Monday, June 15, 2009

Andy Bentley on The New Gods 15: Jimmy Olsen #149

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Jack Kirby's New Gods. For more in the series, see the labels at the bottom or the toolbar on the right. I ask a brief question about superhero comics and humor at the bottom.]

“The Guardian Fights Again!”

1. Pyro-Granulate
2. The space-time continuum
3. Don Rickles!?

All of these things are in this comic book. Well not specifically #3. Don Rickles, the infamous insult comic known as Mr. Warmth is merely referred to. More specifically, his body double Goody Rickles, a researcher at the Daily Planet..... *sigh* I suppose we better start at the beginning.

With the DNAlien debacle behind them, the guests of the Life project decide it’s time to return to Metropolis to investigate Morgan Edge, their number one suspect behind the Evil Factory. The cloned Guardian’s request to visit Metropolis is granted despite an abnormality found in his brain however the junior newsboys are ordered to remain at the project after one of them has developed cold-like symptoms. Possible crippling brain tumor versus a case of the sniffles? You be the judge. So Superman, Jimmy and The Guardian speed past the now abandoned wild area and arrive in Metropolis. Superman takes an alternative route to discretely transform into Clark Kent so he may feign excitement upon Jimmy’s return.

Edge has just returned from his planned escape of last issue's intended nuclear explosion and his secretary brings him up to speed. She explains Jimmy and Clark are demanding a meeting to which Edge denies. Edge then asks how the contract negotiations are going with Don Rickles. The Secretary shares her affection for the real life comic and explains that if Rickles signs there will be 2 Rickles at the broadcasting company. Edge seemingly doesn’t remember that they have a man who works in their research department that shares a face and last name with a famous comedian they are trying to sign. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, doing back-end, armageddon level deals with the leader of Apokolips probably takes up most of his time. As if on cue, Goody Rickles enters, stage left.

The appearance of this Don Rickles doppelgänger is quite a bizarre distraction. He’s clad in the most traditional superhero tights and cape which he was conned into by his fellow coworkers. It’s apparent that the true reason is to give the Rickles analog proper adventuring attire. His disposition is a lighter version of the comedian’s act and his primary motive seems to be to usurp Clark Kent as a Planet reporter. But he’s too close to the real Rickles and the insertion of a real life character into this “DC comics-via-Kirby” world ruins the fantasy. Also I’m at a loss as to why Kirby didn’t use the real Rickles. That’d at least be a cheesy cameo on the level of the Avengers being on Letterman. This just defies all logic unless Rickles was cloned at the Life Project. I used to assume an explanation was forthcoming but after several wide coincidences and unexplained origins, I’m less optimistic.

Edge realizes there’s a way to take care of all his meddling Planet employees and sends them all to investigate a reported UFO landing. This UFO is of course from Apokolips and is triggered to trap it’s passengers between dimensions. Rickles is the first to arrive and becomes incensed when his supposed competition arrives. Clark goes in the UFO to investigate and Rickles mistakenly traps him within and the UFO vanishes into the void. Back on earth, unnamed Apokoliptian goons descend upon Jimmy, The Guardian and Goody. Despite their efforts and some unintended brawling by Goody, the three are captured when Bruno “ugly” Mannheim gets the jump on Olsen. Instead of offing the three as Edge ordered, Mannheim forces a sit down dinner between the four of them. The dinner quickly heads south as Mannheim ignites the table and explains the three have ingested pyro-granulate which will eventually burn them up from the inside. This sequence is an appropriate finish to this bizarre issue. The panel of flames and Mannheim's distorted face looks crude and decidedly not Kirby. It would be more appropriate in an early golden age book. There’s also the last panel which reveals the faux-dinner the three were having was actually taking place in a futuristic winnebago which we’re to assume is Apokoliptean.

Some research yielded the origin of the Rickles appearance: Mark Evanier and Steve Sherman were fiends of Kirby and all three enjoyed the comedy stylings of Don Rickles. Mark and Steve pitched the idea to Kirby that Don Rickles would make a three-panel cameo where he would deliver a trademark comedic insult to the Man of Tomorrow, Superman. However the results were decidedly different. The cameo is indulgent, but Kirby is the King and had nearly free reign on all his titles. This leads to the larger question if increased editorial direction or a collaborator on the level of Stan Lee might have helped improved the Fourth World titles. However that’s a question I cannot answer at this juncture. This issue merely confirms my opinion that the Olsen title is the least focused of the four books and the Rickles appearance ads to it’s bizarre, “throw it on the wall and see what sticks” attitude.

