Jul 1, 2020
Son of a Super-dick: Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #30
It’s time for another long overdue entry in my Bizarre Silver Age Comics series, and this time around I’ve got something special on tap: One of the first comic books that inspired the famous Superdickery meme, long before “memes” were even a thing.
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I know I’ve explained this before, but as a refresher: Back in the Silver Age of superhero comic books, it was a pretty common practice (particularly in the case of Superman and Superman-related titles) to show the hero on the cover acting wildly out of character in the hopes of compelling readers to buy the issue simply to satisfy their curiosity about why their favorite superhero was suddenly acting all evil and unheroic. At the same time, it was also a common practice to draw said cover first, and only later have writers hurriedly come up with a story to provide a flimsy “explanation” for the cover.
Combine the two practices and you end up with endless comic book covers that, when viewed out of context decades later, made Superman look like nothing less than a sadistic monster, constantly berating his loved ones, putting them in harm’s way, and sometimes just flat out murdering them.
In 2004, someone started compiling these cover images and posting them with the simple caption, “Superman is a dick”. The joke spread like wildfire across the internet, no small feat in the days before social media, and soon Superdickery.com was born, though it’s fair to say the meme has acquired a life of its own far beyond the website. It’s even been referenced in actual DC comics and at least one DC animated TV show, but more on that later.
One of the first covers to kick off the Superdickery phenomenon came, like so many other Superdickery covers, from an issue of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, which really should have been retitled Superman’s Whipping Boy, Jimmy Olsen for how often Superman tormented his alleged pal. On this particular cover, dated August of 1958, we find Jimmy is now inexplicably Superman’s “son”, and giving his new dad a Father’s Day gift, and Superman responds by incinerating the thing with his heat vision.
Stories that took up an entire issue were rare at this point, so “The Son of Superman” is actually a pretty brief tale; it’s only eight pages total. There are two other stories in this issue which are just as goofy, and could have made for equally baffling covers. Just check out this panel from elsewhere in the issue, with the Man of Steel and pal wearing their “queer helmets” and Superman asking Jimmy if he feels parts of his body starting to swell.
To be honest, the story the panel above comes from isn’t that bad, but alas, it doesn’t involve Superman being a dick, which I’m sure is why “The Son of Superman!” made the cover instead. So join me now as I delve into a 60 year old comic book that inspired a 15 year old meme in this timely look at Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #30.
Our story kicks off at the Daily Planet’s “Father and Son’s Picnic”, which is bad news for Jimmy Olsen, because he’s an orphan and doesn’t have a father and he can’t attend. In fact, they won’t even let him enter the picnic area without a dad. So why did he even show up in the first place?
But Superman swoops down to save the day, saying he wants to be Jimmy’s foster father. Hang on, how old is Jimmy Olsen supposed to be? If he’s still a minor, he has to be in his late teens at the least. Six issues from now, we’ll see him dating Lucy Lane, an adult with an actual job. And also, he has his own apartment. As far as I can tell, Jimmy is getting by pretty well on his own, but okay, Superman wants to adopt him all of a sudden.
However, it’s only a “trial adoption” to last from May 17 to June 17, giving Jimmy the choice to back out if Superman doesn’t measure up as a parent.
Who knew adopting a kid was like buying a car from Carvana? Try out a street urchin for 30 days, and if you don’t like him, dump him back off at the workhouse, no questions asked!
But the best part is, now Jimmy can go to the father-son picnic after all with his new super-dad. And it looks like there’s nothing more awesome than having a dad who uses his godlike powers to beat all the other dads at picnic games. Really, Jimmy? Is totally obliterating the other father-son teams at the three-legged race that important to your self-esteem?
Superman then takes Jimmy to the house he’s “rented” for both of them to live in, which has a “Superman and Son” sign out front like he’s Fred Sanford. Superman even took the liberty of moving Jimmy’s stuff into his house without telling him, though it appears the kid’s possessions consist of “Superman souvenirs” and nothing else.
But there’s a “Secret Room” in this house that Jimmy isn’t allowed to enter. Superman even admits it contains “clues to my other identity”.
So… what’s Superman’s plan here? Does he really think he can have a son living with him full time and somehow still preserve his secret identity? Well, Jimmy does mention being able to go in the room after the “trial period” is over, so maybe once he’s officially adopted, Superman will reveal his secret identity to him, but who the hell knows?
Also, Superman has made it clear in the past that the purpose of his secret identity is to prevent his loved ones from becoming the targets of his enemies. Of course, Superman hanging out with all the same people as Clark Kent sort of defeats the purpose of that secret identity, but doesn’t renting a house and putting a “Superman and Son” sign out front make things even worse? And what does Superman think will happen when someone like Lex Luthor inevitably breaks in and finds a room with a SECRET ROOM placard on the door?
But now, it’s time for Superman to bring Jimmy to the Fortress of Solitude for the first time. Superman shows off the big steel door, the giant key, the weird alien animals he keeps in a zoo, the big tools he used to build this place, etc. He also takes Jimmy to see a huge “super-mural” that he painted himself to commemorate his own recent super-deed. Yes, Silver Age Superman paints murals in his own honor, and no, I’m not surprised one bit.
This one depicts a recent event where Superman observed a “distant sun” blowing up, threatening its planets, so he created an entire solar system for the inhabitants to evacuate to.
He explains that the inhabitants were so grateful, they named everything in the newly created solar system in Superman’s honor. Look below and be amazed at the creative naming scheme they came up with. But don’t stare too hard, or you might figure out the big “twist” behind this whole story.
