Jimmy Olsen | Elastic Lad | Transformations | Super-Powers | The Wolf-Man | Superman in Peril | Detective Tales about Contests | Detective Tales | Time Travel Detective Stories | Fantastic Adventure | Olsen as Puzzle Creator | Super-Beings | Science Fiction | Robots | Magic | Early Tales | Superman Souvenirs | Signal Watch | Superman Figures | The Jimmy Olsen Fan Clubs | The Daily Planet | Lucy Lane | Romance | Music | Hollywood | The Monster Tales
Classic Comic Books Home Page (with many articles on comics)
The above is not a complete list of Jimmy Olsen stories. Rather, it consists of my picks of the best tales in the magazine, the ones I enjoyed reading, and recommend to others.
Recommended reprints in inexpensive paperbacks:
The Olsen stories tend to have limitations. They are usually short: like Lois Lane, the stories in Jimmy Olsen tended to come three to a magazine, shorter than the two to an issue stories in Action, for instance. Unlike Superman or Superboy, the stories were rarely two or three parters, either. The Jimmy Olsen stories tend to be comic in tone. Usually they are little comic adventure stories, showing Jimmy getting involved in some task, and generating some laughs along the way before their happy ending. Jimmy Olsen rarely introduced any events that affected the mythos of the Superman family. Nor are the plots as overwhelmingly ingenious as the friendship series in Superboy, or the many detective stories in Lois Lane. Despite these limitations, the best Olsen stories are a good deal of fun. The magazine has a sense of joy.
From 1954 - 1966, there were over 275 Jimmy Olsen stories. This article tries to bring some order to this huge flood of stories by grouping them into series. Several of the recommended stories above are also discussed in the article on Superman. This includes his "Nightwing and Flamebird" tales, set in the bottled city of Kandor. Jimmy had a special affinity with Kandor, and it makes appearances in many of his tales.
The splash confronts Superman with Jimmy-as-Elastic-Lad for the first time. The splash points out, accurately, that Jimmy's elastic powers are something that even Superman doesn't have. The splash anticipates in a simple way the opening of Binder's "The Supergirl From Krypton" (Action #252, May 1959), which also confronts and compares Superman to a new super-being (Supergirl).
In this story, Jimmy is duped by criminals, and made unwittingly to use his powers to aid their schemes. This was a common plot twist in later Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane tales, both by Binder and other writers. Binder also wrote early tales in which criminals use force to make Jimmy aid their schemes: for instance, "The Million Dollar Question" (#8, December 1955). Unfortunately, this being duped by bad guys is a downbeat subject, and this tale is gloomy. I prefer the later, more upbeat Elastic Lad tales.
"The E-L-A-S-T-I-C Lad" consists of a series of "challenges", in the typical Binder construction. In each challenge in this story, Jimmy is asked by a disguised crook to perform a good deed. After he does so, we learn how the criminals are taking advantage of Jimmy's action to advance their crime plan. This is a typical plot construction in Binder. The hero will perform a series of actions in pursuit of some noble goal, in this case, to help others with his Elastic powers. Then each action will be defeated, by events that twist its consequence to some different direction (in this case, in aid of the criminals' plan), or which defeat it entirely. There is a point - counter point structure to these stories: first the hero does something ingenious to achieve some goal, then the environment does something equally ingenious to counteract it. Then the hero tries again, with a new ingenious idea, then the environment counters him again, and so on. Each one of these cycles takes up a few frames of the comic book; typically there are three of them per story, followed by a big finale when all is resolved. I have labeled each cycle, consisting of the hero's action and the environment's counter action, a "challenge". I named them this because the hero is challenging the environment, trying to achieve some good deed, and the environment keeps responding, trying to defeat his challenge.
The Elastic Lad of Metropolis (#37, June 1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. After Jimmy becomes Elastic Lad, he takes part in a baseball game, and covered in green paint, is mistaken for an alien invader. Prof. Potter's serum that makes Jimmy elastic is introduced in this tale. This second Elastic Lad story is terrible; it is included here for completeness. It treats Jimmy's elastic powers mainly as a "transformation": a calamity that befalls him and which mainly gets him in comic trouble. The green-paint-alien twist was later used in a much funnier Superbaby tale, "Smallville's War Against Superboy" (Adventure #311, August 1963).
The best bit: Jimmy shaping himself as a narrow cylinder, and traveling down an unused pipeline (page 6). This recalls other super-heroes with unusual modes of travel: The "telephone trick" used by The Spectre and later The Atom. And Air Wave running fast on telephone wires. It also recalls sending objects through pneumatic tubes in the science fiction novel Ralph 124C41+ (1911) by Hugo Gernsback.
Jimmy twists himself up like a pretzel, recalling the Lois Lane pretzel story, "Lois Lane, Working Girl" (Lois Lane #4, September-October 1958). There is a named pretzel company here, just as in the Lois tale.
Elastic Lad's Greatest Feats (1960). Writer: Otto Binder. In the third Elastic Lad story Jimmy becomes a super hero for the first time, using his powers to perform good deeds and solve crimes. This story, like the first two, was written by Otto Binder. It shows his careful developmental logic, and use of ingenious incident.
Elastic Lad's Wrestling Match (1961). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Bernstein had the bright idea that elastic powers and wrestling made a good match, in this inventive comic story, which shows Bernstein's rowdy, good natured comic style. The Superman family had a real fondness for both boxing and wrestling matches. Their one on one combat seemed appropriate for dramatic conflict, perhaps, not to mention the testing of super-powers of two characters. Also, both sports are associated with the 1950's, an era that dominated much of the writers' thinking about the media. This tale is a sequel of sorts to Bernstein's earlier wrestling story, "The Ugly Superman" (Lois Lane #8, April 1959). It is much funnier and more inventive than its predecessor.
Superman's Phantom Pal (1962). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Jimmy becomes Elastic Lad, and enters the Phantom Zone. This Elastic Lad story centers on Jimmy Olsen's loyalty to Superman. It deals with one of the central themes of the Superman series, friendship. This subject is explored with great emotional intensity throughout the series. One of the main motives people have in joining such teams as The Justice League or The Legion of Super-Heroes is to make friends. Superboy's longing for friendship permeates "The Mystery of Mighty Boy" (Superboy #85, December 1960), and the Pete Ross stories: Dorfman had much to do with the creation of the friendship series in Superboy, and similar feelings are expressed here.
Jimmy Olsen's Boo Boos (1963). Writer: Jerry Siegel. This story has Elastic Lad elements, and it showed up in the July issue, just like the previous three years. All the same, it is very atypical of the Elastic Lad stories, and these elements only play a small role. The tale came out during the baroque era of complex Jimmy Olsen stories in mid 1963, and is contemporary with the stories I have labeled as "Fantastic Adventure" and "Olsen as Puzzle Creator", sharing some elements with them. The story is notable for John Forte's art, especially his portraiture - he was able to convey a real sense of glamour in the people he depicted.
Elastic Lad Jimmy and his Legion Romances (1964). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Jimmy travels to the future, and works with the Legion of Super-Heroes in his role as Elastic Lad. The good natured story is mainly notable for the feats performed by the various super-heroes, which show imagination. The story was written by Jerry Siegel, who wrote many of the early Legion stories in Adventure.
The Meek Jimmy Olsen (1956). Writer: Otto Binder. Superman hoaxes Jimmy in believing that Jimmy and Clark Kent have traded personality traits: Jimmy has become cowardly, and Clark rashly brave. This is an entertaining tale. It is related to the "hoax" transformation stories in Jimmy Olsen: someone tries to make Jimmy believe he has been transformed in some way, when he really hasn't. In some of these stories, the fact that Jimmy is being hoaxed comes as a surprise at the end of the story. Here, however, the reader is in on Superman's actions right from the start. I have not tried to separate out the hoax stories from the genuine transformations: to do so would spoil the reader's surprise.
Like most of the hoax tales, the focus is on the transformation feats themselves, and how they are faked. Unlike genuine transformation stories, such as "The Human Flame Thrower", which often show Jimmy using his transformation against numerous background areas of daily life, here we just see the feats themselves. One suspects this is a matter of space. Showing all the details of the hoax takes up a lot of space in the story. There is little room left for the episodic adventures of the genuine transformation tales.
The plot of this tale was reworked for "Jimmy Olsen, Coward" (#61, June 1962). Binder's original tale relies heavily on the power of suggestion. The later story uses more actual physical coercion.
This story is similar to "The Legend of Greenbeard Olsen" and "The Spendthrift and the Miser", in that Jimmy's change is purely psychological, a matter of altered personality. It also bears some similarity to "The Non-Super Superman" (Superman #111, February 1957). In that tale, there was a complete mind exchange between Superman and Jimmy. Here, there is simply an alleged swap of personality traits.
Curt Swan's art in this tale is very good. The robots in one segment are especially interesting. These robots are not humanoid. Instead, they are large geometric machines. They remind one somewhat of the Swan spaceship in "The Super-Brat From Krypton" (Superman #137, May 1960), although they are much less curvilinear. The robots show Swan's gift for abstract geometric machinery. I also liked a panel showing Jimmy being cautious crossing a street.
Jimmy Olsen, Speed Demon (1956). Writer: Otto Binder. After drinking eccentric Professor Claude's serum, Jimmy gets Flash-like powers of super-speed. Professor Claude is a rough sketch for the later series character Professor Potter. Even at this early date, we have the full paradigm of Binder's transformation tales.
This story appeared one month before the Silver Age Flash made his historic revival in Showcase #4. So something was probably in the air at DC comics. However, the Flash is not mentioned in this story (Jimmy does say twice that he is doing things "in a flash"). Instead Jimmy's new powers are constantly compared to Superman's own powers of super-speed.
Unlike the later Elastic Lad tales, Jimmy does not set himself up as a costumed super-hero here. Instead, he uses his super-powers directly in his personal life, and on his job as a reporter.
The Radioactive Boy (1956). Writer: Otto Binder. After touring a nuclear lab, Jimmy begins to glow with radioactivity, and flowers wither in his presence. Many film noirs have treated radioactivity as the ultimate disaster: one thinks of Rudolph Maté's D.O.A. (1949) and Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly (1955). This tale is much more light hearted, with joie de vivre and plenty of ingenuity.
Superman's Kid Brother (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. In this comic story, Jimmy suffers from delusions that he's Superman's super-powered kid brother from Krypton, Super-Kid, and nothing Superman does can dissuade him from this belief. This story has Binder's typical "challenge and rebuff" construction: Superman tries to show Jimmy he's not really super-powered, then some coincidence will happen that persuades Jimmy he really is super-powered, after all. Superman gets increasingly, comically flustered throughout the tale, something that is funny, but which is atypical of Binder's patient, endlessly resourceful protagonists. As in many of Binder's stories, the end involves some ingenious twists on the secret identity theme.
Jimmy's delusions here are completely fictional here - Binder wants us to regard them simply as comic fantasies. But they are very similar in content to the later true story of Supergirl's origin in "The Supergirl From Krypton" (Action Comics #252, May 1959), also written by Binder. Tales like this helped pave the way for the later Supergirl saga, by helping Binder imagine all the details of what a new arrival from Krypton might be like. This story gives a plausible explanation of Super-Kid's arrival from Krypton in a rocket ship: later Supergirl will arrive on Earth in a similar rocket. And the story deals with the problem of how Superman will arrange for a life on Earth for Super-Kid: later Superman will deal with similar problems with Supergirl.
The Merman of Metropolis (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. A magic ring given to Jimmy by a mermaid allows him to breathe underwater. Jimmy uses his abilities to perform super-deeds. He sets himself up as a hero in the Superman mode in this tale, over a year before the Elastic Lad stories begin. Jimmy shows great good sense and decency in this story, using his powers to help others. He shows his usual cockiness and comic self-confidence, but he basically behaves intelligently and decently. Jimmy is more intelligent here than in other early Binder super-power tales, such as "Jimmy Olsen, Speed Demon" (1956), where he does not control his powers well, or in "The E-L-A-S-T-I-C Lad" (1958), where he is innocently duped by criminals.
This time Jimmy gets a costume, a set of merman legs and feet, unlike the previous story in which he got super-powers, "Jimmy Olsen, Speed Demon" (1956). In that tale, he performed his feats in his street clothes. The story is based on a Curt Swan cover, showing Jimmy as a merman, and the tale includes the costume to be consistent with the cover. Both the cover and the story recall elements of "The Man Who Couldn't Drown" (Strange Adventures #68, May 1956), including its Atlantis connection.
This story appeared two years before mermaids and Atlantis became part of the Superman mythos. At this point, mermaids are treated purely as fairy tales in Superman's world. The story recalls other Binder transformations in which fairy tales come to life, such as "The Wolf-Man of Metropolis" (1960) and "The Witch of Metropolis" (Lois Lane #1, March-April 1958). One can see similarities in the titles of all three stories. They have a common pattern of "The Fairy-tale being of Metropolis". A similar title pattern was used by Robert Bernstein's "The Animal Master of Metropolis" (1960), which also gave Jimmy mythological powers.
The Legend of Greenbeard Olsen (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. While acting as the captain of a pirate ship, Jimmy undergoes a personality transformation every night that turns him into a sinister swashbuckler; it seems to be the result of a family curse. I use the word "seems"; one knows ahead of time that there will be no true supernatural events in the Superman family, and that all such seeming events will have a rational explanation. Here it is Lois Lane who serves as the voice of reason, explicitly rejecting the idea of bad blood and a family curse, saying it has been disproved by science. Science versus superstition is a major theme of the Superman family, with science being admired and superstition abhorred.
Binder's heroes often undergo strange personality changes each night, then revert to their normal selves each day. Here it is explicitly moonlight that is evoked as the trigger of Jimmy's transformation, just as in Binder's later "The Wolf-Man of Metropolis" (1960).
Jimmy's transformation here has its comic side. There is satire in the way giving Jimmy a bit of authority, as head of the pirate ship, seems to turn him each night into a tyrannical Captain Bligh. This anticipates the stories where Jimmy becomes head of the Daily Planet, and bosses Perry White around: see "Perry White, Cub Reporter" (1960). One might also note the use of color imagery in this tale, with Jimmy's green pirate beard, a takeoff on the real life figure Blackbeard the Pirate. Such colors were common in the Superman comic books, especially green and red.
The Super-Brain of Jimmy Olsen (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. An invention of eccentric scientist Professor Potter turns Jimmy into a big-brained Man of the Future. The origin of Professor Potter. Jimmy had met quite a few zany scientists in earlier stories. They were all cut from the same comic mold: eccentric, absent-minded men with way out inventions, most of which would land Jimmy in the middle of some big trouble, both comic and frightening. Professor Potter is another inventor in this series. Subsequent Jimmy Olsen stories have him return, however, instead of creating new scientists for each such story. Potter is the first new continuing series character in the magazine, since the first issue.
Big-brained Humans of the Future had been a staple of prose science fiction, at least since Edmond Hamilton's short story, "The Man who Evolved" (1936). This Jimmy Olsen story seems to be their first appearance in the Superman family.
The evolved Olsen promptly gets involved in a large-scale project. This is one of Binder's tales of Cosmic Engineering, attempts to remake the Earth or the Solar System on a large scale. Inevitably, a reader today will link such a tale with the tragic crisis of Global Warming afflicting our planet. This gives this story a serious overtone. It is one of the heaviest and least light-hearted tales in Jimmy Olsen magazine.
The Bearded Boy (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. A fanatic society of bearded men, the Beard Band, gives Jimmy a potion which causes his beard to grow to huge lengths. This comic tale is unusual in that Jimmy's transformation is not an accident, or a disinterested scientific experiment. Instead, it is a result of a whole group of men with a crackpot agenda. This story also suggests that large groups of people other than Jimmy might ultimately be affected by the transformation; this too is rare in the Superman family. Transformations often affect Jimmy's co-workers at the Daily Planet. And Clark Kent is often called on to explain why he was not affected by some transformative agent, without giving away the fact that being Superman has made him immune. But transformations rarely spread beyond this small circle to affect a large group in society as a whole.
The Beard Band is in some ways a radical organization, although that word is not used. Radical groups are uncommon in Superman Family tales. The Beard Band has secret meetings and its own lab. It is not "political", though, except in its fanatic promotion of beards. The Beard Band is seen unsympathetically by the story.
Many of the transform stories involve Jimmy in "out of control masculinity". Here he gets a wildly growing beard; in other tales he'll be transformed into a giant, or made uncontrollably powerful. These stories mirror the pangs of growing from boyhood into manhood. They reflect in a comic and exaggerated way the universal difficulties males experience in trying to control, adjust to, and use wisely the new powers and abilities that come with adulthood.
Binder had Jimmy previously involved with a beard growth formula in "Jimmy Olsen, Cub Inventor" (1955). That was not a transformation tale, however - it was one episode in a series dealing with Jimmy's inventions.
The Gorilla Reporter (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Jimmy and a gorilla swap minds into each other's bodies, due to a professor's invention. In many ways this is a transformation tale. Jimmy is "transformed" into a being with a human mind and a gorilla body. As in a typical transformation tale, Jimmy uses his new abilities to do various tasks. Also like many transformation tales, there is a hunt for an antidote that will cure Jimmy.
"The Gorilla Reporter" is also a full-fledged science fiction story. It involves a science fiction idea: a mind-swap. The subplot about the gorilla mind in Jimmy's body also runs through the tale, forming a science fiction subplot. The search for the antidote has science fiction elements and complexities.
Jimmy attends a science fiction movie at one point (page 6): perhaps a hint that "The Gorilla Reporter" should also be categorized as science fiction. The film is about an "intelligent gorilla". Intelligent gorillas have a long history at DC comics, being a favorite subject.
The subplot of "the gorilla mind in Jimmy's body" recalls a bit "Jimmy Olsen's Super-Pet" (1957), which appeared six months before. In both:
An earlier Binder tale of a mind-swap was "The Non-Super Superman" (Superman #111, February 1957). It appeared eight months before "The Gorilla Reporter". In that tale Superman and Jimmy Olsen swapped minds.
Jimmy winds up throughly enjoying his new gorilla body. The story has elements of wish-fulfillment: what would it be like to be a gorilla?
"The Gorilla Reporter" is ten pages long: longer than the typical JImmy Olsen tale of that era. Likely the creators wanted to explore all the possibilities in the premise.
Various scientific facts about gorillas' bodies are women into the tale. Story developments are based on them. But they also educate the reader. So does the scientist's information on all the button combinations: it teaches readers about the huge numbers of combinations a few elements can produce. "The Gorilla Reporter" is another of Binder's Educational Tales About Science.
The World's "Heavy Weight" Champ (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Although his shape does not change, Jimmy Olsen mysteriously becomes massive and heavy. This story is a science fiction mystery, in which Jimmy amd Superman try to figure out what is causing Jimmy's changes. Fair play clues are built into the story. The solution comes in two stages, both clever.
The tale also shows Jimmy using his change in a number of clever ways, also a tradition in Binder transformation tales.
Binder earlier wrote a non-series tale about a similar transformation, "The World's Mightiest Weakling" (Strange Adventures #54, March 1955).
The Spendthrift and the Miser (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. In this story Jimmy becomes both a miser and a spendthrift. A few stories in Jimmy Olsen involved Jimmy's relationship with money. These tales are realistic, without fantasy or science fiction elements. They are perhaps distantly related to the stories mixing Superman and business that appeared in the 1950's in the Superman family magazines.
