Saturday, October 8, 2011

Episode #199: Superman Family Comic Books Cover Dated September 1956: Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #15 & World's Finest Comics #84!

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #15, September 1956, was published around July 17, 1956. It contained 32 pages for the price of 10¢. Mort Weisinger was the editor, and the cover was pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye, the art team for all three stories written by Otto Binder. The first two stories were 8 pages long, while the issue's final story was only 6 pages long. They were reprinted in Showcase Presents: Superman Family vol. I.

The Mystery Of The Canine Champ was the issue's first story. Perry White finally had enough of Jimmy Olsen's typos in his stories' headlines, and demoted him to pet editor until he could find a scoop about animals. A very bored Jimmy covered a dog show and animal acts, then watched Superman introduce Cal Crane and his dog Rollo, a German Shepherd. Paul Orton and his German Shepherd King muscled onto the stage as well. Jimmy snapped a close up photo of King, and noticed a gold filling in a back tooth.

Olsen didn't care for Orton's boasting, but still asked him to take another photo of King. Orton was caught off guard by the fact that Jimmy noticed King's gold filling. But before Jimmy could snap the photo, someone threw a brick into a puddle on the curb, splashing water on the lens. That gave Orton time to change his mind and jump into a waiting car.

In the following days Crane and Rollo appear on TV, while Orton and King appear on a rival TV station. Orton and King garner better ratings due to the variety of tricks King performed. Jimmy covered Orton and King, and found it odd that a large truck was parked outside King's dressing room. Inside the studio, Jimmy was about to take another picture of King, when someone opened the door to the stairs and threw dust on his lens. Jimmy noticed that the dust was dog biscuit crumbs. That made Jimmy suspicious.

At home, Jimmy disguised himself and pretended to be a dog biscuit salesman when he approached King's training facility. Once inside, he snuck into the training room and discovered that King was actually four dogs, each trained for a separate trick.  Before he could snap a picture, he was discovered by Orton and his gang. To buy some time, Jimmy threw a bunch of dog biscuits to the dogs, creating enough chaos to allow him to alert Superman with his signal watch.

The Man of Steel rounded up Orton's gang, which made Crane very grateful. Jimmy got a front page story out of it, only to face Perry's wrath again for misspelling the headline of his report when he turned it in.

This is the kind of Jimmy Olsen story I like. He dug himself out of the hole he had made for himself because of his bade spelling. His sharp instincts led him on the trail of Orton's scam. What Jimmy Olsen would it be without him getting in over his head and needing to be rescued by the Man of Steel. After all, Superman needs something to do.

When Jimmy noticed King's gold filling, I wondered why someone would put a gold filling in a dog's tooth? At the end of the story, part of me wondered why Superman arrested him? The only thing that made sense was that he had a paid sponsor. If Orton led that sponsor to believe that one dog did all of those tricks, then that would be fraud.

This story was a simple, down to earth story, that was still interesting. I enjoyed reading about Jimmy noticing something fishy about Orton and King, and uncovering the mystery, and give it 4 Superman Capes out of 5.

Jimmy Olsen, Speed Demon, the story featured on the cover, began when Clark received a package from a Professor Claude, a vial containing what the scientist claimed was a super speed serum, in an enclosed note. Clark didn't take it seriously, but Jimmy took the opportunity to interview the possibly crackpot scientist.

Prof. Claude was eating lunch, and invited Jimmy to join him. As Claude showed Jimmy the super fast squirrel in his test cage, Olsen drank what he thought was a glass of milk. It was actually another batch of the super speed serum, and Jimmy discovered that he now had super speed as well.

He tested out his new super power by running back to the Daily Planet offices. Jimmy performed his duties at super speed, but Clark was concerned that Jimmy wasn't as experienced enough in using his power effectively as Olsen thought.

Clark's concerns were right, when Jimmy sped through traffic on his bicycle at super speed. He created enough turbulence to scatter a man's money out of his hand. Superman was keeping an eye on Jimmy from the air, and was able to retrieve the man's cash. Jimmy rode up on a getaway car during a shootout with the police, and crashed into the vehicle's rear bumper. Jimmy flew into the air and his jacket hung up on a second story flag pole.

Superman caught the gang and retrieved Jimmy. They visited the Professor, and Superman urged him to discover the antidote before Jimmy hurt himself or others. The Man of Steel returned Jimmy to the Planet offices, and urged him to stay put until Claude could invent the antidote.

A bored Jimmy discovered a notice about an unsolved Acme jewelry robber. Olsen remembered that Don "Diamond" Dirk had been a suspect. While keeping his word to Superman, Jimmy called Dirk's bookshop, which was a cover for his criminal enterprises, and ordered some dictionaries. After ushering Clark and Lois into the next office, Jimmy goaded Dirk with a false claim of having proof in an envelope of his involvement in the Acme robbery. His plan was to dodge the bullet at super speed, and compare that bullet with others recovered at the scene of the robbery.

