Category Archives: Supporting Characters

Day 111: Goody Rickels!

Goody Rickels? Seriously?

Under the Kirby’s magic touch, Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen goes from the sublime to the ridiculous with the arrival of real-life standup comedian Don Rickle’s “long lost alter ego,” Goody Rickels, a researcher for the Galaxy Broadcasting System who accompanies Jimmy and The Guardian in their tussle with Inter-Gangster Ugly Mannheim.

Day 110: Verna & Ray Johnson!

Sergeant Willie Walker, the alter ego of The Black Racer, is cared for by his sister Verna and her husband Ray Johnson, a young African American couple, and all three reside in a Metropolis ghetto apartment. We meet the couple on the final page of this issue after The Black Racer has transformed back into the paraplegic: “Moments later, the two people who have taken care of Willie Walker enter the room — his sister Verna and her husband, Ray Johnson.”

Verna: Willie! Willie! Oh, Ray — we shouldn’t have gone out and left him alone!

Ray: Willie’s okay! — I mean — as well as he could be! Besides, we arranged for the neighbors to check on him!

Verna: They were no help! They were busy with all that trouble tonight! We can’t let this happen again, Ray! We can’t leave Willie alone this way!

Ray: Well, who could foresee that they were gonna find a dead hoodlum outside this building?

Verna: Willie was here! He might have been hit by a stray bullet! And he can’t move or shout for help!

Ray: Yes, Willie must have heard the shots! But I’m sure he didn’t get involved for better reasons than our neighbors!

Verna: Well, they’re all excited now! The police are on their way!

Ray: Poor Willie! What must he be thinking?

We next see the pair very briefly in a pair of panels in the next issue, when after The Black Racer again assumes the war veteran’s identity, and smoke wafts about the air in his room. Verna enters and exclaims, “Willie! Willie! Are you all right? How did these fumes get in this room? I’ve taken all precaution against fire!” The next caption states, “Under the constant care of his sister and her husband, who would suspect that Sergeant Willie Walker is The Black Racer, messenger of death!?” A look of concern on her face, Verna thinks, “But how could this be?”

Their last appearance is in “Darkseid and Sons,” when…

In a shabbier district of the city, the gathering clouds of disaster have yet to shroud the sky! Willie Walker lies still as ever! — Unable to move — for all time!

Verna: Well! That takes care of your medication for today, Willie! It looks like big sister Verna is doing as well as any nurse!

Willie Walker is also forever silent! His eyes can move, but at this moment they are fixed on the distance –! — A distance far beyond his room –!

Verna: How do you like that! You’re paying no attention to me at all! I’ll just cut the chatter and say “good night”! I – I seem to have lost him again, Ray! He just doesn’t seem to hear or see us anymore!

Ray: Willie’s lost in the stars, Verna! I think nothing here has any meaning for him now!

Verna: We’re doing our best for him, aren’t we, Ray? Sometimes I think our marriage suffers for it!

Ray: Nonsense! Willie suffered for us in Vietnam! And we’re sticking with Willie — all the way!

Obviously we see a pattern here and I wonder where Jack would have gone to expand the formula. Verna frets about Willie’s vulnerability, Ray consoles his wife, and neither are aware that her brother is, for all practical purposes, the Grim Reaper himself. A completely paralyzed character is quite a challenge to flesh out, I should think!

Day 101: Miss Laura Conway!

Miss Laura Conway is Galaxy Broadcasting CEO Morgan Edge’s personal secretary and she formerly served as the enigmatic Dabney Donovan’s “most trusted employee,” a fact revealed during the “Transilvane” storyline, where she was a more active player in the storyline than previously.

Just before Inter-Gang orders Morgan Edge out of his office and to escape Metropolis because the Four-Armed Terror was about to set off a nuclear chain reaction that would destroy the city, we catch the executive in a mundane situation with his new secretary. Barking orders from his desk, Edge says, “I want three copies made of these letters, Miss Conway!” To which a young, slender and attractive woman replies, “Yes, sir!” As she closes his door, he adds, “Oh, Miss Conway! I’d appreciate it — if your typing ability would begin to catch up with your devastating charm!” Her retort: “I never intended to be anything but efficient, sir!” As he attends to his Inter-Gang communication, Morgan Edge thinks, “The little snip! She’s as good as fired!

Later, after Metropolis was not vaporized in an atomic explosion and Miss Conway was not relieved of her duties, Morgan Edge returns to his office. As he enters the door…

Morgan Edge: Well, everything seems just as it did before I left! Any messages, Miss Conway?

Miss Conway: Mister Edge! I didn’t expect you back so soon — you did leave rather hurriedly, sir!

Morgan Edge: Well, you see, I learned that Metropolis would suffer an atomic explosion!

Miss Conway: Oh, er — Clark Kent called! He said that Jimmy Olsen is back — and they both want to see you!

Morgan Edge: [Thinking] I’d have favored the atomic explosion! [Out loud] Miss Conway! If Kent or young Olsen calls again — tell them I’m still out! They can wait! I’ve got bigger fish to fry! How are we progressing on those contracts for Don Rickles?

Miss Conway: Oh, Mister Edge! I just hope Don signs with us! He’s such a funny man!

Morgan Edge: Never fear! I’ll reel him in!

Miss Conway: That’s wonderful! We’ll have two of them now! Don — and his “look-alike!”

Morgan Edge: Look-alike?

Miss Conway: Yes! Goody Rickels! He’s on our research staff — a sweet, lovable soul —

Later, Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen ask Miss Conway some questions. Says Clark, “Is Mister Edge back yet, Miss Conway? Jimmy and I must see him!” Jimmy leans on her desk with a warning, “And don’t con us, Miss Conway! Some of the staff have seen Edge return!” Miss Conway is unfazed. “Then those same busybodies should have told you he went out again! However — Mister Edge left this for you both!” She hands Clark a small piece of paper. Jimmy says, “That looks suspiciously like an assignment slip!” And the boys are sent off to check a possible U.F.O. landing in Cronin Park.

Next, Miss Conway interrupts her boss. “Yes, Miss Conway! What is it now?” The secretary responds, “Oh, Mister Edge! You have been busy! Don Rickles just phoned to say he’ll be here soon! It’s so exciting! Oh — er — there’s been no calls from Goody Rickels! I do hope he can be of some help on that UFO story!” Taking a drag off his ever-present cigarette, Morgan Edge says, “Miss Conway, I’m extremely confident that Goody Rickels will fare no better or worse than the others!

