Category Archives: Cooke Looks

The New Gods #1

Cooke Look: “Orion Fights For Earth!”

With Jack Kirby’s fine work on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen and The Forever People, we’ve already got a good look at the conflict developing on Earth, but here, in “Orion Fights For Earth!” we now get view of the cosmic dimension, and it’s an awesomely impressive image of an unfolding complex tapestry of celestial intrigue with a universe-quaking background story. As is appropriate for a Kirby epic, this is BIG stuff, involving BIG characters and BIG concepts.

The comic book opens in cataclysmic fashion, Ragnarok depicted on page one; the violent, fiery creation of two planets on page two; and a gorgeous close-up of our hero with that extraordinary helmet on page three. I mean, counting the magnificent depiction of Supertown on page five, that’s three full-pagers out of the first five… and they are so gorgeous, it makes one yearn for an entire book of Jack Kirby splashes!

It is a beautiful set-up for a first issue in that we get a sense, right off the bat, that our main star is much more than he appears — evidenced by Metron and Highfather’s side-chatter — which immediately engrosses us with strong hints that Orion has a deeper connection to the enemy than he himself imagines. It also seems obvious to me that Jack had thought long and hard about the overarching storyline as there seem remarkably few loose threads. (The only one that immediately comes to mind is the fact the Earth-built “Mass-Director Unit” obviously didn’t work, as Darkseid and his minions would later focus on monitoring devices with decidedly smaller range, particularly Happyland (a.k.a the “camp” and “Kingdom of the Damned”), to find the human who possesses the Anti-Life Equation. You’d think, given how the King of Evil has the habit of roughing up and brutalizing those who fail to carry out his orders — think Brola, Desaad, Mantis, Mokkari and Simyan (well, a strong berating to the last two, anyway!) — we would see the Apokolips ruler mete out his unhappiness to whomever supervised the earthbound Mass-Director Unit. But, as we see in the referring panel, it looks like Darkseid himself is directing its construction, so maybe he gave himself a stern talking-to behind closed doors!)

There’s really not much more I can add. It’s a magnificent debut for the title, arguably the best of the Fourth World quartet of comics, and it confidently — and with supreme competence — sets the stage for the Super War on Earth to come… A bravura performance by THE master of adventure comics.

(Oh, just to tie up the story synopsis, let me round out this issue (though I’ve pretty much described what’s happening, only a bit disjointedly, I fear): After Orion confers with Metron, he frees the Earth folk from the brain-scanning device. Kalibak, now freed courtesy of Metron’s exit, engages Orion, who bears partial brunt of Kalibak’s nerve beam and returns fire with Astro-Power. Suddenly a Boom Tube appears and our heroes jump aboard, Orion holding up the rear astride his Astro-Harness. Kalibak hurls his Beta-Club in frustration at the disappearing Boom Tube to no avail, and our team arrives on Earth, to ominous winds of war coming toward them. Jack, who started this opener with an epilogue, audaciously closes with a prologue, a full-page splash of Darkseid and some spectacular minions in the background (none, I believe, who were seen again in the series!). Closing the comic, we sense we’ve just experienced something new to the form, a multi-layered, sprawling, complex and exhilarating epic of cosmic proportions which engages and screams for your attention: Simply put, an intelligent and still viscerally satisfying super-hero comic series…)

The Forever People #1

Cooke Look: “In Search of a Dream!”

“They’re from a place that men have sought, but never found — we’ve seen their like before — in different ages — in different guise — but never like this — Yet, always like this — when man’s civilization faces destruction…”

Thus Jack Kirby introduces his ’70s version of a modern-day kids gang. Coming on the heels of his initial three issues of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, Jack gives us his first true edited-drawn-and-written comic book in that era, and it’s an audacious debut. Again, as he did in JO, Jack presents a flurry of new characters and concepts — The Boom Tube, Forever People, Super-Cycle, Mother Box, Supertown, Infinity Man, etc. — with nare a chance for the reader to stop for air.

And this, the “official” starting point of what we would come to call his Fourth World opus, is a breathless beginning and Jack is expert in adapting DC’s longest-running super-hero to the mythos, as Superman fits in perfectly with the overall scheme of the creator’s immensely ambitious plan. It’s a connection that is still only being periodically recognized by the publishing house, but Jack often thought in such grandiose terms, so it is hard for us mere mortals to comprehend, at times, a glimmering of his overall intent.

I’ve read this comic book at least a few dozen times in my life but only now is it becoming apparent that (despite the presence of The Infinity Man) Jack did indeed have finite plans for this and his other Fourth World titles. In this very first issue, we are given a foreshadowing of the (no doubt cataclysmic) conclusion, of a final showdown that would take place between Darkseid, the Master of the Holocaust and Seeker of the Anti-Life Equation, and timid, loving Beautiful Dreamer, as “Both hold the key to victory in the strangest war ever fought in comicdom’s history!” (or so says the exquisite Darkseid/Beautiful Dreamer pin-up in #4). Ahh, the gorgeous irony…!

