Day 89: Solar-Phone!

Ahhh, everything starts out nice and trippy for the gang — Jimmy O., Superman and “that resurrected rat-pack of rollicking rowdies,” the Newsboy Legion — when they attend the Hairies’ Friday night “sing in” at The Project! Unbeknownst to our heroes, Homo Usurpus, the Four-Armed Terror, is about to make a rampaging entry into the vast underground government complex! But, let’s enjoy the Solar-Phone party while things are temporarily nice ’n’ friendly!

The mind-bending episode begins with typical Kirby hyperbole, with the caption reading: “Wild Area! Zoomway! Habitat! Outsiders! Strange names in a strange world which has evolved in a great natural cavern beneath modern America! This is the world of The ‘Project’ — where the secret of the century has been kept! The harnessing of the DNA molecule!!!! The breaking of the genetic code!! Man experimenting with life!! Jimmy Olsen is there! And so is his pal Superman. They’re alive and well among the wondrous DNA denizens! But who can say for how long? — For a mighty, living juggernaut is fast approaching!”

Jimmy is seated and at the controls of a strange device, part keyboard, part image transmitter — and all-Kirby in design! — and he’s sporting a wide grin. “Wow! When the Hairies invited us to their dance, I never imagined they’d let me officiate like this, Superman!” The Man of Steel, standing behind the young reporter, is wearing what appears to be oversize earphones with a type of visual attachment. “The Solar-Phone is their latest invention, Jimmy!”

The there’s this caption: “Among the variety of living species produced in The ‘Project,’ the ‘Hairies’ are amazingly productive! They are mechanical geniuses! — And the Solar-Phone is new evidence of their strange life-style! It gathers the radio-signals from the stars and converts them into mental musical images!” Sitting on the floor before Jimmy and Superman is a horde of hippy-like Hairies, the Newsboy Legion among them, each wearing the same head device as the Last Son of Krypton, most holding hands and eyes closed, ready to embark on a journey into the mindscape! One girl says, “Our minds receive! The ‘dance‘ begins!” A hirsute fellow adds, “We are all together — we hear as one! We see as one! We soar as one!” Then the scuba-crazed Legionnaire chimes in: “Man! This is cool! It’s like a movie musical — and everybody’s in it! Includin’ me, Flippa-Dippa!” Superman tells his friend, “Keep playing, Jimmy!” You can’t do anything wrong! The Solar-Phone arranges all incoming signals into patterns of harmony!”

And then, in three full pages of krazy Kirby kollages, we understand what all the excitement is about! “What the dancers see is a new and wondrous universe of shifting, kaleidoscopic geometric forms!” The group seem to be experiencing what most of us would call a mass hallucinogenic acid trip, perceiving themselves as floating past fantastic images. Gabby is ecstatic, sharing with his fellow travelers, “Wow! This is great! It’s like we’re floatin’ free in Wonderland!” Scrapper is similarly delighted: “It’s a nutty Hollywood set wit’ symphony music all around us!” But Big Words hears something different, telling his pals, “That’s not the music I hear!” Explains an opulently tressed young lady, “Each of us hears the music in the way it pleases him most!” Jimmy puts it best, gushing, “Groovy! This is a real gas!” The Superman looks ahead and observes, “The scene is changing! What lies ahead?”

The panorama switches to an even more fantastical sight — “Soon, the dancers are whirling and soaring past strangely bizarre and beautiful worlds…” Giant flowers, massive planets, Buddhaheads, stone carvings abound. Notes Scrapper, “Dese flowers smell for real — like dey wuz from Kelly’s Funeral Parlor!” Even Superman is impressed, exclaiming, “Fantastic! The Solar-Phone communicates all this!

Then — BWOM! POW! — “Suddenly, the enchanting dance is brought to a jarring halt!” The walls are quaking. “The shocks that bring the dancers back to harsh reality continue with fearful intensity!” Yup, the Four-Armed Terror is knockin’ on the front door! But that’s another episode…

No doubt about it, the always prescient Jack Kirby envisions virtual reality here, right down to the headphones and goggles, mixed with the Merry Pranksters’ Kool-Aid Acid Test to keep it contemporary. Sure, it’s a diversionary moment, maybe even throw-away, but wondrous awe works superbly well with the pacing and the caption stating the Solar-Phone “gathers in the radio-signals from the stars” certainly opens the doors for some story possibilities down the road.

I love this kind of stuff from Jack because it represents the joyful side of imagination when contemplating future technology. Sheer wonder!