Saturday, November 5, 2011

Episode #201: Superman Family Comic Book Cover Dated October 2011: Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #16!

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #16, October 1956, was published around August 23, 1956. It contained 32 pages for the cover price of a dime. Mort Weisinger was the editor, and the cover was pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye. All three stories, the first two of which were eight pages long and the final one six pages long, were all done by the same creative team, writer Otto Binder, penciller Curt Swan and inker Ray Burnley.

The Three Lives Of Jimmy Olsen began with Clark and Jimmy checking the safe at the Daily Planet building. They were ensuring the lead container filled with radium was still safe. It was worth $25,000.00, and had been entrusted to the Daily Planet to distribute to needy hospitals in the area.

While Clark left the building to check which hospitals needed the radium the most, Jimmy searched for news stories. He was met by Swami Rami, who asked Jimmy if they had met in a past life. Swami took Jimmy to his studio and hooked him up to a machine that would allow Olsen to relive past lives. Jimmy went into a trance induced sleep.

His first past life was in ancient Egypt, where Chief Perri of the Weekly Hieroglyphic sent him in search of the rogue thief Pyramid Petrus. After Jhimmie found Petrus' hideout, he summoned Samson with his signal horn. Samson demolished the hideout, and only found two stone chests and a note left by Petrus, If you open the wrong chest, a nest of poisonous serpents will spring forth. Which chest am I in? Jhimmie flipped a coin to decide which one to open, but he woke up before he could decide. (Isn't that always the case when you dream?)

Jimmy's second past life was in ancient Greece, where Chief Whiteus sent Jymius to capture a giant lion which was roaming the nearby hills, for a news report for the scrolls. Jymius tracked the giant lion to a cliff, but it was too wide for him to jump over. He used his signal flute to summon Hercules, who uprooted a tree to use it as a bridge. Once across, Hercules was able to find the giant lion and quickly subdue it. They had become lost, and Jymius flipped a coin to decide the correct path to take. Jimmy awoke before he found the right one.

His third and final past life adventure took place in Scandinavia during the era of the Vikings. The Chief sent Jimmy the Red to find the Viking Pirate treasure. Jimmy used his signal gong to summon Thor, who used his hammer to smash through icebergs to clear their path. Jimmy flipped a coin to find the right course to avoid the whirlpool fjord, but he awoke before he could find the treasure.

Swami Rami informed Jimmy that he would need more radium in order for him to explore his past lives fully. Jimmy returned to the Daily Planet to borrow the lead container of radium, intending to return it. Clark happened to be using his telescopic vision to keep an eye on the radium, and saw Jimmy removing it. When it became obvious to Clark that Jimmy was taking it to the Swami, he sprang into action as Superman.

Swami hooked Jimmy to the machine again, and intended to leave with the stolen radium as soon as Jimmy had been put into a hypnotic trance. Superman spoiled his plans by crashing into his studio and smashing the machine. The Man of Steel exposed the Swami as "Con" Conners, and explained to Jimmy Conners' scam, without explaining how he had discovered it.

After Superman returned to his apartment as Clark Kent, he thought to himself how Conners had tried the same scam on him. Clark wondered how he could have had past lives on Earth if he had been born on Krypton?

My first question about this story was, if Clark was aware of Conners' scam, why didn't he set up a sting with the police to nab Conners before Jimmy fell victim to the same scam? I guess writer Otto Binder would then have had to write another story to meet his deadline instead of this one.

In this story, Jimmy was extremely gullible, reminding me a little bit of Jack Larson's portrayal of Olsen in the 1950's Adventures Of Superman TV show. I thought he became very misguided, willing to borrow the radium in an obsessive search for knowledge about past lives. He could have been fired by Perry White for "borrowing" the radium.

Jimmy's dreams seemed to indicate a fixation about Superman. While, as the end of the story showed, the Swami's machine suggested Jimmy's adventures of past lives, it's unclear if the appearance of a powerful hero came from hypnotic suggestion or Jimmy's own relationship with Superman. These adventures were humorous, showing Jimmy in much the same job he had in real life.