This story is related to the transformation tales which Binder often wrote, in which Jimmy is temporarily transformed into a giant or made invisible. Here however, Jimmy's transformation is not physical, but rather affects his behavior and personality. As in several of Binder's transformation tales, an alternation takes place between day and night. In most of these Binder stories, the hero is normal during the day and transformed at night; here the hero oscillates between two transformations, one during the daytime, the other after dark.
Even as a spendthrift, Jimmy more often gives his money away, rather than spending it on himself. The scene where Jimmy drops money on a slum is memorable (page 6). There is social commentary in the story mentioning slums. Clark Kent briefly talks about his newspaper campaign for slum clearance two issues later in "Superman's Greatest Enemy" (#30, August 1958) (bottom of page 4). In "The Spendthrift and the Miser" Jimmy takes action and Superman approves; in "Superman's Greatest Enemy" Clark Kent takes action and Jimmy approves. The subject will return in Binder's "The Story of Superman's Life" (Superman #146, July 1961), a major work.
Much of the second half of the story is less about the transformations, and more about the crime plot behind them. This section is well done.
Curt Swan does a good job with his portrayal of the handsome crook "Lefty" Blake. He seems related to the sharp dressed mobsters that show up in some of Olsen's detective tales. He is in an excellent pinstripe suit. The dialogue mentions that he looks like Superman. Swan is careful not to make the resemblance too close. There is perhaps a touch of sympathy for him: he and his partner are non-violent swindlers, rather than mobsters.
The Human Skyscraper (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. In this story Jimmy is transformed into a giant. The stories in which Jimmy gets super powers are often difficult to distinguish from tales in which Jimmy undergoes some science fictional transformation. In both kinds of stories, Jimmy gets some new kinds of attributes that affect his appearance and behavior. Both stories have some kind of sf explanation of this at the beginning, often involving the eccentric scientist Professor Potter. Both stories have Jimmy receiving some sort of antidote at the end, that restores him to normal. The search for such an antidote, or its key ingredients, is often a major plot element in the tale. And the surprising nature of the antidote, revealed at the end of the story, often forms a puzzle plot mystery in the story. The bulk of the story tends to consist of a series of episodes, each of which logically exploits Jimmy's new power or transformation. The writers tend to be remarkably ingenious here, coming up with a wealth of ideas to highlight the power, from fighting crime and aiding poor people, to trivial events of daily life. There are even symbolic activities using the new power that affect the hero's world on a purely emotional level in these tales.
The dazed but powerful giant Jimmy Olsen has some resemblance to the Superbaby series in Superboy. Jimmy's adventures also parallel those of King Kong.
The Super Nose for News (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Professor Potter's spray gives Jimmy a Pinocchio like nose: every time he tells a lie, it gets bigger. Binder's transformation stories tend to take an eclectic approach. Not only do they involve every possible application of the hero's new talent, from the cosmic to the trivial, but they also tend to exploit the transformation in multiple different ways. This story is an example. Warning: this discussion will contain spoilers! Sometimes Jimmy's large nose is just treated as a physical object, something that gets in the way, or which can be exploited in ingenious or comic ways. At other times, the story concentrates on Jimmy's powerful new sense of smell. These episodes remind one of the finale of Binder's "The Ten Feats of Elastic Lass" (Lois Lane #23, February 1961), which used similar abilities in Lois Lane. At other times, the Pinocchio effect is used as a lie detector, to see if Jimmy is telling the truth. Finally, the nose is used virtually as an oracle. The nose seems to know facts about the universe that are unknown to characters in the story. Simply by making an assertion, the nose will tell you if the statement is true or false. This goes far beyond real life lie detectors, which purport to show whether the subject believes a statement is true or not; the nose, by contrast, knows whether a statement is true as an objective fact. Binder's use of multiple approaches makes for a rich story. The reader is continually surprised by the next turn of events.
The Jimmy Olsen from Jupiter (1958). Writer: Alvin Schwartz. Aliens temporarily transform Jimmy into a creature from Jupiter; he uses his new mind reading powers to gets newspaper scoops. This story is by Alvin Schwartz, but it is very much in the Binder tradition. Binder's "The Day I Became a Martian" (Strange Adventures #90, March 1958) is about an author who is first contacted by aliens from another world through his TV set, then transformed by them into an alien himself. This is similar to the plot of "Jupiter". In both stories the aliens' motive is similar: they want to test how their species' body will perform under Earth conditions. The aliens seem friendly in both stories. This is not a horror tale. The protagonists of both stories seem basically to enjoy their transformations. "The Day I Became a Martian" is not a Superman family story; it is a non-series sf tale, like much of the material in Strange Adventures.
The author of the first story has been recast as journalist Jimmy Olsen here, and Superman has been added to the plot. "Jupiter" bears a strong resemblance to the other transformation tales in Jimmy Olsen, almost all of which were scripted by Binder. It has the "series" construction of Binder's fiction: here Jimmy uses his powers to attempt to get a series of scoops. The finale of the tale involves an attempt by Superman to preserve his secret identity: also the typical finale of Binder's transformation stories.
One can see some personal themes of Schwartz, as well. Jimmy Olsen covers himself with bandages to disguise his alien features; Schwartz' heroes often use masks. The mind-reading is consistent with Schwartz' interest in what is hidden being revealed.
Swan does a good job with his characterization of Edmund Willis, the movie critic. He is an older man, who looks extremely knowledgeable, sophisticated, and a little bit arty.
The Human Flame Thrower (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Kurt Swan. Jimmy develops the flaming breath of a dragon. This is one of the most graceful of the super-power stories. Everything in it works wonderfully, from start to finish.
This tale develops ideas found earlier in Binder's "The E-L-A-S-T-I-C Lad" (1958). Jimmy's transformation gives him new powers in this tale, which he uses to perform a series of super-deeds. He is not just a passive sufferer of a frightening and comic transformation; rather he is also an active user of his super-powers. In this it resembles the Elastic Lad tales, which also cast Jimmy as a super-hero.
Binder and Swan earlier wrote "Jimmy Olsen's Two Super Pals" (1957). The genie in that tale had flaming breath. It is just a small part of that story: a single panel demonstrating it (page 3), an explanation at the end (page 8).
"The Human Flame Thrower" is structured as a series of episodes. In each, Jimmy uses his new super-powers in some way. The episodes are varied. This episodic construction does not resemble that of "The E-L-A-S-T-I-C Lad", which has a systematic series of three "challenges and rebuffs" in the Binder tradition. Instead, it resembles the free form episodic construction of Binder's "Jimmy Olsen's Super-Pet" (1957), in which the varied sections each deal ingeniously with some aspect of daily life.
Jimmy gets his powers from Professor Potter here, just as he did in the later Elastic Lad stories. As in "The E-L-A-S-T-I-C Lad", there is a scene of reporter Jimmy at work at his typewriter, and a look at how his new powers affect his ability to work there. Binder himself presumably worked at a typewriter. These scenes always have a personal feel. They show the central arena of Jimmy's working life. There is also a workaday encounter with his boss Perry White, also a staple of Binder's transformation stories. Towards the end, Jimmy is exploited by criminals who force him to aid their schemes with his powers; this recalls Binder's earlier "The E-L-A-S-T-I-C Lad". The scene with the lead box stresses that Jimmy now has a power that Superman himself does not. This too was pointed out in the earlier "The E-L-A-S-T-I-C Lad". The side show sequence gets Jimmy in a costume, that looks similar to the one he wears as Elastic Lad.
Jimmy sends smoke signals to Superman; such signals were common in Binder stories: see "The Feats of Chief Super-Duper" (1956).
The section in Metropolis' Chinatown is one of the first appearances of Asian characters in the Superman family; the comics were trying to integrate themselves by including sympathetic Asian characters during this era. Please see my list of stories with political and social commentary, and search for "Chinese" for other positive comic book tales about Chinese characters.
Superman's Enemy (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. A space jewel transforms Jimmy Olsen's feelings of friendship for Superman into hatred. This story is hard to classify. In some ways it is related to the stories in which Jimmy gets super powers: like them, it concentrates on the effect of a single transformation, and also like them, it proceeds to develop numerous logical implications of the change. The story is unusually emotionally rich, in exploring the characters' feelings. The story's formal plot patterns and the tale's emotional development work hand in hand, each supporting the other in the tale's construction. Perry White gets to play a key role here, having human insight at one point of the plot that also moves the tale forward.
The Invisible Life of Jimmy Olsen (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Jimmy becomes invisible. One would not think it possible to think up new wrinkles on the Invisibility theme, first developed by H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man (1897), but Binder has done so here. Binder's story also pays a graceful homage to Wells.
This story has a "multi-use of Jimmy's powers" episodic construction similar to "The Human Flame Thrower" (1958), and is similarly enjoyable.
The Human Octopus (1959). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Jimmy develops six arms. This is a light hearted comedy tale. Curt Swan does a good job with the art, making the actions of Jimmy's arms seem plausible and natural. Curt Swan's depiction of a union representative at the Daily Planet is interesting - he is wearing a suit and tie and is very smooth and sophisticated looking. Clearly this is intended as a sympathetic portrayal. This is one of the few union leaders I recall seeing anywhere in a Silver Age comic book.
The Giant Turtle Man (#53, June 1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. A ray gun turns Jimmy into a giant monster covered with green turtle-like scales.
COVER IMAGE. Swan's cover is by far the best thing about this tale. Jimmy is a giant reptilian monster destroying a huge bridge. It is clearly inspired by the cover of the pulp magazine Thrilling Wonder Stories (July 1940), as I learned from Rip Jagger's Dojo. This blog post is full of illustrations.
The Turtle Man has become one of the iconic images of the Silver Age Jimmy Olsen. It recurs in "The World of Doomed Olsens". And was used as the cover of Showcase Presents: Superman Family, Volume 4.
GEOMETRY. The Turtle Man (and the original Thrilling Wonder Stories cover) have geometric features: hexagonal scales, spherical eyes. It is a geometrization of the human body. It recalls the geometric costumes created by early Modernist artists, such as Fernand Léger's for the ballet La Création du monde (The Creation of the World) (1923), and Aleksandra Ekster for the film Aelita, Queen of Mars (1924).
STORY STRUCTURE. The story Jerry Siegel wove around this cover is unfortunately dull. It does have some merits:
MASCULINITY. Swan's cover is full of phallic symbols: the bridge, skyscrapers, funnels of boats. The story continues this phallic motif with a ray-gun, submarines, a battleship, volcano. Perhaps the snail antennae are also phallic.
The Turtle Man looks quite strong, on the cover, and has a well-built physique. People would enjoy being him, if just for a little while. In many ways, this tale is more a wish-fulfillment fantasy, than any sort of horror story. It looks like it wants to entertain, rather than scare.
The Human Metal-Eater (1963). Writer: Jerry Siegel. This comic "transformation" story shows how Jimmy gained the power of eating metal. It recalls another that appeared in Superboy, "The Super-Hungry Super-Heroes" (1961). Both in turn recall an earlier Olsen tale, "Olsen's Super-Supper" (1959), that appeared in Jimmy Olsen #38. All of these tales are most interesting when they depict the obsessive interest their heroes develop in eating. After all, the desire to eat is a non-rational feeling, one of over which humans have only modest conscious rational control. These tales offer a satirical, magnified look at this feeling. Its exaggeration here is both funny and surrealistic.
"Olsen's Super-Supper" is based on a delightful cover by Curt Swan, in which Superman is working as a short order cook in a diner, making mountains of hotcakes and milk for Jimmy. Superman often cooked for the other characters in his stories: it was part of his characterization. He often used his powers to cook either very rapidly, or to make giant pieces of food. Superman enjoyed doing such things. He was not primarily a crime fighter: he liked using his powers to help people and do public service.
The Colossus of Metropolis (1964). To try to capture Titano the giant ape, Jimmy takes a serum that gives him the giant size of Colossal Boy.
The Birdboy of Metropolis (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Superman must hoax Jimmy into believing that a pair of giant wings will enable him to fly. Good-natured comic tale, in which Jimmy believes that the wings give him powers.
The title is a play on the real-life "Birdman of Alcatraz". However aside from word-play, this story has nothing in common with that of the Birdman of Alcatraz.
The Mad Hatter of Metropolis (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Superman must hoax Jimmy into believing that a collection of rare hats once owned by famous men will magically give Jimmy various super-powers if he puts them on. Inconsequential but fun little tale. No one in this tale is mad. The reference is simply to the Mad Hatter character in Lewis Carroll.
Stuff gets moved around in the air a lot in this tale: including both inanimate objects and Jimmy.
MASCULINITY. Several Jimmy Olsen tales transform him in ways recalling men growing to adulthood: large size, hairiness, etc. "The Mad Hatter of Metropolis" looks at another part of adolescent transition to adulthood: trying on various roles and professions. Jimmy's putting on hats of famous men shows him experimenting with their "powers". The tale's conclusion is especially dramatic in this regard.
The hats are also phallic symbols, and Jimmy wearing them can be seen as Jimmy experimenting with various kinds of masculinity.
A man (like Jimmy) trying on another man's clothes, can also be seen as having a gay subtext.
CLARK KENT. The final two panels show Clark Kent getting respect for his reporting skills. Curt Swan's portrait of Clark Kent is a bit more handsome than usual. It shows Clark as better dressed, in a better looking shirt and tie. And with better hair. It is subtle: he's still recognizable as Clark Kent. But with a bit of an upgrade.
The last two panels are also unusual, in that they show one scene that flows across two panels. This stylistic flourish is fairly uncommon in Silver Age Superman Family tales.
The Robot Jimmy Olsen (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Superman temporarily gives Jimmy a robotic suit that gives Jimmy super-powers. This is an idea that is universally applicable, and one that has had surprisingly little reuse in either the Superman family, or in the mass media as a whole.
As best I can tell, this story is the first and only appearance of the robot suit. It did not become part of the Superman mythos.
WONDER LAD: A PRECURSOR. Two years earlier in "Wonder Lad" Jimmy wore a special plastic sheath that made him invulnerable, and a jet-pack that allowed him to fly. This is a sort of precursor to the more elaborate robot suit and its many powers in "The Robot Jimmy Olsen". "Wonder Lad" is an inferior story with problems, and is not recommended. Still, it shows that ideas did not always come to Binder in full form. Sometimes he evolved them over two or more tales, till he got them in final form.
ENCASED. The iron suit bears structural resemblance to the iron Superman disguise in "The Story of Superman's Souvenirs":
JIMMY'S AGE. The suit is eventually intended for Jimmy's 21st birthday. From the calculations Jimmy does in the last panel, I'm guessing he is 18 or more likely 19. This makes sense: Jimmy is an adult, with a job and an apartment. The magazine often calls him a "boy" because he is not yet 21, but this is misleading.
STRUCTURE. "The Robot Jimmy Olsen" has a complex structure, that shows excellent powers of plot invention by Binder. Much of it is Binder's favorite cycle of "challenge and rebuff":
ART. Curt Swan does a good job with the robot suit. It is really cool looking. It also looks functional.
The chest buttons are arranged so that the suit looks bilaterally symmetrical. This too has a stylish swagger.
The Animal Master of Metropolis (1960). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Jimmy develops the ability to influence animals telepathically. This story has charm and good nature. As is often the case in Bernstein's fiction the story has an opening sequence (the parade) that has little to do, strictly speaking, with what follows (the animal story). And yet, it all hangs together pleasantly, as is also typical of Bernstein. Bernstein's tales tend to be multi-centered: to have at least two main plots going on. They are not presented alternately, unlike so many of today's sit-coms, but sequentially, one plot after another. The two plots are linked in theme and mood: both the parade and the animals are celebrations, festive looks at the joy of life. Similarly, the two parts of "Beauty and the Super-Beast" (Superman #165, November 1963) are both linked by feminism, a celebration of woman power.
Bernstein tended to give his heroes non-violent powers: here Jimmy gets to communicate with animals, and he supplied "Lois Lane's X-Ray Vision" (1961) in one of his best stories. Bernstein liked animals: he included some in "Miss Jimmy Olsen" (1960). There is an intelligent gorilla in this tale, reminiscent of Bernstein's tale about a land of intelligent apes in The Fly. Jimmy's ability to talk to animals comes from a magic wand originally created by the Greek sorceress Circe; references to ancient Greece and Rome are also common in Bernstein's stories. Circe returns, as full fledged character this time, in Bernstein's "Beauty and the Super-Beast" (Superman #165, November 1963).
Bernstein's power stories are distinctly different from the transformation tales associated with Otto Binder. Jimmy does not get physically or emotionally transformed in them: he looks and feels just as he did before. Nor does Jimmy have trouble fitting into society afterwards. He does not need to join circuses or movie sets in order to find acceptance in his new state, as he often does in the transformation tales. Jimmy's super powers in the Bernstein stories tend to be under his conscious control, whereas the transforms often involve him in involuntary behavior.
Jimmy Olsen's Secret Power (#55, September 1961). Writer: Robert Bernstein. The power in this tale, and the uses to which it is put, are fairly ingenious. However, as the letter column pointed out several issues later, there is no explanation in the story where this power comes from. It is not supported by anything in the Superman mythos. Nor does the power return in later tales. In other words, the plot is by no means integrated into the Superman mythos. It is floating free, logically disconnected from the rest of the Superman family saga. This gives an odd effect. Within the logically consistent universe that Weisinger created, this sort of disconnection actually seems like bad craftsmanship. Weisinger set up the ground rule that everything should have a logical place within a consistent universe; and once established, was available for reuse in later tales. Violating this artistic principle actually seems like artistic failure.
All this said, the super-power itself is fun. It seems related to elements in Bernstein's later story, "Beauty and the Super-Beast" (Superman #165, November 1963). Both tales involve the geometric positioning of people.
The Nine Lives of Jimmy Olsen (1963). Superman family stories tend to be constructed in series. The protagonist will face a challenge, and it will repeat with variations throughout a story. Usually this series will form the middle part of the tale. Typically, there will be three challenges in a row. This story is constructed out of nine challenges, as the title indicates. The very concept of "nine lives" dictates this. The only other Superman family story with a longer series I know is Otto Binder's "The Ten Feats of Elastic Lass" (Lois Lane #23, February 1961). In both the Elastic Lass and Nine Lives stories, the number of challenges is announced to the reader right away, and the reader watches them being counted down by number throughout the story. In both tales, the writers add to the suspense by making something go partly wrong with the last challenge: in both cases, something is interfering with the count, which is inaccurate, and prevents the last challenge from fully taking place. The protagonist of the story has to use their ingenuity to compensate. Binder achieves a similar effect in his Kandor origin story, "The Super-Duel in Space" (Action Comics #242, July 1958). At its finale, Superman restores all the bottled cities in turn, but there is only one charge at the end which is not enough to restore both him and Kandor.
The use of a series helps give a strong form to the story. The tale is not proceeding at random; the characters are working towards some goal, and the tale has a backbone on which it is constructed. This strong patterning is close to the development of a piece of classical music.
This story recalls Binder's earlier "The Witch of Metropolis" (Lois Lane #1, March-April 1958). In both stories, the protagonist undergoes a frightening transformation into a sinister mythological creature. In both stories, the transformation happens only at night, with the hero or heroine reverting to their normal selves during the day.
There is something about becoming a wolf-man that echoes the real changes boys go through when they grow up and become men. When a boy grows up, he becomes large, hairy and awkward - and his fate now depends on being romantically involved - all elements of Jimmy's Wolf-Man experience. So most male readers can immediately identify with Jimmy's transformation. It evokes all sorts of powerful and even frightening real life emotions.
