Friday, March 28, 2008

Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #146--"Homo Disastrous!"


When last we left Jimmy O., he’d been genetically regressed into a Caveman by Simyan and Mokkari, the Apokoliptish scientists who run the Evil Factory, or Brigadoom as we recently discovered it to be named. Once again, Kirby shows that he’s willing to play along with the rules of the comic he’s reinventing, since of course Jimmy Olsen was being transformed into something bizarre on a regular basis all throughout the Silver Age. Now he’s broken loose and is trashing S & M’s laboratory as the two watch impassively. “You know, there’s something about his general appearance that resembles—your own!!!” cracks Mokkari to Simyan. Of course, he’s one to talk, since Simyan’s just a relatively hairy, ugly guy, and Mok’s a dopey-looking lemon-flavoured Darth Maul.

In fact, this leads to some bad feeling between the two as Jimmy cuts loose and starts wailing on Mokkari—while Simyan takes his sweet time with the tranq gun. “Experimentors take risks—even with humor, Mokkari!!” says Simyan dryly.

Of course, their dazzling repartee is interrupted by the alarm, so they take off, leaving Jimmy lying, unconscious but unrestrained, in the middle of their lab filled with equipment that a moment ago they were worried he was going to trash. And naturally Scrapper and his Scrapper Trooper walk through the door immediately, bemoaning what the two creeps have done to their pal.

And now it’s time once again to check in on Superman and Dubbilex, whose plotline seems to be moving forward at an absolutely glacial pace. Fortunately, Kirby assures us that “the fates are weaving a master channel for all to meet!” but they’d better hurry the hell up, that’s all I can say. In the meantime, Dubbilex is practicing with his newfound psychokinetic powers on the Hippie Lois Lane, Terry Dean, who doesn’t seem to mind at all that a purple horned dude is tossing and buffeting her around like a rag doll with a mysterious mental ability that he literally just learned about a few minutes ago, and which he still can’t control very well, and just try and tell me he isn’t looking at her cleavage here:

Terry’s ultimate response is a simple, “Mister Dubbilex, you’re weird and wonderful!!!” Oh, for the heady days of the sexual revolution, when a freakish alien dude could manhandle a girl with mental powers and still have her wanting to sleep with him. Let’s hear it for women’s lib.

Superman describes Dub’s power as “E.S.P.--only ten times more potent!” but the Guardian, emerging from the floor, corrects him: “E.P.S. is more like it, Superman! ‘Extra-Physical Status!’ I’ve heard the geneticists at the ‘Project’ discussing it!!” Uh, no doubt. Because that totally doesn’t sound like something you just made up.

The Guardian, it turns out, was investigating the abandoned tunnels beneath the club from which the homicidal musicians attacked the gang in the previous two issues. So, wait, wait—they had Superman and a telekinetic mutant handy, and those two decided to hang around the club while the unpowered Guardian went down and explored a maze of dangerous tunnels? Is he like a Superhero Pledge, who has to do all the dirty and dangerous work for the senior members?

The Guardian pretty much reaffirms what we already knew, that the tunnels lead to the Project. For some reason, Superman then reasons that “The war between New Genesis and Apokolips—now involves the ’Project!’” Which isn’t a huge shock, since Morgan Edge, dupe of Intergang, tried to blow it up, but I guess Superman doesn’t know who Edge is working for…since he’s made absolutely no attempt to find out other than barging into Edge’s office a couple of times, right before heading back out on dodgy assignments that invariably end up turning lethal. So, umm…what was my point again?

Anyway, Superman now decides that, since The Guardian wasn’t attacked by any more low-rent Sgt. Pepper’s wannabes (and I’m talking the Peter Frampton/Bee Gees Sgt. Pepper’s, here), it’s safe for the invulnerable Man of Steel to go down. Man, when did he become such a Super-pussy? Zipping down the tunnels at his usual blinding speed, he encounters… “a light up ahead!! It’s growing brighter!! --Brighter!!” Can your heart take the suspense?!?

Yet another group of our intrepid adventurers are, at that very moment, smashing through the Evil Factory in the Whiz Wagon, causing even more chaos, until they’re hit by a “Repello-beam” that spins them around, knocks them unconscious, and sets them down on the ground. Simyan and Mokkari emerge in a little floating bucket, identify the Newboys by name—even Tommy, who I don’t think has even had a line of dialogue since this storyline began—and grabs hold of the Wagon with a grappling hook that whisks it over to a conveyor belt, leading to the atomic incinerator. Then, in classic bad guy tradition, they leave the room.

…OK, I can’t judge them too harshly, here—I don’t find myself staring at garbage as it goes down the chute, either—but still, do you really want to give these guys the opening?

But either way, their intelligence level remains in question, given their amazement when they return back to the lab and find Jimmy Olsen missing. Somehow they intuit that Scrapper and his double are behind this, since there’s obviously no way the specimen could have just, I don’t know, gotten up and walked away.

This seems to be a common misconception, since Scrapper and Trooper didn’t bother to tie Jimmy down either, while making their getaway on one of those tiny airport golf carts (included with every mid-sized villain’s lair). Recovering from his tranquilized sleep instantly, Jimmy picks up the golf cart and starts trying to swat Scrapper with it. Because Neanderthals were just that strong, you know.

