A Tribute to the of
I was commenting to my buddy the webmaster that when you look at the archive section here at the Silver Age Sage, you tend to see a lot of red and blue, as in the famous costume of Superman, whether being worn by him, Supergirl, Superboy or even Bizarro. Wise man that he is, his only comment was, "Well, after all, he did build the company." True enough. As I've said before, the big red "S" became nearly an instant popular culture icon and has been a one-man industry since his debut in the late 1930's. He remains the longest continuously running super hero in history and it was inevitable that the writers and editors would try and capture lightning in a bottle yet again by exploiting that tremendous popularity through spin-offs. After all, there must be plenty going on in the lives of those other folks at that great metropolitan newspaper. The powers that be at DC, chief among them Editor Mort Weisinger, thought it was worth a shot, so they gave a couple of the other members of the Daily Planet team, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, their turn in the spotlight. This edition of the Sage will take a peek at the first member of the staff to go solo (sort of) begining in 1954 and continuing for 163 issues (the title becomes The Superman Family with #164 ending with #222 in 1982). It's none other than the Planet's cub reporter, Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen.
I learned that he made his first unnamed appearance as "office boy" in Action Comics #6, November, 1938. The actual character of Jimmy Olsen (as well as Daily Planet Editor Perry White, first appearance in print: Superman #7 dated November-December, 1940, and Kryptonite) was created by Robert Maxwell and Allen Ducovny for "The Adventures of Superman" radio program. He made his debut on episode #28, broadcast on April 15, 1940, voiced by Jackie Kelk. He was first called Jimmy in print in Superman #13, November-December, 1941 ("Attack of the Archer!") and Olsen came along in Superman #15, March-April, 1942. Lois, of course, was in the debut issue along with Superman in Action #1, but we're not talking about her, are we? (Rest assured Lois fans, I will get to her in the near future.) By the way, I said "sort of" up above because naturally the characters are forever linked to the Man of Steel and if you look at the cover scan for Jimmy Olsen #65 from December of 1962, you'll see that not only is Superman's name a prominent part of the comic's title, but that the Last Son of Krypton is making one of his frequent visits. Art for the cover and two of the stories in this issue is supplied aptly by long-time Superman artists Curt Swan (who, I repeat again, did what I consider to be the definitive work on Superman) and George Klein. As you can see from that cover, Olsen is in the soup yet again as he's somehow become the Human Porcupine. You'll have to wait, though, because this issue contains three, count 'em, three distinct stories within its covers and the first, written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, is titled "The Alien Jimmy Olsen Fan Club!" It opens with our hero having a chat with his handy Jimmy Olsen robot, a gift from Superman given in issue #41 (December, 1959). [FYI, the Overstreet guide states this is the first appearance of Jimmy's mechanical double. However, issue #35, March, 1959, tells the tale of "The Robot Jimmy Olsen!".] The robot asks why his master is wearing a space suit and Jimmy explains that he's about to visit the planet Rax, where he and Superman had visited previously and the natives are anxious to see him again. I guess he didn't have anything else on his schedule for the afternoon. He hands his robot a comb and scissors and asks for a crewcut so that he can look like "...those astronaut chaps, Glenn and Shepard." Unfortunately, the robot Jimmy is no barber and he's soon made such a mess of the red-head's locks that Olsen instructs him to just take it all off and he'll go the Lex Luthor route; bald. Once that's complete, he leaves his famed signal watch with the robot and instructs him to cover for him at the office and to signal Superman with the watch in the event of emergency. He then meets up with his girlfriend, Lucy Lane on the roof of his apartment building. She's less than thrilled at the mystery of the meeting as she's on an errand to deliver several sheets of postage stamps to her boss. Next thing you know, an orange, bubble-like space craft descends and a mechanical voice asks Olsen to enter. Ever chivalrous, Jimmy offers to let Lucy take a peek inside, but to their surprise, the door closes and they're off, arriving on Rax in mere minutes thanks to a handy space-warp. As the duo disembark, they are surprised yet again by their welcoming committee. The green-skinned, pointy-eared aliens are apparently members of an alien Jimmy Olsen fan club as evidenced by their red wigs, oversized polka-dot ties and signal-watches. They are then led into a palace for the royal welcome, including a sumptuous meal, a massive Gyk-Gyk bird egg and rare jewels. Jimmy's bald head is getting bigger and bigger until the bottom falls out. His host announces that the earthlings are under arrest and they will be turned to stone at dusk for their crimes. Completely baffled, the reporter asks for an explanation. Langor, keeper of the Prison Palace of Rax, accuses him of being an impostor, elaborating that the real Jimmy Olsen has red hair, wears bow-ties and a signal-watch. Despite Jimmy and Lucy's hurried explanation for his change in appearance, Langor is unimpressed and he leaves the prisoners so that he can make final preparations for their punishment.
