Spencer Takes "Action" with Jimmy Olsen

Reporter, photographer and bow tie aficionado Jimmy Olsen gains a new pal with writer Nick Spencer, who kicks off an all-new ongoing backup co-feature starring the camera carrying character beginning with September's "Action Comics" #893.

A long-time staple of the Superman family of titles, Jimmy Olsen actually first appeared on "The Adventures of Superman" radio show back in 1940. His first full-fledged DC Comics appearance as the redheaded cub reporter for the Daily Planet came a year later in the pages of "Superman" #13. After a number of appearances, Jimmy went on to his own comic book series, "Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen." The title grew in popularity during the Silver Age due to its wacky adventures that often featured Superman saving Jimmy from dangerously outlandish situations and Jimmy gaining random superpowers or morphing into some sort of creature, such as the amazing Elastic Lad or Turtle Boy. With the birth of the modern age, Jimmy became a more serious character, looking up to both Clark Kent and Lois Lane as his career idols and as parental figures. Olsen also shares a close friendship with Superman, whom he signals with a special watch designed by the Man of Steel himself. Most recently, the character seemingly perished after the villain Codename: Assassin shot him multiple times in the chest. However, Jimmy survived the encounter and proved his skills as a journalist by helping uncover General Sam Lane's plot to discredit Superman and instigate a war with the Kryptonian race.

Known for his work at Image Comics on such titles as "Shuddertown" and "Forgetless," Spencer breaks into the DCU with the upcoming Jimmy Olsen backup features set to run in "Action Comics." The writer plans to send Jimmy off on his own set of adventures and re-establish the photographer's place as a major character in the DC Universe. Spencer spoke with CBR News about the project, his personal love of the Superman family and the bow-tie wearing photographer and his hope of presenting classic Silver Age stories with more modern sensibilities.

CBR News: I guess the first question is, how did you end up getting this gig? Did DC approach you about it?

Nick Spencer: Yeah. Wil Moss at DC approached me about it. We were working on something else that I can't talk about just yet - sorry! - and if I'm remembering right, it was just sort of a brief aside, a "Hey, would you be at all interested in pitching this?" What he didn't know is that I'm president of my local chapter of the Jimmy Olsen Fan Club, and this had been on my list of dream writing gigs since I was a kid. So he said something like, "Okay, we only need a few lines, it can be brief." And I think I ended up sending in three pages. I was more than a little enthusiastic about it.

Well, let's talk about that pitch. Back in the day, Jimmy went on all sorts of crazy adventures, not only as a photographer, but as Superman's pal, regularly gaining wacky powers and stuff. What sort of adventures will you be throwing Jimmy Olsen into?

Well, I grew up on a pretty steady diet of "Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen" and Superboy and the Legion back issues - so I certainly wanted to do something that honored the spirit of those stories, but in a way that felt new and fresh. I didn't want to just re-hash Jimmy becoming Turtle Boy over and over or whatever, but I wanted to tell some stories that, if you sat down and read those old issues, then you read mine, you could feel the respect and admiration for what's come before in it. There's so much going on behind the panels in those Silver Age books, stuff we have an opportunity to bring out now. Jimmy has one of the most talked-about runs in comics history, and it's fun to go back and take those stories apart, see what makes them tick, then apply that in a modern setting. Some people will probably detect it more than others, but that's good, too - you certainly don't need to know anything about Jimmy as character before you come in to this. It's a pretty perfect jumping-on point.

As for Jimmy's adventure here, specifically, it's all about a girl. Who that girl is and why Jimmy gets himself into this big mess over her is something we'll be talking about more in the months ahead. Rest assured, it's an adventure that takes him across the galaxy and even other dimensions, with all kinds of dangers gunning for him along way, but again, like most stories, it's all about a girl.

Continuing from the previous question, Jimmy's various adventures also allow for stories in all sorts of genre. What sort of genre would you say readers will be seeing here - romantic, action adventure...?

Well, that really is one of the fun things about working on Jimmy's adventures - you can do anything. That's a huge part of his charm, that's he's this normal, usually non-powered guy, but his exploits span pretty much every possible genre and sub-genre out there. There are Jimmy Olsen pirate stories, Jimmy Olsen werewolf stories...you name it. He just gets thrown into these absurd, inconceivable situations by virtue of his own thirst for excitement. So we're definitely going to take him in a lot of different directions here.

I understand you always knew you wanted to be a comic writer from a young age. What is about the comic medium that appeals to you as a writer and storyteller?

Yeah, this is something I've known I wanted to do almost since birth, so sometimes it's a little crazy to actually be doing it now. I think growing up with it, that is a big part of the appeal. It's a medium with such an incredible history, such a strong sense of tradition. It's a fun community to work in. From a storytelling perspective, you just have so much freedom, so many different places you can take things - it's really just breathtaking at times when you think about it. 

You mentioned that you grew up reading "Jimmy Olsen," so I guess that means you're a fan of Superman and the Superman family of characters.