A short time later: “Meanwhile, in the sumptuous office of Morgan Edge, the chief executive of the Galaxy Broadcasting System…” Miss Conway bursts in on her boss. “He’s coming, Mister Edge! He’s on his way up in one of the elevators now!” Morgan Edge replies brusquely. “Contain yourself, Miss Conway! After all, this network does business with many stars!” But the woman continues to gush. “Oh, but Don Rickles is such a treat!! I just can’t wait to get insulted by him!” Lighting a smoke, Morgan Edge says, “Yes! I’m anticipating something like that myself!” Miss Conway adds, “Wouldn’t it be just immense if Goody Rickels would return from his assignment to confront Don!?”

After the real Don Rickles is mobbed in the Galaxy offices — Miss Conway laments, “OH! Poor Mister Rickles” she and her boss help the comedian into the executive’s office, “There, there, Mister Rickles! You’ll mend rapidly in here!” Don gives her a look. “Who’s this broad? What is she playing? — “Nursey-nursey”? Morgan Edge offers, “That’s Miss Conway, my secretary!” Then, in a classic panel, while the curvaceous young lady walks out of the room, the comedian’s eyes glued to her sash-shaying figure in a form-fitting dress, Don quips, “You’re great, honey! You’re wasted here! You deserve something better than a typewriter and this sneaky crumb! Get yourself a bikini and start a chain of heart attacks at a garden party!” Miss Conways beams and replies, “Will do, Mister Rickles! I’m so thrilled!” She leaves and Don tells Morgan Edge, “‘I’m so thrilled,’ she says! Working for a guy like you — Morgan ‘Watch the Small Print’ Edge!!”

The beginning of Jimmy Olsen #142 begins ominously. “Amid the strange sounds at midnight, this classic horror figure never fails to emerge and haunt our dreams with terrible effectiveness! So here he is again — But wait!!!! — Your writer advises you to expect something more than the same old routine from The Man from Transilvane!” A sinister looking fellow and his werewolf companion look into the moonlit night. “The night is the same on any world, eh, Lupek?!! Ahead lies the city — and the one we seek!!” Mouth agape, fangs are revealed, and eyes glowing with no pupils, the vampire is ravenous. “Ahh! I sense her! I’ve found her! I call her name!! Laura! Laura Conway!! — Even as you sleep — you can hear my call!”

Like some sinister instrument locked on its invisible target, the man from Transilvane stands rigid!! Then–!!

Rays emanating skyward from his eyes, the monster boasts, “From my eyes soars the power!! It will reach her — and create the mark which will make us — as one!!

The power knows no distance! It projects for miles — to the city! To a building — to a window!! And beyond the window is Laura Conway — sleeping — sleeping — as the mark appears on her neck — to change her body chemistry! What has been done — is now done!! The reults of it will rival the most awesome events ever recorded!! When Laura Conway takes up the threads of her life the next day, at the offices of Galaxy Broadcasting System, her transformation is not ignored by Jimmy Olsen and his super-sonic sidekick, Superman, seen here in his other identity — Clark Kent!

Laura Conway is staring intensely at her desk , phone in one hand, pencil in the other. The reporters are looking at her with concern. Clark says, “You look a bit peaked this morning, Miss Conway! So we’ll try to make it short! –“” Jimmy adds, “Yes! When do we get to see Morgan Edge? He’s put us off long enough! We’ve got to talk to him!” Laura says, “Boys — boys — give me a moment–!”

Jimmy is annoyed, telling the secretary, “If Morgan Edge is dodging us, I can tell you it’s for a darn good reason!” Adds Clark, “That’s true! We’ve got questions to ask him that could put Mister Edge in a very embarrassing position!” Looking demur, Miss Conway responds, “Perhaps that’s why he’s out! Oh, I don’t know! At any rate, he isn’t here!” Then, in a startling moment, Miss Conway gives an open-mouthed smile that reveals — gulp! — prominent fangs! “And that, boys, could mean minutes, hours, days — You name it! Mister Edge left no departing word!” Jimmy blurts out, “Miss Conway! Y-your face –! I-I mean — are you okay??” Clark brushes past his pal to take charge. “One side, diplomat! Don’t you see she needs help?!” Jimmy leans forward on her desk as the veteran Daily Planet reporter takes the woman in his arms. Jimmy says, “She needs sorcery prevention, if you ask me — did you see –??” Clark responds, “I saw! I saw! But I can’t believe it! Easy, Miss Conway –” and he picks her up, carrying her. “What do you make of it, Clark?” asks Jimmy. “This is no ‘put-on,’ Jimmy!! She’s doing the vampire bit — down to the very ‘marks on the neck’!!

And the power — when it has fully taken hold — controls the body chemistry — controls the very body atoms — so that a pattern is followed — a complete and total pattern!

Hold her curvy and unconscious body before the office mirror, Clark exclaims, “Oh, my God! The mirror! Jimmy! Look in that mirror and tell me if what I see — is so! I mean — tell me, if what I don’t see is so! No! I — mean –” Replies the cub reporter, “I know what you mean! Miss Conway casts no reflection! And you know what that means!” Clark places the unfortunate woman on a couch. “Shouldn’t we call a doctor or something, Clark?” asks Jimmy. “Of course! Only here, in Morgan Edge’s empty office, we can at least make her comfortable!” Jimmy is incredulous, “Make her comfortable? Make a real vampire comfortable? Clark, she’s liable to get up and bite us both on the neck!” Clark is searching for a pulse and dismisses his comrade. “Oh, quiet! Let’s get our bearings!”

The next caption reads, “And the total pattern must remain fixed!! And nothing that belongs to it must ever be excluded!” A small mammal suddenly flies through the room. “A bat!!” says a shocked Olsen. “Here in the city — in the office!! Don’t tell me what happens next!!” Clark is stoic, adding, “Yeah! I saw the movie, too! Keep your cool, Jim!” Reads the caption, “–Even into the final materialization!” A new voice: “Good afternoon, gentlemen!!” A new figure in the room: “Allow me to introduce myself! Count Dragorin of Transilvane!” (Jimmy mutters, “It figures!”) The caped, pale-faced intruder continues, “I regret the intrusion upon your many activities in this place!! However, I am pressed to carry out my own, you see!!” Retorts Clark, “If your business is with Miss Conway, I suggest that you talk to us about it!” Jimmy steps in to wag a forefinger at the Count. “I second Clark’s motion! Now, what’s this all about? How do you work this gimmick — and why?” The newcomer is momentarily bemused. “You do have a certain charm, young man! But you try Dragorin’s patience!” Jimmy is pugnacious: “Oh, yeah? Well, why don’t you drop the act and help Miss Conway? It was probably you who caused her illness!!” Clark resumes his diplomatic stance, “Er — All we’re trying to say, Count, is — that we’re concerned! We’re friends of Miss Conway!”

