Here is another issue of SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN that I got in my Windfall purchase of 1988, when I bought a long box of around 150 silver age comics for $50.00, the best lucky stroke I’ve ever encountered in terms of collecting vintage comic books. It seems strange to modern sensibilities that a character such as Jimmy Olsen could hold down his own solo series at all, let alone for the decades that he managed it. Some of that is down to an abiding hunger for more Superman content, I expect–Superman was a character that every kid knew about and a great entry point into the world of reading comics. In large part, that was due to the ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN live action television series starring George Reeves that aired throughout the 1950s and which entered syndication thereafter and ran in reruns for years further. Thanks to that program (and the Superman radio show before it) Jimmy Olsen’s name was well known to everyone. And in that context, it’s no surprise that Jimmy’s title routinely outsold BATMAN, THE FLASH, JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA and GREEN LANTERN, among others .
With the departure of Whit Ellsworth to the west coast to supervise the ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN series and oversee DC/National Comics’ relations in Hollywood, Mort Weisinger became the sole editor of the Superman line of titles for the first time, and he proceeded to build up a complex mythology around the Man of Steel that is still fondly remembered today. Mort’s books were a bastion of consistency. While they were produced by a number of different writers and artists, the end result was homogenized through Mort’s sensibilities in such a way that there was an evenness of tone to everything. Mort aimed his endeavors at a relatively young audience, and his stories were laid out like storybooks, with the actions in each panel not only described in depth by the captions and the characters themselves, but also often having nothing to do with the actions in the subsequent panel. Emotional intensity was one of Mort’s hallmarks, although the emotional sophistication he was aiming for was that of a child. Consequently, Superman and all of his friends tended to behave very much as children might a lot of the time. As absurd as this is, it made for stories that could be felt very intensely by a young reading audience, and the approach kept the Superman books at the top of the sales charts.
As was the case with all of the Superman books at this time, this issue of SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN featured three short stories starring the intrepid Metropolis reporter. The first one was written by Otto Binder and illustrated by Curt Swan and Ray Burnley, a very nice art combination. It’s one of those casually racist stories from this period, sadly, in which Jimmy Olsen helps a Latin American citizen known only as Pedro the Peon to pose as another Superman in order to overthrow the dictator of his fictitious country of Peccador. The South Americans are all given comical faux-spanish accents and their nation is a big of a cartoon. This sort of treatment was typical of the era, even though Pedro and his son Pancho are shown to be heroic and good. Jimmy helps them to fake Superman-style powers when Pedro is dressed as “Super-Senor”, then is able to summon Superman himself for the coup de gras.
It’s perhaps a little bit ironic that this house ad/editorial about international brotherhood comes directly after that first story. It was written, as most of these public service spots were, by editor Jack Schiff and illustrated by Bernard baily. Schiff truly believed in the power of comics to educate and inspire, and these single page messages were apparently a real passion project for him.
There’s also this great full-page ad for the Viking Prince series in BRAVE AND THE BOLD. The character had been around since the very first issue of B&B, but for a brief stretch here, the entirety of the magazine was turned over to his adventures, with some wonderful Joe Kubert artwork. This ad was another that’s the work of DC secret weapon Ira Schnapp, whose command of hand lettering and design was extraordinary.
This issue of SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN contained a bit of a small milestone, as it introduced Jimmy’s long-running love interest, Lois Lane’s flight attendant sister Lucy. It was also the product of writer Otto Binder and artist Curt Swan, though the inking credit is a subject of debate. Lucy’s relationship with Jimmy revolved around shenanigans most of the time–in that way, the inspiration of Lucille Ball is readily apparent (though in this case, Jimmy was often cast in the Lucy role.) Lucy and Jimmy both liked one another, but they were also prone to bouts of jealousy or envy or disinterest that prevented their relationship from progressing at all–which was the general idea. But Lucy’s arrival did give Jimmy’s series added depth, as he now had a regular girl to attempt to woo (and occasionally reject, as one did.)
In this first Lucy Lane story, Jimmy is head over heels with Lucy pretty much from the very start. But she isn’t much interested in him at all. So of course he chooses to use his famous disguise trunk to assume various guises in an attempt to woo her in other identities. Far from seeing Jimmy as a crazed stalker, all of this skullduggery in an attempt to date her causes the younger Lane to give in an dgo out with the reporter. But she tells him that she’s made a promise to their mother that she wouldn’t get married until her older sister Lois does–so if Jimmy ever wants to wed her, he’ll have to see to it that Lois and Superman get together.
The letters page in this issue gives a good sense as to the overall age range of Mort’s audience, as well as what concerned them (or, really, what concerned Mort–as he selected the letters to answer, he could skew the results a bit. It’s an adage when it comes to letters pages that what you print is what you get–so if you wanted to encourage a certain type of letter to be written, the best way was to print a bunch like that.)
As was the pattern, the final story in this issue was the one that was cover-featured. Like the first story, it was produced by Otto Binder, Curt Swan and Ray Burnley. Swan would soon after graduate to being the main Superman artist, but at this point, he was still a second tier player, with Superman’s look overall defined by Wayne Boring, the mainstay artist of the 1950s. But the sensitivity of Swan’s work, especially when inked by a complimentary had such as Burnley’s, was incredibly appealing, and he was an expert at depicting the quiet power of superman’s many superhuman attributes. In the wake of the advent of the Comics Code, editors were wary about depicting anything too exciting, for fear that it would be labeled violence and they’d be picketed. So Swan’s gentle approach was exactly what the doctor ordered.
It was a story that filled in a bunch of new backstory for the characters, revealing how, before he’d come to work for the Daily Planet and met Superman, Jimmy Olsen had been dispatched by a scientist into the distant past, where he wound up on Krypton before it had exploded. This gave Binder a chance to explore what Superman’s homeworld was like before it was destroyed. Olsen, of course, winds up befriending Superman’s father Jor-El and even babysitting for the infant Man of Steel. When he returns to the present, Superman shows up, telling young Jimmy that he’s got a job waiting for him at the Daily Planet. You see, he remembers Olsen from when he was a baby and has decided that they’re now going to be pals. This is meant as a positive thing, but the way Superman just shows up here and insists is, frankly, terrifying. Ultimately, though, the relationship doesn’t do Jimmy any lasting harm, save for the frequent bodily transformations he’s put through on a regular basis.