Jimmy Olsen #93 “The Batman-Superman of Earth-X!”
From October 1954 until March 1974, just shy of two decades, DC Comics published a series titled Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, detailing the exploits of Superman’s alleged pal, Daily Planet photographer and cub reporter Jimmy Olsen. As a monthly series about a young, somewhat dopey guy who occasionally hangs out with a superhero, you might think the writers were hard pressed to come up with enough material to last 20 issues, let alone 20 years.
You’d be right, of course; There’s really nothing a writer can do with a character as useless as Jimmy Olsen. Instead, they churned out 163 issues full of the most preposterous situations they could think of to stick Jimmy Olsen into. Over the course of this series, Jimmy found himself at one time or another crossing over into parallel dimensions, getting grotesquely fat overnight, growing extra limbs, swapping brains with a gorilla (twice), transforming into a giant turtle-man, taking up the black art of voodoo, visiting the Phantom Zone, getting prematurely aged, becoming a 50-foot tall superhero, traveling back in time to the days of the Roman Empire, marrying an ape, and being briefly sold into white slavery. And would you believe that this was all pretty much par for the course back in the Silver Age of comics?
Between this and “Batman Becomes Bat-Baby”, I really don’t know what the heck was going on with comic book storylines back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. I can only assume that because comics were regarded as disposable kids’ fare at the time, there wasn’t a whole lot of quality control going on.
In recent times, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen has achieved something of a renaissance, thanks mostly to sites like Superdickery that post nothing but the baffling, nonsensical covers of each issue, allowing readers to gaze in confusion and glee, while simultaneously wondering what was in the coffee at DC headquarters. Having read through a handful of issues, I can confirm that the actual stories are just as baffling and nonsensical as the covers. If you told me Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen was a deliberate postmodern deconstructionist take on the superhero genre, I’d have no trouble believing it.
For starters, every issue features the usually heroic Superman and/or Clark Kent being needlessly cruel to Jimmy, and occasionally flat out abusive and homicidal. Eventually, each story reveals that “Superman” is really a villain in disguise, or a refugee from an alternate universe, or the real Superman under the control of magic/mind control/red Kryptonite/what have you. But from a psychological point of view, it says a lot about the Jimmy Olsen writers that they felt compelled to turn Superman into a major league asshole in every issue.
My hunch is that the “Superman” of these stories is really a stand-in for the writers, punishing and humiliating Jimmy at every turn, making him sweat and suffer, because what else is a comic book writer to do after finally scoring a job at a major publishing house, only to be stuck writing for Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen?
This series has far too many issues worthy of covering in depth, but the one I’m examining here is issue #93, cover dated June of 1966. “Jimmy Olsen as the Batman-Superman of Earth-X!” is one of this series’ most notorious covers, wherein we get a peek at a delirious fever dream where Jimmy Olsen is a half-Batman, half-Superman who fights men floating on giant Sacagawea dollars. Read on.
Like a lot of Silver Age comics, the issue starts off with a big splash page, previewing a supposedly exciting moment that occurs later on in the story. In what’s intended to be an intriguing reversal, this splash page shows Clark Kent using his signal watch to summon Jimmy Olsen. And Jimmy Olsen flies in through the window, dressed as the Batman-Superman. The only way I know it’s Jimmy Olsen is because the narration box assures me, “Yes, the face behind that Batman mask belongs to Superman’s pal!” The all-knowing box also promises to tell us the story of how “our freckled friend became Steel-Man… ‘The Batman-Superman of Earth-X!’”
The story proper begins with Jimmy visiting Professor Potter in his lab, which sits on top of Mount Tipton, in Arizona. I really have no idea who Professor Potter is, but he has his own Wikipedia article, so he must be important.
Potter explains to Jimmy that there are many other earths similar to our own, existing in other “time-dimensions” with parallel “evolution and history”. He then unveils a large spherical capsule that he calls his “Dimension-Travel Machine”. It’s a descriptive name, you at least have to give him credit for that.
For some reason, Prof. Potter actually allows Jimmy to hang around in his lab full of sensitive and expensive scientific equipment, including at least one device that allows a person to travel between dimensions, while he goes off to give a lecture. Thankfully, before leaving, he advises Jimmy not to touch anything. This being Jimmy Olsen, how long do you think it’ll take him to completely blow off this warning?
For those keeping score at home, this is the very next panel after Prof. Potter’s warning. So, what happens when Jimmy accidentally hits a button in the Dimension-Travel Machine? It’s quite simple, really: he blows up the world.
Okay, it’s not so much “the world” as it is “one mountain”, but that’s still a pretty colossal fuck up on Jimmy’s part. Now watch me make this panel even more hilarious through the addition of one simple caption.
Alas, the story doesn’t actually end here. Jimmy survives, and emerges from the Dimension-Travel Machine on a parallel earth. He quickly learns that this world differs from our own in profound and wondrous ways.