While "Swami" Conners appeared in a golden or orangish skin tone in most of the story, beginning on page six of the story, his skin tone was colored green. After Superman exposed Conner, he looked funny with his face painted a different color than his normal skin tone exposed after Superman removed his turban.

I did a brief search on Wikipedia about radium, and discovered that it is a very radioactive element. Since it's chemical structure is similar to calcium, the human body metabolizes it into bone, causing bone related illnesses. While it does have scientific and medical applications, it would be very unlikely that a newspaper would be entrusted to distribute such a dangerous element to needy hospitals, if only for liability reasons. Another internet search revealed that $25,000 in 1956 is worth $203,458.02 in 2011.

Overall, this was a good average silver age story, but because of Jimmy's selfish actions with the valuable radium, I have to give this story 2 Superman Capes out of 5.

The Boy Of Steel began with Lois performing her usual morning ritual of making everyone in the office hot cocoa (which we see for the first time in this story). She accidentally spilled the cup she made for Jimmy on the back of his shirt, but he acted as if he didn't notice. He continued typing his latest news report while eating some space berries Superman had brought from an alien planet. Lois tried cutting a lock of his hair, with no success, then tried the ultimate test of invulnerability by hitting him on the back of the head with her shoe.

Lois shared her suspicion with a skeptical Clark that Jimmy had somehow become invulnerable. Clark got a surprise of his own when an ash from someone else's cigarette caused a fire in Kent's trashcan, while his foot was resting on it. Clark had also been eating some of the space berries, and for once Lois suspected the space berries of giving someone invulnerability, instead of suspecting Clark was Superman, much to his belief.

After Jimmy left the building, Clark changed into Superman to follow him and attempt to solve this mystery. Superman arrived on the scene after Jimmy had been knocked into a light pole by a car. Jimmy was unhurt, but the car and pole were damaged. Jimmy tested his new found invulnerability by attempting to stab himself in the hand with a knife, breaking the blade, and smashing a brick on top of his head.

Jimmy began using his new ability for the public good, rescuing someone from a fire, moving a fallen power line away from people and taking the brunt of a falling cornice on top of his head.

In an ironic twist, Clark covered Jimmy's super deeds, instead of the other way around. As he followed Jimmy, he noticed that Olsen had a faint glow around his body, after Jimmy walked into the shadow of a building. After returning to the Daily Planet building to research his theory, Clark confirmed that Jimmy's invulnerability was caused from the atomic bomb test he witnessed with Superman (using safety goggles of course).

Clark saw Lois pigging out on the space berries, and when she was about to stick herself with a pin, he used his x-ray vision to soften it so that it bent against her skin. Convinced she was now invulnerable also, Lois left to use her new power to find scoop some breaking news.

This presented Clark with a new problem, having to keep an eye on both of his friends. It was definitely a job for Superman. He followed Lois to the scene of an emergency, a truck carrying explosives had overturned and was on fire. Lucky for Superman, Jimmy had run to the same scene as well, so the Man of Steel was able to grab both Planet reporters and fly them to safety before the truck exploded. Superman then stepped on the feet of both of his friends to sow that they had lost their invulnerability.

Back at the Daily Planet offices, Lois and Jimmy were sad because the space berries were all gone, and they would not have super powers again, much to Clark's relief.

My first thought about this story was that DC's use of radiation to grant super powers was not as dynamic as Marvel would do just a few years later. Future Jimmy Olsen stories will have him undergo strange transformations and have various super powers. I liked how having powers didn't go to Jimmy's head, as in some past stories, but he used his new ability to follow Superman's example and protect the public.

For once, Lois found another reason for Clark not to have singed feet, other than suspecting him of being Superman. If I were Clark, I'd keep some space berries hidden in his drawer for emergencies. Clark certainly milked it in this story.

