Jack Kirby’s Most Inexplicable Creation Is Now a Drag Queen in Smallville, and That’s Beautiful


Goody Rickels is one of the odder creations of Jack Kirby. Kirby, of course, is arguably the single most important figure in comics history. He’s best known for his tenure at Marvel, where he co-created Captain America, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Hulk, Black Panther, Iron Man, Thor, and countless more. He drew (and, in many cases, largely wrote) many of the most influential and beloved Marvel comics of all time.

But his work at DC is nothing to sneeze at, either. Here again, he has tons of characters and comics to his name, but he’s best known for his epic Fourth World saga. This cosmic battle between good and evil stretched over four books, all simultaneously written, drawn, and edited by Kirby, and introduced key DC characters like Darkseid, Mister Miracle, Big Barda, and Orion. It’s a grandiose, operatic tetralogy that tackles war, life and death, love and hate, nature vs. nurture, and other weighty topics.

And also, Goody Rickels is there.

No one quite knows where Goody Rickels came from. According to comics historian and Kirby’s former assistant, Mark Evanier, the original idea was to have Superman meet the then extremely popular insult comic Don Rickles, since one of Kirby’s Fourth World books was Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. Rickles famously boasted that he never picked on the little guy, so Evanier and Kirby’s other assistant, Steve Sherman, suggested to Kirby that Rickles should cameo in a comic and insult Superman. After all, you can’t pick on a bigger guy than that!

DC decided to spin this idea into a bigger promotional opportunity, even going so far as to get permission from Rickles’s publicist. Kirby was told to stretch the story over two issues, with Rickles’s face on the cover. That’s when things got weird.

Two panels from Jimmy Olsen #139.

Panel 1: Edge leans on his desk, smoking a cigarette and looking sinister. Behind him, Goody plays with his cape.

Edge (thinking): The solution is obvious! This man must be killed!
Edge: You're truly symbolic of your name, Goody! You have a big heart!
Goody: A big heart, yes, sir! Nature gave me a small liver - but a big, big heart!

Panel 2: Goody drops to his knees and wraps his arms pleadingly around Edge's waist. Edge looks up, clearly searching for patience.

Goody: Oh, don't waste me, Mister Edge! In research, I'm good! But I could be great! I hear that Clark Kent has been bombing lately! I'd even take a shot at reporting!
Edge (thinking): 1-2-3-4...say!
Edge: By Caesar! You may be right, Goody! You may be just the man to cover what could be a page one story!
Why. Why is this happening.

The weirdness starts in Morgan Edge’s office. Edge is the head of Galaxy Broadcasting System and our heroes’ boss during this era. He’s also secretly a minion of Darkseid, the evil ruler of the planet Apokalips — but even evil minions have day jobs, and in this story, Edge’s involves trying to get Don Rickles to sign a contract with GBS.

Instead, in barges Goody Rickels. Goody Rickels looks exactly like Don Rickles, but he isn’t a relative (note the different spellings of the last names), he isn’t a clone (despite much of Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen being about cloning), and he isn’t an insult comic. He’s just an extremely annoying guy who looks like Don Rickles and is named Goody, a very normal name to have. And apparently works on Edge’s research staff, which is the only explanation we ever get for who the hell this guy is. And he’s wearing a superhero costume, which “some of the fellows in another office” told him to wear — again, no further explanation is ever given. He’s only been here for a page and I’m already baffled.

Annoyed by Goody’s random histrionics, Edge decides that “The solution is obvious! This man must be killed!” which is the only funny line in this two-part “comedy” story. He sends Goody — and Clark and Jimmy and their superhero friend, the Guardian — to investigate a UFO in a nearby park. It’s a trap, meant to dump them in deep space, but luckily, only Clark gets caught in it, and he’s obviously fine.

Goody, Jimmy, and Guardian are then captured by gangster Ugly Mannheim and his goons, who also work for Darkseid. Mannheim then…feeds them a hearty meal? Oh, but then he reveals that the food was loaded with a chemical called pyro-granulate, which at some point in the next 24 hours will spontaneously combust, killing them. Then he kicks them out of his, um, evil mobile home. You could have just shot them, buddy.

And that’s the end of the issue! Please note that Don Rickles, the entire reason for this story, and who lent his name and likeness to it, didn’t appear anywhere in it.

Jimmy Olsen #140 is a reprint issue, so the story picks up in #141. Guardian races off after Mannheim’s mobile home in search of an antidote, and Jimmy and Goody head back to the office for medical help. The office? It’s a TV station! Hospitals exist! You’re about to explode!

Three panels from Jimmy Olsen #141. Jimmy and Goody are on a packed subway. All the other passengers are staring at them.

Panel 1: A wide shot showing the crowd.

Woman: Why didn't you and that loud-mouth take a cab, young fellow? He hasn't shut up for a second!
Goody: I got a lot to talk about, lady! i got a lot to cry about, too - only I'm too proud to go to pieces!
Man: Keep trying!

Panel 2: Goody clutches at his throat.

Jimmy: Don't get upset, Goody! Emotional stimulus could activate that chemical inside us!
Goody: I think it's activating, Jimmy boy! I can feel it - hot and crazy-like!

Panel 3: Goody leans backwards, grimacing in pain. A woman glares at him.

Goody: Goodbye, world! Goodbye, Jimmy! Goodbye - you old - 
Woman: Goodbye, already, jerk!
This sequence is only two pages, but it feels like an eternity.

