Comic Book: Jimmy Olsen

Either Jimmy is freaking out over his transformations or he's trying out his new mental powers.
Also: take thirteen shots.
"Introducing JIMMY OLSEN...
He's a dozen other guys!
Man, he really goes to town!
He's a KNIGHT and he's a CONVICT--
(Though it's only for a gag!)
Why, he's even SUPERMAN
In this, his latest GIANT mag!"
Advertisement for Jimmy Olsen Vol. 1 No. 95

Jimmy Olsen is "Superman's best friend" and the second best known character from the hero's supporting cast. He was created for the Superman radio show in 1940, mainly as someone for Superman to talk with (besides Lois Lane, who was both a woman/Love Interest and sometimes rather contrary) so he could explain things to the audience indirectly. Jimmy was later introduced in the comics themselves.

An anonymous character who looked like Jimmy turned up as early as "Action Comics" #6 (November, 1938). But the first actual comic book appearance for Mr. Olsen was "Superman" #13 (November-December, 1941). Presumably, he was also created as an Audience Surrogate for the show's fans, who were mostly young boys. Jimmy also has some resemblance to Archie (who was also very popular at the time) in that both were impulsive but well-meaning red-haired, freckled teenagers. They even dressed alike, including wearing bowties!

Jimmy works as a photographer for the Daily Planet, which is an excuse for him to accompany the intrepid reporters Lois and Clark in their adventures without being one himself. However, he has absolutely no problem getting into far more trouble and sent on far more bizarre adventures than he seeks out, and his unique status, which since Crisis on Infinite Earths has almost taken the form of a Running Gag, is the fact that he is possibly the single most powerful Weirdness Magnet in the entire DC Universe (and in this respect is often compared to The Avengers' ally Rick Jones from Marvel).

Jimmy became so popular he actually starred in his own comic book series, the humorous Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen. Which lasted for 163 issues, from September, 1954 to March, 1974. This series is better remembered today for the amount of bizarre transformations Jimmy underwent in many of its stories. However those were only part of the wackiness featured in the series, which ranged from romantic problems with his girlfriend Lucy Lane (Lois' sister) to temporarily adopting his own superhero identity (several different ones in fact.)

The description of the Superpower Silly Putty trope features Jimmy Olsen, and for a reason! That trope could have perfectly be changed to "The Jimmy Olsen" and nobody would have really noticed.

Jimmy owned a supersonic wristwatch that he used to summon Superman whenever he wanted (only Superman could hear its buzzing). The hero must have regretted giving it to him, as Jimmy either called him to ask mundane favors, or needed help from problems he constantly got himself into (including trying to arrest criminals on his own) on the assumption that Superman would come and save him. Maybe it was because of this that, like Lois, Jimmy often was a target of Superman's surprisingly mean sense of humor. And yet, Superman never took the wristwatch away.

(Actually, it was the Silver Age of comics, and many of DC's stories back then were sold on the basis of bizarre or unexpected turn of events- though Jimmy's were certainly the most varied of all.)

Jimmy's series lasted into the 1970s, when, as with Lois, DC tried to make him a more modern, believable character. He got a new set of clothes (loooong after Archie had stopped using his own similar set) and had adventures that didn't involve Superman or zany plots. He even picked up the nickname "Mister Action" (despite not starring in DC's Action Comics). Ironically, the weirdness came back with a vengeance when, of all people, Jack Kirby came along to write and draw the series. Kirby, fresh off Marvel Comics, decided to take this series as there was no assigned staff at the time, so he wouldn't cost anyone his job. With the clean slate, Kirby used the series to launch his New Gods saga (which means that, yes, Darkseid debuted in this title!) Kirby also used the series to bring back his own, older creations, the Newsboy Legion (both as adult scientists AND as their teenage clones) and the superhero The Guardian. On top of that, he also invented the DNA Project (known now as Cadmus) that would later have an impact on characters such as Superboy with their cloning techniques. Oh, and in case you think he forgot about Jimmy, he added one more transformation to the character's collection: "Homo Tremendus", i.e. Jimmy as a berserking caveman!

After Kirby's departure, Jimmy's title was combined with Lois' and Supergirl's to create Superman Family in which Jimmy's stories became more realistic urban crime adventures. In them, the crooks are usually Genre Savvy enough to remove his signal-watch, forcing him to rely more on his own wits. Fortunately, Jimmy is more than up to the task as a two-fisted Intrepid Reporter.

Jimmy's role has since waned over the decades; while he still appears in most versions of Superman, his role as best friend has effectively been taken over by Lois, as she not only is more agreeable, but is now *married* to Superman. Besides, most writers seem to recall Jimmy more for his silly adventures than for his serious ones. His last major story arc (which took place in the much-maligned Countdown to Final Crisis series) had him apparently gaining all the powers he had during his Silver Age series, but out of his control; it was eventually revealed that the reason was because Darkseid had chosen him as the vessel of the energy for the dying New Gods... for some reason.)

