Friday, February 8, 2013

Jimmy Olsen's Fourth World Adventures

It was 1971 and the big news in comic circles was that the King was returning to DC Comics.

Jack Kirby, one of the primary creators of the hugely successful Marvel Comics line, had quit Martin Goodman's company in a contract dispute and was returning to DC Comics, a company that had let Kirby go a decade earlier, and this time with a deal in place to create and edit a whole new line of titles. Along with his partner/employer, Stan Lee, the Fantastic Four creator had gained a certain amount of fame on college campuses leaving Kirby easily the most famous artist working in comicbooks. Kirby's return to DC was a real coup for the company, the industry leader for a generation, but who had in recent years remained static watching as their market supremacy shrank away year after year under the growing Marvel juggernaut. Hiring Jack Kirby away from Marvel was a real coup and recognizing that fact DC took the unprecedented move of advertising Kirby's move in full page ads throughout their entire comic line.

Kirby is Coming 1971

The ads for the upcoming books didn't really tell fans too much about what was going to be going on, except that it was going to be different and it was going to be big. Carmine Infantino, DC's editorial director had Kirby signed to a five year contract to write, draw and edit, with promises from DC editorial of limited interference, and best of all DC wanted Kirby to include their flagship character Superman as a major player throughout the whole line. With this deal in place, Kirby went to work on bringing to the page an idea he had been playing with for several years that he was certain to be a huge success. DC however had one caveat, the Superman comic they wanted Kirby to use as his connection between his new series and the traditional DC universe was one of their worst selling titles, Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen.

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #131, two issues before Kirby

Now I have always been a fan of Jimmy Olsen, and had been buying his comic since before I could read. There was just something about the Jimmy that a young kid could identify with as month after goofy month, Jimmy would spend his time, being transferred back and forth through time, being turned into weird creatures and on several occasions taking a serious interest in cross-dressing. Like the life of a small child, Jimmy's world was a very strange and constantly changing place, with the only true constant being his close friendship to the staff at the Daily Planet and especially his relationship with his ersatz big brother, Superman.

Kirby was not overjoyed to be working on Jimmy instead of one of the two main Superman books, but he was determined to give it his best. Jack was going to shake Jimmy's whole world up and turn everything upside down. In the Fall of 1970, that's exactly what Jack Kirby did.

Superman's Ex-Pal Jimmy Olsen #133 - Kirby Is Here!

Superman’s EX-Pal Jimmy Olsen #133 was just an absolute blast of a comic as Jimmy, along with the modern day clones of Kirby’s Golden Age creations the Guardian and the Newsboy Legion, with new member, the sensational Flippa Dippa, jumping en masse into the Whiz Wagon, just about the coolest car in the known universe, heading off on some of the goofiest adventures in comic history.

Double page spread of Kirby's Whiz Wagon, Superman's Ex-Pal Jimmy Olsen #133

In the history of comics, very few visions have matched the massive scope of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. Starting in Superman’s EX-Pal Jimmy Olsen #133, and carrying on in the books, the Forever People, Mister Miracle and The New God’s. The Fourth World would be a universe spanning history of two world’s born, with some not so subtle references to Kirby's earlier Mighty Thor, from the molten remains of the original Ragnarok. The story would revolve around three worlds, two spinning around the same star. New Genesis, led by the wise and loving Highfather, a place of beauty and contemplation, where good prevails, as long as you ignore the race of “Bugs” living in poverty and isolation beneath their planet’s surface, worshiping the beings in the floating city above.


And Apokolips, the home of the dreaded Darkseid and his firepits. A planet-sized temple of violence and pain, where suffering and death, followed by rebirth and torture is a never ending torment, Apokolips, garrison to the most depraved, vile creatures in existence, unrepentantly evil, all wallowing in their damnation, unless you count the Hunger Dogs, living in poverty and isolation beneath their planet’s surface, struggling to create life, through beauty.  And finally the Earth, a world coveted in their own way by both sides. Kirby would over the next two years draw a stunning tableau detailing a complicated universe featuring dozen of characters, all with their own motives, and story lines.


But right from the start there was trouble between Kirby and DC editorial. DC, which had a decidedly corporate style to their artwork was not happy with Kirby's Superman. It simply did not match the corporate standard of how DC felt that Superman should look. Fearing that the readers would reject Kirby's Superman for being too different, Infantino had artists Al Plastino and Murphy Anderson redraw Superman's face to fit more in line with what Infantino felt the readers would accept. Worse, Carmine didn't seem to trust Kirby's work to sell on it's own, so for that first issue of Jimmy Olsen, as well as the following issue, Infantino used DC mainstay artist Neal Adams for the cover art.

Superman's Ex-Pal Jimmy Olsen #134 - Neal Adams

Despite the issues with Superman's face and the use of Adams on the first Olsen covers, Kirby's enthusiasm remained undimmed as he prepared the first of his three new titles to hit the stands. Jimmy Olsen was lot's of fun, and elements of what was going to become the Fourth World were appearing throughout the Superman line, though up to this point, Kirby kept his main cast off stage, leaving mostly hints of what was to come.

Kirby's Olsen gave us the first tantalizing look into his masterwork, and the New Gods were on their way.

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