kirbsday: the big boom!!

Last time: a Four-Armed Terror hellbent on devouring the DNA Project’s atomic power plant trapped Jimmy Olsen, the Newsboy Legion, and Superman in some weird energy-egg thing, and now continues its march toward meltdown.

I confess that the Jimmy Olsen series has entertained me less and less after an incredible start, but this is a great issue.  Kirby piles on the tension, partially by showing the supporting cast’s panicky reactions to the news about the impending meltdown.

From this headlong, desperate charge (which, by the way, is yet another five pages of splash panels–but because it’s a typical action comic sequence it’s less noticeable than last issue’s psychedelic concert), Kirby cuts to the kids trapped inside the egg…

(eh, no great pictures of this: they’re trapped in an egg, believe me)

And then a terrific shot of the Four-Armed Terror.

Now, the Four-Armed Terror as a concept doesn’t do a whole lot for me.  He’s a prototype mutant bred to survive the aftermath of a nuclear war, which is cool.  And he eats radiation, which is cool.  But he’s basically just an ugly dude with four arms who’s really hungry.  He’s no Granny Goodness, let alone a Darkseid.  But he looks totally boss, and all he says is “Arruk!” over and over, which I guess is what I want in a monster, even if he doesn’t really seem like a worthy foe of Superman.

The Terror digs toward the nuclear plant, while Jimmy and Superman escape the egg via comic book science:

The logic here is pretty impeccable.

  1. The Four-Armed Terror created the egg via electrical discharges
  2. The egg’s density must be controlled by static electricity
  3. Rubbing your hands together creates static electricity rather than blisters (contradicting an experiment I performed when I was 8 years old)
  4. If Superman does something, it is like magic

I really wish there was a super hero game that worked like this.  “Aquaman, those guys just robbed a bank, and all you can do is talk to fish!  We hate you!”  “Bah!  Behold the power of Aquaman!  I can mentally control fish!  All humans, including bank robbers, evolved from fish!  I will psionically dominate the primitive Fish Cortex of their brains, causing the robbers to flop helplessly on the ground, gasping for water.”  The more logical fallacies involved in your proposal, the more tokens it costs to pull off.

Anyway, Superman escapes and goes chasing after the monster.  Meanwhile…

Holy hell, the Daily Planet!  In a Jimmy Olsen comic no less!  We haven’t seen the Daily Planet since issue 134, four months ago in publishing time, but probably only a couple of days in fiction.  Here, Terry Dean, a character from before Kirby took over, stops by to get news about Jimmy from his boss, Perry White.  White remarks that his own boss, Morgan Edge, is a “‘smiling cobra‘ . . . [who] assigned Jimmy to drop out of sight . . .  Edge is ruthless!  And he’s not above gambling with human life!”

It’s really nice to get a breather from the DNA Project and see regular people again, even if, as 365 Days of Kirby theorizes, this page was simply an editorial mandate to include more familiar elements from the series.

The art fixes here strike me as totally unwarranted.  For Superman and Jimmy, I can almost understand: Kirby’s faces aren’t in the style of long-running Superman artists Curt Swan and Wayne Boring, and maybe don’t match how DC wanted to market the book.  But who’s buying the book for Perry White?  Or for Terry Dean, who showed up only in issue #127?

Cut to the soldiers and former Newsboys closing in…

Cut to Simyan and Mokkari sending in more Four-Armed Terrors from their hatchery…

Cut to Morgan Edge, alerted that all of Metropolis will detonate in a nuclear holocaust in less than five minutes, now flees via the helipad while assuring his employees that everything’s fine…

Cut to a hug firefight as Superman, the soldiers, and the Terrors all converges at the nuclear reactor.  The soldiers and the Golden Guardian try to hold back the monsters, while Superman throws the reactor into a tunnel the Project had been drilling toward the center of the Earth.

These are, presumably, heavily genetically modified human beings–quite possibly clones of Jimmy Olsen–committing mass suicide because Superman threw away their only food supply.  But hey, nothing else was working.

The reactor explodes far underground, Metropolis is saved, and everybody is happy except for Jimmy and the Newsboys, who got left behind in the egg yolk and missed the whole fight, and are grumpy about it in classic sit-com fashion.

a few comments

With this issue, we’re six months into Jack Kirby’s run on Jimmy Olsen.  Kirby got off to a jaw-dropping start by recasting Jimmy Olsen as bullheaded hellraiser determined to get a story at all costs–more like a pulp adventure hero than a sidekick.  And there was one heck of a story to get: the Whiz Wagon, Wild Area, the Mountain of Judgment, the DNA Project, and an invasion from Apokolips.  And with each issue the supporting cast expanded.

