Friday, December 2, 2011

Fourth World Fridays: Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139--"The Guardian Fights Again"

I didn't even want ONE Rickle...

Even Kirby’s #1 fan and bestest friend ever, Mark Evanier, has admitted that Kirby could be a bit on the flaky side. This tendency is illustrated nicely by the two-issue Jimmy Olsen storyline we’re about to endure; the fact that it got so out of control wasn’t entirely Kirby’s fault, but it certainly didn’t help that the guy was so easily distracted. Evanier claims that he and Kirby’s other assistant, Steve Sherman, were mostly used as a sounding board for Kirby’s ideas during the creation of the Fourth World, but occasionally one of their own ideas would slip through, and one of these was to have the then-immensely-popular Don Rickles show up in a brief cameo and insult Superman. Somehow—apparently it had a lot to do with a DC publicist thinking they could reap some major publicity from it—this tiny idea was inflated into a two-issue extravaganza, which was bad enough—but by the time Kirby was done with it, the original idea had been lost, and the whole storyline had gone way off the rails. Most excruciatingly, Kirby had for some reason decided that what the story really needed was to give Rickles an evil twin who was intentionally unfunny. Hence, Goody Rickels (sic) was born, and the moment I’ve been dreading since I started these reviews is upon us.

It starts innocuously enough, back at the Project, where Tommy Sr.—who, you’ve no doubt forgotten at this point, is one of the Project’s doctors—is on the verge of giving the Guardian a clean bill of health and sending him out into the world, the first of the Project’s creations to be thus cleared. The Newsboys arrive to cheer him on and berate Superman in a flurry of clichéd dialogue along the lines of “Make wit’ a little “koitsy” , will ya. Muscles?” (Scrapper) and “Coudja lower the flippa for Dippa, soul brother?” (Flippa Dippa. Because he’s black, you see. Oh well, at least he’s not spazzing out over something water-related.)

Jimmy tells off Scrapper, who responds with “AAAAAA, Pish and Tush, Olsen!” Pish and tush? I thought these were 30s style New York street urchins, not 19th century schoolmarms.

The Guardian is given “clearance” (In quote marks. Slow down with the technical talk, Kirby!) by Tommy’s dad, who nevertheless makes cryptic reference to something weird in the Guardians’ brain, something that they don’t understand fully, and which is apparently common to all the Project’s creations. Nevertheless, the Guardian is eager to high-tail it out of there and get back to Metropolis…even though he’s technically never been there.

“I was grown with the memories of the original Guardian intact in my mind,” he explains. Ah, the old Xerox-clone standby. By now, of course, everyone knows you don’t produce exact, fully-grown copies of people by cloning them, and really, most reasonably well-informed people knew it in 1971, too, but hey, it’s a comic book contrivance. I’m sure that the scientists at the Project, who are constantly creating beings that they don’t understand and either sending them off into the world or enslaving them know what they’re doing.

By the way, the Guardian’s claim that he knows Metropolis introduces a fairly major continuity issue. The Guardian’s original name was The Manhattan Guardian, but here he’s portrayed as a resident of Metropolis, not Manhattan (as are the Newsboy Legion). It reminds me of Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers, which included a new Manhattan Guardian, and explicitly acknowledged that Metropolis and Gotham City were fantasy versions of New York. I guess we can explain this away with the usual “Earth A/Earth B” nonsense (the Golden Age DC characters inhabited Earth B), but that seems to suggest that there is no Metropolis in Earth B. I guess.

Does it seem like I’m stalling? Oh, I am. I dread what’s coming, reader, dread it deep in my soul.

Moments later, Superman is zooming down the Zoomway, with Jimmy and the Guardian in tow in the Whiz Wagon…but without the Newsboy Legion. While musing about how people will someday learn of the wonders of the Project, Jimmy and the Guardian explain their absence:

JIMMY: HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! They won’t learn about it from the Newsboy Legion! HA HA HA HA!
GUARDIAN: (Stone-faced) Poor kids! I’m sure they’d find that joke no laughing matter!
JIMMY: Awww…I can’t help laughing, Guardian! Soon after the Doctor approved your leaving he turned “thumbs down” on them!
GUARDIAN: (Still stone-faced, still staring straight ahead) Too bad! One of the boys came down with a cold! Too bad!

