15
Dec
11

kirbsday: the four-armed terror!

Last time, the scientists of the Evil Factory, Simyan and Mokkari, sent a rampaging monster to destroy the DNA Project, and Superman was on the ropes after dissing Jimmy Olsen and the Newsboy Legion.

Alas, this issue delivers almost exactly the same thing.  In the past I’ve run some interference for Kirby’s repetitious elements, characterizing them as recurring motifs.  But in this case, it’s pretty much the exact same plot, just as Forever People #2 and New Gods #2 are almost the same story.  All three of these issues have a cover date of April-May 1971 (appearing on the stands in January or so), though, which surely isn’t coincidence.  It’d be interesting to know what was going on during that period.

Anyway, recognizing that issue #137 is a lot like issues #135-36, what’s there to appreciate about this one?

Well, I think the Four-Armed Terror, though kind of a lame adversary in the abstract (he has four arms, is ugly, and is starving for nuclear radiation to eat) is always depicted in a creepy and savage way.

Last issue, the Step-Ups invited Superman and Jimmy Olsen to a concert – but it turns out Jimmy gets to play the instrument (click to enlarge)

Please note there’s another 2-page splash collage immediately afterward, for a total of 5 splash pages devoted entirely to a “solar-phone” concert.  For comparison, the hell-planet Apokolips itself gets, thus far, a single half-page panel and peeks over into a splash.

Five consecutive splash pages is an absolutely overwhelming amount of narrative force in this medium–I don’t think there’s a single precedent for it in super hero comics at that time.*  And it’s devoted to Jimmy Olsen and the teenage Newsboy Legion basically hallucinating to electronica.  I really wish I could find a color version of these panels: the collage stuff looks about a million times better in color, and maybe that justifies the huge space devoted here.

So either Kirby really wanted to make a big deal about Jimmy Olsen tripping, a bigger deal than was made about anything else in comics before . . . or he really wanted to rush these issues along.  (This issue has 22 pages, 8 of which are splash pages.)   Given the similarity of plot to the previous issues, and really tight analogues between the other issues coming out this month, I’m inclined to say he was rushing.

Eventually Superman discovers the Project is under attack and tells the kids to stay out of it.  He wants to keep them safe, but as usual he’s pretty high-handed about it.

Oh hey, it’s Yango from issues #133-34!  The Four-Armed Terror is raising such a ruckus that the Outsiders and the others must evacuate the Habitat, and maybe the Wild Area itself.  I omitted a scene earlier in which Yango briefly mourns Jimmy Olsen, “the best yet,” having gone to his presumed death at the Mountain of Judgment.

The Four-Armed Terror double-strangles Superman until Jimmy shows up with his Hairy-designed harmonica gun.

Somewhere in here, Superman deduces that this creature was stolen from the Project’s own radiation-eating, four-armed monster cells: in this case, they were trying to breed a creature capable of surviving after an atomic war.  Two things are obvious:

  1. Simyan and Mokkari are really abusing the grant process, since all they do is just steal stuff from the Project
  2. It would have been a lot easier for Superman to just fight the dang ol’ Project, since all of their research gets used against him anyway

The monster traps them in an energy egg.  More monsters should do this.

On page 21 we finally learn the villains’ scheme:

SIMYAN: There’s the blip!  Our fledging is in the main conduit!

MOKKARI: Praise Darkseid!

SIMYAN: Yes, directly in his path is the giant atomic pile that supplies power to the entire underground world of the “Project!”

MOKKARI: He must feed on radiation!  He’ll rip that pile apart and trigger a chain reaction!  Then a great while flash!  A fire storm of indescribable heat!  Shock upon shock as a mushroom cloud rises where once the Project stood!  A job well done, eh, Simyan?

SIMYAN: It will be beautiful, Mokkari!  And with it will go all the rest!  Yea–and even the city of Metropolis–which lies above within range!

Alas, Mokkari’s reverential description of the nuclear meltdown is only text: too much space devoted to the solar-phone concert, not enough time for a Kirby-vision nuclear disaster.  But . . .

* = Hmm.  Ditko manages six splash pages in Spider-Man Annual 1965, where Spidey takes on the Sinister Six, but they’re not consecutive pages.  Steranko manages a colossal 4-page spread in Strange Tales #167 as Nick Fury wages his final battle against the Yellow Claw.  So Kirby’s usage here is more of degree than of kind.

bueller?

I don’t want to repeat myself any more than I already have.

This month Kirby’s got a thing about children having psychedelic experiences.  It is unmistakably the highlight of little Donny’s life over in Forever People #2, and the format of this issue strongly implies that it’s the most important thing ever to happen to the Newsboy Legion or maybe all of comics.  And of course, the idea of these huge collages–which look beautiful in full color but I think reproduce very poorly in black & white–is to sell a vicarious psychedelic experience to the child readership.

It’s hard to see what Kirby’s doing here that wouldn’t be of a piece with contemporary psychedelia.  By the early 70’s this stuff had become extremely commercialized and exploited by the wider culture; the real surprise is that it took so long to penetrate into mainstream comics.  Kirby’s attitude appears to one of uncritical, enthusiastic acceptance, which again is typical of the wider culture at the time though maybe a little unusual in a guy who was 49 years old.

I have some partial thoughts about crime in super hero games but I’ve got to do work…

 


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