Monthly Archives: October 2010

Day 22: The Evil Factory!

Things start to get truly foreboding with our first wide-angle look at the Apokoliptian “rival Project” called The Evil Factory, run by the sinister odd couple, Mokkari and Simyan. Allusions of the Auschwitz-Birkenau laboratory of Josef Mengeles, the Nazi doctor called “Todesengel” — The Angel of Death — who conducted horrific genetic experiments on concentration camp inmates at the notorious Nazi extermination camp.

Jack had no illusions about the potential dark side of DNA research — humans to be cloned and used as slaves — and as The Fourth World is essentially an allegory of the duality of mankind, it is only fitting that The King gives us a glimpse at the chamber of horrors built to suit Darkseid… a rancid comparison to the noble and life-enhancing organization called “The Project.”

Day 21: The Z-Ray!

Like kids grabbing a handful of candy while trick-or-treating Apokoliptian agent Simyan snags a fistful of mini-clones while his partner Mokkari zaps the tiny human replicas with the tranquilizing Z-Ray, which they hope will be as effective with (ahem) larger, more aggressive duplicates.

Yeah, Jack used just about every letter of the alphabet — English and Greek! — to name his myriad devices, whether weapons or whatnot. No doubt his criteria was: As long as it sounds cool and futuristic, it works!

If I may make an aside here, I need to confess I pondered over whether to include such apparently superfluous items as the Z-Ray in this ongoing chronological catalogue of Kirby Fourth World creations. First I considered (self-servingly) I might need to get pretty darn minute to fill 365 daily entries… I mean, c’mon, three hundred and sixty-five!… but then it occurred to me, it’s only proper and respectful of Jack’s creative output to put it all down, to begin to establish an encyclopedia, if you will, down to the nitty-gritty details of his imagination. You may say, “Really, Cooke: A ‘Green K Paralysis Ray’?” But I contend it speaks not only of his ceaseless fertile mind, but also to the actual value of his work. Super-hero accessories are potential merchandising; just ask George “The Source, I mean, Force” Lucas. So maybe, by being exact and as precise as can be, this can be a resource for multiple use — as scholarship, as testament, as inventory — all fit for a King.

Day 20: The Mini-Clones!

The splash page of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #135, takes us, full bore, right into the Apokoliptian plot to sabotage The Project, Supes, Jimmy and the gang. No more shadowy background plotting; now we start to see details of The Evil Factory, Mokkari, Simyan, the Superman-hating giant… and the Superman, J.O. and Newsboy Legion mini-clones.

The implications of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) research by 1970 were obvious (and likely reality today): Human beings could be cloned, making exact duplicates from cells extracted from a person. In a future entry, I’ll discuss Jack’s fascination with DNA and the cultural history of the double-helix discovery in 1953, but for now lemme just note the amazing little replicas of our heroes, creations of Darkseid’s Evil Factory.

Itsy-bitsy doubles, en masse — all dressed in their trademarked costumes, no less! — “alive and spirited,” have been grown in the “rival project” run by agents of Apokolips, Mokkari and Simyan, who stole the originals’ cells from The Project. While we will see the legendary Scrapper Troopers in the series to come, Jack never delved into the implications of an army of miniature Men of Steel, for instance… an example of his throwing new concepts at us at such a fantastical pace that he himself often didn’t stop to contemplate the myriad story possibilities. (Though, as we always need to be reminded, the Fourth World was aborted quite early in its intended run, so it is very likely Jack had ideas for future stories using what seems now to be throwaway concepts and characters… He does have Mokkari say the critters will be sedated “Until a mission is devised for them!”)

I just love this splash page (and hate the false cover — not the art; Neal Adams did great stuff on the 4W covers! — but given the incident doesn’t take place in the ish… well, it’s a cheat, innit?).

Jack’s pacing from issue to issue is perfectly expert and after last ish’s pulse-pounding race, a leisurely stroll through the Evil Factory is just the right change of tone.

Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134

Cooke Look: “The Mountain of Judgment!”

