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Reviewed by: Bruce Kanin
Starting in 2005-2006, DC began publishing compilations of comic book stories from eras gone by using the heading of "Showcase". SHOWCASE was in fact a DC series begun in the 1950s that lasted through the 1980s (there were some brief revivals since then) before giving way to low readership. It was DC's way of testing new or existing characters and teams with a trial run before awarding them their own book. Some were successful (e.g., the Silver Age Atom, Flash and Green Lantern; Challengers of the Unknown; Lois Lane) and some were not (e.g., Jason's Quest; Nightmaster).
The latest incarnation of SHOWCASE contains black & white reprints and is a soft cover book (not a comic book). For the list price of $16.99 (US) you get your money's worth, despite the lack of color. They are pretty much the same concept as Marvel's "Essential" series, also in B&W.
The SUPERMAN FAMILY book contains all stories in SUPERMAN'S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN #1 (September-October 1954) through issue #22 (August 1957). It has some "bonus stories" that are reprints from the original SHOWCASE series starring Lois Lane, and a rare original Golden Age Lois Lane solo story. (The Lois Lane stories are not discussed further here.)
What's great about SUPERMAN FAMILY is that fans of premier Superman artist Curt Swan are treated to his work in every story, including many of the reprinted covers. He is often aided and abetted by another classic Superman artist, inker Stan Kaye. Most stories were written by another classic Silver Age Superman writer, Otto Binder.
Since a review of the entire contents of SUPERMAN FAMILY would prove challenging, to say the least, it is worth mentioning some interesting highlights.
For instance, there are a handful of stories that are very similar to episodes of "The Adventures of Superman" (AOS) TV series (the one from the 1950s starring George Reeves), i.e,
In "Case of the Lumberjack Jinx" (#1), Perry White is concerned about a lumber camp not delivering enough pulp-wood to make paper stock. The camp complains that it is "jinxed" and in response White sends Jimmy Olsen to the north woods lumber facility to investigate. Of course, Superman gets involved to expose, with Olsen, that the "jinx" is really someone out for insurance money. This is very similar to the first-season AOS episode "The Ghost Wolf", except that story involved Lois and Clark accompanying Jimmy to a lumber camp that was being haunted by a "werewolf".
"The Boy Millionaire" (#3) reads very much like AOS's "Olsen's Millions" (third season). In both stories, Jimmy saves the life of a cat (well, Superman really does, but Jimmy calls Superman via his signal watch in the comic book story) owned by a rich old lady, who subsequently rewards the cub reporter with a million dollars. Later, he and Lois are trapped by bad guys after Olsen's fortune, and the two of them are forced to burn all of the cash so that Superman can see their smoky SOS. Even the dialogue is the same in some cases, e.g., the last line about Jimmy asking Lois for car fare.
Also in #3, "The Fastest Gun in the West" reads very much like "The Bully of Dry Gulch" (AOS, season three), with both being about a western town run by outlaws and the hijinks that Olsen finds himself in.
The cover story in #4 and another season three AOS episode are both named "King for a Day". As well, both are about Jimmy being mistaken for the young king of a foreign country, due to their resemblance. The stories are very similar, right down to the firing squad that is prevented from killing Olsen due to a last-minute rescue by Superman.
In #5, "The Brain of Steel" has similarities to AOS's second season "The Machine that Could Plot Crimes", including a computer being asked to solve Superman's secret ID at the end of both stories (it doesn't).
It should be noted that Jimmy Olsen had an expression that must have faded by the time he got to the 1960s. Just as Superman took on the exclamation "Great Krypton!" (among others), Olsen would happily shout (or think) "Super-Duper!" throughout the 22 issues contained in SUPERMAN FAMILY. There was even a story called "The Feats of Chief Super-Duper" (#14) in which Jimmy and Superman go back in time to investigate why a present-day statue in an Indian museum resembles, of all people, Jimmy Olsen!
