Friday, January 23, 2015
“HORSEPLAY WITH THE DIGNITY OF KANTO MAY PROVE TO BE FATAL!!”
Partly because of the nature of the times, and partly due to the work itself, Kirby and Stan Lee’s comics started to garner a certain level of cachet with a more culturally discriminating crowd as the 60s wore on. College students and other cultural commentators began to focus their attention on Marvel’s superhero work, praising it for any number of reasons, and Lee was certainly happy to encourage them. This new gravitas they attributed to Kirby’s work seems to have made him more determined to lend depth and meaning to his comics, which is what helped spawn the Fourth World in the first place. Fortunately, Kirby never started taking himself so seriously that he forgot what had made people love his work in the first place; so when, for example, he started to incorporate literary references into his work, far from being pretentious, it was usually as delightfully insane and entertaining as anything else he did. (Well, OK, maybe it was a little pretentious.)
On the other hand, comics have been borrowing (and “borrowing”) from literature since they first began; The Hulk is just Dr. Jekyll crossed with Frankenstein’s monster, the Joker owes a huge debt to Victor Hugo’s “The Man Who Laughs”, and so on. So it didn’t have to be literary pretentions that inspired Kirby to use “Oliver Twist” as the basis for Mister Miracle, but that may be why Kirby felt the need to make the point more clearly in this and future installments, starting with a return to where Scott grew up: Granny Goodness’s Happiness Home on Apokolips.
On Apololips, an “Aero-carrier” discharges a load of frightened, miserable kids into the hands of a group of “Harassers”, who make it absolutely plain that the kids aren’t here on a field trip. “When the worms disembark, let ‘em know where they are!!” Bellows one meatheaded creep in unlovely close-up. “No Goddling!! No Faltering!!” screams another, though I’m kind of assuming he meant “coddling”. Proper spelling will not be tolerated on Apokolips!
The point is made ad nauseum over the course of four pages, as the Harassers sneer cruelly and begin marshalling their pathetic charges across the plain, beneath the ominous shadow of Darkseid’s statue, and into the waiting arms of Granny Goodness. No opportunity is spared to dole out a punitive whack, and of course there’s much talk of molding them from quaking little wussies into disciplined soldiers. Granny herself, of course, provides both the carrot and the stick, offering cooing, sarcastic words of encouragement to the kiddies right before encouraging her lieutenants to boot them in the behind. She spends a moment chatting with her right-hand man, Hoogin, who we learn was once much higher-ranked but has been busted down—seems he was the leader of a squadron that was home to a certain mister Scott Free, and accepted responsibility for his escape, hence his demotion. Nevertheless, he’s itching to get his hands on Scott once more, an opportunity Granny assures him he will soon have.
Meanwhile, back at Casa Del Free, we’re witnessing a tearful scene as Scott and Barda make plans to return to Apokolips, following up their decision of last issue. As usual for this series, the motivations are a little vague, but the idea seems to be that Scott’s prior escape was somehow bending the rules, whereas if he goes back and escapes again in full view of everyone, he’ll have earned his freedom under these Apokoliptian codes of conduct we keep hearing about, and they’ll have to leave him alone. Or something. Look, don’t ask me—I think that being able to escape from an incredibly hostile and well-guarded fortress-planet in another dimension ought to count as an achievement no matter the circumstances under which it’s done. But apparently Scott, and for that matter Darkseid, don’t see it that way.
Oberon is, predictably, giving Scott a hard time about this decision. “Don’t fill this room with sentimental slop!” sneers Barda. “Just say good-bye—and blow!!” There follows one of those scenes you always get in buddy movies, where the two characters are insulting each other to mask the fact that they really care about each other. It ends with Obie and Barda hugging while Obie calls her a “loudmouthed, military, man-killing harpy” and Barda stutters, “Oh, shut-up!-- or I’ll—I’ll—"
Anyway, Barda and Scott whisk themselves away to Grayborders, while Oberon suffers a last-minute attack of nerves or something and goes running into the room, screaming at them not to go, as they fade from view. “Oberon eyes the wisp of vapor where his friends have been! --And knows that he’s truly--alone!” Yeah, laying it on a bit thick there, aren’t you, Kirby?
I mentioned “Grayborders”, the region of Apokolips to which the pair are headed—but it’s not the same area in which the Orphanage is located—that would be “Night-Time”. I think the idea is that part of Apokolips is constantly in daylight and part in shadow—presumably, the part that faces New Genesis is the “light” area. Though obviously that would make for a pretty inhospitable environment. More inhospitable than it already is, I mean.
Anyway, Barda has taken them to the border instead of the actual Orphanage region because…wait, why?
Oh, it’s because Barda is insane.
Seriously, she literally materializes them right under a patrol. I guess she couldn’t control that part of it, but she was literally cackling about “fighting their way” to the orphanage as they faded out, and when the patrol orders them to stay put, she starts barking at them that she wants to commandeer their vehicle. “You recognize an officer’s uniform—don’t you?” she bellows. Given that the Female Furies don’t seem to wear anything resembling a consistent uniform, this seems more than a little like picking a fight. Which it is. Barda brings a column down on the hapless patrolmen (Shouting “Run a check on this, you clod!!!”) to which Scott calmly replies, “Well—as they say—in the standard cliché—the fat’s in the fire!!” “Sure! I like it that way!!” responds Barda, and proceeds to hijack a car and ride it into downtown Apokalips. It’s like Grand Theft Auto: Apokolips Edition.
As the two of them blast down the “Long-Shadow” road to Night-Time, their car is suddenly brought to a grinding halt by a saboteur’s blast, and it is here that Scott meets his latest opponent: Kanto the Weapon-Master.
Despite looking like a guy who the Renfest nerds beat up, Kanto’s able to overcome Barda with her own Mega-Rod, prompting Scott’s surrender. And if you guessed that he’s about to put him in an elaborate deathtrap from which Scott will escape using some heretofore-unseen gadget, give yourself a gold star!
In this case, the trap is strapping Scott into a metronome that moves back and forth against a target, while Kanto’s men take shots at him.
The escape involves, literally, deploying an airbag. No, I’m not kidding.
Geez, I could laugh death in the face too, if I had a giant inflatable cocoon that I could deploy every time things looked hot. To hell with it, I could use something like that anyway. “Hey, Adam, did you finish that TPS report?” WHOMP! “Damn, I thought I saw him in here, but the room is empty except for a gigantic cocoon of some sort.”
Scott traps Kanto in another cocoon, while leaping free of his own, but is quickly ensnared by Kanto’s men again (prompting the hilarious “horseplay” line at the top of this post). They rope his boot and start dragging him around in an Aero-cycle, but Scott escapes by—no, not unwinding the cable from his leg, but by sending an electrical charge from his shoe up the wire to the vehicle, causing it to explode. Hey, here’s an idea, Kanto: take Scott’s damn boots off. Then we’ll see who’s mister fancy-pants escapist.
After all that, Kanto just hauls Scott up and points Barda’s Mega-Rod at him point blank…but Scott’s able to talk his way out of it, mostly because Kanto’s grown bored with trying to kill him, and because Scott knows how to pour on the flattery. Kanto laughs and lets them proceed onwards to the Orphanage, where Scott has a really anticlimactic encounter with Hoogin, basically marching up and demanding that he challenge Granny to trial by combat. Granny orders Scott sent out to “Section Zero” to face one of Kirby’s most bizarre creations: The Lump.