Holy smokes! What a helter-skelter ride this ish is, the second comic book in Jack’s Fourth World saga: A breakneck race down the Zoomway by the Whiz Wagon (with Jimmy and the Newsboy Legion onboard) and the Outsiders in search of the gargantuan Mountain of Judgment! The Big Jump, Flippa’s underwater demolition save, Supes’ last-second rescue of the boys, who were about to become roadkill under the wheels of The Hairies giant ride… phew! Where’s my Valium?

It’s appropriate, I think, that after Jack introduces SO much to us readers in his premiere Fourth World effort, a solid half of his second issue is devoted to a (albeit hair-raising and nonstop) road race… it eases the intellect and stimulates the id, don’tcha think?

(And we haven’t mentioned in these entries his two facing pages of photo collage work, an aspect of Jack’s art which endlessly fascinate me. Even if sometimes it’s for the fact I strain to ascertain exactly what’s in the images as comic-book printing was so ill-suited at the time to achieve his intent. With the able and appreciated assist from Jon Cooke’s Pal, John Morrow, we’ll be featuring some of the original collages (in full, glorious color!) in a bonus entry to come.)

There’s not much to talk about really, regarding the story overall, but we do feel like we’re going somewhere, on the Zoomway, towards the deeper mysteries of The Wild Area, and into the complexities of the unfolding storyline.

We see the natural, outside world of The Outsiders and then glimpse the dark interior environment of The Hairies’ high tech laboratory on wheels. And they both are appealing. Jack’s starting to get at something, a thing I’m just beginning to fathom… a statement about the hopes and dangers that encompass man’s endless quest for answers…? I dunno, but I sense we can forever dig into this material and be amazed at what we might find (or THINK we find!).

And, it goes without saying, we are introduced to the Great Villain Himself.

I guess the word is resonant.

Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen is a confident, courageous man of his own, the Newsboy Legion complement his leadership with camaraderie and bravery — with Flippa taking MVP for derring-do — and Jack’s rendition of Superman is emerging from behind the muted Colletta inks and Plastino face redraws. (I used to lament how a Kirby Superman, the one especially alluded to in Forever People #1 and in the “Supertown” story, never was really unleashed — not like Gil Kane was able to accomplish in those GREAT stories of the 1980s — but I realize now there’s enough of the King’s Man of Steel to admire and be satisfied.)

I’m not a big Superman fan, but I do think Kirby’s version stands with the Burnley “Powerstone” saga, Gil Kane’s Action Comics, and the Fleischer cartoons… and of course, the contemporaneous-of-the-Fourth-World and also-not-properly-concluded “Sandman” epic by O’Neil, Swanderson and Schwartz…

I’m ramblin’, but good ish!

Cover: (Attributed to Murray Boltinoff) B-792
Story: X-114
Text Page: “The Whiz Wagons Are Coming!” X-116

On Sale Date: Oct. 20, 1970?

Day 19: Darkseid!

Such a low-key introduction for the most important figure in Jack’s Fourth World mythos, the Master of the Holocaust, leader of Apokolips, the Revelation and all-round Tiger-Force of All Things… ladies and gentlemen, I give you: DARKSEID!

Jack’s closing caption in the last panel of JO #134 (that’s right, Kirbyheads: 19 entries and already two issues down, 53 to go!), doesn’t begin to allude to the cosmic epic to come: “‘Darkseid!’ With the mention of that name, the outline of a vast, ominous intrigue begins to take shape!…”

Darkseid (pronounced “Dark-SIDE“), breaking the Pact with New Genesis, has surreptitiously arrived on Earth seeking nameless earthlings who unwittingly retain in their minds the secret to the Anti-Life Equation. Once decoded, the equation will make the malevolent ruler master of the entire universe, with the hellworld called Apokolips reigning supreme. His agents on our planet assigned to do his bidding include corporate snake Morgan Edge and Inter-Gang, an worldwide network of mobsters…

Here, in the early stages of the Super-War to come, Darkseid hopes to destroy the threat of Superman and, in the process, the Man of Steel’s allies, Jimmy O. and the New Newsboy Legion (as well as The Hairies, The Project, The Outsiders and Habitat, and whoever else is in the Dark Lord’s way or has something he wishes to possess)…

