Welcome to another edition of Into the Bronze Age! Today we’re covering the first appearance of the unique heroine, Rose and Thorn, which is pretty cool, but much more excitingly, we’re also going to encounter the triumphant return of Jack “the King” Kirby to DC Comics in his inaugural issue of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen! We’ve finally reached the event that DC had been plugging for months. I’m definitely looking forward to covering the unfolding saga of the Fourth World in all of its bizarre, insanely creative glory. I’ve included some general reflections on Kirby and his career, so this post is a bit longer than normal. Let’s see what these books have in store for us!
Roll Call (You can see everything published this month HERE)
- Action Comics #393
- Adventure Comics #398
- Aquaman #52
- Detective Comics #404
- Green Lantern/Green Arrow #80
- Phantom Stranger #9
- Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #105
- Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133 (Jack Kirby’s debut!)
- Superman #230
- Teen Titans #29
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #105
“Death House Honeymoon!”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito
“Night of the Thorn”
Writer: Robert Kanigher
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito
I was quite uncertain as to how this book was going to go, but I have to say that I was pretty pleasantly surprised. First off, it was a Robert Kanigher script, which hasn’t worked out too well so far in my experience. Second, it was Lois Lane, which I didn’t really expect to be reading to begin with. Yet, the inclusion of Rose and Thorn intrigued me enough to pick it up, and I’m glad I did. The story inside is actually fairly enjoyable, though there is one glaring problem caused by Kanigher apparently forgetting Superman’s powers. I suppose there are a lot of them to keep track of! Still, I think this new character is promising.
Our first glimpse of the mysterious botanical beauty is in the form of flyers dropped all over Metropolis, informing the members of the ruthless criminal organization known as the ‘100’ that she is out to destroy them These flyers contain a picture of the beautiful Thorn, as well as the challenge, which seems somewhat short-sighted. Clark Kent and Lois Lane discover these circulars and are split on how to treat this character. Lois wants to chase down the story, while Mr. Mild Mannered is afraid that if they do, they’ll make this woman a target for the 100, though it rather seems like that particular cat is already well out of its bag. We also get a bit of somewhat unusual misogyny from Perry White, as Clark convinces him the story is too dangerous for a woman. Instead, the editor tells Lois that a convicted murderer named Johnny Adonis, awaiting his fate on death row, has asked to see her in his final hours.
Once she arrives (Superman having saved her from a car wreck on the way, just to stay in practice), the girl reporter discovers that the convict has a very unusual request. He wants her to marry him for the short time he has before his date with the chair. Adonis points out that she can have the marriage annulled as soon as he is gone, and then he declares that she owes him a debt. We discover that he had saved her life years ago when she fell through the ice of a frozen lake while on vacation. Feeling that she owes the killer her life, Lois agrees. Of course, there’s a small dose of obligatory drama with Superman because of her choice, but nonetheless, the deathhouse is soon the scene of a grim and joyless wedding. Yet, the wedding is just a smokescreen, and as soon as the Man of Steel has left in disgust, the prisoners stage an escape, using the new bride as a hostage!
Meanwhile, the Metropolis Marvel encounters the enigmatic vigilante known as the Thorn for the first time. He finds her taking it to a trio of 100 thugs and intervenes just in time to save her from a bullet. Before he can talk with her, though, she vanishes into the night. That’s right. She slips away and hides in the shadows….hides from the man with X-Ray vision. In the shadows. Are shadows made of lead in the DCU? This is the only real problem with the story. Apparently Kanigher forgets how Superman’s powers work.
