Comics / DC Comics History

DC Comics History: Jimmy Olsen (1955 - 1959: Dawn of the Silver Age)

By Deejay Dayton
Apr 10, 2017 - 11:27


Jimmy Olsen would see Krypto and Supergirl make guest appearances in his book during the period 1955 – 1959: Dawn of the Silver Age. Lucy Lane would debut here as well, and begin her long romance with Jimmy. But the most important development in the young man’s life at this time was his first couple of outings as Elastic Lad.


While Jimmy Olsen did not have an origin tale, as such, in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen 36 we learn how he and Superman first became friends, and see Jimmy take a trip back in time to Krypton. Jimmy Olsen comes to Metropolis for the first time, in this story, and gets a job with a scientist, to try out his time machine.  The machine takes him back to Krypton before its explosion.  Fortunately for Jimmy, there is a sort of fair going on there, in which people dress like Earth men, so Jimmy's clothes do not make him stand out Jimmy winds up meeting Jor-El and Lara, as well as baby Kal-El. 


Calling himself Jim-My Ol-Sen, he gets a job as Kal-El's babysitter, though he has a heck of time dealing with the rambunctious child. When Jor-El fails to prevent the destruction of Krypton, Jimmy speeds back to his own time, even witnessing the planet's eruption.  But the force of this removes all memory of the events.  Jimmy believes that he did not travel to another time, and so the scientist junks his machine.  But Superman, with his super-memory, remembers his babysitter.  He approaches Jimmy, and gets him his job at the Daily Planet, as well as giving him the signal watch.  Superman wants his old babysitter to be is best friend forever.


Being a reporter was often part of the plot of any given Jimmy Olsen tale, but two loosely linked stories, in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen 25 and 26, pertain more directly to his career. The first of the two presents quite a puzzle for Jimmy Olsen.  He shows up at the Daily Planet after taking a vacation, only to find that no one knows him. Lois Lane, Perry White, and even Clark Kent insist that Jimmy had never worked at the Planet, and the newspaper archives seem to back this up.  Heading to what should be his apartment, he finds it occupied by someone else, and no trace of his belongings.


At this point, the reader learns that all of this is big test Jimmy is being put through, to see if he is worthy of becoming the Daily Planet's foreign correspondent.  I really don't see the connection between this evil prank and that job, but no one seems to question it. Jimmy does figure out that his friends are all lying, recalling that Perry White came out of his office when Olsen yelled "chief," which he wouldn't have done if he didn't know the boy. Jimmy gets rewarded with the job of foreign correspondent for the paper.


Jimmy begins his foreign correspondent job in the following issue, by being sent to the nation of Hoxania.  Clark Kent comes along with him. At first Jimmy is quite impressed with King Orto, until he realizes that the monarch is handing out phony gold pieces to his subjects.  Jimmy begins spying on the king, although it's Clark Kent who winds up getting caught for this, and tossed into prison. Instead of doing anything reporterly, like writing an article about this, Jimmy sets out to overthrow the government. 


His attempts are pretty pathetic, flying a banner insulting the king, and later boo-ing him at a rally.  In both cases, these backfire spectacularly, and Jimmy even accidentally foils an assassination attempt on Orto. Orto knows what Jimmy is up to, though, and when Jimmy foolishly requests to be put with Clark, he winds up on death row.  The conclusion is a little lame, with Clark switching to Superman while Jimmy is blindfolded, and then saving the day.


Perry White gets the focus in a couple of stories from Jimmy’s series. In Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen 42 it's Perry White's birthday, which also happens to be a "boss for the day" event.  After sharing a cake with the Daily Planet staff, and his wife, Alice, Perry cedes control of the Planet to Jimmy.  This is, incidentally, the first appearance of Alice White in almost a decade, having last appeared in the pages of Superman back in 1951. Jimmy makes himself beloved of the staff, giving them desirable assignments.  Clark goes off to cover a sporting match, and Lois Lane gets to report on a fashion show.  But Perry gets sent to climb a Statue of Liberty-like monument in Metropolis, and then is sent to take part in some gruelling astronaut training.