MAGIC. Most of Jimmy's transformation tales are science-based, and thus are science fiction. "The Wolf-Man of Metropolis" differs in that it is based on magic. I am not entirely comfortable with this: I prefer science and science fiction to the supernatural.
COSTUME PARTY. Jimmy goes to a costume party in this story: a locale that regularly appears in comics. Please see my list of costume parties in comic books. The judge at the party is another "official character in a tuxedo" in Jimmy tales.
STORY STRUCTURE. The antidote is revealed immediately, unlike several transformation tales where the antidote is a surprise at the end. Instead, the difficulty in this tale is finding the antidote. It looks for much of the tale as if Jimmy will never find the antidote.
The last episode contains a small mystery puzzle for the reader to solve: the identity of "Miss X". A number of Binder tales have mysteries introduced at their end: see "Jockey Olsen Rides Star Flash", "Super-Senor's Pal".
Included in the tale is one of Binder's series:
Jimmy Olsen, Wolf-Man (1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Mr. Mxyzptlk turns Jimmy into a wolf-man again, but he makes Jimmy think he is suffering from the same curse as in the previous story. If Binder's original story is tragic in tone, this sequel is essentially comic, like most Mr. Mxyzptlk stories. Siegel inverts many elements of the original tale. If Jimmy finds it hard to get kissed in the original story, here he is kissed many times. If Jimmy tries to conceal his plight in the earlier work, here all his friends find out.
Siegel wrote many mystery tales in which a powerful figure menaces or transforms the hero; at the end of the story, the surprise solution of the mystery is that the menacing figure is not who he seemed to be. This story has a similar structure, with except that the reader is in on the mystery: the reader is let in at the start of the tale on Mr. Mxyzptlk's secret actions. The reader knows that Mr. Mxyzptlk is responsible, not the curse, and Mr. Mxyzptlk knows this, but Jimmy and most of the other characters do not. They are mystified right up to the end of the story, when all is revealed to them as well.
This tale also shows that Siegel structural feature: it is constructed as an anthology of earlier Superman family elements. Here, Siegel has assembled a series of heroines of the Superman family. Jimmy Olsen has an encounter with each in turn, where they try to assist him with his problem. In this tale, Lois Lane and Lana Lang stay in character, in that Lois acts selflessly to help others, whereas Lana does the same only after calculating the benefits to herself.
The splash lists a series of possible solutions to the mystery. These, and the actual solution, show ingenuity.
While the story does not explicitly draw them, there are lessons to be learned here. Jimmy's search looks like it faces long odds, but his willingness to take action and persevere eventually achieve things. This is a good role model for life.
Another moral: Both "Disappearance of Superman" and "100 Pieces of Kryptonite" show the non-super-powered Jimmy helping the seemingly all-powerful Superman, when Superman gets in danger. There is an implicit lesson about how the seemingly weak can actually do things that the "strong" cannot.
SPOILERS. The urban mob chief gets a perverse kick out of disguising himself in a cowboy hat and a Western look (page 7).
100 Pieces of Kryptonite (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Jimmy Olsen helps out, when a Kryptonite meteor showers a hundred fragments of Kryptonite all over Metropolis. This story mixes science fiction, with Jimmy aiding Superman to guard against his terrifying weakness to Kryptonite, and the thriller. The satisfying story shows logic and plot imagination throughout. It incorporates many different elements and events.
Binder liked "large scale events", such as weather and earth-events. "100 Pieces of Kryptonite" is an example.
While this story can be viewed as a science fiction tale, and a good one, it does not actually introduce any new science fiction concepts. Instead, it further develops the already-introduced concept of Kryptonite, a standard feature of the Superman saga by this time. The same is true of an earlier tale, "Disappearance of Superman" (1955). The first eight issues of Jimmy Olsen were mainly not science fiction oriented. They largely looked at Jimmy as a crime reporter, getting involved in adventures. An occasional story in which Superman battles Kryptonite offers a change of pace, without fully making Jimmy Olsen into a science fiction oriented magazine. All of this will change decisively with the magazine's issue #9, and Jimmy Olsen will face a flood of science fiction concepts from that point on.
STORY STRUCTURE. "The King of Magic" features a magician's convention, including a contest. This adds to the story-telling of the tale, and helps give it structure. The tale begins with a magician arriving for the convention, and ends with the convention's reaction to the contest. And many events in the story fit into the framework of the convention or contest.
This anticipates the tournament in next issue's similarly-titled "The King of Marbles", which also provides the story backbone for its plot.
The three magic tricks in the contest form a series. This series does not form a typical Binder series of "challenge and rebuff". But it is a simple series all the same. This series helps give structure to the tale. Later in the story, the three tricks have their secrets explained. This too forms a series of three.
A MAGICIAN LIKE A SUPER-HERO. Superman tales are full of super-feats. The three magic tricks are analogues of such super-feats. And the magician who performs them bears a resemblance to the super-heroes in Superman tales.
SPOILERS. Many Superman Family stories show alleged super-feats that are later exposed as hoaxes. The three magic tricks are similarly exposed as hoaxes in "The King of Magic". They are hoaxes in that they are not produced through techniques of stage magic.
In the later tale "The Mystery of the Canine Champ" the dog tricks will also be analogues of super-deeds.
SYMBOLISM. The tree and the rope in the first and third tricks, are phallic symbols, and unusually tall ones. So are the top hats worn by the magicians. The way the tree and rope suddenly spring erect makes them even more phallic. The magician is contestant #9, a phallic symbol number. See my article Sports Numbers and Their Symbolism.
Jimmy is carried along by the suddenly sprouting tree. It can seem like a bit of love-play, from Superman to Jimmy Olsen. There is a subtext of a gay love story, with Superman bonding with Jimmy, and doing fun little things that express his feelings for Jimmy.
The King of Marbles (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Some sort of cheating is mysteriously happening at a marbles tournament.
The marble contests take place on circles drawn on the ground, in which spherical marbles move. This arrangement recalls the solar system and its planets and moons. Binder underscores this analogy by having Superman give a demonstration using large meteors in place of marbles. And the solution to the mystery, involving manipulating the marbles, recalls Binder's tales of Cosmic Engineering, in which planets and stars are manipulated.
"The King of Marbles" tells much of the story of the tournament as a whole, from its initial announcement to after-effects of a climactic match. We follow a number of characters. Both of these factors help structure the tale. These non-detective elements take up as much space in the story as mystery aspects.
Superman does the detective work in "The King of Marbles", rather than Jimmy. And the tale has few features of the typical Jimmy detective tale. He never uses disguise, goes undercover, or gets in physical danger.
Superman plays marbles again, in a brief episode in the Binder / Swan "The Most Amazing Camera in the World" (#34, January 1959), a minor but pleasant story. The episode very much recalls "The King of Marbles" in approach and art.
The Mystery of the Canine Champ (1956). Writer: Otto Binder. Reporter Jimmy solves a mystery concerning a contest between two rival TV dog stars. Nice little mystery puzzle with a soundly constructed plot.
A DOG LIKE A SUPER-HERO. The tricks done by the dogs are analogous to the super-deeds common in Superman tales. They don't involve super-powers - but they do show off unique abilities of these champion dogs not shared by other canines.
SPOILERS. The solution to the mystery puzzle shows that these tricks are hoaxes. There are many Superman Family tales in which a hoax makes an ordinary person look super-powered. This tale is a canine analogy: it makes regular dogs look uniquely able to do special tricks.
DISGUISE. I liked Jimmy's disguise. It is what used to be called a "young fogey" look. It makes Jimmy look startlingly different. Like his magician outfit in "The King of Magic" it makes Jimmy looked dressed up.
LIVE TV. The contest is broadcast live on television. This is typical of Silver Age Superman tales: they show live broadcasts.
T.N.T. Olsen, The Champ (#11, March 1956). Writer: Otto Binder. Crooks try to hoax Jimmy into thinking he's a great boxer, so they can bet against him in the ring. This OK-but-nothing-special tale has links to the "Detective Tales about Contests":
The tale's sole mystery episode is about the gorilla (pages 4, 5). Here we see the mysterious events from Jimmy's eyes, before learning the truth a couple of panels later. This is the tale's most ingenious episode.
The tale's funniest scene is the the one on the splash panel, and also shown later in the tale (first panel on page 4). It is over the top. This also includes an interesting example of the Daily Planet newspaper (Page 4). The comedy recalls Johnny Thunder playing football for the hopeless team of the Lurnfast Niteschool in "The Story of the Man Who Couldn't Lose" (World's Finest Comics #3, Fall 1941).
Jimmy is not the only one duped by the crooks' hoax. So are the press, including the Daily Planet's sports reporter (page 4). This is a bit implausible: sports reporters are slick, skeptical and know a lot about professional sports. However, this makes for a better story!
ANCESTORS. Tales in which an ordinary person has to face a star boxer in the ring go back at least to the Buster Keaton film comedy Battling Butler (1926).
Superman tales about boxing go back to "The Comeback of Larry Trent" (Superman daily newspaper strip February 20 - March 18, 1939).
Jockey Olsen Rides Star Flash (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Jimmy competes in a charity horse race, open only to amateur jockeys. This pleasant story somewhat resembles the contest tales, with Jimmy entering a contest (the horse race) and getting training help from Superman. Also, the way the Daily Planet sponsors Jimmy allows Perry White to get into the story, similar to "The King of Marbles".
However, "Jockey Olsen Rides Star Flash" is much less about the actual horse race, as in Jimmy dieting down to the prescribed weight for jockeys. This makes it quite different from most of the contest tales. A film whose wrestler hero has to diet down is Vision Quest (1985).
Another difference from the contest tales: there is no mystery to be solved. In fact, there are no crime elements. There is a nice little puzzle for the reader to solve at the end.
UNIFORMS. Jimmy talks about what a "thrill" it will be to put on his jockey uniform for the race (page 2). This is like "The Adventures of Private Olsen" (Jimmy Olsen #23, September 1957) (page 1) where Jimmy can't wait to get into his Army uniform. The jockey uniform includes boots: something always popular in the comics.
Meanwhile Jimmy's crooked rival works for an ice-cream company, and already wears a sharp ice cream vendor's uniform (pages 3, 4).
A well-dressed man in suit and tie wears a hat that shadows his eyes (top of page 3). This is echoed at the tale's end (page 8) with dialogue about Jimmy's jockey cap shadowing his face. In real-life, many uniform caps are designed precisely to shadow the eyes, something not mentioned in the story.
The character of Jimmy is also similar here to the character over the next decade, right from the start. This is perhaps due to the comic book's unusually stable creative team. Writer Otto Binder and artist Curt Swan will continue with the series for the next dozen years, along with others.
Curt Swan's cover establishes Jimmy's standard style of dress in the series: a sports coat and bow tie.
The launch of the Jimmy Olsen comic book has been linked by comic book historians to the success of the Superman TV show, and the popularity of Jimmy as a character therein. Support for this idea is found in this tale's splash panel, which proclaims about Jimmy: "You've seen him on TV!" However, the magazine took an independent approach to the character: the signal watch is found in the magazine, but not on the TV show, for instance.
As a mystery, this tale is a bit ordinary. The story is not quite in the full paradigm used for later Jimmy Olsen mystery tales: Jimmy does not go undercover, he does not interact directly much with the crooks. Jimmy uses his disguises, not to assume a new identity, but simply so that the crooks won't recognize him while he is trailing them. Instead, the story is rather like a typical children's mystery, such as might show up in a Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew tale: there is a hidden treasure, Jimmy trails the crooks to a remote location, they tie him up and threaten to kill him later, etc. All the same, the story is quite enjoyable.
The Fastest Gun in the West (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Reporter Jimmy investigates a Western town where gun fighting is still legal, and which is dominated by a murderous bully. This tale has elements of the later undercover detective stories in Jimmy Olsen, without quite being in their full paradigm. Points of similarity:
The Man Who Collected Excitement (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. A mysterious voice on the phone gives reporter Jimmy tips about just-beginning disasters. This is a full mystery story, with strange unexplained events and suspicious characters. Actual puzzle plot mysteries were fairly rare in Jimmy Olsen. This one is a good one, with a well constructed plot. It differs from many prose mysteries in that the events tend to be largely public. We see various news stories and disasters, public reactions to the events, other reporters and their actions, and so on: all public events on a broad scale. This is very different from many mystery novels, with the characters all roaming around a single private home mansion in the country. Binder liked large scale events, as witness his Cosmic stories in Mystery in Space. These events are not on the astronomical scale, but they are still conspicuously larger than those of most mystery plots.
Also atypical: the creepy atmosphere. Most Jimmy Olsen tales tend to be light hearted; this one is spooky.
The Hunted Messenger (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Jimmy is trailed by robbers when he tries to deliver a valuable package. Modest but enjoyable tale. This is more a thriller than a mystery. Superman barely appears in it, and the tale has no science fiction elements. It shows Jimmy on his own, facing a crime situation. It has good moments with some of Jimmy's counter-measures and counter-attacks on the crooks.
THE PEN-WEAPON. Jimmy's pen-weapon earlier appeared in the first tale in the Jimmy Olsen comic book, "The Boy of 100 Faces" (page 5). We learn more about what the pen can do here in "The Hunted Messenger" (page 2). As best I can tell, these are the only two appearances of the pen. It did not become a standard part of the Superman mythos. Its use in "The Hunted Messenger" is mildly fun. But its disappearance thereafter from the stories is no great loss.
The pen-weapon is non-violent, in the sense that it doesn't actually harm anyone attacked by it. Still it is a weapon. One suspects that Binder ultimately did not want to show Jimmy as walking around armed with a weapon, however mild in its effects. It was the wrong characterization for Jimmy. Also the pen is a phallic symbol, and perhaps a phallic symbol was considered out-of-character to link to Jimmy on a permanent basis.
Binder introduced Jimmy's signal watch in "The Boy of 100 Faces", then in "The Stolen Superman Signal" he took a deeper look that included all the ideas from "The Boy of 100 Faces", and added new concepts too. Something similar is going on with these pen tales: the pen was introduced in "The Boy of 100 Faces", then "The Hunted Messenger" includes all the ideas from "The Boy of 100 Faces", and adds a new one.
Jimmy Olsen, Cub Inventor (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Jimmy Olsen tries to become an inventor, and winds up battling a gang of crooks. This tale blends science fiction inventions by Jimmy Olsen, with one of the magazine's typical detective tales.
The story is perhaps most notable for the early appearance in the Superman magazines of rubber face masks. Throughout the Silver Age Superman tales, anyone, crook or good guy, could put one of these masks on over their head, and immediately disguise themselves as another person. The disguise was always completely effective, fooling everyone who saw it. Here the gang of crooks uses the masks. Their new faces are notably friendlier than their own tough hood looks. Please see my list of Binder's Tales of Face Masks.
This story has a lot of educational material about US History in it. So did "The Scoop of 1869" (1955), from two issues before. Binder was clearly trying to inform his young readers, and try to show them that history was exciting and interesting.
Jimmy Olsen's Forgotten Adventure (1956). Writer: Otto Binder. Jimmy goes undercover as an elevator operator to get close to a gang of crooks, then gets amnesia and forgets who is he really is. This tale is nearly in the full paradigm of Jimmy's many undercover detective cases in future issues. Jimmy does not pretend to be a crook himself here, merely an honest elevator operator in the same building as the crooks.
Also notable: Jimmy's use of chalk dust to signal Superman. This is like those tales in which Jimmy used smoke signals to send Superman a message. Jimmy's use of his signal watch to communicate with Superman was a basic part of his character. It seeped into other activities of signaling Superman, as well.
The Mystery of the Millionaire Hoboes (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. This is a minor but pleasant early mystery. It shows the basic pattern of the Jimmy Olsen mystery was already set by 1957. There is little science fiction or fantasy about these tales: they take place in the real world with which we are all familiar. Jimmy investigates some powerful man who is involved in something crooked. Usually he is considerably older than the college age Jimmy, and is a figure of power, authority and menace, such as a gangster or mob boss; here the bad guys are a trio of millionaires. He represents a grown up man, not yet old, with all the power of adulthood. Jimmy decides to work on the case as part of his job of cub reporter on the Daily Planet, hoping to get a scoop. He dons a disguise from his trunk of disguises, and sets off undercover, to track down the story and gather evidence against the crooks. Usually, this means entering the "turf" of the older male authority figure he is tracking, a realm controlled by this man, such as his gang, a hotel where he lives, or some business he runs. Jimmy is in considerable danger while doing this work. Sometimes his cover is blown, and the crooks threaten his life. Often Superman is either watching Jimmy from afar, protecting from harm along the way; or Superman shows up at the end of the tale, and rescues Jimmy. The tales mix suspense with a modest amount of mystery. They tend to be rather less puzzle plot oriented than those in Lois Lane, although most have a solved mystery at the end. Instead, they emphasize ingenious pieces of action along the way.
There is often something ambiguous about the Jimmy Olsen undercover stories. They tend to show him getting involved with criminals, and rising within their ranks. Such tales can be seen as negative initiation stories, stories in which the hero becomes successful in a life of crime. This gives the tales an odd feeling. The gangsters themselves are drawn ambiguously, as is traditional in gangland films. While "evil", and certainly criminal, they tend to be virile, romantic figures too. Few are actually old. They tend to be around forty, and to be virile bulls of men, well dressed in snappy suits or tuxedos. This romanticized portrait is typical of gangster films and stories. Real life gangsters are almost all hideously ugly - Lucky Luciano looked like a toad, for instance - whereas movie gangsters are handsome, aggressive men who live out audience fantasies of adventure and excitement. The Jimmy Olsen stories follow this tradition, too.
The Menace of Superman's Fan Mail (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. A crook takes advantage when a Daily Planet promotion has Superman answering questions in his fan mail.
MYSTERY PLOT. This is a thriller with a nicely constructed mystery plot. The plot has two parts, both well done:
Both tales have a similar question, too, about the hottest temperature Superman had survived. The answer in "The Menace of Superman's Fan Mail" is better than the one in "The Million Dollar Question".
EDUCATIONAL. Aspects of the tale contain educational facts: the hottest temperature, Superman's journey through the Earth, the facts about sound waves shattering ice. It is another of Binder's Educational Tales About Science.
Jimmy Olsen, Juvenile Delinquent (1959). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Here Jimmy goes undercover, not in some adult group of criminals, but in a teenage gang. Juvenile delinquency was a problem much on people's minds in the 1950's. It was a hot button, guaranteed to stir up emotions and get people upset. Paradoxically, while teenage gangs are much worse in the 1990's than in the 1950's, controlling neighborhoods in many cities, Americans as a whole are much less upset about them now than then. This seems unfortunate, because they are genuine social problem today.
While the narrator of this tale constantly intones against gang life, the actual behavior of this gang is very mild. They seem a lot more like a fraternity committing pranks, than a gang engaged in criminal activity. The gang is given a cool uniform, a matching set of black leather jackets: Swan's art is skillful here. In general, the art of the story glamorizes them as much as possible. Gang stories in the 1950's often presented gangs as mild forms of rebellion against society, harmless groups in which people could exercise their anti-conformist impulses, freeing themselves from the straight jacket of social convention. This story, which appeared late in 1959, is the start of a large number of undercover detective stories that appeared in 1960. In general, 1960 was one of the least science fictional years in Jimmy Olsen's life, with many realistic tales involving detection, or show business.
