Category Archives: Earth

Day 80: Donnie and Uncle Willie!

When first we encounter The Forever People in this story, the gang is creating a ruckus on a busy intersection in (it appears) downtown Metropolis, with their Super-Cycle parked amidst a cacophonous traffic jam. The new-agers are merely hoping to “establish proper coordinates,” says Mark Moonrider to a flustered traffic cop, who replies, “Joke’s over, kids! Now find a parking lot for whatever that thing is!”

Passers-by stop to observe the colorful, smiling group, with one wag starting to heckle them. “Doo ya dooty, officers! Why don’tcha bust dose hippies before dey tie up da whole town!” And the smart-aleck doesn’t stop there, as after a young lady suggests the crew be airlifted, the yuckster ripostes, “Yeah! Get dose hippies up in de air, an’ mebbe dey’ll cancel out the smog!

Big Bear takes an interest in the jerk, observing, “The dialect is primitive, brother! But the humor cries out for a straight man! Tell me, Mister Corn! What’s a hippie?” Busting a gut, the man dubbed Corn answers, “Ha, ha — Dat’s easy! All ya gotta do is show him a bathtub — an’ if he runs — he’s a hippie!” Laughing himself, the Super-Cyclist grabs the citizen and gaffows, “Ha ha ha ha! It’s like direct involvement with ancient vaudeville!” And, with that, Big Bear gives a spine-crushing… ummm… bear hug to the monsieur — CRUNCH! — and says, “Thank you for the experience, brother!” The comedian collapses to the ground as Big Bear exclaims, “Even the brother was overcome by this joyous emotional release!”

Well, the fuzz order the hipsters out of there and they “phase out” of “Mad Avenue” and reappear in the more low-rent end of Metropolis, on what Serifan jokes is “Desolation Row,” a place the lovely Beautiful Dreamer still finds peaceful. Mother Box pings distressingly but Serifan says, “But I see nothing that could harm us!” Vykin answers, “He can!” indicating a young boy cautiously advancing toward the group. As Mark Moonrider protests, “But he’s only a child! An invalid child!” the kid inquires, “A-are you guys U.F.O.’S?

That youngster, immediately enamored with the Super-Kids, is Donnie, who gives voice to our questions to learn more about the fascinating five. He’s about ten or eleven and, as Mark notes, is an apparent cripple who uses crutches to get around the decrepit proximity. He also endowed with intense curiosity, an active imagination and appreciation of the bizarre. “I saw that!” the youngster gushes. “A flash — and you guys coming out of — thin air!” The team’s de facto leader then explains the aerodynamics of the Super-Cycle, “We call it ‘phasing’! I hope it didn’t frighten you! It’s just another way to travel!! Here, men build roads from what they see — We build roads from what our sensors see!” The boy is enthralled. “Oh, wow! I’ve hit the jackpot! You’re from outta this world — and you’re real!

As Beautiful Dreamer explains the quintet to Donnie, her hands on his shoulders for emphasis — “Of course, we’re real! Truth is real! Truth lives forever — We’re the Forever People!” — Big Bear parks the cycle, and Vykin and Mark puzzle over Mother’s Box’s anxious signals. There’s obviously danger in the vicinity…

Suddenly an older gent waves a shaky handgun and barks at the newcomers, “Hold it right there, you motorcycle savages! Take your hands off that boy!” This paranoid geezer is Uncle Willie, Donnie’s apparent relative and the slum’s security guard. Sensing the man is distraught with this strange looking group, Beautiful Dreamer begins to use her empathetic powers, creating the illusion for Willie’s perception that they are a wholesome bunch of average teenagers dressed in old-fashioned garb.

Having won over the boy and old man, the crew seek lodging in the run-down neighborhood and Willie offers them a place to stay in his building. Big Bear hauls in musty old furniture as if it were made of balsa — “This is pure camp! It’ll be great in our room!” — and Serifan is mesmerized by the “early, post Atomic, middle class home visuals!” (Willie’s teevee) but Donnie is startled to see the set working as “it’s a mess inside.” The cowboy shows the lad his special Cosmic Cartridges, which can fix broken boob tubes and commence to give the boy a decidedly trippy experience. (More on those pill-shaped beauties tomorrow, sport fans!). Uncle Willie breaks bread with the remaining Forever People when, having seen a news flash about Mantis’s siege of Metropolis, Serifan calls the Super-Kids away to attend to the Apokolips scourge.

While that’s the last we see of Uncle Willie, Donnie appears in the third issue, being manhandled by one of Glorious Godfrey’s Justifiers, who threatens the boy with death — “you little garbage!” — if he doesn’t say where The Forever People are (who are standing right behind the thug). Mother Box saves Donnie after the Justifier flings the hapless cripple and the group grabs the kid and hauls out of the apartment. This zealot is revealed to be a suicide bomber, almost killing the gang with his Omega Ray Bomb and, as he was climbing out the window when he detonated, the Justifier was successful in destroying Uncle Willie and Donnie’s digs. As the smoke clears, the team decides to investigate Glorious Godfrey.

Two of the Forever People take the time to say farewell to their new friend:

Beautiful Dreamer: We must leave, Donnie! We will be back — if we can

Donnie: B-but what will happen?

Mark Moonrider: Donnie — life is good! Live it for others — not against them! In that way, you will always be close to us!

And, to ensure Donnie will be safe from another attack, Mark instructs, “Barrier this place, Vykin! A Justifier may come again!” Holding the protective sentient computer, Vykin replies, “He’ll be a target for deadly micron particles! Mother Box fills the air with them! The particles are computed not to harm the boy!”

Then, as they climb aboard the Super-Cycle, the team has last words for Donnie, who implores, “You must come back! You must!”

Beautiful Dreamer: Good-bye, Donnie! We leave you what cannot die — Love! Friendship!

Serifan: It is so in New Genesis! It can be here!

It’s hard to say if pathetic little Donnie, a handicapped kid living in abject poverty on skid row, is better off or not having encountered his New Genesis acquaintances. In the few days the lad was in their company, he watched his Uncle Willie have a conniption, was exposed to a mind-altering experience, was threatened with death by a gorilla-sized brute, and lived through a doubtless traumatizing suicide bombing that destroyed his place of residence… and here’s hoping Uncle Willie wasn’t in the flat at the time of its destruction! That would really suck!

But given the Cosmic Cartridge view he shared of a completely harmonious universe and the vital words of wisdom about love and friendship given to him by the Super-Kids, it is likely the boy benefited immensely from the short but intense visit, maybe a life-changing event for him…

When Beautiful Dreamer defines reality, truth and The Forever People, and Donnie replies, “You sure sound sorta ‘far out’ — but it isn’t freaky — nothing like that!” it’s an endearing moment, one I could relate to as a kid not much older than the briefly-seen character. To me, the team was “far out”! “Freaky”? Well, I liked freaky but I found that kind of stuff in those intentionally trippy comix…

Day 78: D.N.Aliens!

During Superman’s guided tour of The Project, the Man of Steel points out the three categories of clones being grown: Normals, Step-Ups and Aliens.

Normals, I guess it’s safe to assume, are the rank and file who work at The Project and have been reproduced from the DNA of living, “normal” people (i.e., regular folks of average intelligence and abilities), including the Jimmy Olsen guards at the Duplication Section and Communications Division Gabbys. It may also be proper to include in this category those in the “Miniature Replica Files,” such as the Scrapper-Troopers and the miniature Supermen, Jimmy Olsens and Newsboy Legion members (both those at The Project and grown at the Evil Factory from stolen cells). The Guardian likely fits with this grouping, as do the “beasts of burden” at the Evil Factory and Floyd “Bullets” Barstow’s clone.

Because the duplicates seem to be of the same age as the “originals,” there has to be some age acceleration taking place and, with the D.N.Aliens (which may pertain to all products of both facilities), such a development is hinted at in the “Strange Stories of the D.N.A. Project” vignette, “The Alien Thing!!!” (The presence of the daycare facility may indicate some Normals are allowed to age at the normal rate.)

Step-Ups include The Hairies, the youthful and industrious technological geniuses of The Project (“They have evolved hair-triggered minds!” Superman tells Jimmy, “And they can come up with mechanical wonders like the Mountain of Judgment!“). The category may also include scientists, possibly Professor Packard, the surrogate father of Arin, the Armored Man. (I don’t recall any others being specifically referred to as a Step-Up…)

Aliens are actually a misnomer, as those in the category being discussed do come from people (or animals). Superman says, “The human cell has been subjected to a wide range of conditions — and has yielded some strange developments!”

There actually appear to be three different varieties of D.N.Aliens:

    • Original creations developed by manipulation of human DNA, such as the original Alien Thing, Dubbilex, the Four-Armed Terror, and Arin, the Armored Man

    • Mutated humans based on a specific individual’s DNA, including the Giant Jimmy Olsen

    • Those people and animals subjected to Regressive Gene Induction, about which Simyan tells us, “Each animal become[s] its remote ANCESTRAL image.” This bunch notably includes the Loch Trevor Beastie, Angry Charlie and Jimmy “Homo Disastrous” Olsen

Let’s have a closer look at those three groupings:

Original D.N.Aliens

In the “Strange Stories of the D.N.A. Project” two-pager called “The Alien Thing!!!” we learn about the very first “Original D.N.Alien,” and it’s worthy of replicating Jack’s story verbatim:

The first genetic structuring to run wild in the laboratory almost proved to be the last!!!

When it quickly evolved to adolescence, The D.N.A. Project found trouble on its hands!! The battle with it lasted a day!! It was the first ‘D.N.Alien’ The Project had produced!! It grew fast! — And hostile! Nothing seemed to stop it!! Tranquilizing gas seemed to slow down its movement — but not the maturing process!! Somehow, its metabolism was wildly accelerating!! — Emitting great bursts of bright, searing, damaging energy!!

The disruptive force affected thousands of circuits — and cut off communication between The Project and the outside world!! Great shocks followed!! And cracks appeared in places where subterranean waters broke through to cause critical emergencies! And on the Zoomway itself, large fissures opened and yawned! The low casualty rate was an incredible part of the strange events!!! Then in a last, terrifying burst of body energy, the alien caused an aurora effect that could be seen for miles!!! It proved to be the last of him! He had literally burned himself out!! — And with such devastating force that his powdery remains shocked witnesses into silence!!!