So now I’m wondering why Oliver Twist didn’t end with the hero battling a glob of pink protoplasm in a mental arena. To hell with literary references, Kirby outdid the classics.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
When we call something “Cronenbergian” we’re usually referring to body horror. But there’s another aesthetic I associate with Cronenberg, at least his early flicks: a fascination with the place where science, (or at least pseudo-science) and the fringey counterculture mindset intersect. We might call it “hippie science”, this image of New Age ideologies and crackpot fringe theories being taken seriously enough to merit study in well-funded, superficially respectable institutes. It had its heyday right when Cronenberg was first making a name for himself as a filmmaker, and it pops up repeatedly in most of his early work. I don’t know if there were ever actually private institutions devoted to studying “Psycho-plasmics” or Cathode Ray Missions for allowing homeless people access to media signals, but this kind of thing was everywhere in pop culture for a while; it’s actually become part of our collective memory of the era, typified most memorably in Lost’s Dharma initiative with its synth music-backed videos and straight-faced statements about the betterment of humanity. Despite the memorably era-specific coat of paint, though, it’s really just a front for our old pal Meddling In God’s Domain.
The Arboria Institute of Beyond the Black Rainbow may as well be the Dharma Institute under another name. The movie even begins with a similarly trippy propaganda video filled with bold proclamations on the part of its founder, “Mercurio Arboria” (I’m guessing that’s not the name he was born with). Dr. Arboria (Scott Hylands) is, predictably enough, a pop science guru whose specialty is pharmaceuticals, and whose institute is devoted to the usual blather about how tripping balls will usher in the next phase of human consciousness. Back in the 60s he performed some radical experiments in chemistry on himself and his inner circle, including his wife and his protégé Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers). The result of this, or one of the results, was the birth of a child, Helena, who seems to have superhuman powers. I think Helena is Mercurio’s daughter, but to be honest it’s a little hard to tell what the hell is going on in the flashback to 1966 due to heavily blown-out, high-contrast cinematography.
The rest of the movie, set in 1983, is less impenetrable visually but still somewhat opaque narratively; we eventually learn that Dr. Arboria is clinging to a grotesque parody of life somewhere in an inner chamber while Nyle runs the institute, a job that largely consists of studying and psycholanalyzing the imprisoned Helena (the strikingly elfin Eva Allen). Unfortunately, in the proud tradition of movie psychiatrists everywhere, Nyle’s kind of a dick…well, no, actually, “kind of a dick” is putting it mildly, though we don’t understand how mildly until the movie’s most of the way to act three.
Beyond The Black Rainbow is not for everyone. It’s way too languid and artsy for people who prefer mainstream thrills and chills, and while ultimately a horror film it’s not in a hurry to announce itself as such. Of course, the movie also makes no bones about being a head film, starting with the title, so hopefully anyone who stumbles across it on Netflix will enter into it with the proper expectation that it’s a sensory experience first and a narrative second. The lush colours and warbly ambient soundscape are carefully constructed to draw you in in a way few movies bother with these days; Kubrick is obviously a touchstone, as is Mario Bava. In terms of mise en scene, though, it leans more to pre-Star Wars 70s SF, hence my evoking Cronenberg earlier.
What’s most intriguing about the movie to me, though, is how it uses the genre trappings of the era it’s examining to comment on it seemingly without even trying. The movie presents a SF re-enactment of the death of the hippie dream, Hunter S. Thompson’s high water mark embodied in the shift of pop culture tropes over two decades. Begun with earnest ambition to make a better world, the Arboria Institute has become a house of horrors, its gurus detached from humanity, the chemicals meant to enhance lives become a withering addiction. Even the movie’s structural veer from portentious thoughtfulness to slasher flick echoes this decline.
Setting out deliberately to make a “cult film” is usually a bad idea in the same way that a movie intended as “Oscar bait” spells trouble; you can’t force people to feel a certain way about your film just by using certain signifiers. But while I won’t claim that you can’t sometimes see Black Rainbow trying to deliberately weird you out, director Panos Cosmatos clearly has something to say behind his posturing. It’s definitely notable that I found this movie worthwhile, even though it’s the kind of thing I usually find to be a slog.
Friday, March 15, 2013
MAY THE SOURCE BE WITH YOU.
So, I should probably talk about Star Wars at this point.
I’ve been tiptoeing around it for most of this series of articles, but it’s pretty widely acknowledged that the Fourth World Saga was a *huge* influence on George Lucas, and if you’ve been paying attention to my recaps, you’ve probably noticed this yourself. We’ve got a mythological cosmic epic that takes the form of a space opera but conceals more a primal, archetypal sensibility; good and evil in impossibly pure forms, with good represented by verdancy and the rejection of violence, and evil by the totalitarian domination of a chilling but charismatic master manipulator; an elaborate mythology full of strange beings, with a pre-existing backstory; and lots of other details, big and small. More obviously, you’ve got a villain named, phonetically, “Dark Side”, whose ruthless personality and will-to-power are more than a little reminiscent of a certain Sith Lord with whom we’re all familiar; throw in the physical characteristics (mutilated body encased in cloak and armour) of another of Kirby’s classic villains, Dr. Doom, and the connection is even more obvious. You’ve also got heroes worshiping and deriving their powers from something called “The Source” (and one from “The Astro-Force”), a gigantic technological hell-planet with great circular pits, and even Laser Swords make a brief appearance at one point. And there’s another major point of similarity which has been pretty heavily hinted at throughout the series, but which this issue, one of the best of the whole meta-series, will make abundantly plain. (This is gonna be a long one.)
“In the Beginning--The New Gods were formless in image and aimless in deed!!! On each of their two new worlds, their races had sprung from a survivor of the old!! The living atoms of Balduur gave nobility and strength to one!!—and the shadow planet was saturated with the cunning and evil which was once a sorceress!!"
With this opening caption, Kirby comes as close as he ever does to admitting that, yes, the Fourth World is supposed to have emerged literally from the wreckage of his imaginary destruction of the Marvel Universe, or at least the Asgard segment of it. I’m not sure why he even bothered to change the name of “Balder”, since he’s a mythological entity, and thus, not owned by Marvel. Although the way copyright laws are going…
So yeah, to recap, once he split with Stan the Man and the House of Ideas, Kirby basically performed a pretty stunning mental purge, metaphorically destroying the universe he’d worked on for so long and summoning a new work out of the ashes. It’s not hard to see how stuff like Countdown to Infinite Crisis That’s Final For Really Reals This Time and Spider-Man Sells His Continuity To The Devil and all the other status-quo-smashin’, father killin’, nothing-you-know-will-ever-be-the-same-again reinventions of the DC and Marvel Universes over the years were taking their cue from what Kirby did here—but none of them ever did it with the kind of breathtaking commitment Kirby brought to it (even though the world he ‘destroyed’ remained alive and static at the company he left behind).
There are almost too many ramifications to this to sort through, though as I mentioned elsewhere, it lends a surprising amount of logical consistency to the series if you imagine that the New Gods come from a parallel universe—this aforementioned far-future Marvel Universe that’s been destroyed and reborn. It would explain why they talk about Earth like it’s a relic of their own history, why they’re seemingly millions of years old despite the fact that their predecessors are clearly the gods of Earth mythology, and why no one in the DCU ever stumbled across them until Darkseid decided to stop by.
