Bonus Book #1 – Action Comics (1988)

Bonus Book #1 – Action Comics (April, 1988)
“Superman and Jimmy Olsen: The Karma Beggers”
Writer – Joe Calchi
Pencils – Britt Wisenbaker
Inks – James Scott
Letters – Dan McKinnon
Colors – Glenn Whitmore
Edits – Mike Carlin

Alrighty, with the Insert Prevue era firmly in the rear-view, we now move on to the official start of the DC Comics “Bonus Book!”  These “second features” would appear for thirteen months… or at least thirteen issues, the cover-dates get really wonky during the Winter of 1988/1989, but we’ll talk more about that sometime next week.

The gimmick here is, rather than using these 16-pagers as a way to introduce (or revitalize) a concept… these will actually put new creators in the driver’s seat on some already established characters and properties.  It’s sort of an extension of the DC New Talent Showcase Program… however, instead of newbies writing and drawing stories and characters nobody’s ever heard of… they’re now going to be writing Superman, Batman, and a whole bunch of other notables from the DC Pantheon!

If you recall, I had originally planned to parlay this blog from Action Comics Weekly into covering New Talent Showcase, and we still might somewhere down the line… but, fair warning… those stories be dullllllll.

Speaking of Action Comics Weekly, today’s Bonus Book comes to us from Action Comics!  In fact, this is the final issue of Action during the short-lived post-Crisis “Superman Team-Up” era… which we’ve covered a few issues of here at the blog!  Click dem covers to check ’em out:

Two issues after this one would actually kick off ACW!  So yeah, from Action Comics #599 (April, 1988), I give to you… Superman’s sorta-kinda team up with… Jimmy Olsen?!

Full disclosure before we begin… I’ve never read any of these Bonus Books before… any time I’d come across ’em in my readings, I would skip ’em… or plan to read them after I finish the main story… before forgetting they ever existed in the first place!

We open with Superman returning to the Daily Planet after a run-in with Lex Luthor’s Kryptonite Man… which places this story as immediately following the main feature of Action Comics #599!  He’s in kind of a rush, as Perry White’s got him working on a four-page story.  A four-page column in the newspaper?  That might be the most unbelievable part of this entire thing!  Inside, Perry’s on the warpath, as per usual when new creators hop into a Superman story.  Superman heads into a closet to “Kent-down”, before getting a requisite cold-shoulder from Lois, who gets her story on the recent passing of rock star Rondo Harris moved to the weekend magazine section.  More on that in a bit.  Jimmy Olsen enters the scene… looking rather like, err, Crockett or Tubbs… whichever one Don Johnson played on Miami Vice!

Jimbo refers to his look as “fashionably unshaven”… and I’ll hand it to him, this is probably the least goofy he’s ever come across when trying to look “cool”.  He reminds the Chief that he’s headed off on vay-cay, and just wanted to hand in his story on a recent Dog Show before taking off into the wild blue yonder.  He tries to say goodbye to Clark, however, our main man’s super-hearing has picked up some goings down at the Soviet Embassy.  Jim then gets twirled around by the flirtatious Cat Grant… who really seems to dig his newly-scruffy face. 

In twirling young Olsen, he accidentally bumps his Superman Signal Watch against a desk… which triggers the thing to Zee Zee Zee like the Dickens.  Superman, who is still nearby, is nearly brought to his knees by the infernal racket… but uses his x-ray vision to ensure Jimmy’s actually okay before disregarding it as a false alarm.

Jimmy hops into a cab to head to the airport.  On the radio, they’re talking about the recent passing of Rondo Harris.  This triggers a flashback, as it just so happens that Jimmy was once in Ron’s band!  Betcha didn’t know Jimmy played the drums in some dude’s garage back in the day!  Rondo would go on to superstardom before passing… which is what prompted ol’ freckle-face to take this particular vacation.

Ya see, he’s headed down to Florida, where he can catch a ferry to New Aphelonia Island… a formerly “lost continent” that Rondo and a Professor Argo Demostedes had discovered and raised “stone by stone”.  Man, who needs Superman when you’ve got Rondo friggin’ Harris?  Anyhoo, Jimmy looks at a photo of Ron, Argo, and a young woman as his plane comes in for a landing.