However, Jimmy later got his own mini-series, starting as a co-feature in Action Comics, before getting canceled, and later reprinted with the storyline complete. In fact, it was praised as one of the best series' of the year, and deeper delving into Jimmy's character, particularly his Genre Savviness about his cosmic plaything status, has yielded surprisingly solid results. Imagine Jimmy as the non-time traveling Doctor of the DCU. This storyline also finally introduced the popular Smallville character Chloe Sullivan into official DC Comics continuity, and paired the two fellow Canon Immigrants (Chloe from Smallville, Jimmy from the radio serials) together.

This renewed interest in the character just goes to show, Jimmy is likely to remain a part of the Superman Mythos forever.

Jimmy Olsen provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Act of True Love: In All-Star Superman, Jimmy turns himself into Doomsday, risking that the DNA will overwhelm him, to stop a black Kryptonite infected Superman without sending him to the Phantom Zone, risking his life/sanity to save his best friend.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Despite being one of the most iconic redheads in comics, he's never been one in live-action.
  • Ambiguously Gay: A few times, and hilariously so in All-Star Superman.
  • Adaptive Armor: His powers during "Countdown" were triggered only when he was in actual danger.
  • Action Hero: As Mr. Action.
  • Adorkable: Jimmy's outdated clothing, innocent demeanor, and extreme loyalty to Superman make him this.
  • Apologetic Attacker: In one story, Jimmy realizes that Superman is infected with the virus that is wreaking havoc through Kandor. He mentally says "Sorry for what I'm about to do, pal" before knocking him out.
  • Arch-Enemy: He gets his own arch-enemy in the Action Comics backup strip: a young Lexcorp executive called Sebastian Mallory. He aknowledges that "Superman's Pal vs Lex Luthor's protege" might seem a bit obvious, but they really do hate each other.
  • Attractive Bent-Gender: Jimmy looks pretty darn fetching as a woman, and in one story, a mobster falls for the disguised Jimmy.
  • Badass Normal: Pre-Crisis, Jimmy did some pretty heroic things, mostly to avoid the inevitable debris of hanging around the planet's most powerful being, on top of providing exposés of crime rings for public viewing. Technically, this is mostly a case of Depending on the Writer; the Jimmy Olsen from Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #1 is very different from the one that starred in Superman Family #222. Sadly, post-Crisis Jimmy stayed a complete and total putz until a few years ago.
    • Nick Spencer's Action Comics story, "Jimmy Olsen's Big Week" basically runs with this. Sure, Jimmy's a Cosmic Plaything, but he's genre savvy and clever enough to deal with everything from genies to evil mid-level LexCorp employees. He's the DCU's Doctor.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Some of the forms Jimmy was turned into include:
    • A werewolf (of the "really hairy man" type.)
    • A giant turtle-man (in effect, a Kaiju).
      • Which becomes a Mythology Gag when Olsen scored a TV job as "Turtle Boy".
    • A human porcupine, with the ability to shoot quills!
    • A Rubber Man (see Never Be a Hero).
    • A really, REALLY fat man.
  • Berserk Button: Don't insult, use Kryptonite on, or otherwise hurt Superman in front of Jimmy. You're talking about an unpowered human who has Seen It All and is not intimidated even by the likes of Lex Luthor and The Joker. You do not want to be on the wrong end of his Undying Loyalty to the Man of Steel.
  • Bromance: With Superman.
    • They tried to give him one with Robin back in the Silver Age.
  • Butt Monkey: Poor Jimmy is a constant target of Super Dickery.
  • Camera Fiend: Some versions of Jimmy.
  • Canon Foreigner: Introduced in the radio show, though some claim an (unnamed) copy boy in an earlier Superman comic was supposed to be Jimmy.
  • Captain Ersatz: Superman and Jimmy Olsen become Batman and Robin Expies Nightwing and Flamebird in the bottled city of Kandor, allowing Jimmy to fight crime alongside a depowered Superman (since Kandor is under a red sun.)
  • Conveniently an Orphan: Like Superman, Jimmy is sometimes written as parentless.
  • Cloning Blues: The Newsboy Legion. Pre-Crisis, they're the completely identical sons of the original Newsboy Legion from The Golden Age of Comic Books, whose fathers made tiny clones of, without their prior consent. Post-Crisis, their Uncanny Family Resemblance is explained by them being direct clones of their "fathers".
  • Cosmic Plaything: Jimmy didn't need to know Superman or even do anything extraordinary for things to just happen to him.
  • Deus Exit Machina: Quite a lot of stories had Superman doing something in space, or Jimmy's watch would be broken, or tampered with, or something would have happened to it.
  • Disguised in Drag: Jimmy does this pretty darned often, to the point he may just be a Wholesome Crossdresser.
  • Henpecked Boyfriend: Lucy was as shrewish to Jimmy as Lois was to Superman.
  • Heroic Bystander:
    • Jimmy rushed to Superman's aid when the hero was overcome by kryptonite fire on his suit. A few burns were nothing when it came to saving his pal.
    • In the early story "The Hunted Messenger", Jimmy rescues a deliveryman from two muggers.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Jimmy attempted this in Superman Family #173. In order to counteract a virus affecting all of Kandor, he planned to blow up the bottle—and himself with it—thus giving the Kandorians the powers necessary to be cured. He was only saved by the super-tough Kandorian fabric he was wearing.