Darkseid just might be the greatest comic-book villain of them all. Galactus is a superb candidate, except there is an ambivalence, a melancholy about that “God” stand-in which allows for a modicum of sympathy. Not so with the ashen-faced, stoic, helmeted nemesis of all that is good… Empathy? Not a chance! But respect? You betchum, Red Ryder! Ol’ Darkseid doesn’t have to scream and stamp his feet (though he’s known to bellow a little at times), he just stands there, cold as stone, and that’s enough to scare the poop out of anyone in his presence. An inspired and resonant creation, created by an artist seeking answers to deeply profound questions — The Meaning of It All — in the pages of that much-maligned art form, the comic book. Who’da thunk it?

Jimmy Olsen, Icon!

I scanned the b&w art from TJKC last night and stole John’s color scheme (on the cover of #31). Jack had intended this to be the top left-hand cover icon for his Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen run. Alas, never used… (Thanks, Mr. Morrow!)

Day 18: The Hairies!

Are The Hairies, the super-secret young scientific community on wheels, Jack’s take of the hopes he instilled on the iconoclastic and questioning-of-authority hippy culture of the day? Whoever they are, whatever they represent, the roving clan of twenty-something geniuses are a remarkable inclusion into the emerging Fourth World mythos… though I’m not totally convinced Jack himself knew what they were all about.

The longhairs drive around the Zoomway, avoiding enemies and scaring Wild Area residents in the monster-like “king-size mobile home,” the Mountain of Judgment, and they use their super-intellects and abilities to develop new devices and concoctions to advance the human race.

In his essay, “The Hairies — Super-Race — Or Man’s Second Chance,” in JO #135 (which I’m including, in its entirety, below), Jack says the Hairies are “literally what I call them — DNAliens!”

But isn’t Dubbilex — or his Apokoliptian counterpart, the Four-Armed Terror — aren’t they DNAliens? Hairies are “Step-Ups,” Jack’s designation for the next evolution of man, correct?

And, if as Jack’s essay indicates, they are compassionate, giving, connected people, who “fear nothing, hate nothing, worship nothing but their own compatibility with the rest of Creation,” why the heck are they working with a U.S. government complex that’s monkeying with the very essence of life itself, doubtless for the benefit of one nation over all? Isn’t that a huge contradiction?

I quibble. The Hairies represent hope dawning for the King, optimism under a persistent threat of nuclear Armageddon. That’s enough for me!

The Hairies — Super-Race —
Or Man’s Second Chance

by Jack Kirby

I don’t believe that I shall ever get to see a Hairie. Perhaps, that’s as it should be. Perhaps, all that’s owed to a man is hope dawning instead of dreams fulfilled. Somehow, I feel that the question with its ramifications is more exciting than the answer wrapped in organized, practical, well-defined reality.

In the “Now,” in the shadow of the atomic silo, when Apokolips and New Genesis race neck and neck for the fate of man, the Hairies are being born. Of course, at this stage they merely represent what stability and rationale still drive us to survive despite the widening seams and traumatic shocks that have rattled the underpinings of the Twentieth Century.

I choose this strange hope and fashion what reality I can give it from the code of life itself. I call it File 202 — “The Breaking of the Genetic Code”! In short, the Hairies are literally what I call them — “DNAliens!”

They are born differently, raised differently and mature with their own imaginative views and directions. They don’t accept the accepted. They are their own experience, and follow it where it leads them. Their minds are fresh and new, clean slates unmarked by rigid, hardening, conflicting indoctrinations. They cannot be pigeonholed, labeled in the context of all that has gone before.

Thus, they fear nothing, hate nothing, worship nothing but their own compatibility with the rest of Creation. That is their challenge — to find a way of living with what is around them without the mindless, merciless prerogative of inflicting destruction.

Of course, this makes the Hairies perfect targets for all of us! We’ve got to kill them! Wipe them out! They are not like us. We are pridictable, they are not. We recognize our enemies, they do not. We will kill to protect ourselves, while the Hairies find other effective ways.