This is more serious than you might have thought, because as it happens they’re passing the cages containing hordes of bizarre genetic aberrations—the kind that have supposedly been bedeviling the Scottish highlands for the last few months. Sure enough, CaveJimmy manages to smash the power supply, shutting down the electric fence and setting free a saber-toothed tiger. Now, if movies starring Raquel Welsh and Ringo Starr have taught us anything, it’s that cavemen and saber-toothed tigers are mortal enemies, which works to Scrapper and Trooper’s advantage, but the outcome is still surprising: CaveJimmy
Pounds on the tiger and knocks him out with one blow, then beats his chest and wanders off. Man, if all cavemen were like that, it’s no wonder the Smilodon went extinct.

Meanwhile (and I really hope the characters reunite soon, so I don’t have to keep writing “meanwhile”), the intense heat of the furnace has revived the Newsboys, or at least Flippa Dippa, just in time. Given Flip’s orgasmic obsession with water, you’d expect him to freak out at the sight of fire this close to devouring them, but he remains admirably cool and shows he’s not completely useless when not in his element. Realizing the Wagon’s hooked to the track, he drops a concussion bomb right underneath the vehicle, causing some damage but shaking them free. He then proceeds to go all French Connection on Brigadoom’s inner corridors, sideswiping hordes of the Factory’s heretofore-unseen workers. But then, it seems like most of them were running away in a panic anyway. From what? From this:

In the midst of this stampede, the Newsboy Legion is reunited, but CaveJimmy spots Simyan and Mokkari trying to shut the titanium doors to their little bunker, but he leaps in and blocks the door with an iron bar (showing remarkable presence of mind for a rampaging brute). He then proceeds to lay out some serious payback on the dudes who have been tampering with his DNA.

Actually, this whole comic is a brilliant example of Kirby doing what he does best—it’s just non-stop chaos, destruction, and hairbreadth escapes from about the moment the Whiz Wagon bursts in. Things get crazier and more tense, until they climax with Jimmy’s rampage:

Until the second-last page is literally nothing but a series of explosions. Brigadoom is, needless to say, done for—and the Newsboys and Jimmy have to scramble to escape not only the blast that takes out the entire compound, but the potential for being trapped as microscopic beings forever. Remember, Brigadoom is actually really tiny, and to get in you have to pass through a shrink ray—but once Brigadoom goes up, the reverse grow-ray that people pass through to leave goes with it. Needless to say, Jimmy and the Newsboys make it out by a whisker, and the last page shows the aftermath of the destruction: Jimmy passed out in a quiet dale, the Whiz Wagon planted nose-first in the hillside, and a tiny crater where the Evil Factory once resided.

I gotta say—apart from the interesting subtext of his first few issues, this is probably the highlight of Kirby’s run on Jimmy Olsen, accomplishing much more successfully what he tried to do with “The Big Boom” back in #138. At least part of the reason it works better here is that there actually IS a “Big Boom” at the end, but it’s also the conclusion of the main plot running through the series, which lends it a satisfying finality. After this, Kirby gets to toy with a storyline that he hinted at earlier, and which he wanted to make the focus of his run on the book, which probably would have made everything more interesting. Certainly, given that the book was cancelled a few issues later, you’d think Kirby had a better idea of what he was doing. It’s too bad this couldn’t be the end—it would have let him go out with a bang instead of a whimper.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Forever People #7--"I'll Find You In Yesterday!"


My reviews turn now to the 3rd volume of the Fourth World Omnibi, so it seems appropriate to note that the fourth and final volume is slated to arrive next Wednesday, at least according to Amazon. If my reviews of this stuff are making you eager to purchase the Omnibi, well, you’re in luck.

Yep, in keeping with my comments about money from last week, I’ve decided to join Amazons’ Associates Program and provide purchase links. If you feel inclined to buy these, it would be really appreciated if you did so by clicking the link to the right there, which will send a few bucks my way.

But enough flagrant shillery, let’s see what the FPs are up to. As you recall, the last we saw, they were being menaced by Darkseid’s Really For Reals Ultimate Weapon, the Omega Effect, which he had somehow forgotten he had access to until just now. The Omega Effect, as was loudly trumpeted last issue, “WIPES YOU OUT OF EXISTENCE!!!” Yep, hit by the Omega Beam, and you’re a goner, completely vaporized, eradicated completely from the space-time continuum, demolished utterly and completely, as if you had never existed.


Because, at the last moment, Darkseid seems to have once again remembered a crucial detail: he can use the Omega Effect to do other stuff besides totally annihilating his enemies. So, rather capriciously, he’s decided to do something much, much less evil.

More on this momentarily, for now we must check in with The Council of the Young! As you may remember, there’s been some talk about how the young are revered on New Genesis, but of course Highfather still runs the place. With the first four pages of this issue, we see this in action: apparently there’s a council which the young and goofily-attired of New Genesis can use to petition Highfather for help, and they’re doing so now on behalf of the Forever People.