  • I Have Your Sidekick: Jimmy was frequently taken hostage to get to Superman, to the degree where he tried to defy it once or twice.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: In one early story, Jimmy is being held hostage and forced to give crooks trying to win a million-dollar game show answers about Superman. As one of his answers, he slips in a detail that only he and Superman were aware of. Superman realizes he's in trouble and flies to the rescue.
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: Jimmy is a (sometimes) naive Nice Guy who, according to the DC sites, is blue-eyed.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Modern stories tend to emphasize his tagline of "Superman's Friend!" with this, making Jimmy and Clark (rather than Superman, necessarily) close friends despite their age differencenote .
  • Interspecies Romance: Jimmy had one with Forager (technically Forager III) in Countdown to Final Crisis. Forager is one of the "Bugs" from New Genesis... in other words, a humanoid insect. However, she breaks up with him at the end of the serial and goes on to form a team with Donna Troy, Kyle Rayner and Ray Palmer with the intention of serving as "multiversial border guards".
  • Interspecies Friendship: Superman is Kryptonian; Jimmy is a human. But that doesn't keep them from being fairly close.
  • Instant Fan Club: Jimmy had one, in some of the comics.
  • Kneel, Push, Trip: A potential variation in an old comic — a Planet employee called Jimbo Jones pretends to fall in front of a crook to trip him, whereupon Jimmy Olsen hits him, finishing the job.
  • The Load: In the silver age, modern comics have managed to avert this to an extent, by making him a closer friend of Clark Kent's than Superman's.
  • Mad Scientist: Often the cause of Jimmy's transformations.
  • Master of Disguise: In the earlier stories, Jimmy could disguise himself so well that Perry, Lois, and even Superman had trouble recognizing him.
  • Never Be a Hero: Because his role was always to be Superman's little buddy. However, unlike Lois, Jimmy did get to replay some of his superhero identities: in particular, he was Elastic Lad and Flamebird (sidekick to Superman under the identity of Nightwing, playing expies of Batman and Robin.)
  • Nice Guy: Most of Jimmy's incarnations are kind and friendly.
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: some of the stories have to be seen to be believed. To list just one example, in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #86, Jimmy ended up time traveling to World War II and teaming up with Hitler.
  • Now Let Me Carry You: Jimmy sometimes (usually when there was Kryptonite around) got the chance to repay Superman for saving his life.
  • Parental Substitute: Jimmy's father either died or disappeared (depending on the incarnation) sometime before they could really have a relationship. His bond with Superman is therefore partially this. It was more played up in the Silver Age, however (just check out the Superdickery page image!), while modern stories tend to emphasize his and Clark's Intergenerational Friendship more.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: in the earlier stories of his series. Jimmy was 5' 10" but could take on taller and brawnier crooks, sometimes more than one at a time. In "Superman's Ex-Pal", he gets into a scrap with the Big Bad. The bad guy never lands a hit on Jimmy, who pummels him sufficiently to keep him from getting away.
  • Race Lift: A new version of the character appears in CBS's Supergirl series, played by Mehcad Brooks, a black man.
  • Red-Headed Hero: In most of his incarnations.
  • Super Dickery: The original Superdickery website even has its own Drinking Game for him! For anyone interested, there's only one rule; if Jimmy gets a super-power, take a shot.
  • Superpower Silly Putty: The patron saint of this trope.
  • Took a Level in Badass: In his Superman Family stories, Jimmy got much tougher as an Intrepid Reporter, ready to punch out the bad guys without Superman's help. His Action Comics story runs with this, and the idea that Jimmy is essential The Doctor of the DC universe. He's resourceful, a talented journalist, fit, and genre savvy enough to stop Sebastian's schemes.
  • Transformation Comic: Practically; just look at the page image!
  • Understanding Boyfriend: in one imaginary story, Jimmy got married to Supergirl when (thanks to Red Kryptonite amnesia) neither of them knew who she was. When his new wife recovered her memory and revealed that she was a super-powered alien, Jimmy thought it was "terrific."
  • Undying Loyalty: This (to Superman) was intended to be Jimmy's foremost quality. Because of the Publicity Derailment of the Silver Age, it wasn't always portrayed very well. This is exemplified in The New 52 when Clark reveals his identity to Jimmy and he's one of the few who stands by Superman's side when Lois outs him in Superman: Truth.
  • Unluckily Lucky: Even in his more competent iterations he's a world-class Weirdness Magnet with a tendency to get into major trouble as a result. However, except for a few occasions, he always comes out with nary a scratch or even angst.
  • Weirdness Magnet: Jimmy. Holy crap. Encountering the New Gods is the least strange of his adventures.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Oh, he also disguised himself as a woman on occasion as part of a mission. Makes you wonder...
    • Played, er, "straight" in All-Star Superman, when asked if he's in disguise for a story, he simply replies, "Nope."
  • Written Sound Effect: His signal watch's: Zee! Zee! Zee!
  • Zany Scheme: Jimmy either made them, or got involved in them.