Final Musings

“Kirby’s Fourth World of...” has been added to the title on the cover.
The story’s title, “The Guardian Fights Again!” is quite misleading
Will Kirby come back to the abnormality in the Guardian’s head?
Retraction from my last Jimmy Olsen review, Mannheim is his own character which is represented in Superman: The Animated Series
The less of the Newsboy Legion, the better
pyro-granulate appears to be a piece of fiction
Sending Superman into an unknown piece of time and space is a pretty good tactic. Take note, villains of Metropolis
This is basically my only exposure to Don Rickles other than Letterman appearances

[Wordsworth and Milton were major poets that both lacked a sense of humor. Superhero Comics are a weird place to get jokes off, partly because the genre demands we take somewhat seriously very silly things, including guys flying around in their underwear with the loosest of scientific explanations. The introduction to Final Crisis, for example, describes how hilarious the opening narration is, but that is a kind of self-aware bombast that is very different from trying to put a comedian in your story. (As a side note, a friend of mind pointed out that reviewers sometimes complain about the lack of humor in Watchmen -- but Alan Moore killed a character called The Comedian right there at the opening, so there you go). Warren Ellis's Next Wave is broad comedy, and Matt Fraction is very tongue in cheek -- what are good examples of funny superhero comics?]


Christian said...

Captain Britain and the MI13 is brilliant and funny. It has Dracula on his Moon Castle shooting Vampires to Britain with a cannon.

Marvel Zombies 3 & 4 has some equally fun and stupid absurdities like Morbius, the Zombie Living Vampire. Fred Van Lente is amazing. Everything from Incredible Herc to his Marvel Adventures books are funny and great.

Dan Slott writes some good stuff. I'm not as into his writing, as I was earlier, but his She-Hulk is pretty funny, engaging and well-written.

Jeff Parker did a Marvel Adventures Avengers (a book intended for "children") where Ego the Living Planet is trying his best Barry White on with Earth and flees, when he realises "she" has something akin to a venereal disease. Humans.

His Action Philosophers is great as well.

Just to sidestep a little bit: Marvel Adventures seriously has some of the greatest Traditional Marvel Stories written in ages. They're only slightly hampered by the designation (some recapping really,) but otherwise they're smart, creative and plenty of jokes for adults and children alike.

Jason said...

Dan Slott, yeah! His "Great Lakes Avengers: Misassembled" TPB is *really* dang funny. I am probably biased, since it takes place in Milwaukee, where I am currently stuck. But it's great.

Not all of Peter David's stuff from the 90s holds up too well, but the best of his Hulk run is peppered with some good, laugh-out-loud punchlines.

Christian said...

Peter David frustrates me. He does a lot of good stuff, but some of his writing quirks are so annoying and completely take you out of the story. (Like his X-factor arc about the fate of Mutanttown after the mutants entitled "The Middle East Side Is Burning." And then his characters keep bringing up that it's the Middle East Side.)
(Or naming one of his characters in Fallen Angel 'Dolph, an aging, bearded German equipped with a Luger P08. Oh yeah, and he owns a bar called Furors.)

Mikey said...

I agree with Christian - Fred Van Lente and Jeff Parker's Marvel Adventures books are far far better than most of Marvel's official Marvel Universe titles.

Spider-Man's meant to be all funny but the last time I laughed at a Spider-Man comic was some time during the 1990s when The Spot, The Grizzly and The Gibbon teamed up to form the Legion of Losers, which I would hope informs some of Slott's Great Lakes Avengers and subsequent Spider-Man work.

Also - Slott's Spider-Man/Human Torch mini ("I'm With Stupid"?) made me smile a lot and shows a shameless love for the character's history. It's humorous and often comedic but more than that it's written with good humour, if you get me.

Does Atomic Robo count as a superhero book? It's funny and awesome, by the way.

Not stictly comedy but funny:

The Authority (Ellis and Millar).

Morrison and Stewart's Seven Soldiers: Guardian was hilarious and, related to the Fourth World posts, if I remember right it had a great appearance by a (the?) "Newsboy Legion."

Um...I found Final Crisis quite funny.

Dougie said...

Returning to Jimmy Olsen, I was baffled by Goody Rickles as a kid and didn't enjoy this episode as much as the Transilvane or Loch Trrrevorrr stories (Do Grrrant Morrrison and I rrreally sound that way to you?).

Matthew J. Brady said...

Stay tuned for the next issue of Jimmy Olsen; the real Don Rickles shows up and does his thing, and it's hilarious. I think so, anyway. Hell, this two-parter might be one of the best of Kirby's Jimmy Olsen stories.

When it comes to funny superhero comics, everybody talks about the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire Justice League, but I haven't read much of it. Notably, the cast does include Mister Miracle and Oberon. I do think a lot of Grant Morrison's stuff is very funny, but your mileage may vary. Um...Giffen and DeMatteis also did Hero[squared], which is funny, and I recall Paul Jenkins' Sidekick being all right, from what I read of it. I usually enjoy Garth Ennis' superhero piss-takes, like The Pro, the Boys, and portions of his Punisher run(s). And I'll definitely give Jeff Parker props; his Marvel Adventures stuff is pretty consistently funny and lighthearted. And really, some of the early Lee/Kirby/Ditko stuff, especially Fantastic Four, can be quite funny. Ben Grimm's dialogue cracks me up all the damn time.