Next we cut back to the escaping prisoners, who, clear of pursuit, decide to dispose of their hostage. They push their car into the river with Lois inside, and her pleas for help seem to fall on deaf ears, her new “husband” coldly ignoring her plight. Yet, just then Thorn arrives, pulling the reporter out of the river and attracting the bullets of the surprised convicts. That’s just too much for Mr. Adonis, though, and he turns on his fellows, struck with a sudden attack of conscience. He gets a few of them, but they get him as well. Fortunately, Superman arrives just in time to stop the rest of the gang, though too late to save Lois’s new groom, who dies in her arms. Her work done, Thorn sneaks off into the fog, and we get the dumbest line in the book, as captions tell us “vainly Superman stares through the curtaining vapors.” Really? It’s a shame Superman doesn’t have any powers that let him do things like see through fog or shadows.
It’s really silly, but despite that goofy little oversight, this first chapter is pretty entertaining. We don’t see much of Thorn (or Rose for that matter) in this first tale, but what we see is enough to pique our interest, as she is a relentless, capable crusader, pursuing this 100 organization. It’s not a bad introduction, and the next story will fill us in on who she is. This headline plot seems like it’s going to be pretty goofy, with the gimmicky “Lois is marrying a prisoner” thing, but it actually works out pretty well. Lois does have an obligation to the guy, and though his request is absurd, Kanigher manages to make the case for it at least well enough for the world of comics. In context, it’s less absurd than Superman losing Thorn in the fog. We don’t get to know Adonis well enough for his death to have much of an impact, but his little arc is moderately interesting. All in all, it’s a solid story, worth an average 3 Minutemen.
“Night of the Thorn”
This is the real meat of the issue, the backup tale that gives us the origin of the fascinating character Rose and Thorn. How can Rose AND Thorn be one character? Well, that’s the gimmick, and it’s a good one. Her origin even makes ‘comic book sense,’ which is enough for me in this context. It’s a standard superhero origin, but with a great twist.
We first meet Rose Forrest at the grave of her father, police detective Phil Forrest. She obligingly fills us in on what happened to her dearly departed dad, who was on the police force of Metropolis and who was investigating the activities of the vicious new criminal organization, the 100. He and his partner, Danny, make enough trouble for the gang that the hoods put a price on their heads. Eventually, they manage to take Forrest out in a fiery running gunfight which left him at the bottom of a river. For some reason, Danny seems to think it would be a good idea to bring his partner’s daughter to see daddy get fished out of the river, but the sight is too much for her, and she suffers a breakdown.
While in the hospital, the doctors observe her sleepwalking, and they helpfully tell us that “her ego personality as Rose is incapable of violence[,] but her id, her unconscious self, is different!” Now, that’s mostly nonsense, but the result is that, once she is released, she begins to live a double life. Every night she wakens, no longer Rose, but with a new personality in control of her body. This Thorn persona crosses through a convenient secret passage in her brownstone home to an abandoned and even more convenient costume shop in a neighboring building. There she dons a wig and dresses in a strange disguise, then takes to the street to exact her revenge on the killers who took her father from her. On this particular night, she interrupts the gang’s ambush of Danny, disabling the attackers, and then running off before the stunned policeman can ask her any questions.
She ends the night by chasing another set of killers into a bowling alley and bowling a very unlikely strike, pitting bowling balls against bullets and somehow not becoming a bullet-ridden corpse. It’s a bit silly, but it’s entertaining enough. The night spent, she returns home and transforms once more into the passive and peaceful Rose, who remembers only a strange, disjointed dream.
This is a fun story, but it’s real strength lies in the power of the concept rather than the particular execution. It’s a great idea, and I am very much looking forward to see where it goes from here. I was particularly surprised by the fact that the portrayal of the main character’s psychosis, though handled with traditional comic book exaggeration and sensationalism, is actually more or less accurate. You see, Lady Grey has a doctorate in psychology, and while this particular type of thing is not her area of expertise, when I ran it past her, she told me that dissociative identity disorder (the official name for what is colloquially known as multiple personality disorder) can work more or less like this. I was quite astounded that the science in the story wasn’t complete nonsense. That is, of course, ignoring the sleepwalking component, as the two are unrelated. So, good on Kanigher! This backup is too brief to do much more than set up the concept, but it succeeds at that well enough, though the last encounter in the bowling alley is a bit of an odd fit, not quite meshing with the rest of the tale. I’ll give this one 3 Minutemen as well, and we’ll have to see what else Rose and Thorn have in store for us.
Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133
“Jimmy Olsen, Superman’s Pal, Brings Back the Newsboy Legion!”
Writer: Jack Kirby
Pencilers: Jack Kirby and Al Plastino
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: E. Nelson Bridwell and Murray Boltinoff
Okay gang, strap in for the beautiful, gloriously insane madness that is Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. The most mad, and strangely, at times, also the most glorious, is his Jimmy Olsen! So we’re in for a wild ride.
I love Jack Kirby. He’s hands-down my favorite comics creator and, arguably, the most important figure in the history of superhero comics. I’ve read most of his genre-defining work at Marvel produced with Stan Lee, and it is a fascinating experience to read through those amazing early Marvel books from the dawn of the Silver Age, watching step by step as that unparalleled team built the Marvel Universe line by line, panel by panel, but even more so because at the same time they were transforming superhero comics forever. The work is often silly and Silver Age-ish, undeveloped and simplistic, and always overwritten. Stan Lee never meet an unnecessary caption that he didn’t like, and calling his prose purple is like calling the sun a candle! Nonetheless, there has never been an era like that one. If you’re interested in the legendary King of Comics, let me recommend this fascinating documentary about his life and work.
Stan and Jack were the ultimate creative partnership, generating countless concepts, a seemingly bottomless well of imagination and innovation. Not all of their ideas were hits, and there was probably a dud or two for every success in those early days. Yet, they created entire worlds of possibilities, and their successors have had long and illustrious careers merely mapping the landscapes first explored by comic’s most dynamic duo.
Unfortunately, (or fortunately, for DC Comics) that golden age didn’t last. Marvel in general and Stan Lee specifically didn’t treat ‘the King’ properly for a peasant, much less for comics’ royalty. There’s a good deal of ‘he said,’ ‘she said’ about the events surrounding Kirby’s departure from Marvel Comics, and I won’t get into the ugly details of the matter. While what I’ve read has made me more sympathetic to Kirby than Lee, the real details of those days are probably lost to history, and there’s no sense fighting ancient battles all over again.
Suffice to say, the man who had at least half credit for building the Marvel Universe found that familiar space no longer home and set out for new horizons. He came to DC Comics, and the company was only too thrilled to have such a comics luminary working for them. Kirby did not come empty handed either. He brought with him an entire new universe full of characters, concepts, and wonder without end. The King was given the opportunity to explore this new world, though the folks in charge never quite understood the idea, which made them continuously nervous and eventually contributed to the early demise of the various Fourth World books. They were definitely different, and the books teemed with life and creativity, just as the early Marvel books had. This was an era of imagination much like that earlier age, with Kirby pitching out idea after idea, filling each book with eye-popping, astounding sights. Just like his earlier work, they weren’t all hits, but they expanded the DC Universe tremendously.
As part of his new contract, Kirby was tasked with salvaging DC’s lowest selling book, Jimmy Olsen, the price he must pay for the chance to bring his new ideas to life. There’s an apocryphal story that Jack told DC, ‘give me your lowest-selling book and I’ll turn it into your highest-selling book.’ True or not, DC didn’t have much to lose, because, much like the other Superman books, as we’ve seen, Jimmy Olsen was stuck in a Silver Age-ish rut. Its stories were formulaic and silly, and readers were tiring of the routine. Kirby brought something entirely new to the series, breathing new life into a book on its last legs, and that is where we begin today. Prepare yourselves. The journey is a wild and wonderful one.