What’s more, it seems that the adults of New Genesis have been unaware, until now, that the Forev Peeps had actually skipped town (Supertown, that is) and headed to Earth to take on Darkseid. So their young friends are essentially coming to Highfather and admitting, “Geez, we screwed up bad, pops, can you fix everything for us?” Well, OK, the FPs have been awfully brave and done some serious damage to Darkseid so far, and they did come to Earth in the first place to rescue their friend Beautiful Dreamer, so their heart was in the right place, but still, for all the praise directed to the young generation in these comics, it’s pretty clear who holds the Wonder-Staff in New Genesis: the old, white, male, Abrahamic authority figures. Speaking of which, you can kind of read this whole sequence as a Deus Ex Machina, with the children basically praying to a godlike leader out in a cosmic dimension to bail out the heroes.

The conversation between High-Father, the kids, and Metron (who’s also present, having apparently been the one who figured out that the FPs were in trouble and reported it to High-Father) goes back in forth in Kirby’s usual expository way, until Esak comes forward. Esak, you may recall, is the cherubic little kid in hotpants that Metron was showing around the universe back in New Gods #4. “Is one of the youngest of New Genesis to add his voice against my edicts!?” asks Highfather. “Not against your edicts, High-Father!!” Replies Snot-nose, “But for our friends!! Is this not a world of friends!? Save our friends, Highfather! Save Them!” Then he breaks down weeping. And when that’s not enough, he resorts to really incomprehensible ass-kissing:

I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that policy on New Genesis is formulated by six year olds, or that Highfather seems to think that that string of gibberish actually meant something.

But now we check in with the Forever People, or at least Mark and Beauty, who we now learn have not been eliminated at all. No, Darkseid has instead given them theatre tickets and sent them off to enjoy themselves.

I’m barely kidding. The theater in question is Ford’s, and the year is 1865. Darkseid has sent them back into Earth’s past. As you can see, this comic is in full compliance with the rule that time travelers in comic books never wind up someplace where nothing of note is occurring. They’re always within a few days, and usually a few moments, of some momentous occasion.

Beautiful Dreamer declares them to be “marooned” in the past, but I’d say this is a pretty good alternative to being completely wiped out of existence. Indeed, within moments the two young ones seem to be enjoying themselves, using BD’s powers of illusion to conjure up period-appropriate costumes and trying to remember what they know about the time period. We learn Big Bear is the team’s historian (though apparently he couldn’ t be bothered to read up on local traffic laws) but Mark is savvy enough to recognize the time period as post-civil war. However, he fails to recognize Lincoln when he walks in, at least at first.

Lincoln is of course a staple of superhero books; if you’re a silver age character, and you’re sent back in time, chances are excellent you’re going to run into one of a) Lincoln, b) King Arthur, c) Robin Hood or d) Julius Caesar. I always wonder if the DC and Marvel Universe versions of these historical personages don’t start to get annoyed by being constantly pestered by time travelers. But I like Kirby’s rendition of Lincoln, who he describes as “seem[ing] scarred by grave tragedy in his time!!” “He looks wise—and old—and tired—“ says Beauty. Lincoln has no lines in this comic, but he’s still more interesting than any other comic book Lincoln I can think of.

Ah. And only in comics would I have to expend so much thought distinguishing between multiple Lincolns. Moving on.

Mark finally twigs to the significance of their current circumstances (Beautiful Dreamer apparently knows nothing about history, ‘cuz she’s a girl and stuff) and rushes backstage to try and prevent the impending assassination. No thoughts of preserving history here, it would seem. But the two are met by a squad of policemen backstage, demanding identification.

Meanwhile, Vykin the Black finds himself in Florida circa the early 1500s, just in time for an encounter with, you guessed it, Ponce De Leon’s men. Wait, no, apparently they’re not with Ponce but instead are…deserters? Or even rivals? It’s never made clear. Nevertheless, they’re nasty, racist folks who are out for gold, so I guess Kirby didn’t want to demonize Ponce (who I’m sure thought all races were equal and had no interest in gold whatsoever). Their first move is to try and grab Vykin. “Who are you cats?” Asks Vykin. “Why are you behaving this way??” When this diplomacy fails, he proceeds to pound the living crap out of them. This doesn’t do much to change their attitude towards “the black”, as they refer to Vykin every two seconds. “Being a language major, I should be able to deal with them!” thinks Vykin. Um, yeah, these guys seem naturally receptive. Realizing that they’re only interested in one thing, Vykin declares that he’s “equipped to ferret out hidden minerals” and agrees to lead them to a cache of it nearby. But, you’ll be shocked to learn, the pirates plan to betray him once they get there.

And now it’s Big Bear’s turn. He comes flopping out of the timestream and right into a nearby band of warriors. “Medieval dawn man!” declares BB, delightedly. “Celtic or Saxon emergence!” Sure enough, he’s in Roman-controlled Britain, surrounded by Celts who declare him to be, alternately, a warlock, a druid, and a bear spirit (well, they’re not too far off there.) BB picks up their speech with a universal translator in his ear-circuits-making me wonder why Vykin had to be a “language major” to understand the Spaniards—and figures out that they’re preparing to attack the Romans as they pull out from Britain for the last time. This makes no sense, because a) they seem to want the Romans to leave anyway, and b) there’s like five guys against an immense Roman army.

