If you’re looking to brush up on your superhero history or just burnish some fine nostalgia, you can’t do much better than the new Showcase Presents series of DC Comics reprints, mostly from the 1950s and 1960s. ”Over 500 Pages of Comics!” scream the covers, each edition selling for a reasonable $16.99. Recent volumes have gathered fine selections of Superman and Green Lantern stories, and I love The Green Arrow book, collecting many of the Emerald Archer’s tales when artist Jack Kirby was taking one of his periodic leaves-of-abscence from Marvel Comics. (Kirby’s granite-jawed rendering of Green Arrow and his teen assistant Speedy gave the series a harder-than-usual edge.) The latest entry in the series may be less significant in comics history, but it’s certainly one of the most enjoyable. The book is called, somewhat inaccurately, Superman Family, but that’s probably because DC likely figured few contemporary readers would shell out money for an anthology culled primarily from Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. Superman ”family”? It’s not as though Clark Kent’s redheaded, freckled, bow-tied, ”cub reporter” Daily Planet colleague was a blood-relative to Superman — he was a ”pal,” or more accurately, a fanboy whose wish had come true: Jimmy had his own adventures and misadventures, from which Superman had to rescue him more often than not.
There are escapades such as ”The Super-Brain of Jimmy Olsen,” in which Jimmy agrees to a scientific experiment that gives him a literally swelled head encasing his ”cosmic brain,” making him more intelligent than anyone on Earth… for 12 hours. There’s ”Jimmy Olsen, Speed Demon,” in which Jimmy takes another scientist’s ”super speed serum,” enabling him to do everything very quickly, but Superman has to rescue him from danger when it inevitably wears off. Jimmy travels back in time, he lives underwater, he becomes a champion jockey — in short, he lives out the fantasies of many a kid 50 years ago.
Most of these stories were written by Otto Binder, a sci-fi pulp writer as well as a comic-book mainstay; most were drawn by Curt Swan, whose clean, crisp lines were as much of a paradox as his name implied: Curt Swan = abrupt grace.
Toward the end of this thick book, the editors toss in a few Lois Lane stories; they’re different and in some ways better. The early Lois stories often spun around the fantasy of the Planet’s star reporter marrying Superman, or gaining superpowers, and contained an element of sexual tension and feminine ambition that was intriguing. As often as not, even when she needed super-rescuing, the Lois Lane stories often ended up teaching Superman a lesson in not being so excessively protective of the wily Lane.
The stories in the Showcase series are cheaply reprinted in black and white, and I wish there was some annotation or even just a good little introduction at the start of each volume to provide context for the stories, artists, and writers. But they’re still great fun. If anyone at DC is taking requests, I’d love to see a volume collecting some of DC’s Western series from the early ’60s, such as The Trigger Twins and Tomahawk. Oh, and could we get a book full of the rare Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis comics, please? (Yes, believe it or not, each comedian commandeered his own comic-book title, and well-drawn they were, too, mostly by Bob Oksner.) And? well, which titles would you like to see reprinted?