Friday, April 29, 2011

Fourth World Fridays: Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #136--"The Saga of the D.N.Aliens!!"

I...greatly apologize, I'm actually posting this early Saturday. Fourth World Fridays nearly slipped by me! This is unforgivable—how could I *possibly* forget…

Uh…fairly easily, as it turns out. After a sharp upward curve in quality, the resolution to the Big Green Jimmy fight and the Golden Guardians’ first mission turns out to be pretty boring. Boring by Kirby standards, that is. Which means “still completely nuts, just not that surprising from a plot perspective.” Unless the fact that—


--there’s actually just one D.N.Alien in the saga—


--is supposed to be the big twist.

We begin exactly where we last left our heroes, with Superman K.O.’d by the Kryptonite Jimmy-Hulk and the all-new, all-weird Golden Guardian, a clone of the original Manhattan Guardian who had looked after the Golden Age Newsboy Legion, leaping into the fray to save the Project. The Newsboys (version 2.0) fill us in on this with some expository dialogue, also ruminating over who could have stolen the cell samples to clone Jimmy, what with the Project’s security being so tight and all, as the Guardian battles Greenie over a few pages.

Now, look, I know Jimmy-Hulk was mostly counting on his coating of “synthetic Kryptonite” to put down Supes, but still, you got to figure he’s pretty darn strong, going toe-to-toe with the Man of Steel and all. So the fact that the Guardian gets taken out pretty handily by the Jimmy-Hulk is not really much of a shock. Real Jimmy rushes into swatting range to revive Superman and gets plucked up by the beast, saved only by the monster’s momentary confusion on discovering that his victim looks exactly like him. This gives Superman the time to tilt the entire floor with his foot, throwing the Jimmy-Hulk across the room and causing him to let go of Real Jimmy. Then, just as he’s getting to his feet to continue his rampage, a pink puff of smoke explodes out of the Jimmy-Hulk’s hair and puts him to sleep.

It turns out—are you sitting down?—while everyone was distracted by the fight, a miniature Scrapper clone parachuted onto Jimmy-Hulk and put him to sleep with a gas grenade. Recalling the Little Green Army Men of Toy Story several decades later, an entire army of micro-Scrappers swoop in and, briskly and efficiently, put the Jimmy-Hulk on ice, or rather liquid nitrogen, for further study.

Despite the fact that a bunch of tiny clones just did everything for them, Superman, Jimmy and the Guardian proceed to congratulate themselves on another impressive victory. Jerks. “Thanks for saving my skin, Superman!” declares Jimmy. “You’ve just closed the generation gap!” Oh, really? Just like that, eh? Nice of you to speak for everyone in your entire generation, Jimmy. I’m sure all those college kids who might have had slight reservations about the near-omnipotent vigilante working for the American government—in the Nixon era, remember—are happy to take the word of a bow-tie-wearing redheaded dork and establishment man that Superman’s A-OK! (Man, Watchmen really has ruined me for stories where superheroes work hand-in-hand with the government, hasn’t it?)

Anyway, while our supposed heroes pat themselves on the back that their DNA made such suitable fodder for growing a race of microscopic workers who live only to serve them, the supposedly evil Mokkari and Simyan, back at the Evil Factory, are getting a tongue-lashing from Darkseid. With Jimmy-Hulk out of the picture, the two henchmen have nothing left but “mere beasts of burden!” Yes, that’s right, they’ve been growing human clones to use as slaves! Dastardly and diabolical! Thank goodness our heroes at The Project are here to defend us against such menaces!

The next few pages are mostly boring exposition, recapping what we pretty much already new: that the original Guardian died, but not before passing on his secret identity to the grown-up Newsboys, who then cloned him back to life as the Golden Guardian. Now, obviously, all this cloning (and, cough, “fathering”) of new characters is happening to bring Kirby’s older characters into the present in new, sleek, shiny models; they’re pretty much acknowledging that the old, offscreen Guardian would have been too old to resume his old role. If Jim Harper (the Guardian’s secret identity) was around 30 at the time of the original comics, and if we go by “comic time” rather than actual real-world time, and assuming the original Newsboys were about 10 circa the Golden Age and are now about 30 themselves, that would have made Manhattan Guardian 50 years old at an absolute bare minimum. We’re told that the Guardian vanished when Jim Harper got a promotion to Detective, but clearly he was still pretty active as a cop, since he apparently died in a shootout “just recently”. That guy was eating his vitamins.

Anyway, we’re reminded how creepy the Project is as Superman shows him more clones-Gabbys, this time, to oversee the communications division—and we see a batch of “Normals” being raised in a nursery. “They belong here, Jimmy!” Explains Superman. “The Project grows its own!” Oh, that’s good to hear. For a moment I was thinking that you guys were genetically engineering human beings to act as forced labour and routinely denying them basic human rights, but it turns out they don’t want them. They’re happy just to do their jobs! Yay genetic engineering!

Superman goes into a lot of elaborate detail about the various types of people they’re growing—still not creepy, Kal-El!—which is all explained by this simple chart:

Oooooh, NOW I get it.

It seems there’s one other offshoot of The Project we haven’t seen yet, the titular D.N.Aliens. In fact, they’re just people, genetically engineered to look weird so that slack-jawed yokels like Jimmy can gawk at them. Or at least, that’s what I infer from Jimmy’s reaction when Superman introduces him to “Dubbilex”, a purple, bulb-headed guy with horns. “Dubbilex is resigned to being The Projects’ ‘conversation piece!’ He’s seen by every visiting V.I.P.!” laughs Superman, as the weary-looking Dubbilex looks on. This sequence is hilarious, because it’s obvious that Dubbilex had important work to do, and Superman boorishly yanked him away so that Jimmy could do his Cletus bit. Still a dick!

Mokkari and Simyan, meanwhile, are preparing their newest threat: a group of human cells exposed to “Beta Rays”, which have been gestating beneath a fog that prevented them from seeing in. Wow, does Darkseid know what you guys are doing with his funding down here? I couldn’t help thinking of This recent Onion article while reading this. Anyway, the yellow Darth Maul and his hairy chum have lucked out, in that this apparently neglected experiment actually produced something: a clutch of eggs, conveniently ready to hatch. The shell of the first one cracks, revealing…something with four arms!

OOOOOOH!!!! Four arms!!!! I’m sure that’ll do a lot of damage to the guy who just subdued a rampaging, super-strong monster covered in kryptonite!

By Kirby standards, this ish is a total snoozer. I mean, there’s only one five-page fight scene and just a handful of bizarre, genetically engineered freaks. He couldn’t even get a gorilla in there, apparently. Of course, I wouldn’t blame Kirbs for losing interest in this book, given what he’d been doing with the other Fourth World comics; this, as I’ve mentioned, seemed to be his “contractual obligation” that he made the best of. All joking aside, it’s still Kirby goodness, but he does seem to be dragging it out a bit too much; I’m sorry to say we’ve got two more issues before we get out of the Project and rejoin the goings-on on the outside world. Man, good thing there’s a flock of New Gods on Earth right now, cleaning up the place while Superman hangs out in a vast underground slave-growing complex, isn’t it?

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