After checking in (as O.L. Jameson), he heads for the Ferry so he can investigate just what’s going on at New Aphelonia since a treasure-hunter named Tane took the place over.  At the docks, Jimmy is surprised to see some notable faces… actors, athletes, even an astronaut!

Meanwhile, back in Metropolis, Superman is still taking all of the explosives out of the Soviet Embassy.  Man, it took him from the time it took Jimmy to get from the Daily Planet… to the airport… to Florida… to the Ferry Docks for Superman to take care of this?  C’mon… where’s Rondo Harris when you need him?!

Back on New Aphelonia, Jimmy is making some dark discoveries about the place.  Turns out, it’s a culty indoctrination camp!  Which might just explain why Rondo Harris left every last dime of his to the Island in his will!

Jimmy sits in on a ceremony, where Putnam Tane takes a seat on stage… before being overcome by the, I dunno, spirit of Gallus Kon Akkqqus!  This Gallus kind of resembles a Masters of the Universe action figure… however, as he begins to share his “message”, his voice gets all garbled and static-like.  Hmm…

Jimmy smells a rat… as well he should.  He sneaks off and discovers a control room hidden underneath the stage.  As luck would have it, it’s been left unlocked!  Jimmy is able to log into a computer and finds out that many of the rich and famous members of the “movement” have signed over their estates to the Brethren!  While Jimmy snoops, the crowd continues to chant for Gallus.  So overcome by the… er, spirit… one woman actually climbs up on stage… and sort of throws herself off?  This isn’t entirely clear… but, it ends with the poor gal snapping her neck.  Gwen Stacy never looked so good!

Jimmy leaves to… throw up.  Guess his constitution hasn’t quite caught up with his courage.  He then observes as a Brethren member drags the dead gal out to the beach… to make her passing look like a diving accident.  I’m no attorney, but it’s probably easier to nab her estate that way!

Jimmy decides to give chase, by swimming out to the boat.  Upon climbing up, he is attacked by… the dead woman?!  Well, no… it’s actually that young lady from the photo Jimmy was looking at on the plane.  Why she was wearing a blonde wig, I haven’t the foggiest.  She explains that she is the late-Argo Whatshisface’s daughter, Nina… and she’s been trying to take down the cult.  Well, actually, she just wants to kill Tane for killing her dad.

Deeper inside the boat is… Tane!  He’s getting the report of the neck-snapped gal… and he’s not at all pleased.  After all, she was supposed to be his “amusement” later on.  He backhands some dude, before producing… an axe?  Oh, c’mon.  We learn that this gal was given a meal laced with “cardio hyper stimulants” whatever that means.  Anyhoo, Jimmy and Nina decide to split up… with the former looking for evidence, and the latter taking one of the lifeboats toward shore, so she can contact the Daily Planet with the news.

Jimmy, unsurprisingly, is discovered.  When faced with the threat of… I dunno, death… he brandishes his Signal Watch, warning that he’ll call Superman!  Tane ain’t buyin’ it.

Lucky for Jim, Nina didn’t do as she was told… and she runs in to deliver a (very stiff, and not in the good way) kick to the baddie.  Jimmy snags a nearby fire extinguisher and blasts Tane in the face.  Ya know, it probably would’ve been more useful to actually hit the dude with the extinguisher rather than just spraying the suds at him!  Jimmy and Nina then hop off the side of the ship into a lifeboat… rowing back to the camp, where Jimmy abducts a pilot!  Wow, it’s just gotta be the stubble causing Jim to act so rough, eh?

Jimmy, Nina, and the hostage-Pilot take off from New Aphelonia… with Tane and Company right on their tail!  Jimmy nyoinks a brooch off the pilot’s cloak, which seems to bring the dude back to his senses.  Now, unfortunately for the bad guys, they find themselves being weighed down… by something.  A quick glance wing-ward reveals that… Superman is here!  I… hmm… I thought the whole thing here was going to be him ignoring Jimmy as a “false alarm”… why else would we get that other Signal Watch scene earlier on?