Perry White's son is introduced in this tale. He and Jimmy function here in a manner somewhat related to the pair of Superboy and Pete Ross, in Bernstein's Superboy series. Jimmy knows things about Perry's son, and his secret actions, just as Pete knows things about Superboy. Both Jimmy and Pete Ross do things to protect their friend. The three way relationship between Jimmy, Perry's son, and Perry, also recall the relationships between Pete Ross, Superboy, and his folks Ma and Pa Kent.
Jimmy Olsen, the Boy Swordsman (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Jimmy becomes a renowned swordsman in an old-fashioned Balkan kingdom where life centers around fencing. This sort of Ruritanian romance was a recurring element in the Superman family. Aside from its comic opera style setting, the structure of this story is similar to Jimmy's undercover tales: he adopts a new identity - that of a swordsman - and is gradually caught up into a violent, non-science fictional world, full of good guys and bad guys. And as in the undercover tales, he gradually becomes more and more successful in this world, rising to a position of greater and greater prominence.
This tale is a lot of fun. Curt Swan does a good job with the costumes, which mix Prisoner of Zenda style clothes with outfits reminiscent of The Three Musketeers. One also notes the Metropolis setting which opens and closes the tale, with the guard at the beginning and the cadets at the end.
Phantom Fingers Olsen (1960). In this story, Jimmy goes undercover in a gang of pickpockets and con men. It is noted for its light hearted tone. The story allows Jimmy to develop some of the panache often displayed by Rogues in literature, both in the schemes he develops, and in the fancy clothes he wears. It also shows more of the Daily Planet and its staff than we usually see. It is contemporary with several stories focusing on the Daily Planet itself, and which contain members of Perry White's family as characters.
Miss Jimmy Olsen (1960). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Jimmy disguises himself as a woman in this undercover detective story. This story appeared three months after "Claire Kent, Alias Super-Sister" (Superboy #78, January 1960), a tale in which Superboy temporarily becomes a girl, and learns many feminist lessons. The two stories are both outstanding, and clearly mark a moment of new consciousness of gender in the Superman family. The tales are very different however, almost two poles of possible development of the subject, and it might be worthwhile to list some differences between them. Superboy is actually transformed into a girl by an alien being, whereas Jimmy disguises himself as a women by clothes, padding and makeup. The Superboy story is openly didactic, with explicit lessons learned, whereas the Olsen tale is a pure exercise in storytelling, at least on the surface, with an emphasis on mystery and thrills. The Superboy story takes place in the gentility and warmth of the Kent home and of respectable Smallville, whereas Jimmy is undercover in a sleazy gangland milieu. Even though Claire Kent is in a respectable situation, she still learns about the obstacles faced by all women. The Olsen character runs the gauntlet of the worst sex object situations known to women: her character makes a living as a chorus girl, and is judged as meat on the hoof, and is pursued romantically by a gangster, who regards her as his personal property. The way he has disposed of his former mistress, a situation constantly underlined by the story, rubs the reader's face in the similar disposability and exploitation in the gangster's current attentions.
One can comment on the older men in the story. They are perhaps typical of the "older male authority figures" that Jimmy Olsen meets in his adventures. The director of the musical show seems honest and decent. While he partly judges the chorus dancers on their appearance, he also rates on them on their dancing skill, and their ability to perform in the play. This judging people on how well they perform their job redeems him in the eyes of the story, and marks him as a worthwhile person. Its non-sexist nature is underlined by a plot device in the tale. Jimmy is partly selected because the director needs a chorine who can both dance, seen as a female skill, and catch a baseball, seen as a traditionally male skill. Jimmy, who is really a man, can do both, and gets the job. Jimmy's success in getting hired by the director is determined by his passing a test that requires him to achieve the best of both genders. The director's push for an androgynous skill set, one that combines the best skills of male and female, is linked to him being a worthwhile person, someone who judges people on their merits and efforts. This whole plot device is ingenious. It takes advantage of Jimmy's disguise, basing itself on the premise of the tale, and explores a whole world of expectations about men and women and the right way for employers to treat them. This is typical of the Superman family, and the ingenuity its writers used to create highly clever and imaginative plots.
The director is drawn by artist Curt Swan as a recognizable type in his work, one that frequently occurs in his Superman family art. This is the "man successful in the arts". These men are around forty, good looking in a distinguished kind of way, well dressed and prosperous looking. They look very respectable and sure of themselves. They are clearly confident, and decent and generous to others. They are completely lacking in malice: their success is something they want to share. They are clearly recognized by society for their work, and their success has built up a huge reservoir of good will towards other people in them. They tend to be well built, and dressed conventionally in good suits, although the working director is in shirt sleeves and sweater here, as is traditional among stage directors. There is nothing bohemian about them - they do not look like the artsy caricature often used on TV.
Although these characters are usually just supporting roles in the stories, taking part in the plot in passing, Swan has clearly lavished a lot of attention on them. One suspects he regarded them as role models. They might be viewed as role models for himself: after all, Swan was an artist, and perhaps these decent, successful men represented his own aspirations for himself. The one photograph I've seen of Swan shows him attired in white dress shirt and tie, drawing at his board, looking a good deal like the artists in his work. They also could be viewed as role models Swan supplied to young readers of the Superman family magazines. People in the arts are often caricatured in the mass media, and depicted in surprisingly negative ways. These men form a positive image of artists, as happy, kind hearted, successful and confident people. This could be a powerful positive impetus for a young person reading the stories.
The story is one of the most fast paced and readable of all the Olsen stories. The writer keeps finding new ways of stirring up the pot, keeping Jimmy constantly involved in some new situation or development.
The King of Crime (1960). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Jimmy goes undercover as a mobster. The story has some typical Bernstein features:
The Disguises of Danger (1960). Jimmy disguises himself as several different kinds of workers at a hotel where a mobster is staying. Jimmy Olsen's work as a reporter-detective was associated with his penchant for disguise. This tale helps establish that image.
Jimmy's disguises are perhaps linked to his transformations, the many stories in which he turned into the Wolf-Man, Elastic Lad, and other characters. Both the disguises and the transformations were much remarked on in the letters column, by both readers and the editor.
This story also has a great deal of welcome humor. It differs from regular Olsen undercover tales in several ways:
Both tales also feature fancy bellhop uniforms, although they are different in design. The bellhop outfits also recall Jimmy Olsen's marching band uniform in "The Animal Master of Metropolis". All of these sharp uniforms are by artist Curt Swan. They have elaborate button-up front panels, tight silhouettes and erect collars. The two bellhop uniform jackets end in a pointed center in the back.
The Dream Detective (1961). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Reporter Jimmy gets clues to mysteries during his dreams. This science fiction detective story recalls the Lois Lane tale "The Sleeping Doom" (1960), which also involved unusual effects of sleep. Both stories are genuinely surrealistic, in treating this central human activity.
The Doomed Reporter (1961). Jimmy runs into some escaped convicts on a train. Mystery stories in the Superman family were most common in Lois Lane, and this story has plot elements that recall those of later Lois Lane stories. The way the escaped cons dress in Army uniforms to disguise themselves, reminds one of the way in which criminals and con artists in the Superman family frequently dress in military uniforms to give themselves more credibility. It also recalls the Superman story, "The Town of Supermen" (Superman #153, May 1962), in which everyone is in cowboy clothes.
Sgt. Olsen ... Toughest Man in the Marines (1966). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Jimmy Olsen goes undercover on a military base as a Marine Corps Drill Instructor. This is a much more grown up role than Jimmy used to get in his earlier undercover assignments. There have been a lot of tough D.I.'s in films; Louis Gossett, Jr. won an Academy Award for one in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), and Clancy Brown did a memorable turn in the otherwise dismal Starship Troopers (1997). Dorfman liked stories in which Olsen became an authority figure in the military. He also did the much more sf oriented "The Fantastic Army of General Olsen" (1962), in which Jimmy becomes a general in charge of a troop of aliens. Jimmy is always in full uniform in these tales. He is always a big success, and earns the admiration of the people around him. He is often the trainer of the men he leads, as well.
The Gunsmoke Kid (1960). In this story Jimmy visits the old West, where he is mistaken for the outlaw, the Gunsmoke Kid. He is gradually taken up into Jesse James' gang, and the story is somewhat similar to those modern detective tales in which Jimmy goes undercover into some mob or gang. However, here Jimmy is joining the James gang involuntarily and reluctantly, unlike most of the contemporary stories in which he infiltrates a gang on purpose. This story is a lot of fun. It manages to pack a remarkable number of Wild West situations into its nine pages. Swan's Western costumes are good, especially Jimmy's all-black desperado outfit. He also does a good job of characterizing Jesse James.
Although the author is not known, this tale closely resembles others written by Robert Bernstein. Like many Bernstein tales, it has a separate prologue - here Jimmy trying on costumes. Such Jimmy disguises were a favorite Bernstein theme. Like Bernstein's "Jimmy Olsen, Juvenile Delinquent" (1959), it involves Jimmy joining a gang of bad guys, and being ordered by them to do evil deeds. Other parts of its plot and finale resemble Bernstein's "MC of the Midnight Scare Theater" (1959). The story is like an ingenious fusion of "MC of the Midnight Scare Theater" and Jimmy's undercover reporter tales, all set in the past rather than the present.
Jimmy's D-Day Adventure (1965). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Jimmy frequently time traveled to other eras. Here he goes back to World War II Europe. The story is similar to "modern" detective stories in which Jimmy goes undercover into some gang - only here the "gang" is Hitler and his henchmen, who are at least as frightening as any modern mobster. The plot recalls such stories as Manning Coles' spy novels Drink to Yesterday and A Toast To Tomorrow (1940), in which the hero is an undercover Allied spy who rises high into Hitler's ranks.
This structural approach also leads to minor problems for critics, such as myself. One cannot discuss these tales as mysteries, without giving away the surprising fact that they are mysteries. Even mentioning this fact can ruin a reader's surprise with the plot. This is not true with more traditional mystery tales: everyone who begins Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) is fully aware that they are reading a mystery. This is not true of several Jimmy Olsen stories. I have generally chosen not to spoil this fun.
Jimmy Olsen surprise mysteries tend to have two different types of solutions. One might be called a mystery of identity: someone might not be whom they seem to be. Others are mysteries of the story's world: Jimmy Olsen is in a whole environment which turns out to be a faked illusion. Such stories tend to be much rarer in print mysteries.
The Helmet of Hate (1963). Writer: Jerry Siegel. When Jimmy dons the sinister Helmet of Hate, his personality changes drastically and he works to transform Superman into a devil-figure. This richly plotted story draws heavily on the Superman family mythos. For this reason, it is probably not a good place for novice readers to start reading, but any long term reader will be fascinated by its richly brocaded detail. Superman's bright red skin here recalls Siegel's fondness for color. Siegel's tales often center on mysterious, powerful figures who menacingly transform the hero. These powerful figures are usually non-series characters; here however, this role is taken by Jimmy Olsen himself, acting under the influence of the Helmet of Hate, while the hero role is enacted by Superman. The Red Kryptonite ray gun had its origin in another Siegel tale, "The League of Fantastic Supermen" (#63, September 1962).
The Human Robot (1963). Jimmy Olsen is transformed into a robot in this story. Long before The Six Million Dollar Man (1973) and Robocop (1987) made such material fashionable on film and TV, Jimmy Olsen was there. The Superman family was always interested in the thin line between human beings and robots.
Jimmy Olsen Meets Cleopatra (1963). Jimmy travels back in time, and meets Cleopatra. This tale is unusual among the Jimmy Olsen time travel stories, in that it does not concern Jimmy getting involved in a relationship in historical times that parallels his being Superman's pal. Also, he does not go back in time alone, but is accompanied by Professor Potter. Many Jimmy Olsen time travel tales go back to a major war or armed conflict, often among fairly savage or barbaric surroundings; this one instead plunges him into the middle of civilization, in Ancient Egypt in the time of the Roman Empire.
This story recalls the work of Robert Bernstein. Jimmy's encounter here with Marc Antony recalls a similar incident in Bernstein's "Miss Jimmy Olsen" (1960), but is even more extreme in its involvement for Jimmy. (Such kissing also shows up in Bernstein's Lois Lane tale, "Irresistible Lois Lane" (Lois Lane #29, November 1961).) Both these Jimmy Olsen tales also get Jimmy involved with dangerous animals. The story has a distinct prologue, before the time travel to Ancient Egypt: such prologues are a structural feature of Bernstein's writing. The spy background of the modern day prologue, and its emphasis on the heroes being watched and monitored by powerful bad guys, recalls the Superboy Revenge Squad tales Bernstein wrote. Bernstein also wrote stories criticizing Ancient Rome for its reliance on slavery, such as "Lois Lane, Slave-Girl" (Lois Lane #33, May 1962): this is a major theme of this tale as well.
One can also see some similarities here to Leo Dorfman's work. He wrote other tales in which characters traveled back in time in pairs or groups: "Secret of Kryptonite Six" (Action #310, March 1964) and "The Revenge of the Super-Pets" (Superman #176, April 1965). A woman dresses as Cleopatra at a costume party in his "The Girl Who Was Supergirl's Double" (Action #296, January 1963). And the use of two languages here, Latin and English, recalls Norse and English in "Jimmy Olsen's Viking Sweetheart".
The World of Doomed Olsens (1963). Writer: Jerry Siegel. A sinister figure who Jimmy has innocently offended sends him and copies of his transformed selves to another planet. This story draws on the many transformations of Jimmy that had appeared previously in his magazine, such as the Wolf-Man, the Turtle Man and so on. Siegel sometimes structured stories as "anthologies" of elements drawn from previous tales; this piece is an example.
It is careful to include an opening expository section, in which Jimmy demonstrates some of his transformations to an Earthly television audience. This clues in new readers of the magazine, giving them all the background they need to fully appreciate and enjoy this story. This concern with reader understanding of all details was one of the key elements of good craftsmanship in traditional entertainment. In his book length interview with François Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock discusses his efforts in this direction.
These mystery tales differ from others in the magazine in that Jimmy is the creator of the mystery in them. In each, Jimmy used his ingenuity to create some mysterious situation. In these tales, he knows what is going on, but the reader and other characters do not; the reader is challenged to figure out the solution. The stories are contemporaneous with the "fantastic adventure" tales, and have some similarities with them. There is a similar emphasis on ingenuity in both series. As the person in charge of events, Jimmy plays a role in these stories similar to the older authority figure in the "fantastic adventure" stories. There are differences too: the mystery tales take place in Metropolis, not the fantastic landscapes of the adventure series.
Both the "late mystery tales", and the fantastic adventures, start intensively in mid 1963. Earlier Jimmy Olsen stories seem much more straightforward. These two kinds of stories are typical of the mystification that overtook the magazine around April 1963. There is a rising tide of bewilderment that engulfed the world of Jimmy Olsen during this period. Tales become mazes in which the heroes wander. Characters are beginning to function more within the whole Superman mythos, enabling plots of considerable complexity, with many disparate elements. There might be less joy in these stories, compared to the earlier ones, but there is more mystery, and this is very pleasant in itself. Also, these complex tales might be closer to the personal art that is at the heart of the Weisinger world, that of the complex, ingenious story.
The Five Fantastic Feats of Jimmy Olsen (1963). Jimmy goes undercover in the role of a Maharajah.
This story, while not a mystery, has elements that relate it to the later tales with Olsen as mystery creator.
Power Lad wears three different super hero costumes in this tale, each developed by a different designer in the story. It is as if the artist Curt Swan and Binder were exploring different looks for a super-hero who they thought might turn into a continuing character. The three costume designers in the story are depicted in Curt Swan's tradition of "successful men in the arts". They are among the most positively portrayed clothing designers ever to appear in the mass media.
The Mystery of the Tiny Supermen (1960). Writer: Otto Binder. This science fiction mystery is unusual, in that the solution is revealed to the readers at the end, but not to any of the characters. Jimmy looks like he will be the detective of the story, but neither he nor anyone else ever actually assumes this role! It seems to be an early precursor to the mysteries in which Olsen creates a mystery, and the reader is asked to solve it. Here the tiny Supermen themselves can be viewed as the creator of the mystery, a role that will be assumed by Jimmy Olsen in the later stories. As in all of the stories in the series, the mystery and its solution are benevolent, not sinister.
This story has a striking cover drawn by Curt Swan, showing Jimmy being attacked by hordes of tiny flying Supermen. It recalls the famous illustrations of Gulliver being tied down by the Lilliputians. One suspects that the cover was created first, then the story was written to try to "explain" the cover in terms of elements of the Superman mythos. Binder has come up with an explanation that partly consists of new additions to the mythos, but which is strongly built on existing mythos elements. These new elements are logically consistent with the existing mythos ideas on which they are constructed.
The mystery structure of the story puts the reader through the same process. The reader and Jimmy see the tiny Superman, but have no idea who they are or how to explain them. The reader and Jimmy are in the same position as the Superman writers and editors, after they had finished the cover. They "know" that tiny Superman exist and are interesting, but have no idea how to "explain" them, or relate them to the mythos. Just as the writers and editor must have been perplexed a while in real life, so are Jimmy and the reader perplexed for a while. Finally, at the end of the tale, the solution is revealed to the reader. The reader now is in the same position as the other writers and editors of the magazines after Binder had explained his solution to them. They have seen Binder's solution, and know how the tiny Superman can be integrated with the rest of the Superman mythos. In summary, the structure of the tale echoes the same real life process of mythos building that Binder went through in plotting his story.
This inclusion of "mythos building" as a structural feature of his tale is a fairly typical feature of Binder's writing.
Jimmy Olsen's Martian Pal (1956). Writer: Otto Binder. Ham radio operator Jimmy is contacted by a voice claiming to be from Mars. This story is in Binder's full Cosmic Tale paradigm. It includes such aspects of the Cosmic approach as what Earth geographical features look like from outer space. The Cosmic scale is less grandiose than some of Binder's tales, but it is still an ingenious work.
The Feats of Chief Super-Duper (1956). Writer: Otto Binder. Jimmy and Superman travel back in time to the old West, where Jimmy is made chief of a tribe of Native Americans.
Jimmy becoming a chief follows the Jimmy Olsen tradition of having him adopt many new roles throughout the series. Jimmy is a typical adolescent, and his adult identity is still not fixed.
TIME TRAVEL. This is the first time travel story in Jimmy Olsen, a fact that is explicitly noted in the dialogue. It is very similar to later time travel stories in the Superman family. Superman bursts through the time barrier, carrying Jimmy with him, just as in later tales. Everything is under Superman's complete control. It seems to depend on high speed travel by Superman. The analogy is to bursting through the Sound Barrier, a technological feat that was in the not too distant past in 1956.
In later tales, Superman will always go through the time barrier by flying faster than the speed of light. Here however, Superman calculates mathematical formulas instead, to precisely position his flight through the time barrier. Binder does not quite have all his time paradoxes under full control, either. At one point, Superman reasons that no harm can come to Jimmy in the past, because we know he is still alive in 1956. This reasoning is specious - Jimmy was alive before his trip to the past, but this does not guarantee he will survive that trip. Binder will never make this mistake again, in later stories. These quibbles aside, this tale shows major imagination. It founds a whole genre of Superman tales.
Many of Binder's later time travel stories will find parallels between the Superman mythos and events in the past. There is none of that here. Instead, Jimmy and Superman have historical adventures involving the Native Americans.
NATIVE AMERICANS. The Native Americans in the story are treated with great dignity and respect. There is an attempt at a realistic, non-racist portrayal of traditional life, one without stereotypes. There is plenty of comedy relief in the story, but it is restricted to Jimmy himself, who is usually a comic character in the series.
