Saturday, September 6, 2008

Episode #34: Jack Kirby's Project Cadmus!

Jack Kirby's birthday was on August 28, 1917. On episode #4, Honoring Jack Kirby, we explored his long and prolific career as a comic book creator and artist. For this episode, instead of repeating myself, I wanted to spotlight some characters that appeared in the only Superman related monthly title Kirby worked on, all too briefly. That was Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen. As noted in episode #4, DC editors wanted Kirby to work on a monthly title along with his original creations. He took Jimmy Olsen because there was no regular creative team on the title at the time. Growing up during the Great Depression Kirby was sensitive about not putting a fellow comic book creator out of work.
Kirby's Jimmy Olsen stories were reprinted in the trade paperbacks Jimmy Olsen: Adventures by Jack Kirby vol's. I (2003) and II (2004) which are still in print, and can be foud at your local bookstore, comci book store, or internet vendor.
The group of characters that Kirby introduced were involved with an organization he created, and made its first appearance in his first Jimmy Olsen issue, #133 (October 1970, first on sale August 25, 1970). The editor for this title was Murray Boltinoff. Jack Kirby pencilled the cover, which was inked by Vince Colleta. The artistic team was the same for the story, and Kirby also wrote the tale, The Newsboy Legion.
Kirby originally created the Newsboy Legion with his partner Joe Simon during the 1940's (also noted in episode #4). In Jimmy Olsen Kirby revived the characters and revised them. Tommy Tompkins, Big Words, Gabby and Scrapper were joined by an african american character, Walter Johnson, nicknamed Flip. All of them were now adults and all were directors of a secret government genetic research project called Project Cadmus. They also all had sons, identical to their fathers as young boys, and Jimmy interacts mostly with the younger Newsboy group. In the post-crisis Superman world, the sons of the original Newsboys were clones.
Re-introduced in Jimmy Olsen was another super hero from the '40's Newsboy Legion, the Global Guardian. This modern Guardian was a clone of the original, who had aged and died. He had been the legal guardians of the original Newsboys, who, before he died, took cell samples and cloned another Guardian.
Another director of Project Cadmus was Dabney Donovan. He felt there should not be any limits to exploring the genetic code. He is credited with creating non-human creatures called DNAliens, which resembled monsters, mostly, and had various super human abilities. The other directors felt Donovan's research went too far and eventually fired him. He faked his own death so he could go underground and resume his reseach freely. Periodically he would appear, and when caught, would self-destruct and be revealed to be a clone.
Two of his creations were also involved in genetic research for nefarious reasons. They were named Simyan and Mokkari. As his name implied, Simyan resembled an intelligent ape, out of the then current Planet of the Apes movies. Mokkari looked more humanoid, but had weird black shapes around his eyes like a mask, but was just his normal appearance. They often did research for Darkseid, another Kirby creation still a part of the DC universe today.
Other Cadmus creations were not villainous, but preferrred to live beyond the Project's control, and human society in general. The Hairies were super-human hippies who originally lived in a forest of living tree houses called the Habitat, but moved into a mobile "Mountain of Judgement". They were led by Jude, whose daughter Misa was a thrill seeking rebel who left the Hairies to be independent.
Another group were the Outsiders, who rode hi-tech motorcycles, and encountered Jimmy Olsen and the new Newsboy Legion in the Whiz Wagon, a super car that could also fly and was artifically intelligent.
Another villainous group which had its start in Kirby's Jimmy Olsen was Intergang, which, again, still makes its appearance in the DC universe. Ultimately led by Darkseid, its secret leader on earth was Morgan Edge, who publicly was the president of Galaxy Broadcasting.
What set Kirby's Jimmy Olsen stories above what had appeared in the title before was Kirby's exploration of the youth counterculture of the day. Even though Kirby was of the same generation as most of the editorial staff of DC at the time, he did a better job of incorporating youth issues of the day. Coming from Marvel didn't hurt in that respect. He gave those issues a unique Kirby twist, as only he could, and made it more than just an obvious take on "relevant" issues.
Also, he could take a creation twenty years old, like the Newsboy Legion, and update it in the Kirby style. Who could guess, from reading the original Newsboy stories, that they would grow up and be able to attend college and become some of the top genetic research scientists of the world?
And Kirby explored the generation gap which was one of the buzzwords of the day through conflicts between Superman and Jimmy.
Kirby was not perfect as the creative voice on Jimmy Olsen, as can be seen in the issues involving Don Rickles. If you absolutely have to know about the Don Rickes plt, refer again to episode #5.
To find some excellent first hand anecdotes about Jack Kirby, go to the web site created by his assistant during his DC years, Mark Evanier, at

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Thanks again for listening to Superman Fan Podcast, and as always thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

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