One of the most noteworthy features of this first issue is the return of a previous Jack Kirby creation, the Newsboy Legion, to the pages of DC Comics. It’s quite fitting that Kirby’s return should also coincide with his reviving of an old concept from the 40s, one that was near and dear to his heart. These plucky kids were one of the many ‘kid gang’ groups that crowded into comics during the Golden Age, and Kirby drew on his own experience in a neighborhood gang to create them. Originally, they were a group of orphans who sold newspapers to survive and got into all kinds of adventures.
This new set are the descendants of the original, which is a fun angle, and they are working for Galaxy Broadcasting, the new parent company of the Daily Planet, as child reporters…because that makes sense and is totally legal. They include a fun set of walking archetypes: Gabby, the loquacious one, Big Words, the brainy one, Tommy, the normal one, and Scrapper Jr., the tough one. Unfortunately, the King has added in a new member, likely in an effort to add some diversity to the cast, named, and I kid you not, “Flipper Dipper,” who goes everywhere dressed in a S.C.U.B.A. diving outfit, complete with mask and fins. It’s…an odd choice. He’s a ridiculous character who can only contribute to a story through the force of plot. All the other kids have a fairly normal, conventional gimmick. What does this poor schmuck get? Diving.
Inexplicably, the kids have built an incredibly hi-tech vehicle called the ‘Whiz Wagon,’ capable of flying, underwater travel, and a host of other incredible feats. Morgan Edge, the mysteriously sinister new president of Galaxy funded the construction of the vehicle, which was designed by resident genius, Big Words. This is just number one of the crazy, imaginative concepts that Kirby is going to squeeze into this issue. Take a look at this thing. It looks like a suped-up version of the ‘o-matic’ 60s Fantasticar. It is certainly neat looking. After all, no-one could design a gadget like Jack Kirby!
The Legion, led by Jimmy Olsen, are going to use this fancy contraption to travel to a mysterious place called the ‘Wild Area,’ an ill-defined spot of unspecified dangers, there to plumb its secrets. It’s supposed to be wildly unsafe, so, naturally, they’re sending kids to cover it. This doesn’t sit too well with Clark Kent, who confronts the slimy Morgan Edge about his choice, but his efforts to protect the youths are rebuffed. Edge insists that the inhabitants of the Wild Area, the “Hairies,” don’t trust anyone over twenty-five, meaning that the crew has to be young. As you’ve probably already guessed, this story is going to be about the generation gap, in insane Kirby fashion.
Leaving the office, the disguised Man of Steel is run down by a car, which, of course leaves him unscathed. It seems that Morgan Edge has been annoyed by his questions, and the car was full of Intergang’s hired killers. Still following me? We’re only a few pages in! With Kent pretending to be home recovering from his “accident,” the Whiz Wagon sets out on an incredible journey by sea, sky, and road, heading to the ill-defined Wild Area, where they encounter a group of hi-tech bikers called ‘The Outsiders’ that only Jack Kirby could have imagined.
They ride crazy, over-designed bikes, wear outlandish gear more fitting for space travel than cycle riding, and employ sci-fi weapons. Jimmy and his youthful pals take fire in the Wagon, and so they immediately do the sensible thing and attack these heavily-armed Star Wars rejects barehanded. Their insane courage is rewarded rather than earning them messy deaths, and when Jimmy knocks out the gang’s leader, they immediately put him in charge.
Meanwhile, Superman sets out to find the Legion, sure they are in over their heads. He employs a power I’m pretty sure he’s never evinced before or since, as he uses his heat vision to detect the afterimage of the heat created by the Wagon’s passage. Oookay. I hope that if I’ve got any readers who are Superman experts, they’ll correct me if I’m wrong about that, but it seems like a weird addition. Arriving in the Wild Area, the Metropolis Marvel discovers the home of the ‘Outsiders,’ only to be attacked by the gang, now lead by his old friend! Before the two can straighten things out, one of the bikers shoots the Man of Tomorrow with a weird ray, conveniently packed with kryptonite…that this random guy just had..in case Superman ever showed up. It’s a very Silver Age-ish moment, silly in the extreme and an example of that kryptonite-as-plot-device trend I hate.