The D.N.Alien, however, didn’t die in vain!!! His brief life left vital clues on how to keep succeeding D.N.Aliens alive!!!

Dubbilex, as we found in the previous entry, serves as a researcher at The Project and is developing his latent telekinetic powers, aiding Superman in the Cosmic Carousel affair.

The Four-Armed Terror, and his multitudinous brethren called Homo Usurpus, was bred by the Evil Factory from samples stolen from The Project. Superman says, “Among the living human cells [the Evil Factory] stole from The ‘Project’ was a special batch which had been treated in a manner to simulate Atomic War conditions! He could be bred for surviving Atomic War!” Whether these were mutated by Mokkari and Simyan with their Beta Gas is open to question, but the Terrors are apparently different than The Project’s prototypes as they actually consume radioactivity.

Arin, the Armored Man, was developed for interplanetary travel without the need for life support or artificial environment as he can travel in deep space as if swimming. His singular mission is to go live on a distant asteroid and protect the contents of his back-pack: Superman’s cell tissue and genetic code.

Mutated D.N.Aliens

Unless those miniature clones I’ve listed as Normals should be classified as such, I can only find the Giant Jimmy Olsen to belong under this heading. It appears that Mokkari and Simyan pilfered Jimmy’s miniature DNA (so to speak):

Simyan: With our superior equipment, we have rapidly established a project to rival their own! Now, from living cells we can produce what they do — human beings!

Mokkari: Of course, we stole the first samples from the Earthmen — but now we can make our own! We shall breed them in all sizes — as small as we want them — and as large as their destinies demand!

It is interesting that the closing “next issue” blurb in JO #135 is phrased as follows, illustrating the Guardian clone emerging from his Life Chamber: “Don’t miss his clash with the renegade replica! These are not ordinary humans in combat! This is a new breed spawned by a new concept! The DNAliens!” Is Jack telling us the Jim Harper relica is actually a D.N.Alien…?

Regressed D.N.Aliens

Technically, I wonder if these even belong under a D.N.Alien heading, but chromosome manipulation is in play here, so I’m going to take the chance. First, I’d like to point out the raison d’etre of The Evil Factory was initially to steal research from The Project and replicate their successes in cloning life and manipulating DNA. As we know, Mokkari and Simyan run the facility for Darkseid:

Mokkari: It is what we came here to do! To replace the Earthmen’s project — with ours! The Earthmen experiment for progress. But we work for Darkseid, ruler of Apokolips!

Simyan: Our off-spring shall bring Apokolips to Earth! Chaos in place of order! And from that chaos will arise the new masters of Earth — with the great Darkseid as their exalted leader!

Again, the primary purpose of the Evil Factory is to eliminate and replace The Project, as Simyan says while he and his partner overlook a scale model of The Project, “Yet, all this we must destroy! It shall become again as it once was — Empty! Silent!” Adds Mokkari, “We shall do it with the proper creations of the life we have bred here!” While they fail in “The Big Boom” to wipe out the government complex, they do The Project one better by introducing a new process to the game: Regressive Gene Induction.

(You know, despite the fact their plans typically fall through and thus repeatedly face the wrath of angry Darkseid, for only two guys, Mokkari and Simyan have made remarkable improvements on the discoveries of The Project, a “Manhattan Project” type endeavor that must employ hundreds, if not thousands, of specialists. The duo manipulates miniature DNA to make any size humanoid they desire; they improve on the Atomic War “survivor,” as Superman says, “Our rivals at the Evil Factory have produced another ‘first!’ That thing is absorbing and feeding on radioactive energy!” Plus there’s this new development…)

Mokkari: Regressive genes have proven a delight, haven’t they, Simyan!!

Simyan: Yes, it’s been exciting to see each animal become its remote ancestral image!!

It appears the Evil Factory, which we find is located in the highlands of Scotland, is letting loose the results of their Regressive Gene Induction research. Mokkari and Simyan, y’see, are able to turn any animal into its evolutionary predecessor, and many into hitherto before considered to be mythological creatures! The Apokolips scientists turn out a “‘way out ‘Animal Farm!!” including the Loch Trevor Monster, Griffin, Chimera, Unicorn, some Basilisks, and (who is to become Gabby’s personal pet) Angry Charlie (the antecedent of, what, a flea?), plus other beasties that emerge at the conclusion of this storyline. Natch, Jimmy O. gets the treatment and becomes a caveman Olsen! Zapping sinister rays on our hero, the two cackle:

Mokkari: Millions of gene nuclei shot through his open pores!!

Simyan: They develop like wildfire! Olsen will change rapidly!! Becoming what the gene dictates!! Sad to say — these are regressive and powerful!!

But, as always seems to happen, the hapless Evil Factory proprietors lose control of their creation but this time there’s no handy matter transmitter to get rid of the culprit, Jimmy “Homo Disastrous” Olsen! This Neanderthal Jimmy is fantastically powered and in perpetual rage, beating the crap out of an enormous saber-tooth tiger and short-circuiting the electric fencing that sets free an entire menagerie of monsters, including dinosaurs, huge sloths, wholly mammoths, gigantic rhinos, and innumerable other prehistoric creatures, all creations of Regressive Gene Induction…

Back when he was a mere homo sapien, Jimmy wondered about the implications of all this genetic engineering, “Superman! Do you realize what weird, and perhaps dangerous, channels are being probed here?” You said it, chum.

Day 77: Dubbilex!

C’mon, let’s be real for a minute: you have got to admit that Dubbilex is one of Jack’s coolest characters!

Yep, it’s that “weird and wonderful” Dubbilex, fave D.N.Alien of Superman and this writer alike, who radiates a kinda androgynous vibe in demeanor, mixed with an intellectual poise not unlike Mr. Spock, and a whole lot of Lucifer in his appearance! And mere words can’t explain why the horned, granite-colored researcher at The Project, with kinetic abilities and “E.P.S.,” dressed in the white-&-purple tunic, is just so awesome (but, rest assured, I’ll try… cuz that’s my job!); I mean you just gotta dig this hep cat!

It’s during Superman’s guided tour of The Project when Jimmy Olsen first meets Dubbilex, just as the Man of Steel’s pal is starting to wrap his brain around the notion of “Normals,” “Step-Ups” and… “Aliens”??? Jimmy is incredulous, asking his companion, “Do you mean The Project can actually grow ‘Non-Humans’?” Superman explains, “The human cell has been subjected to a wide range of conditions — and has yielded some strange developments!”

“Oh, come, now!” the skeptical reporter scoffs. “I’m just not ready to come face to face with campy bug-eyed monsters!” Superman rejoins, “No! But we do have Dubbilex!” Jimmy then says, “Dubbilex! I’d like to meet any guy with a name like that!” Superman replies, “You shall!” and he turns to a Project worker, who has his back to the pair, and hails, “What’s new, Dubbilex!” And, with that, in close-up, we encounter the devil-like, stony visage of one of the Fourth World’s oddest — and most endearing — cast members. “Hello, Superman! You bring another curiosity seeker, I see!” says the creature with reptilian eyes and yellow horns.

Understandably shocked, Jimmy blurts out, “Great day in the mornin’!” and recovers with “Er — pardon my outburst! I don’t mean to offend, but you sure live up to your notices!” Superman explains the strange analyst’s public relations role at the complex. “Dubbilex is resigned to being The Project’s ‘conversation piece!’ He’s seen by every visiting V.I.P.!” Dubbilex offers, “There was one senator who called me the ‘Man from Mars!’ But, despite my origin, I’m as native to Earth as you are, young fellow!”

The super-hero accounts for the bizarre handle: “He’s named Dubbilex because his powers are still unknown! However, he’s a great researcher!” (And Trippilex would just be rude! And what does he order at the bar? Dos Equis! Bada-boom! Rimshot, please! … Sorry, hard to resist!) With that, the cub reporter introduces himself. “My name’s Jimmy Olsen! And it’s a great privilege to meet you!” Dubbilex is gracious, replying, “Thank you! I consider any friend of Superman as one of mine!”

As they leave the D.N.Alien researcher, Jimmy says to his pal, “Well, can you beat that! — A resident alien! Are there any more of his kind here?” Superman answers, “None of Dubbilex’s species, but, other types have been grown!”

That’s the last we see of this great, intriguing new character, until nine months later, in Jimmy Olsen #144, when Superman and The Guardian arrive at the Cosmic Carousel discotheque, in the “Suicide Slum” of Metropolis, by invitation of their new friend Terry Dean. Darkseid’s agents, The San Diego Five String Mob (and Barriboy) are there posing as musicians. As the gorgeous Miss Dean fails to drag the Man of Steel onto the dance floor, another provocative figure “confronts and surprises Superman!!”

Terry exclaims, “Hey! We’ve got a ‘U.F.O.’ on the guest list! Far out! Who is he??” Superman yelps, “Galloping Krypton!! Dubbilex!!!” And as an onlooker observes, “Man! This guy is weirder than moon rocks!” Superman, after asking, “Dubbilex! My favorite D.N.Alien!!! What in blazes are you doing outside The ‘Project’?” learns that Dubbilex is conducting some “field research” and has discovered a tunnel leading from The Project to the disco, excavated by parties unknown. The San Diego Five String Mob (and Barriboy) try to thwart the investigation, render the club into shambles, and is pursued by Dubbilex. When Superman and Terry catch up in the tunnel, the D.N.Alien is using his latent powers to levitate the denizens of Apokolips in mid-air.

“Like, wow, Mister Dubbilex!!” cries Terry. “How did you get them up there — and keep them up!??” The strange man with the power is unsure. “Well, I-I don’t know — yet!! But it did give me a slight jolt!! I think I can do it again!!” says he, putting his hands to the sides of his head, “But this time I’ll get them down!!” (At this, Superman says to himself, “Dubbilex is a maturing cell!! He’s developing kinetic powers!!”) Then, the caption reads: “A bright flash of crackling energy leaps from Dubbilex to his captives!!!” And the “rascals” (and Barriboy) are freed (and Terry and the D.N.Alien have a nice repartee: “Mister Dubbilex!! You’re weird!!” and Dubbilex replies, “It seems you’re correct, Miss Dean!”) and suddenly a Boom Tube appears!