Meanwhile, Don Rickles has arrived at GBS, where he’s greeted with Beatlemania-esque hysteria. I wasn’t born yet during the height of Rickles’s popularity, but…Don Rickles? The guy who voiced Mr. Potato Head in Toy Story???

After two excruciating pages of Goody being annoying on the subway, Jimmy and Goody burst into Edge’s office, which causes Don to suddenly echo everything Goody is saying. Like so much in the story, this is never explained. Goody and Don then spot one another and gawk in confusion. ME TOO, GUYS.

Two panels from Jimmy Olsen #141.

Panel 1: Edge is at his desk, head in his hand, while an angry Don leans over him. In the background, Goody and Jimmy barge through the door.

Narration Box: The tension mounts! - As time, the relentless destroyer of all things, is rapidly diminishing the life spans of Jimmy Olsen and his friends! In the office of Morgan Edge the dread climax approaches!

Edge: Just one moment, Don! Let me try to simplify my position!
Don: Yeah! Do that, o devious one! you can hide a platoon of assassins in a complex deal!

Panel 2: Goody approaches the desk. He and Don point at Edge with identical gestures. Edge puts both of his hands on his head in dismay.

Goody: I'm back, Mister Edge! And, now that I'm dying, I can find the nerve to really tell you what I think of - 
Don: I'm back, Mister Edge! And, now that I'm dying, I can find the nerve to really tell you what I think of - 
Edge: Oh, no! No! No! No!
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING???

As Jimmy and Goody start to smoke more heavily, Edge tucks Don into an ante-room to keep him out of all the sci-fi shenanigans — which does no good, because Guardian promptly bursts through the window of the ante-room with the antidote. There’s an explosion…and then the smoke clears to show Jimmy and Goody drinking the antidote while Guardian exposits that the pyro-granulate has been neutralized. So…what was the explosion, then?

An extremely frazzled Don sits down shakily in a chair — and is immediately knocked over by Clark jumping out of a boom tube and announcing, “Hail, friends! Clark Kent greets you from the vast unknown!” because he’s an enormous dork. The police bomb disposal unit arrives, and Don rushes into their arms, begging them to take him away from this crazy place.

And…that’s it. That’s the end. You’ll note that in this two-part “Don Rickles insults Superman story,” Don only appears in one issue and never actually meets Superman; he just has a fleeting encounter with Clark Kent. Whom he doesn’t insult.

The cover of Jimmy Olsen #141. Superman and Guardian run towards the reader, holding a large circular photo of Don Rickles. Behind them, also running, are Jimmy and Goody.

Captions:

"Kirby Says: 'Don't ask! Just buy it!'"

"Extra! The origin of the First Newsboy Legion!"

"Rushing Towards the Greatest Climax Ever Seen in Comics"
Even Kirby couldn’t explain what the hell he was doing.

The real Rickles was not happy with these comics he’d agreed to lend his likeness to, especially when DC blithely assumed he’d promote them on talk shows. Even years later, when Conan O’Brien pulled them out on a show where Rickles was guesting, Rickles refused to talk about them. Fair enough, honestly. I adore Jack Kirby with all the unhinged fervor of the next comic book nerd, but these issues are…bad. They’re just bad. Sorry, King.

More than 50 years later, no one really knows what Kirby was thinking. Where did Goody come from? Why did he (presumably) think this was funny? Why do these two issues have so many baffling plot holes? Kirby left us in 1994, and Evanier doesn’t seem to have any answers, so the world will probably never know.

And yet Goody’s whole everything is so confusing that I have a kind of weird affection for him, which is why I was absolutely delighted to see him cameo in Fire & Ice: Welcome to Smallville #4. And what a cameo! Fire, Ice, and Martha Kent (yes, Superman’s mom) attend a drag show together…and who should be the emcee but Goody Rickles [sic], dressed to the nines and absolutely slaying? Yas, queen!

One panel from Fire & Ice #4. There is a stage in the foreground, with Goody Rickels in drag, wearing a low-cut green leotard and tights, purple bolero jacket and heels, a green wig, and lots of green and purple eyeshadow. The outfit is halfway between Fire's costume and Goody's from the cover of Jimmy Olsen #139. She's holding a microphone. There are drag queens dressed as Martin Manhunter and Booster Gold on either side of her. In the background, Fire, Martha, and Ice sit at a small table with cocktails. Fire looks shocked.

Goody: Hello, hello! Welcome to the best drag show in Smallville! The only drag show in Smallville! I'm your host, Goody Rickles! Today we are serving French toast, bottomless mimosas, and superhero realness!
Now THIS is a glowup! You’re doing amazing, sweetie.

Goody’s appearance in Smallville sheds zero light on any of the mysteries of his existence, but it made me so happy to see him again, 52 years later and living his absolute best life. (Okay, Fire and Ice are so disruptive they get kicked out, and also, a supervillain leads an anti-drag protest outside the show, but Fire punches her out, so…it’s fine? For Goody, at least. The supervillain gets eaten by cannibals. It’s kind of a weird comic.)

In conclusion, I can’t really recommend the original Goody Rickels stories, but I do recommend this extremely in-depth blog post about them by Alan Stewart, to whom I am indebted for all the historical context I’ve mentioned. And again, I heartily recommend Fire & Ice, which is bright and funny and delightful. Most of all, I’m grateful to comics for being an endless source of weird nonsense for me to share with you. Thanks, comics!



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