Oh, yeah, Superman was a big part of my life growing up. When I was a very young kid, my parents were worried that most comics at the time might not be appropriate for me and were too expensive. See, these are not new issues. So they would take me to the local shop and let me raid the dime and quarter bins for old Superman and Jimmy Olsen and Legion comics. To this day, my favorite comic book story of all time is "Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?" by Alan Moore and Curt Swan, which I read for the first time when I was around nine. My mind was blown. So, to have my first DC assignment be writing Jimmy Olsen, in the pages of the grandfather of them all, "Action Comics," it's just an enormous honor. To be a part of that history and that tradition is a very big deal to me.

What do you like about the character of Jimmy Olsen as a writer?
What I love about Jimmy is that he's a normal guy. Now, people say this about Batman or whoever all the time, and to some degree that's true, but really, Batman is an extraordinary human being, something few, if any, could be. But Jimmy, anyone could be Jimmy. And it's not just about skills or ability as a fighter or whatever. Jimmy is normal in that he lets things go to his head, he gets upset, he falls for the wrong girl. He's very much one of us. The only thing he has that most don't is the willingness to get out there and do things. He's very determined to live his life to the fullest, to experience as much as he can.

Similarly, how do you personally see the character of Jimmy? What drives and motivates him?

Well, again, it's about the adventures of an ordinary guy in an extraordinary place like the DCU. Jimmy is someone who's been on the front lines of every major event in the DCU because he's someone who runs towards the danger and the excitement. His motivation is to experience that rush, to be on the front lines. He wants to be a part of whatever the good guys are doing.

How much will the rest of the Superman family be playing into this story? Will we be seeing characters like Superman or Lois or Supergirl?

Yes, you will be seeing a lot of Metropolis regulars in the story. Certainly, Lois and Perry, working at the Planet with him, will be around. But that said, I really wanted to take Jimmy out of his comfort zones, introduce him to new people, lead him to his adventures a different way. Because when I looked at most of the Jimmy story of the last few decades - certainly since the original "Crisis" - I saw them sort of circling what had come before, just sort of remaking a lot of the Weisinger-era or Kirby-run ideas. And it's all great, but the problem is it becomes a little too familiar. In Jimmy's case, it's really hard to directly revisit that stuff without losing a lot of that insanity and charm those old stories had. So rather than do that, I want to try introducing some fresh faces, give Jimmy something of a supporting cast of his own, but again, to do it in a way that it feels like a logical progression and a spiritual successor to those classic comics.

Can you talk a little about that supporting cast you're building?

One thing we talked a lot about during the pitch process was the idea that, in a place like Metropolis, there are all these young people who live and work in close proximity to these awe-inspiring heroes and villains, and they sort of build up the infrastructure that makes all the high-action stuff we see in comics normally possible in the first place. In a city like this, there would be a lot of interns, entry-level post-grads and junior executives for whom guys like Steel, Booster Gold and Lex Luthor aren't far-away legends; they get their coffee, handle their schedules and write up their press releases every day. The closest real world comparison I can make is to Washington, D.C., where you have all these idealistic younger types doing a lot of the behind the scenes work for The President and The Senate and whoever. Metropolis is exactly the same way, except there, we're talking about The Daily Planet, S.T.A.R. Labs, Steelworks, LexCorp, etc. Jimmy, semi-famously known as Superman's Pal, basically the closest thing he's ever had to a sidekick, would obviously be a very big part of that scene. It's a pretty interesting position to put him in and impacts our story in a lot of different ways. 

The "Superman's Pal" relationship between Jimmy and Superman has been approached in different ways by different writers. How do you see the relationship between them?

With regards to Superman, he's obviously on something of a personal journey outside of Metropolis right now. So their actual face to face interaction is pretty limited here. But that said, Superman's absence has a huge impact on the story, and Jimmy's behavior throughout. One of the big questions we're asking here is: Jimmy always seems very brave, almost reckless, but how much of that involves having that big, blue backup behind him? Would he take the same risks and chase danger so carelessly if he knew he wasn't the press of a button away from rescue? Where we start off, it's pretty tough to tell for sure either way.

What about the relationship between Jimmy and other members of the Daily Planet staff, like Lois and Perry?

Well, I think in some ways, Jimmy actually looks up to Lois more than Superman, odd as it sounds. What Jimmy always really wanted to be is a great reporter. All the other stuff, being Superman's Pal and the like, that all was just an offshoot of his job at the Planet. To him, Lois is the most dogged, most fearless journalist around, so she's the big role model in his life. They have a sort of kinship. I think there are times when Lois sees a lot of herself in him - that same ambition and drive to get the story at all costs. At the same time, she can be protective of him, too. I imagine there's a bit of an "older sister/younger brother" dynamic to the relationship.

As a final question to close all this out, I have to ask, if you could be the pal of any super hero, who would it be?

Aw, I doubt I'd be cut out for the job. Who's got the hottest friends? Black Canary? Maybe her, then. I'm probably better suited to be a super hero's pal's pal. Something like that.

The new adventures of Jimmy Olsen begin on September 29 with the release of "Action Comics" #893

DC Reveals New Batman Creative Team

More in Comics