He's a MASTER of DISGUISE:
He's DEVIL! He's a GANGSTER!
He's a dozen other guys!
He's a BEARDED BOY, a MARTIAN,
A ROCK-'N'-ROLLER and a CLOWN...
TEXAN, CAVEMAN, GIRL and ROBOT...
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!"
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.)
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.
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; 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, 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.
- Adaptive Armor: His powers during "Countdown" were triggered only when he was in actual danger.
- 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.
- Baleful Polymorph: Jimmy's gone through a lot of transformations. 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 really, REALLY fat man.
- A Neanderthal.
- A Rubber Man named Elastic Lad (see Never Be a Hero).
- A blob (when the Elastic Lad formula worked wrong). With an embarrassed grin and freckles.
- Butt-Monkey: Poor Jimmy is a constant target of Super Dickery.
- Camera Fiend: Some versions of Jimmy are photographers.
- 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, 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)
- 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.
- Enslaved Tongue: In Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, when Jimmy overhears crooks planning to kidnap him and force him to reveal Superman's identity, he tries to counteract this by taking a lie serum. Hilarity Ensues. When the crooks finally strap him to a Lie Detector and interrogate about Superman's identity, he gets through it by claiming that it is Clark Kent.
- Gladiator Revolt: In Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #159, the magical gem the Star of Cathay causes Jimmy to travel back in time and relive one of his past lives; that of Spartacus. Naturally, he leads a gladiator revolt which is crushed by a young Julius Caesar (and historical accuracy be damned).
- Henpecked Husband: A victim of the "henpecked boyfriend" variant; Lucy was as shrewish to Jimmy as Lois was to Superman (some would argue even more so).
- 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 relationship similar to a celebrity romance (though Lois' position as Superman's girlfriend made her just as famous) 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Jimmy had one with Forager (technically Forager III) in Countdown to Final Crisis. Jimmy is a human; 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".
- In one "imaginary" story, Jimmy got married to Supergirl — or rather, to her Secret Identity, Linda Lee Danvers. Finding out that his new wife was the alien superheroine who had been flirting with him was a shock, but he ultimately took it rather well.
- Jimmy and the city of Metropolis itself once fell in love, after Brainiac's nanites accidentally made the city itself sentient. (It didn't affect the people, thankfully!)
- 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.
- Loves My Alter Ego: In imaginary story Jimmy Olsen Superman's Pal #57 Linda Danvers -Supergirl- and Jimmy marry. However Linda is amnesiac and depowered when the wedding happens, and doesn't remember anything about her Secret Identity. When Linda regains her memories and her powers she decides she needs to tell Jimmy she is Supergirl but in a tactful way. Her "great" plan was revealing Supergirl's existence to him. Then, as Supergirl, she will make him fall in love with her. Then when he is in love with both Linda and Supergirl, she'll reveal she is one and the same. The plan gives Jimmy a massive guilt trip, as he is attracted to Supergirl but doesn't want to be unfaithful to Linda. When she reveals the secret, he is extremely relieved to find out he's been involved in a Two-Person Love Triangle.
- Mad Scientist: Often the cause of Jimmy's transformations was one of Metropolis' scientists doing an experiment.
- Master of Disguise: In the earlier stories, Jimmy could disguise himself so well that Perry, Lois, and even Superman had trouble recognizing him.
- 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 the Truth storyline.
- "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 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 the Big Bad. 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.)
- Soda Can Shakeup: In "Jimmy Olsen, Juvenile Delinquent!" in Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #40, Jimmy goes undercover in a gang of juvenile delinquents. The practical joker of the gang's current shtick is shaking up bottles of soda water and spraying people with the contents. This causes trouble when he does it to Jimmy, as it washes the black dye out of hair and exposes him as a imposter.
- 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 gets between the two and stares down Bloodsport while threatening to use one of his own weapons on him.
- 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. 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 figured out she wasn't a normal young lady 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. Because of the Super Dickery 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.
- 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!
- Zany Scheme: Jimmy either made crazy schemes, or got involved in them.