Category Archives: Jimmy Olsen #133

Day Three: Morgan Edge & Galaxy Broadcasting!

An inspired updating of the Superman mythos took place when the Man of Steel’s über-editor Mort Weisinger was stepping down at DC in the early 1970s and newly-arrived artist/writer/editor Jack Kirby introduced sinister corporate takeover mogul Morgan Edge as now-TV reporter Clark Kent’s boss. (Technically, Murray Boltinoff was listed as JO editor, but that wouldn’t last too long.) Edge is a slick, devious, urbane and, we soon learn secretly (in JO #134), agent of the most malignant force in the universe, Darkseid, relentless seeker of the Anti-Life Equation, to boot!

Edge, who was a clothes horse, always dressed to the nines in snappy, pin-stripped business suits, would appear as foil in all the Superman family books, particularly in Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane, but, when DC was losing confidence on the Fourth World titles, the duplicitous CEO would fade from the comics line. But while he was with us, sporting a perennial cigarette holder and decked in a shyster’s pin-striped suit, Edge kept the entire cast perpetually on… edge!

In the New York Times Magazine article on the relevancy in Marvel and DC comic books (“Shazam! Here Comes Captain Relevant,” by Saul Braun, May 2, 1971), the writer describes the Earthling allies of Apokolips: “…[I]n support of Darkseid are middle managers and technocrats of the Establishment, like Morgan Edge, a media baron who treats his new employee Clark Kent — now a TV newscaster — abominably.”

On the FB community page, Gary Leach mentions Edge wasn’t just a minion of the Evil One: “In spite of being an agent of Darkseid, [Edge] did seem genuinely interested in the Earthly fortunes of GBS (which we learn later to be a prime example of the acorn not falling very far from the tree).”

I’ve sometimes wondered, not too seriously, if Jack had based Edge on a real-life media tycoon, particularly the remarkable Steve Ross, the entrepreneurial wheeler-dealer who would eventually head the Time Warner Inc. communications empire. Just because I’m crazy like that, indulge me with this side-talk on Ross and his relationship to DC Comics, and maybe (just maybe) why there are similarities between Steve and Morgan:

In the mid-’60s, National Periodical Publications, a.k.a. DC Comics, consisted of three divisions: comics publishing, magazine distribution (Independent News Co.) and the recently acquired licensing arm (Licensing Corporation of America), which licensed DC characters to Hollywood, television producers, toy manufacturers… anyone, basically. The cultural explosion of the Batman TV show, a phenomenally successful, if shortlived series, made NPP a very attractive possible acquisition. The rapidly growing Kinney National Services (parking lots, limos, cleaning services, and other ventures, including funeral homes) was a company interested in merging with companies which catered to the leisure time of Americans. (Economists believed, during that era, we’d have to work only four days a week and have pah-lenty of idle time (right!).) Magazine distribution (IND, the most lucrative aspect of NPP) fit right into that prediction. So, for a cool $60 million, Kinney snapped up the House That Superman Built, in 1968.

The head of Kinney was Steve Ross, a bon vivant as colorful as any comic-book character and, in some ways, not unlike King Kirby. Born into poverty in Brooklyn’s tough Flatbush neighborhood, when Ross (birth name: Steven Jay Rechnitz) was a teen, quoting his 1992 New York Times obituary: “[H]e was summoned to his father’s deathbed to learn that his sole inheritance consisted of this advice: There are those who work all day; those who dream all day, and those who spend an hour dreaming before setting to work to fulfill those dreams. ‘Go into the third category,’ his father said, ‘because there’s virtually no competition.'”

Ross took the advice and, starting out as a particularly charming undertaker at his father-in-law’s funeral home, went on to create and head the largest communications conglomerate in the world, Time Warner, which remains the parent company of DC Comics. His achievements are amazing, his personality larger than life…

(There is no evidence, per se, that Ross was like Morgan Edge in being an agent for a great malevolent force, but it’s interesting to learn he was dogged to the end of his days of being, to again quote the NYT obit, “the subject of persistent innuendo involving a case in which two senior Warner executives, close friends of Mr. Ross, were convicted for their part in a racketeering scheme involving a mob-connected theater in Tarrytown, N.Y., a suburb of New York City.” Kirbyophiles may want to know that one of those “senior Warner executives” was onetime LCA head Jay Emmett, nephew of Jack Lebowitz, the former owner of National Periodical Publications… T’is a fascinating story…)

(Tom Stewart, in the reply section, suggests the real-life Edge prototype just might be early ’60s Columbia Broadcasting System president James Aubrey, who shared with GBS President Edge the nickname “The Smiling Cobra”! Judging by the info on the Wikipedia page, our friend just might be correct! Nice catch, T.S.!)

But I digress…

Galaxy Broadcasting System (GBS), the conglomerate headed by Edge, was a perfect updating as a relevant place for Supe’s alter ego, reporter Clark Kent, to hang his hat. It was, after all, the Age of TeeVee, and broadcast news was king. Is this a linking of the merger mania of that time with the ruler of Apokolips? Stay tuned!

