“The Newsboy Legion” AKA Jimmy Olsen, and the Mountain of Judgement
#133 October 1970
Because this is a little informal blogging, I should give you some context for this opening article about Kirby’s Fourth World. I am not a Kirby devotee. I respect the man and his work a great deal, however I have read little of his material. I’m 29, I was an Image Comics kid when I started out. My exposure to The Fourth World is limited to 1996’s Superman: The Animated Series and a handful of appearances by New Gods in the 1990’s and 2000’s. I’ll never fully know what it was like to be a Marvel Zombie of the 1960’s eagerly anticipating Kirby’s first work with the Direct Competition. But we do have the historical benefit of seeing this in almost 40 years hindsight. Nixon is in the White House, the Kent State Shootings are fresh in a collective consciousness and Vietnam is at full tilt. The Beatles have disbanded and Sabbath and Zeppelin are around the corner. The comic industry is also in upheaval. Newstands are shrinking and comic books are the 1st to go. The secondary comic book market is on the rise as people have begun to collect comics. This could have influenced the large spanning type of story told by Kirby. Mark Evanier also cites the rediscovery of the epic Lord of the Rings Trilogy as another factor. At DC, Kirby has 3 new books and takes over one existing book, Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen. Superman’s Pal didn’t have a solid creative team so Kirby didn’t push anyone out.
And so begins out journey, with issue #133 of Superman’s Pal. The cover proclaiming “Kirby is HERE!”, the cover suggests a common silver age theme: Jimmy or Superman doing something horrible to one or the other, to entice readers to buy the comic just to see how this unimaginable scenario unfolded. For more of these types of covers, merely google “Superman is a dick”. We open with Jimmy, who now looks a lot more like James Dean than Jimmy Olsen, meeting the successors to Simon and Kirby’s 1940’s creation, the Newsboy Legion. The Newsboy Legion, along with the Yancy Street Gang, confused me when I was foreign to comic books. I came to learn that the Yancy Street Gang was just a 1 note gag in the Fantastic Four, while the Newsboy Legion was a group of wise talking street kids who sold papers. The Legion kids do not stand the test of time. They’re one dimensional with no cool costumes and limited powers. The leader is a bit of a Scrappy Doo character and we all know how Scrappy is remembered. Jimmy has been sent by Morgan Edge, the president of the Galaxy Broadcasting System (and new owner of the Daily Planet) with the Legion and their new Wiz Wagon to go get a story in the wild area, a sanctuary for weird motorcycle groups. Clark Kent gets word of this and feels Jimmy is over his head and goes to investigate as Superman. It's here that you really start to get the sense of a generational gap. Clark and Superman are played as out of touch and while Jimmy is our 25 year old everyman who can blend in with the ‘Hairies’, a biker gang in the Wild Area. Kirby is 53 when writing this and served in WW2 but seems to have some progressive ideals. Jimmy and the Legion take off in the Wiz Wagon, (a quintessential Kirby design) encounter The Outisders biker gang and of course get into a brawl with them. Jimmy beats up their leader, which in turn makes him the NEW leader (logic?) and then brings us to the moment we see on the cover. Superman is doused with some green K from an odd looking weapon of unknown origin which is a hint of things to come. When he comes to, Jimmy reveals his true assignment: to discover the mystery of the Mountain of Judgement. But before more can be revealed the mountain begins to move, bright lights are seen in the distance and Jimmy heads out with his new gang threatening Superman to not stop them.
If I were to have read this back when I was 17 I’d have hated it. The 1970’s hadn’t become retro-hip yet and Superman taking a back seat to Jimmy Olsen wasn’t my idea of a good time. Even now, it’s a bit of a struggle. There’s none of the elements of the Fourth World I came to love in the Superman cartoon. Kirby delivered a Jimmy Olsen story with some small elements of his Fourth World saga and looking at it with an academic eye, there are some interesting elements. The broad representation of the counter culture movement, the distrust in authority and the move of news to the TV instead of the paper. I don’t even know what the Mountain of Judgement is yet, but I feel like you could write a term paper just on the name. The dialogue doesn’t ring true for 1970 but that argument can be made throughout comics . The art is solid, my particular favorites are the look of the Wiz Wagon, the design of the wooden city the bikers live in, and the storytelling sequence of Clark Kent being hit by the car. It wasn’t until I was leafing through the book again that I realized how great the storytelling was in the car sequence. Good sequential storytelling is often only noticed when it is absent.
Final note: Longtime comic fans have heard the tales of how DC had artists redraw Superman’s face in these Kirby comics because DC’s feared their greatest icon would look to Marvel-ish. It’s fairly apparent here and its a shame. The ironic twist? DC Direct producing a 100% Kirby-Superman into their 2nd line of New Gods Action Figures.