SUPERMANS PAL JIMMY OLSENMedium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1938
Creators: Jerry Siegel (writer) and Joe Shuster (artist)
Please contribute to its necessary financial support.
Amazon.com or PayPal
By the 1950s, superheroes had long since stopped being the mainstay of the American comic book industry. They never quite went away — Captain Flash and The Avenger were only two of the heroes who started during that decade; and Plastic Man and Captain Marvel were only two of several holdovers from the '40s. In fact, at DC Comics, Superman and Batman remained top sellers. In fact, the Superman line was so strong, even then, that it was still being expanded. Apparently taking
a cue from Archie Comics, which had launched Archie's pal Jughead in his own title in 1949, DC's first '50s addition to the Superman franchise was Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, whose first issue was dated October, 1954.
Jimmy hadn't been part of the Superman cast since the very beginning, like Lois Lane, but close enough. He's generally considered to have appeared first in Action Comics #6 (November, 1938), when Supes's adventures were still numbered in a single digit. But the red-headed office boy (or "copy boy", as the position is usually called in newspaper offices) wasn't named. He first appeared under his actual name in the Superman radio show for April 15, 1940. Either way, he'd become a cub (or beginning) reporter by the time he got his own comic.
That job offered plenty of scope for adventure, but the idea here was to sell another comic about Superman. So the big guy gave his pal a watch with a signalling device that only his super hearing could detect. But he could hear it from anywhere, provided there was a clear path from the watch to his ear through a medium capable of carrying sound. So as long as Jimmy wasn't buried in solid rock or off in airless space, Superman could appear suddenly in any story. The cue indicating to readers that Jimmy's signal watch was in use, a repeated "zee-zee-zee" sound effect, became so familiar, cartoonist Don Rosa (Lance Pertwillaby, Uncle Scrooge) parodied it in a 21st-century European Disney story, and it was instantly recognized by everyone old enough.
As the 1950s segued into the '60s, DC was siezed by a trend to emphasize cheap, cheesy sci-fi gimmicks. From Mr. District Attorney to Tomahawk, aliens and monsters could turn up in the most unlikely places — there was even a war comics series where U.S. soldiers regularly battled dinosaurs. Jimmy responded to the trend by frequently undergoing bodily transformations. A classic was the gigantic Turtle Boy, cribbed from an old pulp magazine cover, a form he first assumed in Jimmy Olsen #53 (June, 1961), but which has been reprised many times since (including as a commercial shill for a pizza joint). From a bald, big-domed "future man" to a bizarro, he could be turned into anything that might hook a reader.
A popular transformation was "Elastic Lad", a persona he first assumed in #31 (September, 1958). Using a formula invented by Professor Potter (Superman's answer to Gyro Gearloose or O.G. Wotasnozzle), Jimmy was able to stretch and squash like the earlier Plastic Man or the later Mr. Fantastic. He did the "Elastic Lad" schtick several times, and even parlayed it into honorary membership in The Legion of Super Heroes.
Another superhero persona he assumed several times was Flamebird, partner of Nightwing, or Superman when in the Kryptonian environment of the bottle city of Kandor, where he had no super powers. Together, they functioned as the Batman and Robin of that locale. Jimmy's first appearance as Flamebird was in #69 (June, 1963).
Another ongoing schtick was putting on phoney outfits to snag stories. He fancied himself quite a master of disguise, and the stories he got that way were partly responsible for the fact that he had his own fan club, with chapters all over the country. The subjects of his disguises were frequently female, treating readers to the sight of Jimmy in drag.
Pete Costanza (Nemesis, Captain Tootsie) was the artist handling Jimmy's comic when Jack Kirby (Devil Dinosaur, Sky Masters) moved from Marvel to DC in 1970. Since Costanza was planning to retire, Kirby could replace him without worrying about anybody getting thrown out of work. Thus, Jimmy was catapulted into Kirby's "Fourth World" multi-title storyline, which also included The New Gods, The Forever People and Mister Miracle. Kirby also included his earlier work at DC, by introducing sons of the old Newsboy Legion and a clone of The Guardian.
Kirby's tenure on the Olsen title lasted from #133 (December 1970) to 148 (April. 1972). After that, it reverted to general-assignment DC staffers, and Kirby moved on to Kamandi, The Demon and other projects for DC. But by then, the title was on its last legs. After #163 (March, 1974), it was incorporated into the new Superman Family title, where all the supporting characters were featured.
Jimmy still continues as a junior member of the Daily Planet staff, not just in comic books but also in movies, TV shows, animation and wherever else Supes is seen. But he's not likely to star in his own series again soon.