Grumpy Old Fan | Who wants a piece of Mr. Action?

Jimmy Olsen spent much of the Silver Age bouncing from one misadventure to another: traveling through time, uncontrollably growing facial hair, transforming into strange creatures, blah blah blah. In fairness to Jimmy, many times these consequences were somewhat undeserved (although he was kinda asking for trouble drinking that beard tonic).

Therefore, it’s not surprising that once again, our Mr. Olsen is a victim of circumstance.  Follow the bouncing ball....

The good: Last year, starting in Action Comics #493, Jimmy got a great new co-feature by the very talented team of writer Nick Spencer, penciller R.B. Silva, and inker DYM.*

The bad: The feature was yanked after four installments when DC decided to discontinue all the co-features.

The good: Spencer, Silva, and DYM got to finish “Jimmy Olsen’s Big Week” in the pages of the probably-still-on-sale Jimmy Olsen Special, which runs 58 pages (including parts 1-4) and is well worth your $5.99. Really, this story couldn’t be more fun if it were called Superman’s Pal Scott Pilgrim.

So where’s the “victim” part come in?

Well ... I don’t have the highest of hopes that DC will do much more with Jimmy after this. For one thing, Spencer is now Marvel-exclusive (except perhaps for THUNDER Agents). For another, the Special itself is in the familiar floppy-comic format, less durable even than the $7.99 100-pagers DC has recently introduced. Because there’s already a collection of Silver Age Jimmy stories (The Amazing Transformations Of Jimmy Olsen, 192 pages, $14.99 retail), if DC were going to reprint “Big Week” as part of, say, More Amazing Transformations, I imagine it would first want to gauge the readership’s interest in such a follow-up.

Of course, padding out a $7.99 100-pager would be easier. DC has done just that with its upcoming collection of the “Metal Men” co-feature from Doom Patrol . However, “Big Week” is a story which deserves the full book treatment, as part of DC’s permanent catalog.

For all his longevity, Jimmy can be a tough sell as a leading man -- just take a look at 2007-08's Countdown miniseries, where his wacky past was repurposed into a muddled misfire.  Longtime fans may also recall the old LL Cool J taunt:  I rhyme like Superman/You rap like Jimmy Olsen.  Even the Silver Age stuff petered out eventually, making the old Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen one of DC’s lowest-selling books. In fact, those low sales apparently led Jack Kirby to the book in the early 1970s, because he wanted to revitalize a bottom-of-the-heap title; but obviously, that’s not the kind of revitalization which happens every day. Accordingly, when something like “Big Week” comes along, and we get a Jimmy Olsen with just the right mixture of brains, heart, and goofy charm, it’s a revelation.

“Jimmy Olsen’s Big Week” is the nimble story of a supporting character struggling not so much to step out of Superman’s shadow as to be fulfilled in his own life. With Superman out of Metropolis on an open-ended, soul-searching quest,** Chapter 1 finds Jimmy sitting around his apartment playing video games. As his narrative caption asks rhetorically, “[w]hat’s wrong with taking a little vacation time from chasing danger when you know your super-best friend is off on business?” Problem is, Jimmy’s newfound slackitude isn’t going over well with soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend Chloe Sullivan,*** who sums up the issue with “Pay attention to me dumping you!” Also not helping is romantic rival Sebastien Malloy, eminently hissable junior LexCorp executive who’s also the subject of Chloe’s latest feature story. “Big Week” features an alien invasion, a genie, a 5th-dimensional imp, Jimmy’s stint as “Co-Superman,” and a showdown in space. Sprinkled throughout are throwaway gags like Batman boxer shorts and a rendition of John Williams’ Superman fanfare. Spencer even makes the line “I have to go to the bathroom!” a literal life-changing event.

Again, though, I have to think there won’t be much, if any, follow-up. Combining the new and reprinted parts of “Jimmy Olsen’s Big Week” into a $5.99 one-shot may have been cost-effective, but it also feels like the last hard-copy format the story may see.

