TFMSR 002: Jimmy Olsen #44 …

Watch out ladies … there’s a wolf-man on the loose in Metropolis! Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #44, April 1960 TM & © DC

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I loved Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen as a kid, so much so that when my older brother, Rick, returned from the newsstand on one rainy August afternoon in 1961 with a new comic called Fantastic Four, I was deeply disappointed. I was hoping for the new issue of Jimmy Olsen.

Based on the success of the TV series Adventures of Superman and actor Jack Larson’s portrayal of cub reporter Jimmy Olsen (“Jeepers, Mr. Kent!”), Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen was the first new DC (then National Periodical Publications) superhero book of the 1950s, debuting in 1954. While Jimmy himself often flirted with super-powers in the pages of his magazine, Superman was featured in every story, always arriving in time to pull Jimmy’s bacon out of the fire. In fact, Jimmy got himself into so much deep doo-doo, Superman gave him a special signal watch to use when he was in trouble, sending out an undoubtedly annoying “ZEE-ZEE-ZEE!” sound so Superman could drop whatever he was doing—stopping Luthor or Brainiac from destroying the world, saving a Pacific island nation from a volcano, rescuing a cat out of a very tall tree—to save Jimmy’s butt yet again.

Growing up, we bought a lot of the early issues of Jimmy Olsen, but as the Marvel Age of Comics debuted, we started dropping some of the DC books, but when I started reading comics in the late 1950s/early 1960s, the Olsen book was a staple. The book was published monthly—and I love this—“except Feb., May, Aug., and Nov.”—so not monthly, but eight times a year. A number of these comics have stuck with me, with Jimmy Olsen #44, cover featuring “The Wolf-Man of Metropolis,” being the prime example. This era of Jimmy comics was zany, to say the least. DC at the time was publishing a number of humor titles that weren’t teenage-oriented, Archie-like books; they were licensed movie star books, featuring Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis. I never read or collected those, but it seems to me that Jimmy Olsen was more in line with that kind of book than DC’s traditional superhero line, while still being drawn like a traditional DC super-book.

I had been looking for a copy of Jimmy Olsen #44 for a while and every time one did pop up—either on eBay or at a convention—it was priced out of my old comics buying comfort zone. So I was pleasantly surprised when I found one in a Portland comic shop’s long boxes for 12 bucks in early December. It’s not in the greatest shape, but that just means it was loved by someone, read and read again, maybe rolled up and put in a back pocket to take along. The cover is—once again—what really does it for me with this issue. It’s the color combination that sets it off. That bright green suit against that deep purple night sky, with that yellow moon popping behind Jimmy’s wolfs-head is eye-catching, at least to me. DC had the best colored—and printed—books at the time. When I look at Marvel Comics from the same era, it’s astonishing (or maybe amazing, but certainly not strange) how bad their color separations and printing were, at least in the early years, but I digress.

“The Wolf-Man of Metropolis” story is certainly a howler. It starts with Jimmy making out with his main squeeze, Lucy Lane, Lois’s little sister, and thinking (because thought balloons were big in comics back then) “Mmmm. I want more of this.” Lucy accuses him of being a wolf and sends him on his way. Superman appears the next day with an ancient box full of ancient magic potions he just happened to find in an ancient crypt that were made by that ancient wizard, Merlin, and Jimmy promptly guzzles down the bottle of “Werewolf Portion,” to wash down his lunchtime sandwich. When the moon rises that night, he turns into a Wolf-Man! (Wow, I didn’t see that coming, did you?) Conveniently, it’s Halloween and when he goes to pick up Lucy for a costume party, she thinks he’s so clever dressed as a wolf since she’s dressed as Little Red Riding Hood. Jimmy learns that the only way he can lift the potion is to be kissed by a beautiful maiden, but Lucy won’t play along with that horrible mask on his face. Jimmy turns back to normal the next morning and is sent by Perry White to interview a movie producer, but he turns back into the Wolf-Man at night once again. When he gets to the studio, he’s mistaken for an actor in costume and dragged into the filming of the new movie, “The Hundred Horrors.” His “make-up” is so convincing he’s offered a role in the film, but turns it down. The next day, normal again—or as normal as Jimmy gets—he goes to the bank and withdraws all of his savings so he can pay some young “beautiful maiden” to kiss him to break the spell. (Yes … he resorts to prostitution.) That gets him a slap in the face in a dark park by a comely redhead. The next day he takes out the Daily Planet’s “Flying Newsroom”—a big red helicopter, which Jimmy evidently knows how to fly (makes sense, right? … all cub reporters have their helicopter pilot license), and turns into the Wolf-Man yet again at moonrise while running out of gas in the copter and landing right on the rooftop of the Lane sisters apartment (because evidently every rooftop in Metropolis is big enough for a helicopter landing). But a nearby billboard promoting a movie called “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” convinces Lucy, Lois, and their neighbors that Jimmy is just doing a side gig to promote the movie dressed as a wolf. Finally, Jimmy tells Superman he’s going off to live in the jungle before his wolfish instincts take over and old faithful Supes tells him he has a pretty girl to kiss him waiting in Jimmy’s apartment—with the lights out, so she won’t be grossed out by Jimmy’s appearance. A silhouetted kiss is applied and Jimmy happily turns back to his old self, while Superman escorts his young cousin, Supergirl, back to the ORPHANAGE in Midvale where she lives as Linda Lee. (Yes … Superman pimps out his underage cousin to give Jimmy a kiss.) While sitting with Lucy on a park bench, Jimmy pines for the mysterious Miss X who saved him with a kiss. Comics are great, right?

