The King and I
Jimmy Olsen Must Tie-Dye!
By Desmond Reddick
16 July 2008 — You know, for being Superman's pal, Jimmy Olsen sure did try to kill Superman a lot. In fact, one visit to
Superdickery.com will show you that during any given month, Jimmy was either trying to kill Superman, being thrown in jail by Superman, asking for Superman's secret identity on his deathbed, giving Supes' secret identity away to villains, marrying a gorilla or gaining a new superpower. A staple of the Silver Age were the craziest covers Julius Schwartz could think up. But the covers on Jimmy's books took the cake.
The Silver Age itself was a wild time. Most will say that the introduction of Barry Allen as the Flash in 1956 is the demarcation, as it was the first time a Golden Age character had been reimagined in the DC Universe. But it is the beginning of the Bronze Age that is the real subject of debate. With the resurgence of horror books, the creation of more violent characters and stories of drugs and death in superhero comics, there are many pivotal moments that can be pointed to as the genesis of the Bronze Age. But for me, there is only one answer: Jack Kirby's return to DC Comics.
Kirby had been at DC (then known as National Comics) in the 1950s and drew 600 pages over 30 months, creating the Challengers of the Unknown and rebooting Green Arrow in the process. But in 1970, after several instigating circumstances (most notably, the lack of recognition for work done in plotting and character creation) Kirby returned as a full-fledged living legend with complete creative control over any books he desired. In a move that is still considered odd today, he chose Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen as the launch title for his own little corner of the DC Universe. He did so because, as Mark Evanier says in the afterword of Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus, volume one, there was no regular creative team. Jack Kirby: always the nice guy.
My name is Desmond Reddick and I am a Kirbyphile. In this column, I'll be breaking things down into three sections: the good, the bad and the Kirby.
Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133 was published in October of 1970, is written and drawn by Jack Kirby and features inks by Vince Colletta.
The premise: On assignment for the Daily Planet's new boss, the sinister Morgan Edge, Jimmy comes across the new Newsboy Legion who helps him get to the Wild Area — a secret world underneath the outlying areas of Metropolis that houses Habitat. Habitat is the home of a counterculture hippy biker gang called The Outsiders. After besting their leader, Olsen assumes control of the gang, as per their code of practice. When Supes shows up to save the day there is a classic misunderstanding leading to a scuffle and then imprisonment before cooler heads prevail. (It does kind of bug me that Jimmy gives away the fact that kryptonite can kill Superman, allowing a biker to load his gun with it.) Oh yeah, and an earthquake causes Jimmy to lead his gang to hunt a mountain. So basically nothing really happened.
The good: Did you read the premise? This is dripping with goodness. Wild ideas abound, but with modern themes of counterculture, ecological paradise and Cold War-era fear, Kirby packs a wallop into 22 pages. In fact, today this story would be four or five issues in length using modern decompressed storytelling techniques.
This issue not only greets Jack Kirby as a seasoned pro inside the hallowed halls of DC (the cover proclaims "Kirby is here!"), it paved the way for the Fourth World. Despite common knowledge and it being the opening chapter of the first Fourth World Omnibus, a real Fourth World character doesn't appear until the next issue. What this issue does do is introduce the new Newsboy Legion, Morgan Edge and Habitat. It also names Edge's cohorts: Intergang.
I've already discussed the deeply beautiful plot, but it is the dialog where this excels. I will not comment on the dialog; I will only present it in all of its glory:
Panel 01: Superman is surrounded by gun-wielding hippy bikers.
Biker: Stand fast, hipper! We're hunting your species today!
Superman: Doing your thing, eh?
Panel 02: The biker shoots Superman in the chest. Supes stands there, taking it.
Biker: We dig only our own vigilante group! So — it's, like, you're doomed!
Superman: Sorry! But I can't play your scene!
Panel 03: Superman grabs the gun from the biker and crushes it.
Biker: Man — it's like incredible! Those were real bullets — bouncing off your chest — a-and that Superman costume — it's —
Superman: It's for real, brother! Only it stands for peace — something you should dig — but fast!
The bad: There is a bad aspect to the art. Jack Kirby did not do it all. Correction: Jack Kirby did do it all, but then DC called for the heads of Superman and Jimmy to be redrawn in the house style as defined by Curt Swan. Murphy Anderson and Al Plastino, contemporaries of Kirby's who must have known that what they were doing was ridiculous, were the culprits. Especially seeing as Kirby was the guy at the time — they were defacing superior work.
The Kirby: Vibrant movement, explosive fight scenes and Kirby's kryptonite crackle all tie this issue up into a nice little Kirby package. It was actually a bit tame artistically, but as we will see in an upcoming King and I, he really got moving with the next issue. The Curt Swan-style heads still make me frown. If only they could have restored, superimposed or even had Darwyn Cooke ape Kirby's style over the previous defacement to make Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus a real Kirby book.
Final thoughts: Jack sure hit the ground running on his first foray into the DCU in close to two decades. He grabbed a relatively stale, yet manic book and put his own stamp on it. Not only that, he used it as a springboard to create a universe within a universe that would not be truly accepted by the comic-buying public until after his death.