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Characters / Superman Jimmy Olsen

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Either Jimmy is freaking out over his transformations or he's trying out his new mental powers.
Also: take thirteen shots.

Species: Human

First appearance: Action Comics #6 (November 1938)(Anonymously)/Superman on Earth (September 19 1952)(As Jimmy Olson)

"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 one of the best known characters 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.)

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; his role as best friend was effectively taken over by Lois in the post-Crisis era, as she not only was more agreeable, but also *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.

In the New 52 era, Jimmy's role waned again; this incarnation was established as being from a rich family, and was Clark Kent's roommate for a while, but gradually faded into the background, as the nature of Clark's relationship with the Planet got increasingly obscure. In the DC Rebirth era, he returned to prominence, including a 12 issue maxi-series that, like the previous mini, embraced the character's traditional Weirdness Magnet status.

The continued 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:

  • Abandoned Catchphrase: In the early days of his comic, Jimmy Olsen would think "Super duper!" to himself when something went off well. It didn't last and has long since fallen into obscurity.
  • Act of True Love: In All-Star Superman, Jimmy turns himself into Doomsday to stop a black Kryptonite infected Superman without sending him to the Phantom Zone. The head of P.R.O.J.E.C.T warns him that Doomsday's DNA could very well destroy his mind, but Jimmy considers the risk to his life and sanity quite worth it 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.
  • Adaptive Armor: His powers during "Countdown" were triggered only when he was in actual danger.
  • Adult Adoptee: Several stories have Superman adopt him as his son.
  • Aliens Speaking English: One Silver Age story had Jimmy stranded on an alien world where everyone spoke English. The explanation? They had studied the universe's languages and adopted English as the most efficient! Never mind that English—with its various loanwords, silent letters, and how every rule has an exception—is far from the most efficient language on this planet.
  • 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 acknowledges that "Superman's Pal vs Lex Luthor's protege" might seem a bit obvious, but they really do hate each other.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: Jimmy Olsen's transformation into Turtle-Man is perhaps the most ridiculous example.
  • 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 the 2000s.
    • 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.
  • Boss's Unfavorite Employee: While Perry White is short-tempered and demanding in general, Jimmy especially attracts his wrath on the regular. Sometimes this is justified by Jimmy suffering from Acquired Situational Narcissism and needing someone to take him down a peg, but other aspects for which Perry yells at him (such as his habit of calling Perry "Chief") seem less legitimate.
  • Butt-Monkey: Poor Jimmy is a constant target of Superdickery.
  • Camera Fiend: Some versions of Jimmy are photographers.
  • Canon Immigrant: 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, presumably to explain why his mother and father aren't freaking out about all the trouble he gets into on a daily basis.
  • 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 them, 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. Then again, that may be why he's Superman's best friend.
  • Crazy-Prepared: In Superman: Secret Origin, Jimmy apparently carries more than one camera.
    Soldier: I thought we confiscated his camera!
    Jimmy Olsen: A good reporter is always prepared! I have a dozen spares! (blinds the soldiers with the camera's flash and escapes)
  • Demoted to Extra: Ever since the birth of Jon, he has been the character suffered the most in term of prominence and appearance in Superman's storylines.
  • 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 Husband: A victim of the "henpecked boyfriend" variant during the Silver Age; Lucy was as shrewish to Jimmy as Lois was to Superman (some would argue even more so). She would exploit Jimmy's desire to woo her whenever it suited her needs and then dump him as soon as she found a better prospect.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners:
    • Jimmy and Superman/Clark are (at least in some continuities) very close friends. During the Silver Age, the two had no shame about expressing affection for each other either with words or with a hug, the newspapers ran stories on the friendship similar to a celebrity romance (though Lois received a similar amount of fame for being Superman's girlfriend) and Jimmy even spent the night in the Fortress of Solitude once after visiting the place for a story. However, both of them had romances with a number of women (most prominently Lois and her sister). In the new 52, they are roughly the same age and share an apartment.