The three stories in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #44, all drawn by the great Curt Swan.

“Wolf-Man” is just one of the three stories in Jimmy Olsen #44, the normal format for the book in its early years (two stories are nine pages each and one is eight pages). All three stories in are drawn by the great Curt Swan, who would go on to become THE Superman artist from around 1960 through 1985, taking over as the primary penciller of DC’s flagship character in Superman, Action Comics, and World’s Finest. Stan Kaye and John Forte handled the inking and the stories were written by Otto Binder (“The Wolf-Man of Metropolis”), Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel (“Jimmy’s Leprechaun Pal!”), and Robert Bernstein (“Miss Jimmy Olsen!” … and don’t even ask about that story with Jimmy in drag on the trail of some stolen rubies. You don’t want to know.)

The whole Wolf-Man thing was a very canny move on editor Mort Weisinger’s part (or, more likely, writer Otto Binder, if this was an original pitch of his). It came on the heels of the release of the Universal Monsters movies to local TV stations in the late 1950s and the birth of Forrest J Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, published by James Warren, which was burning up the newsstands. Monsters were big in this era, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if DC got a cease-and-desist letter about this one from Universal Pictures, but if they did it’s lost to history. Universal would officially license out their monsters to Dell Comics shortly after this issue appeared, and Dell did Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolf Man, and Creature from the Black Lagoon one-shots, before turning Frankenstein, Dracula, and Werewolf (not Wolf Man) into less than mediocre superheroes during the Batman TV show craze; they lasted only a few issues.

Jimmy Olsen was one of DC’s most popular books in the 1950s and 1960s, selling at the peak of its popularity over a half-million copies and ranking #4 on the comics best seller list. When Jack Kirby came over from Marvel in 1970, his first book was Jimmy Olsen #133. Kirby wove Olsen into his “Fourth World” saga, but left with #148; issue #164 morphed into Superman Family, with Jimmy appearing in his own stories until the end with #222. Jimmy continued to be a supporting character in the Superman books, and occasionally appears in his own series, including the recent Matt Fraction/Steve Lieber 12-issue maxi-series in 2019-2020, which revisited a lot of Jimmy’s greatest hits: his transformations.

Some of Jimmy’s more memorable moments …

It’s those transformations that are remembered most fondly by Jimmy Olsen fans like myself. In addition to the Wolf-Man, Jimmy’s most memorable other character was the Giant Turtle Man. There was also Super-Brain Jimmy, Human Porcupine Jimmy, Fat Boy Jimmy, the Jimmy Olsen from Jupiter, Human Flame Thrower Jimmy, Elastic Lad Jimmy (a recurring character, ripped off from Plastic Man, and once again, magic potion oriented … hmmm, did Jimmy Olsen have a drinking problem?), Jimmy, the red-headed Beatle of 1,000 B. C., Jimmy the Genie, Colossal Boy Jimmy (from the Legion of Super-Heroes), Bizarro Jimmy Olsen #1, and (an understatement) Jimmy the Freak … so many transformations they formed “The World of 1,000 Olsens!” in issue #105.

The bulk of this list can be found reprinted in the 2007 DC trade paperback collection, The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen, which sports a nifty Brian Bolland ala Curt Swan cover. It’s a great collection of stories from an age when comics were a lot more innocent and a lot more fun, but still kinda made you wonder … what exactly where those writers and editors smoking during lunch hour?

Next week: That one month in 1971 when all the Marvel comics cost a quarter and contained 34-page brand new stories.


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