Of course, there’s still some stuff that doesn’t really make sense, and it starts right on the first page, when we meet Izaya The Inheritor and his wife Avia, reposing in bucolic splendour on New Genesis.
Now, here’s the thing: Izaya is the man who will one day be known as “All-Father”, and I think Kirby meant for this to be a surprise, but I literally never even thought to question that they were the same guy until the end of the story; his beard isn’t grey, but otherwise the resemblance is obvious. Of course, there are some issues raised by this, like, um, New Gods can age? Also, he’s described as a warrior…yet we’re told that this is at a time before New Genesis and Apokolips went to war. So what was he fighting against? Did the New Gods just pull themselves out of the cosmic goop left by the Old Gods and say, “Hey, those guys fought a lot. We oughtta get some warriors, too! They get all the chicks!”
Tragically, Izaya is about to learn the true meaning of being a warrior, as he and his bride are attacked by Steppenwolf.
I’ve been waiting months to do that joke. And it was totally worth it.
No, this is the Steppenwolf we’re talking about:
Steppenwolf is simply German for “wolf of the steppes” (or Coyote), so it’s probably just a coincidence that it’s a band (and a Hermann Hesse novel) as well as a Kirby character. This particular Steppenwolf lives up to his name by being a pack hunter, who hunts the deadliest game of all: MAN. Or actually, NEW GOD. Yes, in what seems like a fairly suicidal move to me, Stepp has decided to hunt and kill a leader of their neighbouring planet for sport. Diplomacy: not an Apokoliptish strong point.
But then, this may be a classic case of a dumb, spoiled rich kid getting in way over his head, for you see, Stepp is the brother of Heggra, the witchly ruler of Apokolips…and mother of Darkseid. Who, we learn in very short order, was the one who suggested this hunting excursion in the first place. And while Izaya gives them a good run for their money at first, he’s rendered spiritless by the sudden death of Avia, who wandered back onto the battlefield to prevent Izzy from killing Stepp and got whacked herself. Izzy then gets taken out by Darkseid’s “Killing-Gloves” and left for dead. Stepp is just barely bright enough to suspect that something’s rotten in Denmark:
STEPPENWOLF: I don’t trust you, nephew! --Or your bizarre companions!
DARKSEID: Would you care to examine the body, noble Steppenwolf??
STEPPENWOLF: There’s no need! I know I’ll find no sign of life!!! Let me add further, Darkseid!! I don’t like you! You’re clever and cunning—and a plotter!!
Yeah, good thing you’re none of those things, Stepp. “I don’t trust you! Let me demonstrate this by falling into your trap with a minimum of goading!”
For of course, Darkseid set this whole thing up to ensnare New Genesis and Apokolips in a war. Izaya wasn’t killed, and when he wakes up, he’s ready to do some serious vengeance-taking against those who killed his wife. Darkseid’s motivations in setting up the war are never really spelled out as such, though obviously focusing Izaya’s wrath on his mother and uncle is going to help him seize power later. Plus, Apokolips seems to have been created as a world of warriors and weapon-makers, so it was inevitable that they would find someone to fight against. It just doesn’t speak very well of Stepp or Heggra that it took Darkseid to figure this out for them. What were they doing for the first few thousand years of their existence? Holding lavish banquets?
The Darkseid family basically sits around rather pathetically in a bunker, squabbling for no particularly good reason except for the fact that they’re eeeee-vil, while the Monitors of New Genesis bomb the surface flat. Heggra castigates Steppenwolf: "You’re brash!! Arrogant! Loud!! You command an army which only produces battles and body counts!” As opposed to what, sensible shoes? Again, for all their sinister, warlike appearance and cackling and basically looking the part of a bunch of ruthless intergalactic warlords, these guys sure need the essence of conflict spelled out for them, don’t they? Fortunately, Darkseid is planning to betray them all and seize power, and it can’t happen soon enough—even though he’s clearly a million times more competent, it’s still kind of goofy to see Darkseid playing the part of someone’s runty nephew. (By the way, Hegg and Stepp and the rest of Darkseid’s immediate family are a bunch of lemon-yellow, red-eyed weirdos, looking like severely stylized versions of Ming the Merciless, but Darkseid is his usual, rocky self. I know, I know, they’re gods, and aren’t constrained to follow the usual laws of genetics. But still, he kinda sticks out.)
Darkseid is showing off a mysterious “X-Element” that he (or Desaad, who he’s apparently already got working for him) have stumbled upon in the labs. Suddenly, the party is interrupted by Metron, uncharacteristically flustered, bursting in and pleading like a little bitch with Darkseid to be given the X-Element.
If you remember, way back when, I mentioned that Metron’s status as a good guy was a little shaky, and that Orion was basically right to distrust him. This scene is a big part of why. Metron is overtly described as being part of New Genesis, yet he completely sells them out here, agreeing to use the X-Element to open the “Matter Threshold” that will allow Apokolips to transport heavy weaponry directly to New Genesis. His reasoning is that he desperately needs the X-Element to build his Mobius Chair.
“You’re a nice boy!!” croons Heggra. “Does it bother you---to create the means for mass slaughter??” “I have no link with the Old Gods—or New!!” rationalizes Metron. “I am something--different! Something that was unforeseen!!--On New Genesis—or here!!” “You’ll betray us all in time, Metron!” Glowers Darkseid. “But this thing—you shall build—for us!!”
OK, so, we’re going with a Cat’s Cradle-style “the detatched immorality of science” thing here, apparently; Metron just wants to build and discover, and he doesn’t give a thought to what anyone might do with his inventions. Makes him kind of a dick, though, and you have to wonder how New Genesis ever got around to trusting him ever again. As Metron leaves, Heggra laughs with joy, praising her son, and Darkseid grins for I think the only time in the entire series:
Next thing you know, the Dragon Tanks and canine cavalry of Apokolips are blazing across the serene fields of New Genesis, led by Steppenwolf, who, with his tiny, tiny brain, has gone back to thinking well of Darkseid simply because he let his uncle lead the raid. Of course, the inevitable happens: Izaya the Inheritor appears from between the ranks and gets his revenge on Steppenwolf, driving off the Apokoliptish forces while he’s at it.
Metron appears to be castigated by Izaya—though not nearly enough, it seems to me—and makes a lot of “Ooh, that Darkseid! I hate him so much!” noises which are apparently sufficient to placate Izzy.
Over the next couple of pages, the war and the carnage grow ever greater, as the two forces turn to genetic engineering and bacteriological warfare, call down asteroids to slam into each others’ planets, focus the energy of the sun into gigantic flaming lasers (Kirby literally draws them as huge, flaming gouts cutting across space) and just basically making a mess of the entire universe. Somehow, despite being right next door to each other, the two planets don’t manage to wipe each other out, but New Genesis is transformed into a barren wasteland littered with ruins, over which Izaya looks sorrowfully.
“We are worse than the Old Gods!” He cries, in a bout of typically Kirbian anguish. “They destroyed themselves!! We destroy everything!! This is Darkseid’s way! I am infected by Darkseid!! To save New Genesis—I must find Izaya!!”
He proceeds to wander out into the wilderness and do a whole “biblical prophet” thing, ruminating on his past choices, declaring that he rejects the way of war, ripping the armor and war-staff from his body and declaring that he’s rejecting the way of war forever, as the wind whips itself into a frenzy around him. “Darkseid’s game is not mine!!” He howls. “Where is Izaya!!!?? Where is IZAYA!!!??”