The Hairies do not view the mysteries and wonders about them as we do. What we conquer, we impose our will upon and violate it for our own needs. Our behavior generates the problems that arise to confront us with equal menace.

The Hairies operate with foresight and viability with a pattern without rules or dogma. They wing it with a zest to live and learn and make existence an art form instead of a mad, grim march towards death. They exert no pressures on their fellows. They strive to give each other what they can — and that can be quite a bit, in view of the fact that each Hairie considers the other a most valuable and miraculous organism.

Are the Hairies nutty, naive, little idealists? Don’t they know that even we, who are spawned, are too carnivorous to stake our lives on a world filled with other men?

Well, that’s something we don’t know! We’ve lived with ideals, but when has man, as a species, disseminated idealism without destruction? When has man tried idealism as a viable, constructive pattern of living? When has “Get yours — and the devil take the hindmost” not been the universal state of things? On a world scale, man does not believe that idealism will work, and thus each division practices its own brand — struggling with it, exporting it and killing for it to protect its individual continuity.

The Hairies, by their own nature, do not accept this. They merely live in harmony with whatever and whoever they contact. Idealism is part of their make-up and they react to its shortcomings with intelligence and sobriety. They do not panic. They do not fear death. They expect the unexpected and are ready for it when it comes upon them.

To sum it all up, the Hairies are in trouble! The world of man mistrusts and fears those who live by patterns considered foolish and unworkable and clear of conflict. It isn’t natural! It has no strength, no obvious invincibility! The Hairies are weak, treacherous, unpredictable, little bleeding hearts! Someone had better take them in tow and stop them before they become a menace! After all, they’re not like us. Why take a chance onletting them grow larger, expand to the point of colliding with our power? Get them now! Kill the Hairies and kill our fear. It would be easy to do — now!

I felt great, writing that! It made me feel that all’s right with the world, that my place in it was secure. It made me feel like a man!!!

(I assume the above is ©1970 National Periodical Publications. Boldface emphasis on Jack’s original. This appears, of course, for research purposes only and is not intended as copyright infringement. — JBC)

Where Fourth Art Thou? The Concepts

[Just to keep up the context, here courtesy of the Kirby Museum archives (and John Morrows’ wicked awesome mag, The Jack Kirby Collector, from whence they were scanned) are the concept drawings Jack used for his presentation to DC Comics in 1970, depicting characters in his Fourth World pitch. Top row: Darkseid (left) and Metron on his Mobius Chair (right); inks by Jack Kirby. Second row: Orion (left) and Lightray (right); inks by Don Heck. Third row: Mister Miracle (left) and Mantis (right); inks by Don Heck.]

Comics & Context

With your indulgence, I’d like to prattle on a bit about an aspect of this wacky field of… what is it? Comic book scholarship?… that’s becoming increasingly important to me, as I slowly and surely begin a return (of sorts) to a realm I had some participation some years back. It’s about, like the header states, the comic book in context.

My primary passions as a kid were history and comic books. Like I’ve previously mentioned, our mom did us a wonderful favor by taking her two youngest children, that’s Andy and myself, on a year-long sojourn to Europe. We stayed for varying lengths of time in Ireland, England and France. I was 11 and 12 during the trip; ADC, two years younger than me, and we didn’t go to school per se. But we were educated constantly as we were taken on, for instance, a nationwide tour of the cathedrals of Great Britain. My brother and I got a taste of European history, one that spans thousands of years, and were exposed to a sense of time and space very different than we have in the States. It was a fascinating experience and one that changed our lives, making us, I’m convinced, into creative people.

Though it was 1970-71, World War Two, in particular, was still very much in evidence, such as when we visited the bombed-out Coventry Cathedral or walked past plaques mounted along the Seine dedicated to the fallen of the French Resistance. So history became a living thing in my consciousness. And so much of great interest was taking place during those times, as well — the moon missions (I avidly followed the near-tragedy of Apollo 13 while in London), the Vietnam War, the re-emerging “troubles” in Ireland, and (of extreme importance) the rise of the counter-culture, which suggested there might be other ways of looking at things.