Pushing the rules of boss for a day to their extreme, Jimmy has Superman fly Perry out to the Mojave Desert, and makes him work three extra hours, using time zones as an excuse. Although it looks like Jimmy is doing all he can to be fired, in fact he is working with Alice to make Perry lose weight, so that he will pass his medical exam.  Once Perry finds out the reason for Jimmy's actions, he is more than content to keep the kid on staff.  But probably will never let him be boss for the day again.


Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen 40 features the one and only appearance of Hank White, one of Perry White's sons.  His other child, Perry Junior, is neither seen nor mentioned in this tale. After being threatened by a street gang, the Kings, Perry sends Jimmy Olsen in undercover to get information on the gang's crimes.  To Jimmy's dismay, he discovers that Hank is a member of the Kings. Jimmy has the unpleasant task of letting Perry know that his son is involved.  Perry is shaken, but decides to go ahead with the expose anyway.  Returning to their clubhouse, Jimmy winds up having his true identity revealed.  Hank saves the day, using Jimmy's signal watch to alert Superman.


In the end, it turns out that Hank joined the gang only to get information, intending to help his father out.  Perry is, as one would expect, more than happy to hear this excuse, which may or may not be the truth, and doesn't question it for a second.  This story is, perhaps, the basis for the post-Crisis son of Perry White, Jerry White, who would get heavily involved with street gangs.


A lot of Jimmy Olsen’s stories dealt with him gaining super-powers of one form or another. The first of these appears in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen 11. In this case, he acquires x-ray vision from the dust emanating from a souvenir that Superman gives him.  As with most of these tales, at first Jimmy has fun with the powers, using them to freak out Lois Lane by telling her how much change she has in her purse.  But his problems with the powers also start almost immediately.  He thinks that he has spotted a hood passing as an ice cream vendor when he sees a concealed gun, but in fact the man is an undercover cop. His powers wreak havoc at the Daily Planet when he accidentally exposes film by looking at it, and sets fire to the copy he is typing. 


This is one of many stories in which x-ray vision and heat vision appear to be the same thing.  Superman has to fit Jimmy with special glasses to control his x-rays, and warns the boy that if their two x-ray vision powers should intersect, the results would be cataclysmic.  Which makes no sense at all, but whatever. Jimmy's powers wear off by the end of the story, as they always will, but not before he has used them to avoid getting shot, with the heat vision part of x-ray vision enabling him to melt the barrel of a gun.


Lucy Lane debuted in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen 36. Lois Lane's younger sister, a stewardess, would appear the following month in Lois Lane's book, and continue as a major supporting character in both series. Jimmy Olsen falls for Lucy at first sight, and she joins him on a double date with Lois and Clark.  But while Jimmy is smitten with Lucy, his feelings are not reciprocated.  Clark is concerned, and uses his super-hearing to spy on Lucy, and find out her true feelings. Since Lucy wants a more dynamic man than Jimmy, he decides to disguise himself.  It's a weird plan, as he is, effectively, trying to get her to fall for someone he is not.  His first disguise is as a cowboy oil man, trying to outdo a similar man Lucy is interested in.  Superman helps Jimmy live up to his bragging lies by lassooing a dummy that his rival tossed out of the airplane. Jimmy's plans get even weirder when he disguises himself as a robot, and tries to arrange a date with Lucy that way. 


He intends to not show up as the robot, which in some fashion he hopes will make his real self seem more desirable.  This bizarre plan never even makes it off the ground, as Jimmy's identity gets exposed.  But the effort he has made to win Lucy's affections have impressed her, and she agrees to go out with him. It's clearly one heck of a first date.  At the end of it, Jimmy proposes marriage.  Lucy has a tidy way out of it, insisting that she cannot get married until Lois does.  And as Lois is determined to marry Superman, that pretty much ensures Jimmy will be kept on a leash for a very long time.  And that's exactly what winds up happening.