Superman leaves Jimmy alone for a little while, I guess to go check his messages and water the plants and feed the bottle city of Kandor, so he lets Jimmy play with a lightning bolt gun while he’s gone. But when Superman returns, he’s suddenly super-pissy.
As punishment, he bans Jimmy from ever coming to the Fortress of Solitude again. He takes Jimmy home, where he gives his new son grief about doing chores around the house, which include washing dishes and polishing those Superman souvenirs. And then, in the ultimate humiliation, Superman saves planes and trains and Jimmy ruefully notes that “he gives the scoops to Clark Kent instead of me—his own son!”
Soon, the Superdickery is in full swing as Superman takes his signal watch back from Jimmy.
“Fly me home from work”? What, is Superman his personal Uber? I think he’s totally justified in taking the watch back.
Later, Superman accuses Jimmy of sneaking into his very secret SECRET ROOM and looking for clues to his identity. Jimmy says Superman might have left it open, but Supes isn’t buying it.
But Jimmy’s got a plan to win back the love of his emotionally abusive father. He realizes that tomorrow is Father’s Day, so he’s going to give him a “real nice gift”, and the gift is, you guessed it, a tailor made robe with the Superman logo on it. Superman regards it with a “Hmm…” and a moment later, Superdickery history is born.
I love it. If it’s not good enough for Superman, he has to destroy the fucking thing. Regifting doesn’t exist in Superman’s world, so hey, maybe he’s not a total dick, after all.
After Jimmy cries himself to sleep that night, they head to court because the 30-day adoption trial period is over. Jimmy unsurprisingly tells a judge that he doesn’t want Superman to adopt him, and Superman says “that goes double for me!” But as they descend the courthouse steps, Superman finally confesses that he intentionally caused their “break-up”, and takes Jimmy back to the Fortress of Solitude.
See, Superman’s got this machine in the Fortress called the “Electronic Oracle” that he calls a “super-calculator”, which predicts disasters days or weeks in the future. Remember when Jimmy was playing around with the lightning bolt gun and Superman excused himself? Well, he was actually consulting the machine, which gave him a dire prediction.
So there you have it. Superman needed to make sure that Jimmy wouldn’t be his son by June 17, so he had no choice but to belittle and demean Jimmy at every opportunity to make him want to back out of the adoption. It’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for the Superdickery on the cover, provided you’re a manipulative sociopath.
And the stupidest part of all this is that he could have just told Jimmy about the prophecy. “Hey, Jimmy, the super-computer in the other room says I’m going to kill you unless you stop being my son.” There. How hard would that have been?
Credit where credit is due, it looks like the writers thought of that, because Superman explains he didn’t tell Jimmy because he wanted to “avoid worrying you”. That’s right, Jimmy, he was just very concerned for you. That’s why he made you do useless chores, cry in your bed, and feel like a total loser all while depriving you of exclusive stories at your job. I’m thinking “worrying” Jimmy might have been preferable to a month of neglect and gaslighting.
But wait! Jimmy realizes this is all a huge misunderstanding. The Oracle didn’t mean Superman would “destroy his own son”, but rather, his “own sun”, as in, the sun in the solar system he created.
Superman immediately flies out there and finds out Superman’s Sun is now a dead star, and his thought bubble says he has to “smash it to bits so spaceships don’t blunder into it!” Apparently, when a star goes dead in the DC Silver Age universe, it turns into a big ball of rock, but that’s fine; I’m guessing comic book writers in the 1950s weren’t exactly up to date on the latest theories concerning the stellar life cycle. Superman destroys his “sun”, thus fulfilling the prophecy, and then finds another “young hot star” to replace the dead one. And… he just pushes the giant ball of plasma into place. With his bare hands.
So many questions. How long did it take the star to die out? Why didn’t the people of “Superman’s Planet” contact Superman for help once their sun started to die? Actually, we don’t even don’t get so much as a glimpse of the planet or any of its inhabitants—we’ve clearly come to the part of every Silver Age comic where they’ve run out of pages to properly explain their bonkers plot—so I’m just going to assume the sun went supernova before it died out, killing everybody, and Superman didn’t even notice.
After Superman moves a freaking star, he’s right back on Earth, and all we get are two panels of wrap-up with him dropping Jimmy and his shitty souvenirs back off at his apartment, while explaining that the court couldn’t possibly give the whole adoption thing another try. I’m sure.
I think Jimmy is just lucky Clark didn’t dump him off at an orphanage like he did to his poor cousin. By the way, did Superman ever give Jimmy his signal watch back? Somehow, I don’t think taking that away was part of the act.
As previously mentioned, the Superdickery phenomenon was later referenced in the DC Animated Universe, specifically in the Silver Age-inspired series Batman: The Brave and the Bold. In the third season episode “Battle of the Superheroes!”, Superman gets exposed to red kryptonite and becomes an obnoxious jerk, and the plot is chockfull of Superdickery references and recreations of Superdickery covers, including Jimmy Olsen #30.
And in case you don’t get what they were going for, the episode even contains this dialogue:
Perry: Great Caesar’s Ghost! Are you sure about this?
Jimmy: Yes, sir! Superman’s turned into a real di—
Lois: —different person!
There are plenty of other references to Superdickery stories in the episode, and I’ll surely be reviewing some of those stories in due time. In the meanwhile, enjoy one last instance of Superdickery from another story featured in Jimmy Olsen #30.
Until next time on Bizarre Silver Age Comics, stay safe and keep your queer helmets on.