Friday, November 18, 2011

Fourth World Fridays: Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138--"The Big Boom!"

Wow, Superman meets Doomsday? We’re about 20 years early on that particular encounter!

I think it says something about the Fourth World epic that I could manage to grow bored with a storyline that features a secret civilization of hippies living below the Earth’s surface, clones of the Newsboy Legion, a Hulk-Jimmy and a Four-Armed Thing, but bored I have become. The fact of the matter is that, in about half the time it’s taken for this storyline in SPJO, Orion has infiltrated Apokalips and come to Earth, Mr. Miracle has begun his act and escaped his archnemesis, and the Forever People have arrived, moved in, had their apartment blown up, and been captured by religious fundamentalists. Compared to that, even as wild a storyline as this business with “The Project” is going to seem to drag on.

Of course, considering what’s coming in the next issue…

But let’s repress that for a while and pick up where we left off. As you may recall, Darkseid’s minions Simyan and Mokkari had accidentally, but conveniently, managed to breed exactly the kind of life form they needed: a four-armed yellow rock monster who feeds voraciously on nuclear energy. Said four-armed terror had smashed his way into the Project and was on the verge of causing a massive hull breach in the Project’s power plant, thus exploding the entire Wild Area—and the city of Metropolis, above. Superman had zoomed to head it off, and Jimmy Olsen and the Newsboys had followed him for God only knows what reason, given that Superman didn’t want them and they only got in the way. They all ended up trapped in a bizarre molecular pink rubber egg. Obviously.

Meanwhile, on the first of several splash pages, the Newsboy Legion’s dads are demonstrating from whence the Newsboys Mk II get their recklessness and stupidity by piling in after Superman, taking the Golden Guardian and several transport carriers full of troops with them. “The Evil Factory has jammed all communications with our atomic power plant! We can’t warn them!” Proclaims one of the military types as they streak down the zoomway through the underground chasms. OK, but, uh, warn them of what? I mean, it would be nice, I guess, but again, these guys are headed towards ground zero of a massive nuclear detonation (in fact, last issue there were already a bunch of explosions going off, but Kirby seems to have forgotten about those). Superman is there already, and either he’s going to stop the monster himself, in which case their efforts will be unnecessary, or else he’s not, in which case it seems unlikely that a truckload of ineffectual army men are going to make a difference and are fairly likely to just get fried. But hey, this is a Kirby comic, and heroism and reckless endangerment go hand in hand!

Kirby begins a countdown—apparently the events of this issue span a mere fifteen minutes, and you could cut the tension with a knife. Superman is finding that the “big, stupid alien egg”, as Scrapper dubs it, is too flexible and yielding for him to work up the necessary leverage to burst their way out, which is actually a clever way of taking him out of action. The Newsboy’s efforts to break free result in their bouncing back and knocking each other around like pinballs.

TOMMY: Well, that does it! Whad’da we do now-- just wait till we’re hatched?
SCRAPPER: Yeah! Dis is some yolk!
SUPERMAN: Cool it, men! Let’s think--not panic!
JIMMY: I’d rather panic than listen to those jokes!

I mention this exchange because it’s virtually the only memorable thing Jimmy says or does in this issue of his own comic. Not that I’m particularly complaining about a shortage of Olsen.

Meanwhile, on the sixth splash page of what is so far an 8-page story—ah, Kirby—the yellow rock-monster is gouging his way towards a typically ornate power plant. Apparently the monster is smart enough to know to dig up and under the feet of the guards, but the guards aren’t smart enough to be able to tell that the tremblors the monster is causing are coming from directly below them.