But the white-visaged creature is on a mission and, giving the boys a nasty glare, tells them, “I said that I’m pressed by urgent action! And so it must be!! Behold the Evil Eye, gentlemen! It’s not a myth! For in it is power! And in the power there is irresistible force!” His right eye increasingly radiates until a burst of energy explodes from his pupil and there’s a giant ZZAPP! and the fellows are knocked off their feet.

The next sequence in this episode is captioned: “And back in Morgan Edge’s office, the power of the Evil Eye has taken its toll!!” Jimmy and Clark are sprawled on the floor, and the Man of Steel’s alter ego ponders, “The Count’s strange power sure packs a potent punch! Jimmy is completely stunned! But I have more effective protection! It’s called Superman! Now to see what the Count is up to –” Dragorin is advancing towards the woman. “Laura! Laura Conway!” Clark is ready to spring, as the interloper raises his arms in the air in a classic vampire pose. “If he tries to harm that girl –” thinks the reporter. “Rise, Laura! You have — the power!” And Miss Laura Conway rises off the couch. The Count is ever so slowly enveloping the secretary into the folds of his cape. “It is I, Laura! Dragorin! I’ve come because you are ready! You and I, Laura — we share the same power!” Miss Conway agrees, “Yes, Dragorin! We share the power! We share every secret within us!”

And now, we finally begin to understand the vampire’s singular pursuit of the female, as Dragorin reveals, “All but one, Laura! Where is Dabney Donovan, Laura!? Where is he? Where?” The secretary replies, “I-I don’t know! nobody ever knows where Dabney Donovan is!!” His hot breath on her neck, the Count replies, “But you were once his personal secretary! His most trusted employee! I’m listening for your answer!” Clark sneaks up behind the pair, thinking, “She’s angering him! I think it’s time to act!” Dragorin is insistent: “Don’t defy me, Laura! Answer!” Miss Conway blurts out, “Science Research Center –”

A wave of relief washes over the vampire. “Of course! The NASA Science Research Center! Dabney must have left records, files — a trail!! Donovan is an evil, clever one! But I’ll hunt him down!” Miss Conway explains, “I worked there for Donovan! But knew him only as a voice — dictating note from a tape recorder!” Then Clark springs at the vampire, thinking, “Here goes! –” Dragorin turns to exclaim, “Demons! This man has withstood the power!! incredible!” Clark retorts, “I’ll tell you more about it, Dragorin! When I have you subdued!”

But Count Dragorin vanishes in a vaporous puff — as Clark Kent seizes a handful of air — and loses his balance!!

Gone!” says Clark. “That Dragorin is as slippery as the man he’s hunting!” Sudeenly, Miss Conway comes to her senses. “What’s happened? What am I doing here? I-I feel so — weak–” Jimmy is also coming to, telling her, “Exactly my thoughts, Miss Conway!” Clark thinks, “Miss Conway’s face! — It’s losing the vampire characteristics! Dragorin’s power over her is fading!

Subsequently we learn, as Jimmy and Clark drive to the research center, that Miss Conway “snugly relaxes for a few days at the clinic.” And, the last we hear of Morgan Edge’s erstwhile and loyal employee, she’s still stationed outside the CEO’s office, as the “smiling cobra” tells Jimmy to report to her for details on the Scotland trip. “See my secretary, Miss Conway, on your way out, Olsen! She’ll brief you on the details!”

Yeah, there’s a ridiculous amount written here on her albeit few appearances in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, but there’s not a whole lot to actually say about the character herself. She’s pretty but relatively nondescript, seemingly lives alone and appears devoted to her job and her current boss (even if he confesses though he heard the city was going to be disintegrated, she apparently wasn’t worthy enough to be privy to that knowledge… that “Oh, er –” response from her is precious!). Her old boss? She sells him down the river to a blood-sucking vampire pretty quick, don’tcha think?

Day 100: Terry Dean, Disco Queen!

Terry Dean, proprietor of the Metropolis discotheque Cosmic Carousel and chum of Jimmy Olsen, is a friendly, vivacious and beautiful young lady who, for a brief spell, assists Superman and the D.N.Alien Dubbilex investigating the mystery of a underground tunnel beneath her dance club. In the Fourth World epic, we first meet the twenty-something woman (perpetually dressed in red blouses with black stripes of varying necklines) when Terry enters the newspaper environs of The Daily Planet, where she has been summoned by editor-in-chief Perry White. As she enters the legendary journalist’s office we hear him on the phone: “Stay on it! Follow up all leads! It’s an order!” Hanging up, Perry turns to the woman, who is taking a seat. “You’re Terry Dean!” says Perry, “I’m glad you answered my call! Sit down, honey!” She looks at him with a wary eye, replying, “So you’re Perry White!” Holding his ever-present cigar, the newspaperman nods. “Yes! The Daily Planet‘s body now belongs to Galaxy Broadcasting! But I still operate its soul!

Terry Dean: You’re a great editor! Jimmy Olsen told me all about you!

Perry White: Yeah — you two became real chummy during his assignment to the “slum” story! What else did Jimmy tell you? — Did he drop any hints about a new, exciting story?

Terry Dean: Well — he did mention a Mister Edge!Morgan Edge!

Perry White: Galaxy’s own “smiling cobra!” I was afraid of that! So he assigned Jimmy to drop out of sight! But why? Where?

Terry Dean: You look kinda worried, sir! Do you think Jimmy’s in trouble?

Perry White: I don’t know! But I do know that Edge is ruthless! And he’s not above gambling with human life!

Terry Dean is actually a character first introduced in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen prior to Jack Kirby’s tenure as editor, in the “socially relevant” story “The Secret Slumlord of Metropolis” in #127, credited to Leo Dorfman, writer; Curt Swan, penciller; George Roussos, inker; Mort Weisinger and E. Nelson Bridwell, editors (, and while it’s tough to argue her personality was expanded much by Jack since this debut, Terry’s presence is sufficient enough, I reckon, to warrant a “Kirby version”… Though I must confess her red with black stripes shirt and white slacks ensemble was first seen in that March 1970 issue! (Perry’s emphasis on “slum” and a vague recollection of that story prompted me to check…)

This one-pager feels dropped-in, so to speak, included maybe at the request of the DC offices to remind us that Perry White is still in the series and to give us a regular female character in the series. Maybe, maybe not.