Please see my list of stories with political and social commentary, and search for "Native American" for other positive comic book tales about Native Americans.
NATURE. The plot elements in this story often involve forces of nature, such as the weather, volcanoes and earthquakes. In many ways this tale resembles the Cosmic stories Binder was writing in this era for Mystery in Space. The Cosmic stories involve humans manipulating astronomical objects, such as the Sun, the Moon, the asteroids, and other elements of the solar system and beyond. Here Superman is manipulating forces of nature on Earth. These forces are not quite as large as the astronomical objects of the cosmic tales, but they are still on a very large scale. The time travel elements of the tale itself can be seen as an attempt to manipulate one of the basic properties of the universe, time.
The scene where Jimmy first appears to the tribe, against a background of lightning, is genuinely impressive.
STORY STRUCTURE. After Jimmy joins up with the tribe, Jimmy's part of the tale is structured in the Binder pattern of repeated "challenge and rebuff":
Jimmy Olsen's Super-Pet (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Jimmy raises Danny the Dinosaur as a pet, from an egg found frozen in a glacier. This is a delightful story. It would be enjoyed by today's generation of dinosaur loving kids. Danny is a gentle Brontosaurus. He is mainly interested in eating, and in huge quantities. The story anticipates the Jimmy tales in which Jimmy himself becomes a super-eater, such as "Olsen's Super-Supper" (1959) and "The Human Metal-Eater" (1963). The tale also anticipates Tomi Ungerer's Crictor (1958), a children's book about a similarly kind hearted pet snake.
Binder liked tales about large gigantic animals: see his later Titano stories, starting with "Titano, the Super-Ape" (Superman #127, February 1959). And just as Danny is Jimmy's pet, Binder was also the creator of Superboy's pet dog Krypto, in "The Super-Dog from Krypton" (Adventure #210, March 1955). Both Titano and Krypto have super-powers, while Danny does not, despite the title "Jimmy Olsen's Super-Pet". Danny is "super" only in being very large.
Jimmy and Danny have a series of episodes, in which Danny encounters various situations from daily life. In this, it resembles similarly constructed transformation stories, such as "The Human Flame Thrower" (1958). As in the transform tales, the episodes tend to be both humorous and ingenious. The episodes here tend to involve either architectural settings, such as the zoo and the cabin, or vehicles, such as the motor-bike. Superman builds the cabin. Superman is regularly shown as constructing buildings, throughout his saga.
The motor-bike is an experimental high-speed bicycle with a jet engine that Jimmy test-drives. It is not a motorcycle, as the term is commonly understood. As best as I can determine, motorcycles were fairly rare in comic books before romance comics started featuring bikers in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Jimmy was previously shown riding a bicycle at high speeds in Binder's "Jimmy Olsen, Speed Demon" (1956). Parents would have approved of Jimmy riding a bicycle in both these stories. But they might have viewed motorcycles with alarm, after the film The Wild One (1953) cemented the image of the outlaw biker. Please see my list of stories with political and social commentary, and search for "motorcyclist" for other comic book tales about motorcyclists.
Jimmy was seen riding a bicycle-like ice cream cart at the start of the first tale in his magazine, "The Boy of 100 Faces". And as far as I can tell, Jimmy does not own a car in the early stories. He's a financially modest person with a small salary as a beginning reporter.
Binder had written a previous Jimmy Olsen tale of modern day dinosaurs, "The Secret of Dinosaur Island", a rather grim story. As in "Jimmy Olsen's Super-Pet", dinosaurs survive into modern times by being frozen. Both stories also share imagery of fried eggs.
The Super-Hallucinations (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. This story focuses more on Superman than on Jimmy; it describes a series of strange hallucinations that Superman experiences. This tale is genuinely ingenious. It is treated as a science fiction mystery tale, with Superman attempting to discover the causes and cures of his problem. The story has many strange developments along the way, as any good mystery should.
The solution to the mystery has two levels:
The Second Superboy (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Professor Potter sends Jimmy to a planet, where Jimmy gets superpowers just like Superboy did on Earth. Binder wrote a number of tales in which the Superman mythos gets echoed. Sometimes, he goes to a planet where everything is the same as Superman's life-story, through an amazing series of coincidences. But in "The Second Superboy", the emphasis is on how different the events are from Superman's story. Jimmy keeps expecting what happens to him will echo Superboy's life. Instead, events keep turning out to be the exact opposite. Much of this is funny, and some of it is clever as plot.
A few of the reversals in planetary customs anticipate the Bizarro World, which Binder would soon go on to create: see "The World of Bizarros" (Action #263, April 1960).
Other reversals directly invert elements of Superboy's life. These anticipate the Imaginary Tales, which Binder was also in the slow process of developing in the late 1950's.
The Boy Who Killed Superman (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Jimmy visits the far future, going to Metropolis in 5921, where is is accused of being Superman's killer. It is one of the best Jimmy Olsen tales. Like most Binder sf stories, this deals with a civilian world, one of peace, prosperity and an advanced civilization. Please see my list of stories with political and social commentary, and search for "advanced civilization" for other comic book tales (by all authors) about such civilizations.
It is contemporaneous with another Binder scripted tale, "The Legion of Super-Heroes" (Adventure #247, April 1958), the story that introduced the Legion. These stories have much in common. Both:
How Jimmy Olsen First Met Superman (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Jimmy time-travels back to Krypton. This superb story by Binder has links to another classic Binder tale: "Superman's Other Life" (Superman #132, October 1959). Both stories:
The end of the story introduces some gay sub-text, about Jimmy's relationship to Superman. When Superman clasps Jimmy's new signal watch onto Jimmy's wrist, it is a present from one man to another. It suggests an engagement present. See the ring Jimmy accepted from another man in "King for a Day". And the final panel playfully introduces other ideas.
Superman's Super-Rival (1959). Writer: Bill Finger. This is an unusual science fiction mystery. It seems related to some other 1959 stories in the Superman family, but naming them would give away the mystery.
One odd note: This tale contains an obelisk in a public park. The writers of Jimmy Olsen were fascinated with such structures, and they recur again in:
Jimmy Olsen's Fiery Friends (1962). This nicely done sf story shows Jimmy Olsen's friendship with some fire creatures that emerge from a South Seas island volcano.
Jimmy Olsen, Super-Thief (1964). Writer: Jerry Siegel. While visiting a planet on a good-will tour of the universe on Superman's behalf, Jimmy starts developing a strange compulsion to steal things.
Siegel had an affinity for zany worlds. He invented Mr. Mxyzptlk's 5th Dimension, and wrote extensively about the Bizarro World. Here he sets Jimmy off on another planet. Shalzur is less initially comic than these two planets, but it ultimately springs from the same cloth. People actually reason differently on Shalzur, as Jimmy discovers, just as different logic is embodied in the Bizarro Code.
The other planet Paratopia that Jimmy visits is in many ways the direct opposite of Shalzur. Its presence in the story completes a circle, exploring all the logical consequences of Siegel's ideas. As its name implies, Paratopia is a scientific Utopia. Wealth is abundant, and there is no crime. Such a planet is where most of us hope the world is eventually going.
Jimmy Olsen, the Bizarro Boy; Exiled on the Bizarro World (1964). Professor Potter's "normalizer" ray accidentally turns Jimmy into a Bizarro. This two part tale is richly inventive. Every possible change is rung on its theme.
Usually the Bizarros are duplicates of human beings or each other: this means they are freshly created beings without a past. This story is different in that it involves a human being transformed into a Bizarro. The tale fits to a degree into the Jimmy Olsen "transformation" paradigm: an accidental transformation, various adventures in the new form, a search for an antidote, and a final resumption of Jimmy's normal form. However, Jimmy's adventures are quite different here. They do not involve daily life in Metropolis; rather they get him mixed up with the pre-existing mythos of the Bizarros. The whole tale is more science fictional in tone.
The story is made complex by the many changes undergone by Jimmy. He does not simply change into a Bizarro in the tale, then back to himself, as in the classic transformation story paradigm. Instead, he undergoes a four-stage transformation. Each new identity for him is accompanied by a different, appropriate interaction with the world around him. This makes the tale a virtual series of stories. Superimposed on this is a change of background: the first half largely takes place on Earth, the second half in the Bizarro World. This gives the whole pattern a great complexity. It allows the exploration of many different situations. Another complicating factor: it takes time for the people around him to realize that Jimmy has changed. They often think that he is still in the previous state. This too enables complications in the plot.
This story looks like its writing was based on a close reading of the Jerry Siegel scripted "Tales of the Bizarro World" series in Adventure that ended two years before. As the tale points out, Jimmy had visited the Bizarro World once before. The story is probably referring to "Jimmy Olsen's Kookie Scoops" (Adventure #287, August 1961). Other features of these tales also return: the asylum for normal people, from "Bizarro Creates a Monster" (Adventure #292, January 1962); the Bizarro-Luthor, from "The Good Deeds of the Bizarro-Luthor" (Adventure #293, February 1962) and "The Halloween Pranks of the Bizarro Supermen" (Adventure #294, March 1962); and the use of the TV gimmick to create new Bizarros. The tale is extremely consistent with the original Bizarro World concepts, as well as extending them in some interesting new directions. Each new element of the Bizarro World is zany and weird. But once it is introduced, it becomes part of the Superman mythos, subsection Bizarro. It is used with consistency and logic from that point forward. This deep logic is perhaps untypical of comic extravaganzas as a whole. Many authors of comic whimsies are probably tempted just to issue a stream of free form absurdity, without any logic or pattern. Not the authors of the Superman saga. Even the way out comic Bizarros operate according to consistent patterns, however strange.
The Bizarro Beetle-Bugs in the tale, a spoof of the real life Beatles rock group, are a nice touch. Jimmy Olsen was full of references to the Beatles, usually comic. He had just appeared in the previous issue in "The Red-Headed Beatle of 1,000 B.C." (Jimmy Olsen #79, September 1964), a demented time travel tale by Leo Dorfman, and the combination of Bizarros and rock music will reappear in Siegel's "Bizarro-Jimmy, Rock-'n'-Roll Star" (1965).
Jimmy Olsen's Captive Double (1965). Writer: Jerry Siegel. After threats are made against the Daily Planet, the invulnerable Kandorian doubles of Superman's friends take their roles while the real friends conceal themselves in hiding places at the Planet. The Kandorian doubles had shown up in previous stories, notably "The Secret of Silver Kryptonite" (1963). Here, they get a whole story to themselves. We meet such individual members as Zol-Lar, Jimmy's double. Since they are Kryptonians, they are super-powered and invulnerable to harm. Their presence here continues Jimmy Olsen's special relationship with Kandor. This story makes clear how the doubles are organized as a team, how they help Superman's friends, the kinds of tasks they take on and the strategies they apply. It is a systematic treatment that solidifies their place in the Superman family mythos.
There had been a number of early tales in Lois Lane about Sylvia and Van Zee, who are Kandor based doubles for Lois Lane and Superman, and who have swapped places with them; see Otto Binder's "Secret of the Super-Family" (Lois Lane #15, February 1960) Binder's earlier "The Shrinking Superman" (Action #245, October 1958) contained somewhat similar ideas. Siegel's tale uses the same concepts, although they do not involve Sylvia or Van Zee as characters.
The Team of Olsen and Brainiac (1965). Writer: Jerry Siegel. After Brainiac replaces Jimmy's brain with a computer, Jimmy becomes Brainiac's pal just as previously he had been Superman's. This is one of many Jimmy tales in which he becomes the pal of some other super-powered being, paralleling his relationship with Superman. Siegel was one of the most enthusiastic employers of Superman mythos elements in his tales. Here he draws on the revelations about Brainiac's computer nature in Edmond Hamilton's "The Team of Luthor and Brainiac" (Superman #167, February 1964).
Just as Jimmy became a Bizarro in "Jimmy Olsen, the Bizarro Boy" (1964), here he becomes a creature like Brainiac. Stories of this period sometimes show Jimmy being transformed into a pre-existing kind of being. Usually these transformations are pretty negative.
The Arena of Doom (1965). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Brainiac and the Legion of Super-Villains capture Superman, who has previously hidden the bottled city of Kandor from them. This tale is a sequel to "The Team of Olsen and Brainiac", in the previous issue. Such two part continued stories were common in Action, but extremely rare in Jimmy Olsen. Like the Action tales, these stories are highly science fictional, involving space travel and mind replacement, among other concepts. It is as if a pair of Action stories had wandered into Jimmy Olsen. The sequel has little in common with the original other than the presence of Brainiac. It does resolve the issues from the previous tale. The earlier story had focused largely on Jimmy. It was a quiet look at his private life, during his relationship with Brainiac. This sequel depicts a full scale battle between Superman, Brainiac and the other villains. Jimmy is only along as an incidental character. Both stories were based on covers, which show the basic ideas of their tales. These were the last covers in Jimmy Olsen to focus on the Superman family mythos; the next month the covers would go mod, depicting Jimmy's involvement with such "hip" subjects as espionage or rock and roll music. The Brainiac tales themselves accurately reflect their covers; they do not cheat. The stories also involve a full tilt employment of the Superman mythos, in Siegel's most gung ho mythos-based style.
Siegel actually extends the Superman family mythos in this tale, in a small way. As late as 1965, he was trying to develop the mythos further. This emerges at the beginning, when Superman is trying to locate the invisible Brainiac. This Brainiac-Superman scene towards the start of the story is in a Siegel tradition, of two super-beings who are studying each other using their super-powers, and who learn a number of surprising things about each other due to a linked series of events. A somewhat similar encounter involves Superboy and Ultra Boy in Siegel's "The Boy With Ultra-Powers" (Superboy #98 July 1962). Such cascading revelations show ingenuity in their construction.
The Legion of Super-Villains had been created by Siegel. He tends to depict them as both monstrous and initially very frightening, but ultimately as a bit wimpy and ineffectual.
Much of the latter part of this tale involves negotiations between Superman, Brainiac and the Super-Villains. Such negotiations had always been prominent in Siegel stories, but the sequence here is the lengthiest and most elaborate I can recall. They are probably triggered by the cover, which shows Luthor and Brainiac voting to spare Superman's life, and the Villains all voting to kill him. Many writers could have "explained" this cover in many different ways; Siegel chose his personal approach, focusing on negotiation. Aside from this variation in voting, the cover recalls that of the original Super-Villains tale, "The Legion of Super-Villains" (Superman #147, August 1961).
The Infamous Four (1965). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Jimmy time travels 100 years into Metropolis' future. This sf story is in the pleasant tradition of such Otto Binder tales as "The Boy Who Killed Superman" (1958) and "How Jimmy Olsen First Met Superman" (1959). All of these stories show Jimmy traveling by himself into an advanced scientific society, seeing many wonders, trying to blend in and learn the local customs, and getting involved in small anti-crime subplots.
The introduction of the tale pleads with readers not to give away its finale. Such pleas are an ancient tradition in popular culture. For example, both of Roland West's film versions of Mary Roberts Rinehart's and Avery Hopwood's The Bat (1920) plead with the audience not to reveal the Bat's secret identity. I will only say that elements of the finale, while original, also recall another Siegel story.
This tale, like others, shows Curt Swan's skill at drawing large crowds at public ceremonies. These often tend to take place in advanced or futuristic societies, and have both dignity and a sense of drama and excitement. Often, one or two protagonists from contemporary Earth are present, who make an accent of contrast. These Earthmen can be in different positions or attitudes, or running while everyone else is still.
Olsen's Time Trip to Save Krypton; Krypton's Last Chance (1967). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Jimmy time travels back to old Krypton, in an attempt to prevent the planet from exploding. This two-part tale is extremely faithful to the Superman mythos that has been built up. It incorporates references to many previous Krypton tales, including Kandor's kidnapping by Brainiac, and Superman's own visit to old Krypton in "Superman's Return to Krypton" (Superman #123, August 1958). Bernstein is a specialist in Earth set, non science fiction stories; he is the last writer one would associate with such material. He does a good job however, in this surprisingly entertaining story. It does show some personal aspects of Bernstein's writing: Jimmy is a non-super powered protagonist, who is trying to help apparently more powerful characters, in this case, the Kryptonians. Jimmy is watched by criminals in the Phantom Zone; Bernstein protagonists are often being monitored and threatened by all seeing alien criminals. Bernstein wrote the first Phantom Zone tale: it was one of his main contributions to the Superman mythos.
One might note that Bernstein had written a previous tale about an Earthman's attempt to prevent the tragedy of Krypton: "The Man Who Saved Kal-El's Life" (Action #281, October 1961). The scenes were Jimmy tries to warn about the coming kidnapping of Kandor also somewhat recall Jerry Siegel's If Luthor Were Superman's Father" (Superman #170, July 1964); so do the time travel elements.
This story refers to the Krypton Memorial Hour created by Jerry Siegel in "The One Minute of Doom" (Superman #150, January 1962). Here, Bernstein gives it an explicit meaning. The destruction of Krypton is used to warn the world against atomic war. The story shows Superman, with tears in his eyes, pleading with the people of Earth not to let their world meet the same fate as Krypton. This is a very powerful message. Concern about nuclear war was not fashionable in 1967, but it was a heart felt message all the same. At least once before, Superman had delivered a similar plea about atomic war in "The Invasion of the Super-Ants" (Action #296, January 1963).
This tale seems to include ideas ancestral to later robot stories in the magazine. Already here we have the keyboard - television monitor mix to control the robot; this arrangement appeared in most subsequent Jimmy Olsen robot tales as well. This pattern is different from most robot stories in prose and the comics, in which a robot is an autonomous, reasoning entity, which occasionally gets verbal commands from some human, then performs its mission on its own. In the Jimmy Olsen tales, the robot's owner continually monitors his progress with a TV screen, giving him commandments with the keyboard. The effect is more like an intelligent "waldo" than a separate being. The consistent use of this arrangement makes the Jimmy Olsen tales about robots into a genuine series, one that is markedly different from other works about robots. Binder was the author of the Adam Link robot tales in the sf pulp magazines, and his involvement with robot fiction goes way back. Binder later used a similar keyboard-monitor approach to robots in "Superboy's Last Day" (Adventure #251, August 1958).
Please see my list of Binder tales involving Waldos.
The Robot Reporter (Jimmy Olsen #41, December 1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Another robot tale, once again about a robot controlled with a keyboard and television monitor. The robotics is certainly good here, but the rest of the story is feeble. It is a comic tale, showing how all of Jimmy's attempts to employ the robot go awry. This makes it basically a frustrating shaggy dog story. Several later robotic tales in Jimmy Olsen were also in this wan comic mode, notably "Jimmy Olsen's Wildest Adventure" (#61, June 1962), written by Bill Finger, and "Jimmy's Robot Slave" (#62, July 1962), written by Robert Bernstein.
The Perils of Jimmy Olsen (1961). This is an unusual tale about a robot Jimmy Olsen. Its ingenious plot anticipates those of the later Pete Ross stories, which also ring changes on the themes of robots impersonating humans. Jimmy struggles to keep his robot on track with both his impersonation, and with his goals; this is somewhat similar to the way Pete Ross will struggle to maintain both an impersonation and a mission in the Superboy tales. This is one of the best stories in the Jimmy Olsen series.
Super-Mite (1962). Writer: Leo Dorfman. This story is a science fictional mystery, in which the reader is challenged to come up with a logical explanation of strange events. It too shows imagination, in dealing with a manipulatable robot.