Back at the egg, Superman (with, OK, some help from Jimmy) has figured out that the egg’s surface will respond to energy, and generates a blast of static electricity by rubbing his hands together at top speed. That actually almost makes sense, sort of—it even ties into what we saw last issue. Gasp! We’re now seven minutes “to fiery end!” so Supes has to hustle. And we have to—

Check in with Perry White! Wow, hey, another Superman cast member. As you may recall, one of the elements of the current Superman storyline is that the Daily Planet has been bought up by Galaxy Broadcasting, which is apparently a front for Intergang, and its head honcho, Morgan Edge, has been openly conspiring with Darkseid and trying to kill Superman. I’d kind of assumed he’d given ol’ Perry the boot, but, great Caesar’s Ghost! Here he is, still doing the hard-boiled editor bit! And sexually harassing interns!

No, just kidding. He’s having a perfectly normal conversation with Terry Dean, a character apparently left over from the pre-Kirby storyline. She does play a part in the story much, much later on, but I’m not sure what the point is of bringing her in now, when having Lois Lane would have made a lot more sense. But, since all the traditional Superman characters were being redrawn against Kirby’s wishes, I guess he wanted to avoid that when possible, so no Lois. The only point here is to establish that Perry’s suspicious of Morgan Edge, so let’s move on.

The old Newsboys, the Guardian, and the troops burst out into the wild area and locate the Legion’s Whiz Wagon. Watching via one of those omniscient viewscreens that seem to come standard with every villainous characters’ evil headquarters, Simyan and Mokkari apparently believe that these guys pose a threat to their plans, despite the fact that they’re already facing Superman, so they teleport the rest of their four-armed brood over to the Project to wreak exponentially more havoc. Man, these guys can see most of what the heroes do, and can send monsters over to harass them at will? That just makes it all the more pathetic when Superman beats them.

But what of the villainous Morgan Edge? I’m sure you’re dying to know. After a perfunctory demonstration of his eeeeeeevilness--he fires his secretary--Edge gets a call via the secret monitor in his desk, telling him to split for a copter on the roof, because Metropolis is about to go up in a gigantic mushroom cloud. Taking this in stride, Edge heads to the door and then, amusingly, has to act casual while walking past his employees to the elevator.

What? Oh yeah, there’s a life-or-death struggle going on back at the Wild Area. I forgot. “Three minutes to violent eruption!” Proclaims Kirby in his narrative caption. Superman bursts in and tussles with the maddened rock monster, only to be thrown across the room and hit with the power plant’s damper rods, with the monster throws at him. They shatter on Superman’s chest, natch, but the reactor is about to go critical! “It is one minute to blow-up!” Kirby reminds us. I get the sense he was struggling with his vocabulary while writing this issue, because the next box reads, “As if to nail down this fact to Superman, the glistening threshold appears—and from it pours an army of D.N.Aliens!!!!”

And they’re met by the army troops!

Again, Kirby was a WWII vet, and it’s pretty obvious he believed that the army was capable of meeting any crisis, but come on. ONE of these things bested Superman—now they’re facing a whole army of them? Kirby tactfully leaves the “bullets bouncing off them as they charge in and create total carnage” offscreen, but it’s pretty obvious that’s what’s happening.

The Guardian, rather unbelievably, manages to put down a rock monster with his fists—that’s his big contribution to the issue—as Superman kills two birds with one stone. Picking up the overloading reactor (“ thirty seconds to Eternity!”) Superman carried it down the corridor to a series of tunnels that were being built to tap into the core’s geothermal energy, and throws it into a very large, deep pit. Not only does the blast take place a safe distance underground, but the rock monsters, blindly seeking the atomic energy that is their nourishment, hurl themselves down the pit after it “Like maddened lemmings!” Good thinking, Superman!

Returning back up the corridor from this apocalyptic scrape, Superman finds Jimmy sulking over the fact that he’s been sidelined in his own comic. Some sub-He-Man level humour wraps up the issue…

And the Project storyline! Whoo-hoo! Alright! Not only is Supes about to get back to fighting crime on the surface (where, you’d think, Lex Luthor would have pretty much conquered the world by now) but we’re about to leave the Newsboy Legion behind for a long, blessed stretch of time! And begin one of the stupidest, most ridiculous low points in the entire Fourth World saga!

Uh…wait…Simyan? Mokkrari? Got any more monsters to throw at us? Please?

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