Friday, February 3, 2012

Fourth World Fridays: Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141--"Will the Real Don Rickles Panic?!?"

(Note: Jimmy Olsen #140 isn't included in the omnibus, as for some reason it was a reprint issue, not drawn by Kirby, and with nothing to do with the Fourth World. Hence the skipped issue.)

I’ve been defending Kirby’s writing on this series since the very beginning, but it wasn’t that I thought he was unreservedly talented as a prose stylist so much as I thought he was about on par with a lot of the hacks writing comics at the time. If I’m totally honest, I find what few early-70s Roy Thomas and Steve Engelhart comics I’ve read to be really verbose, and they tended towards fanboy pedantry rather than the demented imagination Kirby brought to his work. If I have to read an awkwardly-written, pretentious comic, I know which of the two I’d choose.

Still, though…after two issues of Superman vs. Don Rickles, I’m prepared to throw in my lot with the conventional wisdom. Kirby really did seem to have trouble with the English language this early in his career as a writer. Here’s a few samples from the first three pages of Jimmy Olsen #141:

“…A strange galaxy never before seen by man! – That is, until Superman, in his guise as Clark Kent, has been hurled into the unknown—trapped in a bizarre space craft!!”

“…Clark Kent gazes helplessly as he drifts past awesome wonders that stagger all imagination!”

“But the unknown says nothing! It glides by—a silent, shimmering animal – tense – and waiting for the kill!

That last one’s my favourite. Only Kirby would describe the void of space as a shimmering animal, tensing up to pounce on the “helpless” Clark Kent. Who, just in case you’ve forgotten, is Superman. He can fly through space and move planets. But apparently he’s helpless in the face of mixed metaphors.

The situation, in case you’ve forgotten, or deliberately repressed it, is this: in the previous issue, Jimmy and Clark put two and two together and realized that their new boss, Morgan Edge, had made an attempt on their life. They marched up to his office to confront him, but gave up when Edge’s secretary Miss Conway told him Edge wasn’t in, and gave them a new assignment. Which they went on. And which turned out to be another attempt on their life. Wotta couple of schlemiels.

Clark Kent was trapped in a spacecraft that instantly transported him to Shimmering Animal Space. Meanwhile, Jimmy, the Golden Guardian, and a (sigh) Don Rickles impersonator in a superhero suit named Goody Rickels were kidnapped by Intergang, forced to eat food laced with an explosive chemical that would cause them to combust within 24 hours, and thrown out on the curb.

Makes sense to me!

Superman drifts through deep, uncharted space, as represented by another one of Kirby’s patented, and patently weird, photographic montages (to which he’s added some colour this time!) It quickly becomes clear exactly where Clark’s been extradited to when he spots “two giant planets!—One, brightly green and beautiful – the other, in its shadow…” and then spots a human comet coming his way, one immediately recognizable as our friend Lightray. Clark’s inner monologue describes him as “hardly the kind you’d meet at the office!” Well, I dunno, Clark, depends on where you work. If you were a gymnast or a ballet dancer, maybe…

But enough of this “interesting” stuff, let’s get back to Jimmy! And the Guardian! And fucking Goody Rickels! They’re busy expositing away about how doomed they are, despite how unbelievably unthreatening and pointlessly complex the method of their destruction has turned out to me. I mean, if I were in that situation, the first thing I’d be wondering is, “Why did Intergang just go to such lengths not to kill me?” I don’t think I’d even believe there was such a thing as “pyro-granulate”, but even if I did, the hospital is probably nearby, and I’ve got 24 frickin’ hours. But then, I’m not a crack cub reporter or a superhero, because *their* first idea is to go after the RV from which they were ejected in search of a cure…while Jimmy and Goody go to Morgan Edge for help.

…Wait, what? No, I must have misread that. Carrying on…

The Guardian gets into his new role as a rooftop-jumpin’ protector of the innocent pretty quickly, using his implanted knowledge of the city in which his predecessor was born and raised (which, again, is now Metropolis, not Manhattan). “Life at the D.N.A. Experimental Project never gave me this sense of freedom!” he monologues. Yeah, you’d think so, Jim, seeing as how the Project kept you in a giant glass jar.

Back at the Galaxy Broadcasting System, Miss Conway is freaking out over the impending arrival of the real Don Rickles, and so, in short order, is everyone else. Simply walking through the office, Rickles is assaulted from all corners by rabid fans begging for autographs, and amourous secretaries who demand to be insulted. Was Rickles really *that* big at the time? I mean, I know he was popular, but Kirby’s treating him like it’s 1963 and he’s all four Beatles rolled into one.

I mean, not that I’m denying he’s a sexy, sexy man and all.

There follows several pages of what can be charitably described as corny schtick. I’ll confess, right here and now, that I’ve never heard Rickles’ act, except in movies like X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes and, um, Toy Story. Sure, he’s pure Borscht Belt, but he always seemed relatively funny to me. I’d like to think that, at his peak, his material was at least a little bit stronger than the stuff Kirby has him spouting, much of which isn’t really “funny” in any sense…just kind of sarcastic and shticky. He meets the wave of adulation with “Relax, you cockamamies! You’re liberated! The Nazis are gone!” Then, after they tear his clothing and are scared off by Edge: “Savages! I’ll send you thirty pounds of raw meat tomorrow morning! And may the Gods rain on your memos!” Then he exhorts a delighted Miss Conway to “get yourself a bikini and start a chain of heart attacks at a garden party!” and refers to Edge as “Mister Smoothie on the outside—‘Mac the Knife’ on the inside!”

I dunno, maybe it loses something on the page.