Again, we can see the shift in sensibilities that society had been undergoing starting to take hold in Kirby’s comics—most pre-1970 comics would have cast the Romans solidly in the “good guy” camp, and comparing them to Darkseid, which seems fairly acute, nevertheless represents a pretty major about-face. Of course, the dirty, disorganized Celtic rabble doesn’t seem particularly heroic either, which may be why Big Bear says he “would like to avoid any partisan feelings at this moment” and just observe this key moment in history. Because, as we just learned two pages ago, he’s a history buff.

He’s actually so determined to sit back and enjoy that he grabs all the Celt’s weapons and drives them into a nearby tree with the force of his throw. You can see where this is going, right?

That leaves Serifan, who you may recall was left by himself in the present, due to Darkseid’s apparent laziness. Of course, if my only remaining enemy was Serifan, I don’t think I’d be too worried either. As you may recall from the previous installment, he had just gotten back to the Super-Cycle when a wave of Glorious Godfrey’s Justifiers swept down on him. Or, um, up at him, since they were climbing a cliff. Godfrey, by his own admission, “wastes” his zealots for a while by throwing them into the heavy laser fire produced by the Super-Cycle, before finally producing an “Induction Ray” and bringing the mountain down on top of him. “Serifan is transfixed by the terrifying fall of rock,” narrates Kirby, “--and, so, misses seeing the alpha bullet streaking toward him!!” The what now?

Alpha bullets!! Never seen before on Earth—originate from a different hand!! The hand which governs New Genesis!!” Turns out that the cure for the Omega Effect is an Alpha bullet, produced by Highfather. Highfather’s the Alpha, and Darkseid’s the Omega. Do you get it? Huh? Huh? Do ya?!?

Anyway, Highfather is indeed sending Alpha Bullets through time to rescue the FPs, having responded to Esak’s whining—so now we get the other halves of the various vignettes. In 1865, Mark and Beauty have managed to get past the cops with illusory identification, and have made it down the hall to confront John Wilkes Booth, again, with no apparent mind to what effect this might have on history. But this seems to be one of those deals where the future’s already set, and everything’s predestined, because just then the Alpha Bullet catches them and sends them back to their own time. Booth dismisses them, a little too casually, as hallucinations…though Kirby seems to be suggesting that Booth was just nuts. Admittedly, the Kennedy assassination was only a few years in the past at that point, so equating presidential killers with lone nuts was probably pretty natural, but I thought it was always pretty clear Booth’s actions were politically motivated.

I just bring this up because the Big Bear segment, which we cut to next, displays a decent grasp of history. It’s been suggested that, during his famous sojourn at Marvel, Kirby became a voracious reader, and this informed his work. You can definitely see fairly literate ideas popping up in Kirby’s work from time to time, but then there’s weird misapprehensions like the Booth thing. Anyway, Big Bear brings up the very good question of what the Celts are so angry about if the Romans are leaving, but their anger now seems to be turned towards the Romanized Celts they left in charge, like a certain Arta the Sentry. In fact, they’d gladly kill the guy, if their weapons weren’t still embedded in that tree. Big Bear, trying to mollify them, suggests that Arta is probably a decent guy, and the knowledge he learned from the Romans could be useful now that, y’know, the entire country’s infrastructure has packed up and gone south. To cement the deal, he lets Arta, and only Arta, pull a sword out of the tree, which wins him the love of the other Celts, who have names like Gwane and Lanslac. This is actually pretty subtle, by Kirby’s standards, though as awesome as Big Bear is I’m not sure he squares up properly with the Merlin of legend.

Vykin’s subplot ends rather abruptly when he leads the pirates to a crumbling mine, which he claims was constructed by “the ancients who passed here on their way further south” (again, spackling over the small issue of the fact that Kirby’s designed the mine to look Mayan). The pirates, of course, are getting ready to literally stab Vykin in the back, when we get a double Deus Ex Machina: first Vykin’s hit by the Alpha Bullet, then the ground beneath the conquistadores collapses, and they all plummet into the Earth to be with their beloved gold. Way to wrap things up in two panels, Kirby!

The four time travelers are reunited in the present by the mound of rocks, from which the Super-Cycle then extracts itself. The group is reunited, except for the strangely-absent Serifan. “He must be alive!” Declares Beautiful Dreamer. “If Darkseid spared us, he couldn’t have harmed Serifan!!” Yeah, mm-hmm, that’s some logic there, sweetie. Surely the embodiment of pure evil couldn’t have capriciously killed anyone if he spared someone else!

But of course he is alive, and in Honshu, Japan. “Of course!!” says Mark, “Where else would Darkseid have sent Sonny Sumo?” Right, because he was careful to send all the other characters to times and places in which they would feel comfortable and could integrate easily.

Sure enough, Serifan’s in a temple in Honshu, where a group of monks have a gift for him: the Mother Box that Sonny had with him. It seems that Sonny had lived a rich and full life full of good works in ancient Japan, and bequeathed the Box to the monks with instructions to keep it until the FPs came for it many centuries later. In other words, he got what he always wanted: to live in a simpler time when straightforward honour and heroism were still possible. From one perspective, it’s a very nice conclusion to his character arc.

From another, it makes no sense whatsoever. I mean…Darkseid granted his greatest wish?!? More crucially, he sent away the one guy he’d supposedly been searching for for years, the holder of the Anti-Life Equation?!? Is Darkseid easily distracted by shiny objects?