Jimmy Olsen's Viking Sweetheart (1963). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Jimmy meets and romances Holga, a woman from the age of the Vikings who comes to live in modern America. This story combines the manipulatable robots of "The Perils of Jimmy Olsen", with the Viking background of "Jimmy the Red, Thor's Best Pal". These Olsen Robots are controlled by an elaborate mix of keyboards and buttons, combined with TV monitors to view their actions. The whole piece of technology reminds one startlingly of the personal computers to come, with their keyboard-monitor mix.
Jimmy is able to communicate with Holga, because he speaks Old Norse; he learned this during his time travel back to the age of the Vikings in "Jimmy the Red, Thor's Best Pal" (1961). Similarly, Jimmy's high school Latin allows him to communicate with Cleopatra and Marc Antony in "Jimmy Olsen Meets Cleopatra" (1963), and in "How Jimmy Olsen First Met Superman" (1959), he has already learned Kryptonese from books Superman has leant him, and is thus able to talk with the inhabitants of Krypton. In part, this is clearly a device to facilitate the plots of these stories. But Jimmy's gift for and interest in languages also seems to be a genuine part of his character. It is part of the intellectualism and respect for scholarship that is always shown by the Superman family of comics.
Dorfman often wrote tales dealing with his characters' deepest emotional feelings. Here, the story centers of Jimmy's often unrequited love for Lucy Lane. This becomes quite emotionally involving. Dorfman also celebrates friendship here, in the loyalty shown to the hero by the members of the Jimmy Olsen fan club. This too is a persistent theme in his tales.
The structure of the story is different from many Superman family tales. It is not constructed as a series of challenges on a common theme. Instead, it is one evolving story. The effect is rather like a 1930's movie, in that it shows much development of the character's lives and feelings. The story also involves a considerable lapse of time in its middle, also reminiscent of old films.
COSTUMES. The tale is also notable for the spectacular Viking costume Jimmy wears, drawn by artist John Forte. This makes a vibrant use of bright color, in this case blue and yellow. Forte was also the artist of many early Legion of Super-Heroes tales; his gifts of costume were put to full use in that futuristic series.
Jimmy is also shown in a tuxedo in one sequence. The same episode includes a likable four star general as one of the characters. This is typical of both Dorfman's fondness for military characters, and Forte's ability to draw fancy uniforms.
Jimmy's Leprechaun Pal (1960). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Jimmy acquires a leprechaun companion, whose magic raises havoc in his life. Siegel often wrote tales about magical beings whose unwanted "friendship" causes problems for Jimmy, such as "Jimmy Olsen's Private Monster" (1960) and "The Human Porcupine" (1962), about Miss Gzptlsnz. This story's plot has some affinity with Siegel's mystery tales. It also shows his flair for biting, sarcastic dialogue.
The Black Magician (#53, June 1961). Jimmy goes back to the time of Merlin. The Superman family was fascinated by Merlin and his magic. Superboy would visit King Arthur's era in Edmond Hamilton's "The Three Ages of Superboy" (Superboy #103, March 1963).
Jimmy the Red, Thor's Best Pal (1961). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Jimmy time travels back to ancient Viking days. This story and "The Black Magician" have virtually the same plot. They appeared in issues 53 and 55, just a few months apart. In them Jimmy time travels back to the court of King Arthur, and the time of the Norse gods, respectively. They recall the time travel stories in both Superboy and Lois Lane. Just as Lois resumes her "modern" role in her stories by trying to find the secret identity of some super-hero of the past, so does Jimmy Olsen recreate his relationship with Superman by becoming Thor's best pal. If I like the second story a bit better, perhaps it is just because I remember enjoying it as a kid! Also, it has a clever finale. The letters column of #53 says that the writers modeled such surprise endings on the stories of O. Henry.
Jimmy's Duel with Goliath (#62, July 1962). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Jimmy Olsen time travels back to era of David and Goliath. He becomes Goliath's best pal, just as he is Superman's friend in the 20th Century. This story shows some ingenuity, in attempting to recreate as many aspects of the Superman mythos as possible, with the ancient giant Goliath standing in for Superman. The story never really turns into a triumph of storytelling: it seems to be making its goals of including its mythos parallels, and little more. The story at the end turns out to be a complete dream, and not a "real" adventure of Jimmy's at all. This sort of ending would recur in several other apparent time travel stories in Jimmy Olsen.
The Human Porcupine (1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Miss Gzptlsnz, the equally magical girlfriend of 5th Dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk, changes Jimmy into a human porcupine. This minor but engaging story shows the human fascination with animals, a subject that popped up several times in the Superman family. The settings of this story are all fun places: the zoo, the Metropolis fairgrounds, the circus. There is something almost child like about this: these are all places that kids might love.
Siegel had created Miss Gzptlsnz in "Jimmy Olsen, Wolf-Man" (1961). Siegel loved to make sequels to his works, and to build upon his previous tales. Miss Gzptlsnz seems essentially innocent, even sympathetic; although she is a comic menace, she is a lot more good hearted than the imp she loves, Mr. Mxyzptlk. There is something pathetic about her. She seems ill equipped to cope with life. Under her villainous image, the reader comes to feel sorry for her.
Miss Gzptlsnz is one of Siegel's powerful, menacing, but not necessarily evil characters who show up and threaten the hero's well being. These powerful figures often transform the hero, or otherwise drastically alter his life; here she turns Jimmy into a human porcupine. Usually in Siegel stories, these characters are the subjects of mystery: in the classic Siegel mystery plot, they turn out to be someone very different from whom they first appear. I hope I am not giving anything away by saying that there is no mystery in this comic tale: Miss Gzptlsnz is exactly whom she appears to be. Siegel rarely included mysteries in his comic tales or in his media spoofs - they only show up in his more "serious" stories.
Another structural aspect of this tale: Siegel includes several one-panel scenes, where Jimmy wonders what might have happened if he had been transformed into some other animal. These panels are essentially brief Imaginary Tales, stories that ask "what-if" questions within the Superman mythos.
In 1962, the Superman family was trying to widen the cast of its stories by beginning to include Asian characters. Here we see Kim Loo, the proprietor of a fancy Chinese restaurant. Every effort was made to make this place look glamorous. The artist and writer were clearly trying to convey positive images. Please see my list of stories with political and social commentary, and search for "Chinese" for other positive comic book tales about Chinese characters.
The Plot Against Jimmy Olsen (1963). This story faces a familiar challenge: how could I prove that I'm me, if a double for me suddenly appeared. Such stories have long roots in prose mystery fiction, and on the screen. The Olsen story has several innovative approaches. For one thing, it uses the magic of Mr. Mxyzptlk to explain the plot. This allows the illusion to be unusually complete. Most non-fantasy stories of this type tend to look for small real life details that might trip up the conspiracy: witnesses who might know the true facts, for instance. This is not relevant in the magic story here: everyone knows that Mr. Mxyzptlk can make his illusions perfect. For another thing, Jimmy has to contend with not one double, but three. The emotional effect is different: it is not a double that is taking over Jimmy's life; instead he is lost in a crowd of imitators. The effect is quite surrealistic. The cover, which shows 4 Olsens falling through the air, recalls René Magritte. The other Jimmies seem surprisingly unmalicious. Single doubles in non-fantasy tales tend to be sinister conspirators, intent on consciously hurting the protagonist's identity. These Jimmies seem like sincere, magical clones, each of whom seems to believe that he's the real Olsen.
Mr. Mxyzptlk was Jimmy Olsen's persistent nemesis. This is appropriate, as Jimmy is a comic character, and a comic opponent like the mischievous imp from the 5th Dimension is a perfect foil.
"Superman's Ex-Pal" is unusual in that it shows Jimmy hanging out with a youth peer group, about whose opinions he cares. In general Jimmy was far more interested in the adult world, including his reporter job, than in any sort of teen social group. In my opinion, that is one of the better features of the Jimmy Olsen stories as a whole.
At the resort where the events take place, people wear tuxedos in the evening. Jimmy does too. This anticipates the dance in "The World's "Heavy Weight" Champ". Other people organize events where people are in formal wear; Jimmy wears a tux too, to blend in. Please see my list of Comic Book Heroes in Tuxedos.
King for a Day (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Jimmy get mistaken for the young king of the tiny European country of Doraynia, making him the target of assassins. This sort of Ruritanian romance has been done better elsewhere. The story's main virtue: its opposition to dictators.
Much of the story is a Binder cycle of repeated "challenge and rebuff":
Everywhere Jimmy goes in Doraynia he meets uniformed men linked to phallic symbols, from these spikes to spears, swords and the firing squad at the finale. Even mainly-benevolent Prince Otho is uniformed in tennis whites and carries a phallic tennis racket.
Doraynia is the locale of one of Binder's Tales of Male Power. In such Binder tales male power is exemplified by links to male social authority figures (here the Doraynia officials) and phallic symbols. And like most such Binder looks at male power, Doraynia is dysfunctional. Such conventional male power mainly leads to failure in Binder. Even the alleged hero Prince Otho has character flaws that make him unlikable, and he takes no constructive actions in the tale. Nobody in Doraynia would succeed without the outside help of Superman: such outside help also being part of Binder's depiction of the dysfunctionality of typical "male power".
Prince Otho explicitly gets his power from a connection with another man, the former King who was his father. It is nothing that Otho achieved on his own.
Prince Otho anticipates another young man in one of Binder's "male power" tales, Johnny Blank in "Supergirl's Darkest Day" (Action Comics #263, April 1960). SPOILERS. Both are royalty living in exile in the United States, due to an evil usurper at home. Both get their throne back, due to a helpful outsider (Superman, Supergirl) rather than their own efforts. In the United States, Otho lives in a private school; Johnny Blank in an orphanage.
JIMMY AND MALE POWER. Where does Jimmy fit into all this? The splash shows "King" Jimmy wearing a fancy uniform, with stripes on the sleeves indicating high rank. He is sitting on a throne with phallic spikes on top. This combination of high rank and phallic symbols depicts Jimmy as part of the dismal Doraynia system of "male power".
But in the actual story, this scene never happens. People at the palace instead merely drape a royal robe over Jimmy's standard clothes of sport coat and bow tie. He spends the entire actual story clad in this US outfit of checked sport coat and bow tie. It makes him look comically out-of-place in Doraynia. Ultimately, this lack of connection to dysfunctional Doraynia is a good thing. Jimmy never does anything harmful in the tale. Like Superman, Jimmy is an outsider. Superman and Jimmy have no connections to Doraynia and its system of "male power".
It is fairly common in comic books for the splash to depict something that doesn't happen in the actual story.
The cover is more accurate: it shows Jimmy in his checked sport coat and royal robe, just like the actual story. The cover also shows Jimmy in ordinary American shoes, unlike the dressier shiny black shoes he wears with his uniform on the splash. Jimmy's uniform is dark, either black or navy blue, and is the only dark uniform in the story. The uniform looks much dressier than others in the tale.
PRINCE OTHO. Stripes on Doraynia uniforms indicate rank, as is true in the US Navy and many other services. Villain Zormio's high rank is indicated by the many stripes on his uniform. The uniform Jimmy wears on the splash also has numerous sleeve stripes. This is subtly echoed by Prince Otho's tennis whites, which have stripes on his chest. This is a further suggestion that Prince Otho's tennis whites are a uniform. The tennis whites look very upper class.
Prince Otho is dominating, especially over Jimmy. The tale's nearly last image (page 8) shows Otho standing on airplane steps, elevated over Jimmy. He is wearing a good suit, which is much dressier than Jimmy's checked sport coat. Jimmy is bent forward towards Otho, holding out Prince Otho's royal robe to him. Jimmy is telling Otho how glad he is to see him. It is a complete picture of Jimmy's submission to the dominance of Otho. Otho is once again linked to huge phallic symbols, the airplane steps and the plane itself. Two generals are standing by in respectful attendance on Otho. One General has more stripes on his sleeve than the other. This evokes chains of command: a powerful socially approved form of dominance and submission.
Earlier Prince Otho gives a delighted Jimmy a ring (page 3). It's to give to charity, not a purely personal gift. But it has undertones of a man giving a woman a wedding ring. Jimmy is now in the female role to Otho's male. Jimmy eagerly puts the ring on his finger, a traditional sign of romantic commitment. It's as if Jimmy were now engaged to Otho. In "Secret of the Sunken Satellite" (The Flash #109, October-November 1959), the Flash gives another man a ring, in a scene also with gay undertones.
Prince Otho is a romantic archetype: the gentle, good-looking Prince. Like Prince Charming in the fairy tale, he is the answer to the maiden's prayer. Otho is also shown as a skilled athlete in his tennis gear, another group with romantic prestige. Jimmy's submission to him is mild, but thorough.
Today what was nearly impossible to say in the 1950's has become permissible. Many a gay man has had a crush on a handsome Prince. Jimmy's adventure speaks for many men's experience.
The Scoop of 1869 (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Jimmy time travels back to 1869 in the Old West, and gets a job on a small town Western newspaper. This absorbing tale is hard to classify. It has no crime elements, it avoids Western staples like cowboys or gunfights, and it mainly uses science fiction just to get Jimmy into 1869. Mainly, it is a historical drama about newspapers. It also emphasizes how modern technology changed life.
"The Scoop of 1869" briefly mentions the invention of many modern devices. It is another of Binder's Educational Tales About Science.
The historical sections of "The Scoop of 1869" can be seen as having the "challenge and rebuff" structure Binder likes. As in other "challenge and rebuff" tales, the cycle of "challenge and rebuff" repeats again and again:
Before and after the historical sections, is a frame story. This is not part of the "challenge and rebuff" of the historical section in the middle. This frame story is quite inventive.
Midvale, the name of the Western small town, would be re-used four years later by Binder as the name of the town where Supergirl lives.
It is most notable as apparently the first tale to mention Jimmy's Superman souvenirs (page 3). The word "souvenir" is not used here; the items are referred to as Jimmy's "Superman collection". In later tales this will become a standard part of Jimmy's characterization; here it is mentioned somewhat tentatively, as if it were an interesting sidelight on Jimmy's life. In later tales it will become "institutionalized", and become an official part of the Superman saga. One difference: the items in this "collection" look conventional, likes films and photos, and are far from the unique souvenir items in later tales. Still, the idea is mainly present in this tale. Jimmy Olsen #1 played a major role in the shaping of Jimmy's mythos; this tale introduces his Superman souvenirs, and "The Boy of 100 Faces" is the origin of his signal watch and the Flying Newsroom.
The Story of Superman's Souvenirs (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Wanted crook Killer Burke breaks into Jimmy's apartment, and speculates on whether various Superman souvenirs that Jimmy owns would help him escape from the police.
SOUVENIRS. This tale gives a full treatment of Jimmy's Superman Souvenirs. This contains aspects not found in "The Man of Steel's Substitute", but which are permement part of the Souvenirs concept:
STORY STRUCTURE. Jimmy tells a story about each of several souvenirs, in a manner the tale explicitly compares to Scheherazade. Binder and other Superman family writers used this "collection of tales within a frame story" construction several times.
The story also uses the familiar "challenge and rebuff" construction: the crook proposes that a souvenir will help him escape; Jimmy shows him why it would not. This repeated attempt to meet a goal, followed in each case by an ingenious turn of events frustrating that goal, is widely used in building Superman Family tales.
Jimmy doesn't appear in any of the tales he tells: they exclusively feature Superman. Conversely, the frame story with Jimmy and Killer Burke does not have Superman in it - a fact noted explicitly at the tale's end.
MALE POWER. The various criminals in Jimmy's first three souvenir tales display a pattern that will return in several later Binder stories. This involves an exploration of "male power". In this Binder pattern, male power is exemplified through two means:
The crook Killer Burke in the main story is one of Curt Swan's older macho males. These are always big men in sharp suits. In 1950's stories these men tend to be crooks. In later, 1960's work they tend to be successful men in honest professions, instead, especially the arts.
ENCASED. Several costumes are designed to encase men:
INVISIBLE. The art toward the end, showing some characters who have become invisible, somewhat anticipates that of the later Phantom Zone stories. It also anticipates "The Invisible Jimmy Olsen" (#12, April 1956).
The Two Faces of Mr. X (Showcase #5, November-December 1956; reprinted in DC Special #10). Writer: Jack Miller. Art: Curt Swan. The government asks a male model to go undercover and impersonate a crime leader. We will briefly digress here to a non-Jimmy Olsen tale. This non-series mystery story is notable for showing many of Curt Swan's themes at an early date. Like the Jimmy Olsen stories, it focuses on a hero who disguises himself and infiltrates a criminal organization. The hero's two roles reflect the two main kinds of mature men in Swan's stories. The hero is a "successful figure in the arts" presented sympathetically as an attractive hero. And the man he is impersonating is the sort of virile, rough gang leader that is a typical Swan villain.
Unwanted Superman Souvenirs (1956). Writer: Otto Binder. In this mystery tale, Superman tries to figure out why Jimmy is junking several of his once treasured Superman souvenirs. This story is related in approach to some of the "Game" stories that Binder wrote for Superboy during this era, some of which also contained puzzle plot mysteries.
This story is told from Superman's point of view. It gives an up close and personal look at Superman's feelings for Jimmy Olsen, and how much he values his friendship with Jimmy. It anticipates in this regard the classic "Superman's Enemy" (1959). "Unwanted Superman Souvenirs" today reads like a powerful expression of gay romantic feelings between Superman and Jimmy.
Both stories also begin with a space jewel being added to Jimmy's collection, and have other plot similarities as well.
Jimmy Olsen's Two Super Pals (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Jimmy meets a friendly genie with super-powers, who helps Jimmy with his work. This story is very much in the tradition of other tales in the Superman Family of new super-characters the heroes meet.
"Jimmy Olsen's Two Super Pals" opens with Jimmy working on his Superman souvenirs. But it is mainly discussed here because it echoes ideas in earlier souvenir stories. SPOILERS:
The Amazing Spectacles of Doctor "X" (#29, June 1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Special goggles allow Jimmy to see future events - but only if they concern Superman. These spectacles are an interesting idea, but the story fails to do much with them. The other devices in the doctor's lab also look interesting, as is the fact that they've been inspired by old tales of magic (page 1). As best as one can tell, this tale is the only appearance of the spectacles or the other inventions.
The whale flown by Superman is nicely surreal (page 3). The "flying whale" imagery previously appeared in "The Super-Hallucinations" (1957). Both tales involve characters having unusual visions.
Imagery in "The Amazing Spectacles of Doctor "X"" recalls "The Story of Superman's Souvenirs":
Jimmy has his signal watch in this story, in the standard form that will reappear throughout his entire 1950's and 1960's career.
This is the earliest appearance of the signal watch known to me. I've seen Internet artticles flatly declaring it to be the first story about the signal watch, the tale in which Binder created it. This claim is plausible - but hard to verify 100% absolutely.
The Stolen Superman Signal (1956). Writer: Otto Binder. A crook diverts the signal from Jimmy's watch. This story gives a clearer picture of how Jimmy's signal watch works, than any other tale. It is also full of ingenious detail, worked up into a complex plot.
The signal watch tales reflect Binder's interest in media of communication.
All the technical detail marks this as possibly one of Binder's Educational Tales About Science.
"The Stolen Superman Signal" includes all the ideas about the watch presented in "The Boy of 100 Faces". And adds a lot more detail to them. It is completely consistent with the ideas in "The Boy of 100 Faces".
