The Many Strange Identities of Jimmy Olsen

On Monday's episode of "Supergirl," James "Jimmy" Olsen takes on the identity of the Guardian to help fight crime in National City.

Taking on a superhero identity is a departure for James Olsen on the television series, but it's completely in keeping with the history of Jimmy Olsen, the comic book character. Olsen has been taking on strange new identities for over fifty years! Read on to discover some of his strangest ones!

The comic book series, "Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen," launched in 1954, as a tie-in to the popular Jimmy Olsen character on the "Adventures of Superman" television series that had launched in 1952. Olsen was one of the main characters on the TV series, so suddenly Olsen in the comics, who was very much a minor character, was now a big deal. The problem with giving an ongoing series to such a minor character was that DC really didn't have a "hook" for Olsen. The one that they came up with for the first issue is that Jimmy is a master of disguise and he uses that for his adventures as a reporter/photographer for the Daily Planet. However, as time went by, that sort of evolved into Jimmy being transformed (by magic, science, radiation, etc.) into different identities.

In 1957's "Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen" #22, Otto Binder, Curt Swan and Ray Burnley gave us "The Super-Brain of Jimmy Olsen," where a scientist uses a special machine to accelerate the evolution process on Jimmy Olsen and made him what a typical person would be in the year 1,000,000 A.D.!

The end result was that Jimmy now had a "cosmic brain" and was super-intelligent and had super powers. Before the effects of the machine wore off, the "Cosmic Brain" forced Superman into a dangerous mission that helped save the Earth.

In 1958's "Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen" #28, the same creative team gave us "The Human Skyscraper," where Jimmy Olsen has a toothache and goes to see a dentist. However, instead of taking some pain relief pills, Jimmy accidentally takes some pills that were treated with radiation so that they would work sort of like Jack's mythical beans from "Jack and the Beanstalk." So Jimmy becomes a giant. What's interesting is that the comic followed the general approach of a lot of comics of the time that becoming a giant would also decrease one's intelligence, so Jimmy is basically a giant toddler.

However, he's also a giant toddler with a bad toothache, so Superman has to end up doing dental surgery and then knocks Jimmy out and gives him the antidote.

Three issues later, in 1958's "Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen" #31 (by the same creative team), we met Jimmy Olsen's most famous alter-ego, Elastic Lad! Superman found a chest floating near another world and brought it back to Earth and let Jimmy take a look at it. Jimmy found a vial with green liquid in it. He worried that it might be Kryptonite-related, so he tried to quickly get rid of it. Instead, it broke and splashed all over Jimmy! The end result was that he gained the ability to stretch his body. Despondent over his new lot in life, Jimmy decided to join a carnival as part of their freak show.

A criminal took advantage of Jimmy's desperate need for a cure by tricking him into believing he was a Professor trying to get back into his locked office to find a cure for Jimmy, but really finding a piece of Kryptonite! Jimmy quickly stopped their plan, but the Kryptonite ended up curing his elasticity!

Elastic Lad proved to be popular enough that they brought the concept back in "Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen" #37 (now through a generic stretching serum) and Elastic Lad got a new costume...

Jimmy even traveled to the future and joined the Legion of Super-Heroes as Elastic Lad!

An issue after he made his debut as Elastic Lad, Jimmy Olsen was transformed into a creature from Jupiter in "The Jimmy Olsen from Jupiter", in a story by Alvin Schwartz, Curt Swan and Ray Burnley. Some aliens from Jupiter decided to experiment on Jimmy Olsen by temporarily transforming him into a Jovian for a week. This gave him the ability to read minds.

This being the 1950s, of course, Jimmy's new powers were being used in a criminal plot against Superman to use his telepathy to reveal Superman's secret identity! However, luckily it turned out that a Jovian week was just five days, so Jimmy returned to normal before he could reveal Superman's identity!

1958, a busy year for Olsen transformations, ended with "Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen" #33, where Jimmy became "The Human Flame-Thrower!" as a result of an experiment where a scientist was trying to harness the "fire" produced by fireflies (it's as absurd as that sounds) and the end result is that Jimmy now has the ability to breathe fire!