Lucy Lane is back in the following issue, 37, which sees Jimmy give her a signal watch, just the like one he has with Superman. This does not work out nearly as well as Jimmy had hoped.  For one thing, Lucy's concept of an emergency is not quite what Jimmy's is.  The first time she uses it, she wants Jimmy to show some kids how to properly kick a football.  But as well, on the day the story takes place, Jimmy is showing off various costumes he has worn on adventures with Superman. The caveman costume makes him look foolish to Lucy, but the next is even worse, a devil costume, complete with pitchfork, that he wears when she calls him to help demonstrate an inflatable life raft.  Of course he punctures it. 


Lucy's last call is one Jimmy is eager to be part of, when a man is needed to kiss her for an ad.  Don't ask why Lucy needs to be kissed as part of an airline ad.  It was 1959 after all.  Anyway, Jimmy is wearing a helmet by this point, and cannot get it off.  No kiss for you!


Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen 22 introduces Professor Potter, who will become a semi-regular character throughout the next decade.  Up until now, Jimmy had dealt with a variety of one-shot scientists and inventors.  There would continue to be a number of one-shot would-be geniuses in this book in years to come, but Potter would be shorthand for a scientist whose devices may cause problems, but who we know we can trust. Potter comes to the Daily Planet with plans for an evolution machine, and Jimmy eagerly volunteers to be a test subject.  The machine gives Jimmy a bulbous head and a super-brain, which makes him a callous genius, and also gives him a degree of super-powers. Jimmy begins ordering Superman around, sending him to collect strange things and move large objects around the planet. 


Superman cannot tell if Jimmy has gone insane, or evil.  But in the end, it's neither of those.  Jimmy's super-brain alerted him to a long-range threat to the planet, and he used Superman to fix the situation, keeping it a secret so that Superman would not get worried about screwing it up.  When Jimmy's super-brain wears off, he is left with no recollection of anything that happened during that day.


Professor Potter returns in issue 25, eager to shoot Jimmy Olsen off into space in his brand new rocket ship. Jimmy winds up on the planet Dorth, and even gets super-powers on this world.  But things do not pan out exactly as he wants.  In fact, point by point, this story contrasts with the Superman legend.  While the Kents found Clark after he crashed, the passing couple ignore Jimmy.  Instead of being welcomed as a hero, Jimmy gets imprisoned. When he finally finds someone to take him in and raise him, the guy proves to be a thief, out to use his powers. 


Jimmy has a secret identity and a pretty next door neighbour, but unlike Lana Lang, she has no interest in Jimmy or his secret identity. Jimmy does get some renown on Dorth after capturing and turning in his "guardian," but he is more than pleased to catch the rocket back to Earth.


In Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen 31 Jimmy becomes Elastic Lad for the first time. Superman brings Jimmy a box he found floating aimlessly in space, and then flies off.  Jimmy examines the contents, and fears that a green fluid might be liquid kryptonite.  Trying to dispose of it, Jimmy just winds up breaking it and getting doused. The fluid winds up endowing Jimmy with the ability to stretch his body.  This story pre-dates both the introduction of the Elongated Man, and when DC began to publish Plastic Man.  They may not even have purchased Plastic Man from Quality Comics at this time, although it's not too long before they began to publish their books.


Jimmy adopts the name Elastic Lad, but his costume is green, rather than the later purple one.  He joins a freak show, but winds up falling into the hands of a criminal who pretends to be a scientist.  He and his men trick Jimmy into helping them spy on the D.A., rob a bank and break into a vault. The crimes get Superman onto the case, and though there is kryptonite in the vault, Jimmy is able to use his stretching powers to overcome the bad guy.  His powers wear off, which is blamed on kryptonite radiation, for no logical reason. 