I’m reminded of that Father Guido Sarducci routine, where he said Hell was exactly like earth, except in Hell, dogs can whistle. This comic book perfectly illustrates what I hope Heaven is like: Exactly the same as earth, only bullfighting is legal in the United States.
In this alternate America with a thriving bullfighting industry, Perry White is a matador. And for reasons unknown, he’s currently taking on a bull somewhere in the vicinity of Mount Tipton, with not a single spectator in sight. It’s almost like bullfighting is more of a hobby for him, you know, just something he does to unwind.
Perry is distracted by Jimmy’s appearance and falls into the bull’s path. Jimmy rushes to Perry’s aid, and realizes that he has now super-speed and super-strength.
The shocking alternate reality depicted within the pages of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #93 is indeed unsettling. I don’t think I could survive in a world where matadors’ capes are blue instead of red.
It appears that “the explosion’s radiation reacting with this earth’s sun” has given Jimmy superpowers, and with a cry of “Yahoo!” he easily takes down the bull. And thus begins the story of how Jimmy eventually becomes the Batman-Superman of this alternate earth, a tale that echoes Superman’s origin story in unusual and brain damaged ways.
Jimmy goes to Perry White’s ranch out in the desert, and explains his predicament, about being trapped in a parallel universe with brand new superpowers. Perry says he must use his powers for good, and then promptly invites young Jimmy to come live with him. And then, despite having nothing to do with anything currently being discussed, Perry casually mentions that he’s had “heart trouble” in the last year.
Now comes a montage of Jimmy learning to use his powers, while doing menial work around Perry’s ranch.
Sir, I’ll take that bet.
Soon, Jimmy becomes something of a son to this world’s Perry White. To no one’s surprise, Perry’s “weak heart gives out”, and young Jimmy is right there at his deathbed.
Jimmy buries Perry White, and stands by his gravesite, and the narration box helpfully points out that Jimmy losing his surrogate “father” is much like how Superman’s “foster parents” died. In fact, it’s exactly the same damn thing, because the writers had no actual ideas here, and were content to simply give us a mangled version of Superman’s origin story.
And it’s only now, standing at Perry’s grave, that Jimmy decides to actually look at the letter Perry gave him.
Seriously, he waits until the guy is in the ground before even glancing at the letter? Fuck, man, what if the letter had been addressed to “Santa Claus, North Pole” or something like that? Jimmy would be so screwed right now.
But okay, Perry’s letter is addressed to this world’s Clark Kent, who’s a “tours custodian”, whatever that might mean, for the World’s Fair. Usually, the World’s Fair in any given city only lasts about six months. Seeing as how carnies have slightly better job security, let’s hope this isn’t Clark’s only gig.
Incidentally, this means that in this world, Clark Kent is Perry White’s nephew, and also just a normal human, which makes no sense at all. Even if you accept that history deviated in dramatic ways on this parallel earth, the Clark Kent we know was born on an alien planet. Having the same guy born to two sets of parents of totally different species strains credulity, but then again, this is the same story that makes a big point of showing us that matadors here use blue capes.
So Jimmy heads on down to the Metropolis World’s Fair. The letter gets him past the velvet rope, and young Jimmy is beside himself at having the run of the place.
Indeed, I can’t think of a better time to be had than taking in the sights at the World’s Fair completely alone. He marvels at a statue of Benedict Arnold, because the inscription on the base reveals that in this world, he was the second president of the United States.
For reasons understood by only Jimmy, he gives the statue a “pat”, which sends it flying into other statues. This causes a domino effect, toppling over every statue in the park. Jimmy flies around and averts a disaster, and this super-powered feat is accidentally witnessed by this world’s Clark Kent, mild-mannered tours custodian.
Clark excitedly declares that Jimmy is actually “Steel-Man”.
Yes, Jimmy. By all means, go home with the nice older gentleman who offers to show you his “Steel-Man”. Jimmy is still Jimmy, so he happily takes Clark up on the offer.
Apparently, tours custodian Clark Kent is also a science fiction writer in his spare time. He’s come up with such original, groundbreaking concepts as “Solarman” (which sounds a lot like Nuclear Man, actually), “Mystic Man” (who seems to have the power to transform a firearm into a stream of jizz), “Steel-Man”, “Storm King”, and, of course, “Superman”, indicating that Clark has unconsciously tapped into alternate realities.
And I really hate to cast aspersions on Clark’s creative talents, but it appears the only difference between “Superman” and “Steel-Man” is that one has a blue suit and a red cape, while the other has a gray suit and a blue cape. I’m thinking he was slacking off a bit the day he came up with “Steel-Man”.
