Monday, July 20, 2009

Andy Bentley on New Gods: Jimmy Olsen #143

[Andy Bentley continues his issue by issue look at Jack Kirby's New Gods. I make a breif comment below.]

“Genocide Spray”

To recap, Jimmy and Superman are investigating the mad science project of Dabney Donovan which is a miniature planet called Transilvane. The inhabitants of this planet have been influenced by monster movies projected onto the surface of their planet which has somehow caused them to resemble the Universal Monsters in appearance. Oh and the Newsboy Legion is in the underground hideout of the intergang gangster who offed the first Guardian.

As Supes and Jimmy are discussing their recent discovery, Frankenstein, the Wolfman and other inhabitants of the tiny planet appear and demand to know the whereabouts of their creator, Dabney Donovan. It’s explained later in the issue that the monsters can travel from their tiny planet to ours in magical coffins which also adjust their bodies to earth size. Superman later declares that the inhabitants are natural “copiers” who have a fluid atomic base that allows them to morph into the monsters they’ve studied. Kirby puts the proverbial carriage in front of the horse repeatedly by inventing a wild premise and then coming up with a pseudo explanation. It’s excusable when the premise is interesting however this isn’t one of those times.

The monsters hit Jimmy and Superman with some sleeping gas and again Superman plays possum. They string Superman up in a deadly spiked rack which he quickly destroys. Superman tries to explain their home planet’s situation but is only met with paranoid tales of a Demon Dog. Superman looks and discovers a hidden opening in the stone floor. The mundane artwork suddenly awakens in color and dynamics as Superman descends below the surface to investigate the monster’s claims. His body once again contorts to crouching, outstretched Kirby poses as he is dwarfed by familiar blocky gadgetry. He ultimately discovers a robotic orange dragon which is on it’s way to gas the tiny planet above. The final panel has a wild perspective as Superman’s hand “ZOM”s out from the page to break apart the dragon.

Moments later, Jimmy awakens and finds that Superman has dismantled the dragon whose mission is to douse the entire planet with a genocide spray which would eliminate all life to begin Donovan’s experiment anew. Here, Kirby finally returns to his main message of oppression vs. free will. Jimmy cries: “They can become anything they wish! Too bad they were conditioned to Donovan’s implanted horror-culture!!” Superman tries to repair the situation by changing the film to the classic musical, Oklahoma. The logic is flawed because again the inhabitants are forced to conform to a higher power, now just a more benevolent one. It does lead to a nice bonding moment between Jimmy and Superman as they pull up a seat to watch the film themselves. The Jimmy/Superman team up is about the father/older brother friendship and the emotional touch is something that has been lacking since Kirby took over the book.

And what can said of the Newsboy Legion? They get the drop on the Guardian’s assassin, only to have him escape from their clutches. As he runs for an exit, the realization that this was more of a cage than a sanctuary dawns on him. A message above a large bomb explains Intergang is cutting ties and with that the bomb detonates. This does toughen Intergang’s reputation after several failures in issues past. The boys escape through a manhole cover above and are on their way to suicide slum as the issue closes. Kirby uses his final two pages to tell the tale of the 1st D.N. Alien which is mostly forgettable.

Final Musings

-Jimmy’s outfit noticeably shifts between his James ‘Dean” Olsen clothes he had on the issue prior and the Science Project smock and gloves he wore in the 1st Omnibus. I hadn’t seen that type of continuity snafu in the series before so it came as a surprise.

-I have to assume Donovan the mad scientist will ultimately be revealed down the line. I hope we can make a clearer sense of what he’s building towards with such odd experiments.

-I started to let my imagination run wild as to the possible films Superman could have exposed the tiny planet to.

-Flippa Dippa has a racially charged comment about still being in “the back of the bus” as he’s last in the row of Newsboys escaping the hideout. It comes out of left field, but does sync with the themes of oppression Kirby is wrestling with.

[One thing worth pointing out in this issue is something Morrison and others will pick up on and expand: WE are like the little mini-planet, heavily influenced by movies (and television and comics and so on) -- I think Superman's shaping the planet with the musical Oklahoma is less a (morally ambivalent) paternalism (though Superman as God is certainly in All Star Superman 10) and more a hope on Kirby's part that the stories he is writing in New Gods can have that kind of influence on his own planet (and comics have shown Kirby to be God before).]


Andy said...

Yea I spaced, I really should have mentioned Kirby's affection for motion pictures. He drew a lot of inspiration from the movies he frequently saw.

Matthew J. Brady said...

I liked this one a hell of a lot better than the last issue, but you make an interesting point about Kirby coming up with a crazy idea and then working to explain it. That's not always necessary, but he usually does a nice, weird job of doing so.

I also thought this issue made for an interesting antecedent to Morrison's Ilife (was that what it was called) from The Filth. I'm surprised Geoff didn't mention that connection.

I think I'm going to finally have to read the third and fourth Omnibuses, just to keep up with these posts. God, I love Kirby.

Geoff Klock said...

Andy -- well, we are hardly going to require you think of EVERYTHING. For example I totally failed to notice matt's thing.

Matt - i failed to mention the connection BECAUSE I TOTALLY FORGOT ABOUT IT! I love the internet. Now I kind of want to go back and read ALL Morrison's stuff again having finished the Kirby.

Mikey said...

That's precisely what I'm doing and I'm enjoying it immensely. Plus I've got Kirby's The Demon omnibus coming up next!

Joe Gualtieri said...

I've been waiting for this review precisely because of the Filth connection.