In early tales like "The Stolen Superman Signal" the existence of Jimmy's signal watch is top secret, something known only to Jimmy and Superman. By the time of "Jimmy Olsen's Super-Signals" (1959), the watch seems to be public knowledge, something famous about Jimmy Olsen that everyone knows. As far as I know, there is no story marking this transition. It just happens quietly "off-stage".
Super-Senor's Pal (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. A South American country Jimmy visits is protected by its own Superman-like hero.
SIGNAL WATCH. A subplot has an ability of the signal watch I don't recall elsewhere in the Superman Family comics (page 2). It is logical and imaginative. It offers "feedback", an important positive concept in computer and machine engineering.
At the tale's end (pages 7 - 9) there is a mystery puzzle for the reader to solve, about the signal watch. Binder liked to end stories with little mysteries for the reader to solve.
ANTI-DICTATOR. This story is one of many in Silver Age comics that are anti-dictatorship and pro-democracy. Please see my list of stories with political and social commentary, and search for "anti-dictator" for other tales on this topic.
HOAX. SPOILERS. Much of this tale is another Superman Family story about a hoax trying to make it look like an ordinary person has super-powers. This gambit is pulled off here with an unusual amount of inventive detail and charm. Aspects recall the prose mystery short story "Tarantula Bait" (1932) by Paul Chadwick.
Jimmy Olsen's Super-Signals (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. When Jimmy loses his signal watch, he has to find other ways of signaling Superman. This story echoes a favorite Binder theme: unusual media of communication. Binder's interest in non-standard media was especially prominent in some of his science fiction tales, such as those in Strange Adventures.
It is full of the varied backgrounds and situations Binder often employed in his transformation tales. Like them, this one is full of entertainment milieus, such as a movie shoot, and a drive-in theater. Binder often found ingenious uses for such locales in the plots of his tales. They were places where the unusual could become normal. They allowed him to work in atypical kinds of behavior into his plots. Entertainment locales also offer pleasant settings - everyone enjoys thinking about them.
This story is largely non-sf in content. Like the transformation tales, it takes place entirely in the real world of modern Metropolis. Unlike them, its central premise is not science fictional. It shares the pleasantly episodic character of the transformation stories, being a series of small, ingenious incidents, each against a different background and setting. These varied locales capture some of the beauty of the world, the feel that the modern world is a fascinating place full of unique ideas and activities.
Like other Binder tales, this one suggests that Jimmy gets a different personality at night. Here Jimmy sleep walks. Many of Binder's transformation stories actually have Jimmy undergoing some major transformation every night. This story does nothing as science fictional, but it conveys something of the same feel.
This story also has some ingenious crime elements in one of its episodes. In this it is like the transformation stories, which often featured a crime subplot as one episode out of many. There is also a clever use of disguise in this episode. This is the only occurrence in the Superman family of this disguise idea. This is a general pattern: Weisinger treated disguise concepts as unique properties of the stories that contained them, and did not have them re-used in other tales. Consequently, the fairly numerous Superman family stories that turn on disguise are always coming up with some startling new twist.
This tale is part of a group I've dubbed Withdrawal stories. Please see my discussion.
UNIFORM. Jimmy is done up in a new uniform as tour guide. Both the dialogue, and Curt Swan's art, suggests that this uniform is intended to be dressy to the max. It is a young man's uniform: the kind wore in the 1925-1960 era by movie theater ushers, messenger boys at radio studios, and other jobs for teenagers that gave them a chance to be duded up to the hilt.
Jimmy and other men wear fancy bellhop's uniforms in this mode in "The King of Magic", "The Irresistible Jimmy Olsen", "The Disguises of Danger", all with art by Curt Swan. However, these bellhop uniforms have button-up front panels and erect collars, without a shirt or tie. By contrast Jimmy's guide uniform in "The Superman Hall of Trophies" is fashioned like a double-breasted tuxedo, with a white shirt, bow tie and peaked lapels.
One can see such uniforms in Hollywood films, such as Lady Killer (Roy Del Ruth, 1933), Young People (Allan Dwan, 1940), Play Girl (Frank Woodruff, 1940) and Destination Murder (Edward L. Cahn, 1950). By 1957, such uniforms were already becoming something out of a somewhat dated past, one suspects.
The Secret of the Superman Dummies (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Jimmy becomes handcuffed to a crook at a magic show.
This story is full of ingenious machines, and clever uses to which they can be put. Many of them are "Superman figures": dummies, statues, mechanical devices in the shape of Superman. Such figures also played a major role in a Binder tale in the previous issue, "The Superman Hall of Trophies". In both stories, Binder has Jimmy put these figures and their mechanical properties and powers to ingenious use. "The Secret of the Superman Dummies" is a richer tale than "The Superman Hall of Trophies". But both stories have much in common.
Binder wrote a number of tales with "Waldo" effects, in which a person's actions cause an often larger object or robot to do something. The Superman figures in these tales are examples. Please see my list of Binder tales involving Waldos.
This tale also has some clever schemes. Superman's response to his predicament is to make a strange response to a common "Superman family" situation. This response is poetic and surreal. It also gives Jimmy plenty of chances to use his imagination. All in all, the tale's central conceit is both surreally way-out, and pleasantly inspiring of logical reasoning!
The diagram explaining a piece of machinery (page 7), recalls the similar diagram of the signal watch in "The Stolen Superman Signal" (1956). Both technologies involve sound.
The subplot about the chest has the structure of a Binder transformation tale. Only here it is an inanimate object that is getting transformed, rather than a human like Jimmy. Like Red Kryptonite's transformations on Superman, the transformation of the chest is only temporary, and will wear off by itself.
The various youngsters named Jimmy Olsen, also have structural links to various Binder story construction devices:
"Elastic Lad's Greatest Feats" includes an early appearance of the Jimmy Olsen Fan Club. This might be the tale that created the Fan Club - although I am not sure. It is a recurring part of the Superman Mythos throughout the 1960s.
Jimmy entertains his Fan Club with a demonstration of his power here. Similarly, in Binder's "The Ten Feats of Elastic Lass" (1961) Lois (Elastic Lass) entertains the orphans at Midvale Orphanage with a similar demo. Both demos include the Elastic protagonist tying themselves into knots.
The Jimmy Olsen Fan Club resembles Midvale Orphanage in several ways. Both:
The Fan Club in most stories is all-male. Binder would eventually challenge this, in the feminist tale "Jimmy Olsen's Female Fan" (1965).
The Richest Boy in Metropolis (1963). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Jimmy is deluded into thinking he has won a fortune. The tale is similar to such 1940's movie fables as Preston Sturges' Christmas in July (1940) and Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946). Like them, it reaches a finale which is both heartwarming and illuminating. The emotionalism of this tale, its celebration of friendship and loyalty, and its humane values are all typical of Dorfman's best work.
The Revenge of Jimmy Olsen (1964). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Jimmy is replaced as Superman's pal by a member of his fan club.
Jimmy Olsen's Day of Disgrace (1965). Writer: Leo Dorfman. When Jimmy's big mouth causes Perry to bust him down to newspaper deliverer for a week, he is unexpectedly helped by a young alien newspaper reporter who idolizes Jimmy. Plim, the cub reporter from Antron, looks like an ordinary human as soon as he is in Earth clothes. Plim's kind-heartedness and admiration for Jimmy makes him function much like the earthly members of Jimmy Olsen's fan clubs. His friendship for Jimmy is an example of Dorfman's great theme, the importance of friendship.
Despite its title, this is a light hearted little tale, almost a shaggy dog story. It is full of odd echoes, in which a plot event will later be seen in an unusual light. This tale is very hard to classify. In some ways, the odd points of view found on Plim's planet remind one of the Bizarro tales, although Plim is modest, friendly and constructive, unlike the Bizarros. Plim is friendly and a representative of a high tech futuristic society, like the members of the Legion of Super-Heroes, although he is far too modest to be cast in their heroic mode. Also, he lacks personal super-powers. John Forte's excellent art also reminds one of both the Bizarro and Legion tales: he drew both of these series for Adventure. Dorfman had created gentle, friendly and intelligent aliens before, in "The Fantastic Army of General Olsen" (1962).
Jimmy Olsen's Female Fan (1965). Writer: Otto Binder. While Jimmy is trying to pick a new president for his Metropolis Fan Club, a girl applies for membership for the first time. First rate feminist tale from Binder.
During 1965 the Legion of Super-Heroes was one of DC's most successful series, attracting huge amounts of fan attention from young people. There are signs that Mort Weisinger was trying to start other series about "teams of people". The previous issue contained "Jimmy Olsen's Captive Double", which looked at the group of Kandorian doubles of Superman's friends. Weisinger would also publish more stories about Jimmy's fan clubs. Jimmy Olsen's fan club was a long running feature of his magazine, but it usually had been restricted to a supporting role in the stories. Here is an entire tale focusing on it. For the first time, we start meeting individual members of the fan club, with names, personalities and characteristics, just as in the Legion. The fan club is given characteristics recalling that of the Legion. It has a constitution, which is quoted in the tale. New members use the constitution to persuade existing members to do things they are otherwise loath to do, as in several Legion stories. The fan club also has a president now who directs its activities, as in the Legion. This tale includes the search for a new president after the old one leaves; the search involves a contest to see which member is the most clever, as in Jerry Siegel's Legion story, "The Eight Impossible Missions; The Amazing Winner of the Great Proty Puzzle" (Adventure #323, August 1964).
The president of the Legion during this era was Saturn Girl. The Legion was a completely non-sexist organization, with male and female members and a woman leader. This probably encouraged this look at a female joining the Jimmy Olsen fan club, and also trying out for its presidency.
The fan club stories will have art by George Papp. Papp was most closely involved with Superboy, during its long run. The Superboy stories were often full of teenagers, and perhaps he and Weisinger thought he would be well suited to the teen oriented tales of the fan clubs.
Jimmy Olsen, Ape Man (1965). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Jimmy Olsen travels to Africa, where both Congo Bill and an African branch of his fan club help him defeat a sinister project involving Kryptonite. This synopsis suggests how crowded a plot this tale has. Dorfman has thrown in every plot element but the kitchen sink, but everything all works together nicely.
This story is notable for the utterly non-stereotyped African characters it features. Juma, the young leader of the African fan club, is clearly being set up as a possible continuing character. I think that these are the first black characters in Jimmy Olsen. This is a landmark in the racial integration of the Superman family comic books.
Papp's art is especially beautiful here. He thrives on the many scenes including numerous glowing red or green Kryptonite meteors. The story includes showers of stones, in this case, of the various kinds of Kryptonite. Although such things do not usually occur in real life, they seem oddly fascinating to me. They seem to be some deep archetypal image buried in my mind.
Jimmy was unusual among teenage characters of his day in that he actually did something. He worked as a reporter, the same as Lois Lane and Clark Kent, and found numerous scoops. He took part in the adult world. He did not spend his time hanging around the malt shop and listening to pop music. Jimmy's early introduction to the adult world was typical not of the 1950's or 1960's, but of the 1920's and 1930's. He is following the life patterns of an earlier era. Writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald started right in, as soon as they were old enough to type a story, trying to achieve success in the world of literature. By contrast, young people since 1950 have been encouraged to take part in an endless adolescence, with adulthood often coming at age thirty, if ever. The good side of this is the much better education they received - one worries about people like Jimmy in this regard: will he have enough education to help guide him through life? Clearly in today's world, the more education people have, the better they do. But there is also something impressively self reliant about the earlier model. It encourages people to actually try to achieve something. An ideal world would have more of a balance between the two extremes.
Jimmy was also unusual among fictional teenagers in that he was not depicted as a "typical" young person. It seems to be an unwritten rule of the mass media that people under twenty-five have no individuality. They must be "typical of their generation", or else. You rarely see a young person in the media who loves mathematics, or is good at abstract art, or who has any strongly individual characteristics or interests. Jimmy was the complete opposite of this. He was an absolutely unique person. He had his strong interest in becoming a great reporter, and he liked his friends. And that was it: he never spent a moment trying to be like other kids, or to blend in. He was not a conformist. Jimmy had his own unique style of dressing, with a sports jacket and bow tie. He looked decent, but by no means did he look like anybody else. He was not, and did not try to be, "cool". Instead, he had a fan club, of young people who wanted to be like him.
Perry White, Cub Reporter (1960). Writer: Robert Bernstein. For one day, Jimmy becomes the editor of the Daily Planet, while Perry White switches places with him to become a cub reporter. This is every lowly employee's wish fulfillment fantasy, and it comes true here for Jimmy. It is all part of a program occurring at all Metropolis businesses, run by some business association. This is not a great story, but it is fun, and everything in it works. The story has much welcome humor. This story also includes Perry's wife Alice; two issues before, Perry's teenage son played a role in "Jimmy Olsen, Juvenile Delinquent" (1959), also written by Robert Bernstein. The magazine was clearly trying to build up Perry's role, but unfortunately, these characters hardly ever showed up again.
This tale is in the Bernstein tradition of one person taking on another's role. It differs from the Pete Ross stories, in which Pete would often secretly impersonate Superboy, in that this role switching is done in public, and is completely non-secret. The work setting of the tale is a favorite Bernstein locale.
Jimmy Olsen, Editor-In-Chief (#63, September 1962) Writer: Leo Dorfman. The magazine recycled the plot of "Perry White, Cub Reporter" again with this story. The two tales are very similar, although the second one has a bit more mystery in it. The mystery lacks "fair play": the clues needed to solve it are not shared with the readers. This inoffensive tale has to be classified among Jimmy Olsen stories that just quite don't make it.
The Boy Who Hoaxed Superman (#31, September 1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Jimmy Olsen quits his job at the Daily Planet, disguises himself, and gets his old job back under his new persona. This plot recalls Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Wakefield" (1835).
This fairly entertaining but minor tale shows Jimmy disguising himself as a more nerd-like young man, with a serious suit and tie.
This tale is part of a group I've dubbed Withdrawal stories. Please see my discussion.
Leslie Love, Girl Reporter (#67, March 1963). Writer: Leo Dorfman. "The Boy Who Hoaxed Superman" was the template for this later work. This story has a similar plot, except that here Jimmy disguises himself as a young woman. The story does little with this premise except to milk it for some obvious comedy. The tale is nowhere near as inventive as "Miss Jimmy Olsen" (1960), the much better earlier story in which Jimmy disguised himself as a woman.
In many of the Lucy Lane stories, Lucy is seen dating a much older, successful man, someone in his forties, typically either a business tycoon or a military officer. Jimmy cannot compete on a financial or career level with these men, who are far beyond him. But he is also much younger and closer to Lucy's age. Binder takes a somewhat different approach here: Jimmy's rival is a young inventor, "Genius" Jones, not much older than Jimmy and Lucy. As a scientist, this man is genuinely admirable in the Superman family system of values, unlike the tycoons Lucy will later pursue.
A scene in this story has Jimmy, disguised as a cowboy, lassoing objects from a plane. These panels recall the "cosmic" stories Binder created for Mystery in Space. The "cosmic" tales often showed spacemen controlling large celestial objects; sometimes the spacemen would be in spaceships, or flying through space in space suits. The airplane and lasso scenes here have a similar feel, albeit at a much less inter-planetary level.
Binder's tales can have a recursive construction. The stories can be made up of sub-stories, each of which has its own character, and which recalls approaches used by Binder in other works. This tale is made up of a number of Acts. In each, Jimmy adopts some disguise in his attempt to woo Lucy Lane. These disguise episodes each recalls the many stories in which Jimmy went undercover in disguise. In turn, one of these episodes, the one in which Jimmy is disguised as a Texas cowboy, includes the lassoing elements discussed above, which recall Binder's cosmic tales. Another episode, that involving his rivalry with "Genius" Jones, involves Jimmy's disguising himself as a robot, a gambit used by Binder in some of his science fiction tales.
The recursion in this story is three levels deep. The first level is the overall story itself, introducing Lucy Lane; the second level contains the episodes in which Jimmy disguises himself; the third level are the stories within these episodes, recalling such Binder techniques as cosmic stories or robot impersonation tales. Each level involves some technique, a technique Binder had used in other tales.
One can contrast Jimmy's romances with those of Lois Lane. Both Jimmy and Lois want a relationship with an unattainable ideal: Jimmy with Lucy, Lois with Superman. Neither gets much encouragement. However, there are many differences. Jimmy is "attracted to" Lucy, while Lois is "in love with" Superman, according to the writers of the series. This means that Lois is much more deeply committed than is Jimmy. One can see a sexist contrast here: Jimmy as a man is allowed to be simply attracted to other women, whereas Lois' relationships demand total commitment. This different level of involvement means that Jimmy is free to date other women, whereas Lois' feelings do not usually allow her to date other men. Only rarely did Lois have a Jimmy like romance, dating other men in an attempt to forget Superman: a good example is "The Unforgettable Superman" (1962). This Lois story was a good deal of fun, but most of the Superman-Lois romance stories in Lois Lane are sexist claptrap, collapsing under the weight of 1960's sexist beliefs about the relations between men and women. They are also full of soap opera style suffering. By contrast, when Lois became a detective, and the writers forgot romance and soap opera and had her involved in an ingeniously plotted secret identity mystery tale, her magazine soared.
The Girl With Green Hair (#51, March 1961). Writer: Otto Binder. This is one of the first tales in which Jimmy meets a super-powered woman. It appeared some months before the main body of Jimmy Olsen romance tales, which mainly flourished in the period October 1961 to October 1962. It is also more minor than the tales that will come after. There is a cute mechanical monster in the tale, devised by Professor Potter; it reminds one of the gentle Kryptonian monsters and animals that frequently played a role in the Superman family stories.
The Son of Jimmy Olsen (1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. This Imaginary Tale looks into the future, and the life, loves and career of Jimmy Olsen's son. The editors were having a success with their Imaginary Stories in Lois Lane, as they point out in their introduction, and have extended the idea to Jimmy Olsen. Those tales were also being written by Jerry Siegel. Most of the characters are good, especially Lola. Here Jimmy's grown-up son is more a central figure than Jimmy himself. The son has many of the personality characteristics of Jimmy, and in many ways is the "Jimmy figure" of the story. It is the son here who has the romance with a super-powered woman, as Jimmy typically does in the other tales.
The story goes a bit further into the future than do many of the Superman family Imaginary Tales. The stories' future world concentrates on space pilots. Like many sf stories of its era, it shows space travel as a world modeled sociologically on the real life test pilots of the 1950's, and not as the massive public enterprise of the NASA missions of the 1960's. Superman's colleague Green Lantern actually was a test pilot in his secret identity. The tale also recalls Kal-El's adventures in space in "Superman's Other Life" (Superman #132, October 1959).
Jimmy Olsen Marries Supergirl (1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. This is another Imaginary Story, also written by Jerry Siegel. It is one of the few two part stories in the whole Jimmy Olsen saga. Its ingenious first half has an amnesia plot that anticipates elements of one of the best Pete Ross stories, "The Superboy Revenge Squad" (Superboy #94, January 1962), which appeared just one month after this tale. The sf elements in the second half are less ingenious; but the underground kingdom pleasantly recalls that old movie serial, Phantom Empire (1935).
Jimmy Olsen, Freak (1962). Writer: Leo Dorfman. In this comic story Jimmy Olsen is romanced by a glamorous woman from outer space. I like the relationship that briefly emerges at the end of the story between Superman and the aliens: they seem to be old pals, the sort of casual acquaintances one might meet at a sports event or poker night. This is an unusual but enjoyable relationship for Superman, who seems to be all business with most of the people he meets in the stories. Superman has a history with them, although not a close one, and one that involves male bonding. The relationship is also the kind a cowboy in the Old West might have had with some old acquaintances in a saloon. It is clearly quite rough and tumble, although not unfriendly. Dorfman is a writer deeply oriented towards friendship; here he gives Superman some friends, and a vividly delineated relationship with them.