In the middle of a re-enactment of 2001: A Space Odyssey, as it turns out, as suddenly a gigantic monolith comes into view across the plain. OK, so this one’s white and has a goofy little pointing-finger icon that writes “THE SOURCE” across it in fiery letters. Hey, I just realized: the Source is a Mac.
Some time elapses. Izaya returns to his throne in new robes, with a new staff; Darkseid, meanwhile, succeeds to the throne of Apokolips following the demise of his mother, and suddenly the war cools off. Darkseid and Izaya make a secret pact which involves their respective, and so-far unseen sons.
Yep, Darkseid’s got a kid: in fact, it seems he’s been married all this time, to this woman:
And as it turns out, the kid takes more after his mom, with the flaming red hair and the violence, than his rocky, pontificating dad. It’s not so surprising, either, since Darkseid never really wanted to raise a family anyway, and his son was raised on the other side of the planet, never knowing his dad. So the terms of the Pact seem fairly agreeable to him: he and Izaya will swap kids, the way ancient rulers were known to do, in order to cement a new truce between the two worlds. Of course, as it pretty much goes without saying, Darkseid just wants to buy some time and re-evaluate his options, so when Izaya’s young son is carried in by Granny Goodness, he immediately hatches a plan to someday break the truce: the kid will be raised in Granny’s Soldier-Orphanage, but he’ll harbour the dream of escape—and if he ever manages to do so, it’ll break the Pact and provide a convenient excuse to resume hostilities. In honour of this day, Granny names the kid “Scott Free”. (You’ve got to feel bad for Scott—it seems like his whole life, including his rebellion against evil, has been planned out by his archnemesis already. So much for being the living embodiment of freedom…)
At the signal, Darkseid’s son is thrust through his own Threshold and finds himself in a warren of tunnels, fighting and kicking the whole way. He’d kept a weapon secreted in his sleeve, and he now turns it on the first figure he comes across: Izaya, now in his white-bearded form of All-Father, offering him friendship and trust for the first time in his life. Orion—for it is he—screams that his father hates him, but Izaya responds with “‘Hate’ is no longer a word in this place!!!” Uh…but you just said…oh, never mind.
The point is that Orion is obviously in desperate need of a daddy, and with All-Father offering to fulfill this role, he decides to symbolically drop the weapon and embrace his new destiny as protector of New Genesis. Fade out.
Once again, I’m impressed by how much more confident Kirby’s storytelling is here than on the other series. The plot comes together much more tightly than I ever would have expected, and while I wish Kirby’s dialogue was smoother and more subtle, the underlying ideas are so powerful that it almost doesn’t matter. These characters’ actions convey who they are beautifully, even if what comes out of their mouth is kind of clunky, and while the forces of evil still seem to be more intellectually engaged (as it often does in these kinds of stories), the good guys actually manage to steal the show this time out. As usual, it’s hard not to think that Kirby was working out some personal issues in the sequence where Izaya rejects violence; perhaps he was coming to see the inherent conflicts in a cosmic war epic that revolved around hippie ideas of peace and brotherhood, and was making an effort to resolve them a little more clearly. As it is, this issue is a crucial peace of mythology that elevates the whole story quite effectively.
Oh, and that whole “hero turns out to be the son of the villain” thing? That’s a great idea. Someone ought to steal that for their own space epic.
Friday, February 15, 2013
When last we left Jimmy O., he’d been genetically regressed into a Caveman by Simyan and Mokkari, the Apokoliptish scientists who run the Evil Factory, or Brigadoom as we recently discovered it to be named. Once again, Kirby shows that he’s willing to play along with the rules of the comic he’s reinventing, since of course Jimmy Olsen was being transformed into something bizarre on a regular basis all throughout the Silver Age. Now he’s broken loose and is trashing S & M’s laboratory as the two watch impassively. “You know, there’s something about his general appearance that resembles—your own!!!” cracks Mokkari to Simyan. Of course, he’s one to talk, since Simyan’s just a relatively hairy, ugly guy, and Mok’s a dopey-looking lemon-flavoured Darth Maul.
In fact, this leads to some bad feeling between the two as Jimmy cuts loose and starts wailing on Mokkari—while Simyan takes his sweet time with the tranq gun. “Experimentors take risks—even with humor, Mokkari!!” says Simyan dryly.
Of course, their dazzling repartee is interrupted by the alarm, so they take off, leaving Jimmy lying, unconscious but unrestrained, in the middle of their lab filled with equipment that a moment ago they were worried he was going to trash. And naturally Scrapper and his Scrapper Trooper walk through the door immediately, bemoaning what the two creeps have done to their pal.
And now it’s time once again to check in on Superman and Dubbilex, whose plotline seems to be moving forward at an absolutely glacial pace. Fortunately, Kirby assures us that “the fates are weaving a master channel for all to meet!” but they’d better hurry the hell up, that’s all I can say. In the meantime, Dubbilex is practicing with his newfound psychokinetic powers on the Hippie Lois Lane, Terry Dean, who doesn’t seem to mind at all that a purple horned dude is tossing and buffeting her around like a rag doll with a mysterious mental ability that he literally just learned about a few minutes ago, and which he still can’t control very well, and just try and tell me he isn’t looking at her cleavage here:
Terry’s ultimate response is a simple, “Mister Dubbilex, you’re weird and wonderful!!!” Oh, for the heady days of the sexual revolution, when a freakish alien dude could manhandle a girl with mental powers and still have her wanting to sleep with him. Let’s hear it for women’s lib.
Superman describes Dub’s power as “E.S.P.--only ten times more potent!” but the Guardian, emerging from the floor, corrects him: “E.P.S. is more like it, Superman! ‘Extra-Physical Status!’ I’ve heard the geneticists at the ‘Project’ discussing it!!” Uh, no doubt. Because that totally doesn’t sound like something you just made up.
The Guardian, it turns out, was investigating the abandoned tunnels beneath the club from which the homicidal musicians attacked the gang in the previous two issues. So, wait, wait—they had Superman and a telekinetic mutant handy, and those two decided to hang around the club while the unpowered Guardian went down and explored a maze of dangerous tunnels? Is he like a Superhero Pledge, who has to do all the dirty and dangerous work for the senior members?
The Guardian pretty much reaffirms what we already knew, that the tunnels lead to the Project. For some reason, Superman then reasons that “The war between New Genesis and Apokolips—now involves the ’Project!’” Which isn’t a huge shock, since Morgan Edge, dupe of Intergang, tried to blow it up, but I guess Superman doesn’t know who Edge is working for…since he’s made absolutely no attempt to find out other than barging into Edge’s office a couple of times, right before heading back out on dodgy assignments that invariably end up turning lethal. So, umm…what was my point again?
Anyway, Superman now decides that, since The Guardian wasn’t attacked by any more low-rent Sgt. Pepper’s wannabes (and I’m talking the Peter Frampton/Bee Gees Sgt. Pepper’s, here), it’s safe for the invulnerable Man of Steel to go down. Man, when did he become such a Super-pussy? Zipping down the tunnels at his usual blinding speed, he encounters… “a light up ahead!! It’s growing brighter!! --Brighter!!” Can your heart take the suspense?!?