I’ll give Highfather a pass for not rescuing Sonny from history, since he probably knew somehow that he was happier there, but it’s still kind of annoying that Kirby created this Japanese superhero with great fanfare and then proceeded to get rid of him in three issues. Of course, if he hadn’t, Sonny would probably have kicked around the DC Universe for a few years, being badly written by a series of hacks, and then been horribly killed off in some stupid crossover event. So perhaps it’s for the best. [Future Edit: Of course, Grant Morrison is currently using Sonny Sumo in the pages of "Final Crisis", so it's possible the guy might suffer some ignominious fate after all. Morrison seems to appreciate Sonny's awesomeness, however.]

The final two pages are another Lonar story. Basically, Lonar and his battle-horse, now named Thunderer, run across Orion, who’s moping around in a loincloth on the surface of New Genesis. Yup, two dudes in panties, just hangin’ out together. Orion admires Lonar’s battle-horse and tries to pet it, but it rears up in fright and takes off. There is no subtext to this story whatsoever.

Next time: the further adventures of Caveman Jimmy.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #145--"Brigadoom!"


Work , work, work. Always with the work. It’s a shame I need money, isn’t it? Because, believe me, there’s nothing I’d like better than to do snarky commentary on bizarre comics from 30 years ago full-time. Hey, buy some of the Fourth World books via the links to the right, there, and maybe it'll happen!

Anyway, in the meantime, it’s time yet again to visit with our friend and Superman’s, Jimmy Olsen, as he gets to the bottom of the Loch N…Loch Trevor Monster and yet another attempt on his bosses’ part to murder him with really hot platinum-haired Scottish chicks.

As you may recall, said assassin-chick and her fake dad were helping the Newsboy Legion find a monster in Loch Trevor, one which had apparently grabbed the headlines around the world, but which only Jimmy Olsen had been willing to follow up. Oh, as if the media would over-report a story like that, and then completely fail to follow it up! As if their attention spans are that short! So unrealistic, Kirby.

Anyway, the MacGregors ended up trying to kill them at Intergang’s behest, but were foiled by the monster. You might think this would lead to one of those traditional scenes where a dubious-looking authority-figure laughed them out of the police station once they tried to explain what had happened—Jimmy even seems to expect it—but no, the Scotland Yard regional chief (that would be the Scottish branch of Scotland Yard) is quite accepting, and on the next page we see why. It turns out that Scotland has been plagued lately with bizarre, mythical creatures, which the cops have dutifully rounded up and stuck in their “special custody” room. So, basically, vague rumours of a big monster in a Scottish Lake is worldwide news, but freakin’ Basilisks and Chimeras that are actually being held in police custody have gone unmentioned up ‘til now. Boy, I’ve heard of police stonewalling, but this is ridiculous.

The monsters in the lockup include a Griffin, a Unicorn (in a nice touch, it looks a lot like a Rhino, medieval reports of which are what inspired the myth of the Unicorn in the first place) and the aforementioned Chimera and Basilisks, neither of which bear any resemblance to their mythical forebears. The Chimera is basically a huge chameleon, and the Basilisks are tiny little hairballs that resemble Ewoks crossed with pug dogs. Flippa Dippa, for once not wearing his scuba suit, looks on in amazement, and Jimmy Olsen proclaims “Jumping Jars of Jellied Jaguars!!!”. And “Big Words” is reduced to responding “Yeah! Wow!!!

But the biggest surprise is being kept at the end of the hall in a special, titanium-coated cell. ANGRY CHARLIE.

Charlie leaps forward and tries to grab them, and the cops rush in to tranquilize him, as Chief Inspector McQuarrie rolls his R’s at random (“Alar-r-rms” and “tranquilizer-r gun” bear the brunt of his verbalizations). He claims these strange animals are all somehow coming from “Brigadaoom”—“A Scottish fairy tale city—that becomes the object of a real hunt the next day!” (It’s “Brigadoon”, of course—Kirby apparently got so caught up in his little pun that he forgot the real name.) Of course, we cut to the Olsen crew hunting for it so fast that we don’t get a chance to find out how the heck the Inspector knows that that’s where the monsters are coming from. Maybe this is a technique we should adopt in North America. “My deduction—the killer is from Shangri-La!”

We immediately cut to the Whiz Wagon in aquatic mode, plumbing the depths of Loch Trevor. Wha--?!? They couldn’t have done that back when they were looking for the monster the other day?!? Of course, if they had, MacGregor would have just killed them, since it was the monster wrecking their boat that enabled them to escape. So yay for short attention spans.

Also shaky logic. Jimmy and Scrapper have been sent to look for an “overland route”, so they’re not on board the Wagon; instead they’re traipsing mindlessly through a field of brambles and overgrowth and, after a few panels of effort, immediately falling asleep. Who knew Scrapper and Jimmy were so damn lazy?

The Scrapper Trooper is left to stand guard, “But nothing can guard against the compressor wave! It comes out of nowhere—and does its strange work!” Scrapper one wakes up to find the Trooper staring him in the face—on his level.

