Thursday, November 17, 2011

Episode #205: Superman Family Comic Book Cover Dated December 1956: Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #17!

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #17, December 1956, was published around October 16, 1956. It contained 32 pages for the cover price of a dime. The editor was Mort Weisinger. Curt Swan pencilled the cover, which was inked by Ray Burnley. They were the art team for all three 8 page stories in this issue, which were written by Otto Binder. These stories have been reprinted in Showcase Presents: Superman Family vol. I.

Jimmy Olsen In The 50th Century began with Superman giving Jimmy a ride in a rocket the Man of Steel had repaired, so that Olsen could do a story about being the first reporter to fly in the stratosphere (about 6 - 30 miles high). A meteor shower began to fall into the atmosphere, and Superman protected the rocket with his fist. Unfortunately, the concussion from Superman's fist propelled Jimmy's rocket fast enough to break the time barrier.

When Jimmy's rocket reentered the atmosphere, he bailed out of the rocket with a parachute, before the spacecraft crashed into the Earth. As Jimmy glided to the ground, he saw a farmer in a field. After he landed, Jimmy approached the farmer to find that he was a robot farmer. Jimmy discovered that he had traveled 3,000 years into the future, to October 10, 4956, to be exact.

After receiving the directions to Metropolis, Jimmy walked to his hometown and discovered that it had a much different skyline. Even the Daily Planet building seemed a mile high. He was rubber necking as he explored this very different Metropolis, and accidentally fell into the open doors of an empty underground elevator that stretched 8,000 miles to China.

Jimmy activated his signal watch, but was saved by a large robot bird, which we never see in this story again. Once he was returned to street level, Jimmy introduced himself and said he was from the 20th Century. One of the pedestrians recognized his name as being Superman's secret identity, and directed him to the Superman Museum. Jimmy was introduced to Professor Xerxes, who introduced himself as an expert on the Man of Steel. He allowed Jimmy to use some of his devices to simulate Superman's powers in a number of rescues. The Professor gave his reasons as protecting the Man of Steel's reputation from a current bestseller, Superman Was A Hoax by John Smyth.

When Jimmy walked by a bookstore, he was exposed by author John Smyth, causing the pedestrians to rush into the bookstore to buy a copy.

In front of the same underground elevator he fell into, Jimmy activated the signal watch again, and the signal traveled through the time barrier, and Superman was able to follow the signal to Jimmy. As it turned out, the reason the signal watch didn't work at the beginning of the story was that the elevator had been lined with lead as a shield against underground radiation.

After demonstrating his super powers in different ways, Superman took Jimmy to the same bookstore, and exposed John Smyth as a disguised Professor Xerxes. The Professor had set up Jimmy in order to boost sales of his book.

With order restored in the 50th Century, Superman and Jimmy returned to the 20th Century, but unfortunately for Olsen, he didn't remember his adventure in the 50th Century, being mistaken for Superman.

This story reminded me a little bit of the Back To The Future movie trilogy that would be released 30 years later.

While it made sense in this silver age story for the concussion from Superman's hit on the meteor to propel the rocket, it would seem that Jimmy would have been crushed by the g-forces from the speed that it would take to break the time barrier.

It was cool to see the Daily Planet still in existence in the 50th Century, and the plot twist of Jimmy simulating  the Man of Steel's powers was fun to read. And the Professor's plot to use Jimmy to boost sales of his book was different. It reminded me of the biggest literary hoax from the early 1970's. Writer Christopher Irving had used some forged letters allegedly from Howard Hughes to convince a publisher to release what turned out to be a fake Howard Hughes autobiography. When the reclusive billionaire denounced the book, the fraud was exposed and Irving would spend some time in jail.

This was a fun, futuristic Jimmy Olsen adventure, almost like he met the Jetsons, and I give it 3 Superman Capes out of 5.

The Case Of The Cartoon Scoops began as Jimmy read a letter from an anonymous admirer, who somehow knew that Jimmy had taken art classes in school. The letter writer encouraged Jimmy to use his talent and draw a series of Superman cartoons for the Daily Planet. Perry White looked at Jimmy's first effort for a good laugh, but liked it enough to make it a regular feature.

Jimmy began to get some phone calls from someone who suggested ideas for his Superman feature, which Jimmy used. The cartoons began to take on a pattern of things that would happen soon after that edition of the Daily Planet was published.

As it turned out, Clark was this anonymous "Swami", disguising his voice when he called Jimmy. Things backfired on Jimmy when the next cartoon "Swami" suggested was Superman smashing Jimmy's Superman souvenir collection. Sure enough, the Man of Steel showed up to destroy the collection, and Jimmy couldn't bear to watch. But much to his surprise, Superman only banged together some pans to create the noise. Then the Man of Steel revealed that he had been Jimmy's "Swami". Then Superman took Jimmy to the original admirer who had written Jimmy at the beginning of this story.

