Superman’s Pal: Jimmy Olsen

Hearing the news that Christopher Nolan is going to oversee a new Superman film for Warner Brothers, I flashed back to the only Man Of Steel comics I ever collected. I refer of course to when Jack Kirby moved from Marvel due to creative uncontrol over to D.C., who offered him total freedom. A natural born scrapper, Kirby asked what was the worst selling comic in the D.C. universe. SUPERMAN’S PAL: JIMMY OLSEN came the obvious answer. At first thought, that’s like having a comic called SPIDER-MAN’S RELATIVE: AUNT MAY. I mean, no offense to Jimmy; he was himself a scrapper, Peter Parker without the hang-ups or super-powers. A minor supporting character if you will. So King Kirby took over drawing, writing and editing duties on SUPERMAN’S PAL: JIMMY OLSEN and went bugfuck crazy in the hothouse underground comix kitsch culture of 1971, where the lucky newsstand would hold copies of MAD; FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND; CINEFANTASTIQUE; THE MONSTER TIMES; CREEPY; CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN…and in the spindly comic book rack, Kirby’s wild re-boot of Jimmy Olsen.

He used the character as an excuse to launch his famous “Fourth World” mythology, bringing in DNA mutations, biker gangs, hippie mutants, even his old 1940’s Joe Simon collaboration, The Newsboy Legion, who inexplicably returned as the scions of the original, Bowery Boys wise-acres, replete with same clothing and Brooklyn timbre (picture Huntz Hall saying, “Hey, what’s all dis DNA stuff anyways?”). To reflect the era, Kirby, a WW II veteran and social liberal, added “Flippa-Dippa” — a black Newsboy offspring who wore scuba gear. Then there was this li’l DNA trooper they carried in their pockets….I know, it makes no fucking sense and I love it. Kirby’s outrageous imaginative chutzpah along with his incredibly dynamic art gave me an excuse to seek out the whole short-lived run of SUPERMAN’S PAL: JIMMY OLSEN.

My favorite storyline revolved (literally) around a planet called Transilvane where the inhabitants were Universal-style monsters and Jimmy Olsen’s attempt to get them home, replete with Kirby’s unique, clunky dialogue (“Superman, it’s the “werewolf” bit!!!!”). I think this early 70’s work is his most creative, if unweildy, and I adore Vince Colletta’s inks, as distinct here as in his work on Kirby’s THOR. His splash pages became epic, a mini-poster within the comic book. Still, DC Comics didn’t like the ex-Marvel boys tampering with their most iconic character, so they had Superman’s face re-drawn to fit the mold. There goes Kirby’s creative control. But the King took it in stride as he wasn’t out to stick with a freckled cub reporter. He had THE NEW GODS; FOREVER PEOPLE; MISTER MIRACLE and others in the Fourth World wings. Only Jack Kirby could make Jimmy Olsen cool.

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14 Responses to “Superman’s Pal: Jimmy Olsen”

  1. Outta sight! Kirby is God.

  2. hail kirby ! the new gods is a major imagination revolution of myth-making proportions.

    the olsen / superman / don rickles issue got me started on everything transmedia.

    now, a new gods mini-series would be a nice update on the myth (the originals are still kicking many ass). just checked out JLA : the new frontier (the cartoon adaptation of cooke’s projet) and i was very suprised by the overall dark tone. they should get into the forever people now…

    • FOREVER PEOPLE is the height of Kirby’s hippie proto-heroes and I still have never dipped into their brief run. THE NEW GODS was magnificent and hard to believe it didn’t last…

  3. What’s the Hulk doing in a Superman comic?

  4. Ever seen Kirby’s Hulk?

    • I adore Kirby’s Hulk. He drew it the best in the Avengers series. Obviously he presided over the birth of the Marvel universe.

  5. Totally agree. My point was that he had a flat head and looked a lot like the monster pictured above. The Hulk, that is — not Kirby. (Though come to think of it, he did have sort of a flattop hairdo.)

    • The Hulk was bulk while the Frankenstein monster was tall n’skinny. I miss Kirby’s Hulk — especially the cool hands.

  6. Right-O about the Jack Kirby and Vince Colletta combination on trhe Jimmy and Fourth World books. Classics!

  7. […] what’s the dilemma? And since the art and stories never appealed to me, except for when Jack “King” Kirby took over “Superman’s Pal: Jimmy Olsen” for a memorable run, I just wasn’t excited. I was aware of Marlon Brando’s record fee […]

  8. […] Jack Kirby‘s Superman drawings (covered by others already – maybe see here and here) but suffice it to say that in the 70s and 80s DC was doing their best to make sure that Superman […]

  9. […] Jimmy Olsen No. 143 Page 1 (left) and Pages 2-3 (right.) Written and drawn by Jack Kirby. Images via AusReprints and Technicolor Dream […]

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