kirbsday: Jimmy Olsen 134

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:



But fortunately

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?

I love that “of course.”  Who wouldn’t use the name “Mountain of Judgment” to refer to a demon-shrouded ICBM carrier?

And who would be driving around a drag-strip deathtrap in a demon-shrouded ICBM carrier?  Hippies!

Hippies who defuse bombs hidden inside super-cars:

I don’t know, Big Words: I think a bomb hidden inside your car is more of a single danger if you ask me.  Maybe the doubled danger is that it would hurt the Whiz Wagon’s resale value.

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!

the General Assembly, forty years too early

10 Responses to “kirbsday: Jimmy Olsen 134”

  1. 1 Scott LeMien
    October 20, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    I’m seriously tempted to harass you into some 4th World WGP! I feel a bit like Superman felt when I find myself reading the OWS stuff: namely that something great is brewing and I’m barely grasping it, but someone knows what’s going down… ALIENS!!!

  2. October 20, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    That collage is fucking awesome.

    Check out Geof Darrow’s police cruiser from Hard Boiled compared to the Mountain of Judgment.

  3. October 20, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    @Scott LeMien:
    My 47-week master plan is already working…

  4. October 20, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    The first appearance of EGO, the living planet, in Thor was also a trippy collage: http://www.supermegamonkey.net/chronocomic/entries/scans2/T132_Ego.JPG

    I imagine that the time versus money ratio made exploratory artwork like this unpopular with the editors.

  5. 5 Charlatan
    October 20, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    Not only is the collage awesome, but that’s the best dialogue yet from one of these panels:

    I’ve lost all frame of reference… all sense of direction… but I can feel the road!

    It seems to be of a piece, aesthetically, with Kubrick’s 2001, or maybe Easy Rider.

  6. 6 James Nostack
    October 21, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    Oddly, Kirby did not use collage in his adaptation of 2001, published about five years later. There are a few panels that are pretty much stills from the movie, but the crazy visuals of the fourth act are all done through traditional comics methods. You can see some of it here.

  7. October 23, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Triple murder!

    Maybe refers to the murder of three groups; the Outsiders, the Hairies and Superman.

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    January 4, 2015 at 4:01 pm

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Past Adventures of the Mule

October 2011

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