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.

12 Responses to “kirbsday: Jimmy Olsen 133”

  1. October 13, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    Too bad DC had some scrub redraw Superman and Jimmy’s faces.

  2. October 13, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    Yeah: for anyone who doesn’t know what Blizack is talking about, Kirby’s editors at DC were excited to have him on a Superman-related property, but apparently thought Kirby’s versions of the lead characters’ faces were too much of a departure for the readers. So they had someone erase Jimmy’s and Superman’s faces and re-draw them.

    I don’t quite understand why someone who was so freaking good at his job kept on getting treated so badly in his profession.

  3. October 13, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    Flipper-Dipper is awesome. I wouldn’t be surprised if some unknown editor forced the SCUBA gimmick onto Kirby, though. Frogmen were a short-lived fad in the early ’70s, and this seems like a ham-fisted attempt to cash in on it, just like the rollerskates and disco fad would result in Dazzler several years later.

  4. 4 Scott LeMien
    October 13, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    Good job, Big Words.


  5. 5 Charlatan
    October 13, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    I never appreciated Superman’s ability to switch registers until he explained himself to the hippie-cowboy.

  6. October 13, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    Hmm! I had never considered that before. I love Flipper-Dipper so much that it pains me to think of him as merely an editorial mandate. But surely any editor who would say, “Yo, can you put a SCUBA diver in here? I am told children love SCUBA diving,” would also say, “Yo, WTF with all these hippies, Jack?” I suppose it’s a possibility though.

    Another fun fact: when I started reading these stories, I was pleasantly settling in for an epic tale about wars among alien gods, psychedelia, flying cars, and teleportation . . . but what blew my friggin’ mind was Flipper-Dipper. “No way did Kirby just throw a black teenage SCUBA nut into this cosmic battle for human freedom. The guy’s gone crazy!”

    The impression I get is that the Newsboy Legion consists of the neighborhood weirdo’s. Big Words is a total nerd; Gabby and Scrapper are both deformed midgets; Tommy was born without a personality. And F-D is the guy lumbering down the street in the summer with his flippers on, one slow thwack at a time.

    Check out how dismissive he is of the Habitat, too! “I can’t conceive of a dropout society being that industrious!” Well then maybe you need to check your super-stereotypes! These dudes are having a fine time riding their mega-cycles and shooting machine guns at children who dare to land on Treehouse Island. Who are you to judge them, Superman?

  7. 7 Aos
    October 14, 2011 at 2:24 am

    I love the fact that Jimmy is actually the star. Two fisted Jimmy is the best Jimmy. Yango is another favorite of mine; he has an awesome look, and he doesn’t take any crap from Superman at all. The wild area is awesome. Really i have nothing but praise for this issue.

  8. October 14, 2011 at 2:40 am

    “Two fisted Jimmy is the best Jimmy.”

    Damn straight. I would play this character in a heartbeat, and simply have Superman as a contact I could call up on occasion. I want like the mayor calling me up and saying, “Jimmy Olsen! Only your insatiable hunger for truth, plus your violent rowdy biker friends, can save the city!” And I say, “Sorry, mayor. Jimmy Olsen says . . . let it burn.” Chaotic Neutral JImmy is awesome.

    “Really i have nothing but praise for this issue.”

    Me neither. It occurred to me later that I didn’t even need to use any words in this entry: a few well-chosen pictures tell the entire story.

  9. 9 Dan Petitpas
    March 25, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    Kirby was the KING! I remember when I first read this issue I got goosebumps. Probably the greatest creative burst by a comics artist in comics history.

    (By the way, I think DC had Curt Swan to redraw Superman’s face.)

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Past Adventures of the Mule

October 2011

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