter of the Hell’s Angels.

Superman shows up in the Wild Area and is sarcastic as hell.The Outsiders defeat Superman with a kryptonite ray-gun–they apparently have access to crazy technology somehow–and Superman realizes that Jimmy is now hanging out with Elves from Dungeons & Dragons or something:Though Superman tries to persuade Jimmy that he’ll be killed if he sticks to his assignment, Jimmy Olsen ain’t no bitch.  He was told to find the Mountain of Judgment, and that’s exactly what he’s gonna do.  Shut up, old man!

In this single issue, we’ve got: a new writer, a new artist, a new team of sidekicks (to Superman’s sidekick), a super-car, a new villain mastermind, a new villain team (Inter-Gang), a “drop-out” society of hippies, and of course, the conversion of laughingstock man-child Jimmy Olsen into one of comics’s biggest bad asses who dominates practically everyone he meets.  Meanwhile Superman comes across as a schoolmarmish killjoy at least partially motivated by professional jealousy.

While it’s customary to talk about how different this issue is from everything that’s proceeded it in Jimmy Olsen, which typically involves something goofy happening to Jimmy leading to a spat with Superman, there are some continuities too.  First: Jimmy Olsen leading a futuristic motorcycle gang is probably the same order of wackiness as Jimmy becoming a member of the Beatles in Ancient Israel.  Second: yep, conflict with Superman.   It’s interesting that this isn’t smoothed out at the end of the issue; it’s clear these guys don’t really want to hurt each other, but Jimmy isn’t backing off the big assignment, even though he acknowledges it might kill him and his friends.  Third: there’s a whole bit of business I omitted where Clark Kent has an answering machine with artificial intelligence, designed to give him an alibi–just the sort of goofy super-gizmo that is always saving Kent’s identity in any other issue.

Still, these continuities are transformed by the escalating tension in the book.  Superman getting maced with kryptonite by some random biker dude under Jimmy’s orders isn’t even the climax of the story.  Rather, it’s the irreconcilable disagreement over Jimmy’s mission, which even the Outsiders believe to be suicide.

At any rate, it is one hell of an opening.


a glimpse of siddím

art by Adam Paquette

Instead of addressing actual problems, I’ve been working on a complicated Underdark setting for what amounts to a one-shot.

Siddím is a riff on Thomas Gold’s Deep Hot Biosphere idea: life originally evolved as bacteria and unicellular organisms deep underground: slimes, basically.  (I haven’t read Gold’s book and just using it as window-dressing.)  Siddím: a subterranean slime pit where life evolved from mindless ooze into a civilization of Slithering Trackers, who built their city here.  In time, fungi evolved to feed directly off the caustic slimes, leading to Myconids.  Throw in some Aboleths in a deep underground lake where some slime-streams meet.  Sprinkle with Duergar, Troglodytes, and a “lost world” sinkhole populated by neanderthals and giant bats, and you’ve got the region, a sort of Icelandic Underdark.  Siddím is a holy site to the Jubilex cult, which uses purify food and drink to feast on the slimes, and relies on a Slaver Guild to supply their landlords with fresh meat.

All of that is background scenery.

The one-shot I’m working on is a jailbreak by a group of slaves owned by a trading coster of Mind Flayers, who have emerged from an abscess in the Collective Unconscious to trade with the Aboleths.  The Mind Flayers have set themselves up in a Fortress Dam constructed ages ago by the Duergar, but has since been converted into a pound lock by the Aboleths who use it to portage over a really steep and rocky subterranean rapids.

I don’t want to think about the number of hours I’ve spent working on this thing, but it’s involved doing Internet research on speleology and cave ecosystems, Leonardo da Vinci’s plans for mitre gates (PDF), coming up with bizarre Dungeon Theology, revisiting the 2e Psionics Handbook, and playing around with famous D&D monsters.

This is a crazy hobby.

designed by Da Vinci

Past Adventures of the Mule

October 2011

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