    • Jimmy and Robin were often portrayed as friends during the Silver Age. They were never as close to each other as to Superman and Batman, but being Kid Sidekicks together meant they had something in common. They even temporarily had a team of their own, and both in- and out-of-universe evidence indicates that Jimmy considers Robin his best friend besides Supes.
  • 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.
  • Iconic Outfit: Until the Bronze Age, Jimmy always wore a blazer and a bow-tie. It wasn't quite a Limited Wardrobe, as the blazer sometimes changed colour (although green was most common). The outfit has occasionally returned since, and in the 2019 maxi-series, he seems to see it as a trademark. (When he realises that in the retro city of Opal everyone's wearing a bow-tie, he refuses to stay there.)
  • I Have Your Wife: Jimmy was frequently taken hostage to get to Superman, to the degree where he tried to deal with it himself once or twice.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: In one early story, Jimmy is being held captive and forced to give crooks trying to win a million-dollar game show answers about Superman. While explaining a headline about him saving the Man of Steel, Jimmy includes a detail about the rescue not included in the news story and hence something only he and Superman knew. Superman can see that the contestant isn't Jimmy and has in fact recognized him as a criminal. All this tells him his friend is in trouble, and he flies to the rescue.
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: Jimmy is a (sometimes) naive Nice Guy who, according to the DC sites, is blue-eyed (though comics rarely show it). While the naivete sometimes gets written out, most incarnations are still as kind and good-natured as one would expect from Superman's Muggle Best Friend.
  • Instant Fan Club: Jimmy had one, in some Silver Age comics. The Jimmy Olsen Fan Club all wear identical green jackets and bowties to him.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Modern stories tend to emphasize his tagline of "Superman's Pal!" with this, making Jimmy and Clark (rather than Superman, necessarily) close friends despite their age differencenote .
  • Interspecies Friendship: Superman is Kryptonian; Jimmy is a human. But that doesn't keep them from being fairly close.
  • Interspecies Romance:
  • Kaiju: Jimmy's Giant Turtle Boy incarnation.
  • 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. And probably his most competent incarnation was during Jack Kirby's Bronze Age run on the title, when he became an adventurer in his own right, with his own team of sidekicks.
  • Master of Disguise: In the earlier stories, Jimmy could disguise himself so well that Perry, Lois, and even Superman had trouble recognizing him.
  • Mistaken Age: The Geoff Johns story "The Terrible Toyman" has Jimmy get kidnapped by Toyman, who rants on how he cares about children, doesn't trust adults because of their tendency to cause children harm and tells Jimmy that he trusts him because he's 17. Jimmy indignantly corrects Toyman that he's actually 22.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Jimmy Olsen has been known to be Disguised in Drag on more than one occasion. After one such example, though, Jimmy got read the riot act by Lucy Lane. Turns out Lucy found in his apartment the purse, perfume and jewelry that were part of the masquerade lying around his apartment, but she thought he was dating someone else behind her back.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Most of Jimmy's nutty Silver Age transformations had, of course, been retconned away by the Crisis On Infinite Earths; but one Post Crisis story shows him getting kidnapped by Darkseid's two nutty biologists, Simyan and Mokkari, who gleefully chatter away about how much they always enjoy inflicting ridiculous transformations on Jimmy, implying this has happened many times before, just because they're jerks.
    • In the mid-nineties, when Jimmy Olsen quit the Planet and became a TV presenter on GBS, the "Mr Action" nickname briefly returned. However, in this case it was a self-adopted name that indicated his new role was turning him into an egotistical jerk.
  • 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. He is also arguably Superman's most loyal supporter, cemented by multiple storylines, including Truth.
  • Now, Let Me Carry You: Jimmy sometimes (usually when there was Kryptonite around) got the chance to repay Superman for saving his life.
  • Parental Abandonment: In the New 52, Jimmy's parents are adventurers themselves, and simply never came back from their last expedition.
  • 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 a criminal posing as Superman. The bad guy never lands a hit on Jimmy, who pummels him sufficiently to keep him from getting away.
