Cooke Look: “Jimmy Olsen Brings Back The Newsboy Legion!”
[As a bonus, it makes sense to include a synopsis and brief (yeah, right) discussion of the issues as I go along, thus at the end of distilling all the wacky Kirby Kharacters ’n’ Koncepts, we’ll do just that! — JBC]
The word that might best describe Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133 is inventive. In a mere 22 pages, in his debut comic book during his 1970s tenure at DC Comics, Jack “The King” Kirby let loose his creative energies and hurled one new idea after another at our tender, unprepared noggins, and those of us who “got” it, those of us who didn’t compare this wild new material to his Marvel stuff with Stan Lee, those of us who were amused by his oft-corny interpretation of the youth culture… well, we were changed for good.
Would I feel the same way if the Kirby saga in Jimmy O was a stand-alone epic and not prelude to the cosmic mythology we now call Kirby’s Fourth World? I dunno, but as I mentioned in my introductory post, I distinctly recall picking up the orange-colored “first” issue and being just floored by the sheer inventiveness, and I do believe I would hold that book in the highest regard of, at least, the entire JO run (and don’t forget: Edmund Hamilton’s superb Nightwing and Firebird saga partially took place in the pages of that title, with that luscious Curt Swan and George Klein artwork, so it ain’t all “Jimmy as giant turtle-man” kitsch…).
But JO #133 was prelude to the greatest super-hero adventure of them all. (Alan Moore’s “Marvelman/Miracleman” epic might be the singular contender, though “Born Again” in Dardevil by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli also comes darn close, in my less-than-humble opinion.) Not only do we get the first inklings of the encroachment of Darkseid and his hordes of Apokolips, but we also get the reintroduction of a bona fide Kirby Kid Gang, The Newsboy Legion. Only now the group has left the gritty despair of Suicide Slum, and instead lives in an amazing futuristic new world of Kirby’s imagination… the best kind of nostalgia and yet not looking back. And, anyway, as we would subsequently learn, their presence would lead us to a revitalized golden avenger, a character I would grow to love.
I’ll admit that I have always been mildly annoyed with the other-dimensional quality to the myths Kirby embraced and/or created. Like, for instance, just exactly where was Asgard, home to the Mighty Thor and his brethren? And where precisely is the earth-side entrance to the Rainbow Bridge? Hell, I can buy the “fact” a Norse god flies earthly skies courtesy of a hammer only he could hoist (I mean, the physics alone boggle the mind!), or that a scrawny 4F 90-pound-weakling is injected with a serum to become a super-soldier, but I guess I yearn for some exactitude in the fantasies I love. And I’m not alluding to the exact “where” of Apokolips and New Genesis here (I’ll get to that conundrum in a post to come, you betchum!); what I wanna know, desperately, longitude and latitude, is the location of the Wild Area, okay? It seems far from Metropolis and yet is still within thermonuclear-explosion range… Boy, ain’t I pathetic and petty!
What I need to realize is it’s best just to be swept away by Jack’s uncharted creativity. Not worry about whether he drew Lightray’s mask correctly or how Scott Free just happened to be outside Thaddeus Brown’s house at a pivotal moment… I need to let go, let Kirby be Kirby, and be grateful to join the ride and not worry about unimportant matters like continuity and exact location…
What is important is that Kirby arrived at DC Comics with guns a’blazin’, his imagination unleashed as never before. If we thought his mid-Fantastic Four run was fertile — and it was one of the most creatively productive eras in comics history — we were still unprepared for the awe that was yet to come… Darkseid, Super-War, the Anti-Life Equation, Infinity Man, Scott Free, Glorious Godfrey, Granny Goodness, the Pact, Himon, Bug, Kalibak, Glory Boat…
So, as you can see, I hold JO #133 in the highest esteem. As introduction to Jack’s epic, with all its unabashed exuberance and unapologetic “gee whiz” approach, it counts as chapter one to a story arc I deem the finest of fantasy literature, as important as The Lord of the Rings or The Elric Saga, the 55-issue mammoth-sized tale we call the Fourth World…
(Before I end-rant, I just gotta comment about the trio of legendary “orange covers” DC published between 1968 and ’71, and their super-groovy contents: Wonder Woman #179 [Nov.-Dec. 1968], where Mike Sekowsky began a spectacular run re-inventing Diana Prince as a comic-book Emma Peel; and Superman #233 [Jan. 1971], with Denny O’Neil’s great reboot of the Supes mythos, aided by superb “Swanderson” art (and one of Neal Adams’s finest covers); along with JO #133… well, not comment exactly, just sigh over them one more time!)