Man, is that the flimsiest excuse possible to ditch the Newsboys, or what? I mean, I’d seize on every opportunity to do the same, too, but it’s like they weren’t even trying. You can tell the Guardian feels kinda bad about it. That’s not going to stop him from getting wasted tonight, of course. I hear Metropolis strip clubs are the best. Let’s hear it for no underage accompaniment!

As they emerge into the world above, Superman suddenly puts on a burst of “faster-than-lightspeed” (!) and unsuspiciously races ahead. It’s so that he can adopt his guise of Clark Kent and play dumb about where they’ve been when Jimmy and the Guardian burst into his apartment. (You know, as much as people make fun of Silver Age stuff like Superman having a bunch of robot doubles to cover for him, at least it did allow for this kind of extended absence.)

“Another human original!” exclaims the Guardian, shaking Kent’s hand. “It’s always an experience to meet one!” Uh, yes, and it’s an experience you’re likely to have many, many times in the next few days, so if you could just keep yourself from saying that every single time, that would really go a long way towards not creeping everyone out. Thanks, Guardian.

Anyway, Jimmy’s gung-ho to get Morgan Edge based on what happened in the Wild Area. Clark insists that they should have “facts”, which Jimmy seems to implicitly acknowledge…even though they don’t really have any facts. I mean, other than their general dislike of Morgan Edge, how do they *know* he was the one that planted the bomb? Of course, if Superman is listening in with his super-hearing a little later, he’ll hear one doozy of casual confession…but more on that in a minute.

Meanwhile, the Newsboys are stuck back at the Project thanks to Gabby’s apparent illness. (I’m not sure why the Project workers insisted on quarantining the Newsboys but not Jimmy, but again, I’m not complaining.) Being bad sports, the Newsboys are about to reenact the soap-beating scene from Full Metal Jacket on Gabby before Tommy’s dad breaks them up.

“Kids like the old Newsboy Legion get kinda careful when they grow up!” Explains Tommy. You mean, the way they blasted headfirst into a potential nuclear meltdown last issue?

Meanwhile, Morgan Edge has arrived back in his offices at the Galaxy Broadcasting System as if nothing had happened. When his secretary, Miss Conway, expresses consternation over his abrupt departure last issue, this is his reply:

“Well, you see, I learned that Metropolis would suffer an atomic explosion!

Miss Conway’s reaction to this—I swear—is, “Oh, er--Clark Kent called! He said that Jimmy Olsen is back—and they both want to see you!”

“I’d have favored the atomic explosion!” thinks Edge.

…Seriously, WHAT?!? He just casually admits to this?!? I’ve been defending Kirby’s writing to a degree, but I have absolutely no idea what he was thinking here. Where is the secretary supposed to think he got this bit of info? A gypsy fortune teller?

…And didn’t he fire her last issue?

Anyway, I’m going to assume Miss Conway has gone into a dead-eyed panic and is keeping up the pretense of normal conversation for the rest of the scene, until she can sneak out on this obvious sociopath. She quickly changes the subject to Don Rickles, with whom Galaxy is on the verge of signing some kind of contract, and reminds Edge that “we’ll have two of them now”. When Edge expresses puzzlement at this, she tells him about…Goody Rickels, on their research staff.

Edge gets a glazed look in his eye. “I remember him now! I’m chilled to the bone!” Clearly, Edge is a man after my own heart. He also thinks, “Demons of Darkseid!” which is the kind of thing I make it a habit to say a couple of times a day. But Darkeid cannot save him now. In walks Goody.

So, I think the point is supposed to be that Goody is Rickel’s exact opposite, and thus, well-meaning, idiotic, and unfunny. Having us spend more time with the “unfunny” Rickles may not have been the best plan, but then, the dialogue Kirby (and, I guess, Evanier and Sherman) come up with for the “real” Rickles when he makes his appearance isn’t noticeably funnier, so…

Why is he wearing a superhero costume? Because some guys in the office told him he was up for a TV series. Even though Goody apparently realized this was a gag pretty quickly, he continues to wear the costume for the rest of his appearance. But then, nothing else about Goody makes any sense, why should this?