The young woman is much more involved in the plot when next she appears, JO #144, upon Superman and the Guardian traveling to “Suicide Slum” by invitation. “Imagine those kids!” says Superman, “Putting an ad in a newspaper — inviting us to their discotheque!” The Guardian responds, “If it’ll help their attendance, I don’t see the harm in going!” The pair arrive at the entrance to the dance club. “The ‘Cosmic Carousel!’” exclaims the Guardian. “These young people are as colorful with their language — as with their dress!” Superman replies, “With our costumes, we should blend in well with this crowd!”

But Superman forgets his public identity!! Both he and the Guardian are besieged by autograph seekers!

The pair sign autographs and answer questions when a beautiful face appears. Superman greets her with, “Terry Dean to the rescue, I presume!” The smiling young lady responds, “Oh, I’m so glad you came!! When Jimmy Olsen suggested I contact you, I never dreamed that you’d really respond!!” After the super-heroes check out the dance floor, a caption reads: “Terry Dean fusses excitedly over her guests!! She points out everything that might interest them!! That’s how the strangely garbed entertainers gain their attention!!” A group of odd-looking guys are playing bizarre instruments. “This is the San Diego Five String Mob!” says Terry to Superman and the Guardian, who are now seated in the nightclub. “They’re our very own discovery!!! They just showed up one day and offered to perform!!! Dig those weird instruments they play!! Each one has a freaky wound-up string! The sounds are new — but great!” Superman mutters, “I-I guess –” Terry then dives in for the kill. “Come on, Superman!” she urges, taking his hands in an attempt to drag him on the dance floor. “Don’t cop out on your reputation as an activist! Follow the music’s beat — and me!” The Man of Steel is reluctant. “Terry, I-I think I could do a better public relations job — just sitting here!!

Suddenly the general clamor fades to confused whispers, as a bizarre figure confronts and surprises Superman!!

Terry Dean: Hey! We’ve got a “U.F.O.” on the guest list! Far out! Who is he??

Superman: Galloping Krypton!! Dubbilex!!!

Bystander: Man! This guy is weirder than moon rocks!

Dubbilex, the Superman’s favorite D.N.Alien, has arrived and he informs Superman of a nearby mystery. “Train your X-ray vision on the floor at your feet!!! … Your X-ray vision will reveal how I got here, Superman!” Superman replies, “I see it, Dubbilex!” Terry is startled, telling them, “B-but that floor is solid! We have no basement!!” Superman corrects his new friend. “Not a basement, Terry!! — A tunnel! It’s been shored up! But it still exists!” The Sand Diego Five String Mob,” sensing their cover is blown, call forth their “sixth string,” Barriboy, and their instruments become weapons that make a shambles out of the Cosmic Carousel!

In the next issue, Terry and Superman cautiously walking down the secret tunnel. “Superman!!” exclaims Terry, “Do you see what I see??” Her friend concurs, “Yes, Terry!! I sure do!” Dubbilex has captured the San Diego Five String Mob, who are now levitating in the air. “Like wow, Mister Dubbilex!! How did you get them up there — and keep them up!??” Dubbilex answers, “Well, I-I don’t know — yet!! But it did give me a slight jolt!!” Superman thinks, “Terry doesn’t know Dubbilex is a D.N.Alien!” The horned friend suddenly frees the captives with a burst of telepathic energy, knocking Dubbilex to the floor. Helping him up, Terry notes (in an endearing exchange), “Mister Dubbilex!! You’re weird!!” Dubbilex responds, “It seems you’re correct, Miss Dean!” The Apokolips gang escape via Boom Tube which elicits this response from Terry: “Far out!! That big tube is fading! — and that rock group’s fading with it!!! Talk about wild doings!!!” Thinks Superman to himself, “I’d be as flabbergasted as Terry — if I hadn’t met the young Forever People — and learned about the Boom Tube — and the war with Apokolips!!!” A few moments later, Dubbliex asks, “Who — What — were those kids!!?” Terry shares the D.N.Alien’s puzzlement. “Yes, I’d like to know, too!! I hired them to play in my discotheque!” Superman replies, “That’s not important! I want to know why they came here!! And why they sought this tunnel beneath your club, Terry!”

When next we see the trio, Dubbliex is using his telekinetic powers to levitate Terry Dean in the air. “It’s amazing, Dubbilex!!” marvels Superman. “Your developing powers are beginning to actively manifest themselves!” Dubbilex answers, “With a beautiful volunteer like Miss Terry Dean — who knows what wonders I could perform?!” Terry is astonished, exclaiming, “I-I’m rising into the air — lifted by some unseen force!!” She is turned upside down and says, “Oh, wow!! This experience has some scary angles!” Dubbilex replies, “Be calm, Miss Dean!! I’ll let you down as easily as I can!!” Superman urges caution, saying, “Careful! Careful — Here she comes! good work, Dubbilex!! You’re able to control a most interesting faculty!!” Terry lands on her feat, gushing, “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 Dubbilex is concerned. ” “By your standards, Miss Dean!! But what are mine? What is emerging from this brain of mine??”

The final appearance of Terry Dean — and of The Guardian, for that matter — is in the panel where the resurrected Golden Age super-hero notes that the tunnel goes on for miles.”Gosh! Who built it?? Why??” We’ll learn that a Boom Tube frequents that tunnel and the Man of Steel is soon off to visit Supertown, leaving his new friends behind… forever…

Terry Dean is an eminently pleasant and attractive character in the series, and you can almost imagine a burgeoning relationship developing between her and Dubbilex given their mutual admiration society and the D.N.Alien’s comment — “who knows what wonders I could perform” on or with Terry — can be taken as a bit risque, don’tcha think? Whatever. She was a fun addition…

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 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 68: Oberon!

Oberon was the longtime personal assistant of the Great Thaddeus (a.k.a. the original Mister Miracle) until the showman’s tragic demise and the curmudgeonly dwarf thereafter attended to the “new” Mister Miracle, Scott Free. Little is known of his background other than Oberon’s decades-long dedication to Thaddeus Brown but he remains a constant and useful companion for Scott, always a voice of caution (often exceedingly so) and his loyalty and devotion are important components of the acclimation to Earth culture by Scott — and later Big Barda.