Now, back to our story: just what is this “Mountain of Judgment” Yango keeps yammering about…?
Story: No visible #
Text Page: “Jack Kirby — Continued,” X-112
On Sale Date: Aug. 25, 1970
I share your high regard for Jimmy Olsen, and not only for issue #133, but for the whole run.
The comic book interests me on a number of levels.
Evanier has said Kirby did develop ideas for the Superman character. It’s not clear to me if Kirby (as is likely) developed the ideas in response to a request from DC or if he’d developed the ideas on his own before ever coming to DC (which seems unlikely).
What ever the case may be, it’s in Jimmy Olsen where we get to see Kirby’s Superman.
I love Kirby’s Superman, especially his character, his dialogue. Kirby’s Superman is the “best” Superman seen since the Superman in the first ten issues of Action Comics. My regret is that in the first few issues of JO, it was more than Superman’s face which was being redrawn, it was the whole damn figure. Many panels which should have been classics (including several of Kirby’s extreme foreshortened straight at the viewer flying shots) are castrated by the DC house style. Even worse, the first few issues of JO don’t exist in pencil photocopy form, so all of Kirby’s Superman (as drawn) is lost forever. Just imagine issue #133, page 19, panel four, as drawn by Kirby.
Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen was a chance to see Kirby working an assignment.
Kirby was able to retain some of the essence of the “classic” Jimmy Olsen, while making the title his own.
Olsen as Hell’s Angel, The Giant Green-K Olsen, Goody Rickels, Transilvane, and other aspects captured the funky weirdness of the early ’60s Olsen while being distinctly Kirby creations.
The other three “movements” (The Fourth World has an almost symphonic construction) are very different in tone from JO, and JO adds a leavening, a lightness which is absent, or muted in the other three books. From dark to light, I think even the most disinterested reader would see the order as: New Gods, a large step to Mister Miracle, a smaller one to the Forever People, and then another larger step to JO.
Kirby had it nailed. The Fourth World has the same structure as a great novel. Each chapter (title) is a part of a whole fabric, which is masterfully constructed.
You follow one group of characters for a chapter, and then pick up with another, and while you are eager to get back to the first group, you don’t want to leave the second, and then a third, and fourth group are introduced into the same world, each building on the last with lingering grace notes creating a wonderful harmonious whole.
“Ode to Joy” in comics. Leonard Bernstein explains:
Beautiful commentary. And the Bernstein link is SO apropos, amigo. Your insight is sharp and very well taken…
The line “…brought vital energies and artistic sparks to these quaint old lines…” does fit nicely with Kirby’s work on Olsen.
What really rings true of Kirby are these beautifully expressed comments by Bernstein about Beethoven which are the qualities I look for in any artist:
One of my earliest encounters with Kirby’s work was when the Fourth World characters appeared on the Super Friends. It had a profound effect on me. It was a world of exotic characters that seemed to be invading the lame world of the Super Friends cartoon, like intruders from another dimension or a much cooler show. That’s kind of how I regard Jimmy Olsen: it’s a crappy comic where Kirby’s universe invades and takes over, an “awesome-carrying” virus. The redrawn faces are part of the lingering lameness of the host body.
As much as I like it, I can’t hold Kirby’s Olsen in the same regard as the other three parts of the Fourth World. I don’t think it should be grouped in with them. I see Olsen as the mainstream DC comic where Kirby’s concepts make a guest appearance to help draw traffic to the real action in New Gods, Mister Miracle and The Forever People. Those books are a cohesive whole; Olsen is the movie trailer.
As great as Kirby’s Olsens are, and this is part of Kirby’s genius, they contain a lot of the themes that the Olsen series had prior to his arrival: Jimmy’s odd temporary transformations, newsroom drama, generational conflicts with his father-figure Superman. I doubt Kirby saw them as integral to the larger myth he was weaving. I think his take on Olsen was how he would’ve liked to have seen DC’s whole line of super-hero comics done, where other writers and artists were free to use the Fourth World as a resource for concept and story ideas to inject into their stories. I can imagine an alternate universe where Kirby was embraced by the DC offices, where 1970s Batman, Wonder Woman, the Green Lantern and the rest of the JLA occasionally tangle with the minions of Darkseid.
