Tuesday, April 28, 2009

New Gods 3: Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #135

[Andy Bentley continues his look at Kirby's New Gods. For more in this series see the label at the bottom or the toolbar on the right.]

“Evil Factory”

There is a quote by Kirby in the afterword written by Mark Evanier at the back of this Omnibus that helped me better understand Morrison’s intentions in Final Crisis. An artist on Captain America said he hoped “to do it in the Kirby tradition” to which Kirby replied “This kid doesn’t get it. The Kirby tradition is to create a new comic”. Morrison attempts to do this in Final Crisis by experimenting with readers cognitive time between panels and little to no exposition or footnotes. Both writers use and influx of new and wild creations, but always return to Superman.

This third Jimmy Olsen issue follows the trend of an increasing amount of Kirby inventions and characters per page and although the plot is a bit bizarre, there’s some great kinetic energy by the end of this issue. We open with 2 new characters, Mokkari and Simyan, who were last seen in current continuity experimenting on Batman’s mind in the Morrison penned Final Rites issues of Batman. Here in the Evil Factory, they have unlocked the mystery of human cloning and seem to have the DNA of Superman and Jimmy Olsen. They are in the process of engineering a giant clone who’s only motive will be to destroy Superman. Superman is traveling with Jimmy, the Newsboy Legion and the Hairies towards an underground complex to investigate some strange activity. We learn the blonde leader of the Hairies is named Jude which can’t not be a Beatles reference. The Newsboys, Superman and Jimmy enter the heavily guarded facility and are directed towards the cell duplication and refining section. It is there the Newsboys are shocked to discover their fathers, the Original Newsboy Legionnaires are working for this facility known as The Earth Project. This seems like quite the coincidence but is certainly not the last. Jimmy, speaking for the reader, finally demands some answers from Superman and he cheerily obliges. Superman explains that the genetic code has been broken and that human clones are possible. He further explains that the Hairies were grown and raised here. Jimmy refuses to believe this until Superman reveals that the soldier in the room with them is none other than a Jimmy clone!

How is Jimmy the focus of this cloning experiment? Sample tissue was taken during a Daily Planet physical exam. This could have been at the request of the Planets new owner, Morgan Edge who we’ve seen is in league with Darkseid. It’s revealed later in the issue that Mokkari and Simyan stole the cloning process from The Earth Project. Perhaps Darkseid believes he can exploit Superman’s friendship with Jimmy. It’s a bit of a stretch but most of the logistics presented here are. Either way this isn’t on Superman’s radar, nor is the moral implication of manipulating and cloning someone's DNA without their knowledge. Did he just assume Jimmy would love a bunch of clones of himself running around? I will not soon forget the image of tiny Jimmy Olsens flopped about in their underwear under a microscope. I’ll give Kirby the credit for predicting the success of cloning, but the idea that clones would just be perfectly formed small versions of their source is a bit goofy.

Mokkari and Simyan are now coating their masked giant clone with a Kryptonite mist when they receive a transmission from their lord Darkseid. We get a little better sense of Darkseid’s philosophy which is death over life, lie over truth, chaos over control. He is a pastiche of Hades, Ares, Ragnarok and other myths. Just then, the clone breaks loose and begins a mindless rampage throughout their lab. Simyan transports him just in time to the Earth Project where he and Superman have it out. The green Kryptonite tips the scale of the battle, but before Superman drops he removes the giants mask to reveal the face of Jimmy Olsen. This supports my earlier theory, but I’m still not convinced we didn’t just take Jimmy, Superman and the Newsboys DNA because they’re the lead characters of the comic.

The military guards are no match for the brute either and the Newsboy fathers decide drastic measures must be taken. They lead Jimmy to a life chamber where a shadowed figure is pressed up against the glass, pleading for freedom. “Let me out! I sense Trouble. My mission is to defend - to protect” the figure proclaims. Jimmy begins to catch on as the figure leaps towards the reader in the classic Kirby pose. Kirby and Joe Simon’s old creation, The Golden Guardian lives again as a clone of the original 1940’s adventurer!