When the otherworlders jump into the Boom Tube and Dubbilex asks, “What is that thing? It looks like it extends for miles inside!!” Superman gives an odd reply, barking, “Don’t go near it! Let these kids go!! And don’t ask questions!” The Man of Steel thinks about his meeting with The Forever People, his aborted foray into a Boom Tube, and the Super-War with Apokolips. Dubbilex (mistakenly drawn without horns on this one page in JO #146, or do they retract after he exerts his ever-emerging abilities?) says, “A million dollars for your thoughts, Superman!!” At which, our hero retorts, “At the rate your powers are developing, you’ll get them for free, Dubbilex..!”

(I say “odd reply” because I had never previously considered that Superman hadn’t allowed The Project, certainly a lofty government agency, one he was closely allied and was himself privy to their closely-guarded secrets, into his confidence about the threat of Apokolips. I just assumed, I guess, that though no one, none of the good guys, knows the location of The Evil Factory, higher-ups at The Project were surely aware it was Apokolips intrigue that was wrecking havoc at the installation. While I realize this isn’t precluded as Dubbilex might not have the clearance for such potentially panic-inducing information… but still, why would Superman want to keep such a cosmic threat a secret from government allies?)

We next see the trio in Terry’s office, as Dubbilex is practicing his newly-acquired powers on the bodacious proprietor of the Cosmic Carousel. In the full-page splash (with the header caption: “And if you think the Evil Factory has a corner on the ‘weird events of the century,’ consider the situation of the other half of the ‘good guy’ team!! — Superman, the Guardian, and Dubbilex, the D.N.Alien who are enmeshed in a deepening mystery in the heart of Suicide Slum!!!”), a crackling glow of energy emanates from the D.N.Alien’s noggin to a floating Terry Dean. “It’s amazing, Dubbilex!!” says Superman, “Your developing powers are beginning to actively manifest themselves!” The ever-gracious Dubbilex replies, “With a beautiful volunteer like Miss Terry Dean — who knows what wonders I could perform?!”

The startled woman stammers as she is magically lifted from her chair and turned upside down, “I-I’m rising into the air — lifted by some unseen force!! Oh, wow!! This experience has some scary angles!” Dubbilex suggests, “Be calm, Miss Dean!! I’ll let you down as easily as I can!!” On standby, the Man of Steel cautions, “Careful! Careful! Here she comes! Good work, Dubbilex!! You’re able to control a most interesting faculty!!”

Safely landing, she gushes, “Gosh! That was exciting!! If I told my friends about it, they’d laugh me out of town!! Mister Dubbilex, you’re weird and wonderful!!!” But the one-of-a-kind genetically engineered being is concerned. “By your standards, Miss Dean!! But what are mine? What is emerging from this brain of mine??” Superman suggests, “It might be a form of E.S.P. — only ten times more potent!”

Suddenly The Guardian pokes his head out of a trap door leading to the tunnel and shares some interesting hearsay: “‘E.P.S.’ is more like it, Superman! ‘Extra-Physical Status!’ I’ve heard the geneticists at The ‘Project’ discussing it!!”

Alas, that’s all we hear of this intriguing new development and, just before we see the last of Dubbilex (and The Guardian and Terry Dean, for that matter) in Jack’s Fourth World epic, Superman ponders the Big Picture while the group ponders what forces built the tunnel. He thinks, “The point is that the war between New Genesis and Apokolips — now involve The ‘Project!'” Dubbilex suddenly turns to Superman and tells him, “I got that thought, Superman!! — It’s most interesting!! I’d like to know — more –” The Man of Steel asks patience and flies down the tunnel to take a ride to Supertown… but that’s another story…

Dubbilex has tons of potential and he most certainly was nicely played in the series. He possesses an inherent likability and wonderful oddness, and the fact Jack doesn’t travel down the obvious super-hero narrative route — to portray him as a forlorn and angst-ridden creature, the only one of his species — is delightfully refreshing. Despite his devilish looks and stoic demeanor, he fits in nice and cozy, like an old shoe, with the gang and with the entire Fourth World, and Dubbilex remains an unforgettable character! Double thumbs up!

Day 76: The D.N.A. Project!

In the pages of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, the role of The Project, that capacious subterranean high-tech complex staffed by military personnel, government scientists and some strange-looking folk, is exclusively assigned to the agency called the DNA Project. Now, whether the entire Project is devoted to cloning human beings — and other humanoids — is open to question. I say this because, as you can imagine, if the Fourth World had run its intended course, The Project had great potential to be a catch-all organization for all sorts of activity, thus rife with story possibilities. But, much as I’d love to extrapolate on what could have been, let’s focus on the fertile material actually presented in the published comic series, rich stuff indeed!

Upon arriving at the Project Zone via the tunneled Zoomway and passing Checkpoint 10, the Whiz Wagon is parked and Jimmy, Superman and the Newsboy Legion enter Admittance Section 22 of The Project. An armed guard (one of many), machine gun trained on the visitors, directs the Man of Steel to the Cell Duplication and Replica Refining Section, where the boys attend a surprise meeting with their fathers. Meanwhile, as they stroll through high-tech, heavily secured corridors, the red-headed Daily Planet reporter demands some answers from Superman about the place. “This project is a vast underground complex!” says his friend. “The Hairies were grown and raised here!” Jimmy gives a double-take, “Did you say grown here? What do you mean?” Superman replies, “I mean, the genetic code has been broken, Jimmy! The DNA molecule has given up its secret! — The secret of life itself!” The young man is flummoxed. “What? You mean — ? You mean — ?” The Man of Steel nods and says, “I mean that human beings like yourself can now be produced from an individual cell! That the human gene can be manipulated and controlled to fit a desired pattern!” Jimmy remains aghast, retorting, “I don’t believe it! — I-it’s just too fantastic!” And, as the super-hero adds, “What’s more, The Project can make replicas of any living man!” they encounter a living clone of James Bartholomew Olsen, the sentry labeled Jimmy Olsen No. 43, who tells the “original,” “We Jimmy Olsens are a popular category in the duplication section!”

During this initial tour of The Project, Jimmy learns tissue samples were previously taken from himself and the Newsboy Legion (without consent) at the Daily Planet Dispensary. (Interestingly, Superman willingly donated his DNA to the effort; more on that soon…) Looking into a Magno-Microscope, Jimmy exclaims, “Good Lord!” as he views tiny versions of himself! In short time, he then learns “a good captain of detectives,” also deceased, has been cloned and is witness to Micro-Paratroopers, tiny duplicates also known as Scrapper-Troopers, parachuting all around him.

Jimmy marvels at the extraordinary compound as Superman renews the guided tour. “It certainly is big!” Jimmy says. “The corridors seem endless, Superman! And so do the personnel!” His companion replies, “They belong here, Jimmy! The Project grows its own!” Observing full-size clones of Gabby, Jimmy says, “Yeah! It’s never-ending surprises!” The reporter then turns to face his pal and says, “I can’t get over it! You knew about ‘The Project’ all this time!” “From its very inception!” responds Superman. “My cell tissues were the first grown when the genetic code was broken and deciphered!

(The Man of Tomorrow ends by saying, “But that’s another story! ‘The Project’ is the big one!” Great Krypton! What a way to dismiss such a huge bombshell and ya gotta wonder just what amazing tales could have sprung from that chestnut in Jack Kirby’s seemingly-infinite imagination! Talk about super-soldiers! (Fear not, those in the know: We’ll talk about Arin, The Armored Man, soon enough!) Another story, indeed…)

The pair stop at a console and Superman pushes a view button, revealing giant metal cylinders amid pink Kirby krackles. “Here life is grown in special tanks! Life planned for specific tasks! This is where The Project acquires its personnel!” Pressing the button again, we see a caregiver playing ball with little children. “Here is one of the nurseries, Jimmy, where the young Normals are carefully raised and tutored.” His pal asks, “Did you say ‘Normals,’ Superman? Do you mean…?”

“Well,” Superman answers, “the human cell is still a pliable mystery! Experiments have produced the ‘Step-Ups!'” Just then a three-wheeled vehicle passes them as the old bearded driver, driving two younger passengers, beckons to Superman, “Hi, Superman! Don’t forget our Friday Night ‘Sing In’! Bring your friend!” “Thanks! We’ll be there!” replies the Man of Steel. “Say!” says Jimmy, “These kids look like the ‘Hairies’ who live in that mountain-sized van that runs on the Zoomway!” Superman concurs, “The ‘Hairies’ came from this group! These are our ‘Step-Ups!’ They have evolved hair-trigger minds! And they come up with mechanical wonders like the Mountain of Judgment!” Jimmy exclaims, “Wow! And it all began with reading a little DNA molecule!” Superman goes through a doorway and says, “Yes, there are rooms of charts explaining it all!”

Inviting Jimmy to view the complex diagrams, Superman explains, “In these charts, Jimmy, lies the essence of ‘The Project!’ The Secret of LIfe, long hidden in the ‘DNA molecule,’ has been extracted and is now being used for mankind’s benefit!” As they enter another room, he continues, “There is constant research going on all the time! As it expands, new problems arise!” Turning to wall signs, the top two reading “Normals” and “Step-Ups,” Jimmy points to the last one. “I’ll bet! Look at that bottom category! Aliens!

We’ll leave the tour for today, as there will be a discussion covering that bottom category very soon indeed, so let’s mosey over to some Jimmy Olsen back-up tales and look at a few other aspects of The D.N.A. Project:

(Background comment: Mokkari, looking over a scale model of The Project and its Wild Area environs, in the ish of JO we’re currently covering, explains why the location was selected: “Thus we have it — the vast American underground preserve, in which ‘The Project’ was built. This was originally a mammoth cavern!“)

In “The Torn Photograph” segment of “Strange Stories of The D.N.A. Project” (JO #144) the opening caption reads, “Even greater than the mystery that shrouds the activities within the top secret project, there is the untold saga of the clearing of the mammoth cavern in which it’s based!” The tale explains, “In the early days of The Project, spelunking teams of cave explorers were sent into the bowels of the Earth on survey missions!!!” A team called Probe Six finds a prehistoric forest of vegetation, swamps and wild — apparently very wild — life, which leads to demise of the exploratory team, despite efforts with dynamite and weapons. All that is left of their travails and that “Lost World” is a torn photo (must have been a Polaroid) of an apish creature advancing on the camera with stone axe ready to descend…

The “Tales of the DNA Project” two-pager in JO #148 has this intro: “During the routine physical examination of a maturing ‘DNA-Human,’ the subject, who represents a special experiment, suddenly became violent and attacked a security guard present in the room!! Had he proved the theory that crime was transferrable [sic] through the human cell? Was there such a thing as the… Genetic Criminal” Model Four, a beefy, tough-looking fellow, pounds the tar out of his adversary, who calls him a “second-rate human!!” But we learn Model Four’s foe is a foreign agent and he is seized by security personnel. We learn: “Many DNA subjects acquire a sharp sense of ESP!” — That’s extra-sensory perception, a sixth sense, kids! — and that he was “grown from the cell tissue of Floyd ‘Bullets’ Barstow!! — A gangster executed for murder!!