It is with Barda Oberon has a salty though affectionate relationship, bantering mild insults back and forth, and providing a nice comic relief to all the death-defying doings happening with the growing team. Upon the female warrior telling Scott, “I risked severe punishment to help you bolt Granny’s institution!” Oberon snidely suggests to his employer as he turns his back on the pair, “If you ask me, it would have done you a world of improvement if she’d left with you, Scott!” At this, Barda raises her mighty Mega-Rod to strike the dwarf, only to be stayed by Scott, who tells her to steady herself: “Easy –.” And Barda hisses through her teeth, “The little rat — he needs a disciplined tongue!”

Perhaps the most stirring moment in the entire series occurs when Scott and Barda are appearing to return to Darkseid’s planet in the homecoming and a distraught Oberon desperately urges them to reconsider. The Female Fury, in full-dress uniform, sneers at the diminutive assistant:

Barda: Don’t fill this room with sentimental slop! Just say goodbye — and blow!

Oberon: Listen to Big Barda! Look at yourself, Scott!! It’s like that demon’s place, Apokolips, has taken hold of you both!! — and claimed you forever!!!

Scott: We must leave, Oberon!

Oberon: Why must you leave!? Wny!? You escaped from Apokolips once! Do you think that Granny Goodness and her creepy pets will let you do an encore??

Scott: No!! But strangely enough — like all organized societies, Apokolips exists by rules!! — Made by Darkseid — and kept by his subjects!! This time I must escape from Apokolips — within those rules!! [With that, Scott hands Oberon his carpetbag.] Here! My bag of tricks! I leave it in your care, Oberon!! It must never be opened!

Oberon: I-I’ll see to that!!! It’ll be in this closet when — you — get — back!!! Who would want it, anyway!!? It’s a fool’s bag!! — waiting here — for a young fool!!!

Barda: Get out! Get out! — You little sawed-off drip!

Oberon: I’m going!! For just a little while, I-I thought you were really a big, beautiful warm-hearted girl!!

Here, both in tears, Barda crouches down to the floor to embrace the little man.

Oberon: — Instead of a loudmouthed, military, man-killing harpy turned out by those terrible Darkseiders!!

Barda: Oh, shut up! — or I’ll — I’ll — Oh, take-off!! When we get back, I’ll really blister you!! Now march!!

Oberon: I’ll be here! I’ll — always be here!!

Barda: Good old Oberon! There’s a lot of person in that small package!! Oh well!

Oberon is not only attached to Barda, he’s also a little prudish about a single girl living in the same house with two bachelor men, as he tells Scott, “That female ‘Attila the Hun‘ has really taken over here, Scott! If she decides to stay — it may seem very improper –” though Scott tells him not to worry about it.

As a literary device, Oberon provides an audience for Scott’s exposition about the larger forces lurking, whether about his upbringing on Apokolips or the various players in Darkseid’s cadre of evildoers who plague the two. As Jack ever so slowly unravels the background story — it took nine issues of the title to get to Scott Free’s origin — the writer/artist expertly weaves in hints and shadows of a greater epic in play, and Oberon is the perfect human character to help the reader process the fantastic developments and make a earthly response.

As cranky and complaining a sidekick can be, Oberon is also very lovable — and not because he’s the size of a large Teddy bear, but because his affections for Scott and Barda (and later Ted Brown) are always near the surface of his crusty demeanor. He also keeps a lookout for business opportunities for the Mister Miracle team and often participates in the show (sometimes with chip firmly placed on shoulder as he is forced to dress in costume — here as a tiny Civil War soldier; there with complementary super-hero get-up, complete with flowing cape!). When helping Scott with the cannon gag, Oberon says, “But look at me!! How do you think I feel in this Civil War ‘get-up!‘ Besides, if I get laughs from your audience — it could ‘upstage’ your performance!” Mister Miracle answers, “We’re both stars in this act! It needs all the color we can give it!”

When Oberon was forced, at Ted Brown’s insistence (as Ted had become, for a time, the act’s manager), to don a virtual super-hero costume, he complains to himself as he looks into a mirror, “The Great Thaddeus would certainly have frowned on the shenanigans his son has dreamed up! And that flashy uniform and cape I must wear in the act! — Ugh! It’s really something else –! [at the reflection of himself in a mirror] Ahh! There y’are! — The humble, but talented Oberon! — And I must say you look mighty relaxed without the fancy trappings and the frozen grin!”

(I can’t resist mention of one of the truly memorable bits of Kirby humor cartooning is when Funky Flashman, who calls the assistant “Little Pixy,” prepares to kick Oberon behind the little guy’s back — great stuff! And then there’s this exchange when they first meet, when Funky stoops so low as to pinch the dwarf’s cheek!:

Funky: And this fantastic elfin creature can be none other than Oberon, mentioned briefly in your letter!

Oberon: Easy there, buster!

Scott: It’s Oberon’s coffee that’s fantastic!)

As vital and necessary as the character is to the Mister Miracle saga, Oberon is, well, a delightful addition to the mythos and it’s always a joy when he is part of the action. And the assistant is also a catalyst to give us readers a sense of Scott Free’s depth of compassion and love for others, as Mister Miracle is always ready with words of encouragement and terms of endearment for his tiny friend. I mean, the Super Escape Artist is just about the nicest super-hero as ever there was! And Oberon returns the sentiment, telling his boss, “I’m proud to be your assistant, Mister Miracle! You’re the greatest!” Another time, Scott gives his friend an “attaboy” by telling him, “Good work, Oberon! Keep practicing and you’ll be a star performer one day!”

Tears again flow as Scott and Barda do leave Oberon, this time for good immediately after the wedding ceremony. While hoping that he and Oberon (as well as Shilo) will meet again — “Our paths part here. But they may merge again” — Mister MIracle says goodbye to his faithful companion:

Scott: I’ll miss you, old friend. In the face of peril, I’ll always remember that you cared!

Oberon: By daring death, you taught me the value of life. Scott — Scott —

And by both embracing life so fully, Mister Miracle and Oberon instructed us on the importance of friendship!

Day 67: The Great Thaddeus!

Our story opens with the original Mister Miracle being bound by a metal contraption, placed in a bolted wooden shed and then set ablaze by his assistant’s flamethrower. A young onlooker intervenes but the aging escape artist successfully defies death by bursting free of the flaming structure. And thus Thaddeus Brown meets Scott Free.

