Friday, June 15, 2012

Fourth World Fridays: Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #142--"The Man From Transilvane"

As I’ve suggested in previous installments, the first few issues of The New Gods, Mister Miracle and The Forever People seem to show Kirby’s confidence and enthusiasm for the project growing at a remarkable rate, and by the time Mike Royer jumped on board as inker, Kirby really seemed to be pushing himself to a new level. However, this new seriousness with which he approached the core three books seems to contrast with his work on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen. I already mentioned that the fact that Colletta remained as inker on that book made it seem as though Kirby was treating it like a red-headed stepchild (so to speak), and this is reinforced by the fact that the Fourth World elements mostly seemed to vanish from the comic around this point, except for one major issue near the end of the run, and a series of expository backup features, which Kirby used to flesh out his world.

If I was *really* cynical, I would say that Kirby completely stopped giving a damn about SPJO altogether—but that’s not really fair, as there are still some neat story beats to come, even in this issue. Besides, Kirby not giving a damn still means plenty of crazy, stream-of-consciousness crap for us all to enjoy and mock! And the coming two-part storyline is a doozy as far as that goes…

For starters, the opening caption of Jimmy Olsen #142 features another howler of a sentence:

“Amid the strange sounds at midnight, this classic horror figure never fails to emerge and haunt our dreams with terrifying effectiveness!”

Yes. He NEVER FAILS to emerge. Every time you hear sounds at midnight, it’s immediately followed by a vampire emerging, and proceeding to haunt your dreams with terrifying effectiveness. By the way, does that description make anyone else think of Monsters, Inc.? “Sully, you’ve haunted another child’s dreams with terrifying effectiveness. You win Employee of the Month yet again.” “Thanks, chief, but I bet I can make my effectiveness at least 20% more terrifying if I work at it!”


The comics code was still in effect at this point, though it was getting a bit creaky—the very next year would see the famous Spider-man issue that ran without the Code, effectively dealing it a death-blow—so vampirism was a bit of a dodgy subject. This is why vampires are treated in such an odd, convoluted fashion in the silver and early bronze age, usually relying on some kind of pseudoscience to explain them away—but of course, no one could come up with a more convoluted or pseudoscientific explanation than Kirby!

We kick this off by witnessing a vampire emerging from the forest with a werewolf companion to menace a sleeping woman. But again, because of that pesky code, he can’t do anything as scandalous as biting her. Instead, he shoots out eyebeams that fly through the air and hit her neck, creating vampire-like puncture marks (!) Thank you, Comics Code, for protecting our nations’ youth from the sight of neck-biting, and necessitating this kind of crap.

“What has been done—is now done!! The results of it will rival the most awesome events ever recorded!” The first sentence fulfills this issue’s redundancy quotient; the second, the hyperbole quotient. Also, the first sentence fulfills this issue’s redundancy quotient.

The woman, by the way, is Morgan Edge’s secretary, Miss Conway, and the next morning, we see that Clark and Jimmy, WORLD’S MOST PATHETIC REPORTERS, are still arguing with the goddamn secretary about getting in to see Morgan Edge. That’s Clark Kent, the man who can throw planets around, stymied by a chica in a miniskirt at a desk. He can’t be bothered to take stronger action against the man who tried to kill him and blow up a secret research facility full of his friends. But to give him credit, he’ll wait in that waiting room as long as he has to! Provided the magazines aren’t too old!

Of course, Miss Conway makes for a bit of a distraction, with her increasingly chalk-white skin and the fangs she reveals when she talks. Then she faints, prompting Jimmy to lean in and Clark to swat him back with the baffling comment, “One side, diplomat!” He quickly notices the “bitemarks” and the fact that Miss Conway is suddenly no longer visible in the mirror. The caption declares that “A pattern is followed—a complete and total pattern!” A pattern terrifying in its effectiveness! And completeness! And totality!

Throughout the next few panels, Miss Conway takes on a really unnatural chalk-white complexion that seems to move over her like colour on an inkjet printer. “The total pattern must remain fixed!!” continue the captions, growing more and more incoherent as the sequence grows on. Basically, what Kirby’s trying to say is that he knows what a bunch of horror movie clichés all these story beats are, but just stick with him, there’s an explanation. (And there is, and man…you’re going to have to see it to believe that the human mind could come up with something so insane.)

Anyway, in keeping with the total pattern, a bat flies in and transforms himself into a pale, cape-wrapped figure who introduces himself as “Count Dragorin of Transilvane”. (At this point, I’m wondering if the makers of The Rocky Horror Picture Show derived some inspiration from this comic.) “I regret the intrusion upon your many activities in this place,” sneers the Count. I love how sarcastic that sounds, like he doesn’t quite believe Clark and Jimmy actually do anything at the Planet. That’s very perceptive of you, Count.

This recap is going to balloon to Russian novel-length if I quote and deconstruct all the bizarre, nonsensical dialogue, so I’ll just say that Dragorin insists he’s in a hurry, and continues to do so while making no move to do anything. Meanwhile, Jimmy spouts a lot of random phrases like “I second Clark’s motion!” and Clark tries asking him politely if he wouldn’t mind restoring Miss Conway from her cursed eternal unrest. Dragorin responds by zapping him with the Evil Eye, which literally sends them flying back in a burst of light.