Well, the Man of Steel recovers and meets the Legion in the wondrous, Kirby-esq city known as ‘the Habitat.’ It’s a glorious full page splash, and it makes absolutely no sense. Superman points out that a ‘dropout society’ like the Outsiders could never have built anything like it, but the origins of this bizarre arboreal urban sprawl will remain a mystery for the moment. With things calmed down, the hero meets with his young friend, who apologizes for the zapping and fills him in on the Legion’s assignment, ‘The Mountain of Judgement.’ You’ve just got to love the portentous names that Kirby assigns everything. One of the bikers tells them what little that they know about it, which isn’t much. Apparently it’s some type of gargantuan mobile structure at the end of some type of dangerous path called ‘the Zoomway.’ Just then, a tremendous sound shakes the entire city, heralding the presence of the Mountain of Judgement!
Okay, catch your breath, gang! This utterly mad issue was just the start, and what a start it was! Kirby is simultaneously introducing a new supporting cast for Jimmy, establishing a bizarre and exciting new setting, and planting the seeds for the Fourth World. This issue, as irrational and silly as it is in many regards, is just absolutely chock full of imagination and wonder. That’s perhaps Kirby’s greatest strength, the conjuration of wonder, and it will be a common accomplishment in the Fourth World books, even at their weakest. He manages it here, with the strange societies of the Wild Area, the mysterious, alien structures of the Habitat, and the pure ‘Kribyness’ of the visuals. I’ve left a lot out of my summary, because there is no way to capture all of this colorful craziness.
I was not very fond of these early Jimmy Olsen issues when I first read them some years ago. All of the sillier elements grated too much on me, but I’ve developed more appreciation for such wild stories in the interim. As bizarre as this issue is, it is also undeniably fun and imaginative. It’s even zanier and even more creative than an outing with Zany Haney. It has plenty of weaknesses, with the stupid kryptonite convenience at the top of the list. It’s also worth noting that, while Jack Kirby was an artist of unparalleled skill and creativity, with his talents matched only by the bottomless productivity of his ever-working imagination, his skills as a dialog writer are not quite as legendary. The 60s slang that fills the book, while not as horrible as some of the earlier Teen Titans issues, can be pretty cringe-inducing.
The whole generation gap angle of the story also feels a bit dated, even in 1970. The angst of generational conflict, which will be felt more next issue, bores me. I suppose that’s because I was an angsty teenager once and am now keenly aware of just how stupid I was. Of course, as we’ve often noted, Superman is certainly a fitting symbol for the established order, having remained almost entirely unchanged for years, so I suppose there is something more clever here than I had really given Kirby credit for. In the context of the social relevance trends, the revamping of characters, and the greater social engagement sweeping through DC Comics, this theme is actually quite fitting. Who is more a symbol of the previous generation than Superman? Of course, Jimmy is not really the first character I’d pick for a rebellious avatar of teen identity. Still, I’ll have to see how the other issues strike me. Perhaps they’ll read better on the second pass.
The dropout societies of the Wild Area, and even the name that Edge gives them, the ‘Hairies,’ obviously references the hippies of the 60s, but they are much more exciting. Hippies with ray guns and Kirby-tech might even be moderately tolerable. Nonetheless, the final result is intriguing. You couldn’t read this issue and not want to know just what in the blue blazes was going on. And that is nothing to laugh at. There’s an undeniable charm and frenetic energy to this story, so despite its goofy elements, I’ll give it 3.5 Minutemen. We’ll see better Kirby stories before long, but even with its weaknesses, this is a fascinating beginning!
Well my friends, that’s it for this milestone edition of Into the Bronze Age! The King is here, long live the King! Please join me again soon for our last two issues of the month, which promise to be interesting at the very least. I hope that y’all are enjoying our trek as much as I am. Until next time, keep the heroic spirit alive!