Thaddeus Brown is, of course, the original Mister Miracle, the graying, renowned escape artist formerly known as “The Great Thaddeus,” who now dreams of a return to glory by resurrecting his show business career. He lives with his faithful assistant, the diminutive Oberon, in a pleasant two-story home, which “stands serenely as it always has, in a small, quiet suburb near the city” (presumably Metropolis, where it seems many of the other Fourth World adventures take place on Earth), where he is working to get back into shape for a national campaign. We learn that Thaddeus’ wife has passed away and the escape artist tells Scott Free that his only son died in Korea (this last statement appears untrue, as public relations man Ted Brown enters the series with #10 and stays on as supporting character until #16). Thaddeus says to Scott it was Ted who urged his father to change his act. “Ted was a wonderful boy!” said Thaddeus. “He loved to assist Oberon in preparing my act! He also kept an album of my exploits!

“I see you were once known as the ‘Great Thaddeus!’” Scott says, taking note of the scrapbook’s cover.

“Yes, I began with that name, but it outlived its usefulness! It was Ted who pointed this out!” Thaddeus explains. “It was all Ted’s idea! He created Mister Miracle — and brought the art of escape into a new decade!”

His plan to return to public performing is called “The Big Trap,” where Thaddeus is tightly bound by locked metal straps to a tree trunk situated at the bottom of an incline. At the top of the adjacent hill is secured an enormous metal sphere (“This thing weighs a ton!” yaps Oberon) and between that and the tree is a flume-like track constructed to guide the ball straight for the elderly showman. Oberon is terrified of Thaddeus’ condition and the lethal risk the escape artist is taking. In fact, the small person is a constant nag to his employer: “Don’t go through with this, maestro! I beg you — Be content with your past greatness! — During these years of inactivity — time has passed you by!” and “You were slow! Slow! Age has dimmed your senses and time has knotted your reflexes!

Even while Thaddeus tells his friend, “Don’t scold me, Oberon! I’m doing wellsoon I will do better!” Oberon does have a point. Thaddeus is likely in his mid-sixties, and despite sporting a magnificent beard and full head of hair (both snow-white), and also physically impressive and by appearances virile, he suffers from fatigue and even with the Great Thaddeus’ protestations to the contrary, his timing is off. Plus, the escape artist has the added liability of a most powerful enemy.

When Thaddeus and Scott first meet, they are interrupted by Inter-Gang goons “moving with silent, evil assurance — symbols of organized crime in the atomic age.” Not only does the head thug bandy about handguns, he is also rude, telling Thaddeus, “You creak — like one of your antique clocks!” We learn the gang’s boss is Steel Hand and a donnybrook ensues, with Scott and his carpetbag joining in. Steel Hand’s henchmen are defeated and, apparently delighted with Scott’s help during the fracas, invites the wanderer to stay in the Brown household.

Scott shows off his own impressive skills as a burgeoning escape artist and Thaddeus and Oberon are increasingly impressed with this stranger. Thaddeus alludes to an unpaid wager owed him by Steel Hand and we learn this standing debt is becoming a matter of pride with the criminal kingpin.

Tragically the Great Thaddeus, bound to the tree trunk in full-dress rehearsal for “The Big Trap,” is struck by a sniper’s bullet and while he is saved by some miraculous moves by Scott Free from being crush by the metal sphere, his life is ebbing away. “Too late — Scott — no more miracles for me,” he tells his new prodigy. Scott comforts him on the grass, as the old man says, “There’s nothing you can do, Scott! The act is finished!” Thaddeus then reveals Steel Hand was likely behind his assassination and, death coming close, he implore Scott to say by his side. Scott takes a device strapped to his upper arm and holds it next to Thaddeus’ ear. “What is it — I hear — a sound — a voice — comforting, easing — the pain is — gone –” and Thaddeus Brown, the original Mister Miracle passes this world into the great unknown.

If I may be granted some personal comments (though I’ve tried to keep things pretty descriptive with minimal opining — no easy task for me!), I still ponder over the symbolism and plot device of Thaddeus Brown in the Mister Miracle opus. I have heard, for instance, that elements of Mister Miracle are based on real-life escape artist (and comic-book legendary writer/artist/designer) Jim Steranko, a friend of Jack’s, and that leads me to speculate whether Thaddeus represents Jack and Scott symbolizes Jim, thus a dramatic “passing of the torch”… Nahhh, doesn’t ring true to me, as Jack was at the height of his game during this time. Does Scott Free seek out Thaddeus because the performer is out of the limelight, living relatively secluded in the suburbs, and thus away from the prying eyes of Darkseid’s minions in the city…? Does Scott want folks to believe he is Thaddeus Brown and that’s why he assumes the Mister Miracle identity?

It’s agonizing that I’m so far unable to get a grasp on this aspect of the Scott Free mythos, as I believe the character to be the most resonate in the Fourth World, a physical representation of life in the face of death, of happiness surrounded by misery, of hope coming through overwhelming despair… In other words, Scott Free seems to be an autobiographical character, more so than Captain America, or Scrapper, or Ben Grimm… Do you have any idea?

Day 66: Orion’s Earth Allies!

“On Earth, the home of mortal man, Orion the Hunter moves among strange allies and fearful enemies! Man is only dimly aware of the forces maneuvering, lunging for alignment on his world — for somewhere in man himself is the key to victory for the warring factions of the New Gods.”

Orion, during his Source-directed foray to the sinister world of Apokolips, was fortunate to encounter and rescue four brave Earth humans, who will become, to varying degree, his trusted allies as the Super-War reveals itself on our home planet. Upon Metron temporarily disabling Kalibak and his describing to Orion the stakes in this war anew between New Genesis and Darkseid’s realm, we see that the Master of the Holocaust has breached another solemn agreement with Highfather. Metron tells his comrade, “Darkseid has broken the rule, to bring humans through the [Boom] Tube!” Four Earthings lie recumbent, unconscious and the tops of their heads ensconced in brain-scanning devices. For Darkseid has been, as Metron tells us, “Probing the minds of test humans before he left [for Earth]!”

The king of evil is, you guessed it, searching for the Anti-Life Equation, a secret locked inside the mind of one or more unsuspecting humans, and as Metron transports our hero’s Astro-Harness to Orion’s feet, the Tiger of New Genesis releases the four kidnap victims from Darkseid’s vile contraption. “Proper use of my Astro-Force will dissolve the mechanisms that spellbind the humans!” Orion says to no one in particular. “They awaken unharmed!