One of the few concerns about this story was about how Clark had to fool his friends to protect his secret identity. It's one of the hallmarks of silver age Superman stories, one of the staples that editor Mort Weisinger went to time and again.

Finally, when Superman saved Lois and Jimmy from the exploding truck, I couldn't help but think about the collateral damage. The two Planet reporters weren't the only people in the area, and wouldn't the explosion cause extensive property damage in the block. Couldn't Superman have saved everyone just as well by flying the truck high into the air so that it would explode harmlessly above the city?

Otherwise, I thought this was a good silver age story about a heroic Jimmy, and I give it 3 Superman Capes out of 5.

The Super Liar Of Metropolis began with Jimmy Olsen in the lobby of the Daily Planet, buying a candy bar at a store. He overheard a conversation in a phone booth next to the store. The man on the phone was telling someone to set up the lie detector for Jimmy Olsen.

Jimmy rushed to his office and took a lie serum that, according to its label, would last for three hours. Superman had captured it from a crook who had created the formula so that fellow criminals could foil police lie detector tests. Jimmy found that it worked all too well.

When Perry asked Jimmy if his latest story was good, he responded that it was one of the worst he ever wrote. White ripped it up without even reading it, causing Jimmy to write another one.

Later, Jimmy turned down tickets to a game from Lois, and a date from a famous actress. When Superman flew to the Daily Planet offices and noticed a sad looking Olsen, Jimmy said nothing was wrong. He then told the Man of Steel that the midtown bridge was collapsing.

Superman immediately flew there, only to find the bridge was undamaged, but he did save a painter who fell from his scaffolding on the bridge.

As Jimmy left the building, he was kidnapped by gangsters, who took him to their hideout and hooked him up to a lie detector machine. The crooks grilled him about Superman's secret identity. Jimmy gave the name of the last person he would ever suspect of being the Man of Steel, Clark Kent.

Jimmy was released and he returned to the Daily Planet offices. The lie serum kept him from telling Clark he was in danger. Gangsters barged into Clark's officer, ready to test Jimmy's claim by shooting Kent. Speaking of Jimmy, he happened to be behind the door of Clark's office. A quick thinking Clark used his x-ray vision to melt the wire to a fan on his desk, causing a fire. He used his super breath to spread the smoke, obscuring the gunmen's aim, making it seem that the gunmen had started the fire themselves.

Olsen disarmed the gunmen by hitting their gun arms with an atlas, and the crooks were captured and arrested by the police. They were disgusted that they had suspected a weakling like Kent of being Superman, as he acted as if he was ready to faint after the excitement was over.

After the police took the crooks into custody, Clark had no hard feelings toward Jimmy. He realized his Pal had good motives in trying to protect Superman's true identity. Jimmy tossed the empty bottle of lie serum in the trash, having gotten a good lesson how lying was more trouble than it was worth.

This story had an interesting premise of Jimmy trying to foil a lie detector test conducted by criminals. In an ironic twist, he revealed Superman's true secret identity. A quick thinking Clark was able to cover his secret identity by starting a desk fire.

I did think it was unrealistic for Perry to rip up Jimmy's report without reading it, but maybe he was making a point to his cub reporter.

Using the lie serum created some humorous complications in Jimmy's life, losing out on game tickets and spending time with a Hollywood actress.

One unforeseen consequence of Jimmy's actions with the serum was endangering an innocent person of being suspected as Superman. Fortunately Jimmy guessed Clark, who was able to save the day and keep his secret safe.

This was another good average silver age Superman story, and I give it 3 Superman Capes out of 5.

Elsewhere in DC Comics, 35 titles carried the October or October/November 1956 cover date.

Next Episode: Superman Comic Book Cover Dated December 1959: Action Comics #259!

In 2 weeks: Superman Family Comic Book Cover Dated November/December 1956: World's Finest Comics #85!

 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. It will begin November 2011.

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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