Jimmy shows Clark the letter from his uncle Perry White. Clark says his uncle was right, and that Jimmy should use his powers for good, but he needs to conceal his identity somehow. He notes that Jimmy’s suit wasn’t damaged in the explosion, so it only follows that it must now be indestructible. Jimmy uses his super speed to unravel his brown business suit (which, incidentally, is the only thing he’s worn since arriving on this world), and refashion it into the “Steel-Man” costume seen on Clark’s wall.
Yeah, yeah, Jimmy, we got it, you want us all to know you’re friends with Batman. Big freaking deal. Seriously, how does anybody put up with Jimmy’s constant name dropping?
This, by the way, is the only time Batman is mentioned. Despite being the Batman-Superman of Earth-X, Jimmy has none of Batman’s skills or gadgets. Basically, he’s just Superman with a cowl. And one has to wonder, why does Jimmy even feel the need to protect his secret identity in a world where he doesn’t know anybody?
Clark hires Jimmy on as his new “assistant” at the World’s Fair, and takes Jimmy to the office and shows him around. There, Jimmy meets this world’s version of Lucy Lane, Lois’ sister, whom Jimmy is often obsessed with.
Somebody needs to explain to me Jimmy’s goofy grin in the panel above. It’s like he’s absolutely ecstatic to find out there are two women in the multiverse who wouldn’t care if he died in a fire. And some of you might be wondering what the job description “the girl who monitors the World’s Fair computer” entails, exactly. Sadly, this aspect of Lucy’s character actually comes into play later, but just barely.
Suddenly, guys in paramilitary uniforms show up on the World’s Fair grounds, cruising around on floating platforms. Lucy says it’s “The Luthar League… pulling a raid on their anti-gravity discs again!” Jimmy immediately thinks this has something to do with Lex Luthor, asking if “he” is here. Thankfully, Clark is around to set him straight.
Terror, havoc… and robbery? The first two things seemed to be building up to something really awesome and evil. Having the third thing be “robbery” seems like kind of a copout. Regardless, Jimmy needs to get away to change into Steel-Man, so he casually jumps down a trash chute.
The Luthar League heads for the science hall, where they use their “element-guns” to change a “radio-telescope” into “a huge metal spider-web” that ensnares the guards. They sure loved their hyphens back in the 1960s. But what the Luthar League is really after is a model of an atom, complete with precious gems representing the electrons.
You may be asking, why would anyone make a really gaudy and expensive Bohr model of an atom? I would ask, why not?
Steel-Man shows up just in time, so the Luthar League make their getaway. They use their element-guns to create a hole beneath Steel-Man, which he obligingly falls into.
Okay, dude, I know you’re new to the superhero game and all, but you can fly. A hole in the floor really shouldn’t be that much of an issue. Thankfully, Jimmy is able to “burrow up” from under the floor, and defeat the villains while making incredibly dated pop culture references.
With the criminals subdued, Steel-Man introduces himself to the local police chief. Soon, the mayor of Metropolis is declaring it “Steel-Man Day”, and Jimmy gets a ticker tape parade.
Jesus Christ, calm the fuck down, people. All he did was save a tacky Bohr model. It’s not like he walked on the moon or something. Though, to be fair, Jimmy actually does that in a later issue of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen.
Meanwhile, the men of the Luthar League have a secret meeting, and the leader of the League promises he’ll get rid of Steel-Man. Oh yeah, funny thing. The leader of the Luthar League is the Joker.
I guess when you bill your hero as the “Batman-Superman” of an alternate earth, you have to at least pay lip service to some aspect of the Batman character. Thankfully, in the next panel, the helpful narration box explains with laser-like clarity exactly what we’re seeing.
You know things are bad when even the omniscient narrator is not sure what’s going on. And then, according to another narration box, it’s “some time later”. Jimmy hears Clark using the signal watch he gave him, and immediately flies to the rescue.
Look, Jimmy, get over it. Obviously, Clark lost his mojo and he’s desperate for a way to kick start his boundless imagination. Do you really want to deprive the world of stories involving an inspired character like “Lava-Man”? Jimmy dutifully gets the chunk of lava, but along the way he has an epiphany about all the times he used the signal watch to make Superman do some dumb menial task for him. He shouldn’t feel bad. If I had that signal watch, I’d use the hell out of it. They won’t serve me a McGriddle at 11:03? Let’s see what they have to say about “breakfast hours” when they’re staring at that big red S.
In the next scene, the Luthar League is again attacking the World’s Fair. This time, they’re here to steal a Rembrandt painting.
Is your brain broken yet?
So, are we to assume that Mickey Mantle was alive in Rembrandt’s time, or Rembrandt is alive in Mickey Mantle’s time? Either way, I’m sure Mickey had no trouble handling the role of Hamlet.
