THIS REVIEW OF ‘SUPERMAN’S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN’ #2 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. Silly sells. Add risky stunts and grossness, it sells large. How profitable is puerile? The Jackass franchise has proven solvent, even award-winning. Apparently, so has Jimmy Olsen.
We learned from the first issue of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen all the journalistic integrity and hard-hitting news Daily Planet readers rely on is bankrolled by Olsen’s madcap stunt reporting. He’s their red-haired, golden egg-laying goose of online trending and sales. In issue #2, we also find he’s won a Pulitzer Prize for Photography.
Unlike its companion 12-issue maxi-series Lois Lane, writer Matt Fraction’s emphasis isn’t on a serious, investigative journalist version of Jimmy Olsen. Rather, it’s a celebration of the strange and offbeat elements orbiting the Man of Steel’s best friend. Or, as trade copy proclaimed, it’s “a bizarre tour of the underbelly of the DC Universe”. They aren’t kidding, but the result is funny. The jocular junket continues in #2.
The narrative again breaks into four parts: Metropolis’ history and Jimmy’s progenitors; the now, with Jimmy’s Planet features; and the near future, at a Gotham flophouse. In the first, blind luck makes enemies of the Alexander/Luthor and Olsson/Olsen families. The second is history repeating itself, Jimmy striking gold while capitalizing on a Luthor’s misfortune. Given their ongoing bad blood, only Jimmy being Kryptonian could place him higher on Lex’s ‘Get Even’ list. The third covers why Superman and Olsen are friends. Lastly, Jimmy hides out in Gotham while people connected only by association with him wake up disappeared or dead.
Fraction’s having a good time hanging out on the muzzy fringes of what made the Silver Age Olsen series memorable. Last issue, he provided a modern Turtle Man incarnation. This time, he answers the perpetual fandom puzzler, “If you’re Superman and can pal around with anyone in the world, why Jimmy?” Oddly enough, because it’s more fun than being around Batman is only part of the implied answer.
We get it. Anyone could do worse than having Jimmy for a chum. As written by Fraction, he’s fearless, dares amazing stunts, makes you laugh, and has a good heart. Who better for a superheroic powerhouse from Kansas to befriend? It’s hard to take Jimmy too seriously as a journalistic force, but he makes people (except Luthor) feel comfortable. With Jimmy, you can just be yourself. Which may well be one of the greatest natural traits of a journalist.
Mostly, if you aren’t looking for a hard-boiled newspaper hero like Lois, this approach manages to have fun with the Olsen concept. It further provides relatable, behind-the-scenes glimpses of major characters. It may come off as a bit too dismissive that the Olsen family’s good fortune trumps hard work and determination for success, including winning that Pulitzer. The matter’s dealt with to a degree; a chastened Jimmy dialing down his chaotic side along with any serious attempts at quality is what everyone ultimately expects from him. The mostly harmless goof. The safe, lucrative clown.
Steve Lieber serves up generous portions of the silly, from panels of Jimmy galloping alongside Comet as a freckled, bow-tied stallion, to getting a first-rate snap of Luthor’s twitching nasal hairs. Amidst all the wacky, Lieber drops in random, unexpectedly poignant panels. A tired embedded photographer on the flight home, drowsing against Lois Lane as both still wear their combat gear and Jimmy bleeds from a bandaged hand. Superman’s expression when Jimmy lives down to public expectations. Lieber’s cover for the issue is quite the nostalgia parade of classic Super-Rogues, too: Menacing Gorilla Bride, Terra-Man, the Annihilator, and the ever-fuming Editor-in-Chief.
Nathan Fairbairn’s assorted paint sample hues never go too garish, too vibrant. That’s good, because a many past Olsen-centric colorations would give Rainbow Batman a run. Visualize the palette needed for aliens, Elastic Lad, Wolf-Man, Flamebird, and Turtle Man. Fairbairn includes many of those colors but tones them down to their low beams. Clayton Cowles unleashes a creative font sample pack in the section introductions, each with its own title and accompanying variation on ‘Superman’s Pal…’. The dialogue remains standard, like he saves up to let his creative whims run wild for the headers, and each one’s worth the wait.
There have been many attempts to re-imagine Jimmy Olsen into something other than what his 20-year ongoing comic series put into place. Some more serious, some attempting more connection to youth culture in that moment, others just dull. Fraction and Lieber have made Jimmy’s youthfulness a factor but retained the never-dull ‘Pal Dimension’ of the Silver Age. While there’s no zee-zeeing of the signal watch or Kirby krackled crossovers with Don Rickles, the best parts of the avant garde comic book style are intact, amusing, and sharp.
DC / $3.99
Written by Matt Fraction.
Art by Steve Lieber.
Colors by Nathan Fairbairn.
Letters by Clayton Cowles.
8 out of 10
Check out this 4-page preview of ‘Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen’ #2, including a variant cover by Ben Oliver, courtesy of DC!