Who is Jimmy Olsen? The intrepid Daily Planet photojournalist has long been a key part of the Man of Steel’s entourage, but it’s been a long time since he seized the spotlight for himself. That all changes with Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, a new 12-issue comic maxi-series from writer Matt Fraction and artist Steve Lieber, whose second issue hits stores this week. This hilarious, colorful, fast-paced, multigenre comic finally gives modern readers a lesson in how important Olsen is to Metropolis and the DC universe as a whole.
“The thing about Jimmy is he’s incredibly malleable,” Fraction tells EW. “He’s the DC universe’s witness, he’s the guy who lives to tell the tale. So that was what I wanted to do, because if they never let me do a book here again, it will be nice to flex as many muscles as possible. So let’s do Superman stories, let’s do weird transformation stories, let’s do a Western. When it comes to Jimmy as a character, his superpower is none of that freaks him out.”
What that means in practical terms is that Jimmy Olsen goes through more out-of-this-world experiences on a daily basis than most people (fictional or real) endure in their entire lives. In the Jimmy Olsen preview story from DC’s Superman: Leviathan Rising one-shot earlier this year, Jimmy got his clothes ripped up by an alien cat, who then puked blood in his face. All this after Jimmy woke up in Gorilla City (yes, the DC universe has a city populated entirely by intelligent gorillas) having accidentally married an interdimensional jewel thief. But as Jimmy told the cat at the time, “This is the sort of nonsense I’ll literally never think about ever again.” It was just another Tuesday for him.
There’s a lineage of wacky Jimmy Olsen comics like this; when comics legend Jack Kirby first arrived at DC in the ’70s after breaking up with Marvel, Jimmy Olsen was the first book he handled. Fraction and Lieber have taken those comics’ structure of containing multiple short stories. The first issue of Jimmy Olsen last month included, among others, a story about Jimmy transforming into an alien turtle while skydiving from space (a hilarious sequence which this EW writer may have kept open on his computer for a full week just to glance at it every once in awhile and cackle all over again). Every issue also contains at least one or two dialogue-free pages where each panel is a snapshot of a different Jimmy adventure: getting chased by a dinosaur, turning into a ghost, and more. Each of them, Fraction points out, would make for a story the average person could dine out on for the rest of their lives.
“That’s an aspect I adored from the very beginning: the almost ADHD explosion of one story, then another story, then another,” Lieber says. “That that felt like the original Jimmy book, which was an anthology of Jimmy stories. But here they’re all building toward something. It’s one of the great cases of having our cake and eating it too.”
Fraction and Lieber first collaborated a few years ago on an issue of Marvel’s Hawkeye (during Fraction’s iconic run with artist David Aja) that came out shortly after Hurricane Sandy devastated the protagonist’s favorite neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey. Now they’re paired up again, this time at DC Comics. Though Lieber has drawn the likes of Batman before, this is Fraction’s first DC superhero comic (his wife, Kelly Sue DeConnick, has been writing Aquaman for almost a full year now). He acknowledges it’s “a weird fit,” but says “Jimmy felt like a good vehicle to explore that weird fit in.”
Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen does give an interesting view on the DC universe. Not for nothing does one become known as “Superman’s pal.” As seen in an amazing sequence from this month’s issue, Jimmy can relate to Superman in a way no one else can.
“He’s the first guy Superman met that is just like him,” Fraction says. “Jimmy’s camera in front of his face is Clark’s glasses. That’s the disguise. ‘Oh, you’re like me!’ Superman and Clark are the only person who call him ‘Jim’ in the book. There’s a reason. These two could not be more different, but where it matters, in their core, they’re very much alike.”
Lieber adds, “Superman needs somebody around whom he can be himself. There’s a possibility for genuine human connection with Jimmy that doesn’t exist with many other people.”
So that’s why, when Jimmy invites Superman onto his Daily Planet webstream in issue #2 this week, he gets Superman to do decidedly un-Superman-like things, such as wear a blond wig and do magic tricks.
Check out that scene below. Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #2 is in stores now.