Yet over the last few issues I felt this series slowing down a bit.  It’s like when the Whiz Wagon landed at the Project, Jimmy Olsen lost his narrative momentum.

The supporting cast now includes the young Newsboys, the original Newsboys, the Golden Guardian, Dubbilex, Yango and the Outsiders, Jude and the Hairies, a cluster of clones, Simyan and Mokkari, Morgan Edge, and the monster of the month.  This issue also folds in some old-timers like Perry White and Terry Dean.  It’s a huge cast, but few of the characters are mutually antagonistic and none of them seem to have internal conflicts.  So you’ve got a setting under siege, populated with characters who make a strong first impression but then have little to say.  Sometimes literally: Tommy has barely said a word in six months.

(Sometimes you want a static character.  But if you want a character who’s in an uneasy spot, give her goals which are irreconcilable, or desires that run contrary to her best interests.)

All of which is to say that this issue, which is almost nothing but a race-against-time action thriller, really helps to juice up the series a bit, and it’s interesting to check out Kirby’s pacing techniques here.

  1. The first page splash recaps the situation.
  2. The next four splash pages work to impart a sense of urgency and enormous scale.  It’s interesting: last issue, I felt that 5 pages for a drug trip felt a little over-long, like Kirby was padding things out a bit.  That may have been entirely due to the quality of the reproduction: in smudgy black & white, the trip doesn’t look exciting or fun.  Maybe in color it would have had an otherworldly aspect to it.  Anyway: here the extra space helps to emphasize the emergency mobilization of a military base.
  3. Right as we’re rushing along with the soldiers, smash cut to the gooey, inescapble egg.  This sudden shift from reckless headlong movement to what’s basically a tarpit helps to sell the kids’ frustration, interspersed with images as the Four-Armed Terror wreaks destruction on the base.
  4. All throughout this issue, Kirby’s narrator captions keep chanting out: “Eleven minutes to doomsday… Nine minutes to doomsday… ” etc. etc.  This refrain, coupled with images of all these characters racing around frantically, helps to sell that we’re on the cusp of disaster.
  5. The sudden cuts to the Daily Planet–first with Perry and Terry, and then with Morgan Edge–theoretically halt the flow, but sort of work as palate cleansers and reminding us exactly what’s at stake if Metropolis explodes.  The bit with Morgan Edge is particularly well done: we’re reminded of the countdown clock (5 minutes), plus we get some excellently loathsome characterization of Edge.  It’s not enough he’d send six children to their deaths to blow up the Hairies, but he’s casually lying, in an especially smarmy way, to people just moments from death.
  6. After each of the Daily Planet interludes, the stakes escalate as more soldiers and monsters show up.
  7. There’s finally a big ol’ scene where practically everybody is on stage panicking at once, which is a stage play technique but effective here too.
  8. Superman saves the day not by force, but by desperately outwitting his enemies as the clock reaches zero-hour.  Admittedly, the previously unmentioned tunnels down to the center of the earth are a kind of annoying deus ex machina, but apparently they featured in another Superman story appearing that month, so it’s not totally out of the blue.

at last his identity is revealed!

I am obsessed with whoever answers the phone at Inter-Gang.  People are always like, “Hello, is this Inter-Gang?  Put me through to your Insidious Scheme division” or, “Operator, I want to talk to Joey Exit-Wounds in Wetwork & Removals.  Can you give me his extension?”  Who is this operator?  Is the Evil Factory’s cloned version of Gabby, as I theorized a few weeks ago?  Have I gone completely insane?

No . . . it’s some weird dude with sunglasses and a cigar who looks like he’s never smiled in his whole life.  He looks sort of worried, in fact.  (Probably because the whole city is about to explode.)  I guess working for a super-villain is, in the end, just a job like everything else.

2 Responses to “kirbsday: the big boom!!”

  1. January 6, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    “Joey Exit-Wounds” is the best gangster name ever.

  2. January 9, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    I really wish there was a super hero game that worked like this…The more logical fallacies involved in your proposal, the more tokens it costs to pull off.

    I love this idea for a Silver Age game.

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Past Adventures of the Mule

January 2012

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