In the pages of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, the role of The Project, that capacious subterranean high-tech complex staffed by military personnel, government scientists and some strange-looking folk, is exclusively assigned to the agency called the DNA Project. Now, whether the entire Project is devoted to cloning human beings — and other humanoids — is open to question. I say this because, as you can imagine, if the Fourth World had run its intended course, The Project had great potential to be a catch-all organization for all sorts of activity, thus rife with story possibilities. But, much as I’d love to extrapolate on what could have been, let’s focus on the fertile material actually presented in the published comic series, rich stuff indeed!
Upon arriving at the Project Zone via the tunneled Zoomway and passing Checkpoint 10, the Whiz Wagon is parked and Jimmy, Superman and the Newsboy Legion enter Admittance Section 22 of The Project. An armed guard (one of many), machine gun trained on the visitors, directs the Man of Steel to the Cell Duplication and Replica Refining Section, where the boys attend a surprise meeting with their fathers. Meanwhile, as they stroll through high-tech, heavily secured corridors, the red-headed Daily Planet reporter demands some answers from Superman about the place. “This project is a vast underground complex!” says his friend. “The Hairies were grown and raised here!” Jimmy gives a double-take, “Did you say grown here? What do you mean?” Superman replies, “I mean, the genetic code has been broken, Jimmy! The DNA molecule has given up its secret! — The secret of life itself!” The young man is flummoxed. “What? You mean — ? You mean — ?” The Man of Steel nods and says, “I mean that human beings like yourself can now be produced from an individual cell! That the human gene can be manipulated and controlled to fit a desired pattern!” Jimmy remains aghast, retorting, “I don’t believe it! — I-it’s just too fantastic!” And, as the super-hero adds, “What’s more, The Project can make replicas of any living man!” they encounter a living clone of James Bartholomew Olsen, the sentry labeled Jimmy Olsen No. 43, who tells the “original,” “We Jimmy Olsens are a popular category in the duplication section!”
During this initial tour of The Project, Jimmy learns tissue samples were previously taken from himself and the Newsboy Legion (without consent) at the Daily Planet Dispensary. (Interestingly, Superman willingly donated his DNA to the effort; more on that soon…) Looking into a Magno-Microscope, Jimmy exclaims, “Good Lord!” as he views tiny versions of himself! In short time, he then learns “a good captain of detectives,” also deceased, has been cloned and is witness to Micro-Paratroopers, tiny duplicates also known as Scrapper-Troopers, parachuting all around him.
Jimmy marvels at the extraordinary compound as Superman renews the guided tour. “It certainly is big!” Jimmy says. “The corridors seem endless, Superman! And so do the personnel!” His companion replies, “They belong here, Jimmy! The Project grows its own!” Observing full-size clones of Gabby, Jimmy says, “Yeah! It’s never-ending surprises!” The reporter then turns to face his pal and says, “I can’t get over it! You knew about ‘The Project’ all this time!” “From its very inception!” responds Superman. “My cell tissues were the first grown when the genetic code was broken and deciphered!”
(The Man of Tomorrow ends by saying, “But that’s another story! ‘The Project’ is the big one!” Great Krypton! What a way to dismiss such a huge bombshell and ya gotta wonder just what amazing tales could have sprung from that chestnut in Jack Kirby’s seemingly-infinite imagination! Talk about super-soldiers! (Fear not, those in the know: We’ll talk about Arin, The Armored Man, soon enough!) Another story, indeed…)
The pair stop at a console and Superman pushes a view button, revealing giant metal cylinders amid pink Kirby krackles. “Here life is grown in special tanks! Life planned for specific tasks! This is where The Project acquires its personnel!” Pressing the button again, we see a caregiver playing ball with little children. “Here is one of the nurseries, Jimmy, where the young Normals are carefully raised and tutored.” His pal asks, “Did you say ‘Normals,’ Superman? Do you mean…?”