Jimmy Olsen's Super-Romance (1962). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Jimmy Olsen is romanced by a glamorous woman from outer space, just as in "Jimmy Olsen, Freak". This story is mainly notable for its glamorous art by John Forte. It also has some clever plot twists.
The Return of Jimmy's Lost Love (1964). Writer: Jerry Siegel. The second tale about the romance of Jimmy and Lucy under their secret identities of Magi and Sandra.
The Wedding of Magi and Sandra (1965). Writer: Jerry Siegel. The final tale about the romance of Jimmy and Lucy under their secret identities of Magi and Sandra. Villains in Siegel's mystery tales were often revealed and the end to be operating under secret identities. Here is a rare chance for Siegel's protagonists to use new secret ID's. The reader learns this right from the start, unlike the surprise endings of Siegel's mystery tales. The idea of romance under a secret ID does recall Siegel's mystery story, "Lois Lane Weds Astounding Man" (Lois Lane #18, July 1960). Both of these tales contain a wedding, too.
Although this series is not Imaginary, it does resemble Imaginary stories in that it creates a parallel life for it central characters, different from their real ones, and allows us to see the progress of that life. Like Siegel's Imaginary tales in Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane, it deals mainly with romance and secret identities, and like several of them, it is an on-going series of tales, allowing readers to see a progression of developments. Siegel liked romantic series; he also did most of the Superman-Lori stories after the initial tale by Bill Finger.
Jimmy was always going undercover in disguise. This symbolized his adolescent state, and the young person's attempt to "try out" different lives on an experimental basis. Most of his disguise tales dealt with new professions he assumed in his detective work. Here, however, his disguises involve romance and his personal life, and allow him to experiment with romantic situations not available to him in his real life.
"Jimmy Olsen, Crooner" has elements of the Binder standard, the transformation tale. Jimmy gets "transformed" by his cold, into someone with a husky voice. However, in most Binder transformation stories the hero's transformation is employed in a wide variety of everyday life situations. But in "Jimmy Olsen, Crooner" Jimmy's voice exclusively gets him involved in a singing career.
"Jimmy Olsen, Crooner" combines its singing elements with other kinds of stories Binder liked. There is a detective story subplot, with reporter Jimmy assigned to track down a crook. And we get a look at reporting and Jimmy's job at the Daily Planet. This look becomes quietly involving.
Jimmy does not use his singing career to get dates or make himself socially popular. Instead he is purely interested in his jobs, as a singer and a reporter. This is typical of Jimmy's attitude in most of Binder's stories, where Jimmy is most interested in his work.
The reporters' club (page 2) is typical of the many clubs that run through Binder's work, most notably the Legion of Super-Heroes. These middle-class clubs are usually based on interests or professions (like being a reporter). They are not something that rich people can buy into.
The bandleader (page 3) is one of Curt Swan's virile "grown men successful in the arts", a type that runs through his work. He wears a jazzy, impressive black tuxedo. Jimmy is pictured singing in a similar tuxedo on the splash: jet black with a shawl collar. Other men in show biz also wear good tuxedos in 1955 Jimmy Olsen tales: the three magicians judging the contest in "The King of Magic", the TV announcer in "The Million Dollar Question". Please see my list of Comic Book Heroes in Tuxedos. Both the bandleader and Jimmy are holding phallic symbols: the bandleader's conductor's baton, Jimmy's microphone. Jimmy uses phallic symbols throughout this tale: his microphones (pages 1, 2, 3, 8), music stand (page 3), and broom (page 4).
Despite the phallic symbols in "Jimmy Olsen, Crooner", it does not seem to be one of Binder's Tales of Male Power. In such stories men have power because of social ties to male authority figures. That's not the case with Jimmy here. He's hired as a crooner because of his public appeal, not through any connections.
Instead "Jimmy Olsen, Crooner" is a sympathetic exploration of Jimmy's feelings. His music is seen as an expression of his masculinity and sexual attractiveness, as seen in his glamorous tux and phallic microphones. Later looks at Jimmy as a singer will continue this approach.
The Rock 'n' Roll Superman (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Jimmy temporarily takes his cousin's place as a rock singer, but it has an unexpected effect on Superman. Enjoyable, light-hearted look at early Rock 'n' Roll. This story is not a satire. Instead both Binder and artist Curt Swan seem sympathetic to Rock 'n' Roll.
Swan has not missed any chances to picture Jimmy holding a phallic guitar. The splash panel is especially definitive. Rock 'n' Roll seems like a direct expression of Jimmy's masculinity. And a Coast Guard scene (page 7) is full of towers and a lighthouse, all sticking straight up. These are linked to Superman.
Jimmy's music goes straight to Superman, bypassing any control. This is a metaphor for the relation between the two of them. Society disapproves - at least the rich people seen in the story. There is likely a gay subtext or allegory, with:
ROCK IN ROMANCE COMICS. These stage scenes in "The Rock 'n' Roll Superman" (the splash panel, and on page 3) anticipate rock music scenes in romance comic books, especially the cover of "The Bet" (Girls' Love Stories #168, April 1972) and the opening of "That Special Man" (Love Stories #152, October - November 1973). See my discussion. These also have men in the audience mesmerized by the music and/or male musicians standing above them on the stage, the way Superman and the dancer are in "The Rock 'n' Roll Superman". These tales also likely have a gay subtext.
"The Rock 'n' Roll Superman", "The Bet" and "That Special Man" all feature two categories of men:
OTHER MEN: APPROVING THE HEROES. "Jimmy Olsen, Crooner" featured a bandleader in a really good tux. A similar character reappears in "The Rock 'n' Roll Superman": the host at the theater (page 3). He introduces Jimmy, and clearly approves of Jimmy and Rock 'n' Roll. Another man in a tux is the owner of the supper club (page 6). Both men wear black tuxedos with shawl collars, like the bandleader in "Jimmy Olsen, Crooner".
When Jimmy sings at the stadium, he is guarded by two men in uniform, either police or stadium security guards (page 6). This too expresses approval of Jimmy and Rock by men in special clothes.
The young man expressing approval of Superman on the splash, calling Superman a "Super-cat" for his rock dancing, looks much like the crook impersonating Superman in "The Story of Superman's Souvenirs" (1955) (top of page 6). Both have a distinctly macho look.
TECHNOLOGY. SPOILERS. Aspects of the technical explanation at the end recalls the explanation in Binder's "The World's "Heavy Weight" Champ". The influence works in reverse in the two tales: from Superman to Jimmy in "The World's "Heavy Weight" Champ"; from Jimmy to Superman in "The Rock 'n' Roll Superman".
Alias Chip O'Doole (1960). Writer: Jerry Siegel. This story involves Jimmy with the world of early rock and roll. It reminds one that, four years before the Beatles, people mainly thought of rock and roll as a bunch of teen age crooners, harmless, non-political, non-threatening, and pretty trivial, all told! Teenagers might be obsessed with pop singers, but this was treated simply as a matter of teen idol fan worship; it was regarded as essentially no different from the movie star fan worship that was prevalent in the United States since around 1910. It was a subject ripe for satire and comedy, but not essentially harmful. Writer Jerry Siegel clearly did not regard rock music as a "culture", let alone a "counter culture" or a way of life. Nor did most of America. The tone of this and other Superman family entertainment world stories clearly echoes such movie spoofs as Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter (1957), directed by Frank Tashlin. The pop singer most often referred to in the Superman family stories was Pat Boone, an index of how innocuous the writers regarded the music.
One of Siegel's humorous song lyrics includes the term "inner space" (as opposed to "outer space"). Science fiction author J. G. Ballard would soon write a famous article "Which Way to Inner Space?" (1962). The term in now associated with Ballard.
Curt Swan did the art for this tale. Rock singer Chip O'Doole wears a leather jacket and a "uniform cap": a high-peaked cap like those worn by a policeman or pilot. Jimmy gets in an identical outfit when impersonating Chip O'Doole. Such a combination derives from the motorcyclist hero of the film The Wild One (1953). See my article The Wild One - Influence on Comics and Film.
Bizarro-Jimmy, Rock-'n'-Roll Star (1965). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: John Forte. To get a news story for his Bizarro double Bizarro-Jimmy, Jimmy impersonates him and appears as a rock singer on the American musical TV show Hullabashin. This comic tale combines Siegel's long running series, the Bizarros, with a spoof of rock and roll. Siegel had previously satirized rock in "Alias Chip O'Doole" (1960).
The title of the fictitious TV show Hullabashin reminds one of the real life TV show of the era Hullabaloo. Hullabashin focuses on Beatle-like rock singers. Hullabashin is Jimmy's favorite show, and the opening of the tale shows him watching it in mindless contentment. It is a classic comic image. It implies that the show is far below him, but that he is mesmerized by it anyway. This is one of the few images anywhere in the Superman family depicting the characters as consumers of the mass media. The continuing characters here usually disdained such a passive role. Instead they would be active participants. Soon enough, in this tale Jimmy becomes a rock singer himself, even if he is disguised as Bizarro-Jimmy #1.
Also noteworthy: the brief look at prize fighting on the Bizarro world. Both Forte's art and Siegel's comic reversals are delightful.
When dressed as a rock singer, Jimmy wears high-heeled, pointy-toed boots with his jet-black suit. Comic books loved boots, and included them on every possible occasion. Four other rock musicians are uniformed in identical clothes to Jimmy.
GUITAR SMASHING. In Jimmy's Bizarro rock act, he smashes his guitar. In real life Pete Townsend of The Who had done this the year before (1964), setting off a craze. In "Bizarro-Jimmy, Rock-'n'-Roll Star" Siegel satirizes this as something only relatable to the way-out logic of the Bizarros. The great Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni would satirize guitar-smashing in his classic film Blowup (1966). So Siegel and Jimmy Olsen were one year ahead of Antonioni! In any case, I agree with Siegel and Antonioni: guitar-smashing is really repulsive.
The Swinging Superman (1965). Writer: Otto Binder. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. At the debut of Jimmy's rock and roll band, Superman leads a dance craze called the Krypton Crawl. Both Superman and Clark Kent had often engaged in ballroom dancing with Lois Lane and other partners. But this is the first time in the series that Superman had tried rock dancing since "The Rock 'n' Roll Superman". The comics medium is not well suited to conveying music, except for song lyrics. But it is very vivid at depicting dancing. Binder was wise to concentrate on dancing in this tale. The story is based on Curt Swan's cover. Binder expands on its dance theme, to make the dancing in the story far more elaborate even than that on Swan's cover.
Binder sets Jimmy's debut during an Independence Day celebration, complete with US flags and red, white and blue bunting. It is clear that Jimmy's involvement with rock does not indicate any far left wing or anti-American leanings. The effect is not underlined, and Jimmy does not endorse any right wing positions, either. But it might have reassured nervous parents that the rock scenes in the story were not intended as a counter cultural statement. Later in the story, Jimmy and Superman will defeat some foreign spies, with the aid of Army M.P.'s. These uniformed characters will continue the patriotic theme. This story will be the first occurrence in Jimmy Olsen of a role he will be increasingly associated with in succeeding issues: that of a Man From U.N.C.L.E. like espionage agent.
This is a very complexly plotted story. It is constructed in four Acts. The first sets up the characters, and gets Jimmy involved in his rock act. The second is a flashback sequence; the third is Superman's dance; and the fourth is the finale of the tale. Each of the last three acts looks at a long dance sequence. These dance sequences are all public progressions through a city. Each has a tremendous forward propulsion, aided in no small measure by Curt Swan's magnificent art. The three acts are like three recurring refrains. They are like parallel sections of a song, or repeating measures of a dance. The last three sections each look at the same material, but with completely different perspectives. Each uses some feature of Binder's art, some technique he was particularly associated with during his long tenure as a Superman family author. This is especially true of acts two and four, which are retrospective material, flashbacks exploring past events. This is both related to, and different from, Jerry Siegel's anthology technique. Siegel often constructed his stories so that they were museums of previous Superman story subjects, often time his own previous works. Binder's acts are constructed around Binder's previous story-telling techniques.
The first of the four Acts here focuses on Jimmy, and uses such standard Jimmy Olsen approaches as his rivalry with a more successful suitor for Lucy Lane, and his Superman signal watch. Both of these features had been introduced by Binder into Jimmy Olsen. The other three acts all focus on Superman as their central character. The bulk of the story is about him, with Jimmy as more of a supporting and enabling character. The techniques used in these last three acts are more closely associated with Binder stories about Superman.
There are no traces of Binder's challenge and rebuff construction in this tale. Instead, the story is a long, flowing piece of pure storytelling, made up of several acts. In this, it resembles Binder's masterpiece, "Superman's Other Life" (1959).
"The Swinging Superman" has imagery recalling "The Rock 'n' Roll Superman" (1958):
MC of the Midnight Scare Theater (1959). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Jimmy becomes the ghoulish host of a TV monster movie show. This tale has an apparently sinister side; it resembles the Lois Lane tale, "Lois Lane's Kiss of Death" (Lois Lane #7, February 1959), also written by Robert Bernstein, which appeared a few months before.
The story is typical of some of Bernstein's work in that:
The Big Superman Movie (1960). Jimmy becomes "technical director" on a movie about his and Superman's adventures. This story's unusual, recursive construction is discussed in the Superman article, in the section on Imaginary Tales. Jimmy discovers when he goes to Hollywood that he is not playing himself in the film as he had hoped; instead the role goes to a professional teen acting star. This is similar to an earlier Lois Lane tale, "Lois Lane in Hollywood" (1958). However, Jimmy reacts to this news with much more comic resiliency than Lois, telling his girl friend Lucy that being technical director is a much more important role! Jimmy always had a mixture of youthful vanity and optimism. Partly this is seen satirically as a flaw, but it is also seen as a healthy optimism. It seems like an essentially likable trait.
This story is a bit more "serious" in tone than other Jimmy Olsen show biz tales, although it is by no means grim. It is the Jimmy tale that is closest to some of the Lois Lane acting stories. Hollywood actors are always treated sympathetically in the Superman family; they tend to be depicted as hard working professionals, despite their surface glamour, and ultimately as generous, good natured sports. They are often willing to take part in the ingenious schemes of the regular series characters such as Superman, Jimmy and the others. They can look a bit intimidating or threatening to the regular characters at first, but they usually come through as likable people in the end.
The Specter of the Haunted House (1961). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Jimmy Olsen meets the public relations man for a Hollywood ghost movie, and solves a mystery involving a haunted house. This sort of publicity stunt inevitably recalls William Castle, the 1960's purveyor of ghost stories and thrillers who publicized his movies with an endless array of imaginative stunts.
The mystery tale as a whole is well done, and recalls a famous story by Conan Doyle in its general outline.
Jimmy does not go undercover in this tale; instead the story is a puzzle plot mystery, in which he tries to solve a spooky situation. Dorfman had a flair for puzzle plot tales: he also wrote "The Widow in Black" (Lois Lane #32, April 1962).
Many of the Olsen stories have a movie background. The authors of the Superman stories tended to see Hollywood as a humorous subject, ripe for good natured satire. This fits right in with the comic tone of the Jimmy Olsen stories.
Elastic Lad's Wrestling Match (1961). Writer: Robert Bernstein. It is discussed above under the Elastic Lad stories, but it also can be considered a spoof of the then popular sport of TV wrestling. Bernstein's show business figures: wrestlers here, monster movie hosts in "MC of the Midnight Scare Theater" (1959), tend to be campy, over the top non-fiction presenses on live television. These colorful entertainers are on the fringes of show business, but they are flamboyantly entertaining, and often develop cult status. There is often a pathos about such characters, a lower class outsider status.
The Boy in the Bottle (#53, June 1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Jimmy Olsen pays a visit to the bottled city of Kandor. This story is not that great, unfortunately. It does show Jimmy encountering the Kryptonian film industry.
Jimmy Olsen's Sweethearts (1961). A Hollywood glamour queen dates Jimmy Olsen, making Lucy jealous. This exuberantly surrealistic story should please anyone who enjoys the classic Hollywood of its era.
Jimmy Olsen, Hollywood Star (1962). Jimmy takes part in Hollywood television, and encounters numerous real life TV stars. The editors warn the readers right in the opening panel that this tale has a surprise ending; a gambit they will later repeat with "The Secret of Silver Kryptonite" (1963). The idea seems partly to be one of gearing reader expectations. Both stories are also a bit more "artificial" than the typical Superman family story, a bit more consciously "constructs" than the typical tale. Having the narrator intervene and set the reader's ideas about the stories' structure, also helps set a more artificial tone to the stories. It makes their status as works of artifice apparent right from the start.
Jimmy Olsen's Monster Movie (1965). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Jimmy persuades a Hollywood producer friend to let him write, direct and star in a science fiction movie. Funny satire on both backstage Hollywood relations, and monster movies themselves. Siegel had previously satirized cheap Hollywood sf flicks in the Superboy tale "The Super Star of Hollywood" (Adventure #272, May 1960), and this story continues that tradition.
Other Show Business Stories. There are also some mild show business spoofs that are not that good, and which are included here for completeness. "The Lady Killer From Metropolis" (#33, December 1958), written by ???. "The Irresistible Jimmy Olsen" (#46, July 1960), written by Robert Bernstein. Both of these stories have a similar plot: Jimmy becomes mysteriously attractive to hordes of women. These stories offer an unpleasant look at the relationships between men and women. "Jimmy Olsen's Four Fads" (#43, March 1960). Jimmy tries to start public fads with his behavior, just like the real life TV teen idol Ed Byrnes and his comb. This is a likable but ungripping story.
This tale has a full surrealistic quality. Surrealism often was based on the juxtaposition of the most unlikely, contradictory elements, the meeting of "the umbrella and the sewing machine on the dissecting table" according to the famous dictum of André Breton. The constant appearance of the monster out of nowhere during all the scenes of Jimmy Olsen's daily life is in this tradition. He seems completely opposed to their routine, traditional quality, something far removed from them. One might also note that the monster appears instead of Superman, who normally arrives whenever Jimmy presses his signal watch. This means, that on some subconscious or symbolic level, that the monster represents Superman transformed. He evokes fears: what would happen if my best friend turned into a monster? This subconscious anxiety, illuminated and writ large, is also in the surrealistic tradition.
The Monsters From Earth (1960). Writer: Jerry Siegel. This sequel, also written by Siegel, appeared four issues later. It takes the ideas of the first story, and brings them even closer to satire and comedy. The Hollywood spoofing here is very close to that of a Superboy in Hollywood satire Siegel wrote at the same year, "The Super Star of Hollywood" (1960). This story, which appeared in the May 1960 Adventure between the two monster tales, also pokes fun at Hollywood and sf movies. There is also some interesting Art Deco architecture drawn by Swan in this tale.
Siegel gets a chance to satirize the whole idea of "monsters" in these stories, as he points out that Jimmy and other humans look just as monstrous to these aliens as they do to us. The monstrousness is just due to unfamiliarity. It is an example of irrational prejudice. This perspective contains a Civil Rights allegory. Civil Rights was the most important social issue of the day, and very close to everybody's mind at all times in 1960. Aliens could easily be made to stand for other races, in sf stories. The story's exposure of fear of aliens as simple, irrational, unjustifiable prejudice points up the similar unjustifiable nature of racial prejudice.