Many comic readers today see Jimmy Olsen as a relic of an older age. They’re not entirely wrong in that, for Jimmy’s origins lie in an archaic, slowly dying medium. And no, I don’t mean comic books!
Much like Harley Quinn, Jimmy Olsen holds a unique position as a character who is irrevocably tied to the superhero genre and the word of comic books, but was created for another medium entirely. Jimmy Olsen first appeared in the Adventures of Superman radio show, before Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster brought him into the comics in Superman #13. Jimmy was created for the benefit of the audience, because Clark Kent and Superman needed someone to talk to in order to deliver exposition. They didn’t want it to seem like Superman was constantly talking to himself. (“Great Scott! That plane is about to crash! I’d better stop it!”)
Strangely enough, Jimmy vanished from the comics through most of the 1940s, only emerging again in the 1950s when the Adventures of Superman television series started up and Jimmy was cast in the show to fill the same purpose – giving Superman someone to save and Clark Kent someone to talk to besides Lois Lane, who was meant to be his love interest and main competitor. It was around this time that Jimmy was given his own comic devoted to his own increasingly odd adventures and the rest was comic book history.
That brings us to the all-new Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen maxi-series and the question that has plagued many a Superman writer – what is the point of Jimmy Olsen, apart from giving Superman one more person to rescue? Writer Matt Fraction gives us one heck of a good answer for that and delivers a surprisingly subtle commentary on modern news media in the bargain and he does it by exploring who Jimmy Olsen is apart from Superman’s Pal.
The action of this issue establishes Jimmy as a viral video sensation, who has adapted his minor celebrity status as Superman’s pal into a career as a social media influencer. Well, that’s the theory anyway. In practice, Jimmy’s “news reports” are an odd combination of MTV’s Jackass and the puff pieces that close out a local news broadcast. Case in point: Jimmy’s latest stunt saw him briefly turned into a giant turtle-man and ended in the destruction of a major Metropolis landmark as he reentered Earth’s atmosphere.
This leads to Jimmy becoming the most hated man in Metropolis and demands for him to be fired, before he somehow finds a way to kill Superman accidentally before Lex Luthor does it on purpose. It also leads to a shocking discovery when Perry White is preparing to finally fire Jimmy Olsen, once and for all, for real this time – the ad revenue from Jimmy’s videos on TheDailyPlanet.com are the only thing keeping the newspaper afloat! They can’t afford to lose Jimmy Olsen but they can’t afford to keep him either, as he’s become completely uninsurable thanks to his status as a chaos magnet.
There’s a lot to be said here about the satirical implications of Jimmy’s position and how American news has become more focused on spectacle and scandal because it draws a crowd and pays the bills, but Matt Fraction’s script doesn’t preach the point. This book is utterly hilarious and fans of Fraction’s run on Hawkeye would do well to check this series out, even if they’re not regular readers of Superman comics. It won’t matter as this series seems to be set firmly outside of continuity.
The artwork perfectly matches the story, with Steve Lieber offering up vividly detailed art that conveys the classic Superman aesthetic. With colors by Nathan Fairbairn, the final effect leaves the book looking as timeless as its story is timely. Lieber is also a great visual storyteller, with his finest moment coming during a page which acts as a silent montage of Jimmy Olsen’s not-so-finest hours from various Silver Age Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen covers, when Jimmy asks his bosses to name one time he got into unreasonable peril before today. This includes Jimmy being chased by a dinosaur, Jimmy becoming a ghost and Jimmy apparently fleeing his own wedding to a gorilla.
Bottom line: if you want a book that will leave you laughing out loud as it sends-up one of the comics’ worlds biggest icons, you’ll want to become Jimmy’s Pal.
Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1 releases on July 17, 2019!
Written by The Critic The Internet Deserves, but not the one it needs right now…. Matt Morrison. He’s a smart-ass guardian. A sarcastic protector. A Snark Knight.