Comics Review: Jimmy Olsen (One-Shot Special)

Jimmy Olsen Cover Art Amanda Conner Nick Spencer SupermanWriter: Nick Spencer ~ Artists: RB Silva, Dym, Amilcar Pinna ~ Colours: Dave McCaig ~ Publisher: DC Comics ~ Year: 2011

[xrr rating=5/5]

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…

Jimmy Olsen Art DB Silva One-Shot Special Nick Spencer SupermanThe 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.

Jimmy Olsen Art Chloe Sullivan portrait Smallville DB Silva One-Shot Special Nick Spencer SupermanMore 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…

Comic Review – Morning Glories : Volume One

Writer: Nick Spencer ~ Artist: Joe Eisma ~ Colours: Alex Sollazzo ~ Publisher: Image Comics ~ Year: 2010

[xrr rating=4/5]

Morning Glories Volume 1 For A Better Future coverThe Low-Down: A sharp and witty cross between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Prisoner (with a running mystery that equals Lost for sheer pulp unfathomability), this high school saga is overcoming a few art-related issues and shaping up to be a compulsively entertaining read.

What’s it About?: Six accomplished teenage students are offered the chance of a lifetime – a scholarship at the prestigious Morning Glory Academy. It’s an institution that’s searching for excellence, but its location is a secret, escape is impossible, and its methods include torture, mind-games and murder. Secrets are waiting to be discovered in the depths of the Academy, as the six newcomers find themselves locked in a lethal game of cat-and-mouse with their teachers. But what does the phrase “The hour of our release draws near” have to do with all this?

The Story: It’s always easy to be suspicious of hype, especially in the world of comics. When a title becomes a sell-out smash hit, it often has more to do with marketing and how ‘important’ or how much of an ‘event’ the relevant comic is than whether or not it’s any good. So, when new series Morning Glories sold out two separate printings of its first issue, it’d be easy to be cynical –if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s also a well-crafted, entertaining and intriguing story that’s heading in some extremely promising directions.

Morning Glories Page Art Joe EismaWe’re unashamedly in Teen Drama territory here, with a group of disparate characters being brought together to face an as-yet-unspecified threat (and also overcome various issues in their past). While there are plenty of echoes of early Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes here (especially with the ‘High School that hides dark secrets’ setup) what’s more interesting is the way that up-and-coming writer Nick Spencer has structured this as a battle of wills between our teenage heroes and the teachers who are trying to manipulate, interrogate and control them. In short, it’s Buffy meets Sixties cult classic TV series The Prisoner, with an accompanying dose of the characterisation, structure and mad pulp stylings of Lost.

The overarching mystery is certainly going in directions that could be described as ‘unexpected’ (especially when it becomes clear that fifteenth century Spain is somehow connected), and Spencer delivers a number of effective shocks that build up the sense of intrigue, while also pulling off some very nicely played and engaging character moments. In the first chapter, there’s one of the best examples of the ‘meet-cute’ scene, between lead characters Casey and Hunter, that I’ve seen in a long time, and Spencer keeps the pace up while giving the characters depth and believability. He also isn’t afraid to throw violence into the equation – the stakes are high, and certain sequences feature major levels of blood, but the story binds all the mysteries together, pacing the whole saga as a compulsive teen thriller.

Morning Glories Art Joe EismaThere’s a long game at work here – seeds are being laid for a long-running mystery, especially in the sixth chapter collected here, which plays as a Lost-style ‘inbetweener’ episode that shows us a very different perspective on events and throws in some major surprises. Aside from a couple of creaky lines, Spencer’s dialogue is top-notch, the characters are engaging, and the mystery is absorbing. In short, it’s the kind of comic project that has “Soon to be optioned as a Movie or TV Series” written all over it, and given its already impressive success, Morning Glories looks likely to continue being an intriguing and engaging comic book read.

Morning Glories Page Art Joe Eisma 2The Art: Unfortunately, if there’s one area where Morning Glories hasn’t completely won me over, it’s the art. Joe Eisma’s work is sometimes very impressive, but his very line-heavy, sometimes angular approach to character’s faces means that certain panels work better than others, and doesn’t always seem to blend well with Alex Sollazo’s colour work. At times, Eisma’s able to make the dialogue scenes incredibly expressive, but he also has occasional difficulties making his female characters look different from each other, while his habit of drawing people with slightly toothy grins and staring eyes gets a little off-putting at times. It’s a shame, because he’s also extremely good at creating atmosphere, pulling off some effective compositions and grisly moments of violence (especially the sequences featuring the mysterious ‘cylinder’ in the basement of the school). It’s one of those frustrating comics where the cover art (from Rodin Esquejo) is sometimes more eyecatching than the interior work, but it’s very likely that Eisma’s style and approach will evolve as the story goes on, so hopefully these are just initial teething troubles that’ll sort themselves out soon.

The Verdict: There are a few moments where the series is still finding its feet, but the central mysteries of Morning Glories will pull you in, and the strong characterisation makes this a ride that’s well worth taking.

[amtap book:isbn=1607063611]