Steel-Man arrives on the scene, and the Luthar League try their best to distract him with their element-guns. They fire at the “Space Rocket Exhibit”, sending the “space rocket” flying into a crowd. Steel-Man is able to easily block the rocket with his body, and it explodes and showers him with glowing orange boulders. Suddenly, he starts to feel weak.
Good god, I’m having visions of a writer literally reaching around and patting himself on the back for coming up with a pun this stupid. Thankfully, Clark happens along just in time to get rid of all the Tiptonite. With that near-death experience behind him, Jimmy learns that Lucy Lane is developing a thing for Steel-Man.
Um, yeah. I’d really recommend just leaving the mask on until after the honeymoon.
Abruptly, in the next panel, Jimmy’s back in his civilian clothes, and being found by Prof. Potter. Potter says he built a new “Dimension-Traveler” just so he could come here and rescue Jimmy. But Jimmy is less than enthused at the prospect of returning to his home dimension.
I think everyone in Jimmy’s home universe would be in full agreement that Jimmy is better off where he is. It’s really a win-win. Just then, he hears Clark’s signal watch and bails out of there. Helpfully, Potter mumbles something about how he’ll just be hanging around idly on this alternate earth, in the off chance that Jimmy decides he wants to go back.
Steel-Man follows the signal watch to its source, but instead finds the Joker operating his evil machinery. And judging by the panel below, the Joker is evidently just sitting in his backyard. Really? Is it that expensive to build an evil lair to house your evil machines?
Yes, Clark was the leader of the Luthar League all along, thus fulfilling the Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen requirement that every story must feature an evil version of Superman or Clark Kent. Although, for being the Evil Clark Kent, the guy sure looks pretty happy and well-adjusted.
Evil Clark reveals that the lava rock Jimmy got for him is what powers his machine, and he “tricked [him] very neatly” into getting it for him. And then he reveals that the purpose of the machine is to transfer Steel-Man’s powers to Evil Clark. A moment later, Clark has absorbed all of Jimmy’s super-strength. He destroys the machine (complete with a “SMASH!” onomatopoeia), and says he’ll use his new powers to make himself “king of this world!”
In the next panel, Clark is standing in front of City Hall, declaring that he’s now going to run the world “[his] way”, and he simply laughs at the cops currently shooting at him. Okay, but I’m sort of mystified as to why the cops are firing on him in the first place. As far as I know, all he did was stand in front of City Hall and declare himself to be the ruler of the planet. I’m pretty sure stuff like this happens in Times Square every day. Does it really call for the use of lethal force?
And then a depowered Steel-Man shows up. He’s holding a steel artillery shell, and he dares Clark to crush the thing, to prove that he really has superpowers. I guess the part where bullets were bouncing off his chest wasn’t convincing enough for Jimmy. And you almost think the steel shell is concealing chunks of Tiptonite, the way lead shields Superman against Kryptonite. But no, that obviously couldn’t happen here, because it’s a plot twist that would almost make sense. Instead, the shell contains some sort of “gas” that takes away Clark’s powers.
The cops rush forward to lock Clark up, despite the fact that, again, all he did was stand in front of City Hall and declare himself the new king of the world. So, at best, he’s going to be locked up for disorderly conduct and be back out on the street by morning. And yet, everyone acts as though he’s about to be put away for life.
Oh yeah, and it turns out Lucy Lane was the key to Clark’s defeat, because she used the World’s Fair computer, you see, and she fed numbers into the computer, which determined computeristically the best way to defeat Evil Clark. Ah, those computers. Is there nothing they can’t do?
For some reason, Jimmy now decides to return to his own world, even though he’s still got a pretty sweet deal here, powers or no powers. But he does get a chance to make out with the girl that won’t give him the time of day in his own universe. So there’s that.
Jimmy hops into the new and improved Dimension-Traveler with Prof. Potter, and the two head home. On the way back, Potter is dying to know exactly which gas Jimmy used to defeat Clark.
Seriously, check out the look on Prof. Potter’s face in this panel. The man is zonked out of his skull. It’s like his mind officially collapsed. His reality has just ended, and a new one has been created. Frankly, that’s exactly how I feel the more I think about the idea that Evil Clark was defeated by a blast of krypton gas.
And that’s the end. But this was nowhere near the nuttiest Jimmy Olsen story of the Silver Age.
A couple of years after this, legendary artist/writer Jack Kirby moved from Marvel to DC, and as part of his contract, he decided to take over Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, somehow making it even more bizarre and hallucinatory, but not in a good way. I browsed through a couple of Kirby’s issues of Jimmy Olsen and nothing made a lick of sense. I think the best way to get across Kirby’s run is by showing this cover:
What Superman and the poor man’s Captain America are holding up for us is a photograph of famous insult comic Don Rickles. The story inside actually does feature an appearance by Rickles, as well as his fictional, cape and tights-wearing twin, Goody Rickles.
I’m pretty sure my mind will officially collapse if I try to write about that one.