Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Jimmy Olsen #147

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

A Superman in Supertown!

This was the first enjoyable issue of Jimmy Olsen in a long time. The Pact! seems to have open the floodgates to the Fourth World as Superman is finally allowed to reach Supertown and even interact with Highfather, the man who made the pact all those years ago. Jimmy and the boys get into their usual hijinks, but the wild Kirby designs in this issue make it a visual feast even if it isn’t an intellectual one.

The story starts in the hospital with Jimmy back to normal and the newsies filling him in on the details. They now have a pet in the form of Angry Charlie, the last survivor of the mutants from the evil factory. Following in the tradition of many Hannah Barbara sidekicks, Charlie is food crazed, and causes trouble at every turn. The boys agree they’ve had enough of Scotland and power up the wiz wagon to return home. The trip is derailed, however, when the wagon is dragged toward an open volcano. The wagon lands on a tethered platform where self-proclaimed pseudo-men leap forth and zap the wiz wagon to parts unknown. These pseudo-men are essentially robots, so points to Kirby for the name and the odd all-orange design. The boys awake to find themselves dressed in new robes (creepy!) and the guests of Victor Volcanum. Volcanum, like our last villain, Kanto, has an aristocratic nature to his speech and dress. He drinks from a goblet of fire which means he’s more than human and he aspires to be the King of Earth.

Meanwhile, Superman has been following the tunnel looking for signs of invaders from Apokolips. So has Magnar, a New Genesis warrior and the two of them engage one another in combat thinking the other is the bad guy. They tussle through a Boom Tube and suddenly we have Superman on New Genesis. The fighting eventually stops once identities are made clear and Superman turns his attention towards Supertown, the place he’s been yearning for since the 1st omnibus. Magnar and his troops guide him to the city where Superman believes he will feel at home amongst the other super powered. Instead, he finds himself creating cultural faux pas over and over. The woman under the falling pillar doesn’t need saving, and the big metal robot is here to assist, not destroy. Mentally exhausted, Superman decides to take a seat where coincidentally Highfather is also resting. This is a great tease of a scene. This is our first appearance of Highfather since we’ve learned his origin so we’re eager to learn more about him. However, he’s in the book for one page, merely sitting and relaxing like anyone would. Superman explains his frustrations to him and Highfather, with a Santa Clause-like all-knowing, gently eases Superman into the mind frame that this place isn’t his destiny, however he’s needed back on his adoptive home planet. Highfather offers a way home via his wonder staff and in a flash, Superman is back on Earth. In fact, he’s inside the volcano with the boys who in the span of Superman’s travels, have been hung from a metal cage by Volcanum. Superman is about to leap to rescue them when the rocks of the volcano spring forth and pin the Man of Steel. To be continued...

What’s exciting about this issue is the economy of storytelling. Kirby interrupts right at the first turn of Volcanum from gracious host to mad man to tell the Superman story. Once we return, the boys are already in the standard death trap, and we can pretty much fill in how they got there. Kirby’s art was a standout here with the scenery on New Genesis and the design of Volcanum and his abode. The Jimmy issues had started to feel too distant from the Fourth world saga, and this trip to Supertown helps bridge that gap. . Hopefully this is a trend that will continue.

Final Musings

-The homesick Superman never felt quite right in my head, nor does the one that feels like he has to be amongst super people. His parents gave him his humanity in the form of Clark Kent which allows him to sneak into anonymity
-Volcanum is just odd. He has a mod apartment inside a volcano, he drinks fire and wears civil war mutton chops. Oh an he’s exceptionally tall. There has to be some more explanation next issue.

-An advanced referential moment occurs when Big Words (newsie with glasses) reacts to Volcanum’s intent to be the King of Earth: “That’s the kind of premise sold in “Golden Age Comics!!”. I didn’t think that terminology was that common in this era. Although Jack and Stan used to put themselves in the Fantastic Four’s NYC and there was a Marvel Comics in the Marvel universe the two worked for. Thinking of Spidey reading his own adventures used to make my brain hurt as a child.

[The essays with the Omnibus explain that A Superman in Supertown was supposed to be a kind of superhero version of It's A Wonderful Life with Highfather playing the angel to Superman's Jimmy Stewart, which is a really interesting idea -- except for various reason Kirby was dealing with other things and never really did the story justice except in a very truncated form. Which is too bad, because even though I agree with Bentley (and Grant Morrison) that Superman should be a pretty comfortable guy without a lot of angst about his "outsider" status it is a story I would like to read. The idea of a kind of Frank Capra/Jack Kirby crossover sounds really fun.]

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