Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Steve Lieber
Colorist: Nathan Fairbairn
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Publisher: DC Comics
Great things usually come from weird places — for example, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. Jack Kirby’s groundbreaking Fourth World saga began in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #133. And while this new limited series may not be spinning out a 5th World for DC Comics, Steve Lieber, Matt Fraction, Nathan Fairbairn and Clayton Cowles’ series is a delightfully out-there comic doing justice to its wild, wonderful and storied heritage.
Lieber is truly one of the greatest humorists working in comic books today. That talent is in every visual aspect of the comic. Lieber uses a page break to make a laugh-out-loud funny “Clark Kent winks at the camera” joke.
The series features the same wordless six panel grid montages as his recent work The Fix at Image Comics. Each panel depicts a different humorously outlandish scenario, all adding up to the understanding that yes, Olsen is the agent of chaos his boss Perry White accuses him of being.
Fraction begins each of the many chapters with breathless narration that has fun with the Silver Age superlative style. The story offers glimpses into Metropolis’ past, with an air of Prairie Home Companion to it, but darker. Apparently the Olsen’s have been falling ass backwards into luck for generations but that luck is only made possible through gumption.
Superman Silver Age references are clear and deliberate but I don’t think they’ll get in the way for people who are unfamiliar. Remember: that was the same era that gave us Julie Schwartz’s rumored rules for balancing just the right number of monkeys on comics covers each week. There’s a proper ratio of simians here too. But no Simyan yet.
If Kirby’s Jimmy tangled with Don Rickles, Fraction has a chapter name referencing a joke by current comedy darling John Mulaney, the anti-Rickles.
Lieber’s strong lines and his handling of the characters’ features are a great fit for the Silver Age aesthetics, as are Fainbairn’s refreshingly flat colors inside the characters. His colors make some good fashion choices too.
Fraction is known for his ability to combine wild science-fiction stories and zany humor with genuine human emotion, like in the beloved FF series with Mike and Laura Allred. Lieber’s expressive faces have a light touch of cartoonishness without being rubbery or unattractive. There’s something of a Curt Swan Superman in there and I squealed with glee at Clark’s first appearance, it was so good.
Favorite characters like Metamorpho make appearances here and settings like a gorgeously inky Gotham that we will get to spend more time in.
I think this comic is going to catapult Jimmy Olsen over the top into the comics zeitgeist again. He’s already the quintessential take on a millennial: enthusiastic, curious, bold, bow-tie wearing, always taking photographs and utterly shameless. He live-streams and goes viral for pay. The only thing he seems to have over the real millennials is employer-based insurance.
In Kirby’s run of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy represented the young Americans of the early ’70s— baby boomer youth. He and Superman, a stand in for Kirby’s WW2 Generation, constantly argued over the “generation gap.” Jimmy was built to be reinvented as a stand-in for the older teens of every era, but some creators just get it better than others.
I was at a Flame Con X-Men panel when an artist — I want to say Kevin Wada, but maybe I’m wrong — observed that Nightcrawler went from being treated as an unfortunate-looking monster to being regarded as a thirst-trap with zero redesign. Jimmy is the sidekick who went from nerdy everyteen to relatable cool guy protagonist with zero redesign. It’s a nerdy photojournalist’s time now.
Between the delightful Jimmy Olsen preview mini in the Superman: Leviathan special, wherein he actually gets laid and then fights a cat, and this new series, I think the world is finally catching up with Jimmy Olsen. Even sweater vests and bow ties are cool now. Though the vest doesn’t make an appearance in this issue, this former Williamsburg resident holds out hope.
For another take on Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1, check out Zack Quaintance‘s DC Round-Up review.