And, of course, we found comics. Or rather, we embraced them as Our Own. Was it because, as a preteen, I look at American comics — and comix — as something profound because I was seeking profundities at that tender, curious age? Or did, in fact, comics have more to say during that tumultuous era?

Though much maligned as a sub-genre of American funnybooks, I confess I loved the era of “Relevancy in Comics,” the more tied to present-day issues, the better. I reveled in underground comix, even if I didn’t understand everything I was reading. Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams’s Green Lantern/Green Arrow spoke directly to me, as did the “Radical Chic” parody by Roy Thomas in The Incredible Hulk, R. Crumb’s work, Dan O’Neill, The Liberators in The Avengers (whatever happened to them? Those (ahem) chicks were cool!), even some Corben stories were allegories of Vietnam, for instance… anyway, it was a fertile period for injecting reality into the fantasy of comics, whether folly or not. And I particularly loved it because connections were being made that I could relate to…

The moment I remember best about melding history and comics was reading the Tales of Suspense “Origin of Captain America” story by Jack Kirby — reprinted in Captain America Annual #1 — when it all started to click for me. Most other heroes were disconnected from precise years and eras. Heck, the reinvention of Golden Age heroes was hardly a novelty by the early ’70s and they had, in the revivals, lost any context, any linking to their times… We can look at the Superman of 1938 and surmise he was very much a product of the Great Depression, that he represented the sense of “otherness” and a need for acceptance by mid-western American Jews, that he represented the gathering strength of a nation as war neared on the horizon. But the Superman of 1945, the context shifted, as American self-identity shifted, and he became a different (and far less interesting) character, like the Mickey Mouse of 1950 compared to ’35.

But I recall a lightning bolt hitting me upon realizing that Captain America, Jack Kirby’s Captain America, would always be linked to the fight against Hitler. Inseparable. In my understanding, character and context could not be separated. It was that aspect, along with my firm conviction that Steve Rogers, drawn as Aryan as could be envisioned, was in fact Jewish, a stand-in for Jack himself.

So, here I am delving in minute detail the characters and concepts Jack created in The Fourth World, and the closer I look, the more I find. (As the Vulcan would say, “Fascinating.”) And, thinking about the upcoming court battle between the Kirby Estate and monolithic Disney, I’m reading The Forever People # 4, and I open up to the double-page spread on pgs.2-3:

Kids, was Jack prescient or what??? I don’t know if he was making an oblique, specific reference to The House That Walt Built, but it is hard not to look at it any other way in light of what is transpiring today…

As this blog starts looking into Jack’s take on the then-revolutionary DNA predictions in the pages of Jimmy Olsen, and then into what, perhaps, Apokolips and Darkseid represent in the “real world,” among many other subjects, I’d like to continue examining the context of his magnum opus… and I hope y’all will join in.

[Mea culpa for the disjointedness of this chat — this was supposed to be yesterday’s “Sunday Bonus,” but funny how life gets in the way sometimes. I’ll try to polish this up at a later date…]

Day 17: Alpha-Bomb!

The Hairies use “sensitive indicators” to locate a hidden explosive — an Alpha-Bomb, set to decimate the “new, mobile scientific society,” mayhap an Apokolipian-built weapon of mass destruction? — hidden in the Whiz Wagon. And we begin to sense GBS Morgan “Smiling Cobra” Edge has sent Jimmy and the Newsboy Legion to the Wild Area on a suicide mission as unwitting delivery men of said killer device.

(Looking at these panels, despite Jimmy and Supes’ faces altered by the DC home office (longtime Man of Steel artist Al Plastino did the thankless art chore), Kirby dynamism abounds in Superman’s figure, reminding us that Jack’s version of the publishing house’s flagship character was glorious indeed… unfortunately, too often, as seen notoriously in Forever People #1, the super-hero’s head and body were completely redrawn, Plastino’s finishing erasing all evidence of the King’s verve and energy, no doubt evident in the original pencils, now lost to the sands of time.)