DC Comics is trying something new. In the wake of their Rebirth initiative, the publisher has rapidly expanded its content to include diverse new imprints such as Wildstorm, Jinxworld, Wonder Comics, Black Label, Young Animal, Ink, and Zoom. As their lineup expands, it can be hard to figure out what to pick up each week. That’s what our team is here to help with, every Wednesday, with the DC Round-Up.
THIS WEEK: We look ahead to the new Matt Fraction / Steve Lieber book starring Jimmy Olsen.
Note: these reviews usually contain spoilers. This week, we are taking special care not to spoil Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1 ahead of its debut on July 17. That said, if you still just want a quick buy/pass recommendation on the comic in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Steve Lieber
Colorist: Nathan Fairbairn
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Oh thank goodness, the new Jimmy Olsen comic is everything I hoped it would be and then some. This was my reaction last month after reading the Matt Fraction-penned and Steve Lieber-illustrated Jimmy Olsen segment of the Superman Leviathan Rising Special #1. For weeks (or possibly months), Lieber had been teasing out-of-context art from both this issue and those to come, showing Olsen in any number of far-fetched and absurd predicaments. These pieces were, simply put, hilarious. Meanwhile, pros who had been in editorial meetings, talked to Fraction, or seen the early results were saying this book was in the spirit of his seminal Marvel Comics run on Hawkeye, which from a certain point of view redefined the level of relatability and downright heart it was okay to put into superhero comic books.
All of that combined to raise my own hopes for the comic sky high (as high as Superman rushing to save Jimmy amidst the fallout of some feckless stunt). I was, in a word, stoked for the work Fraction and Lieber were producing. When I actually got to read it, I was not disappointed. Their story in that special made me literally laugh out loud. Laugh out loud, mind you, while I was at home reading the comic alone. This is a rarity. There are plenty of comics I know to be funny, but a precious few that illicit an actual audible chuckle. With vomit and kittens, Fraction and Lieber made that happen. This also had the effect of raising my expectations for the forthcoming Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen even higher than they already were.
Here’s the thing though, I’ve now had a chance to read an early preview copy of the book a month before its release. And you know what? This book delivers. It makes good on every effusive comparison to Hawkeye (there are major differences in the books on a surface level, of course, but we’ll get to that business later), and it satisfies anyone who looked at Lieber’s works in progress (as I did) and thought, hot damn that looks like a good time. Moreover, it delivers levity, a core element of the whole Superman deal that over the years has gone missing, or if not missing, has maybe not been handled with the keen sense of humor and relentless sharp mirth it requires to stay relevant.
It really does take a world-class wit (or in this case a pair of them) to update the quixotic wholesomeness Superman’s supporting buddy was built upon for our modern times, and to do so in a way that doesn’t dim the character. But that’s what Fraction and Lieber have done in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1.
Now, for those of you who may have skipped the fine print in the intro of this piece, this is a spoiler-free review. That means, of course, that it will be light on plot details and heavy on discussion of things like theme, and pacing, and tone. And we’ll get to all that, but first a quick (and necessarily vague) word about the plot: it’s a Matt Fraction comic at its best, as hilarious as it is heartfelt, with a healthy dose of meta experimentation underlying the whole thing. The best comics (and really the best stories) have an intangible impossible to qualify it factor to them. A thing you can’t analyze in any literary tradition, that you can’t put into a box. It often manifests in a feeling that something shouldn’t really work, yet does because those creating it are so damn talented. That’s one of the feelings throughout Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1.
Fraction breaks his story here up into a series of vignettes with connections that range from overt to blink-long-and-you’ll-miss-them. It can be a lot in the wrong hands, but the writer and artist here handle it all so deftly that it just works and works really really well. The tone is fantastic throughout, with Lieber nailing silent panels loaded with visual gags and Fraction tossing in hilarious asides that come from nameless backgrounded characters and sometimes use as few as three words of dialogue.
The seriousness of it all that has to underlie any good joke lest it become schticky and boring has to do with a really complex and relevant part of today’s society. But to say anymore about that would be to risk a trip into spoiler territory. I’ll just close by getting back to the bit I promised about Hawkeye. That comic is probably Fraction’s most well-known superhero work, and so, naturally, this book will be compared to it. But it’s a bit of a reductive comparison. Hawkeye was a funny comic, but Fraction found the heart in that run by aggressively rooting Hawkeye and his world in reality. In Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, he basically goes the other way, finding the deep heart in this character by leaning into the absurdity inherent to living in a world where you can be best friends with Superman. It’s a natural choice, albeit likely a harder one to write, but as has been the case throughout, this book delivers on the expectations.
Verdict: Buy, and be happy this exists.
- One of the big releases this week is Superman: Year One by Frank Miller and John Romita, Jr., but Alex already did a great job writing about that one a few weeks back. I don’t have much to add, so I’ll just link to his piece.
- I’m at the point with this Batman run where I just badly want to know where this is all headed. Batman #73 was a quick (and good-looking read), but I’m ready for the stuff with Flashpoint Thomas Wayne to give way to the upcoming City of Bane storyline.
- Javi Fernandez made a killer entrance with his artwork in the back half of Justice League #25, and he’s back turning in so many killer panels again here in Justice League #26. Also, as someone who appreciates both a good Lex Luthor story and a well-done Martian Manhunter usage, this nascent storyline with the Luthor V. MM frame is really doing it for me. Also, they sure did use a lot of DC characters in this one! That’s always fun.
- Liking this run of Teen Titans continues to feel like a guilty pleasure, but that’s where I am with it.
- Finally! Mera makes her entrance in Aquaman #49, giving this run a shot of energy and leading to its best issue yet.
Miss any of our earlier reviews? Check out our full archive!