We’ll see how this goes, obviously, but my hope is to log in 500 words or less on each entry… as Bruce Z. has suggested. I’ll be alerting visitors to any updating I’m doing, as well, until yours truly is in the groove. Yesterday I did some format adjustment to The Black Racer entry. Hopefully Goody Rickels gets the treatment today…
Jon B. Cooke here. I am hoping to finish what I started and will be working on the 365 Days of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World blog. I’ll do my best to be pragmatic and reasonable — posting concise entries, for instance — and will state openly that I won’t be adding to this every day; just as I can get to it. I do regret the extremely long absence and am happy to be back. Expect some revisions to those pending entries soon.
It goes without saying one of the events that prompted me to come back is the recent passing of my friend Joe Simon, with whom I had the honor to design the second edition of his The Comic Book Makers a little over 10 years ago. Godspeed, Joe! Thanks so much for all you shared with us. My condolences to son Jim and the entire Simon family.
Goody Rickels? Seriously?
Under the Kirby’s magic touch, Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen goes from the sublime to the ridiculous with the arrival of real-life standup comedian Don Rickle’s “long lost alter ego,” Goody Rickels, a researcher for the Galaxy Broadcasting System who accompanies Jimmy and The Guardian in their tussle with Inter-Gangster Ugly Mannheim.
With this third issue of The New Gods and the showcasing of The Black Racer, it becomes obvious Jack Kirby is jockeying to launch spin-offs of his tetralogy. (Actually, I have heard our dark-skinned skiing deity had been created separate from the New Genesis/Apokolips saga, but the DC office, eager to expand the Fourth World should it hit big were looking for characters who could headline their own books, so Jack threw in the ebony harbinger of death.) I confess I have mixed feelings about the character, particularly the visual elements. I mean, c’mon! It’s a dude dressed in a medieval suit of armor painted in garish red and blue, flying through the cosmos on a pair of skis, wielding ski poles! I’ve always thought the appearance of Sgt. Willie Walker’s alter ego a little silly, as if it were a fruitless attempt to replicate an earlier, albeit much more popular creation, The Silver Surfer… And, if true, who could blame Jack? When you think about it, the concept behind He Who Possesses The Power Cosmic is pretty goofy, yet in execution it worked superbly, enough so to become perhaps the most resonate character to soar out of the 1960s. (And we’re not even mentioning the sordid events surrounding Stan Lee’s treatment of Jack in the whole Silver Surfer affair which would lead anyone to try again to better advantage.)
But, putting aside the costuming, The Black Racer does work, I think, and it’s hard not to get wrapped up in lives of Willie, his care-giving sister and her husband, all trying to get by in Suicide Slum. But I really dig the idea of a Grim Reaper, even one on skis, playing a direct role in the epic. Whose side is this personification of death on? Certainly Darkseid and his ilk ultimately worship death — what else is anti-life? — but their fear of The Black Racer (they’re as afraid as their New Genesis adversaries of BR’s mortal touch) shows us he’s neutral, ambivalent even. Very cool.
I’m also a fan of Jack’s (for lack of a better term) “Blaxpoitation” work at early ’70s DC, so I do respond to the Walker subplot. Jack may be off-target now and again, trying a little too hard to be hip and with it, but like his extraordinary romance work with Joe Simon, he remains earnest and empathetic with minority characters. If you haven’t seen his Soul Love work from that era, you’re missing a treat and you must seek out those unpublished stories. Wild stuff.
One could argue from the get-go Jack painted himself into a corner with the broad strokes of Willie Walker’s ordeal — paralyzed, completely dependent on his sister — or never took the chance to expand in the short time left for the Fourth World. In the few appearances to follow, the Vietnam vet’s situation remained the same: him lost in thought, his sister Verna fretting over his fate and brother-in-law Ray comforting the sister… a person might imagine Jack moving The Black Racer to another mortal vessel just to get things jumping!
Anyway, The New Gods #3 is a fine issue and, however clunky he looks, The Black Racer is a worthy addition to the opus. It’s also fun to see a two-fisted, Earthling-attired Orion duking it out in the Metropolis ghetto, and while Sugar-Man and Badger are hardly candidates for membership in the Secret Society of Super-Villains, they are classic if unrefined Kirby bad guys, so no complaints here! Jack is chugging along, gaining momentum, building tension… things are starting to rock!
Sergeant Willie Walker, the alter ego of The Black Racer, is cared for by his sister Verna and her husband Ray Johnson, a young African American couple, and all three reside in a Metropolis ghetto apartment. We meet the couple on the final page of this issue after The Black Racer has transformed back into the paraplegic: “Moments later, the two people who have taken care of Willie Walker enter the room — his sister Verna and her husband, Ray Johnson.”
Verna: Willie! Willie! Oh, Ray — we shouldn’t have gone out and left him alone!
Ray: Willie’s okay! — I mean — as well as he could be! Besides, we arranged for the neighbors to check on him!
Verna: They were no help! They were busy with all that trouble tonight! We can’t let this happen again, Ray! We can’t leave Willie alone this way!
Ray: Well, who could foresee that they were gonna find a dead hoodlum outside this building?
Verna: Willie was here! He might have been hit by a stray bullet! And he can’t move or shout for help!
Ray: Yes, Willie must have heard the shots! But I’m sure he didn’t get involved for better reasons than our neighbors!
Verna: Well, they’re all excited now! The police are on their way!
Ray: Poor Willie! What must he be thinking?
We next see the pair very briefly in a pair of panels in the next issue, when after The Black Racer again assumes the war veteran’s identity, and smoke wafts about the air in his room. Verna enters and exclaims, “Willie! Willie! Are you all right? How did these fumes get in this room? I’ve taken all precaution against fire!” The next caption states, “Under the constant care of his sister and her husband, who would suspect that Sergeant Willie Walker is The Black Racer, messenger of death!?” A look of concern on her face, Verna thinks, “But how could this be?”
Their last appearance is in “Darkseid and Sons,” when…
In a shabbier district of the city, the gathering clouds of disaster have yet to shroud the sky! Willie Walker lies still as ever! — Unable to move — for all time!
Verna: Well! That takes care of your medication for today, Willie! It looks like big sister Verna is doing as well as any nurse!
Willie Walker is also forever silent! His eyes can move, but at this moment they are fixed on the distance –! — A distance far beyond his room –!
Verna: How do you like that! You’re paying no attention to me at all! I’ll just cut the chatter and say “good night”! I – I seem to have lost him again, Ray! He just doesn’t seem to hear or see us anymore!
Ray: Willie’s lost in the stars, Verna! I think nothing here has any meaning for him now!
Verna: We’re doing our best for him, aren’t we, Ray? Sometimes I think our marriage suffers for it!
Ray: Nonsense! Willie suffered for us in Vietnam! And we’re sticking with Willie — all the way!
Obviously we see a pattern here and I wonder where Jack would have gone to expand the formula. Verna frets about Willie’s vulnerability, Ray consoles his wife, and neither are aware that her brother is, for all practical purposes, the Grim Reaper himself. A completely paralyzed character is quite a challenge to flesh out, I should think!