  • Prophetic Fallacy: In "The Amazing Spectacles of Dr. X", Jimmy winds up with a pair of spectacles that can see the future, and sees a vision of himself drowning in a fishing accident soon afterwards. When the day actually arrives, though, it turns out that the spectacles were showing him a public service announcement he had agreed to take part in about how an iron lung can save a person's life in a case like this.
  • Race Lift: A new version of the character appears in Supergirl (2015) series, played by Mehcad Brooks, a black man.
  • Red Is Heroic: In many of his incarnations, Jimmy is both a good guy and a redhead.
  • Revealing Cover-Up: A group of crooks were running a scam with one pretending to be the Man of Steel and asking for money to guard various valuables. This attracts Jimmy Olsen's attention, as not only did the fake Supes fail to recognize him, but also he was aware that Superman would never ask for money for his services. The scam attracts further suspicion when Jimmy attacks and is easily able to give the fake Superman trouble, causing the crook to yell for his partners to shoot him "before he ruins everything!" A little late for that...
  • Rod-and-Reel Repurposed: Jimmy unravels a mystery involving some thieves partially by finding a fishing hook too big to be for any fish in the area. Therefore, he deduced that the crooks were hiding their loot underwater and went fishing for it. (Superman quickly slipped it on the hook to prevent it from taking as long as it might otherwise.)
  • Staring Down Cthulhu: During the story that introduces Bloodsport, the title character can pull any weaponry he can think of out of thin air and has just shot Superman with a Kryptonite bullet. He fails to get the kill, however, because Jimmy stands over Superman and stares down Bloodsport while threatening to use one of his own weapons on him. Despite his greater height, musculature, and arsenal, Bloodsport backs off.
  • Superdickery: 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. Warning: You'll get plastered in no time flat. One cover is worth four shots alone. Being reminded you're still playing the game constitutes a penalty shot. Then there is the cover for the Planet of the Thousand Jimmies...
  • Superpower Silly Putty: The patron saint of this trope. Jimmy has had (and lost) so many superpowers that there is an entire collection called The Many Transformations of Jimmy Olsen.
  • This Banana is Armed: In one story from the 70s, Jimmy fought a demented cartoonist whose arsenal included cream pies filled with acid, and a rubber chicken loaded with lead weights.
  • 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 essentially The Doctor of the DC universe. He's resourceful, a talented journalist, fit, and genre savvy enough to stop Sebastian's schemes.
  • Trauma Button Ending: In one comic, Jimmy nearly gets drained of his life force by a vampiric alien posing as a pet. At the end of the story, he runs away from a young woman who tries to ask him to hold her dog's leash.
  • 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 remembered her secret and revealed that she was a super-powered alien, Jimmy thought it was "terrific."
  • Undying Loyalty: Extreme loyalty (to Superman) was intended to be Jimmy's foremost quality.
    • While the Silver Age is mostly known for Superdickery, multiple stories still exist proving Jimmy's status as "Superman's pal." From sacrificing multiple opportunities to learn his Secret Identity, to helping him with murderous criminals armed with Kryptonite, to standing up to a fully-powered-up Kryptonian to ensure the currently-powerless Superman was protectednote , Jimmy's loyalty to Supes trumps any sacrifice or risk it might involve.
    • In the New 52 storyline, Superman: Truth, Jimmy Olsen stands by Superman's side after Lois Lane blows his secret identity to the entire world (it probably helps that Supes revealed his identity to him just prior to the shit hitting the fan). Jimmy also shows that there's an entire neighborhood who is happy to have Superman around and renamed their area as "Kentville".
  • 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.
  • Weaponized Car: Jack Kirby gave Jimmy and the Newsboy Legion a flying weaponized car called the Whiz Wagon. It occasionally shows up in modern continuity, but tends to be forgotten about for long stretches.
  • 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."
  • Wounded Hero, Weaker Helper: Superman has been known to need help from Jimmy when he encounters too much Kryptonite — examples include the Silver Age story "The 1000 Pieces of Kryptonite" and the Action Comics story "A Friend in Need".
  • Written Sound Effect: His signal watch's: Zee! Zee! Zee!
  • Youthful Freckles: He's always depicted with them, to go along with his red hair.
  • Zany Scheme: Jimmy either made crazy schemes, or got involved in them.

Alternative Title(s): Jimmy Olsen