SCRAPPER: Hey! You ain’t little any more!—Or is it—that I ain’t big any more!!??
TROOPER: I told you that I saw something weird happen to you!! In short—you’ve been shortened!!

Naturally, you can’t really faze residents of the DC Universe with this kind of stuff, but Scrapper does get a little concerned about “Big boids!!”, so the Trooper leads them under a rock—then keeps going, driven by some instinct “like all graduates of the D.N.A. Project”. This is significant, and ties back into that stuff about parts of the Guardian’s brain being active that they didn’t understand, though unfortunately this plotline never gets totally resolved. However, there’ll be more on it in this issue.

Beneath the rock, the Trooper finds Brigadoom.

Yes, Brigadoom is a microscopic fortress hidden under a small rock. That’s why no one’s been able to find it. And what’s more, this isn’t just some random mythical city; it’s a place that the Scrapper Trooper inherently recognizes, and which Jimmy Olsen, using his journalistic know-how, deduces to be the source of not just he mythical animals back on the surface but all the bizarre monsters that have been plaguing them lately. Yep, it’s the Evil Factory itself.

What makes this a neat reveal is that you’re half-convinced Kirby had totally forgotten about that plot thread, and that even if he hadn’t he’d have just pulled something out of his butt. The fact that he manages to weave it into an ongoing story, and one where its presence makes perfect sense (well, by comic book standards) is pretty impressive, considering how random this has been so far.

Anyway, confirming their suspicions, Simyan and Mokkari suddenly arrive, Mokkari dressed in a goofy-looking suit of armour that protects him from Jimmy’s fire, and knocks them out with “well-placed paralysis beams.” “Luckily, in dealing with Earthmen, our Apokolips clothing fabric is resistant to their weapons!” Cackles Mokkari. Um, yes, I think the “fabric” of a suit of armour tends to work that way on Earth, too.

We now suddenly cut to Superman’s far more interesting plotline—he and NotLois had gone to a disco where they had discovered a secret passage, run into Superman’s horned, purple-skinned mutant friend Dubbilex, and then the evil hippie house band brought the house down—as in, literally. How will Superman and everyone else survive? Well, Superman will survive because he’s Superman. Everyone else…um…I have no way of knowing, because we suddenly cut to the tunnel under the disco, where Superman, Dubbilex and NotLois are all safe and sound. I guess the other Disco patrons were crushed to death, but hey, they were into disco. No big loss.

Dubbilex has, between issues, captured the homicidal rock band (they’re called The San Diego Five String Mob) with what Superman calls “Kinetic powers”. They’re hovering in a clump in the middle of the tunnel, to NotLois’s consternation. “Terry [NotLois] doesn’t know Dubbilex is a D.N.Alien!” Thinks Superman, slyly. Yes, I guess she’ll have to continue labouring under the assumption that he’s one of those telekinetic, horned purple guys you see thronging the streets of Metropolis. “Mister Dubbilex!! You’re weird!!” is her response.

Of course, Dubbilex’s powers are still developing, and thus, he’s not able to hold them long. As soon as they drop to the floor, they conjure up a Boom Tube and make their getaway (“The San Diego Five String Mob is now a road show!!”). “Don’t go near it!” Warns Superman. “Let these kids go!! And don’t ask questions!” What are you hiding all of a sudden, Superman? Oh, right. Secret identity.

Back at Loch Trevor. The Whiz Wagon actually came upon the monster about three seconds after submerging in the last segment and drove it off with some concussion charges. Following behind, the Newsboys suddenly see the monster vanish after heading into the same compression-wave effect we saw earlier. “There’s no sign of him!!” Declares Big Words. “All I get is a tiny blip on my scope!” Yes, no sign whatsoever.

Flippa Dippa, of course, sees an excuse to make himself useful and pops out the airlock, at which point he is not only sucked in, but somehow pulls the Whiz Wagon in after him. Smooth!

Meanwhile, Scrapper and his Trooper are locked up while Simyan and Mokkari have Jimmy strapped down to an operating table.

MOKKARI: And now the new “bombardment” method!! Millions of gene nuclei shot through his open pores!!
SIMYAN: They develop like wildfire! Olsen will change rapidly!! Becoming what the Gene dictates!! Sad to say—these are regressive and powerful!!

Am I the only one who pictures Kirby writing this stuff by flipping through medical textbooks and pulling out words at random? Of course, maybe he does the same with thesauruses every time he writes. Long story short, they have a ray that reverses the process of evolution and devolves organisms. They’ve done this on a “monitor lizard” to produce a T-Rex, which they immediately sic on Scrapper and Trooper.

Meanwhile meanwhile, the Whiz Wagon pops up in the underwater pens used to keep Trevor the monster when he’s at home. Which means we get two scenes with giant lizards—the Whiz Wagon leaps out of the pens and tears down a nearby hallway, while the Scrapper Trooper manages to sedate the dino with “chemical ‘mace’” he had secreted in his helmet. And I don’t mean he had it tucked away, I mean his helmet squirts mace from out the inside. Must be a pain in the ass to avoid macing yourself on a near-constant basis.

Scrapper and the Trooper escape, but too late to help Jimmy, who’s been regressed into caveman form!

Huh…I guess Jimmy wasn’t that evolved to begin with.