Predestination and sacrifice are written all over these kids if we contrast their innocent exuberance and boundless optimism with the savage conflict only just now unfolding. These are the end of their salad days, with the group’s devotion to love and peace about to be cruelly tested, as Darkseid and his “Secretary of Torture,” Desaad, will take special pleasure in attending to The Forever People.

I suspect that while some characters would have tenaciously held on to their certainty of the Good in Man, others might have changed considerably as the saga ran its course. But, alas, this can only remain a suspicion as the gang had a mere two years of life in this title…

There was criticism that The Forever People is an off-key, corny and wonky depiction of super-hippies — they are so goldarned cheerful in those days of Vietnam and social unrest! But Jack is a masterful storyteller, completely self-assured, and I’ll bet you he had plans to incrementally change the tone and characterizations of the team before bringing them to a bombastic finale. After all, he was trying something dramatically new in comics: series with beginnings, middles and endings.

And, if I may, this was one hell of a beginning!

Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #135

Cooke Look: “Evil Factory!”

With this issue, the third of Jack’s run, the Jimmy Olsen segment of The Fourth World tetralogy is starting to gain texture, the pacing nicely building, and the storytelling just a smidgen more measured, as if the artist/writer was beginning to cozy into his new creative environs at DC and getting comfortable with a whole new set of characters. While we do get boatloads of exposition — hey, all that’s happened is a lot to take in; just check out how many entries we have for 66 pages of story thus far! — and, believe it or don’t, Jack throws in concepts he obviously plans for, but the ideas are coming at him so fast, sometimes he plain forgets and keeps in forward motion! Have a look-see at the “File 202” so prominently displayed as a major coming element on this issue’s splash page, and after finishing the entire JO run, you tell me what that dalgarned “File 202” is! (Hey, I can surmise it pertains to the coming “Four-Armed Terror,” but never be certain…)

A great deal of pleasure can be derived from this issue: the mini-Supes, Scrappers and Jimmys; the slightly mincing Mokkari and cravenly Simyan; the two Newsboy Legions joyful embrace; not-so jolly green Jimmy; and (sigh) a delightful “new” super-hero, The Guardian. Reading this specific comic book as a kid eased any doubt I might have had about where Jack was going (I mean, “Whiz Wagon”? “Hairies”? “Mountain of Judgment”? “Flippa-Dippa”??? In the beginning, as charmed as I was, I wondered whether or not this guy was sane!) and when I was finished with this issue I surrendered to a new existence as a fan for life. My motto became “Trust In Kirby: Maybe We’re Headed for Crazytown, But the Ride Sure Is Wild!”

I think I caught a hint that this guy Kirby was a genius early on, especially in his Jimmy Olsen series, when all of his abilities started to coalesce for me: His unique dynamic drawing style (even when muted by Colletta’s oft-inappropriate, feathery inks); his unrelenting, pile-driving, never look back storytelling; his delightful, sometimes wonky dialogue, so melodramatic and so… so Warner Brothers, I guess!; the overarching cheeriness of his comics, urging us kids to come along and have some fun; and, maybe the most important aspect, his lack of sentimentality about the nature of man but (albeit guarded) optimism for life itself: the vision of Jack Kirby.

While much of this issue is exposition and setting up for the “time-bomb” of the story to come, we still get to relish again one of Jack’s longest running devices: The good old fashioned slugfest, with “Giant Jimmy” beating the Krypton out of Kal-el… Nobody, but nobody does a fistfight better than the King!

Upon re-reading there’s always something new to find — or something I think I uncover — and I’m beginning to detect that while Jack depicts authority very often in light-of-day, clean cut imagery, there’s nuances and subtleties that show however good the intentions of the institutions of “our” side, disastrous badness just might emerge… The Guardian clone’s strange brain patterns, the mere fact DNA was used to grow alien monsters, the folly of building super-nuclear reactors in Metropolis’s basement, to name a few of The Project’s creating the opportunity for their own — and maybe our own — demise. Do I detect an uneasiness emerging from Jack about science and technology, and a yearning for a return to the Garden, so to speak, the pristine nature of New Genesis and the Wild Area?

Themes are beginning to take shape and come into sharp focus. And next entry, Jack lays his cards on the table just what the coming battle is all about, as we move on to the second-released title of his Fourth World opus. They belong to sunrise — they’re here in mid-day — to stop the spread of night! Yes, Kirbyheads, here come The Forever People of Supertown!

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?

Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133

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…?

Cover: X-111
Story: No visible #
Text Page: “Jack Kirby — Continued,” X-112

On Sale Date: Aug. 25, 1970