Jul 29, 2020
A rare case of Olsen-dickery: Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #121
It’s time for another installment of Bizarre Silver Age Comics and another comic book story that became world-famous as part of the Superdickery meme: “Jimmy Olsen’s Death-Trick!”, published in July of 1969.
Surprisingly, there’s no bait and switch on this cover. What you see here is exactly what happens in the story: Jimmy pretends to be dying to get Superman to reveal his secret identity. So, despite this being a famous Superdickery cover, it’s really Jimmy Olsen acting like a dick in the story, making this a rare case of Olsen-dickery. But never fear; Superman kinda acts like a dick, too. Get ready for what can best be described as a half-assed tale of Superman and Jimmy both acting like jerks for no particular reason.
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We open with Jimmy covering a “weird story” about a “strange aurora”, and for some reason Jimmy thinks this could be the “scoop of the year”. Somehow, I don’t think a world populated with superheroes would ever be so hard up for news that atmospheric phenomena would even make the front page, but you do you, Jimmy. To his surprise, the aurora turns out to be the work of aliens burrowing through the earth, and Jimmy springs into action. Or rather, his index finger springs into action as he activates his signal-watch to summon Superman.
The Man of Steel quickly arrives and expositionizes that these are the Mitrons, a “termite-like race which eats stone” and they’ve “destroyed a dozen planets!” And those auroras are how they contact their people on other worlds. Hmm, okay. Have you guys tried, like, radio or anything like that? Superman goes on the attack, but the Mitrons break out their “bio-destruct ray” and fire at him. Jimmy laughs because as everyone knows, Supes is indestructible, but he’s not laughing for long.
Superman defeats the alien invaders, shoves them back onto their ship, and literally hurls them into space. He then turns his attention to Jimmy, who’s unconscious with a “raging fever”. You know, when I heard “bio-destruct ray”, I was thinking of something a little more severe. Like, maybe Jimmy would instantly dissolve into pink goo, or something cool like that. But all he has is a bad fever. Work on that death ray, Mitrons.
Superman takes Jimmy to Metropolis Hospital, and the doctor says he doesn’t have long. So Superman has no choice but to summon Jimmy’s friends and family. Well, Jimmy doesn’t have either of those, but the Daily Planet staff does show up to say their goodbyes. And on his deathbed, Jimmy’s got only one thing on his mind.
A “series on hijacking”? Not any particular hijacking, just… hijackings in general? Okay. But once they’ve all left, Jimmy’s desire to win the Pulitzer allows him to will himself back to health.
Despite getting a new lease on life, Jimmy is still bitter about Clark Kent taking over his hijacking story—even though Clark’s only doing it because Perry assigned it to him. Regardless, when Superman arrives at Jimmy’s bedside to say goodbye, Jimmy gets an idea for “topping Clark with the scooperoo of all time!” If you can believe it, he gets back in his bed and acts as if he’s still dying, and that his last wish is for Superman to reveal his secret identity. And Superman just straight up tells him.
Jimmy sends Superman away, saying he wants to die in peace. But according to Jimmy’s thoughts, he actually wants to be alone because the notion of Superman being “that jellyfish Clark” is enough to make him “burst out laughing”. Geez, who’s this freckle-faced pipsqueak to talk about somebody else being a weakling?
Against the advice of his doctor, Jimmy immediately gets dressed and leaves the hospital, so he can go visit the kids at his “fan club” to tell them he’s okay. Yep, the “Jimmy Olsen Fan Club”. For those not familiar with Silver Age Superman comics, this was a group of teenagers who idolized a guy who idolized the guy they should have been a fan of in the first place. But it looks like membership in the JOFC has its privileges.
Jimmy is outraged that Superman isn’t even waiting until “my body is cold before selecting my substitute!” This makes Jimmy all the more determined to put the screws to his “pal” and reveal his secret identity. And I know you’re thinking that Superman has to be putting on an act here, possibly to teach Jimmy a lesson, but that’s not the case at all. If Superman is only pretending to want Carl here as his new buddy, it never gets mentioned anywhere in the story.
So Jimmy heads to the Daily Planet and triumphantly declares to Perry and Clark that his “funeral has been postponed… indefinitely!” Then he sets about ruining his best friend’s life by calling up a TV station and telling them to prepare a national broadcast, because he’s about to reveal Superman’s secret identity. Clark tries to talk him out of betraying Superman, while referring to Superman in the third person for some reason.