And on that exciting cliffhanger, we reach the end of the second Fourth World Archive volume, and the halfway point of the saga! Next week: Part 3 begins, including the end for Olsen and friends…

Friday, March 7, 2008

Mister Miracle #6--"Funky Flashman!"


Funky Flashman, as we will learn on the first page, is a con artist, swindler, and all-round self-interested douchebag. As the caption informs us, he “preys on all things like a cannibal!! –Including you!!!” Well, by definition a cannibal would have to. Anyway, Funky, who bears an odd resemblance to Bob Hope in a couple of panels, lives in the crumbling antebellum mansion known as Mockingbird Estates. Somehow, he managed to get himself named Colonel Mockingbird’s heir apparent, but the deal came with strings attached: rather than gaining immediate access to a fat trust fund, Funky gets a weekly allowance, doled out in a very strange manner: every week, the hideous bust of the Colonel makes a loud “BAAAAW!” sound and the mouth flips open to reveal a small wad of bills.

Kirby, rather insanely, refers to this process as “waiting for Godot”. Yes, seriously. OK, listen, Stan Lee obviously had great success writing hip, Beat-influenced, pop-culture-referencing heroes, and, as I’ve mentioned, it’s natural enough that Kirby would want to try and imitate his most well-known collaborator. But Kirby really, really wasn’t suited to this, and the results aren’t just clunky, they actively make you fear for the man’s sanity. If Lee sometimes seemed hilariously square in his attempts to write “with-it” dialogue, Kirby comes off as borderline senile. I mean, “Waiting for Godot”? How pathetic is that name-drop, even in 1972?

OK, OK. Moving on. Funky and his fawning manservant Houseroy—yes, Houseroy--have an exposition-laden conversation about his plans to pull another con in order to shore up their measly funds. Their mark, of course, is Mister Miracle, who they’ve learned about from the performance he gave at an orphanage fundraiser.

…Wait, wait, wait. Mister Miracle? Performing his act in public, for an audience? And this happened off-panel?!? Surely this momentous occasion could have warranted a panel or two! But then, the whole thrust of this story seems to suggest that Kirby realized that the logistics of Mr. M’s act may have been a bit lacking. More on that in a moment. Although I am interested to know, given the nature of Mr. M’s stunts, how many orphans were killed during that performance.

Anyway, Funky slaps on a fake hairpiece and beard, all the while engaging in extremely, um, flamboyant dialogue. Houseroy says that he thinks Scott Free will prove “quite edible!!” and Funky calls him “Sweetie”. I have to wonder if Kirby wasn’t slipping in a whole other subtext on top of making him, you know, a two-faced conniver.

Meanwhile, it’s time for our standard Mr. Miracle opening splash—Mr. M in the clutches of some ludicrously awesome mechanical deathtrap that he’ll escape from once, let it destroy itself, and then never use again! This time he’s shackled into a crazy-looking rocket sled—it even says “NASA proving ground” on it—on a track that ends on a sheer cliff. The sled takes off in a blast of Kirby Krackle, and, with nanoseconds to spare, Scott…


Huh. The rocket sled had an ejector seat, complete with parachutes. I don’t know whether that’s shrewd or cowardly on Scott’s part. Oh, sure, he had to get out of the shackles in time to hit the eject button, but still. Do real super escape artists need parachutes?

Anyway, after the standard, “Oh God, he’s dead, those crazy contraptions finally killed him! Buh—WHA?!? You’re alive!” reaction from Oberon, Scott mentions that he thinks the crowds will enjoy this stunt…which broaches that taboo subject of money. “You’ve been hinting about going on tour!!” needles Obie. “Well!! –Why not!! It’s time this act began making money!”

Really, Oberon? Are you sure? We don’t want to rush into this, after all. Maybe Scott should wreck a few more NASA rocket sleds before he makes a rash move like trying to make any money out of his antics. Maybe he ought to purchase a few more antique civil war cannons, too. I mean, these things do grow on trees, after all. And risking your life in radical, foolhardy ways just isn’t the same if there are people watching. People who might inadvertently be entertained. It cheapens the whole act, man.

Whew. Well, while that bit of thudding obviousity is being taken care of, interesting events are unfolding back at Casa Del Free: Flashman has made the pilgrimage to see Scott, only to be met with Big Barda. I mentioned a while back that Barda was basically Kirby’s wife Roz in personality, and this scene is a variation on something that apparently happened a lot in the Kirby household: some shyster or corporate shark comes to the door while the King is trying to work, and his missus gently discourages him by, um, crushing a gun in her bare fist. Funky is apparently a hard one to dissuade, however, and Barda gives up and goes to take a bath (?) just as Scott walks in. Apparently splashing around in the water is one of her default reactions when she gets sick of hitting things.

Funky announces his presence and introduces himself to Oberon—“mentioned briefly in your letter,” as Funky puts it. And yes, that’s supposed to be a short joke. Can someone explain to me why it’s been OK to make little-person jokes long after we stopped making fun of people’s other disabilities? I mean, if you mocked a guy in a wheelchair by calling him “Hell on wheels” no one would think you were clever. They’d think you were a huge jerk. Of course, Funky’s a huge jerk anyway, pinching Oberon’s cheek and then suddenly attempting to drop kick him as soon as Scott’s back is turned. Charming.