In the next office, Clark received a call from Professor Claude, who informed Kent that the squirrel had lost its super speed, and the serum's effects would wear off on Jimmy at any time. Dirk pulled a gun and fired, and Jimmy discovered too late that he had, indeed, lost his super speed. But Clark burst out of the office in a flash, using an envelope opener to deflect the bullet at the last minute, and disarmed Dirk.

Lois thought that this proved Clark was Superman, but he showed her the empty vial he had received from Prof. Claude. Clark had really poured out the serum, but used the vial to cover hos use of super speed, and allow Jimmy to earn another byline for revealing the criminal behind the Acme jewelry robbery.

This was the second Jimmy Olsen story where he gained super powers, after Superman's Seeing Eye Dog from issue #11.

The first lesson to be learned from this story was, when eating lunch with an absent minded professor, be careful what you drink out of.

As usual, Jimmy got a little reckless and overconfident. When Jimmy sped through traffic on his bicycle, I couldn't help but think tat any police officer who gave him a ticket for speeding would remember Jimmy for a  very long time.

While Jimmy set up a clever sting to entrap Dirk, recent news reports of public shootings made it very clear what a dangerous game Olsen was playing. Not only was he endangering himself, but the rest of the Daily Planet staff also. I would find Perry White very justified in firing Olsen if things had gone wrong, if not for knowingly bringing a dangerous gunman to the office.

This one concern aside, this was a fun story of Jimmy struggling with a super power and finding a clever way to catch a criminal, and I give this story 4 Superman Capes out of 5.

Unwanted Superman Souvenirs was the final story of this issue. It began with Jimmy showing Clark the latest souvenir Superman brought him, a large crystal from another world.

After Clark left, he found a secluded spot to change into Superman. He noticed Jimmy throwing one of his mementos into the garbage can. This upset the Man of Steel.

In the following days, Superman noticed Jimmy throwing other souvenirs away in various places around Metropolis. It upset him enough that, as Clark Kent, he asked Jimmy if he was still friends with Superman. Jimmy thought that was a silly question, which relieved Clark for a while, until he saw Jimmy discard other souvenirs.

But Superman began noticing a pattern. Jimmy only discard three souvenirs a day, and never in the same place. Using the first letters of the places Olsen discarded the mementos, Superman was able to discover a hidden message, Alive Help.

Superman was able to deduce that the alien crystal was somehow alive, and was using Jimmy to alert Superman. After explaining things to Jimmy, Superman enclosed the crystal brain in a clear container. Using his telescopic vision, the Man of Steel threw the crystal on a trajectory that would return it to its home planet. Superman also returned all of the discarded souvenirs to Jimmy.

My first thought about this story was where was the parachute for the crystal brain. I hope its planet had low gravity, or the crystal brain was invulnerable.

ON first reading I thought this was a fair, if not great story. But as I began organizing my notes for this story, the plot holes became very apparent. If the crystal brain was able to hypnotize Jimmy to throw away his souvenirs in order to get Superman's attention, why not send a mental message to the Man of Steel instead, if not alert him to not remove it from its home world in the first place. Then there wouldn't be enough story to  stretch over six pages, and the plot was thin enough already. I had to settle for a rating of 2 Superman Capes out of 5.

DC's 5,000 Prize Slogan Contest rules were published in the issues with a September 1956 cover date. In a full page ad, DC published the rules and an entry coupon. A valid entry had to include 5 coupons, although a prospective slogan only needed to be written on one of them. A second slogan required 5 more coupons, so the main focus of this contest appeared to be a marketing ploy to encourage readers to buy more titles. The deadline for the contest was the end of October, 1956, so if you want to enter, you'll need to fly through the time barrier or borrow a Legion time bubble to get your entry in on time. I couldn't help but be a little disappointed after reading the contest rules. Future episodes will cover the contest results.

World's Finest Comics #84, September/October 1956, was published around July 31, 1956. It contained 32 pages for the cover price of a dime. The editor was Jack Schiff, and the cover was drawn by Dick Sprang and inked by Stan Kaye, the art team for the Superman/Batman story in this issue. It was the 12 page long story titled The Super-Mystery Of Metropolis, written by Edmond Hamilton, and reprinted in World's Finest Archives vol. I and Showcase Presents: World's Finest vol. I.

After returning from a mission to Metropolis, Superman recognized Thad Linnis, who threatened to expose the Man of Steel's secret identity unless he left the city for two weeks. Superman reluctantly agreed. As Clark Kent, he got Perry to approve his 2 week vacation.