What would be REALLY cool would be for a writer/artist like TOM SCIOLI to take a crack at the Fourth World, or any of Jack’s other ’70s creations. After all, we’ve had to suffer through thirty years of ineptitude from the so-called “professionals” DC and Marvel have hired to “reinterpret” and “update” Kirby’s stuff, instead of hiring someone who can actually recapture the true spirit and style of the King’s creations in a contemporary version. If it’s POSSIBLE to do the latter, I think Tom is one of the few guys out there who could pull it off, and who should be invited to try. Or is that just asking too much from the editorial dullards running the Big Two?
Believe it or not, it was my non-comics-reading wife who taught me the correct pronunciation for “Darkseid” as Dark-SIDE, because she had heard it so as a faithful watcher of the Super Friends cartoon, but, right or wrong, I still persist in pronouncing the evil lord’s name as Dark-SEED. I don’t recall ever being corrected by other comic readers in the ’70s and part of me is probably stubborn because I get riled up thinking of George Lucas swiping Jack’s Fourth World in the Star Wars flicks… Anyway, Dark-SEED sounds cooler!
I know him from the cartoon, so it’s Dark“side” all the way for me, but there’s something to be said for a name that has so many associations, and can be read two different ways simultaneously. Both pronunciations are cool, scary, and aptly describe the character. He’s the Dark-side of the human heart, and he’s the Dark-seed that is secretly trying to take root on earth. When we first see him in New Gods #1, he’s in a twisty root-like underground tunnel structure. He’s underground in Forever People #1 also, a Dark-Seed. I don’t know whose idea it was, but in Super Friends he had a bunch of giant seeds he was using to take over the world. So, whether by intent or by accident, at this point “seed” is part of the character’s identity. But Kirby said Dark-“side,” so it’s Dark-“side.”
Many of the Fourth World names are very evocative and prove really sturdy under deconstruction. Apokolips is great, but I like the name of Captain Victory’s shattered world, Hellikost, even better.
The Kirby nomenclature is one of the seriously very coolest things about his work. He had his own language and we reveled in it, even if sometimes we’d have to virtually decode the oft “quoted” dialogue, can you “dig” it?
You are not alone. I couldn’t agree more.
If Jack had his own anatomy, it stands to reason even his dialogue would have “square fingers.”
Kirby was on top of what he was doing, of course; it was all a matter of intent.
Take Oberon mentioning to Scott what a ridiculous name Vermin Vunderbar was in Mister Miracle #5:
And this from MM #1:
Harvey Lockman will always be known by his full name “Young, but cool, Harvey Lockman.”
Was li’l Harv ever used again by anyone at DC? If not, I got dibs!
I love the Tom Kraft/Mike Royer recreation of 133’s alternate cover.
Was it the Comic Book Artist Special Edition where the pencils for this originally appeared?
Actually, the pencils first appeared in 1979’s Jack Kirby Masterworks! Thanks for mentioning the CBA Special Edition, one of my fave publications ever!
It’s got my mom’s picture in it!
It’s a nice picture, too. Glad I didn’t misremember seeing that pencil piece in the Comic Book Artist Special Edition, but now that I’ve taken it out I want to re-read it!
One more Kirby creation for you: When Alex Ross drew essentially the exact same Superman chest emblem Kirby was using in 1970, it was looked at as a modern redesign. When Kirby did it, the word was Kirby “couldn’t draw the classic Superman emblem.”
Don’t underestimate this guy Kirby, people. He’s Jack Kirby, and we’re not…
I only know this because I have the magazine. The alternate cover for Jimmy Olsen #133 first appeared in Graphic Story World #6, July 1972.
It’s a two-page center spread, with a comment by Mark Evanier:
…not to mention Forever People #1.
I love Richard Kyle’s superb ’zines. His Argosy was a splendor, too. I don’t have that particular issue, Mr. Ford. Thanks for the citation and especially Mr. Evanier’s tantalizing commentary therein.
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