Jimmy Olsen is not your average hero. He’s a dorky, bowtie-wearing, camera-toting, “super-duper”-saying, down-on-his-luck ginger. (It’s cool, I can say it – Jimbo and I are pals in our gingerness.) He’s most often referred to as a step below a sidekick – he’s not Superman’s crime fighting second-in-command. He’s the guy’s pal. Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen. His greatest distinction in life is being on Supes’ friend list.
Or so you think.
If the popularity of Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye and Nick Spencer’s The Superior Foes of Spider-Man has taught us anything, it’s that readers want to see the humans behind the superheroes. And Jimmy Olsen is quite literally that – the human behind Superman. However, in May 2011, the previously mentioned Nick Spencer released a Jimmy Olsen one-shot that put the spotlight on Superman’s pal, fleshing him out both as a person and a hero.
The comic reminds me very much of “The Zeppo,” a popular episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The episode features another apocalypse hitting Sunnydale, of course. But this time, we focus on Xander, the character who no one outwardly calls useless… but they do send him for doughnuts while the rest of them prep for a war against the coming army of darkness. What they don’t see, however, is Xander’s heroic, hilarious, and bizarre exploits along the way. While they go about their apocalypse-stopping, Xander goes on an adventure of his own and, though no one knows, he ends up being the one to save the day. It’s the idea of making a hero out of the everyman, the character that the audience is meant to identify with, that made “The Zeppo” special – and this comic has all of those qualities, but blows the whole shebang up to a cosmic scale.
What I like about Spencer’s Jimmy Olsen best, though, is that it’s not merely about making a hero out of the everyman. It’s about the ridiculousness of a guy like Jimmy Olsen hanging around with these modern myths who are essentially shaping the world with their battles. Instead of focusing on the down-to-Earth aspects of this all too human character, Spencer embraces the utter insanity that has been Jimmy’s experience in the DC Universe continuity. The opening of the issue sets the tone immediately by flashing back to a Jimmy Olsen story so off-the-wall that it was included in Comics Alliance’s hilarious The Top Ten Most Insane Jimmy Olsen Moments of All Time list. Jimmy’s hilarious genie story segues into a scene so unflattering and emasculating that it brings to mind the naked break-up scene from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Jimmy is sitting on his floor playing a Superman video game, looking very much like a child, as his girlfriend, the uber-professional and well put-together Chloe Sullivan breaks up with him. To add insult to injury, Jimmy’s video game counterpart is pictured on screen, helpless, begging Superman to protect him.
The rest of the issue – which has completely stellar art, courtesy of RB Silva – features Olsen getting abducted by alien party girls, becoming co-Superman, defeating a villain with the geekiest world domination plan ever, and… kind of maybe sort of getting the girl? It’s wild, it’s crazy, it’s appropriately Jimmy, but it also does something else. It’s easy to look at this issue as an insane, almost bizarro-fiction-esque take on the character… but it actually brings to mind a quote from Grant Morrison about his Batman run. In a quote pulled from Marc Singer’s Grant Morrison: Combining the Worlds of Contemporary Comics that was in turn pulled from Batman: The Black Casebook (man, I don’t miss research papers) Morrison said, “I decided to treat the entire publishing history of Batman as the events of one man’s extraordinarily vivid life. […] I imagined a rough timeline that allowed me to compress 70 years’ worth of Batman’s adventures into a franctic 15 years in the life of an extraordinary man.” I’ve not yet cracked into Morrison’s run on Batman, but I think that idea is brilliant – and when I read the quote, it instantly brought this Jimmy Olsen story to mind. In an ultra-modern, comedic book about Jimmy that has lines like “He is the Biff to my Marty, the Leno to my Conan, the Parents to my Just Don’t Understand,” it would seem almost natural to leave out the crazier bits of Jimmy’s backstory, but Spencer embraces them full on, creating a bizarre love letter to perhaps one of the most overlooked heroes in the DC Universe.
Also, there is that scene where Supergirl quietly admits to knitting, and… just, come on. If you don’t have this comic, I’d suggest seeking it out. It’s oversized, there’s an Amanda Conner cover (COMPLETE WITH KNITTING SUPERGIRL!), and there are enough bow ties within to make the Eleventh Doctor’s eyes well up.
And, to me, that’s super-duper.
PAT SHAND is a writer and editor for Zenescope Entertainment. He’s a dorky, bowtie wearing, down on his lucky… ginger… Huh.