Children of the Flaming Wheel pt. 2: The Solar Phone

In the previous post, we looked at what reads like the minutes from an technoccult ritual in which young hippies contact alien artificial intelligences over the vast reaches of space using psychic projection. Jack Kirby seemed to like the idea so much that it included it in a contemporaneous story, starring none other than our old friend, Jimmy Olsen.

click to enlarge

Jimmy Olsen was Kirby's first assignment for DC Comics following his long and successful stint at Marvel, where he and Stan Lee essentially revolutionized American pop culture. Kirby dropped the reader straight into a totally new universe for "Superman's Pal," in which the pair encountered "The DNA Project," created by one Dabney Donovan. From Wikipedia:
Donovan had largely been accredited for the non-human creations of the Project, referred to as "DNAliens" (human beings cloned then genetically altered to discover superhuman potential while also giving them a more "alien" appearance)... there are also step-ups who call themselves "the Hairies," super hippies who have developed an evolved knowledge-base, and developed transport and defense technology beyond the understanding of modern day humans.
In this yarn Superman and his pal take a techno-trip via the 'Solar-Phone', a kind of precursor to virtual reality with serious psychedelic overtones. Kirby introduced the story with this breathless prose:
Strange names in a strange world which as evolved in a great natural cavern beneath modern America! This is the world of the Project- where the secret of the century has been kept! The harnessing of the DNA molecule! The breaking of the genetic code!
...or is that the DMT molecule?

Kirby presents us with an idea we recently saw in The Outer Limits - alien signals converted into musical tones - though here the tones then create psychedelic inner landscapes. In many ways this story is a sequel to the Children of the Flaming Wheel.

Kirby used the cut-up/collage technique to envision completely alien landscapes, ones not bound by the standard features you'd expect, like geometry, gravity, perspective, and so on. He began this while still at Marvel, with the Negative Zone and Ego, The Living Planet and so on.

The crappy comics printing never did the images justice, reducing psychedelic images like this to black and white, then overlaying globs of badly-separated color over them. It's amazing to think what comics readers (like me) used to put up with to get their fix.

Like this- another story originally intended for Spirit World but printed in Weird Mystery, delving into Kirby's obsession with UFOs. Kirby's non-comic art was largely focused on images of aliens, ancient astronauts and of course, the gods. He often used the collage method to imagine truly alien-looking spacecraft. After all, when you've drawn a few thousand comic stories dealing with the topic you have to do something different to break out of the old, predictable conventions, that have become so familiar as to not be very alien at all.

And much to the chagrin of a lot of older 70s fans, Kirby's alien fixation took over his comics work, as did his fixations on conspiracy, genetic manipulation, ancient astronauts, and so on. Spirit World seemed very much like a dry run for what was to come. Strangely enough, Kirby's work - so dreadfully unfashionable at the time - has aged a lot better than all of the pretentious pseudo-relevant, pseudo-cosmic fluff that was popular then.

Kirby originally did this Weird Mystery story about a psychic for Spirit World, that I can't help but think was autobiographical. Note the reference to a wartime incident linking "Burkel" to a "world beyond." I can't help but wonder what linked Jack himself to that world. Does that little burst in Burkel's head reminds anyone of the pineal gland, or have I just been reading too much McKenna today?


  1. Such mind blowing images lately. YOU sir are on fire lately! I really must read your entire blog from the beginning/your book too-but right after I finish The Secret School.

  2. Joy in Chile: 33 miners trapped 17 days are alive

  3. Cool! I was hoping that Weird link might set some more synapses a-sparkling...

    Quick thoughts: I hear "Dabney Donovan" and I can't help but think of Donovan "Sunshine Superman" Leitch. Here he is in 1972, playing "Cosmic Wheels".

    That in turn reminds me the somewhat recently revealed Kirby/Zappa comics/music connection. Wish I could've been a fly on the wall for some of those chats!

    One thing that fascinates me about Kirby's collage work is that (whether or not he was consciously aware of it) it connects him with the surrealists' (and specifically Max Ernst's) use of the same technique. As some have noted, the collage process for Ernst was almost explicitly alchemical, aimed at unlocking hidden dimensions of meaning.

    As you are also probably aware, Scott McCloud cites "Une Semaine de Bonté" as an example of proto-comics in his landmark Understanding Comics.

    "Isn't it a truth that-- no object on Earth attains any significance to man --- until it feels the touch of man!!"