Jimmy's secret admirer had been none other than "Sly" Saunders, who was about to get out of jail. His purpose for suggesting the Superman cartoons was to gradually learn Superman's crime fighting tactics in order to foil the Man of Steel.

Jimmy learned a valuable lesson about checking out his sources, especially when they are anonymous.

Unlike past stories where Clark or Superman played a trick on Jimmy, I liked this one more, for the most part. Jimmy was once again falling into the trap of being gullible. This time, Clark and Superman were keeping a close eye on Jimmy, making sure he wasn't hurt while he learned the hard way not to let his sources manipulate him. The only time I thought that Superman went too far was to threaten to destroy Jimmy's collection. Putting Jimmy through the stress and shock of losing his collection was too much.

That is why I'm giving this story 3 Superman Capes out of  5 instead of 4.

The Radioactive Boy began as Jimmy put evidence for the next day's trial of the Barney Bolton gang in the Daily Planet's safe. Editor Perry White then assigned him to cover Metropolis' new Atomic Plant.

While outside the structure that shielded the atomic pile, Jimmy bumped into another person, which knocked him against the brick structure. Jimmy was worried about being contaminated with radioactivity.

As he walked back to the Daily Planet, some strange things happened that convinced Jimmy that he had become a radioactive menace. Plants wilted at a street vendor's cart, a bird died after flying too close to him, and Jimmy noticed that even his footprints glowed. He was convinced when he saw his glowing reflection in a storefront window.

Jimmy went straight to the roof of the Daily Planet building and flew to a remote area. After landing, Jimmy hid in a cave to wait out his doom. Superman quickly found him after using a geiger counter to follow his trail. The Man of Steel was despondent because there was nothing he could do for his Pal. He agreed to carry out Jimmy's final wishes, follow through on the Bolton Case, after Olsen gave the Man of Steel the combination to the Planet's safe. Then Superman agreed to tell Jimmy his secret identity, Clark Kent.

Outside the cave we were surprised to learn that the Man of Steel was actually crime leader Barney Bolton himself. He had spied on Perry and Jimmy from the Planet's fire escape, and Bolton's gang had been stationed along Jimmy's path, spraying him with a harmless phosphorescent powder to make him glow, as well as tricking Jimmy into thinking he was radioactive. Bolton had hidden aboard the Flying Newsroom, and flew the helicopter back to the Daily Planet building.

When Bolton, still disguised as Superman, approached the safe, he was surprised to find the real Superman waiting for him, along with Jimmy Olsen. Jimmy had summoned the real Superman with his signal watch after the disguised Bolton left. What tipped Jimmy off was when Bolton gave his secret identity as the most unlikely person to be Superman, Clark Kent. Also, as Jimmy's eyes adjusted to the dim light which back lit the fake Man of Steel, Olsen noticed the mask like look of Superman's face.

After Bolton had been taken to prison, Jimmy relayed the entire story to Clark, who was shocked that the revelation of his true identity had made Jimmy suspect the situation was a hoax. I guess Clark covered his tracks a little too well.

One thing I didn't understand about this story was that Superman was in the same room when Jimmy exposed Bolton's ruse by pulling off his mask. But Superman wasn't shown in the background when Olsen explained to Bolton how he deduced that the situation was a fake. It's not made clear if Superman left the building or not. If he didn't, I don't understand Clark's reaction. Also, I don't understand what Jimmy was doing with evidence for a trial the next day. Wouldn't the police have it already, for both the prosecution and defense to use in preparation for the trial?

These are minor quibbles with this story, which was my favorite of the issue. Jimmy was fooled in the beginning, but his quick wits allowed him to get to the bottom of the ruse. I like these stories better than Superman or Clark playing a trick on Jimmy. When Jimmy enters the cave, there's nothing to indicate that he isn't radioactive and waiting to die alone, without exposing anyone else to radiation. The ways that Bolton's gang went about convincing Jimmy he was a danger were cleverly done in a short amount of space.

I have to give this story 4 Superman Capes out of 5.

NOTE: The results of DC Comics' 5,000 Prize Slogan Contest will be revealed in the issues with the March 1957 cover date.

Elsewhere in DC Comics, 31 titles carried the December or December 1956/January 1957 cover date.

Next Episode: Superman Comic Books Cover Dated February 1960: Superman #135 & Action Comics #261!

In 2 Weeks: Superman Family Comic Book Cover  Dated January/February 1957: World's Finest Comics #86!

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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