As soon as Oberon’s departed to make some coffee, Funky launches into his spiel, declaring it a “tingly, wingly thrill!!—To actally be in the very setting where the hallowed Thaddeus Brown, like a warlock of ancient yore—conjured up his majestic manipulations!!” He proceeds to lay it on thick with flowery verbiage. More than a few people have commented that Funky seems to be channeling Stan Lee in this sequence, beard included. By the way, if he’s using his real name, why did he bother with a fake beard? That would seem to clinch the idea that Kirby wanted to evoke Lee. I mean, a pompous con artist with a grandiose way of talking---what else were we supposed to think?

We cut to Barda in the bath. This page was apparently scripted by Mark Evanier to fill space when Kirby accidentally came up short in the page count, and he claims it doesn’t add to the story at all, but I don’t know if that’s quite true—it includes a panel where her “warning circuits” detect a “carrier beam” from Apokolips, without which the next page would seem to pretty much come out of nowhere. She gets dressed (in her bikini-thing rather than her full battle armour) and goes downstairs to meet…MAD HARRIET!

Harriet’s one of the Female Furies, the Charlie’s Angels of Apokolips to which Barda formerly belonged. Her weapons are her freaky appearance, disturbing giggle, and a row of razor-tipped brass knuckles, and ruthless efficiency, and nice red uniforms…OK, sorry, I’ll come in again. She’s a homicidal maniac in a Geisha costume, is my point, and she’s here to take out Barda for her betrayal of Apokolips. As is her partner Stompa, who joins her a few panels later, and as of now is merely a disembodied boot. After trashing some furniture, they phase out, just as Scott comes barging in. Boy, that guy is missing most of the action in this issue, isn’t he.

In fact, it turns out he’s been closing a deal with Funky to manage their coming tour. “He’s a transparent second-rater—but he’ll have to do!!” Um, really? You aren’t going to bother looking around for a better option, Scott? Obviously this arrangement parallels Kirby’s partnership with Stan the Man, but that just makes it seem like he should have tried for something better himself…

Oddly, we now cut to a day later. Wow, the Female Furies sure like to take their time in toying with their prey. Funky’s apparently rented out a rehearsal studio (complete with…klieg lights?) and dressed himself up in what he calls his “Uneasy Rider outfit” which apparently has him under the delusion that he’s John Huston. Scott proceeds to strap himself to a wooden platform that feeds into a gigantic sawblade, prompting this reaction:

Yeah, thanks, Oberon, that’s much more helpful.

Scott immediately follows this with a second escape: he crawls inside a gigantic, clear-plastic fishbowl, tightens the hatch, and lets a concussion bomb drop into the bowl. This one he escapes, somehow, by curling up in “the proper position.” Funky, duly impressed, lathers on the praise, leading Scott to melt a little and reveal one of his secrets: namely, the Mother Box. “But no one can build her!!” Admonishes Scott. “She must be earned!!” I have to admit, I don’t really get what Mother Boxes are supposed to represent. They seem to be a symbol of immense power that’s bestowed only on the worthy, but, I mean, they are basically just a piece of technology. How does one “earn” a Mother Box, exactly? At any rate, it’s clear Funky isn’t worthy, and it’s just as clear that he’s suddenly eager to get his hands on it.

His lust for power is interrupted by the belated arrival of Lashina, another one of the Furies. (Barda mentioned that there were only four, but as we’ll see later, that’s completely inaccurate.) Lashina’s another neat character design:

But before her lash (capable of cutting through solid metal) can land on Scott, Barda swoops out of the shadows and engages her in a page-long fight. Barda STILL hasn’t bothered to put on her armour, by the way. I guess Kirby knew which side his bread was buttered on. Barda manages to subdue her, and she teleports away just as—you guessed it—Scott and Oberon come running in. Barda once again describes her battle and speaks warily of the fourth Fury, Burnadeth, who happens to be Desaad’s sister. They’ve been able to find Scott by tracking his Mother Box, but suddenly it’s gone missing—Scott left in such a hurry that he didn’t notice that Funky ran off with it.

I think you can see what’s coming, can’t you? Funky’s back at Mockingbird Estate, practicing his public speaking, when the Furies come for him and decide to kill him out of spite. Burnadeth fires a “fahren-knife” that will “penetrate dimensionally—and barbecue him from the inside!!!” Funky apparently avoids it, andthrows his faithful butler Houseroy into the fray in order to hold them off for a few minutes while he makes his escape from the house, which explodes behind him. After mourning the loss of his family (?) estate (which Kirby takes a moment to remind us was founded on slave labour) Funky, his hair and beard blown off, walks off down the road to new schemes, apparently unconcerned by all that’s transpired.

We get a brief epilogue here where we reveal that Mr. Miracle and Barda arrived on the scene to pull Houseroy from the flames (oh, comics code) and engage the Furies, driving them off with explosives. This all happened off-panel, of course. The issue ends with Scott and Barda finally making a decision: instead of waiting on Earth and taking on their Apokoliptish adversaries one by one in easily defeatable permutations, they’re going to head back to the planet itself and take on Darkseid, Granny, and the hordes of Apokolips on their own turf.

Gee. Good thinking.