And the now-conscious quartet rise to meet their new friend. Who are these three men and one woman? Allow me a description of their participation in the coming battle. In general, it’s safe to take for granted they are all from Metropolis or surrounding environs, given none of the four expresses any distress at being far from home upon their return. There’s no indication any of them knew one another before being awakened and the smart bet is to assume (as Dave Lincoln tells Orion of his abduction) they were individually snatched off the streets and alleyways of Superman’s city by Inter-Gang, “a division of Earth criminals” organized to serve Apokolips, possibly by Badger and his henchmen.

Here’s a look at each of the four Earth allies:

Harvey Lockman is definitely the youngest of the crew (“My parents are probably getting anxious,” he states on his exit), as well as the most irreverent and, apparently, self-important. Doubtless his greatest claim to fame in the series is the lad’s description of himself: “Me, young but cool, Harvey Lockman!” He is also the least-seen of the compatriots, as he disappears from the series shortly after the “O’Ryan’s Mob” affair. While we don’t know Harve’s vocation (probably a student, I should think), we do know he’s snappy with the always-ready apt comparison, a master of metaphor, if you will. Among his sometimes sarcastic quips, oft peppered contemporary slang: “It should be simple — like minnows turning into a shark!” and “[The Mother Box] feels strangely warm — and makes a sort of electronic sound — like a computer!” and “A movie without film! That’s wild! Roll, man, roll!” and “[Orion is] tougher than granite!” and, finally, “Groovy! He looks like he plays pro football!”

The young ally is also a mite… ummm… flamboyant, given Harvey’s fashionable ascot and apparent predisposition at being a bit disrespectful to his elders. During his next-to-last appearance with his friends, the young man calls Claudia “Doll” and addresses Dave by his last name only, never mind referring to the most malevolent personage in the universe as “old granite-puss”! Perhaps he’s compensating for his quaking fear displayed early in the saga — certainly an understandable reaction as this is a war between gods and monsters, after all! — despite his declaration at one point, “Scared — I’m not so scared — with you on our side, Orion!” (Youthful Lockman is quite courageous when fortitude is needed, rushing headlong into the Inter-Gang infested old mansion on that “little-used seacoast road” during the “O’Ryan Gang and the Deep Six” episode.) Despite his limited appearance, the kid is still a memorable character and leads one to wonder if Jack, an admirer of enthusiastic youth, had a plan to return to Harvey Lockman, as he did do with the three remaining allies.

Claudia Shane — who describes herself as “I’m a secretary — not a pawn in some spy game!” — is candid about her fear (“I’m terribly frightened by all that’s happened!”) and loyal to the new god (“Whatever I can do — consider it done!”), if not a bit infatuated, sounding like she has the hots for Orion, as Claudia boldly admires the Tiger of New Genesis out loud: “I must admit he’ll put those fashion ads to shame” and “He’s positively beautiful! Like a living statue modelled [sic] by the ancient Greeks!” She breathlessly holds her opened palm to her heart in admiration and she also exhibits deep concern for the god’s welfare. Orion is an immortal with no time for romance and there’s an intimation in the series that Claudia and Dave Lincoln pair up as, at the least, close friends who may share apartment keys, as the young lady enters Dave’s abode without knocking. In the last half of the series, they are very often in each other’s company.

Claudia is herself beautiful, as well as fashionable and full of derring-do. She appears to be in her mid-twenties and despite confessions of being simple and afraid, this lady has moxie, revealed especially during the O’Ryan’s Mob masquerade. Claudia’s exclamation of “Shades of Bonnie and Clyde!” is spot-on as she and her Earth cohorts disguise themselves as members of a rival criminal organization threatening to move in on Inter-Gang territory. Wearing the requisite beret (this being only three or four years from the release of the Warren Beatty/Faye Dunaway gangster flick), she drives right up to armed gangsters and creates a diversion.

(It’s worth noting she is compassionate, especially when attentive to middle-aged Victor Lanza’s state of mind throughout the “O’Ryan’s Mob” story. “Do you feel all right, Mister Lanza?” and “You were just marvelous, Mister Lanza!” Kind person, that Claudia.)

It’s notable the gang has the guts to place their hands collectively on Mother Box when Orion seeks her assist on hunting down the Inter-Gang “Jammer” threat, given their earlier experience doing the exact same thing by Orion’s order. Yeah, it’s a coincidence that Desaad’s “Sonic-Stimuli” beams induced mind-numbing fear throughout Metropolis at the moment the threat of Apokolips is being described by Orion, aided by vivid audio-visuals courtesy of Mother Box, but you’d think they’d at least hesitate the second time! Still, the occasions must have been awesome. Claudia says, “It’s a wild experience! Like watching a movie with your mind!” Jack describes the “trip”: “As Mother Box loudly activates, the entire city outside seems to rush into the room! — Into the mind! — A whirling maze of buildings — streets — lights — cars –”

(Probably not worth noting is her changing looks, but I will anyway! Apparently Claudia has time between arriving back on Earth and joining the crew to meet at Dave Lincoln’s apartment for a visit to the beauty salon, as she sports a whole new hair-do when they greet Darkseid. And, later on, her bobbed hair goes to shoulder-length… but does this really matter?)

Victor Lanza, insurance broker, is the oldest of the bunch but, while apparently the only married member, holds his own admirably during his tenure in the adventure.

(You have to wonder if Dave Lincoln wisely upgraded his apartment insurance with Victor, given his pad is repeatedly a battleground for grudge matches, with shattered furniture and blown-out walls.)

It’s hard to know why exactly Darkseid chose these four. There appears to be a hint that might have possessed elements of the Anti-Life Equation — Victor says to Orion, “You said — I-it was something hidden in our minds!” — but the fact they are not seized again by Apokolips minions seems to indicate they did not have the power.

Though Victor is visibly upset by all the ruckus — “I’m still shaken! I’ve never known such fear!” he states after the effects of Desaad’s “Sonic-Stimuli” beams wear off, he still stands firmly on the side of Orion and New Genesis: “I’m at your service, Orion!” But Victor does need time to screw up his courage. “We’re at the mercy of immensely powerful forces!” says he.

When the team meets in Dave Lincoln’s apartment to discuss the fantastic developments, the following exchange takes place:

Dave: I tell you, I saw it with my own eyes! We’re in a war! It’s hidden — but very real!

