Wednesday, May 4, 2016


This is either stupid or insensitive, if not both.

Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, is always a good go-to title if you're looking for broad, inventive, some-might-say "careless" Silver Age oddness. Even the repeating themes of the book -- Jimmy's turns as Elastic Lad, his weird transformations, his occasional junior-grade replacement of Superman, his romance (of sorts) with Lucy Lane -- still managed to find strange twists, turns and unexpected weirdness to seem fresh with every issue. 

And then there's also the weakest pun in the book's history -- The Planet of the Capes.

Caped Perry White has an admirable
lack of fucks to give.
Arriving in the middle of the barren desert in the company of the Superman Family's resident archaeologist and tomb raider, Professor Lewis Lang, Jimmy and his guide encounter a giant magenta honeycomb-riddled monolith. The prologue informs us that the device was dropped on Earth back in the age of the dinosaurs, which means that the multiverse is now packed with dinosaurs -- since we learn that the artifact is a dimensional doorway! MULTIVERSE OF THE DINOSAURS. Tell me you wouldn't buy that book in a heartbeat, and I will call you a stone-cold liar or a reader with little interest in dinosaurs. One of the two.

Jimmy, naturally, dives straight into one of the honeycombs -- chasing his pith helmet. As do many young men of his age. Unfortunately for Jimmy, the honeycomb in question leads him to a partially-identical world with a strict caste system based on outerwear; capes! 

Yes, citizens with capes are the masters, citizens without capes are slaves. Shocked, Jimmy reflects on the misfortune his capelessness has caused him. "My Earth was nothing like this" he ponders as he's hauled off in the paddy wagon, "These parallel-world people are either caped lords or uncaped slaves!" Jimmy, I don't know how to tell you this, but your world is actually a little like that.

That's as good an explanation as any.

The differences between the worlds of Jimmy's past and present experience differ in subtle ways. There is, for instance, no Daily Planet but rather a rooftop dining experience called The Daily Palate. That is, of course, a joke that only works if it's a pun on Daily Planet, which does not exist on this world. Layers within layers, the planet of the capes.

Additionally, most animals on the world have horns, Clark Kent is a swinger playboy-slash-secret agent with face full of chameleon powers, diamonds are worthless, and then there are other things I don't really give a shit about. 

Most of Jimmy's old friends fail to recognize him -- because that world's Jimmy Olsen is a famous movie star, which makes them not recognizing him actually much more confusing. What Jimmy does have on his side is the slightest glimmer of intelligence, as he simply restitches his jacket to look like a cape and gains his freedom. No one else on this whole planet ever thought of that. 

National Lampoon's Interdimensional Vacation.

The origin of the caped world turns out to be that Krypton's eminent scientist Jor-El survived his planet's destruction, came to Earth, set himself up in a modest hut and sat around waiting for an opportunity to murder people with his ray gun. When heroes from the mainstream Earth accidentally land on this alternate Earth, Jor-El shoots them -- with the wrong gun! Womp womp! Since he shoots them in their collective backs, the gun he'd grabbed -- his duplicator ray -- creates duplicates of the heroes; cloaks. "I'll make a limited number of duplicates and sell them to the people at sky-high prices!" he thinks to himself. An entrepreneur, that's our Jor-El.

Paranoid and quick to shoot people with weird rays, Jor-El zaps Jimmy with his a ray that sends the boy reporter to "The Dimension Zone," although that turns out to be the Earth from which he originally came. Or so he presumes. Whatever the case, thankfully Jimmy returned from having idiotic adventures in another universe so that he could continue to have idiotic adventures in his own universe. The end.


O. Douglas Jennings said...

I doubt if we'll be seeing the "Planet of the Capes" developed as part of the Multiversity. Or maybe it is one of the 6 mysterious "unknown" Earths (like E-46). One can only hope.

Count Otto Black said...

Let me get this right... Jor-El, a character who in every other Superman story is Superman's dead dad, is in a parallel universe the sole survivor of Krypton, and arrives on a planet just like Earth except that he doesn't get Superman-type powers because that would be another story. When a group of mysterious but not particularly scary-looking and not even slightly hostile people arrive in a spaceship (including, ironically, a grown-up not-dead version of his own son whom he fails to recognize), he naturally panics and shoots them in the back with a death-ray.

Luckily for them, Krypton's smartest man confuses a lethal weapon with another gun-shaped object he also happens to have, which isn't a gun at all but a clothing duplicator ray, which I assume he brought along because anyone fleeing in the nick of time from an exploding planet is going to need an enormous number of changes of underwear. Luckily for him, his intended victims, who include at least two people who can see through rocks and the world's greatest detective, fail to notice either that some guy is firing a ray-gun at them, or that their clothes have suddenly gained the ability to reproduce.

After they've gone, Jor-El has the brilliant idea that, because somehow nobody on this planet has ever though of draping a bit of cloth down their back, the capes he's just created in the most unnecessarily complicated way imaginable are worth their weight in diamonds as an exclusive fashion accessory. It turns out that everybody is so impressed by the fact that several people are now partially dressed as heroes who, since they're from another dimension, nobody here has heard of, that they willingly allow these guys to rule the world and literally buy and sell everyone else. Do I have that more or less right?

They obviously wrote this story in the wrong order, starting with the wacky title, then drawing that cover with Jimmy Olsen in bondage and Ernest Hemingway as Batman, before finally writing a story that somehow justified all this flapdoodle. Similarly backward creative processes resulted in Roger Corman having to make a very low-budget movie about the world being very slightly invaded by a tiny hand-puppet that had to live up to the title "The Beast With a Million Eyes" (it didn't), and Viz Comics ending up with a strip called "The Vibrating Bum-Faced Goats".

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