Written by Nick Spencer. Pencils by RB Silva, inks by DYM.
DC Comics, May 2011.
Let me tell you about my second favorite Jimmy Olsen story.
In “How Jimmy Olsen First Met Superman!” (from Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #36), in a story set some time in the past, Jimmy gets in an experimental time machine, travels to Krypton back before it exploded (he previously learned Kryptonese as a hobby), decides to pop in on Jor-El and Kara for kicks, ends up offering to babysit future Superman Kal-El, spanks him, sabotages the Science Council’s attempts to shut down Jor-El’s rocket experiments with the assistance of Krypto the Super Dog, witnesses Krypton explode, returns to Earth in the recent past, loses his memory, and meets Superman who thanks to his super-memory remembers him as the boy who babysat him and gets him a job at the Daily Planet as a cub reporter and gives him his famous emergency signal watch.
This story is eight pages long.
Jimmy Olsen seems like a hard franchise to screw up, but I suppose that level of goofballery is hard to maintain for 160+ issues of his solo title, and DC did manage to screw it up several times, particularly towards the end of his series and more recently, sometimes depicting him as a dashing hero or a Hardy Boys-type detective — trying to make him “relevant” to today’s comic readers. (The series even ended up being absorbed into Jack Kirby’s Fourth World epic!) Also, modern readers will often say, “What were they on?!” about Jimmy’s adventures growing an ankle-length beard, eating millions of hamburgers, etc., but actually, these stories were played for laughs, and the opening caption would often say, “In this hilarious adventure…” Jimmy Olsen only works if he regularly writes articles about space invasions, time travel, ghosts, has his own fan club, and yet is still only ever cub reporter.
Here finally is a comic that gets it right.
This 70-page one-shot is actually a collection of back-up shorts that appeared in — I believe — Action Comics during the storyline in which Superman decided to hilariously walk across America. But it all forms one interconnecting story of a week in the life in Jimmy Olsen. It uses short form (a Silver Age convention) to tell a longer tale (a modern convention).
Jimmy himself too still wears his classic vests (are they back in fashion now?), but he’s now a kind of slacker / hipster-type who spends all his time playing video games in which he himself features and finds ways to rationalize his own laziness. The opening scene is even of his girlfriend breaking up with him. I was immediately reminded of High Fidelity (I’ve only seen the movie version), and shortly after a gloomy Jimmy is accused of “Cusacking.” (Note that the book may even be too hip for this old-timer and I missed a few references — what the heck is Jersey Shore?)
But Slacker Jimmy soon ends up in just as many cockamamie adventures as Classic Jimmy — trying to bore aliens away from Earth, avoiding marriage with a relative of Mr. Mxyzptlk, outwitting a genie, becoming “Co-Superman,” and stopping the bad guy. Rather than be embarrassed by the Silver Age Jimmy, writer Nick Spencer embraces it and even makes direct reference to (surely by now written out of continuity) Silver Age stories. (“And this is where I got my brain stuck in the body of a gorilla,” Jimmy tells us.) He keeps the good and throws out the bad and keeps things brisk and fun — just the way a Jimmy Olsen comic should be. And crucially he makes Jimmy a hero on his own terms.
The story is also very well-structured. Everything comes surprisingly full circle in the end, even the Back to the Future gags.
What’s neat about this comic is how well it synthesizes the “classic” Jimmy Olsen into a modern setting. What’s great about it is how hilarious it is as a result. Spencer is helped of course by the art of RB Silva who is deft with cockeyed facial expressions and occasionally abstracts backgrounds. I particularly loved his rendition of Lois Lane. He (?) is not quite there yet, but he’s kind of a Kevin Maguire in the making. (There were two pages towards the end that seemed to be drawn by a different artist, but the credits don’t indicate who.) The Amanda Conner cover is — as usual — excellent as well.
DC could learn a lot from this comic, like, lighten up, would ya?! I’m glad this comic got its chance. It’s a sparky, happy jaunt of a read. Grab it while you can — who knows how DC is going to screw it up next time.
Kumar Sivasubramanian is the writer of Weird Crime Theater.