Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Episode #50: Happy Birthday, Jimy Olsen!

As noted by the web site Superman ( Jimmy Olsen's traditional birthday is November 29 (the day after my late mother's birthday). An unnamed red haired copy boy first appears in Action Comics #6, but the character named Jimmy Olsen first appeared not in comics but the Superman radio show on April 15, 1940. He made his first comic book appearance in Superman #13 in 1941. Throughout his career with the Daily Planet (originally the Daily Star) Jimmy has advanced from copy boy to photographer and "cub" reporter.
Common to Jimmy Olsen's portrayal in various media are his bow tie and his signal watch, his relationship with Clark Kent and Lois Lane as both close friends and mentors, his strong friendship with Superman and his rescue by Superman from threats ranging from embarassing to deadly.
In the silver age of comics his signal watch was a gift from Superman. In post-crisis continuity, in World of Metropolis #4 he cobbled together a hypersonic signal to attract Superman's attention to help a friend of his in an emergency.
Jimmy Olsen gained a larger role in Superman's world with the publication of his own title in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen beginning in 1954. This title was famous for Jimmy's many transformations. Jimmy swithched minds with a gorilla and worked his beat as a gorilla dressed in Jimmy's clothing in issue #24, October 1957. One of his most famous transformations was as Elastic Lad, first in issue #37 in 1959. Jimmy became a teen werewolf in issue #44 in 1960. His most unusual transformation was in drag as a gun moll to gather evidence in a jewelry robbery in the same issue. Another of his most famous transformations was as the Giant Turtle Boy in issue #53 in 1961. Jimmy also became a human porcupine in issue #65 (1962), a red headed Beatle of 1,000 B.C. in issue #70 (1964) and as a bearded hippy in a Kirby issue, #118 in 1969.
Jimmy Olsen was not only Superman's Pal, but also his sidekick. In a pair of adventures in the bottle city of Kandor, Superman, as Nightwing, and Jimmy, as Flamebird, were Kandorian versions of Batman and Robin. Their names came from two species of kryptonian birds. The adventures occurred in Superman #158 (January 1963) and Jimmy Olsen #69 (June 1963).
Jimmy also earned the honor of becoming an honorary member of the Legion of Super-Heroes in issue #72 of his own title in 1963. Various Legion members disguised themselves as various Olsen transformations, and Jimmy ingeniously figured out which Legionnaire was imitating which transformation, thus passing his initiation. Superman took Jimmy to the 30th century to take his oath in front of the entire Legion.
Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen ended with issue #163 (February / March 1974, released on November 8, 1973). Superman Family combined the combined titles of Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane and Supergirl and continued the numbering from Jimmy's title.
Jack Kirby, as noted in episode #34 of this podcast, expanded Jimmy's role in the Superman universe when he involved Jimmy in Project Cadmus. Jimmy became more independent and an adventure, exploring such topics of the late 1960's as the generation gap through conflicts between Jimmy and Superman.
Post-Crisis, Jimmy began as a young employee of the Daily Planet, still living with his mother, although as he matured in the 1990's he moved out on his own. His father served in the military but had disappeared, and Jimmy eventually learned his dad had been involved with Project Cadmus. Some of the silver age plot elements would return for Jimmy. When Superman brought the kryptonian artifact the Eradicator home, it turned Jimmy into a version of Elastic Lad. In the weekly series Countdown, Jimmy would also become a version of Turtle Boy. After the mini-series Infinite Crisis Jimmy was ret-conned as a younger character. But with the recent one shot Sperman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #1, a New Krypton tie-in, Jimmy has begun to mature again, following a lead on a news story that may have sinister consequences for Superman in 2009.

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Thanks for listening to Superman Fan Podcast, and, as always, thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

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