The reveal of the Guardian feels like the first real burst of Kirby magic. it also proves another parallel between Morrison and Kirby. Both writers treat their disconnected contributions to the DC universe as their own separate continuity. Morrison brings his DC One Million Superman into his All-Star Superman. His Ultramarine Corps from JLA move to JLA Classified and the Knight and Squire move from the Ultramarines to the club of heroes in his recent Batman run. Kirby in Jimmy Olsen has brought back his Newsboy Legion and Golden Guardian from his 1940’s DC work. Does it make any sense that the adult Newsboy Legion run an underground cloning experiment and keep a clone of the Golden Guardian for emergency purposes? Absolutely not. But the fact that it’s all Kirby makes it better. Doing some research, I discovered that the Cadmus project is a post-crisis revision of the Earth Project. This puts the idea of the Superboy clone in a different context. It’s funny how a far fetched idea in a comic book somehow seems more level headed when you discover there’s a precedent for it.

The Jimmy Olson narrative will continue, but next time we’ll take a look at the first Kirby created book, The Forever People, who aren’t merely a bunch of long haired kids on an ATV. Promise.

[That quote about the Kirby Tradition -- the tradition of breaking traditions -- explains a lot about Morrison's iconoclastic approach, and justifies a lot of his aggressive revisions of Kirby in Final Crisis and Seven Soldiers. It is also a tradition they both share with poets like Milton and Blake -- Blake emphasized Milton as an image breaker, in part to justify his own bizarre mythology.

Last time I mentioned how Kirby's alien characters seem so threatening by their very ontology, something Morrison really picks up on in Final Crisis (where Darkseid's fall tears through the fabric of society). This different status is only helped along by the fact that DC has someone else drawing Superman -- he really is of another order. Also, and not an intelligent comment by any stretch: Mokkari scares the hell out of me for some reason I cannot explain.]


Mikey said...

Mokkari freaks me out as well. He's deviant looking (to use an eternal Kirby adjective), and I always imagine him wearing a lab coat and rubber gloves. I always imagine a kind of Dawn Of The Dead/John Carpenter synth score during the Evil Factory scenes.

I think Jones tapped into this in Final Crisis - to my eyes he gave Mokkari more than a touch of the Sid Haig, beloved of Rob Zombie and Tarantino. Combined with the old WWF wrestler Goldust.

Andy - that's a good point about Kirby and Morrison's use of their own worlds within the DCU. The more you look, the more Seven Soldiers in particular is very like the New Gods saga - even aside from content, just how it handles its position within the DCU (using New York was particularly clever on Morrison's part).

Man, I need to retrieve my copy of the HCs so I can contribute a bit more specifically and thoughtfully.

Andy said...

Mikey please do. I'd love to have another voice on this adventure.

I continue to be hung up on the last point of my post. You're typical 18-25 year old reading Batman - Last Rights must've found the introduction of Mokkari and Simyan bizarre and confusing. They were never in RIP and I don't think they were even in Final Crisis before that. But for Fourth World readers, it's a "wow those guys!" moment. Comics (DC in particular) seems to primarily reward the long time reader. It's those same readers, however, that feel betrayed when the continuity they've built up all these years is reversed by a writer or editorial decision. It's a fine line Dan Didio and Joe Quesada walk. I don't envy them

Mikey said...

Unfortunately I wonder whether 'typical 18-25 yr old Batman readers' are in short supply when compared to the long term DC buff. But I agree even people steeped in DC continuity might not have encountered these two characters before. One thing about the continuity (or any kind of) monomaniac - inevitably holes in their knowledge.

I think Morrison is quite ballsy as he just expects people to go with it. Fortunately, your Morrison fan can always just shrug and do just that.

Simyan and Mokkari were in Final Crisis building better bodies - for example, a tiger body more representative of the savagery of Kalibak the Cruel. Plus I love the bit where they fetch Darkseid his 'crown' and then promptly push the button. "I, Mokkari of Apokalypse, hereby end the world." Terrifying.

Fitting their venal nature, in Final Crisis S+M had a rivalry for Darkseid's attention with Glorious Godfrey (reborn as Jeremiah Wright). This likewise seems in keeping with Kirby - in the original run the 'Evil Gods' of the Fourth World were truly bizarre and confounding: petty, spiteful and base creatures (= ungodly) as often as they were examples of Wagnerian cosmic wrongness (see also: Granny Goodness).