Victor: B-but why us? We’re just ordinary people!

Harvey: Orion got us back here! We owe him that!

Dave: We owe him that, Mister Lanza! Such as we are — we may have to tackle super-beings!

Victor: But I’m Victor Lanza! An insurance executive! A family man! My wife makes me carry an umbrella in case it rains! And now, this! New Genesis! Apokolips! And things that would scare John Wayne!

But when called to duty, the insurance broker stands with his comrades. During their scheme to destroy the “Jammer” in the possession of Inter-Gang, Victor is assigned to play the role of money man of a gangster named O’Ryan, looking to make a deal with Inter-Gang. Though he complains to Claudia that “Playing Indians in the woods at night is scarcely my cup of tea, Miss Shane!” Victor takes his direction from de facto leader Dave Lincoln: “Your job is up there, Lanza!” Dave says, referring to the Inter-Gang office on the second floor of the “seaside base,” an otherwise deserted mansion. “You don’t have to play Little Caesar — just his smart business manager! Okay?” (Though later, Dave does confess he too was antsy about the caper, as he tells the other three in their final meeting, “Helping [Orion] crack the Inter-Gang complex was flirting with death!“)

And Victor plays his role with gusto, puffing up a cigar and confidently telling Inter-Gangster Country Boy, “I’m Lanza — I make O’Ryan’s deals! We know about Inter-Gang! But not enough! Frankly, what I’ve seen so far, I wouldn’t spend a penny on!” With his entry, the O’Ryan Mob (spearheaded by Orion on his Astro-Harness) destroy the Jammer and break Country Boy’s criminal division.

But the masquerade takes a toll on Victor and despite the accolades of Harvey on the gentleman’s performance — “Your part in it was a gas, Mister Lanza!” — Victor knows it’s time to go home and get back to his day job. “Sure! Sure! — Playing games with gangsters is a great hobby for an insurance man like myself!” With that, Victor bids adieu, handing Dave his business card to share with Orion. The Tiger-Force remembers the address and he and Lightray visit with the bespectacled business executive during “The Death Wish of Terrible Turpin.” Here we get a glimpse of Victor’s home life, meeting his lovely wife and learning of their son in law school, Robert. Mrs. Lanza is obviously smitten by Lightray’s considerable charm and exquisite manner. This is the last time the saga features the Lanzas.

Finally, of “Orion’s little helpers,” we look at the foursome’s most active participant in these stories, Special Investigator Dave Lincoln. Though he cowers in terror by the effects of the Fear Machine, the private eye is certainly the bravest of the group, taking on, at one point, Kalibak the Cruel (though the cop may have been more a little perturbed at, yet again, the destruction of his habitat by another alien god!). Early on, Dave pledges to Orion his loyalty (even if the stepson of Highfather randomly destroys one of Dave’s college athletic trophies!): “But I’ve taken enough! I’m ready to help fight Darkseid!

And Dave proves the most useful in Orion’s secret war for he is an experienced associate of the city’s police force. Assuming the identity of O’Ryan, the new god joins the pipe-smoking officer as they investigate Inter-Gang on the mean streets of Metropolis, Dave sometimes wielding a .45 automatic or .38 Special, other times using his pipe handle as a faux pistol when sticking-up Inter-Gang thug Snaky Doyle. He also resists Detective Sergeant “Terrible” Turpin’s grilling for information on the emerging Super-War and pressure (as “the private eye, ambassador to our city’s super-guests!”) from District Attorney Hartwell.

Dave knows what he and his cohorts have sacrificed in their alliance with Orion. “Claudia — our private lives were probably the first Earth casualties in this war of the gods! We have no choice but to share Orion’s risks!” Maybe, too, they risk their dwellings as, yet again, Dave’s apartment is the site of another super-fight, when Kalibak trashes the place and gives Dave a thrashing himself. At one point, Dave, frustrated by the gods’ “Combat Code,” says, “You New Genesis people sure have hang-ups about fair play! I wouldn’t mind ganging up on Kalibak!” This, even after his fanny is whooped by the Tormentor! Whatta man!

To the very end, Dave stands by his New Genesis friend, wielding a new type of rifle and facing down, yet again, Kalibak, even as it seems Orion is dead. The greatest Earth ally of New Genesis is even there, in the penultimate panel of the last issue of The New Gods regular series, as Orion the Fierce’s comrade-in-arms.

Are these four the only Earth humans to have tread the dark corridors of Darkseid’s nightmare world? Claudia, the “simple but worried secretary,” wonders, “How many just plain folks have been abducted to a weird world like Apokolips!” But this quartet does have an awesome responsibility given them by Orion: “Since Darkseid chose you as his first victims,” says the warrior to his newfound friends, “You must be the first of Earth to stand against him!” And they tenaciously stand with the new god, following the directive he gives them in his very first words to the four: “Have no fear! There is no time to explain! You must trust me!” (Well, the fear they can’t control, but Dave, Claudia, Victor and Harvey do trust Orion throughout the adventure, and what more can you ask of an ally?)

This entry must end where it begins, when Orion and the earthlings jump off the Boom Tube onto Earth soil. Asking Orion what this is all about, the Wielder of the Astro-Force replies, “This ‘game,’ as you call it, is bigger than you think! As large as the universe! — And a battle looms which binds us all! There is a being abroad here with powers beyond your wildest dreams! Darkseid is here!

Then, gazing into the darkening horizon, the sky flashing and rumbling “with the angry voice of an unseen giant,” Orion beckons, “Darkseid! I have come! The battle begins!” And his sinister foe answers the taunt: “I hear you, Orion! The battle begins!” And this, the first installment of Jack’s superlative New Gods title, which cleverly begins with an epilogue, leaves us with: “Prologue — As it was in the time of the old gods — the titanic struggle for the fate of mankind is to rage once again!! The New Gods wield greater power — for in our day, it’s we who live in the dark shadow of the outcome!”

In postcript, it is important to note that there were a good number of other earth people, besides these four, who stood with New Genesis in the war against Apokolips, however unwitting they might have been to the larger conflict at play. The roll call includes Jimmy Olsen, the Newsboy Legion, Oberon, “Terrible” Turpin, the Sheridan family, Dubbilex, Sonny Sumo, Scrapper Trooper, and the laudable efforts of the Metropolis Police Department, often going above and beyond the call of duty fighting back the “super-weirdos” from Apokolips!