For Your Consideration: DC’s Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen by Jack Kirby

Robert Greenberger

Robert Greenberger

by Robert Greenberger

“Give me your worst-selling book and I’ll make it your best-selling book,” Jack Kirby said to DC Comics publisher Carmine Infantino.

Challenge accepted. Infantino was on the verge of approving Leo Dorfman and George Tuska as the new team on Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen but gave it instead to Kirby, whom he just lured away from Marvel Comics in 1970.

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #137

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #137

Kirby didn’t like the idea of putting established talent out of work, so agreed, taking over with issue #133 and using it as a launch pad for his ambitious Fourth World line of titles that would rock readers’ senses but fail to meet the company’s sales expectations.

After years of tepid stories that had more to do with his bizarre transformations and doomed romances, the series suddenly had a point of view and a purpose. Jimmy, intrepid reporter for the Daily Planet, was suddenly whisked around the world in breathless adventures that merely hinted at a larger cosmology, something the DC Universe didn’t fully embrace at this point.

Kirby refused to pencil from someone else’s plots ever again and told Infantino he’d draw from someone else’s scripts or write it himself. Since the publisher wanted unfettered imagination, he opted for the latter, which was perhaps for the best although by letting Kirby edit himself, no one could tell him how “off” the dialogue sounded. All his in house contact E. Nelson Bridwell did was proof the pages and bring them to production. However, Infantino and company decided they wanted Kirby’s imagination but not his rendition of their flagship character. To Kirby’s displeasure, either Al Plastino or Murphy Anderson was tasked with revising the Superman heads. King Kirby had total say beyond that, letting Vinnie Colletta and then Mike Royer ink his work.

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen by Jack Kirby

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen by Jack Kirby

Kirby lasted on the series from #133-139 and #141-148 (#140 being a reprint special) and those tales are now being collected in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen by Jack Kirby. In the first issue alone we meet Morgan Edge, new owner of the Planet who assigns Olsen to cover a youthful gang and their fabulous Whiz Wagon. Meantime, Edge is revealed to have criminal ties to Intergang and orders them to take out the nosy Clark Kent.

We were then introduced to a modern take on the Newsboy Legion, the children of the original gang that Kirby and Joe Simon created when they first arrived at DC in the early 1940s. Big Words, Gabby, Scrapper, Tommy, and the newly introduced Flipper Dipper (an African-American added for diversity) were protected, once more, by Jim Harper, the beat cop turned costumed hero the Guardian (although we came to learn he was a clone of the original).

Speaking of clones, once more Kirby was on the bleeding edge of scientific theory and gave the world Project Cadmus where cloning was just one of the many ethically questionable activities conducted by Simyan and Mokkari, who hailed from some place called Apokolips. Later, we meet one of their creations, Dubbilex, who would remain a part of the series and beyond.

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #134

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #134

We were quickly introduced to fabulous locales such as the Wild Area, home to the tree civilization of the Outsiders. We see them in the shadow of the Mountain of Judgment, about to render some verdict against Superman (under a great Neal Adams cover).

At the end of the second issue, on a monitor, we see Edge’s true boss, an alien named Darkseid. No one, then, knew how important this character would be to the DC Universe and its parent company in the following decades.

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #139

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #139

It wasn’t all cosmic wonderment. We segue from the cloning capers to a two-parter guest-starring comedian Don Rickles and his doppelganger Goody Rickles. Credit, or blame, rests with Kirby’s youthful assistants Steve Sherman and Mark Evanier. As Evanier explained in 1997, “Steve and I, at the time, were enormous fans of Don Rickles. Like many people at that time who were our age, we all went around doing Don Rickles, insulting each other. Rickles used to say, ‘I never picked on a little guy, I only pick on big guys.’ Somehow, this gave us the idea that we should have Don Rickles make a cameo appearance in Jimmy Olsen to insult Superman. It was gonna be like a three-panel thing. So we wrote out a couple of pages of Don Rickles insults. One of them was, ‘Hey, big boy, where’re you from?’ And Superman says, ‘I’m from the planet Krypton.’ And Rickles says, ‘I got jokes for eight million nationalities and I’ve gotta run into a hockey puck from Krypton!’

“So we took these out to Jack. Jack was a big fan of Rickles. And he says, ‘That’s great, that’s terrific.’ And, of course, he used none of it. He said, ‘We’ve gotta get permission from Don Rickles for this.’ So Steve contacted Rickles’s publicist, and they gave us permission to have Don Rickles do a cameo. Then Jack tells [DC Comics publisher] Carmine Infantino about it, and Infantino thinks this is great; this is something promotable; it’s gotta be a two-issue story arc. So instead of us writing two pages, it’s now Jack writing two issues.”

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #142

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #142

Things go back to “normal” after that as Jimmy encounters Transilvane, which was a world where the movie monsters were made manifest starting with Count Dragorin. Then we’re off to Scotland in search of the Loch Trevor monster while Superman and the Guardian visit the Cosmic Carousel club.

There were shorts behind most main stories, exploring the “Tales of the DNA Project” that added to the lore and gave us the lovable Angry Charlie.

And suddenly, he was gone. In the letter column, Bridwell wrote, “Jack feel’s he’s extended himself a bit too far…he’s fallen a bit behind in his schedule, so he’s turning this mag over to Joe Orlando with the next issue. He needs more time for his other mags – including a new one he has in the works!”

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #146

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #146

Was it too bizarre for a generation raised on Editor Mort Weisinger’s Superman Family, too distanced from the other Fourth World titles, ahead of its time? That’s left up to you the reader. However, this brief chapter in Kirby’s massive output is well worth looking at to see just how much energy and excitement there was in the title. Or, as the cover blurb to issue #139 proclaimed:

“Kirby says, ‘Don’t ask, just buy it!’”


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  1. Norman Says:

    Another great article Bob. I vividly remember all the excitement of Kirby’s move to DC and when I read the first Jimmy Olsen he produced, it had that mad Kirby theme and silly names in it but was so refreshing as even I, an addict for comics, was bored with Jimmy (and Lois for that matter). I couldn’t believe he brought in cloning which my parents knew nothing about, but of course I did having read other comics and books!
    Thanks for the memories!

  2. Andrew Mich Says:

    Was it too weird..?
    Maybe but it was BRILLIANT!!!
    Very creative & I think Kirby captured the essense of Superman brilliantly..
    Throw in Jimmy as an adventurer type with the Newsboy Legion and aNew Guardians & I think it’s an instant win