Jimmy is knocked unconscious, but as Clark thinks to himself, “I have more effective protection! It’s called Superman!” As the colouring takes on an eerie greenish hue, Dragorin causes Miss Conway to rise and begin delivering details about her former employer, Dabney Donovan. Her only real bit of advice is to check Nasa’s Science Research Center, where, it seems, Dabney was Researching Science. Clark takes advantage of the Count’s moment of distraction to leap on him, but he vanishes in the classic puff of smoke. As Jimmy and Miss Conway come round (Conway suddenly cured of her vampirism), Clark assures them he “got a lead on” the Count “before he bugged out.” I guess that’s how Clark gets all his leads: by feigning unconsciousness until a vampire soliloquizes about something. No wonder he’s such an ace reporter.

After bundling Miss Conway off to “the clinic” off-panel—gee, that doesn’t sound creepy at all—Clark and Jimmy head out to the Science Research Center, where Science is Researched. There they find a door ajar, and inside, waiting for them, is Dragorin’s briefly-seen henchman Lupek, a werewolf. Ish. Thing. He attacks Clark and puts him down for the count, or at least he does as far as Jimmy knows. Credit where credit is due: our red-headed, freckle-faced pal shows he’s got courage by pulling up a steel fence post and using it to keep the lycanthrope away from his supine friend. Lupek chases him away down the corridor, giving Clark time to change into Superman and come to his rescue. “Superman, I’m your fan for life!” declares Jimmy. Yes, Jimmy, that is the role you play in the series. You don’t need to spell it out for us at random intervals.

Dragorin suddenly materializes, blasts Jimmy and Supes again with his Evil Eye, and disappears with his henchman. Handy, that. But while Superman and Jimmy ransack the abandoned Science Research Center and all of its Science Research for clues, Superman comes up with an odd theory to explain Dragorin’s disappearances: “Suppose they became smaller!! Too small to see!” Yes, um, that makes more sense than him being an actual supernatural entity, alright.

Superman also explains away Clark’s absence by saying he sent him back to town for medical help. Dabney Donovan, meanwhile, he describes as “the closest thing to a mad scientist we have! Well, I guess wild would be a better word!” He seems to be vaguely connected with the Project in some way, though he doesn’t explain how. He and Jimmy then proceed to make a series of rather, um, creative logical leaps: first, that the picture of a green orb with horns on the wall is a picture of planet Transilvane; then that there’s a message implanted on the picture that Supes can read with his microvision, which turns out to be correct. The message reads “Bloodmoor destruct date 1971”, which points them towards, you guessed it, an old cemetery of that name.

Meanwhile! We pick up with the Newsboy Legion, who as you may recall had snuck out of The Project and were boating down an underground river. Predictably, this has Flippa Dippa practically orgasming in delight. Because he enjoys water, don’t you know. Reaching the end of their underground tunnel, Flippa dives in and discovers an exit with an elevator at the end. By an absolutely astounding coincidence, this just happens to lead them to a secret room being used by an operative of Intergang—and not just any operative. This particular guy just happens to be yelling into the phone at the exact moment the Newsboys emerge behind him, identifying himself as the man who killed Jim Harper.

That’s the original Jim Harper, of course—the one who would have been an old man by now. His death was, you’ll recall, mentioned passingly several issues back. Apparently the presence of the new Guardian has both taken the heat off this guy and made his Intergang masters displeased, since they now assume he failed to kill Harper. (Somehow, these guys know Harper was the Guardian. Bang-up job protecting your secret identity, Jim…) Anyway, the last panel of this sequence shows the Newsboys roiling with anger as they realize they’re confronting the man who killed their…parent’s guardian. Who I’m sure they felt a great deal of affection for, and all, but honestly it seems like Kirby forgot these aren’t the original Newsboys, and thus, probably weren’t as emotionally attached as their dads would have been…

Nevertheless, “The drama of life begins to mount in many quarters!!” as the endlessly hilarious captions inform us. We transition to Superman and Jimmy landing in Bloodmoor, as Superman continues to opine that they’re not facing real monsters. “I wish we’d waited for Clark!” Mutters Jimmy. “He’d get facts!--Not opinions!” Yes, solid facts like “I somehow got a lead on that vampire in the three milliseconds before he evaporated! Don’t question me, just go!”

As they approach the mausoleum, Jimmy is hung up on the idea that they’ve found the vampire’s coffin, and Superman continues to be skeptical, theorizing that the huge slab blocking the door could be circumvented by growing very small. “Think small!” He says to Jimmy. “Like Dabney Donovan—who undertook to simulate cosmic matter in small terms! Small continents! Oceans! Life! In short--a small planet! Welcome to Transilvane, Jimmy! and at that moment, they descend the stairs and witness…

Well, words can’t do it justice.

Yes. Transilvane is a tiny planet, hovering in fog, surrounded by holographic projections, in the basement of a mausoleum, in a graveyard.

And believe it or not, that’s not the craziest thing about this scenario, as we’ll discover in the next chapter…

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