Please allow a little question or two of the big developments going on… Just what in the name of Sam Hill is the government up to here? The U.S. of A. is surreptitiously stealing the D.N.A. of its unwitting citizens and harvesting clones to remain in (perpetual?) servitude of their vast underground complex? The clones are being gestated in giant tanks and then live in a subterranean world, rarely (if ever) seeing the light of day? And why no mention of the accelerated growth process these replicants are assuredly subject? Obviously, our encounters with the clones of the Guardian, Scrapper, Gabby and Jimmy all reveal relatively intelligent, level-headed humans… so what’s the secret of getting them so mature so fast? And the “Bullets” Barstow vignette: Scientists are growing humans to settle their nature versus nurture theories? What would have they done with Model Four if criminality was a genetic trait? Lordy, lordy, these questions boggle my wee mind!

(Please don’t get me wrong here with my ponderous asides: I’m not intending to criticize Jack’s storytelling or concepts here, more marveling at the apparent implications within and the seemingly endless, infinite story possibilities that could have been built on this fantastic foundation. It is so much fun just contemplating the marvelous implications of it all… so you’ll please forgive me, yes?)

Day 75: The Fate of Jim Harper!

What if were you?

What if you devoted your entire adult life to law-enforcement and, perhaps, in a more dissimulating occupation to fight crime, risking life and limb for the public good; what if your reward, in the end, as life bleeds out, was to have an agency take what is the essence of everything you are and, to serve them, to grow another… you?

If Jim Harper, the alter ego of the hero of Suicide Slum, The Golden Guardian, could look down onto our world from the pearly gates, maybe he might ponder the strange new questions raised by artificial replication of human life. Maybe, ya think, he might be angry, believing he had sacrificed quite enough, thank you, for the betterment of mankind. Well, at least, the improvement of a quartet of Metropolis street kids back in the day…

It’s difficult to ascertain exactly what has transpired at The Project. That is, whether the men formally known as the original Newsboy Legion took it upon themselves to create a clone of Jim Harper to reintroduce The Guardian to the world, or if the genetic scientists of the vast government enterprise had exactly that intention. It seems, in our tale, that it was the idea of the adult compatriots of the original super-hero because they couldn’t bear to let him go… ?

Let’s re-examine a scenario from our previous issue of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen (and, fear not, effendis — we’ll quickly get up to date): After the grand Zoomway adventure, Superman, Jimmy and the new Newsboy Legion are taking their first stroll together through The Project. The Man of Steel escorts them (as he himself must pass various security checkpoints) and “Suddenly, there is the whir of hidden mechanisms — and great steel doors open!” Superman tells his pals, “Here comes your first big surprise, my friends!”

“And indeed it is!” the caption reads, “For facing the boys are ‘originals‘ not seen by the general public since the ‘1940’s!‘ But the Newsboy Legionnaires of today call each of them ‘DAD!'” And sons and fathers share a happy respite reacquainting themselves. It seems all the patriarchs are employed at The Project! Later, as the Giant Green Jimmy is bearing down upon The Project, Jimmy confers with the fathers after Superman is momentarily knocked unconscious by the monster with the synthetic-Kryptonite coating.

Gabby, Sr.: We, the first Newsboy Legion, were called here to help do a job — I, Gabby, a teacher!

Big Words, Sr.: Yes, and I, the original ‘Big Words,’ am here, as a geneticist!

Scrapper, Sr.:
I, Scrapper, became a social worker — But I’m needed here, too!

Tommy, Sr.: And I, once the kid they called Tommy, was summoned here as a medical doctor! Like you men, I can’t save the day — but, like you, I know who might!

At this, Doctor Tom pushes a button to open a chamber door. Inside is the Life Chamber containing a newly grown James Harper.

Scrapper, Sr.: Tommy — do you think he’s ready?

Big Words, Sr.: I think so! I’m glad we left the boys with Flippa Dippa’s dad!

Gabby, Sr.: This has been our little secret up till now —

Jimmy: You men have been developing a replica of your own?

Tommy, Sr.: Yes! He was one of us — a good friend — A good captain of detectives — who died in a battle with thieving hoods recently! But not before I —

Jimmy: Doctor! You took a living tissue sample from this wounded man?

“Suddenly Jimmy peers deeply within the depths of the Life Chamber!

Jimmy: No! — He was no ordinary policeman! I remember his story! He was more like Superman himself!

Gabby, Sr.’s statement of “our little secret” could be typical hyperbole, as it is very hard to imagine the super-tight defense of The Project wouldn’t be aware of such an ambitious and expensive (I mean, that Life Chamber must’ve cost some bucks, know what I’m saying?). But, then again, the denizens of The Evil Factory are keeping the security personnel hopping, that’s for sure…

Back to our current story: After the defeat of “The Incredible Jimmy” by the Scrapper-Troopers, we witness Mokkari and Simyan report to their master, Darkseid. The King of Evil chagrins his servitors and tells them with the next plan “there must be comlete, thorough success!” The proprietors of The Evil Factory discuss the coming age if their nefarious deeds bear fruit: “Our offspring shall bring Apokolips to Earth! Chaos in place of order!” says Simyan, “and from that chaos will arise the new masters of Earth — with the great Darkseid as their exalted leader!” Then, perched atop a cherry-picker type of crane, they overlook a (conveniently labeled!) “great model of their rival project in its entirety!

Ponders Mokkari: What should their next project be? “Except for the giant Jimmy Olsen, we have grown nothing but mere beasts of burden!” Suddenly Simyan reminds him of the cell tissues raised in beta gas. “But they are ‘unknowns!’” protests his yellow-faced companion. “Even as they grew — they hid from us!” They enter the Lower Level Control Bubble and — holy H.R. Giger! — they look out over a vast chamber filled with giant egg sacs, sinister mists of beta gas wafting overhead… !

Cut to the new Newsboy Legion meeting the Guardian, who is a bit out of sorts…

Scrapper: Wow! Da Guardian! Where ya been all dese years?

Tommy: I’ll bet our dad’s know!

Big Words: There was a policeman named Jim Harper known by the old Newsboy Legion — Did you know him?

Gabby: Know him? I’ll bet he is Jim! C’mon, ’Fess up!

The Guardian: I-I would like to answer all your questions — but I somehow feel so — strange

Suddenly, the “Dads” burst into the room.

Gabby: The “all clear” has sounded! How is “Model One”?

Flippa Dippa: Model One’? Don’t tell me all this heah fuss is bein’ made over a phony Guardian!

Tommy, Sr.: He’s every bit as real as the original Guardian! And, after watching him on the tele-monitor, I’d say he’s magnificent!

Tommy: Dad! What are you trying to tell us? What happened to the original?

Tommy, Sr.: The other men will fill you in! I’m busy!

Scrapper, Sr.: Ya might as well have it straight, kids! The original Guardian is dead! During the years we grew to manhood, we lost track of him!

Big Words:
Of course! You were all pursuing your separate careers!

Gabby, Sr.: The Guardian vanished when Jim Harper was transferred to the detective division, in another precinct!

Big Words, Sr.: Not long ago, we were called to Jim Harper’s bedside! He’d been fatally wounded in an action with fleeing criminals!

Gabby: (Blub) (Sniff) Don’t tell us da rest — I’ll cry

Tommy: Wait! Before he died, Jim Harper confessed he’d been the Guardian — Didn’t he?

Big Words:
Yes! But we just couldn’t bear to lose him! When the original Jim Harper passed on, he left behind a still-living cell tissue sample!

Flippa Dippa’s father: So, ‘The Project‘ grew a new Guardian! I’m glad that Flippa-Dippa and I are part of the kind of friendship you share!

The story of Jim Harper doesn’t end here. There’s still the issue of who killed him and what will happen to that “Mister Rat,” but we’ll save that for when the time comes.

There you have it, friends. “We just couldn’t bear to lose him.” So they clone him!?

Part of me believes Jack is being overly optimistic, neglecting to think through the ethical considerations that arise with human cloning. But I’d betcha there was something to come in the unfinished saga percolating in Jack’s noggin. All this talk about “strange brain activity” in The Project’s clones might be a foreshadowing of a deeper, darker, and more complex tale…

Day 74: Scrapper-Troopers!

WOW, indeed! The not-so Jolly Green Jimmy is engaged in a ferocious fight against the new Golden Guardian, with Superman out cold on the sidelines, as the real Jimmy and his newsboy friends voice their astonishment at the titanic battle being waged before their eyes. The cloned Jim Harper holds his own against the behemoth, who is engulfed with primal rage, fists and exposition flying. “Kill! Destroy!” the monster screams, “I have been programmed by the forces who created me, to eliminate whatever lies before me! You must die!

Within moments, the Guardian is knocked off his feet and Jimmy runs to revive Superman only to be approached by his enormous emerald-skinned doppelganger, who tells him, “I come for… you!” But before the Man of Steel can protect his pal, the creature yanks the cub reporter off his feet and: “As the giant pulls Jimmy to him in his fierce grip, he suddenly comes face to face with his own image!” The beast hesitates, telling his lookalike, “You — you are exactly like myself!” and, confused, turns to face Superman and the revived Guardian, who work together: Superman “Slowly begins to exert pressure on the cement floor,” as the Protector of Suicide Slum dives at the Goliath. Suddenly the pavement beneath the giant collapses and Superman grabs Jimmy. The Guardian rushes to engage “The Incredible Jimmy” when a sudden flash envelopes the creature’s head and plumes of vapors rise from him. The Giant collapses and passes out…

Strange!” says the Guardian as he examines the giant’s head, “The vapor literally exploded from his hair — without cause! It is puzzling!” After Jimmy and Superman trade thanks and compliments, the Last Son of Krypton takes a close look: “Now, as for our fallen Goliath, it would seem the best course to take would be — to look for a — David! Ah! Here he is!” Jimmy quips, “Don’t tell me he’s got armed fleas!” Superman replies, “It’s a rather humorous label to apply to our little friend here, but I would say you’re close!” Superman holds out his upturned palm and we see an individual example of yet another amazing product of The Project!

