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!
After Sugar-Man’s execution of Screamer and the unfortunate first encounter with The Black Racer, he makes it to his boss Badger’s headquarters to get bandaged up and receive his next assignment. After hearing enough of the gunman’s kvetching, Badger orders a device into the room but not before announcing, “Inter-Gang must carry out what it’s paid to do!” Carrying a typically complex-looking Kirby contraption, a minion tells the bald baddie, “This ain’t no type of bomb I ever handled, Badger! What does it do?” Cigar in hand, he replies, “The Apokolips people didn’t say! But I’ll bet it’s something wild and nasty!” Another mug says, “Wow! It’s small — but it could be an H-bomb!”
Still holding the weapon, the minion comments, “I hope we got guarantees not to get caught when it goes off, eh, Badger?” The crime boss turns a key in the side of the explosive and replies, “Yeah! It’s all in the getaway plan! There! I turn this key — and now the bomb is activated! And ready to plant!” Then all hell breaks loose as Orion and Dave Lincoln smash into the hideout to capture the baddies and stop the nefarious plot. A battle ensues and Badger orders Sugar-Man not to engage in gunplay. “Stash that pea-shooter, Sugar-Man! Take the bomb! Plant it where the Apokolips crowd designated!” The bandaged assassin complies and scurries out a back door. He loads the bomb in the back of a truck and races to his destination. But The Black Racer is in pursuit and he causes the device to sing a “song of death” — a high-pitched, continuous electronic screech that scares the beegezzus out of Sugar-Man. “The bomb!! I-it’s not supposed to make those sounds!” But The Black Racer demurs, telling his prey, “Yes, it can, Sugar-Man — when its shell is penetrated by transmitted signals — they enter the truck without resistance — as does my ski pole — then, as the signals reach the mechanized heart of the bomb –” The next caption reads, “Suddenly, as the ski pole touches the bomb…” the truck is hurtled into a space-bound trajectory!
Simultaneously, Orion and his private eye friend are cuffing the Inter-Gang goons. Still, Badger gloats, “You cats cooled us, but not our bomb! By now, it’s being clamped on the communications building across town!!” Dave Lincoln responds, “We were too late to stop your man from escaping with the bomb — but perhaps –” Orion eases his ally’s concern. “Don’t worry, Lincoln! Mother Box has intercepted the bomb in transit! And has sent it toward space!” The New Genesis warrior looks to the sky, saying, “Now, the vehicle carrying the bomb is high enough to destruct there! Mother Box sends out her death signal!” Holding aloft Mother Box, Orion is witness to a tremendous explosion.
Orion then explains, “I caught a glimpse of that bomb! It would have melted every bit of communication metal within a radius of thousands of miles — No telephones — no television — not even radios or telegraph! It would have meant chaos!” Sounds like the “Wild and Nasty” Communications Bomb would have activated an electro-magnetic pulse, eh? That wily Apokolips crowd!
We don’t see much of the Inter-Gang crime boss Badger but we see enough to determine he’s a vile sort! After Sugar-Man executes Screamer, who is suspected of the intent to blab about the “Big Caper,” and returns to the hideaway, wounded by The Black Racer, to report to Badger, the kingpin tells the pimped-out criminal, “You did your job, Sugar-Man! Sure there was a witness — but what can Willie Walker say? The kid’s a living clam! They’ll get nothing outta him! Not in time to stop what we gotta do! Sorry about the accident!” We see Badger is a slit-eyed, bald-headed, rat-faced goon (okay, badger-faced, then!), sporting a bow tie and fat cigar. After listening to his minion fret about The Black Racer, Badger dismisses him with, “Yaaa — Shut up! Inter-Gang must carry out what it’s paid to do! bring in the bomb!” Upon being asked what does the device do exactly, he responds, “The Apokolips people didn’t say! But I’ll bet it’s something wild and nasty!” He then places a key into the bomb, telling his henchmen, “There! I turn this key — and now the bomb is activated! And ready to plant!”
Just then, Orion (with Dave Lincoln in tow) exploded into the room, and Badger orders, “We’ve been warned about him! Get those special guns!” Orion sees they have Apokolips weapons, as Badger turns his trigger-man, telling him, “Stash that pea-shooter, Sugar-Man! Take the bomb! Plant it where the Apokolips crowd designated! Take off, Sugar-Man! We’ll get these birds!” As the bad guy and the bomb leave by the back way, Orion’s Mother Box jams the Apokolips-designed weapons and Badger’s gang is subdued. Badger clucks, “You cats cooled us, but not our bomb! By now, it’s being clamped on the communications building across town!!” But Mother Box intercedes again and the Inter-Gang plot is thwarted. But Badger still smirks, telling Orion and Dave Lincoln, “Nailing our unit won’t stop Inter-Gang!”
But it sure stopped Badger, dinnit?