Writer: Nick Spencer ~ Artists: RB Silva, Dym, Amilcar Pinna ~ Colours: Dave McCaig ~ Publisher: DC Comics ~ Year: 2011
The Low-Down: Simply one of the best mainstream superhero comics for a long time, Jimmy Olsen is an energetic romantic comedy and a hugely enjoyable ride from start to finish, while also giving a long-neglected comics character the treatment he deserves.
What’s it About?: He’s Superman’s best friend. He’s a Daily Planet reporter. He’s the guy who wears a bow-tie. Jimmy Olsen is all of these things, but he’s also been dumped by his girlfriend – fellow reporter Chloe Sullivan, now paying a worrying level of attention to handsome LexCorp junior executive Sebastien Mallory. With Superman absent from Metropolis, Jimmy has to try and get Chloe back, throw a spanner in Sebastien Mallory’s plans, and maybe also foil an alien invasion…
The Story: If there’s one character that was definitely harmed by the “Hey kids! Comics can be gritty and violent and for adults!” bandwagon, it was Jimmy Olsen. Superman’s youthful reporter sidekick is one of those characters who’s been part of the world of Metropolis almost since the beginning of the story in the early 1940s – but when DC Comics decided to reboot their continuity and straighten out some of the kookier edges in their fictional universe with the mid-1980s epic Crisis on Infinite Earths, Jimmy was one of the characters hit hardest, mainly because at his best – in the craziness of comics’ Silver Age during the 1960s – Jimmy Olsen was the absolute definition of kooky.
Whether he was time-travelling to the Holy Land circa 1000BC (and accidentally starting a Beatles craze), acquiring Elastic-Lad powers, encountering punky motorcycle gangs in a secret underground hippie commune under Metropolis, or accidentally ending up as a Nazi War hero, Jimmy Olsen’s Silver Age adventures are infamous for their sheer imaginative craziness. As a result, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s incredible (and continuity-free) All-Star Superman served up a Jimmy Olsen that was a brilliant distillation of everything fun about this particular geek-hero in the Silver Age – but now, Morning Glories writer Nick Spencer has done the same for the Jimmy of the official DC Universe, with an end result that’s so much fun, it’ll have you clamouring for an Olsen ongoing series by the final page.
More than anything, Spencer gets that Jimmy Olsen works best when he’s knee deep in the most ludicrous trouble imaginable, and so this seven-part story (collected here from back-up strips that originally appeared in Action Comics, and finished especially for this collection) serves up trouble in spades. Following a week in the life of Olsen and packing in a ferocious amount of invention (as well as some nicely played digs at recent events in the main Superman comic), this is a fast-paced comedy romp that delivers a multitude of gags but also has plenty of heart. Spencer understands that this wouldn’t work unless we actually care about the characters, and makes Jimmy a charming and daring disaster-area, while giving his relationship with Chloe Sullivan (a character making her DC Comics debut, having appeared on the absurdly long-running Smallville for the past ten years) the right level of whip-smart, 1930s Screwball comedy-style wit.
Modern-day DC Comics do plenty of harking back to the Silver Age, but often that just means straight-faced superheroics with added gore – it isn’t often that we get a comic as bright, funny and downright charming as Jimmy Olsen. It’s the most accessible and downright fun superhero comic I’ve read since Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray’s run on Power Girl, but it also gets pretty damn close to All-Star Superman levels of invention, fun and well-played emotional warmth. A self-contained comic that tells a brilliant story and doesn’t claim that NOTHING will EVER BE THE SAME by its climax, this is a dazzling piece of work that will leave you with a goofy grin slapped across your face, and desperate for more comics of this kind of barmy invention and quality.
The Art: Imagine driving along a straight open road, not a care in the world – and suddenly, out of nowhere, you hit a speed bump that sends you almost bouncing into the roof of your own car. That’s roughly the experience that happens artistically when you hit the final chapter of this collection – it’s not so much that Amilcar Pinna’s pencils on the fill-in pages she handles are bad, they’re just not as strong and a very noticable change (especially when the credits are at the end of the chapter, so there isn’t even any warning), and they’re particularly noticable because penciller RB Silva does such an incredible job on the rest of the story. Showcasing an equal mix of expressive cartoonishness and stylish layouts, Silva’s work is brilliantly pitched throughout, handling all the comedy with ease, and adding some cool visual flourishes. Backed up with excellent inks and some gorgeous colours by Dave McCaig, this is a bright, breezy and gorgeous-looking comic – just be prepared for that sudden change in the final chapter, and everything will be fine.
The Verdict: A comic that seriously outshines the high-profile but deeply flawed current Superman story ‘Grounded’, this Jimmy Olsen special is an outstanding piece of work, while Nick Spencer is continuing to prove that he’s a name to watch. Get yourself to your nearest comic shop as soon as possible, and pick a copy. You won’t regret it…