“Well,” Superman answers, “the human cell is still a pliable mystery! Experiments have produced the ‘Step-Ups!’” Just then a three-wheeled vehicle passes them as the old bearded driver, driving two younger passengers, beckons to Superman, “Hi, Superman! Don’t forget our Friday Night ‘Sing In’! Bring your friend!” “Thanks! We’ll be there!” replies the Man of Steel. “Say!” says Jimmy, “These kids look like the ‘Hairies’ who live in that mountain-sized van that runs on the Zoomway!” Superman concurs, “The ‘Hairies’ came from this group! These are our ‘Step-Ups!’ They have evolved hair-trigger minds! And they come up with mechanical wonders like the Mountain of Judgment!” Jimmy exclaims, “Wow! And it all began with reading a little DNA molecule!” Superman goes through a doorway and says, “Yes, there are rooms of charts explaining it all!”
Inviting Jimmy to view the complex diagrams, Superman explains, “In these charts, Jimmy, lies the essence of ‘The Project!’ The Secret of LIfe, long hidden in the ‘DNA molecule,’ has been extracted and is now being used for mankind’s benefit!” As they enter another room, he continues, “There is constant research going on all the time! As it expands, new problems arise!” Turning to wall signs, the top two reading “Normals” and “Step-Ups,” Jimmy points to the last one. “I’ll bet! Look at that bottom category! Aliens!”
We’ll leave the tour for today, as there will be a discussion covering that bottom category very soon indeed, so let’s mosey over to some Jimmy Olsen back-up tales and look at a few other aspects of The D.N.A. Project:
(Background comment: Mokkari, looking over a scale model of The Project and its Wild Area environs, in the ish of JO we’re currently covering, explains why the location was selected: “Thus we have it — the vast American underground preserve, in which ‘The Project’ was built. This was originally a mammoth cavern!“)
In “The Torn Photograph” segment of “Strange Stories of The D.N.A. Project” (JO #144) the opening caption reads, “Even greater than the mystery that shrouds the activities within the top secret project, there is the untold saga of the clearing of the mammoth cavern in which it’s based!” The tale explains, “In the early days of The Project, spelunking teams of cave explorers were sent into the bowels of the Earth on survey missions!!!” A team called Probe Six finds a prehistoric forest of vegetation, swamps and wild — apparently very wild — life, which leads to demise of the exploratory team, despite efforts with dynamite and weapons. All that is left of their travails and that “Lost World” is a torn photo (must have been a Polaroid) of an apish creature advancing on the camera with stone axe ready to descend…
The “Tales of the DNA Project” two-pager in JO #148 has this intro: “During the routine physical examination of a maturing ‘DNA-Human,’ the subject, who represents a special experiment, suddenly became violent and attacked a security guard present in the room!! Had he proved the theory that crime was transferrable [sic] through the human cell? Was there such a thing as the… Genetic Criminal” Model Four, a beefy, tough-looking fellow, pounds the tar out of his adversary, who calls him a “second-rate human!!” But we learn Model Four’s foe is a foreign agent and he is seized by security personnel. We learn: “Many DNA subjects acquire a sharp sense of ESP!” — That’s extra-sensory perception, a sixth sense, kids! — and that he was “grown from the cell tissue of Floyd ‘Bullets’ Barstow!! — A gangster executed for murder!!”
Please allow a little question or two of the big developments going on… Just what in the name of Sam Hill is the government up to here? The U.S. of A. is surreptitiously stealing the D.N.A. of its unwitting citizens and harvesting clones to remain in (perpetual?) servitude of their vast underground complex? The clones are being gestated in giant tanks and then live in a subterranean world, rarely (if ever) seeing the light of day? And why no mention of the accelerated growth process these replicants are assuredly subject? Obviously, our encounters with the clones of the Guardian, Scrapper, Gabby and Jimmy all reveal relatively intelligent, level-headed humans… so what’s the secret of getting them so mature so fast? And the “Bullets” Barstow vignette: Scientists are growing humans to settle their nature versus nurture theories? What would have they done with Model Four if criminality was a genetic trait? Lordy, lordy, these questions boggle my wee mind!
(Please don’t get me wrong here with my ponderous asides: I’m not intending to criticize Jack’s storytelling or concepts here, more marveling at the apparent implications within and the seemingly endless, infinite story possibilities that could have been built on this fantastic foundation. It is so much fun just contemplating the marvelous implications of it all… so you’ll please forgive me, yes?)