Yet another group of our intrepid adventurers are, at that very moment, smashing through the Evil Factory in the Whiz Wagon, causing even more chaos, until they’re hit by a “Repello-beam” that spins them around, knocks them unconscious, and sets them down on the ground. Simyan and Mokkari emerge in a little floating bucket, identify the Newsboys by name—even Tommy, who I don’t think has even had a line of dialogue since this storyline began—and grabs hold of the Wagon with a grappling hook that whisks it over to a conveyor belt, leading to the atomic incinerator. Then, in classic bad guy tradition, they leave the room.
…OK, I can’t judge them too harshly, here—I don’t find myself staring at garbage as it goes down the chute, either—but still, do you really want to give these guys the opening?
But either way, their intelligence level remains in question, given their amazement when they return back to the lab and find Jimmy Olsen missing. Somehow they intuit that Scrapper and his double are behind this, since there’s obviously no way the specimen could have just, I don’t know, gotten up and walked away.
This seems to be a common misconception, since Scrapper and Trooper didn’t bother to tie Jimmy down either, while making their getaway on one of those tiny airport golf carts (included with every mid-sized villain’s lair). Recovering from his tranquilized sleep instantly, Jimmy picks up the golf cart and starts trying to swat Scrapper with it. Because Neanderthals were just that strong, you know.
This is more serious than you might have thought, because as it happens they’re passing the cages containing hordes of bizarre genetic aberrations—the kind that have supposedly been bedeviling the Scottish highlands for the last few months. Sure enough, CaveJimmy manages to smash the power supply, shutting down the electric fence and setting free a saber-toothed tiger. Now, if movies starring Raquel Welsh and Ringo Starr have taught us anything, it’s that cavemen and saber-toothed tigers are mortal enemies, which works to Scrapper and Trooper’s advantage, but the outcome is still surprising: CaveJimmy
Pounds on the tiger and knocks him out with one blow, then beats his chest and wanders off. Man, if all cavemen were like that, it’s no wonder the Smilodon went extinct.
Meanwhile (and I really hope the characters reunite soon, so I don’t have to keep writing “meanwhile”), the intense heat of the furnace has revived the Newsboys, or at least Flippa Dippa, just in time. Given Flip’s orgasmic obsession with water, you’d expect him to freak out at the sight of fire this close to devouring them, but he remains admirably cool and shows he’s not completely useless when not in his element. Realizing the Wagon’s hooked to the track, he drops a concussion bomb right underneath the vehicle, causing some damage but shaking them free. He then proceeds to go all French Connection on Brigadoom’s inner corridors, sideswiping hordes of the Factory’s heretofore-unseen workers. But then, it seems like most of them were running away in a panic anyway. From what? From this:
In the midst of this stampede, the Newsboy Legion is reunited, but CaveJimmy spots Simyan and Mokkari trying to shut the titanium doors to their little bunker, but he leaps in and blocks the door with an iron bar (showing remarkable presence of mind for a rampaging brute). He then proceeds to lay out some serious payback on the dudes who have been tampering with his DNA.
Actually, this whole comic is a brilliant example of Kirby doing what he does best—it’s just non-stop chaos, destruction, and hairbreadth escapes from about the moment the Whiz Wagon bursts in. Things get crazier and more tense, until they climax with Jimmy’s rampage:
Until the second-last page is literally nothing but a series of explosions. Brigadoom is, needless to say, done for—and the Newsboys and Jimmy have to scramble to escape not only the blast that takes out the entire compound, but the potential for being trapped as microscopic beings forever. Remember, Brigadoom is actually really tiny, and to get in you have to pass through a shrink ray—but once Brigadoom goes up, the reverse grow-ray that people pass through to leave goes with it. Needless to say, Jimmy and the Newsboys make it out by a whisker, and the last page shows the aftermath of the destruction: Jimmy passed out in a quiet dale, the Whiz Wagon planted nose-first in the hillside, and a tiny crater where the Evil Factory once resided.
I gotta say—apart from the interesting subtext of his first few issues, this is probably the highlight of Kirby’s run on Jimmy Olsen, accomplishing much more successfully what he tried to do with “The Big Boom” back in #138. At least part of the reason it works better here is that there actually IS a “Big Boom” at the end, but it’s also the conclusion of the main plot running through the series, which lends it a satisfying finality. After this, Kirby gets to toy with a storyline that he hinted at earlier, and which he wanted to make the focus of his run on the book, which probably would have made everything more interesting. Certainly, given that the book was cancelled a few issues later, you’d think Kirby had a better idea of what he was doing. It’s too bad this couldn’t be the end—it would have let him go out with a bang instead of a whimper.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
So here's an annoying pop culture cliche I've recently become aware of: the Older Woman as Vampire.
Obviously this is something that goes back to Snow White and similar myths, but it's something which I notice modern Hollywood has had no problem embracing recently. Including in the two recent Snow White adaptations. The place where I first noticed it, though, was (God help me) the Halle Berry Catwoman movie. In my defense, I haven't watched this all the way through, because it was pretty much unwatchable. But I saw enough to register that Sharon Stone's villain was apparently drawing some kind of superpower (stone skin? WTF?) from the cosmetic products she was trying to sell, which were also apparently going to mutate everyone who used them, or some such nonsense. It was clearly meant as an oh-so-satirical takedown of the beauty industry and how desperate some women are to hold onto their looks and blah blah blah.
It popped up again in Stardust, with Michelle Pfeiffer as the evil aged witch who wanted to cut out Claire Danes' heart to restore her youth (and her sisters'), and then, of course, in Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman. There are other, similar examples, and echoes of it that don't follow the trope exactly, but the gist of it is: older woman who resorts to horrific, unnatural means to keep her looks, which puts her at odds with a younger, naturally pretty girl. The former is the villain, the latter is the hero.
Like, for instance, the "Magical Negro", this is a trope that might not actually be so bad if it didn't keep popping up over and over again, to the point of cliche. I mean, vanity is a bad thing, and people have indeed resorted to unpleasant means throughout history to stave off their own mortality. Obviously heart-eating is to be frowned on. But the problem here is where the dart of empathy is aimed: always at the young. The cumulative effect is to value young and "naturally" pretty girls over older women, whose looks are fading and who, thus, have less value in their own eyes...and the people telling the stories don't do much to suggest that they disagree, frankly.
I don't think I'm breaking any radical new ground here; I'm sure any feminists reading this are thinking "Wow, such dazzling insight, Adam! Now do you have any thoughts in re: the wetness of water?" But I do think it's worth commenting on how much Hollywood seems to exaggerate this effect. There's a pretty clear hierarchy at work here: if you're a young, hot starlet, you get to play the heroine; if you've been able to drink for a decade, it's time to start relegating yourself to villainous roles. Yes, yes, I know, twas ever thus, but it seems like there's a renewed meanness to it of late, particularly the Sharon Stone bit. All of these women are still gorgeous, particularly Theron, who isn't even fucking 40 yet, but here they are playing decaying hags, and worse, evil decaying hags who only exist to make life hard for some vapid pretty girl.
"Yes, Adam, and FIRE HOT," chant the feminists.
I know, I know. And I am used to women being valued only for their looks in the movies. But even in this superficial context, can't we at least get some movie producers capable of recognizing female beauty in someone over 30? I mean, it's not rocket science. You don't have to use some kind of formula. Yet it kind of seems like that's what's being used to determine what makes a woman "hot", as opposed to, y'know, looking.
