While the core Fourth World titles had their fair share of photo covers, Kirby didn’t ignore Jimmy Olsen. The sixth issue of his run saw the first use of a photo on the cover:
Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #138, June 1971
Superman and Jimmy are inked by Neal Adams, who is a good match for Kirby. It’s a shame he didn’t ink a lot more of the King’s work. Again, the photographic element is black and white, though some tinting has been applied. I think this cover works really well. See how Superman’s right hand cleverly “interacts” with the photo. This is like early CGI! A cover’s job is to draw attention to itself, and this one does that magnificently. It must’ve looked fabulous on the 1971 news stand next to all the other comics. Kirby’s Fourth World comics were always “…a blast!”
Jimmy Olsen #139 and #141 saw Kirby going in some truly bizarre directions. He utilised insult comedian Don Rickles and his fictitious twin brother “Goody” in this two part story (JO #140 was a reprint), hence Rickles’s appearance on the cover of #141. Kirby had apparently only intended Rickles to make a brief walk on appearance, but DC was keen to have something more substantial. Very popular at the time, Rickles himself apparently wasn’t overly enthused, but agreed nonetheless. DC’s long-running comics featuring Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis had recently been cancelled, and it’s interesting to ponder what might’ve been had Rickles been earmarked as a replacement.
Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141, September 1971
Adams again supplies the excellent inks, and the strap line is one of my all-time favourite: “Kirby says: Don’t ask! Just buy it!” Never was a truer phrase issued. These comics are peculiar in the extreme, but unforgettable.
After that, Kirby dispensed with the photo covers, and a year would pass before Jack Adler had another try.
Action Comics #419, December 1972
This terrific cover sees a Neal Adams/Murphy Anderson Superman zooming to vertiginous heights from the photographic “Metropolis” below. Very simple, but extremely effective—the exuberance of flight brilliantly captured.
April 1973 saw Adler working overtime as he produced two photo covers in the same month. First up, the Big Red Cheese, who had only recently been delivered to DC from the limbo in which he’d spent the previous two decades.
Shazam! #2, April 1973
Adler wasn’t above a bit of nepotism, as one of the boys featured in this photo is his own grandson. According to Adler in Amazing World of DC Comics #10 this caused a little family friction that later needed addressing! CC Beck drew the Captain Marvel figure. Again the photo is in black and white—but has here been hand-tinted to mimic colour, giving a very olde worlde feel. In the dark days before colour photography photographers used to do this kind of thing a lot. Note, too, that this is an infinity cover—the cover image repeated within the image and repeated again within that—another effective gimmick infrequently used in comics.
Superman #263, April 1973
April’s second photo cover was this very dramatic scene featuring Superman half aflame. He looks not unlike Marvel’s Molten Man! To capture this image Adler had to brave the New York traffic outside the DC offices, diving in and out the way of the zooming cars until he was sure he had just the right shot. Not easy in the pre-digital age when the photographer wouldn’t know what he had until the film was developed!
We’ll wrap up this look at DC’s photo covers in Part 3…
Images #2012 DC Comics