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Looking back on the irreverent brilliance of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen

Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber have returned to the wonderfully weird world of Jimmy Olsen. Here’s how their past collaboration made Superman’s pal comedically postmodern

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen excerpt by Steve Lieber
Image credit: DC

The acclaimed creative team of Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber return to their delightfully zany take on the Superman mythos through the eyes of the Daily Planet staff in the one-shot special Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen’s Boss Perry White #1 (Try saying that five times fast!). The one-shot contains a new short story by Fraction and Lieber, joined by collaborators colorist Nathan Fairbairn and letterer Clayton Cowles for a day in the life of the Daily Planet’s long suffering editor-in-chief. The story serves as a reunion for the creative team, following their comedic 2019 maxi-series Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, which was a hilariously postmodern twist on the kinds of adventures Jimmy used to get into all the time in his previous, bestselling solo ongoing series.

Here’s a look back at the wackiness that Jimmy’s solo adventures brought to the Superman mythos and wider DC Universe and how Fraction and Lieber turned this history on its head with their own take on Superman’s longtime pal and co-worker.

Superman’s pal

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen excerpt by Steve Lieber
Image credit: DC

Jimmy Olsen was the first regular Superman supporting character to get their own ongoing comic book series, launched in 1954 under the title Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen by the original creative team of Otto Binder and Curt Swan. Predating Lois Lane and Supergirl getting their own starring titles, Jimmy’s solo comic book adventures expanded on his daily life as a cub reporter in Metropolis, often getting roped into or devising his own harebrained schemes for success. Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen eventually concluded with its 163rd issue in 1974, before the series was rebranded The Superman Family, incorporating new stories starring Supergirl and Lois alongside Jimmy’s continuing adventures.

For much of Jimmy Olsen’s solo adventures, the character would be transformed into a variety of bizarre iterations, from a gigantic turtle man in 1961’s issue #53 to gaining an enlarged brain effectively making Jimmy a super genius in 1957’s issue #22. This extensive list of transformations were often resolved within the issue, occasionally being presented as a hallucination or imaginary story experienced by Jimmy. While certainly off kilter, the more slapstick absurdism inherent to the title connected with readers, consistently making Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen a sales success throughout the '60s.

Following this era, visionary comic book creator Jack Kirby took the reins on the title as writer and artist starting with 1970’s Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #134, significantly expanding Superman’s supporting cast while introducing new, influential elements to the DCU. The most notable of these additions was the Fourth World, with the New Gods and the evil tyrant Darkseid making their debut in the pages of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen before playing an even bigger role in the DCU. Kirby still retained the title’s emphasis on humor, however, including a two-part guest appearance by popular real-life comedian Don Rickles during his run.

Jimmy’s adventures get wackily modernized

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen excerpt by Steve Lieber
Image credit: DC

While Jimmy would continue to play a major role in the Superman mythos following the cancelation of his solo title, starring in the occasional one-shot special or miniseries. In 2019, Fraction and Lieber launched a twelve-issue maxi-series serving as a new volume of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. In addition to providing Jimmy’s comical perspective on current events across the DCU, including Superman publicly disclosing his secret identity as Clark Kent to the world, the series served as a self-aware love letter to the Silver Age of Comic Books era that featured the previous volume at its heyday in the '50s and ‘60s.

The Eisner Award-winning team saw Jimmy become one of the most wanted men in the DCU and have to fake his death to avoid further threats on his life while investigating who exactly was gunning for him from the shadows. Through all the hilarious hijinks, the creative team referenced some of Jimmy’s Silver Age antics, from a raucous night in Gorilla City to the many personas that Jimmy took on in his past.

More than simply a retread of the character’s greatest hits, however, Fraction and Lieber’s approach to Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen had a deconstructive flair while keeping its narrative tongue firmly in cheek. Clark Kent’s fourth wall-breaking winks to the invisible reader went awkwardly noticed by his colleagues in the story. The creative team would humorously communicate to the reader with Silver Age bravado through text boxes that underscored the idiosyncrasies of the character and superhero genre. Fraction had previously experimented with this latter technique during his Defenders run at Marvel and further hones it here to greater effect, offering a running commentary to Jimmy’s adventures.

More than just telling jokes, Fraction and Lieber crafted a story that could really only be effectively told within the confines of the comic book medium itself. From an engaging use of paneling to conversations that comprise only of symbols rather than words, the creative team took full advantage of the common techniques within the medium and used them to propel Jimmy on his magical mystery tour across the DCU. And perhaps in one of the subtler masterstrokes of them all, Fraction and Lieber’s story not only fit seamlessly within the wider DCU but gave Jimmy a new family history and status quo that definitely shook up the character.

More than just a zany send-up of the Silver Age era that inspired it, the 2019 Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen maxi-series played to both Fraction and Lieber’s storytelling strengths. Gleefully postmodern and unafraid of diving headfirst into the weirder possibilities of the DCU, the series was a showcase for subverting Silver Age tropes and the comic book medium in a way that only Jimmy Olsen, as both a protagonist and P.O.V. character for the audience could. And while the Perry White only briefly scratches the itch that Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen left behind, it reminds fans what made Fraction and Lieber’s story so good while providing another perspective on the absolutely bananas hijinks commonplace at the Daily Planet.

With a brand new lead story written by Matt Fraction, illustrated by Steve Lieber, colored by Nathan Fairbairn, and lettered by Clayton Cowles, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen’s Boss Perry White #1 is on sale now.

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