And the end result is that not only are women being treated as if only the young ones matter, but women are written as if they themselves believe it. At the end of the day, I think this is one of the more inherently pernicious concepts in storytelling, far more than simple sexualization. There's no inherent reason a sexualized woman in a movie can't be an interesting, well-fleshed out character (I mean, they usually aren't, but there's no reason they can't be). But relying on the "evil queen" who's jealous of a younger woman--no matter how subtly it's played--automatically reduces women to the status of objects. It'd be nice if more people in the media paid attention to what they're saying with their stories.
Friday, February 8, 2013
As you recall, the last we saw, the FPs were being menaced by Darkseid’s Really For Reals Ultimate Weapon, the Omega Effect, which he had somehow forgotten he had access to until just now. The Omega Effect, as was loudly trumpeted last issue, “WIPES YOU OUT OF EXISTENCE!!!” Yep, hit by the Omega Beam, and you’re a goner, completely vaporized, eradicated completely from the space-time continuum, demolished utterly and completely, as if you had never existed.
Because, at the last moment, Darkseid seems to have once again remembered a crucial detail: he can use the Omega Effect to do other stuff besides totally annihilating his enemies. So, rather capriciously, he’s decided to do something much, much less evil.
More on this momentarily, for now we must check in with The Council of the Young! As you may remember, there’s been some talk about how the young are revered on New Genesis, but of course Highfather still runs the place. With the first four pages of this issue, we see this in action: apparently there’s a council which the young and goofily-attired of New Genesis can use to petition Highfather for help, and they’re doing so now on behalf of the Forever People.
What’s more, it seems that the adults of New Genesis have been unaware, until now, that the Forev Peeps had actually skipped town (Supertown, that is) and headed to Earth to take on Darkseid. So their young friends are essentially coming to Highfather and admitting, “Geez, we screwed up bad, pops, can you fix everything for us?” Well, OK, the FPs have been awfully brave and done some serious damage to Darkseid so far, and they did come to Earth in the first place to rescue their friend Beautiful Dreamer, so their heart was in the right place, but still, for all the praise directed to the young generation in these comics, it’s pretty clear who holds the Wonder-Staff in New Genesis: the old, white, male, Abrahamic authority figures. Speaking of which, you can kind of read this whole sequence as a Deus Ex Machina, with the children basically praying to a godlike leader out in a cosmic dimension to bail out the heroes.
The conversation between High-Father, the kids, and Metron (who’s also present, having apparently been the one who figured out that the FPs were in trouble and reported it to High-Father) goes back in forth in Kirby’s usual expository way, until Esak comes forward. Esak, you may recall, is the cherubic little kid in hotpants that Metron was showing around the universe back in New Gods #4. “Is one of the youngest of New Genesis to add his voice against my edicts!?” asks Highfather. “Not against your edicts, High-Father!!” Replies Snot-nose, “But for our friends!! Is this not a world of friends!? Save our friends, Highfather! Save Them!” Then he breaks down weeping. And when that’s not enough, he resorts to really incomprehensible ass-kissing:
So basically, policy on New Genesis is formulated by six-year-olds.
But now we check in with the Forever People, or at least Mark and Beauty, who we now learn, have not been eliminated at all. No, Darkseid has instead given them...theater tickets.
I’m not kidding. The theater in question is Ford’s, and the year is 1865. Darkseid has sent them back into Earth’s past. As you can see, this comic is in full compliance with the rule that time travelers in comic books never wind up someplace where nothing of note is occurring. They’re always within a few days, and usually a few moments, of some momentous occasion.
Beautiful Dreamer declares them to be “marooned” in the past, but I’d say this is a pretty good alternative to being completely wiped out of existence. Indeed, within moments the two young ones seem to be enjoying themselves, using BD’s powers of illusion to conjure up period-appropriate costumes and trying to remember what they know about the time period. We learn Big Bear is the team’s historian (though apparently he couldn’t be bothered to read up on local traffic laws) but Mark is savvy enough to recognize the time period as post-civil war. However, he fails to recognize Lincoln when he walks in, at least at first.
Lincoln is of course a staple of superhero books; if you’re a silver age character, and you’re sent back in time, chances are excellent you’re going to run into one of a) Lincoln, b) King Arthur, c) Robin Hood or d) Julius Caesar. I always wonder if the DC and Marvel Universe versions of these historical personages don’t start to get annoyed by being constantly pestered by time travelers. But I like Kirby’s rendition of Lincoln, who he describes as “seem[ing] scarred by grave tragedy in his time!!” “He looks wise—and old—and tired—“ says Beauty. Lincoln has no lines in this comic, but he’s still more interesting than any other comic book Lincoln I can think of.
Ah. And only in comics would I have to expend so much thought distinguishing between multiple Lincolns. Moving on.
Mark finally twigs to the significance of their current circumstances (Beautiful Dreamer apparently knows nothing about history, ‘cuz she’s a girl and stuff) and rushes backstage to try and prevent the impending assassination. No thoughts of preserving history here, it would seem. But the two are met by a squad of policemen backstage, demanding identification.
Meanwhile, Vykin the Black finds himself in Florida circa the early 1500s, just in time for an encounter with, you guessed it, Ponce De Leon’s men. Wait, no, apparently they’re not with Ponce but instead are…deserters? Or even rivals? It’s never made clear. Nevertheless, they’re nasty, racist folks who are out for gold, so I guess Kirby didn’t want to demonize Ponce (who I’m sure thought all races were equal and had no interest in gold whatsoever). Their first move is to try and grab Vykin. “Who are you cats?” Asks Vykin. “Why are you behaving this way??” When this diplomacy fails, he proceeds to pound the living crap out of them. This doesn’t do much to change their attitude towards “the black”, as they refer to Vykin every two seconds. “Being a language major, I should be able to deal with them!” thinks Vykin. Um, yeah, these guys seem naturally receptive. Realizing that they’re only interested in one thing, Vykin declares that he’s “equipped to ferret out hidden minerals” and agrees to lead them to a cache of it nearby. But, you’ll be shocked to learn, the pirates plan to betray him once they get there.
And now it’s Big Bear’s turn. He comes flopping out of the timestream and right into a nearby band of warriors. “Medieval dawn man!” declares BB, delightedly. “Celtic or Saxon emergence!” Sure enough, he’s in Roman-controlled Britain, surrounded by Celts who declare him to be, alternately, a warlock, a druid, and a bear spirit (well, they’re not too far off there.) BB picks up their speech with a universal translator in his ear-circuits-making me wonder why Vykin had to be a “language major” to understand the Spaniards—and figures out that they’re preparing to attack the Romans as they pull out from Britain for the last time. This makes no sense, because a) they seem to want the Romans to leave anyway, and b) there’s like five guys against an immense Roman army.
Again, we can see the shift in sensibilities that society had been undergoing starting to take hold in Kirby’s comics—most pre-1970 comics would have cast the Romans solidly in the “good guy” camp, and comparing them to Darkseid, which seems fairly acute, nevertheless represents a pretty major about-face. Of course, the dirty, disorganized Celtic rabble doesn’t seem particularly heroic either, which may be why Big Bear says he “would like to avoid any partisan feelings at this moment” and just observe this key moment in history. Because, as we just learned two pages ago, he’s a history buff.
He’s actually so determined to sit back and enjoy that he grabs all the Celt’s weapons and drives them into a nearby tree with the force of his throw. You can see where this is going, right?