Day Two: The “New” Newsboy Legion!

Jacob Kurtzberg (the birth name of Jack “The King” Kirby) grew up in the rough ’n’ tumble streets of New York City’s Lower East Side, living a hard-scrabble childhood where kids survived by their wits and fists. The ghetto was rife with real-life gangsters and kid gangs, and (as seen in Jack’s superb autobiographical tale, “Street Code” [remastered in Streetwise, co-edited by yours truly and John Morrow, esteemed TJKC editor/publisher]) life was anything but idyllic. Perhaps the two most idolized local sons were, tellingly, Hollywood actor James “Public Enemy” Cagney and real-life hoodlum Charles “Lucky” Luciano (considered the “father” of organized crime). Early on, Jake was determined to flee the ghetto and to pursue life as an artist by any means necessary. His dream was one of escape.

Kid gangs were most often distinguished by ethnicity, with an Italian crew on one block, a band of Irish punks on another, but certain areas were often mixed, where Jews mixed with Irish and Italian families. The common bond that cut across all types was living in poverty. In 1935, when Jake was in his late teens, the play Dead End by Sidney Kingsley premiered on Broadway and, within two years, the social commentary was adapted as a Hollywood movie. Dead End was a scathing indictment of East Side poverty and, of interest to us, it featured a group of teenage boys who would be immediately designated as “The Dead End Kids.” The gang appeared in seven Warner Brothers movies (including the Cagney vehicle Angels With Dirty Faces) and, remarkably, were spun off in three other film series, The East Side Kids (21 movies), Tough Little Guys (12 movies, three 12-chapter serials), and The Bowery Boys (an astounding 48 movies, called by Wikipedia, “the longest feature-film series in motion picture history,” a run that ended in 1958). Kid gangs were obviously a Hollywood sensation.

Leave it to Simon & Kirby to adapt the movie genre to the medium as, fresh from creating Captain America, the renowned team originated the first kid gang in comics, The Young Allies, a group which included a pugnacious streetfighter, a genius boy inventor, a chubby boy, a token (and reprehensible racial stereotype) black kid, and two super-hero sidekicks, Cap’s Bucky Barnes and the Human Torch’s Toro. The first issue of their same-named title [cover date Summer 1941] was an immediate hit and S&K had another notch on their creative belt. Naturally, upon their move to National (DC) Comics, they would immediately establish two new kid gangs, The Boy Commandos and The Newsboy Legion.

The original Newsboy Legion first appeared in Star Spangled Comics #7 [cover date Apr. ’42] and their turf was Metropolis’s “Suicide Slum,” the same beat as young police officer Jim Harper, a do-gooder determined to improve the lives of the ghetto kids. The gang was a somewhat stereotypical bunch, mostly derived from Hollywood clichés: Scrapper, pretty much the crew’s leader, was the back-alley brawler, complete with prerequisite Brooklyn accent; Tommy, the nondescript good-looking, level-headed All-American teenager; Big Words, the bespectacled genius with overblown vocabulary; and Gabby, little tough guy with endless big talk. The lads, each one an orphan, hawked newspapers for a living and, of course, were embroiled in an endless string of crime-fighting adventures, told with the indomitable S&K gusto and verve. (We’ll leave a description of their illustrious co-star, The Guardian, and that vigilante’s relationship with rookie cop Harper, for the appropriate future entry.)

The original Newsboy Legion would sell their last edition in 1947 [SSC #64, Jan.] and be all but forgotten until…

Perhaps Jack recalled the ’40s kid gang had lived in the same city as Superman — that metropolis called, umm, Metropolis — when planning his run on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen (reportedly one of DC’s lowest-selling titles at that time), with the intention to (of course) dramatically reverse the title’s fortunes. [VERY important to note, as Mike Hill notes in a reply, whether low-selling or not, as Mark Evanier points out in the JK4WO v.1 Afterword, Jack’s motivation for choosing JO was because there was no regular creative team assigned to the title and the King was loathe to push anyone out of a regular gig.] (It is difficult, sometimes, to imagine Jack planning anything as he seemed to approach the drawing table and spontaneously unleash his incredible imagination onto Bristol board, just allowing the epic to flow from his pencil unrestrained… like his characters, taking the adventure as it comes.) Assuredly he had affection for the group as he featured them as permanent co-stars in his debut effort at DC in 1970… well, not “them” exactly:

I guess the “introducing” blurb on JO #133’s cover was technically correct (though I’m still wary), as this ’70s version of the Newsboy Legion actually was comprised of (excepting one new addition) the sons of the original group, but they looked and acted precisely like their namesakes (albeit with “junior” attached to each name). The new member? Well, one might dismiss “Flipper Dipper” (or is it “Flippa Dippa”?) as a token black character but, whatever, the youthful frogman was a typically wonky Kirby concept: delightfully idiosyncratic and not without charm. When Jack got weird, he did it like he did everything else: He got weird in a big way!

(Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman’s text page, “The Newsboy Legion Returns” (JO #141) says there was a change made between Golden-Age character and Bronze-Age counterpart: “Gabby [Jr.]’s face has been slightly altered so that he no longer resembles a youthful version of President [Richard M.] Nixon, who had not yet entered public life when [the original] Gabby was designed.”)

The “new” Newsboy Legion are out to make news themselves, as they enlist Jimmy Olsen’s help to explore the “Wild Area,” to fly into a danger zone in the Big Words-designed “Whiz Wagon” [see Day One post]. Join us tomorrow as we focus on J.O.’s duplicitous new employer, Morgan Edge and his Galaxy Broadcast System! It’ll be, as James puts it, “Garooveee!”

Day One: The Whiz Wagon!

The Whiz Wagon is the super-cool, silver-coated, flying (sporting vertical-takeoff capability), TV camera-mounted “Miracle Car” designed by Newsboy Legionnaire Big-Words and piloted by Superman’s pal, Jimmy Olsen for much of Jack’s run on the title [#133-139, 141-148]. It sure looks like the “Hot Wheels” vehicle of the dreams of many a kid… Remember, Jack made up his own real version out of Matchbox toys for use in the photo collages in subsequent issues of JO.

The comics creator is firing on all cylinders with his futuristic vehicle, finally giving the non-super-hero cub reporter some stylish wheels, which we learn in this issue is financed by the suspicious new owner of The Daily Planet, media mogul Morgan Edge (who is also — gasp! — an agent for the evil Darkseid, dastardly ruler of Apokolips), with a nefarious intention!

Let’s hear from the creator himself, in the JO #134 text page essay, “The Whiz Wagons Are Coming!” excerpt following:

“…The age of the multi-purpose vehicle is rapidly ‘fleshing out’ — and not even the sky can be termed as the limit. Add enough accessories to the average car and it would take you anywhere, to the submerged canyons off the Continental Shelf or outwards to the ‘deeps’ of space. This would take heaps of money to accomplish, at present, fanatical dedication on temper-tantrum level, and the readiness of universal acceptance.

“Nobody owns a Whiz Wagon yet. But we’ve got a proxy model at National Periodicals [DC Comics] and it’s being tested by young, enthusiastic superstars like Jimmy Olsen and the Newsboy Legion. The ‘miracle’ car is real in their realm and they’re having a wild, wild whirl at it. It’s an experience in true projection. Each successive story situation becomes another hurdle for the Whiz Wagon to overcome its spectacular drive towards eventual reality. It is bound to enrich us in some manner, whether we wreck the consarn multi-gadget or refine it to function in the most extreme conditions. The idea is to theorize, analyze, explore and modify, accept or reject a variety of materials, create the schematics and fluid designs which change in many intricate ways to satisfy our individual vision of what a Whiz Wagon should be.

“After all, it is part of man’s dream to do whatever he lawfully wishes, to go wherever his fancy takes him, to enjoy an unfettered freedom he cannot yet experience.

“We invite your involvement with the Whiz Wagon. What the heck, the professional engineers will produce it in time, but it won’t look as groovy as ours. Not if we have a kind of ‘Create-In,’ take what we know about anything which is relative to the subject, pour it into practical channels, and zero in on the developing image.

“At worst, the results will certainly separate the pragmatists from the visionaries. At best, there will be something in your effort that the next individual can use. something he didn’t think about, something which could open up newer, wider, constructive avenues.

“At present, the Whiz Wagon is no more than life in search of stimulating ZONK and ZAP. It may be its happiest stage. There are no standard models. Each individual has the opportunity to ‘roll his own.’

“National’s Whiz Wagon was designed by myself, put through some wild initial paces on a ‘Hairie’ Zoomway specifically created for that purpose. […]

“But the point is that with each successive test of the National Whiz Wagon, a newer and greater experience for the reader must materialize from it. It’s a kind of ‘Kirby’s Law,’ if you will: label it best as the ‘Super-bonus Effect.’ In real life, the principle would still hold. The multi-purpose vehicle must produce the multi-effectual experience. If you have a car which can tunnel its way to the center of the Earth, the Super-bonus Effect must ensue. The trip will far from parallel a drive through Main Street.

“At this junction, we must eternally pause, for the eternal wiseacre to counter with the quixotic: ‘After the Whiz Wagon, — what?’ And the answer is, ‘That’s all there is’ — unless you find the roads you can’t see — listen for the traffic you can’t hear — and take all the turns not shown on the map. Take a positive step in any of these directions — and you’ve got a brand new Whiz Wagon!”

Seats six and is equipped with magnetic repulsion and the GPS-like Computi-Pilot, but I’m betting the mileage is awful… and, please, no trying to “roll your own” while driving, as you need to stay alert and keep your eyes on the Zoomway!

Tomorrow: The “New” Newsboy Legion!