Meanwhile, we’re getting the historic meeting between Superman and Lightray, out in space. “I was in this sector – and curious to see what sort of specimen was on its way to Apokolips!” declares our merry funster. Lightray, I mean. “You speak my language!” Exclaims Superman. “Are you able to communicate by probing one’s mind?” Wow, a more astute observation than I was expecting. Not that Lightray evinces the ability to read minds anywhere else. And…hmm, he actually kinda brushes Superman off, saying, “You haven’t time for small talk!” Wait, does that mean Kirby was trying to conceal some kind of secret about the New Gods’ language? Is it to do with my hair-brained theories that the New Gods are the descendants of a parallel universe, specifically Marvel’s, and thus have a store of human knowledge? I’m going to pretend it is!

Anyway, the thing Lightray’s concerned about is the fact that they’re looming closer and closer to Apokolips, which Superman remembers hearing about from the Forever People. “They also mentioned a name--Darkseid!!!” Yes, Superman, they mentioned that name right before you met and fought him. I guess it’s possible that Superman is trying to cover his secret identity here…though why he would bother with a cosmic being on the other side of the universe from Earth, I don’t know. And besides, he’s pretty blasé about mentioning that he knows the Forever People. Lightray generously offers to save him from the Parademons rising to intercept the craft, and Clark accepts. Again, I’m gonna hope that was a secret identity thing. I mean, Superman has a tendency to forget his powers, but I don’t think he’s ever gone so far as to forget that he’s Superman and doesn’t really need other superheroes to help him, unless Kryptonite or red suns are involved.

Nevertheless, this B-plot is infinitely more involving than the main story, to which we’re now forced to return. Oh look, Jimmy and Goody are riding the subway. Goody is complaining. Ha ha. Actually, I have to say I appreciate everyone on the subway yelling at Goody to shut up. Also, Goody starts steaming and is about to die. Ha ha!

Seriously, let’s just move on to the Guardian, who’s caught up with the mobile home and comes crashing down through the top hatch, only to be met by Ugly Mannheim and his goon squad. “The pastry’s all gone! – But we’re servin’ plenty of ammo!” You mean, the ammo you could have used to kill Jimmy and the Guardian back when you had the chance? That ammo? Oh, don’t mind me, I’m living in a non-Comics-Code-approved reality. The long and the short of it is, we get this issue’s de rigeur Kirby stompfest as the Guardian beats the antidote out of them.

Meanwhile, the moment none of you have been waiting for, as Jimmy and Goody come face to face with the real Don Rickles. Can you stand the excitement? Bursting into Edge’s office, where he and Rickles are still thrashing out some kind of deal that Kirby never sees fit to explain properly, Goody proclaims, “I’m back, Mister Edge! And, now that I’m dying, I can find the nerve to really tell you what I think of--” and then, for no reason except that it makes for a funny…I mean cool…I mean intensely predictable panel, the real Rickles then repeats his dialogue exactly. Which makes no sense, in the context of the conversation they were just having. I mean, the real Rickles just said he was dying. Despite the fact that he’s still alive and well almost 40 years later. Then we get have a page of “HUH? B-but…you’re me!!!” type reactions, Edge starts blustering, Goody begins to smoke, and Jimmy…begs him for help.

OK, WHAT??!? Jimmy, you idiot, you know Edge was trying to kill you! You got into this mess because of an assignment he sent you on! He’s obviously the one trying to have you killed, even if it is in the most Rube Goldbergian way possible! I mean, we’ve long known that you, Lois, and Clark are all terrible, terrible reporters, but you’d think you’d be able to put the extremely obvious pieces together in order to save your own life!

The story just gets dumber from there, with Jimmy and Goody beginning to glow and then catch on fire--the art making them look like they’re virtually going supernova, as Jimmy remarks, “Strange! I don’t feel any heat!” Edge shoves Rickles out the door—literally shoves him out like an uninvited guest—and tells him to read a magazine. Then he calls the bomb disposal squad. Then the Guardian comes crashing through the window (sure, why not?) and Rickles comes back into the office. Then something explodes—no, not Jimmy or Goody, because next time we see them they’re safe and sound, sipping the antidote Guardian was able to procure. (“It’s not unlike cheap wine!” announces Goody, approvingly.) There’s literally nothing about this sequence that makes any sense at all in terms of internal or external logic, and the obnoxiously lame shtick from the two Rickles—seriously, they’re pretty much equally unfunny at this point—just makes it all the more painful.

Rickles yammers weakly while Edge fumes via thought balloons, wondering how this brilliant, completely foolproof scheme could possibly have failed. Then a Boom Tube materializes in the office, depositing Clark and unceremoniously blasting Rickles out of his chair. The look on his face in this panel is the one mildly amusing moment in this comic:

There, I saved you ten minutes. Except…I guess it probably took you that long to read this recap. But not as long as it took me to write it! Seriously, this is time we all could have spent curing cancer or something, and now it’s gone. Thanks a lot, Kirby.

But wait! There’s a page left! Surely there must be some hacky komedy cliché that hasn’t been milked yet!

Of course! Comical insanity! The bomb disposal squad arrives, Edge proclaims that the bomb threat has been neutralized, and the now-insane Rickles contradicts him: “I’m the bomb! And I’m primed to blow! Get me outta here! Stop me from killing! Tick-tick-tick-tick--”

Poor guy!” Mutters one of the disposal guys, “With your routine—this had to happen!”

Seriously, is it just me, or do like 50% of all dumb humour comics end this way? With a character who’s experienced some mild weirdness being dragged away to the insane asylum “hilariously”? Yeah, I think it’s safe to say, as we bid a blessed adieu to both Rickles, that comedy is something Kirby ought to have steered clear of. Forever.

Rickles wasn’t the bomb. The bomb was this comic. Handle it with care.

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