Standing on the Man of Steel’s hand is a tiny solider — “A miniature paratrooper!” says Jimmy, “And he’s waving a grenade!” For he is only one of a platoon of Micro-Paratroopers, all cloned from the same D.N.A., that of Newsboy Legionnaire, Scrapper! Suddenly toy-size jets fly over Jimmy’s head and drop dozens of Scrapper-Troopers floating down with chutes towards the green giant, and one says, “The objective is tranquilized, men! Now to complete the operation!” The troopers land and, each hoisting a canister, scurry past Jimmy’s feet and set up a cannon-like device. “Cryonic equipment!” says Superman, “They’re going to put our giant on ice, Jimmy!” The small cryonic canon shoots liquid nitrogen onto the giant and quickly covers him head to foot, to be sealed in Cryonic Capsule #31570.

Hey!” delights Scrapper (the original), “Here comes dat little gimmicky plane again!” It lands and the green-bereted newsboy lies on the floor and rests his cherubic face in his hands as he marvels at his itsy-bitsy lookalikes and coins a nickname. “It’s pickin’ up da little ‘Scrapper-Troopers!‘ Ain’t dey cute? So dey used me cell tissues to make dese spunky fightin’ men! Well, it’s only a natural cherce!”

Later on in this issue, we see The Project has used another member of the Newsboy Legion to harvest D.N.A. — Gabby, whose clones are used as telephone operators. “It’s never-ending surprises!” says Jimmy during his tour of The Project with Superman. “These technicians look like Gabb!” The Man of Steel replies, “Could you think of more perfect candidates for the communications division?

Back to the our subject: Scrapper-Troopers, a cunning Kirby creation, almost certainly had an impact with readers (or at least Jack’s assistants, Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman, who I believe were involved in plotting the next sequence discussed) as a representative returned upon the conclusion of this “Big Boom” epic. After Gabby develops a cold, the super-cautious medical staff at The Project puts the entire gang under quarantine and, bored beyond measure as well as wanting to get back into the fight alongside the Guardian, the Newsboy Legion devise an escape. Suddenly there’s movement in Scrapper ample head of hair.

“Dere must be somethin’ movin‘ t’rough me hair! — and it’s scarin‘ da daylights out of me!” says Scrapper and, yep, you guessed it, a Scrapper Trooper crawls out of the brown locks, takes a seat on the bulbous nose of the kid and snaps a salute to his genetic “father”! “Wow! It’s a — Scrapper-Trooper! He’s our way out of here!” They instruct the little guy to crawl into and open an electronic lock, and they exit into… “An abandoned tunnel!” says Tommy. “The ‘Project’ builders must’ve stopped digging here when they struck an underground river!’ Fortuitously there’s a small motorboat and the boys take leave of The Project… (The kids do get involved in a tragic episode that minimally includes the little fellow, but we’ll discuss the details of that down the river, so to speak.)

Scrapper’s little buddy joins the crew on the visit to Scotland, where he plays his biggest role in the entire series. First, he thwarts Inter-Gang agent Felix MacFinney attempt to throw Jimmy and the boys overboard, and a little later living in his own mini-portable home. The team splits up with Jimmy and Scrapper on foot, the pair searching for the origin of the strange mythical creatures now scampering the braes of Scotland. After struggling through the thicket, they come to open country and take a breather. Scrapper, resting his back on a boulder, holds a box with shoulder strap and and a wire-meshed window, and he says, “I hope the little Scrapper Trooper’s okay!! I brought him along — in dis special box I made!!” Jimmy replies, “I knew you would! That’s why I chose you to come with me, Scrapper!” Superman’s Pal explains his reason and the pair start an afternoon siesta as Scrapper-Trooper stands guard.

“But nothing can guard against the Compressor Wave! It comes out of nowhere — and does its strange work!!”

Then Scrapper is nudged awake by a hand with a khaki-colored sleeve. “‘Scrapper One! Scrapper One! Wake up!!” The Newsboy Legionnaire rises from his slumber and sees a “full-size” Scrapper-Trooper. Still foggy, he says, “Oh! Hi, little Scrapper Trooper!!” Then it hits him — they are all the same size! “I told you that I saw something weird happen to you!!” Scrapper-Trooper says, “In short — you’ve been shortened!!” Yep, the guys have been miniaturized and, with a “Sixth Sense” that clones of The Project seem to possess, Scrapper-Trooper leads them to… Brigadoom! The trio has uncovered the location of Darkseid’s Evil Factory!

That’s enough of this adventure for now, as I’d like to detail it at the appropriate time, but suffice to say Scrapper-Trooper is an able and courageous asset to the adventurers as they do battle with Mokkari and Simyan, a menagerie full of prehistoric monsters — and even Jimmy himself, in the guise of Homo-Disastrous!!!

The last we see of Scrapper-Trooper is when he is hauled onto the Whiz Wagon at the climax of the “Brigadoom” trilogy and, ya gotta admit, he and his fellow clones were a great addition to the title. A fine example of Jack’s occasionally impish sense of humor, they also hinted at a dramatic aspect of The Project that was never fully developed in Jimmy Olsen — that they all shared strange, mysterious brain activity, maybe even E.S.P., common to artificially grown “test-tube” humans. While his clones didn’t share in their “original’s” Brooklyn accent or his pugnacious sense of humor, it is their stoic and reserved nature that juxtapose nicely with Scrapper.

Day 73: The Big Trap!

Yeah, I know: Previously in this debut issue of Mister Miracle, the “Big Trap” referred to is Thaddeus Brown’s act to escape the huge metal sphere barreling down to destroy the former “Great Thaddeus” bound to a tree, but nemesis Steel Hand’s idea is even a bigger threat. After the gangster renders the “Robo-Arm Wrestler” into scrap metal, Scott Free in the guise of Mister Miracle jumps through the Inter-Gang crime boss’s window and accosts Stuka, grabbing the henchman’s pistol out of his holster. Steel Hand yelps, “You! I-I don’t believe it! Y-you’re dead — dead!” Scott quips, “The Age of Miracles isn’t over yet, Steel Hand! Look again!

Thinking Scott Free is the late, great Thaddeus Brown, Steel Hand is incredulous. “But it isn’t possible! I saw you put down for the long count! I was there!” Scott, pointing Stuka’s handgun at the kingpin, replies, “I’ll bet you were!” (And clever wagering-themed retorts aside, Steel Hand was at the tragic event when the original Mister Miracle is struck down by a sniper’s bullet by direct order of the gangster!) “Get wise, Mister Miracle! Forget about our bet!” says Steel Hand, at which Scott replies, “Not a chance! It isn’t the money I want to win now — If I can get out of a trap you set, I claim your written confession to the shooting!”

(In the middle of Scott’s last statement, in a great bit, our hero cavalierly tosses Stuka’s weapon over his shoulder, which (intentional or not on Jack’s part) is a nice commentary on the super-hero’s development from presentation to actual comic book. Y’see, if you look at Jack’s concept drawing at the bottom of our “Day 70: Mister Miracle!” entry, you’ll see that the creator envisioned the character as sporting a futuristic pistol and holster, and this chucking away the handgun in issue one works for me as a “Who needs a gun when I have my wits?” type statement… Well, I dig it anyway…!)

Steel Hand summons his goons, who are astonished to see a walking, talking Mister Miracle (“The guy’s a hoodoo!!” yammers one), and they render Scott unconscious with a whack to the head with a rifle butt. “Good work!” Steel Hand tells his boys. “I’ll take over now!” Apparently anticipating the boss’s next move, a minion asks, “Why don’t you use your steel hand on him? He’ll never live through that!” The head honcho has another idea. “No! It’s time he gets what he asked for — an escape-proof trap!” (In hindsight, if only the big guy had listened to the underling, eh?)

This was the trap I was preparing before I soured on the wager…,” explains Steel Hand, who then picks up a telephone and asks (from the Inter-Gang switchboard, I reckon!), “Hello! Get me the secret Inter-Gang missile site!” Apparently the launch pad can be reserved on short notice, as within minimal time, gang members are at the controls of an imposing rocket, one thug noting that Steel Hand has ordered an immediate launch. Mister Miracle is then bound to the missile’s cone by captors who say, “Hurry, men! The rocket nose has been specially constructed with anchors for the chains!” and “Tie him tight! Make sure he can’t move! He’s coming to — Clear the launch area! Countdown has started!

Scott gains consciousness as the countdown ensues, thinking, “So! This is the ‘Big Trap!’ — clever — There’s no return from space –!” Then, somehow, seconds before liftoff, Scott is able to manipulate his still-chained hands together — which were stretched out to his left and right, respectively, when we see him chained by the baddies — and generate a crackling electrical charge by touching his index fingers together… (see, Scott Free is a man of miracles!).

The rocket takes off skyward and suddenly explodes, and Steel Hand, for the second time, is confident his enemy is finally dead… The relieved crime boss opens his office door to — urk! — find Mister Miracle sitting in Steel Hand’s chair! In a rage, the villain completely obliterates his own digs as he tries to karate-chop the dodging super escape artist. “Now, Mister Miracle,” says the bad guy, “You’ve just about ‘had it!‘ I don’t know how you got free of that missile — But –” Scott interrupts and responds, “I can show you how I might have done it, Steel Hand — I might have hidden Hyper-Sound Intensifiers in my gloves to break the metal chains,” and with a ZZAAAK he touches his fingers together and replicates the effect, only this time zapping his nemesis’s metal appendage! “See what sound waves do to your steel hand!” gloats Scott.

And, as is his wont, Mister Miracle continues to describe how he “might have” accomplished his escape from The Big Trap: “Perhaps I used miniature retro-jets to blast free of the missile!” And, yes, Scott gives an example, using the propulsion to fly across the room and, after socking Steel Hand in the jaw, continues to give away trade secrets by whipping out a small, cube-like device that is instantaneously pumping out lengths of synthetic fabric: “And a Compact Cocoon Spinner — which turns out yards of plastic material at fantastic speeds — it may have made a chute for me — but it will wrap you up in a package — for the law!