And then there’s this weird diversion where Perry says his niece and nephew are having a birthday party, and Jimmy has to head over there and get some pictures, because Superman agreed to stop by. But when Supes gets there, the kids are behaving badly, and shooting cans of shaving cream all over the place. He super-cleans up the mess by the time Jimmy arrives, and a disgruntled Superman calls the kids “brats”, making Jimmy completely confused.
Yeah, what’s with Superman, anyway? Maybe it has something to do with his supposed best friend planning to expose his deepest secret on live TV? Nah, couldn’t be.
Then there’s another weird diversion, where it turns out a supersonic test flight is heading into Metropolis and it’s up to Superman to warn them about possible turbulence. And the test flight just so happens to be carrying Lois’ stewardess sister (and Jimmy’s girlfriend) Lucy Lane, though I can’t imagine why a flight with no passengers would require a stewardess. Superman tells Lucy and the pilots that the skies are clear over Metropolis. But then they have a rough ride when Superman spots a “space capsule” falling out of orbit and has to keep the wreckage from hitting the plane. Wait, aren’t space capsules generally used by astronauts to return to Earth? Shouldn’t there be some crispy corpses inside?
Superman’s rescue causes the turbulence he specifically promised wouldn’t happen, and Lucy Lane debarks in Metropolis and she’s all shook up. Jimmy sees this and takes it as a sign that Superman is “really goofing”, which makes him all the more determined to expose him on live TV. And oh look, here we are again, with only one page left to wrap up all this nonsense, so from here on out things unfold pretty quickly.
I don’t get it. Why are they all talking about Superman like he’s not in the room, when Jimmy knows Clark is Superman, and Clark knows that Jimmy knows?
But the word “red” triggers a light bulb moment for Jimmy. He goes through all the events of the previous day, and surmises that the Mitron’s bio-destruct ray must have bounced off a chunk of “buried red Kryptonite”. Because the beam was red, you see. And we get a flashback panel showing the beam hitting Superman, even though we previously saw the beam hit Jimmy. Remember? It’s the whole reason he ended up in the hospital in the first place.
Jimmy concludes that Red Kryptonite is the real reason Superman called those kids brats, and why he “lied” about the turbulence. He guesses this is also why Superman thought “Carl Bentley would make a better partner than me… which is ridiculous!” Therefore, there’s only one conclusion Jimmy can possibly draw.
We close on Jimmy sweating it out on national TV as a reporter waits for him to reveal Superman’s secret identity. Meanwhile, Clark stands in the corner having the last laugh. The end.
Yeah, I don’t know what the point of this one was. Maybe the whole thing was meant as a joke that just didn’t land. But the only part of this story that wasn’t unintentionally funny was Jimmy thinking of how “ridiculous” it was to think that Carl Bentley could replace him in doing whatever the hell he does—and I’m not even sure that was meant as a joke.
The thing is, it really wasn’t Red Kryptonite making Superman act weird. Those kids actually were brats. The “turbulence” that plane experienced was just a misunderstanding. And apparently Superman was serious about making Carl his new partner just hours after Jimmy “died”. You’d think they’d explain that part by saying Superman was putting on an act to throw Jimmy off the scent, but nope. According to this story, he’s really that much of a dick.
And you’d think they’d explain that Jimmy only wanted to screw over his best friend Clark/Superman because of that “bio-destruct ray” inducing a delirious state, or causing brain damage, or something. But nope. According to this story, he’s really that much of an asshole.
Basically, the story here is that Superman screwed up and revealed his secret identity to Jimmy, then did absolutely nothing about it for a day, then completely lucked out that Jimmy was dumb enough to talk himself out of believing Superman. At this point, I think Clark Kent could stand in the middle of the Daily Planet newsroom and yell, “I’m Superman!” and everyone around him would go, “What could he possibly mean by that?” Actually, I’m pretty sure what I just described (or at least something similar) happened in the pages of Silver Age DC comics.
Just like with “The Son of Superman”, and “Batman and Robin — Mummy Crime-Fighters!”, an episode of Cartoon Network’s The Brave and the Bold recreated this issue’s cover. And there, it made a lot more sense. As a “dying” Jimmy asks Superman to reveal his secret identity, Superman uses his x-ray vision to ascertain that Jimmy is perfectly healthy, and flies away.
That’s probably the direction they should have gone here, or at least they should have had a moment where Superman reveals he knew all along Jimmy was faking, and was just teaching him a lesson by pretending to be a jerk. But instead, we got this peculiar addition to both Superdickery and Bizarre Silver Age Comics, so I’m not complaining.