Bada-bing, bada-boom… Jimmy wins the day.  Unfortunately for him, however, Perry White still thinks he’s a complete dope, and so Lois is given the New Aphelonia/Gallus story!  Oh!  Also, that astronaut guy gets all of the credit for shutting down Tane!  Oh well… at least Superman knows what a hero Jimmy is!

We wrap up at the Federal Prison on Stryker’s Island where Putnam Tane has been locked up.  From his cell, weird voices can be heard.  When the guards run in to check it out… or tell him to shut up… they find that the wall of his cell had been blown out!  In the water nearby, swims… *gasp* Gallus!

This was… okay!  I’m kind of surprised how much I enjoyed it.  This was a Jimmy Olsen story, which I can kinda run hot and cold with… but, it was a whole lot different than the silly Silver-Age stuff (or absolutely horrendous “current year” stuff) we might be used to when it comes to ol’ solo James.  Sure, a lot of it is questionable insofar as Jimmy’s character and, if we’re being honest, efficacy… but, it was fun enough.

Our writer, Joe Calchi, is one I’d never heard of.  In fact, we’re going to be discussing his only other story in just a few days… at least if the DC Comics Wiki is to be believed.  So, if the Wiki’s right, this here ditty is Calchi’s first comic script!  Ya know, for a first outing, it’s really very good.  Heck, for a dozenth outing, it ain’t all that shabby.  It’s not perfect… and there were a few things that jumped out at me in the reading.

First, dem voice balloons were pa-a-a-acked!  As a fake-ass comics historian and analyst, I often find myself looking for “representative panels”… like, the images I can share that doesn’t give everything away, but can actually compliment whatever it is that I’m babbling about as it pertains to an issue.  When the dialogue is so jam-packed, it becomes kind of a challenge.  That’s not Joe Calchi’s fault… or even the fault of the 16-page (14-story pages) format.  I feel like this is an issue for an Editor to attend to.

Speaking of the Editor, there were some errors in here… one that jumps out immediately is use of “their” instead of “they’re”… which only really jumps out because there/their/they’re is one error I find myself making when I reread some of my older stuff!

My main observation about this story, in as far as the writing is concerned, was… the Chekhov’s Signal Watch bit.  Early on in the story, Jimmy bumps his Signal Watch… Superman knows it’s a false alarm, and ignores it.  You’d think that’d come back around, right?  Heck, even our cover alludes to the fact that Superman might not be responding to the Distress Call!  And so, at the end of the story, when Jimmy activates the thing again… Superman just shows up?  There’s no tension… we don’t get a scene of Clark Kent chilling at his apartment or at the Daily Planet, shrugging off the Distress Call as just Jimmy “bumping” it again… we just get Superman.  I mean, I know what they were going for here… it just didn’t quite hit the mark.

Across the table sits our artist, Britt Wisenbaker, who is another we didn’t hear all that much from after this outing.  A quick Googling shows only this story, and some art-duties in Badger #38 (September, 1988) over at First Comics… though, without running upstairs to dig through my longboxes, I can’t confirm that one.  We might assume this was his first professional gig?  Maybe?  I dunno.  Whatever the case, I thought the work was, outside a couple weird Superman and Lois faces, pretty good.  In particular, I really dug Jimmy’s Miami Vice look… I thought that was a lot of fun.

Overall… yeah, this was an interesting little story… a lot darker than I figured it would be when I saw the cover, that’s for sure!  I certainly wasn’t expecting Jimmy to investigate and infiltrate a Cult!  Our ending is pretty bittersweet, in that our man doesn’t get any of the credit he deserves… but, Superman knows just what a hero Jimmy actually is.

Worth checking out if you’re rereading your old post-Crisis/pre-Action Comics Weekly Superman books!  Don’t skip it like I did all those times before!  This issue of Action Comics is available digitally… and, as it’s listed as having 37-Pages, we can safely assume it comes with the Bonus Book intact!

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