Our long-winded hero then pushes a couple of buttons on his midrift which emit air bursts, bragging, “As for beating you to your office — like a lowly squid — I might have used air jets — to shoot myself across the city –” (Well, truth be told, if the ill-appreciated aquatic cephalopod lived in the atmosphere; otherwise it uses water jets, but I’m just being a nudge, huh?) With that, Steel Hand, completely wrapped in the sheets and propelled to the door where law enforcement and Oberon are arriving, Steel Hand is finished and our story just about complete.

(There’s an endearing quality to Scott coyly revealing how he “might have” escaped the perils in a good number of issues, typically at the end of each story in the first handful of adventures. Jack was developing a nice formula to the story round-ups, for Oberon and for the readers, all dying to learn how Scott defied death yet another time. Fun stuff!)

In closing, the pair watch the cops gather up an incapacitated Steel Hand. “You’ve got a great act, Scott!” Oberon says (oblivious to revealing the masked hero’s true identity in front of the police). “I’d be proud to assist you!”

The new Mister Miracle (who is apparently not facing charges of breaking and entering) replies, “Done, Oberon! From now on, we’re both part of Mister Miracle — Super Escape Artist!

Day 72: “Robo-Arm Wrestler”!

Having ordered and witnessed the assassination of The Great Thaddeus (because the crime boss doesn’t want to be seen by peers and underlings as a welsher or is it as a small-time bettor? I’m not precisely sure the root of the villain’s lethal insecurity), Steel Hand looks for some recreation time by exercising his super-powerful hand. His main henchman, Stuka, apparently an inventor as well as assistant, has created a nameless robot for arm-wrestling bouts with his boss. “Well, Stuka!” says Steel Hand, “I see you’ve built a new toy!”

Looking like a life-size Rockem Sockem Robot — a very imposing sight from across the table, no doubt — is Stuka’s creation, an automaton (albeit rather shortlived!) with right hand significantly larger than the kingpin’s.

“Just for you, chief!” replies Stuka, holding a small device. “He was expensive — but he may be a match for you!”

Yeah, I see what’cha mean! I can use a work-out for the steel hand!” says the Inter-Gang regional chief. (It’s an interesting visual here as Steel Hand is either putting on a glove or taking one off. In both the original comic and the Omnibus reprint, the hand is colored as skin and the glove white (or silver), begging the question is the transplanted appendage organic flesh — a human hand — that was mutated to possess super-strength, or is it a chrome-plated mechanical hand? I always assumed the latter, but this panel hints at another possibility. Or was he just wearing a glove to protect (or disguise) a prosthetic extremity and the scene is simply miscolored?)

After Stuka says, “He’s not made out of tin cans, boss… He can punch holes in a battleship,” and as Steel Hand snaps back a reply — “So can I!” — the head gangster orders the robot activated. Naturally, an arm wrestling bout ensues, and both man and machine battle for dominance. “Not bad, Not bad! He’s powerful, all right!” observes Steel Hand. Stuka suggests, as he is manipulating the “remote control gismo,” “Shall I ‘up’ the pressure?” Steel Hand replies, “Yeah! That’s it! I wouldn’t be surprised if he could crush a building! But my steel hand is something else again! Nothing can match its strength — No power on Earth!”

Then, with a “KRAK,” “CLINK” and “PLONK,” Steel Hand renders the “Robo-Arm Wrestler” utterly useless, its hand completely shattered into metal shards. “My steel hand has made me a giant, see?” says the Edward G. Robinson wannabe as he stokes up a cigar, “This was just child’s play!” Stuka, observing the remnants of his invention, sucks up to his employer, “No one but you could have done this, boss! This metal hand is a wreck!”

Then, with the final word on Steel Hand’s defeated mechanized adversary, the crime lord says, “Well, he was good for a laugh! You can junk him now!” What an ignominious fate for Stuka’s expensive device!

Just then, leaping through the window is a figure from beyond the grave arriving to haunt Steel Hand once again…

Day 71: Steel Hand!

The villain Jack Kirby created for the first adversary to tangle with Mister Miracle? It’s Inter-Gang mob boss Steel-Hand, who lost his right hand to a machine gun fuselage and now sports a radiation-powered appendage that can destroy some of the strongest metal on the planet!

We first learn of Steel Hand when, after Thaddeus Brown has escaped the burning shed, a bunch of thugs come by for a visit. “The new arrivals emerge from a car — moving with silent, evil assurance — symbols of organized crime in the Atomic Age…” The Great Thaddeus recognizes the crew: “These men are a division of Inter-Gang!” (We know — right? — that this criminal association does Darkseid’s nefarious bidding on our planet, so their appearance is certainly a stupendous coincidence!)

The mobsters pull out their weapons and a free-for-all ensues with Scott Free and his carpetbag initiating the fray, joining Thaddeus and Oberon in fending off the villains. The good-guy trio take down the baddies and Scott, helping an exhausted Thaddeus to his feet, says, “Are you all right, sir? Perhaps it was unwise of me to start this fracas –” Thaddeus retorts, “There — was no choice! They came here for this –”

Scott: I realize that I have no right to ask — but are you involved in some way with — Inter-Gang?

Thaddeus: Not with Inter-Gang, boy! — With their division chief in this area — Steel Hand!

The scene shifts to the villain’s Metropolis headquarters, where his left hand holds a cigar and right is snugged inside of a typical Kirby contraption, and his underling is reporting the fight. “Trouble? Trouble? With an old ‘has been’ and a dwarf? All they had to do was push them around a little!” But Steel Hand hears of Scott Free — “Fast — good with his fists –” The bespectacled criminal takes his hand out of the container to reveal an apparently solid-metal hand!

Steel-Hand’s origin begins when he was a two-bit nobody. The gangster squawks (with no one in the room), “Ha ha ha — To think I was once at the end of my rope — a sniveling little loser — with his hand blasted by a Tommy-gun — then came a turn of luck — in the hospital — that surgeon — experimenting with transplants –” He approaches a huge riveted metal block, raising his metallic fist above his head, continuing, “He gave me this new hand! I didn’t know its history — but with radiation treatments, it gained power — power! My life changed after that! I smashed my way into a top job at Inter-Gang! — Just as easily as I smash this great bar of solid titanium!” With that, Steel Hand slams his… ummm… steel hand to decimate the enormous object!

Jack’s next caption reads, “But despite his arrogance, Steel Hand fears the loss of his status!! Somehow, Mister Miracle is linked with that deep-rooted fear! — And, thus, a brutal decision is made!” So the kingpin calls his henchmen into the room and plots the end of the Super Escape Artist!

Steel Hand tells his goons (who have delightful names in this tale: Stuka is his first lieutenant, plus there’s Herky and Nails), “I’m taking personal charge of the Mister Miracle job!” and Herky and Nails (who knows which is which!) reply, “We know what that means!” and “Right! We’ll get you our best sniper!

The next day, Steel Hand is near the spot of “The Big Trap” with a hired assassin. “Soon, it will be over — and I can forget Mister Miracle. Before I lose face — he’ll lose his life!” Then, as the sniper’s telescopic sight zeroes in on Thaddeus, the crime boss gloats, “Goodbye, Mister Miracle. All bets are off!

As we are tragically aware, Thaddeus Brown is killed, leaving Oberon and Scott to grieve. Sobbing, the tiny assistant finally explains the Brown-Steel Hand connection: “Poor Thaddeus! If only he hadn’t been so desperate to make a come-back — He needed money to do that — money he didn’t have — That’s why he went to Steel Hand — to remind him of a longstanding wager –”

“Go on, Oberon –” Scott gently prods, “Tell me the rest –”

The little man relents: “Thaddeus met Steel Hand in a hospital, years ago. Both men had serious injuries… to pass the time they made the wager… Steel Hand boasted he could stop Thaddeus with an escape-proof trap!” Scott surmises aloud the bet was probably $10,000 and the two bettors shook hands. Oberon continues, “Yes — it was only recently that we saw Steel Hand’s picture in the newspaper! He’d come a long way — too notorious — too powerful — to ignore or lose a wager! But Thaddeus saw him again — and now — this!

Cut to a few days later, when Steel Hand arm wrestles and beats a robot opponent, only to have the new Mister Miracle jump in a window behind the bad guy. “You! I-I don’t believe it! Y-you’re dead — dead!” They tussle while Steel Hand’s goons are notified and the Super Escape Artist is knocked unconscious, only to be placed in jeopardy by his new nemesis. “This time he gets what he asked for — an escape-proof trap!” vows Steel Hand.

Scott is tied to a rocket (as it seems Steel Hand does have some pull as criminal mastermind, as he can reserve use of the “secret Inter-Gang missile site” simply by calling ahead!) and, of course, our hero appears to die as the missile explodes in mid-air. A henchman says, “Chief — if Mister Miracle come back from that — he won’t even be in shape to haunt a house!” Steel Hand offers, “He was a weird one, all right! But he was human! And humans don’t have nine lives! Steel Hand is still top man! Remember that, you birds!”

Steel Hand returns to his “lavish office” only to find Scott Free sitting at his desk. Steel Hand goes berserk and trashes the room. “The Steel Hand is no myth!” thinks Mister Miracle. “It’s the deadliest of weapons!” Then our hero turns the tables on the Inter-Gang division chief and captures him to be delivered at the feet of arriving policemen. “Thanks, Mister Miracle,” says one officer. “His conviction will wreck Inter-Gang’s Eastern operation!”

We never again see this peculiar villain in the series and he’s not much missed, hardly one of the top echelon in Jack’s Rogues Gallery, but Steel Hand getting his comeuppance is a hoot (I’ll describe it in full in the issue round-up and/or story synopsis)…

Day 70: Mister Miracle!

“He cheats death! He defies man! NO TRAP CAN HOLD HIM!”

In our previous post, we’ve had a solid, pretty thorough look at the background of the person called Scott Free; now let’s examine the hero named Mister Miracle!