Some criminals, though, doused themselves in asbestos (presumably this did not work out so well for them in the long run) and forced Jimmy to work for them. Luckily, Jimmy managed to get a message to Superman who came up with a cure to Jimmy's firebreath - simply dousing him with water!

In 1959's "Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen" #41 (by Robert Bernstein, Curt Swan and John Forte), Jimmy Olsen accidentally eats a piece of space fruit from a planet where everyone has six arms. As you might have guessed, this then transforms Jimmy into "The Human Octopus"!

Jimmy actually sort of gets a kick out of this as he feels he is now special like Superman, but when he sees that Lucy Lane is less interested in him now that he's even more handsy than usual, he's despondent. Things got worse when a bunch of criminals forced Jimmy to work as a pickpocket for them! The ending of the story is bizarre, as Superman cures Jimmy but then explains that perhaps the arms were hallucinations the whole time. Huh? Everyone else saw Jimmy with the arms and he picks things up, so they were clearly there. It's a really weird twist by Bernstein.

The next issue, Bernstein wrote a story about Jimmy Olsen and Superman discovering an ancient tomb. Among the artifacts was an old lamp. Jimmy, naturally enough, once again had a toothace. He was in so much pain that when the lamp offered to take the pain away, he agreed. The lamp opened up a genie. However, as it turns out, if you have a genie and you give it a command involving the word "kill," YOU become the genie (don't question it, just accept it!). So Jimmy is now forced to help the evil former genie by doing its every command.

Luckily, the genie rules are absolutely moronic, so Jimmy gets the bad guy to say "Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde," and the "kill" sound in Jeckyll is somehow enough for Jimmy to return to normal.

A few issues later, in "Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen" #44 (by Otto Binder, Curt Swan and Stan Kaye), Jimmy accidentally swallows a mysterious wolfman potion and gets turned into a wolfman!

The only cure to his new curse is if a pretty girl kisses him. That's going to be a problem now that he is, you know, a wolfman! Luckily, being the pal of Superman comes in handy often, and Superman has Supergirl (who was then a secret from the rest of the world, so she disguised herself as Miss X and hid in the dark) kiss Jimmy to save the day!

In 1961's "Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen" #53, Jerry Siegel, Curt Swan and John Forte gave us one of Jimmy's greatest transformations, as Jimmy accidentally uses a growth ray and blasts through a turtle and then hit himself!! The end result, of course, is for him to turn into a Giant Turtle Man (because of course)!

Even worse (as if things could get any worse), an evil Atlantean villain is telepathically controlling Jimmy! Superman manages to use the shrink ray that Brainiac used to shrink the city of Kandor to shrink Jimmy back down to size and cure him.

In 1962's "Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen" #65 (by Jerry Siegel, Curt Swan and George Klein), the female version of Mister Mxyzptlk, Miss Gzptlsnz, decides to turn Jimmy into a Human Porcupine when he rebuffs her wedding proposal (well, not so much turning her down but when she then overhears him telling Superman that he'd sooner marry an animal than her).

Jimmy keeps trying to get her to say her name backwards and eventually gets her to do so, reverting him to his human form.

Finally, in 1963's "Superman" #158, Edmond Hamilton, Curt Swan and George Klein gave us one of Jimmy Olsen's coolest alternate identities. Some villains had been escaping from Kandor and causing trouble on Earth. So Superman and Jimmy shrunk down and entered the Bottled City of Kandor. Superman's powers don't work in Kandor. Once there, it turned out that the bad guys had turned the populace against Superman. He and Jimmy then had to come up with new identities. They became the Batman and Robin of Kandor, calling themselves Nightwing and Flamebird!

The scheme was stopped and now Kandor had two new heroes (other Kandorians took over the Nightwing and Flamebird roles once Superman and Jimmy returned to Earth). Years later, Dick Grayson was inspired by that story to take the name Nightwing for himself on Earth.

So when Jimmy becomes the Guardian tomorrow, know that it is only the latest in a long line of awesome alternate identities for Jimmy!

X-Force Dawn of X feature
X-Force Proves Why an X-Men Villain Is the True Guardian of Krakoa

More in CBR Exclusives