Edge decides to make use of Goody for a scheme of his to bump off Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen, and after some grating hijinx on Goody’s part, Edge, with teeth-gritted, tells him he’s being promoted to reporter and sent on an assignment.

Meanwhile, Clark and Jimmy are on their way to confront Edge. They know the score now (apparently), and are determined to bring him down. They demand to see him! Nothing will distract them from this mission! Except Miss Conway telling them he’s not in and leaving another assignment for them!

So they go and cover the assignment.

Yes, I’m sure the fact that their boss is a homicidal maniac who’s in with an international crime organization run by a supremely evil being planning to enslave everyone in the Universe is a story that can wait until they’ve checked out this…

UFO landing?!? Are you $^%*&ing me?!?

So, even though they know Edge is out to get them, even though this whole assignment smells incredibly fishy, even though he’s freakin’ Superman and could probably find Edge in about two seconds, Superman decides the best course of action is to go and check out this mysterious object to which Edge has directed them.

Good one, Supes.

The park is bizarrely abandoned if this is supposed to be a real UFO landing—there’s not even police tape or anything, But hey, Goody is there! He’s already been inside the UFO and indicates that it’s empty, prompting Superman to step inside. At which point Goody presses a button, the door slams closed, and the whole UFO disapparates.

I really don’t get Goody. He’s supposed to be harmless comic relief, but this whole scene plays out like he was willingly doing Edge’s bidding in knocking off Clark. Except that once the UFO is gone, Goody sits around, shell-shocked at what he’s done. Tossing out stupid one-liners the whole time. Argh, what an exasperating character.

Suddenly, Jimmy, the Guardian, and Goody are attacked by…dudes. Like, random dudes. OK, they’re goons sent by Intergang, but why are they dressed like football players?

A three-page scuffle ensues, with Goody sitting around moaning and bumbling, accidentally knocking out one of the thugs by sitting up too quickly. Finally, the battle comes to a halt when a grim-faced goon grabs Jimmy and puts a gun to his head. This is the appropriately named “Ugly” Mannheim, who’s about to engage in desperate measures against our heroes. He’s about to FEED THEM DINNER.

Yes, really.

“Meanwhile, in a space-time continuum--far from Earth, the UFO, with Clark Kent inside, drifts in alien space!!!” “Goody was right!” mutters Clark. “There are plenty of buttons!” I have nothing to add to that.

Back on Earth—or under it—we get a quick scene of the Newsboys. They’ve managed to procure one of the miniature “Scrapper troopers” from a few issues back—basically, living versions of the little green army men—and have used him to crawl into the lock on their door and let them out. They head downwards through rocky tunnels until they encounter an underground river, conveniently furnished with a boat, which naturally causes Flippa Dippa to comment on how great water is. Man, that was close! We almost went an entire issue without being reminded of Flippa Dippa’s monomania for aquatic activities!

Did you think I was kidding about Mannheim feeding Jimmy dinner? Because I wasn’t. He’s forcing Jimmy, Goody, and the Guardian to eat a feast, at gunpoint, in what is probably the lamest and most needlessly complicated villainous plot in history. See, the food has been treated with “pyro-granulate” which bursts into flames at the slightest spark. In 24 hours, our heroes are going to go up like Roman candles. Man, that makes so much more sense than just shooting them. At this point, the Adam West Batman villains are rolling their eyes.

And as if that wasn’t enough, they then proceed to let them go. This is the cliffhanger to the next issue, but come on. There are about five million ways this evil plan could be thwarted, many of them involving just getting to a doctor. Or inducing vomiting. It’s like Intergang isn’t even trying anymore.

I’m tempted to say that this issue is a perfect example of all Kirby’s faults and weaknesses, compounded into one: his capitulation to corporate thinking, his nonsensical, half-assed plotting, and his inability to focus. Sorry to say, we’ve got a whole ‘nother issue of this nonsense coming up, folks. But at least we finish off the first omnibus volume with a cracking Mister Miracle yarn…

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