Issue 37 brings back the Elastic Lad identity, and introduces the purple costume. This time it's Professor Potter who creates the formula, which Lois mistakes for a soft drink.  Both Jimmy and Clark drink it, and though Jimmy gets his Elastic Lad powers back, Clark does not gain them.  This makes Lois very suspicious. Jimmy has a bit more fun this time around, using his powers to show off at a baseball game, and then cramming himself into a cannon meant to fire observational equipment to the Moon. 


He doesn't actually make it off planet, but he does get covered in green paint, and mistaken for an alien invader. Jimmy manages to elude his pursuers before the serum wears off.  Clark resorts to using a curved mirror to create the illusion that he has gained stretching powers.  It doesn't look very good, but I have to credit the artists with making it look like a mirror effect, rather than making it look perfect.


Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen 29 guest stars Krypto, and is an important milestone for the character. This is not merely Krypto's first time in this book, but also his first appearance alongside the adult Superman.  Up until now, Krypto had only been seen in the Superboy series. Jimmy sees the dog first, after the animal responds to his signal watch.  Krypto is shown to have aged a lot in the intervening years, and the dog's mind seems to not quite be what it was in his youth. Jimmy offers to take care of Krypto, and I guess Superman no longer really cares about his old pet, because he agrees immediately.  This proves more than Jimmy can handle, with Krypto's powers, and his inability to restrain from using them. 


The dog, as well as Jimmy and Superman, get hauled before a judge, and Superman agrees to exile Krypto into space, despite Jimmy's pleas. But then Superman explains to Jimmy that he did not really send Krypto into space.  Instead, he sent the dog to a valley of kryptonite.  That seems, frankly, even worse, but Superman had noted that the waters in that valley, affected by the kryptonite, had rejuvenating powers.  Krypto drinks from them, and is restored to being a young dog again. Now Krypto has the strength and intelligence to escape from the valley, and chooses to once again go wandering in space.  Can't really blame him.  Superman insists that, if and when Krypto returns, he will now be Jimmy's dog.  Superman really doesn't want the poor thing anymore.


Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen 40 has Jimmy meet Supergirl, whose existence was still a secret at this time. Jimmy is out to expose a carnival fraudster, but winds up getting temporarily blinded.  Friends and foes alike just do awful things to the poor kid.  Anyway, Supergirl comes to his rescue, but Jimmy does not believe there is such a thing as Supergirl.  Supergirl briefly recaps her origin to Jimmy. The story then moves into very familiar territory, as Supergirl tries to prove that she is real, and has powers. There are almost identical stories with Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman.  And probably with others, though only those three pop into my head at the moment.  In every variation of the tale, the blind person keeps explaining how the hero could be faking the effects of the powers, never really believing that anything that is happening really is happening. 


In most versions, the story ends with the hero finally convincing the blind person, but not in this case.  Superman shows up at the end, as Jimmy's vision returns, and helps him take down the bad guy.  But Jimmy is left not believing that Supergirl is real.


I also need to mention one of the stories from Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen 9. Some hoods lure Jimmy Olsen to them, and then force him to provide the correct answers to questions on a game show that one is participating in.  That's fairly low level evil, aside from the kidnapping thing. And of course, as the questions are all about Superman, Jimmy is able to give the correct answers to all of them.  In fact, he gives so much accurate detail, things that only he could have known, that Superman, who happens to be watching, figures out he is being forced to give the contestant the answers.  Superman rescues Jimmy, but none of that is the really important stuff. 


Among the answers Jimmy gives, and the flashbacks that we see, Luthor appears, as well as the Prankster and the Toyman.  This is credited as the first Earth-1 appearances of the Prankster and Toyman.  Neither had appeared since the late 40s, and in fact neither would be seen again until 1966.

Jimmy Olsen continues in the next period, 1960 – 1964: the Silver Age.

Jimmy Olsen: Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen 7 – 42 (Sept 55 – Jan 60)

Next up – Golden Gladiator!

Last Updated: Jun 26, 2018 - 9:28

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