The original Mister Miracle was Thaddeus Brown, the renowned escape artist also known as The Great Thaddeus, and, as best as can be ascertained, has performed his death-defying act before audiences decades prior to the events of our current episode. Recently he has decided to stage a comeback, divising bigger and deadlier traps from which to escape. But time is catching up with the showman, enough so that his longtime faithful assistant Oberon fears for the old man’s ability. “Be content with your past greatness! — During these years of inactivity — time has passed you by!” But Thaddeus will have none of it.

Mister Miracle is an alter ego created by Thaddeus’ “late” son, Ted (whom we will later learn is quite alive, despite his father telling a visitor Ted was killed in the Korean War), complete with colorful costume and huge cape (looking at the get-up, the visitor speculates “Ted must have been a great fan of Superman!“). Thaddeus explains, “It wall all Ted’s idea! He created Mister Miracle — and brought the art of escape into a new decade!

But Thaddeus Brown’s comeback is cut short by a sniper’s bullet and his mantle is handed over to a newcomer who had just happened to be passing (one would assume) the Brown household the day prior. The young man, dressed in tie and jacket and carrying a carpetbag, was just in time to witness The Great Thaddeus rehearse a dangerous stunt, in full dress as Mister Miracle. Being bound in a metal contraption, Thaddeus tells Oberon, “We must give a flawless performance for that young onlooker!

When things seem to go wrong (things always appear to go wrong when Mister Miracle performs — that’s part of his appeal!), the passerby jumps the fence and intercedes to help, but Thaddeus does escape on his own. Introductions are made. “As for you, my boy,” Thaddeus greets the stranger, “Yours is a rare species these days! My name is really Thaddeus Brown — and I’m in your debt!”

“Surely, you’re joking,” the young man rejoins. “I was quite ineffectual! However, I’m glad you’re safe! My name is Scott — Scott Free!

Thaddeus smiles and says, “Ha –! I don’t believe it! Scott Free, eh? Ha! Ha! Ha! Forgive me, boy! but that name does evoke a reaction.”

Yes, the unassuming stranger is the same Scott Free who has recently fled his adopted world of Apokolips, unwittingly breaking The Pact and reigniting the conflict between New Genesis and Apokolips. The incredible coincidences stretch credulity and one can’t help but surmise that more than fate is in play here, given Scott’s prior tutoring in the escape arts by Himon on Apokolips and need for a vocation, never mind refuge from the agents of Darkseid prowling Earth in search of him… Let’s just say the fact Scott Free is passing by this particular suburban house at just the right moment is fortuitous beyond measure and ya might as well credit destiny. (Me, I still think this is all planned on Scott’s part — he needs a hideout, a new identity, a way to make money using his abilities… now, how he protected the cover of anonymity, well, maybe not so well, but he did start with a plan… or so says I!)

Upon avenging Thaddeus Brown by seeing his killer brought to justice, the young man assumes the role of a master escape artist with Oberon’s blessing, taking sanctuary in Thaddeus’ home and donning the costume of Mister Miracle. No doubt the tiny assistant can see in the newcomer’s bag of tricks gadgets that can perform miracles, as well observe the young man’s charm and wondrous abilities, and decides there might be a good life to be had in this escape game with a performer like Scott Free.

Let’s now have a peek into Scott’s carpetbag: When Scott respectfully suggests that the Great Thaddeus think all of his act through and Oberon surmises Scott might be a genius, he replies, “I’m not a genius, sir, but I think I do have a bag of new tricks!” And it seems there are wondrous items therein and Thaddeus asks Scott from whence they came. “My inheritance, that is all, sir! Things left with a foundling by parties unknown!” The young man tells the old escape artist this is a new era: “‘Gadgets,’ sir! This is an age of gadgets — they work on gases — liquids and solids –”

Among the Mister Miracle gizmos in the series:

    • Intense Magnetic Repulsion device (causing chains to fly apart)
    • Hyper-Sound Intensifiers (breaking metal chains when bound to a missile) and Retro-Jet Back Pack
    • Compact cloth Cocoon Spinner
    • Pseudo-Unit/Follower (artificial human which copies movements)
    • The multi-purpose Multi-Cube (one component is miniature laser beam, another sprays a destructive corrosive, sends out strong electro-sonic signal
    • Laser-jets in boot soles
    • Handy-dandy ejection seat
    • Large Fibroid Cocoon (shock-resistant, heat-resistant, expandable)
    • Anti-Grav gimmicks
    • Ability to create small fission blast from hidden circuits
    • Boot and finger lasers
    • Invisible glove studs (generates enormous electric power to send through walls of house; transmits micro-electric waves through eyes)
    • Beam neutralizes fuse in grenade
    • Circuitry to track subject
    • Circuitry to destroy ordnance
    • Glove delivers violent shock blast

At one point Scott relies on his sophisticated wiring to such a degree, he say, “I can activate my circuitry almost without thinking!”

But two of his absolute coolest gadgets deserve special mention here:

Mister Miracle’s Aero-Discs: Earned by Scott during his training as an Aero-Trooper on Apokolips (“As a former candidate for Granny’s flight troops, I earned these!”), these nondescript metallic cylinders, each a fraction of an inch thick, give the hero the ability to fly through the air standing up, a graceful and imposing sight. It’s obvious, in “Himon,” that Scott took the transport mechanisms with him when he escaped via Boom Tube to Earth, but late in the series, in #15, Mister Miracle makes a curious comment when flying with Barda, she on her own pair:

Barda: There’s more than one way to follow a quarry –! These Aero-Discs are perfect for the job, Mister Miracle!

Mister Miracle: I built these for the act, Barda. Where we grew up, the Anti-Grav vehicle is as common as an Earth automobile.

What’s that all about? (And what’s with the use of the lowly period punctuation instead of multiple exclamation points, eh???!!!)

But the greatest of all devices is Scott Free’s Mother Box, a gift from her creator Himon, and a life-saver throughout the series. (“Well — there’s Mother Box! She HELPS — but she doesn’t do it all! But no one can build her!! She must be earned!!“) As we’ve found in the earlier entry devoted exclusively to the Mother Box, a miraculous contraption held by many of New Genesis and some on Apokolips, Mother Box is a sentient computer who has emotions and rudimentarily communicates via pings, can sooth and heal its possessor, and perform any number of amazing feats. It can also die.

When first we see Scott’s beloved friend, he uses it to ease fatally struck Thaddeus into the hereafter. The original Mister Miracle’s last words are, “What is it — I hear — a sound — a voicecomforting, easing — the pain is — gone –” as Scott’s device softly pings to the dying man. “It looks like a box — but it has a strange power to it –” Scott tells Oberon. Mother Box can also kill, as she destroys Overlord after almost being killed herself, and later, helps her master avoid being impaled when a metal bar is jammed through a trunk where our hero is trapped.

There’s a remarkable occurrence when after she is almost fried by Overlord, Scott performs a ritual to revive her, as he sits cross-legged concentrating completely on her well-being:

Scott: I-I haven’t explained Mother Box to you, Oberon — But she is dear to me — and I must help her!

Oberon: Y-you mean that thing — is alive?

Scott: In a way, she is! But, now, she’s hurt — weak — I must pour out my lovemy belief — to make her respond!

When poor Mother Box is completely fritzed by Doctor Bedlam, Scott duplicates her circuits inside of his hood and tricks Bedlam who is encased in an “electronic web of micro-cosmic atoms.” Unfortunately, from thereon in, virtually no reference is made to her, now just a bunch of wiring and microchips inside the mask of Mister Miracle. An ignoble fate, but she was really something in her day, she was!

Instead of describing the retinue of villains and descriptions of his death-defying escapes (which we’ll all get to anyway if you stick with 365JK4W!), allow me to point out some important aspects of Mister Miracle worth inspection:

Scott and Barda: A Love Story — A wonderfully satisfying development in Mister Miracle is the growing romance of the title character and Big Barda, one of the most effervescent — and originalfemmes ever to grace the comic book page. (Suffice to say, there’s a big entry on this delightful Special Power Force soldier when we get to her!) In the beginning, while we may have sensed a bit more affection between the two than might be usual between military cadets, Scott and Barda were typically shown as comrades, albeit very close soldiers in arms. In a memorable exchange prior to the return to Apokolips storyline:

Scott: More than that, Barda! Living, or dead — you and I are proof to all of Apokolips — that it can fall!!

Barda: Well, then!! Victory before the battle leaves little left but to enjoy it!! Let’s tear the top off Apokolips!

It’s around that time when readers could sense the couple was falling in love, but we didn’t know for sure until the Great Thaddeus’ son Ted boldly asks Barda the question: “Tell me — are you in love with Mister Miracle, Barda?” Barda replies, “Until now — I-I never gave it much thought!” But we knew all along, didn’t we…?

Still, we’d have to wait until the final issue, when the pair are in a veritable foxhole under fire for the big clinch to finally happen. Huddled in a earthen tunnel, their forms up next to one another, the bees start to fly and the birds start to sing:

Barda: Sweet fool! That was a close call! Why didn’t you leave me?

Scott: The answer is simple — now. I love you, Barda — I can’t live without you —

Barda: Strange — I feel the same way about you

Scott: We’ve both been fools, Barda — we’ve wasted precious time —

Barda: Yes. We’ve spent our time on all the things that don’t count! [They kiss]

Scott: Then, let’s do something that does count! Let’s get married! Right away!

This being a Jack Kirby-catered wedding, you can imagine the guests, never mind the agenda! In a beautiful scene, we see our old friends Orion, Lightray and Metron for the first time in many months (as Mister MIracle had basically become a non-Fourth World title beginning a year or so prior, at the time the other titles were cancelled), and Orion says, “Here, in a gathering of our enemies, The Source has decreed that a wedding take place!” Scott Free’s own father is there — Highfather — who officiates:

Highfather: So it must be! … This cannot be stopped! The Source has sanctioned this marriage in words of fire! When I touch you both with the Wonder Staff, The Source shall make you as one!

Barda: I am eternal with Scott Free!

Scott: I am eternal with Barda.

Highfather: Thus, it is done!

What a way to end the series!