Needless to say, the two earthlings are unhappy about this turn of events and Jimmy, leaning against the giant Gyk-Gyk egg laments that he has no way of contacting Superman to help him out of this jam as he doesn't have his watch and the signal wouldn't carry through space anyway. Then, inspiration strikes and Jimmy sits on the egg, successfully hatching it after an hour's time. (I can hear you groaning out there; I didn't write it.) The next step, he explains to Lucy, is to dress the man-sized bird in red and blue material somehow. Later, the two are ushered outside, but before the malignant ray can be turned upon them, Olsen then points out a blue and red figure streaking through the sky. He suggests the aliens summon Superman with their signal watches to prove that Jimmy is who he claims to be. Multiple green hands activate their watches and Superman arrives, only from another direction. After the Man of Steel vouches for his pal, he reveals that he was able to hear the combined signal of all the watches. He then retrieves the mysterious flying red and blue form to reveal it is the Gyk-Gyk bird, colored with Lucy's lipstick and the blue postage stamps she'd purchased. In order to avoid future confusion, Superman melts down the signal watches from Rax. Langor apologizes to Jimmy, citing the honest mistake and soon Superman is whisking Olsen and Lucy back to Earth. Ever upbeat, the young reporter says to his lady friend, "When we get back, Lucy, don't forget that I'm a big wheel on the planet Rax!" "As far as I'm concerned, Rax can keep you! And don't forget--you owe my boss twelve dollars and change for the postage stamps you took from me!" Story number one ends on that bit of domestic tranquillity.
As a side note, the couple of pages of ads separating the first and second stories include that infamous one urging the readers to "MAKE MONEY, GET PRIZES, with Fast Selling 50 cent Xmas Packs!" One of the testimonials at the top of the page shows a kid in horn-rimmed glasses beside his statement: "I couldn't find a more pleasant way of earning money." Harry Kevorkian of Michigan. Draw your own conclusions, but I believe Jack hails from that state. Anyway...
Tale number two is the one featured on the cover when Jimmy becomes "The Human Porcupine", courtesy of a little-known (at least to yours truly) character by the name of Miss Gzptlsnz (and writer Jerry Siegel). As you might guess, she is the girlfriend of Mr. Mxyzptlk of the 5th Dimension, the magically endowed imp who often shows up on Earth to pester Superman. She proposes marriage to Mxyzptlk as it's leap year in the 5th dimension, but he rebuffs her, so she decides to try her luck on Earth. She happens to spot Jimmy, who's waiting on Lucy at the entrance to the Metropolis zoo. The editor tells us that she recognizes him because they met previously in Jimmy Olsen #52, dated April, 1961. Still looking for love, she proposes to Jimmy who thinks to himself that he'd better be diplomatic rather than risk any magical mayhem. He begs off as a confirmed bachelor and she departs. Moments later, Superman arrives and, having overheard the exchange, teases his buddy about his missed opportunity. Jimmy indignantly replies, "Wed that beast? I'd rather marry an animal!" Wrong move, Olsen. Miss Gzptlsnz heard him and retaliates with a spell, commanding him to enter the zoo where he will resemble the first animal he meets. Powerless to resist the incantation, Jimmy carefully navigates the displays, avoiding eye contact with the giraffe and working his way toward the lion cage so he can at least be something tough and powerful. Miss Gzptlsnz has other plans, though and makes sure a porcupine crosses Jimmy's path. He immediately sprouts quills and hastily leaves the zoo to find Lucy Lane. Horrified at the sight of Olsen, Lucy runs away. He discovers, as he tries to catch up to her that when he gets excited, his quills fly off. She tries hiding in the gondola of a hot air balloon and of course the first thing that happens is Jimmy loses a couple of quills into the balloon's skin. Fortunately he has his handy signal watch and it's Superman to the rescue. The Metropolis Marvel tells Jimmy that the only way out of his condition is to successfully trick Miss Gzptlsnz into saying her name backward so that she'll be sent back to the 5th dimension, negating her spell. Olsen starts hatching plans to accomplish just that. He begins with an invitation to the lady imp to a meal at a Chinese restaurant where he's made arrangements for Miss Gzptlsnz's fortune to list her name, backward of course. She doesn't tumble, though, so a discouraged Jimmy gets a job at a circus sideshow. Miss Gzptlsnz returns to taunt him further and to her delight, Olsen proposes, showing off his new heart shaped tattoo. She reads the words inscribed within, "Jimmy loves Znsltpzg." After uttering it, she promptly disappears back to the 5th Dimension for a minimum of 90 days and Jimmy is free of his quills at last.