That leaves Serifan, who you may recall was left by himself in the present, due to Darkseid’s apparent laziness. Of course, if my only remaining enemy was Serifan, I don’t think I’d be too worried either. As you may recall from the previous installment, he had just gotten back to the Super-Cycle when a wave of Glorious Godfrey’s Justifiers swept down on him. Or, um, up at him, since they were climbing a cliff. Godfrey, by his own admission, “wastes” his zealots for a while by throwing them into the heavy laser fire produced by the Super-Cycle, before finally producing an “Induction Ray” and bringing the mountain down on top of him. “Serifan is transfixed by the terrifying fall of rock,” narrates Kirby, “--and, so, misses seeing the alpha bullet streaking toward him!!” The what now?
“Alpha bullets!! Never seen before on Earth—originate from a different hand!! The hand which governs New Genesis!!” Turns out that the cure for the Omega Effect is an Alpha bullet, produced by Highfather. Highfather’s the Alpha, and Darkseid’s the Omega. Do you get it? Huh? Huh? Do ya?!?
Anyway, Highfather is indeed sending Alpha Bullets through time to rescue the FPs, having responded to Esak’s whining—so now we get the other halves of the various vignettes. In 1865, Mark and Beauty have managed to get past the cops with illusory identification, and have made it down the hall to confront John Wilkes Booth, again, with no apparent mind to what effect this might have on history. But this seems to be one of those deals where the future’s already set, and everything’s predestined, because just then the Alpha Bullet catches them and sends them back to their own time. Booth dismisses them, a little too casually, as hallucinations…though Kirby seems to be suggesting that Booth was just nuts. Admittedly, the Kennedy assassination was only a few years in the past at that point, so equating presidential killers with lone nuts was probably pretty natural, but I thought it was always pretty clear Booth’s actions were politically motivated.
I just bring this up because the Big Bear segment, which we cut to next, displays a decent grasp of history. It’s been suggested that, during his famous sojourn at Marvel, Kirby became a voracious reader, and this informed his work. You can definitely see fairly literate ideas popping up in Kirby’s work from time to time, but then there’s weird misapprehensions like the Booth thing. Anyway, Big Bear brings up the very good question of what the Celts are so angry about if the Romans are leaving, but their anger now seems to be turned towards the Romanized Celts they left in charge, like a certain Arta the Sentry. In fact, they’d gladly kill the guy, if their weapons weren’t still embedded in that tree. Big Bear, trying to mollify them, suggests that Arta is probably a decent guy, and the knowledge he learned from the Romans could be useful now that, y’know, the entire country’s infrastructure has packed up and gone south. To cement the deal, he lets Arta, and only Arta, pull a sword out of the tree, which wins him the love of the other Celts, who have names like Gwane and Lanslac. This is actually pretty subtle, by Kirby’s standards, though as awesome as Big Bear is I’m not sure he squares up properly with the Merlin of legend.
Vykin’s subplot ends rather abruptly when he leads the pirates to a crumbling mine, which he claims was constructed by “the ancients who passed here on their way further south” (again, spackling over the small issue of the fact that Kirby’s designed the mine to look Mayan). The pirates, of course, are getting ready to literally stab Vykin in the back, when we get a double Deus Ex Machina: first Vykin’s hit by the Alpha Bullet, then the ground beneath the conquistadores collapses, and they all plummet into the Earth to be with their beloved gold. Way to wrap things up in two panels, Kirby!
The four time travelers are reunited in the present by the mound of rocks, from which the Super-Cycle then extracts itself. The group is reunited, except for the strangely-absent Serifan. “He must be alive!” Declares Beautiful Dreamer. “If Darkseid spared us, he couldn’t have harmed Serifan!!” Yeah, mm-hmm, that’s some logic there, sweetie. Surely the embodiment of pure evil couldn’t have capriciously killed anyone if he spared someone else!
But of course he is alive, and in Honshu, Japan. “Of course!!” says Mark, “Where else would Darkseid have sent Sonny Sumo?” Right, because he was careful to send all the other characters to times and places in which they would feel comfortable and could integrate easily.
Sure enough, Serifan’s in a temple in Honshu, where a group of monks have a gift for him: the Mother Box that Sonny had with him. It seems that Sonny had lived a rich and full life full of good works in ancient Japan, and bequeathed the Box to the monks with instructions to keep it until the FPs came for it many centuries later. In other words, he got what he always wanted: to live in a simpler time when straightforward honour and heroism were still possible. From one perspective, it’s a very nice conclusion to his character arc.
From another, it makes no sense whatsoever. I mean…Darkseid granted his greatest wish?!? More crucially, he sent away the one guy he’d supposedly been searching for for years, the holder of the Anti-Life Equation?!? Is Darkseid easily distracted by shiny objects?
I’ll give Highfather a pass for not rescuing Sonny from history, since he probably knew somehow that he was happier there, but it’s still kind of annoying that Kirby created this Japanese superhero with great fanfare and then proceeded to get rid of him in three issues. Of course, if he hadn’t, Sonny would probably have kicked around the DC Universe for a few years, being badly written by a series of hacks, and then been horribly killed off in some stupid crossover event. So perhaps it’s for the best. [Future Edit: Of course, Grant Morrison proceeded to use Sonny Sumo in the pages of "Final Crisis", so it's possible the guy might suffer some ignominious fate after all. Morrison seems to appreciate Sonny's awesomeness, however.]
The final two pages are another Lonar story. Basically, Lonar and his battle-horse, now named Thunderer, run across Orion, who’s moping around in a loincloth on the surface of New Genesis. Yup, two dudes in panties, just hangin’ out together. Orion admires Lonar’s battle-horse and tries to pet it, but it rears up in fright and takes off. There is no subtext to this story whatsoever.
Next time: the further adventures of Caveman Jimmy.
Friday, February 1, 2013
It’s time yet again to visit with our friend and Superman’s, Jimmy Olsen, as he gets to the bottom of the Loch N…Loch Trevor Monster and yet another attempt on his bosses’ part to murder him with really hot platinum-haired Scottish chicks.
As you may recall, said assassin-chick and her fake dad were helping the Newsboy Legion find a monster in Loch Trevor, one which had apparently grabbed the headlines around the world, but which only Jimmy Olsen had been willing to follow up. Oh, as if the media would over-report a story like that, and then completely fail to follow it up! As if their attention spans are that short! So unrealistic, Kirby.
Anyway, the MacGregors ended up trying to kill them at Intergang’s behest, but were foiled by the monster. You might think this would lead to one of those traditional scenes where a dubious-looking authority-figure laughed them out of the police station once they tried to explain what had happened—Jimmy even seems to expect it—but no, the Scotland Yard regional chief (that would be the Scottish branch of Scotland Yard) is quite accepting, and on the next page we see why. It turns out that Scotland has been plagued lately with bizarre, mythical creatures, which the cops have dutifully rounded up and stuck in their “special custody” room. So, basically, vague rumours of a big monster in a Scottish Lake is worldwide news, but freakin’ Basilisks and Chimeras that are actually being held in police custody have gone unmentioned up ‘til now. Boy, I’ve heard of police stonewalling, but this is ridiculous.