What I have so failed to mention is the irresistible charm of Mister Miracle, both as a flamboyant, colorful swashbuckler of a super-hero and as a somewhat atypical personality for comics. Scott Free exudes a sincerity and grace that, for this writer at least, rings especially true, resonantly so. American comic books of the costumed character variety had become accursed with the advent of “camp” — [American Heritage Dictionary: camp n. 1. An affectation or appreciation of manners and tastes commonly thought to be outlandish, vulgar, or banal. 2. Banality or artificiality, when appreciated for its humor. —adj. Having the qualities or style of camp. … To act in an outlandish or effeminate manner. [Origin obscure.] — camp’y adj.] — which had rigid, square-jawed hyper-muscled Boy Scouts mouthing pithy homilies with a vastly out-dated “Aww, shucks” faux humility (“Just doing my duty, ma’am!”). And the mainstream comics’ reaction to the teevee show Batman and its wake of damage, coupled with the iconoclastic sentiment of an increasingly cynical and pessimistic society, was the advent of the anti-hero in the medium, particularly in the form of the former Caped Crusader and now Darknight Detective. But Mister Miracle, for all of his nuttiness in voluntarily facing death time and time again, is authentically humble and quite well-mannered, astonishing attributes for a character who has been raised in what might as well be Torquemada’s persuasion chambers.

From the very start of our saga, Scott Free exudes deference and respect to those who deserve the courtesies: The young man tells Thaddeus Brown and Oberon, “Meeting you both has been a unique experience!” and is especially kind to his new companion, the devoted Oberon. When the assistant quizzes Scott on his alien upbringing and the son of Izaya struggles with the memory, sensitive Oberon kindly tells him, “There’s a haunting look of fear in your eyes — and pain! Say no more! I know you as a brave and sincere friend!” To that, Scott responds to the three-foot-nothing assistant, “Thank you, Oberon! You’re a big man — the kind one looks up to!”

During the pair’s nightmarish experience in the X-Pit, as the rising muck and gunk threaten to engulf Scott and Oberon, Mister Miracle is willing to sacrifice himself for the little person by holding up the newfound friend above his Super Escape Artist head. And yet, as we see in the conclusion of the same episode, Scott can drop his good manners to tell his old jailkeepers a thing or two: Having destroyed Granny Goodness’s beloved Overlord, our hero goes nose-to-nose with the harpy and brashly tells her, “And that brings me to my parting words!!! Dry up and blow away, Granny Goodness!” (Soon after, aloft on his Aero-Discs with his assistant riding his shoulders, Mister Miracle reflects, “Oberon — it took a lot of nerve to say that to a terror like Granny!” Amen to that!)

There are a few other instances of Scott being understandably ill-mannered to his former superiors — giving Virman a veritable Bronx Cheer by barking at the fake Prussian, “What if I tell you to go blow your nose!?!” — and to future allies — after first meeting the Apokolips rebel leader and Himon greets him as a “skinhead,” Scott boasts, “How dare you call me that? I’m an Aero-Trooper of Darkseid’s own elite! — but etiquette is not paramount with the Super Escape Artist. Rather, Scott believes greatly in fairness and honor.

More evidence of Scott’s grace come through with his immediate adoption of Shilo Norman, the kid-sidekick addition to the team late in the series. Not only is Mister Miracle kind and supportive while knowing the boy will be disobedient, but he’s adept at lifting Shilo’s confidence when the youngster needs it most: “You’ve got what it takes, Shilo,” says Scott. Coordination. “Courage. And standards of your own!” Shilo protests, “Have you taken a good look at me?” And Scott replies, “Yes –! I see me — as I once was — trying to escape to anywhere.” Barda adds, “And I helped him do it! I couldn’t fail him! I won’t fail you, Shilo. You see — I once lost a friend who couldn’t — escape!” (A remarkable statement, that last one by Barda, in that it references the torture and murder of Auralie quite a while after the series had been virtually stripped of the Fourth World backstory.)

Scott Free’s courtly manner can be downright comical at times: In his exchange with Kanto the Assassin and, quite a bit later, when the team checks into a sketchy hotel. Scott tells the stoic and somewhat unhelpful innkeeper, “You’ve been very helpful. The gang and I appreciate it…! … The room is comfortable — the service delightful — and now, we bid you good night …!” and Mister Miracle even gives a low bow to the dastardly hotel manager and reffering to him as a “charming fellow”! (Truth be told, the Super Escape Artist does tell the scoundrel what he really think, as our hero bops the innkeeper on the nose, “And now, I’d like to show you what I think of your hospitality!ZOK!)

When Granny’s officer Virman Vundabar snifs at Barda, “Great Darkseid rules Apokolips like a colossus!! His is the creed of destruction! — not fair play!” it is a perfect juxtaposition of just why Scott Free is so very out of place in his adopted world. Y’see, if Mister Miracle is about anything, he’s about a righteous, almost pathological devotion to fair play. The cover blurb on #1, I think, is wrong: The character doesn’t cheat death; he just beats it fair and square, time and time again!

Engaged in a death match, in the Id world of The Lump, rather than boast the usual Marvel super-hero “I’m gonna thrash your hiney” exclamations, Mister Miracle pleads for a peaceful resolution: “Look here, Lump! I’ve submitted to ‘Trial by Combat,’ but the choice of this battleground was not mine!” But the pink-pigmented monstrosity isn’t listening, “This is my world! My world! Here, I live! Here I’m free!!” But Scott persists, “Believe me! I-I understand! Perhaps if we both remain cool we can reach an honorable solution!” But Scott’s rationality does not sway the tragic creature.

Scott Free fervently believes in righteous behavior despite being taught despicable values. His belief system is all about doing the right thing and doing things right. While he grabs Stuka’s gun and boasts to his first adversary as super-hero, “The age of miracles isn’t over yet, Steel Hand!” Mister Miracle doesn’t shoot his enemy (though momentarily strikes a pose similar to the one Jack used in his initial pitch of the character — seen below — when the creator envisioned the character wielding a weapon), and in fact just chucks it away!

And the Master of the Holocaust’s hierarchy knows full well of Scott’s sense of duty and honor, as Doctor Bedlam barks at him, “Scott Free! In the name of the great Darkseid, ruler of all life on Apokolipssurrender yourself for punishment — or die in the trap I’ve been empowered to devise!” And, talking to the bad doctor on the phone, Scott can adopt a pose of military formality, this after he’s already escaped from Apokolips: “Hello! This is Scott Free! State your terms for battle, Doctor Bedlam!

(And Mister Miracle also expects his ex-superiors to adhere to proper rules of engagement: When Bedlam holds forth his diabolical “Paranoid Pill,” Scott declares, “”You cannot tranquilize an adversary! He must be equally aware, to take full advantage of what weapons he possesses!” The Super Escape Artist insists that his friends, too, exhibit righteous behavior, as he tells his companion — about to throttle Granny — “No, Barda! You mustn’t!! … I’ve won my trial by combat!”)

Scott has a code of conduct at home, as well, telling his future wife, who has been bickering with Oberon, “This is a house of friends, Barda! The strong don’t rule here!” And his professional ethics are discussed in an amusing moment with Oberon. When his assistant insists on hearing how Scott escaped a certain-death trap, Scott replies, “I-it just isn’t cricket for Mister Miracle to reveal his amazing secrets!” a declaration immediately followed by a blow-by-blow description of the hero’s efforts under the guise of coy suppositions.

Before we end, allow me to discuss Scott’s healthy self-esteem and ego, remarkable attributes for the former orphan who grew in an emotionally desolate environment. For kicks, here is a collection of his boasts throughout the series:

“Having inherited this escape-act from the original Mister Miracle, I must constantly devise newer and more exciting improvisations!”

“Why, any escape-artist could make short work of those rope! But it takes a master to play it that close and cool! Sometimes the best performances are lost on the wrong audience!”

“It was indeed a time to panic! But was Mister Miracle that type? Suppose he wasn’t! Suppose he coolly inched his bound hands…”

Sorry to frustrate you, Lump! But cheating death is my business!

Never lose confidence in one who knows his trade, Barda!”

“Barda and I are special people! — With special powers!

“You forget, Virman! I’m still the fastest moving target there is!”

While we are privy, upon reading “The Pact” that Scott Free is the son of Izaya the Inheritor — the supreme leader of New Genesis, Highfather himself — there’s never an indication, in the entire series, that Scott knows of his august heritage. Yes, Highfather does perform the marriage ceremony for his son and Big Barda, but ne’er a hint is given that he is father of the groom. And, come to think of it, while each of the new gods on Scott’s birth planet seem to show aptitude for fantastic powers, Scott Free possess relatively mundane abilities. Yes, his timing and physical agility is extraordinary by Earth standards, and his grace under fire exemplary, but couldn’t that fairly be credited to his Aero-Trooper training on Apokolips as well as the brutal tutelage of Granny and her Happiness Home flunkies? Certainly he’s smart, clever and resourceful, but Scott is nowhere near Metron’s class on the intellect scale… No, Scott can’t measure up to the residents of Supertown when it comes to the physical and mental realms. I think, maybe, his is the power of the heart, resolved to live his life in complete defiance of fear and death, loving and loyal to friends, compassionate and caring to whomever seeks his help. For all the horrors Scott has suffered — mother killed, abandoned by his father, a brutal upbringing in Granny’s hellish institution, savagely beaten and ostracized by his peers, finally finding a place to belong in Himon’s sanctuary only to have it destroyed, realizing the implications of Auralie’s ruthless murder (that there never will be no room for individuality, beauty or art in Darkseid’s domain), nightmarish forces snapping at his heels to kill him — for all that, Scott Free remains hopeful, optimistic and a man of the heart, unafraid to show love, unafraid to stand up to evil, unafraid to believe in a better universe. Unafraid.

My love of Jack Kirby the man, as well as the artist, prompts me to search for autobiographical hints and shadows in his work, and I find it in the classic romance story “Different,” in Benjamin Grimm and his tribulations with the Yancy Street Gang, in Orion’s internal fury and external beauty… I discover hints of it everywhere in his endeavors, often minute, sometimes writ large; but the character of Mister Miracle — more properly, Scott Free — strikes me as being the most autobiographical of characters, if you will. Jack escaped from the slums of the Lower East Side and was compelled to be an individual by finding and being himself by his art. Always beset by adversity, as we all are in one way or another, he preservers, consistently striving to be better by transforming the gritty violence and destitution of his youth into exquisite and meaningful self-expression… no mean feat in a commercial field. Coming into this world with nothing and leaving our earthly plane after having given so much. Well, if that’s not a miracle…