The same applies to Jimmy as a character. Apart from the Silver Age weirdness and Kirby’s ... well, different kind of weirdness, there haven’t been a lot of well-remembered Jimmy Olsen stories. His long-running feature in Superman Family**** eased up on the bizarre transformations for more mundane adventures (although it did have an extended Guardian/Newsboy Legion arc). The late ‘80s and early ‘90s were fairly kind to him, especially in Jerry Ordway’s Kirby-homage work; and he got a pretty good spotlight in All Star Superman. Less successful portrayals include the aforementioned Countdown; as well as Superman: Metropolis, a 12-issue 2003-04 miniseries (by Chuck Austen and Danijel Zezelj) which has yet to be collected.

So is there a way to make Jimmy work on a more regular basis? Does “Jimmy Olsen’s Big Week” at least give us a guide to restoring Jimmy’s past glories (such as they were)? It’s hard to say. As good as “Big Week” was, comedy is tough to maintain over the long haul. Every Justice League International is offset by the likes of ’Mazing Man, Hourman, Heckler, Young Heroes In Love, or Major Bummer (the last finally being reprinted not by DC, but by Dark Horse). Those series can all claim some degree of fan affection and critical recognition; but they just never broke through to sustained success.  Unlike those series, though, “Big Week” wasn’t road-tested as an ongoing series, and comes just shy of filling three regular (now 20-page) issues. Basically, it’s long enough to be engaging, but too short to warrant an unadulterated collection. Still, “Big Week” seems to have been a hit, at least with the comics blogosphere; so you’d think it’d at least be included in a future Jimmy Olsen book.

Judging by the Special’s sales, though, there may not be much demand for more Jimmy Olsen. The one-shot was #167 on ICV2's Top 300 list for March, selling 12,313 copies to retailers. It finished just ahead of the Atom Special, which also spun out of a co-feature (in Adventure Comics) but didn’t reprint the original chapters. The next lowest DC Universe title was Batman Confidential #54, the last issue of the series, which at #163 sold 12,578 copies; and just above that was Booster Gold, #132 with 16,093. However, Jimmy Olsen did sell better than two ongoing series which haven’t yet been cancelled: Jonah Hex #65 (#187) and Spencer’s own THUNDER Agents #5 (#194).*****

Of course, if DC figures that whoever would buy “Jimmy Olsen’s Big Week” has already bought it, there may not be much incentive for any of us to buy it again as a paperback, let alone a hardcover. Accordingly, my fear for “Big Week” and other similar works is that without a more permanent place in DC’s back catalog, they’ll be lost in the crush of higher-profile collections. I hate to state the obvious, but these days, the consumer who swears by collections might miss such little stories completely, if the only places they’ve appeared are in the floppy periodicals. Surely this is not lost on DC.

Ultimately, I am hopeful that “Jimmy Olsen’s Big Week” will find its way to bookstores in some form. It’s too good a story not to have its backers at DC. Heck, they cared enough to put a positive blurb from ComicsAlliance.com on the one-shot’s cover -- and they’d be stupid to let one of 2010's “ten best comics” get lost in the back-issue boxes.


* [With assists on Chapter 7 by inker Rob Lean and guest artist Amilcar Pinna.]

** [It started, like you don’t know already, in last year’s Superman #700.]

*** [Naturally, Chloe is a transplant from the “Smallville” TV series -- which makes her an ideal match for Jimmy, who first appeared on the original “Adventures Of Superman” radio program.]

**** [Superman Family was the product of combining the Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane books and taking Jimmy’s numbering, so naturally Jimmy’s and Lois’ features continued in the new title. SF lasted from 1974's #164 until 1982's #222.]

***** [In the interests of being complete, it also sold better than Xombi #1 (171), Weird Worlds #3 (183), REBELS #26 (188), JLA/The 99 #6 (192), Knight & Squire #6 (196), Doom Patrol #20 (202), Freedom Fighters #7 (207), Doc Savage #12 (224), Azrael #18 (#230), and The Spirit #12 (236). That’s not saying much, since most of those books are either miniseries or dead series walking, but context never hurts.]

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