Friday, June 17, 2011

Fourth World Fridays: Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #137--"The Four-Armed Terror!"

So maybe you've noticed Kirby has a slight thing for exaggeration. The events contained within this issue do not take place on "The Last Day of the World", and would not, in fact, do so, even if the threatened catastrophe had happened. Yes, you'll be amazed to discover that Superman saves the day.

But never mind! Here's that thing that was teased in the last issue: a big, yellow, four-armed rock monster.

Hoo boy. Last time out, Superman fought a dopey version of The Hulk. This time, it looks like he's going to battle a nasty version of The Thing. Kirby was working out some leftover energy from his Marvel days, it looks like.

The Terror, just warming up to its rampage through the vast cavern that holds the Project, comes across our boneheaded goofballs Yango and his friend, who we now discover is named Gandy. "Jimmy Olsen and his pal Superman must have fallen off the map, Gandy!" says Yango. "Put your wheels together and let's split, Yango!" replies Gandy. "They must have run into the Mountain of Judgment! And any cat who's ever done that-- has never been seen or heard of again!"

OK, yeah, that's what these guys were saying a couple issues ago, but now we, the audience, know that the Mountain of Judgment is a gigantic missile carrier filled with friendly genetically engineered hippies under the control of the US Military. I guess I could figure on the Outsiders being too superstitious to have the full picture, but still...what happened to all those people who met the Mountain? Did they get killed? That doesn't seem like the kind of thing the Hairies would do. Are the Outsiders the descendants of Hairies who ran off and have been living wild in the Wild Area? But the Project can't have been at this whole "genetic manipulation" thing for very long. Do the Outsiders get jobs at the Project and just fail to ever go back to inform the Outsiders what happened? That's certainly what's happened to Jimmy, who's apparently too much of a jerk to even call back to his gang--they have radios, for crying out loud--and tell them that he's safe. Sheesh!

Yango and Gandy are basically getting ready to write Olsen off (smart move, boys) when they're attacked by the Four-Armed Terror. The following baffling exchange takes place:

GANDY: Hey! My transistor radio has just switched from country western to "spook" rock! Get that spider sound!

(The Terror rears up behind them.)

YANGO: Man! You hit the bull's-eye without even lookin'! Gandy! Go for your blaster! It's "horror time!"

Indeed it is, Yango. Indeed it is.

The "feature creature", as Yango dubs it a panel later, absorbs the bullets "like a self-sealing tire!" and our two pharmaceutically-altered motorcycling enthusiasts speed off to warn the denizens of Habitat, leaving the Terror to continue its rampage towards the Project.

But Jimmy Olsen has not forgotten the friends that let him get this far! Oh, no! While Yango and Gandy have been searching high and low for their beloved leader, Olsen and Superman have been participating in the Project's research by attaching themselves to the "Solar-Phone", a goofy-looking device invented by the Hairies that enables them to gather radio-signals from the stars "and convert them into mental musical images"! And the Hairies have been using this device to have a great big mental communion...

Oh...uh...OK, I guess Jimmy HAS forgotten about his friends. But who cares? They were the violent, angry kind of hippie. The Hairies are the peaceful, cosmic, all-knowing kind of hippie. And they have a really primo stash.

(By the way, I love how Flippa Dippa feels the need to constantly remind everyone that, yes, he's still there. At least he's not spouting off about scuba diving right now. I guess I'd have low self-esteem, too, if that was the only useful skill-set I brought to the group.)

This series started with Superman barging in on the world of early 70s youth culture like a big, blue, square symbol of authority, and his running battle with Jimmy Olsen played itself out as the very embodiment of the generation gap. It seems things are now groovy, with Superman and Jimmy participating in a great big cosmic love-in. They float heedlessly through a mental landscape of Kirby's by-now-familiar paste-up montages, until they're brought back to Earth by a series of explosions. Yep, turns out the Project is under siege again. Good thing Superman doesn't have a city of his own to protect, and can just hang out here until something happens, huh?

Superman tells Jimmy and the Newsboys to wait in the safety of the Project, instead of heading towards the devastating destruction. Apparently this reasonable suggestion, coupled with the fact that he offhandedly calls them "kids", is enough to rekindle the old animosity and have the Newsboys plotting against Superman again. (Jimmy, offended, insists that he's over 21. Really? I guess time wasn't frozen for all those Silver Age adventures.) After a Newsboy huddle that seems to last all of two minutes, they appoint Jimmy as their leader, the rationale being that if he's good enough to be declared the warrior-god of a bunch of superstitious biker-hippie-savages, he's good enough for the Newsboy Legion. Hard to argue with that.

Meanwhile, the Four-Armed Terror has found its way to the massive nuclear piles that power the project, and is somehow causing a series of devastating explosions that rip through the entire Wild Area. Umm...that's not good. Somehow these explosions are non-nuclear, or so I conclude by the fact that the characters don't all lose their hair and die of radiation poisoning in subsequent issues, but they still wreak havoc on the tree-town of Habitat, causing Yango, of all people, to step up to the plate and assume a leadership role in helping people evacuate.

Here, again, we have Kirby saying something interesting, in an offhand manner. You had a gang of anarchists who suddenly find themselves in a position where they need to be led, and a guy who up until now has seemed utterly useless and self-absorbed turning out to be the right man for the job. Again, I think this reflects Kirby's experience in WWII, wherein a bunch of average joes who might otherwise have ended up as a bunch of slackers managed to rise to the occasion in the face of disaster. Kirby is transposing that onto the counterculture kids of the then-present day, which again reflects a generosity of spirit that not everyone of his generation possessed.

I kinda wish this plot thread had gotten a little more space, but we do have a giant atomic monster for Superman to smash, after all. But first he's got to ditch the Newsboys, who in their Whiz Wagon have reverted to their old, suicidal habits of trying to tag along behind Superman. Not to belabour the point, but Supes is headed into a nuclear zone, yet Jimmy and co. don't pause for even a second in their pursuit. Seriously, what the hell do they think they're going to do? Even if they're interested in "the scoop", what's the point of getting THAT close to unfettered nuclear power? To get some really killer pics before their eyeballs melt?

Superman does manage to outpace them, mentally grumbling over their idiocy, and engages the Terror in a typical Kirby-style smashup. The Newsboys do crest the hill, however, and manage to distract Superman just long enough that the Terror gets the drop on them all, encasing them in a giant pink egg. Gee, thanks, Jimmy, your help is always so valuable!

...Wait...a giant pink egg?

Yes, the terror shoots "some strange form of energy particles" at the heroes, which contract and harden into a shell. He tosses the enclosed Metropolans (Metropolitans? Metropolites?) aside and smashes his way through to the central core of the reactor, to feed on the nuclear energy therein...and watching on a monitor that makes the event look amusingly like a close-up of a sperm about to fertilize an egg, are our villains Mokkari and Simyan. They congratulate themselves loudly on sending the monster to unleash this destruction, which will not only destroy the Wild Area, it will annihilate the city of Metropolis, above.

And, it turns out, all this is just the beginning. You'll remember that these guys had a whole tank full of eggs in the last issue--and now they're hatching into an entire race of Terrors, which they cacklingly proclaim to be the new lords of earth, bred to survive a nuclear holocaust--HOMO USURPUS.

That ain't good.

Next time: arcane computers, evil grannies, and POINTED HELMETS! POINTED HELMETS GALORE!

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