It’s just another day in Metropolis. Citizens go about their business, Superman stands by to protect them, the Daily Planet staff gather all the news that’s fit to put out across several platforms… but high above Metropolis, Jimmy Olsen is jumping out of a spacecraft.
Without a parachute. He’s not without resources, though, having had STAR Labs boffins inject him with stem cells from Metamorpho the Element Man, mixed with ‘gunk’ from a flying lizard. What could possibly go wrong?
Now that’s a Giant Turtle Olsen. Cue a daring rescue by Superman… and the destruction of one of Metropolis’s most famous monuments.
Back at the Daily Planet, after the strange transformation of Jimmy Olsen has worn off, editor Perry White is all for firing the red-head reporter for sending the paper’s insurance premiums sky high. But it’s not that simple.
New publisher Ms Leone, though, has a thought.
And there’s more. Both before the events I’ve described – history lessons involving Jimmy’s similarly ginger family members – and after – Jimmy’s new digs. And we close on a mystery that’s bound to bring the majority of readers back for the second part of this 12-issue maxi-series.
Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised were everyone to come back for more because this debut by writer Matt Fraction, artist Steve Lieber, colourist Nathan Fairbairn and letterer Clayton Cowles is pure delight. It’s light-hearted but not dumb, connected to current Superman continuity but not strangled by it.
And at the centre of everything is Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, photographer turned digital journalist with the perfect 21st-century excuse for the kind of nutty escapades in which his Silver Age self indulged daily, and which readers accepted without pause. Jimmy seems to flip personality with every new writer on the Superman books, but Fraction skews towards my favourite Jimmy, the talented journalist who’s drawn to risk but not actually an idiot, a seriously smart guy who knows how to enjoy life in the madhouse that is the DC Universe.
This is also the Jimmy we’re getting from current Superman writer Brian Michael Bendis, which makes sense given the inclusion of that writer’s intriguing new character Ms Leone – if you don’t know what her deal is, track down recent issues of Action Comics or the Leviathan Rising Special.
I also like Fraction’s version of Superman, especially when in Clark mode – while we won’t say he knows he’s in a comic book, he can’t resist a George Reeves-style wink at the reader.
As for Perry, he’s a hoot. Like Jimmy, he’s comic character as multiple personality disorder, but here he’s classic Perry – a passionate newshound with a big heart. Jimmy annoys him, but he’s family.
Regarding the new characters, presumably Dr Anton Mantel will be Jimmy’s fresh Professor Potter, his pet mad scientist, while Ed Lynch may be a Funky Flashman huckster type. We’ll see. Meanwhile, my favourite new guy is the laid-back I.T. Mike. Plus, the crossword chap makes for nice sight gags. More please.
And could we have the return of air hostess Lucy Lane? I suspect Fraction and Lieber would have a fun take on Jim’s flighty on-off girlfriend.
I love getting some Metropolis history, seeing how entrenched the Olsens are; the uodate on the old JO Fan Club; and being reminded that Jimmy comes from money – a fact that likely helped form his happy-go-lucky attitude. I’m intrigued as to where this series will go – everywhere, I suspect, geographically, but also in terms of Jimmy’s emotional journey. What does it really mean to be Superman’s Pal?
Other things I liked an awful lot: the montage of Jimmy adventures, at least one of which is darned close to an actual Sixties issue; the Silver Age-style narrative openings to the chapters; the chapters themselves evoking the timeless three-stories-per-issue format… it’s all such fun, the tone reminding me of the severely underrated Knight and Squire mini-series (if you have the DC App, and haven’t read it, do). The only things I didn’t like were a surprised Jimmy yelling ‘Jesus Christ’ – I’m not saying Superman’s Pal should revive ‘Jeepers’ in 2019, but ‘Jesus Christ’ really doesn’t suit him – and his horrifying armpit hair!
Even that was funny, though, courtesy of Lieber. Steve Lieber is the perfect modern Jimmy Olsen artist, being as great at capturing regular folk as he is at selling the regular bizarre elements. Take a look at that last picture of Perry and Ms Leone – the body language, the folds of the clothes, the skilful way the artist pulls off a tricky sideways angle on Perry’s hand. Plus, Lieber is a fine storyteller, and an accomplished visual comedian.
Fairbairn’s colouring is refreshingly light and airy, except towards the end, when the story demands a change of approach – and that works well too. As for Cowles, his wonderfully polite lettering choices are much appreciated.
The cover by Lieber and Fairbairn is a perfect scene setter, with its nod to Jimmy’s crazy comic book past, and the tweaked version of his classic logo is a treat – we get the original inside – bar the use of the Superman shield to begin the phrase ‘Superman’s Pal’. That stylised symbol never works as part of a word.
So again, I loved this issue. I’m keen, though, to hear what folk who didn’t grow up with goofy Silver and Bronze Age Jimmy made of it. And everyone else, of course!