Monday, August 23, 2010

Children of the Flaming Wheel, Part 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?