kirbsday: Jimmy Olsen 135

One last Jimmy Olsen to get to before this project shifts into second gear. 

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.”

And soon:

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:

some comments

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.

5 Responses to “kirbsday: Jimmy Olsen 135”

  1. 1 Eric Minton
    October 28, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    What I want to know is how they get all of that microscopic underwear on all those microscopic Jimmy Olsens.

    For that matter, how do they make the microscopic underwear in the first place? A microscopic sweatshop?

  2. October 28, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    Whoever made the underpants also probably gave them Jimmy Olsen haircuts, too. Like, what a screwed up thing to show somebody! Couldn’t you have found a sample cloned from someone else, Superman?

    The thing that gets me about this is that Superman ain’t trying to hide shit. “Yeah, we stole your DNA and cloned you to be our slave-race. Cool, huh? Also, check out these miniature naked copies of you I study in my magno-microscope–aren’t those little white briefs adorable?” And Jimmy is like, “Gee whiz!”

    Granted that forty years later, at a time where cloning is an unsettling reality, we think about these issues rather differently, I still think that even by 1971 standards the moral system at play here is a little lacking. The only real difference between the Evil Factory and the DNA Project is that the Evil Factory works for Darkseid and wants to take over the Earth; the DNA Project is a Cold War U.S. military op. I don’t know whether Kirby-the-creator acknowledged that the DNA Project is monstrously unethical, but his characters certainly never seem to: they all apparently buy into the concept that because the Army (or the 1940 Newsboy Legion) is involved the wisdom of the project and its methods are beyond question.

    As a modern reader, I find the effect either satirical or a prototype to Frank Miller’s depiction of Superman as a government stooge. Either of those options are intriguing. I’m not enough of a post-modernist to say I don’t care about the creators’ intent, though, so it’s a bit of a quandary. Kirby certainly hates industrialized warfare, but he liked and admired soldiers, and I’m not sure how he felt about the military as an institution, especially the American military. Maybe this storyline started out as intensely critical of the military, and an editor toned it down? Certainly any halfway intelligent reader would sense that something doesn’t add up here, and I guess that effect was intended.

  3. 3 Scott LeMien
    October 28, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    James, I’m kind of curious as to what your perception is of Kirby the creator, because some of the questions you seem to ask of Kirby seem to be so assuming-of-2011 sensibilities that they make me simultaneously smile and wonder just how serious you really are.

  4. October 28, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    It is a really tricky question. I wrote a long thing in response, but then figured it was better to ask for examples!

    I want to be as respectful as I can be to this work on its own terms, but my primary purpose is to figure out what it has to say to someone 40 years later. Given that Kirby explicitly intended the Fourth World titles to be published in collections perpetually, like The Chronicles of Narnia or the Oz books, I think he would be comfortable with that treatment–but that doesn’t mean I can’t do a better job of it.

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Past Adventures of the Mule

October 2011

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