    Again, it's hard to gauge Kirby's exact intentions/inspirations (especially if this sort of thing was basically being "channeled" onto his pages), but this quote reminds me of the so-called "observer effect" in quantum physics. Far-out, man.

  4. I see now you have already addressed the above quite nicely, as usual. I love your blog.

  5. I noticed today these 2 stories on yahoo news:
    Group wants to end setting dogs on chained bears 25 mins ago
    Watch out for Yellowstone bears — they're hungry Sun Aug 22, 9:31 pm ET
    Perhaps this Sirius dog connection has something to do with bears coming out of hibernation / resurrection?
    Awake = solar
    Hibernation = Lunar

  6. Fresh from HuffPost: UFOs On the Record

    The reality of UFOs—a subject of intense interest to the general public —has now been verified at the highest levels. Based on a ten-year investigation, journalist Leslie Kean’s new book pulls back the curtain on the incredible occurrences of unexplained behavior by unknown objects over many decades, and the results are astonishing.

    Kean will be a guest on tonight's Colbert Report.

  7. You've made me see Kirby in a new way, and for that I thank you. When I was a kid, I read most of these stories, and afterwards I've had a life full of synchronicities and mind expansion. I wonder if my early readings of Jack Kirby had a greater effect on me that I had realized.

  8. J- Thanks. Drop him and tell as about Secret School.

    Pictus- Yep- put that on the Facebook page the other day. Join it!

    750- Yeah, I'm a huge Ernst fan- I have all of his collage novels. It seems to me that Ernst himself was trying to envision alien landscapes particularly in his postwar work. And when it comes to the cut-up approach, don't forget Bowie and Burroughs.

    David- Or that weird Ursa/Canis linkage via Palin we looked at during the election.

    933- Yep- I'm watching that situation closely. Kean seems to have kicked up hornet's nest for reasons I can't figure out yet.

    Scott- The answer is YES!

  9. Bring on the Kirby posts!

    As a child, his comics were these astonishing, epic stories I could barely wrap my head around. Almost twenty years later, I'm still just as amazed. [I had reprints from the 80's, or else I'd be kicking myself because a first edition Fourth World is worth a pretty penny]


    A few posts ago, I mentioned a quote from an issue of Super Powers [?] in my comment. I don't think I replied to your question.

    The issue was titled “Spaceship Earth” and published in 1984.

    Here's the quote again [said by the New God Metron]:

    “Planets are spaceships all orbiting their suns with cargos of teeming, self destructive life! The leaders even die with their followers! The rich vanish with the poor!”

    - I'm wondering, is that an Erich von Däniken quote? I swear I encountered that quote in a book.

    You mentioned "Chariot of the Gods?" in your analysis of the Eternals; Kirby was definitely influenced Däniken. If Kirby literally quoted the guy, that would seal the deal.

    Anyway, nine pages later Metron's got Wonder Woman on his lap giving him a kiss.

    ….because whenever a God visits our plane of existence, they manage to hook up with a mortal woman. [Wait, is Wonder Woman mortal? Demi-God? Whatever.]

  10. so stoked/tripped out to read this today as it created a sync log for me... a twitter feed gave me info on a program you can make your own cymatics with - similiar to the background images in Kirby's solar phone - of course the brain interface reader isnt total open source yet, but the homemade fMRI god helmets are getting close. and at the same time, a tweet by someone wondering what Max Ernst must have been on...

    all of course leads me to wonder how much the internet is a global brain, composing nearly musical nodes of information...only problem is the mind has no firewall:

    this all ties back to an article i read the other day, that it is ART and MUSIC that aliens will be interested, as what we call science will be so yesterday to them.

    maybe Kirby was sending messages back to them all along!

    cheers! --SF--

  11. レベッカ- Funny you should bring up Metron because I have a collage illo of him too. Maybe I'll add it in. There's no question Jack was reading Von Daniken- the Eternals was originally titled "Return of the Gods" and used the same font as Chariots. Wonder Woman is kind of a funnybook baster baby (it's a long story).

    Sydney- All I can say is that your comment is here is a lot trippier than my original post! Thanks for the linkery!

  12. Christopher,

    Why did you remove the article content from the RSS feed? all i get in google reader now is a list of headlines.

    love the site, sorry to be a complainer.

  13. No- thank you Craig. I was running a test and forgot to switch it back. your comment reminded me and it's back on.

  14. Oh, my goodness. Where did you find the color, decent-resolution version of the Zoomway collage?

  15. Does this solar phone sound anything like this?

    Still have yet to figure out how to post a link in Blogger...