The third and final story, written by Robert Bernstein and drawn by John Forte, is entitled "The Mysterious Lord of Devil's Island!" It opens with Jimmy serving as a judge at a cake-baking contest for the Lois Lane Fan Club. As he and Lois depart in a helicopter, bound for the Daily Planet, the engine stalls. Jimmy activates his signal-watch, but soon becomes dizzy and disoriented and finds himself in France, four centuries ago! He manages to find some period clothing and changes, but to his regret, they belong to a highwayman on the lam and the next thing he knows, he's been sentenced to Devil's Island. While working in the fields, one of his fellow prisoners begins to beg for water, offering to sell his very soul. On cue, a puff of smoke appears and the mysterious Lord L appears, contract in hand. To Jimmy's surprise, Lord L is a dead ringer for Lex Luthor. After the hapless prisoner signs Lord L's piece of paper, the sorcerer restores his strength and sends him sailing away for 5 years, but after that time has elapsed, he will collect his fee, the man's soul. Upon striking a bargain with another of the prisoner's, Jimmy muses that perhaps he can outwit Lord L and he proposes a contractual agreement that will allow him to return to his point of origin, reasoning that he will be unreachable in the safety of 1962. The bargain is struck and to his amazement, Olsen is in his apartment, safe and sound. Moments later, however, who should come to call but Lord L? Demanding to be served a meal, the Luthor look-alike explores the apartment and sees a trunk filled with costumes and disguises. A strong breeze from the open window blows a self-sticking mustache and beard onto Lord L, revealing a striking resemblance to none other than Lucifer. Jimmy realizes he's really in a fix now as he's literally dealing with the devil. He brings out a cake to serve to his new master who abruptly begins to disappear, crying "You young devil! You tricked me!" In the next panel, Jimmy is being revived by Lois and Superman. It turns out he passed out during the chopper's descent and dreamed the whole scenario. As he relates it to his friends, Superman explains Lord L's strange reaction to the cake Jimmy served. Turns out it was Angel Food. The story then mercifully ends.
To my way of thinking, the thing that set Jimmy Olsen's stories apart from those of Lois Lane, though I must admit I haven't read many of hers, was not only the many different and sometimes offbeat predicaments the writers placed him into, (I can't think of any other character off the bat who spent time as a werewolf and a turtle man [#53, June, 1961] among others) but they gave him yet another facet when Jimmy was given a turn as a hero in his own right. Donning a purple costume and swallowing a special elixir that transformed him into Elastic Lad (issue #31, September, 1958) made him the latest in a long line of stretchable heroes including Plastic Man, the Elongated Man and of course that guy who worked for the other team. Richards, was it? ;-) His exploits in this persona even qualified him to be a reservist in the 30th Century Legion of Super-Heroes as seen in issue #72, October, 1963. While he and Lois had to bear up under the stigma of forever being in the shadow of Superman, they shined brightly enough to gain a following of their own and as far as I can see any magazine with a run of over 100 issues to it's credit gave a respectable showing. Reading an issue of Jimmy Olsen is good, clean fun and you never knew what was in store. I dub this issue a 6 for it's originality and 3 pretty good, diverse stories (despite the last one being awfully silly) for your hard earned 12 cents.
Now, I want to mention a little giveaway that we were going to do to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the Silver Age Sage. Our prize will be a copy of the Silver Age DC Classics reprint of the comic that kicked off the DC Silver Age--Showcase #4, featuring The Flash. Interested? Here's all you have to do to get into the drawing. Simply e-mail me @ my new address: firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me you'd like to be entered into the giveaway.
Your email address will go into a random drawing to be held on May 1st, 2002. The magazine will be shipped to the lucky winner with our compliments. I'll be back in 2 weeks with a special review of a key Silver Age event to mark our second anniversary.
Long live the Silver Age!
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