The monsters in the lockup include a Griffin, a Unicorn (in a nice touch, it looks a lot like a Rhino, medieval reports of which are what inspired the myth of the Unicorn in the first place) and the aforementioned Chimera and Basilisks, neither of which bear any resemblance to their mythical forebears. The Chimera is basically a huge chameleon, and the Basilisks are tiny little hairballs that resemble Ewoks crossed with pug dogs. Flippa Dippa, for once not wearing his scuba suit, looks on in amazement, and Jimmy Olsen proclaims “Jumping Jars of Jellied Jaguars!!!”. And “Big Words” is reduced to responding “Yeah! Wow!!!”
But the biggest surprise is being kept at the end of the hall in a special, titanium-coated cell. ANGRY CHARLIE.
Charlie leaps forward and tries to grab them, and the cops rush in to tranquilize him, as Chief Inspector McQuarrie rolls his R’s at random (“Alar-r-rms” and “tranquilizer-r gun” bear the brunt of his verbalizations). He claims these strange animals are all somehow coming from “Brigadaoom”—“A Scottish fairy tale city—that becomes the object of a real hunt the next day!” (It’s “Brigadoon”, of course—Kirby apparently got so caught up in his little pun that he forgot the real name.) Of course, we cut to the Olsen crew hunting for it so fast that we don’t get a chance to find out how the heck the Inspector knows that that’s where the monsters are coming from. Maybe this is a technique we should adopt in North America. “My deduction—the killer is from Shangri-La!”
We immediately cut to the Whiz Wagon in aquatic mode, plumbing the depths of Loch Trevor. Wha--?!? They couldn’t have done that back when they were looking for the monster the other day?!? Of course, if they had, MacGregor would have just killed them, since it was the monster wrecking their boat that enabled them to escape. So yay for short attention spans.
Also shaky logic. Jimmy and Scrapper have been sent to look for an “overland route”, so they’re not on board the Wagon; instead they’re traipsing mindlessly through a field of brambles and overgrowth and, after a few panels of effort, immediately falling asleep. Who knew Scrapper and Jimmy were so damn lazy?
The Scrapper Trooper is left to stand guard, “But nothing can guard against the compressor wave! It comes out of nowhere—and does its strange work!” Scrapper one wakes up to find the Trooper staring him in the face—on his level.
SCRAPPER: Hey! You ain’t little any more!—Or is it—that I ain’t big any more!!??
TROOPER: I told you that I saw something weird happen to you!! In short—you’ve been shortened!!
Naturally, you can’t really faze residents of the DC Universe with this kind of stuff, but Scrapper does get a little concerned about “Big boids!!”, so the Trooper leads them under a rock—then keeps going, driven by some instinct “like all graduates of the D.N.A. Project”. This is significant, and ties back into that stuff about parts of the Guardian’s brain being active that they didn’t understand, though unfortunately this plotline never gets totally resolved. However, there’ll be more on it in this issue.
Beneath the rock, the Trooper finds Brigadoom.
Yes, Brigadoom is a microscopic fortress hidden under a small rock. That’s why no one’s been able to find it. And what’s more, this isn’t just some random mythical city; it’s a place that the Scrapper Trooper inherently recognizes, and which Jimmy Olsen, using his journalistic know-how, deduces to be the source of not just he mythical animals back on the surface but all the bizarre monsters that have been plaguing them lately. Yep, it’s the Evil Factory itself.
What makes this a neat reveal is that you’re half-convinced Kirby had totally forgotten about that plot thread, and that even if he hadn’t he’d have just pulled something out of his butt. The fact that he manages to weave it into an ongoing story, and one where its presence makes perfect sense (well, by comic book standards) is pretty impressive, considering how random this has been so far.
Anyway, confirming their suspicions, Simyan and Mokkari suddenly arrive, Mokkari dressed in a goofy-looking suit of armour that protects him from Jimmy’s fire, and knocks them out with “well-placed paralysis beams.” “Luckily, in dealing with Earthmen, our Apokolips clothing fabric is resistant to their weapons!” Cackles Mokkari. Um, yes, I think the “fabric” of a suit of armour tends to work that way on Earth, too.
We now suddenly cut to Superman’s far more interesting plotline—he and NotLois had gone to a disco where they had discovered a secret passage, run into Superman’s horned, purple-skinned mutant friend Dubbilex, and then the evil hippie house band brought the house down—as in, literally. How will Superman and everyone else survive? Well, Superman will survive because he’s Superman. Everyone else…um…I have no way of knowing, because we suddenly cut to the tunnel under the disco, where Superman, Dubbilex and NotLois are all safe and sound. I guess the other Disco patrons were crushed to death, but hey, they were into disco. No big loss.
Dubbilex has, between issues, captured the homicidal rock band (they’re called The San Diego Five String Mob) with what Superman calls “Kinetic powers”. They’re hovering in a clump in the middle of the tunnel, to NotLois’s consternation. “Terry [NotLois] doesn’t know Dubbilex is a D.N.Alien!” Thinks Superman, slyly. Yes, I guess she’ll have to continue labouring under the assumption that he’s one of those telekinetic, horned purple guys you see thronging the streets of Metropolis. “Mister Dubbilex!! You’re weird!!” is her response.
Of course, Dubbilex’s powers are still developing, and thus, he’s not able to hold them long. As soon as they drop to the floor, they conjure up a Boom Tube and make their getaway (“The San Diego Five String Mob is now a road show!!”). “Don’t go near it!” Warns Superman. “Let these kids go!! And don’t ask questions!” What are you hiding all of a sudden, Superman? Oh, right. Secret identity.
Back at Loch Trevor. The Whiz Wagon actually came upon the monster about three seconds after submerging in the last segment and drove it off with some concussion charges. Following behind, the Newsboys suddenly see the monster vanish after heading into the same compression-wave effect we saw earlier. “There’s no sign of him!!” Declares Big Words. “All I get is a tiny blip on my scope!” Yes, no sign whatsoever.
Flippa Dippa, of course, sees an excuse to make himself useful and pops out the airlock, at which point he is not only sucked in, but somehow pulls the Whiz Wagon in after him. Smooth!
Meanwhile, Scrapper and his Trooper are locked up while Simyan and Mokkari have Jimmy strapped down to an operating table.
MOKKARI: And now the new “bombardment” method!! Millions of gene nuclei shot through his open pores!!
SIMYAN: They develop like wildfire! Olsen will change rapidly!! Becoming what the Gene dictates!! Sad to say—these are regressive and powerful!!
Am I the only one who pictures Kirby writing this stuff by flipping through medical textbooks and pulling out words at random? Of course, maybe he does the same with thesauruses every time he writes. Long story short, they have a ray that reverses the process of evolution and devolves organisms. They’ve done this on a “monitor lizard” to produce a T-Rex, which they immediately sic on Scrapper and Trooper.
Meanwhile meanwhile, the Whiz Wagon pops up in the underwater pens used to keep Trevor the monster when he’s at home. Which means we get two scenes with giant lizards—the Whiz Wagon leaps out of the pens and tears down a nearby hallway, while the Scrapper Trooper manages to sedate the dino with “chemical ‘mace’” he had secreted in his helmet. And I don’t mean he had it tucked away, I mean his helmet squirts mace from out the inside. Must be a pain in the ass to avoid macing yourself on a near-constant basis.
Scrapper and the Trooper escape, but too late to help Jimmy, who’s been regressed into caveman form!
Huh…I guess Jimmy wasn’t that evolved to begin with.
And on that exciting cliffhanger, we reach the end of the second Fourth World Archive volume, and the halfway point of the saga! Next week: Part 3 begins, including the end for Olsen and friends…