The next day, an ocean liner was about to crash into a bridge, when a current seemed to swing it around to avoid a collision. On the following day, an unexpected rain storm doused a penthouse fire that was out of reach of the Metropolis Fire Department.

The Daily Planet published a front page headline, Where's Superman?, and Batman and Robin were called to Metropolis to investigate. The Dynamic Duo discovered that the river had no currents capable of swinging  a large ship as the ocean liner had been. They also learned that the Weather Bureau had not forecast a rain on the day of the fire. They found Superman when, as they flew in the Batplane, the Man of Steel shielded them from a lightning strike.

After landing outside of Metropolis, Superman told Batman and Robin the whole story. In a flashback to Smallville, Superboy noticed Linnis following him. It seemed to the Boy of Steel that Linnis had a teen boy accomplice (who, to me, resembled a young Bruce Wayne).

Superboy noticed the boy following him on a number of super deeds. While flying antique planes in an Air Show, in order to safeguard pilots from danger, Superboy noticed a map of Smallville the boy had marked his flight paths on. Afterwards, Superboy burrowed a tunnel from the Kent's basement to a secluded area to disguise his flight paths over town. When the boy asked about Clark at the Kent home, Clark emerged from the basement, and later noticed that he still had dirt in his hair. Later, the boy would go to the Kent store and buy a tire for his bike from Clark.

After saving a small building from a fire, Superboy noticed that his charred fingerprints had been cut out of the corner of the building where he had held the building. The boy didn't have the evidence, and, when Superboy confronted Linnis, he only said that he didn't have them, but might use them later.

Batman informed Superman that he was that boy. His parents had vacationed in Smallville, and young Bruce wanted to test his detective skills in an attempt to learn Superboy's identity, in hopes of becoming a great detective as an adult.

Bruce refused Linnis' request to join his effort to blackmail Superboy with his secret identity. He did notice the dirt in Clark's hair, and his suspicions about young Clark were confirmed when Kent gave Bruce the right sized tire without measuring the wheel. Bruce had cut out the fingerprints from the building, but threw them into the fire when Linnis wanted them. Wayne kept his knowledge secret in order to not crush Superboy's self confidence.

Superman realized that Linnis had bluffed him. The World's Finest heroes returned to Metropolis. Superman shook Linnis and his gang out of the giant tank they planned to use to rob the city's banks. While Batman and Robin rounded up the crooks, Superman demolished the tank.

After Lois thanked Batman for the great detective work in finding the Man of Steel, Superman thought to himself that she didn't realize what a great detective Bruce was as a teen.

This story was a vast improvement from the previous issue. While Bruce and Clark didn't team up in the flashback, it did remind me of a later issue of World's Finest, issue #172, where the Kents also adopted Bruce in an "imaginary story."

Someone from Superman's past returned to haunt him, and struck at the Man of Steel's greatest fear, the discovery of his secret identity. For a while, Linnis out thought Superman.

I loved Perry's response when Clark asked for a vacation, "Take your vacation. I can always spare you."

Even though he was supposed to leave Metropolis, Superman found clever ways to protect the city, underwater with the ship, and in the clouds above Metropolis creating the rain storms.

Young Bruce Wayne also messed with Superboy's head, and it turned out that Clark hadn't perfected his ability to protect his secret identity just yet. Bruce showed the potential for the detective he would become as a teen. The trick with the bicycle tire was a clever trick to pull on Clark. Bruce's flashback made it as much of a Bruce story as a Clark story.

Superman was put through the full gamut of emotion, from the threat of the exposure of his secret identity to the thrill of victory when he captured the crooks once again, and I give this story 5 Superman Capes out of 5.

Green Arrow starred in the second, 6 page story in this issue, The Mystery Of 1,000 Masks, written by Dave Wood and drawn by George Papp.

Tomahawk starred in the final story of the issue, The Frontier Braggart, written by Dave Wood and drawn by Bob Brown.

Elsewhere in DC Comics, 33 titles carried the September or September/October 1956 cover date.

Next Episode: Superman Comic Books Cover Dated November 1959: Superman #133 & Action Comics #258!

In 2 Weeks: Superman Family Comic Book Cover Dated October 1956: Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #16!

Check out SLIPSTREAM, a new web comic book written by jeffrey Taylor, co-host of the FROM CRISIS TO CRISIS podcast, and drawn by yours truly. Thanks to SUPERMAN HOMEPAGE .com contributor Adam Deschanel for putting the website together.

Also, if you know the original publication information for a Superman story involving his alien zoo at his Fortress of Solitude, reprinted in the 1970 SUPERMAN BUMPER BOOK, a UK Superman hardcover anthology, post it in comments or through the contact information below.

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