And we’re back with a second installment of Jack Kirby’s so-called “Fourth World” saga. As noted last time, Jack Kirby had come to DC Comics with some big ideas about a whole set of brand new titles dealing with youth culture, Viet Nam, the Cold War, and a lot of other stuff. But he began his stint writing and drawing Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, which he immediately converted from smarmy, contrived gags (“What if Jimmy had a beard that wouldn’t stop growing?”) to a hallucinatory pulp-adventure story.
Here’s Kirby efficiently recapitulating the plot of the last issue:
All of this is basically the plot of the last issue, but it cements the idea that as an Establishment figure, Superman really doesn’t know how to deal with the youth culture, while Jimmy Olsen does–and he’s got enough manpower and hand-me-down technology to humiliate Superman whenever he steps out of place. It is hard to think of Jimmy Olsen as an awesome, two-fisted adventurer who can knock out the Man of Steel twice in a row, but Kirby manages to do it.
Now let’s go for a drive, past obstacles laid down by the mysterious Hairies!
This is one of Kirby’s notorious collages, a scan of the original artwork. All of the reproductions I’ve seen are in black & white, which is a tragedy. Kirby began experimenting with collage in the pages of Fantastic Four in the mid-60’s, where the original plan was to illustrate the Negative Zone entirely in collage. It’s such an amazing technique, especially now that digital coloring procedures can reproduce it in full color.Oh, Superman! Just stay in the treehouse, won’t you? Why do you have to mess up Mr. Olsen’s Wild Ride?
And who would be driving around a drag-strip deathtrap in a demon-shrouded ICBM carrier? Hippies!
Also, I am not sure how the bomb-defusing Hairy counts “triple” murder when there’s like a mob of dudes around the bomb. Looking at the nearby panels, there are only three Hairies there–maybe he only considers deaths of Hairies to be murder, and deaths of Jimmy and the Newsboy Legion mere property destruction, like killing a cow. I hate to think ill of hippies, but really, that’s the only interpretation that makes sense, considering that the Hairies apparently think nothing of arming sociopaths like Outsiders with rocket-propelled motorcycles and kryptonite bazookas, and then trying to kill intruders with gorges, drowning, and psychedelic distractions while people are traveling at 120 mph.
Anyway: it turns out the villain of the piece is exactly who you’d suspect in a hippie-heavy plotline: the phony-baloney zillionaire businessman…
…who is literally the servant of a mysterious mastermind, Darkseid, who makes his first appearance here, hidden in the top desk drawer with the take-out menu’s and leftover pennies. I assume I’ll write more about Darkseid in the weeks to come, but right now we just have a teaser about a “vast, ominous intrigue.” Because nothing says “major new super villain” like telling a middle-manager that you’ll call him back later.
So for those of you following along at home, here’s the plot of Jimmy Olsen 133-34: Jimmy Olsen’s new boss, taking orders from Darkseid, sends him on a suicide bombing raid against a bunch of paranoid hippies, who are saved at the last minute by a grumpy Superman.
The Hairies explicitly call attention to the fact that the media is trying to destroy them, which is a pretty astute bit of cultural criticism to appear in a super hero comic book. Kirby is definitely taking a political stance that would have been controversial in early 1971; in fact, it’s controversial forty years later. I was reading this issue during the early weeks of the Occupy Wall Street movement, when major media outlets were dismissing the protesters as smelly, disorganized, and incoherent. I could totally see Rupert Murdoch try to blow up Zuccotti Park with an Atomic Segway piloted by tweens.
As noted last week, it was common for this series to feature pseudo-conflicts between Superman and Jimmy based around a misunderstanding or communication problem. There’s a bit of that here, but fundamentally it’s a conflict around Superman being too smothering and protective. Jimmy thinks he can do the job; Superman thinks it’s simply too dangerous. They have become super-frenemies.
It turns out that Superman was right, of course, but I don’t think anyone is reading this comic and rooting for Superman. No, we’re rooting for Jimmy, because he’s courageous and has the best car and isn’t taking shit from anybody, including the Last Son of Krypton, and Jimmy don’t care how many planets the guy can bench-press. Jimmy Olsen has a motherfucking case.
In looking at this conflict, it’s interesting to contrast each character’s source of influence. Superman is incredibly strong, can fly faster than a speeding bullet, and can shrug off automatic rifle fire. He really goes to town on the Outsiders! But Jimmy manages to defeat him twice, because Jimmy’s power is entirely social. Morgan Edge, the fink, trusts him, or says he does. The Newsboy Legion respects him as their cool older brother. The Outsiders revere him as the most kick-ass leader they’ve ever had–and the Outsiders get their Superman-wreckin’ weaponry from their Hairy friends. Superman is an indomitable Establishment figure, but he can be put down by a bunch of outcasts working together. The struggle to come together can make you turn chicken–or man!