As well, there were some other noteworthy stories, e.g.:
In #8, "The Betrayal of Superman", Jimmy's friend Dick Crane, a private eye, falls gravely ill and needs an expensive operation to survive. He calls on Jimmy to complete his latest case for him, one that will enable Crane to be paid and then afford his surgery (OK, a bit hokey, but then again, somewhat clever for these sometimes simple-minded stories). It turns out that the case Crane was given was to find out Superman's secret identity! Jimmy tracks down the person who hired Crane (a bad guy, of course) and before long, the bad guy has tracked down Clark Kent, cornering him in a room, and proving that Kent is Superman by shooting him in the back (doing no damage, of course). However, Kent escapes by bursting through the wall in front of him, never turning around to reveal his face, thus protecting his identity. Again, hokey, because Clark could have super-sped out of the room without his face being seen. But fun stuff, nonetheless.
In #18, "Superbaby, Jimmy Olsen's Pal!", a glitch in Olsen's signal watch causes Superman to be hurled into the past and replaced in "present day" by Superbaby, who ends up aiding Jimmy in various adventures. Eventually Jimmy is able to partly resolve the situation by having Superbaby change places with Superboy, who super-reengineers the watch so that he and his older self can return to their proper times. Quite a strange story!
In #21 is a story called "The Wedding of Jimmy Olsen", in which he thinks Lois Lane is smitten with him and he proposes to her. He even imagines being married to the girl reporter. Pretty strange if you ask me, since Olsen is supposed to be somewhat younger than Lois - and she only has eyes for Superman!
It should be mentioned that in virtually every story presented in SUPERMAN FAMILY, Jimmy Olsen's famous signal watch is triggered by the cub reporter, generally towards the end of a yarn, so that the Man of Steel can make an appearance and save the day.
Several stories have Olsen gaining one or more of Superman's super-powers, pretending to have super-powers, pretending to be Superman or other powers, e.g.;
"The Man of Steel's Substitute" (#1)
"The Flying Jimmy Olsen" (#2)
"Superboy for a Day" (#8)
"The Invisible Jimmy Olsen" (#12)
"The Boy Superman" (#14)
"Jimmy Olsen, Speed Demon" (#15)
"The Boy of Steel" (#16)
"Superman's Kid Brother" (#19)
"The Merman of Metropolis" (#20)
"Wonder Lad" (#21)
Finally, virtually every story in SUPERMAN FAMILY is fairly innocent and simple. Some are a bit hokey, but others are really very good Superman adventures in which Jimmy Olsen is a key player. Often Clark Kent gets involved, since he and Jimmy work at the Daily Planet, and in many cases Kent's secret ID is in jeopardy, only to have a Superman-engineered cover-up protect his double life (much like he does in the companion comic book, SUPERMAN'S GIRL FRIEND, LOIS LANE).
Superman's weakness, Kryptonite, shows up from time to time, and even Luthor and Toyman make brief appearances. (I've always noticed that in the 1950s Superman and Superman-related stories, Luthor was rarely, if ever, referred to as "Lex Luthor". He was usually referred to as the criminal mastermind "Luthor". Maybe giving him a first name sounded too nice and calling him just plain "Luthor" made him sound more menacing. Similarly, Green Kryptonite was just referred to as "Kryptonite" - before the deluge of red, blue, white, gold, etc. varieties hit the scene during the heyday of the Silver Age.)
The story art, as mentioned, was primarily done by Curt Swan and Stan Kaye. Despite the lack of color, the quality of the art is top-notch. Perhaps it can be argued that George Klein, who came along later in the Silver Age, made for a slightly better inker with Swan than did Kaye, but the Swan-Kaye team is wonderful. Kaye even seems to make up for one of Swan's minor drawing defects - making male characters have seemingly the same face. Kaye appears to change enough in each face to make the characters look different.
This book full of Swan-Kaye art is a real treat.
For the most part the covers were somewhat lighthearted, although intriguing enough to a young reader at the time to grab their attention, enough so to plunk down their ten cents.
It should be noted that not only did Olsen appear on each cover, but Superman did, as well. I'm fairly sure that every Superman-related book, whether his own (SUPERMAN and ACTION COMICS) or the Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane series, had to feature Superman in some shape or form - even if he was depicted in a "photo" drawn on the cover. In some cases, even where Superman himself didn't make an appearance, his costume would, usually worn by, in the case of SUPERMAN FAMILY, Jimmy Olsen. As such, Superman remained the main draw on these covers, for obvious reasons.
Once again, the Swan-Kaye covers were crisp and wonderful to look at.
All told, SHOWCASE PRESENTS: SUPERMAN FAMILY belongs on the shelf of any Silver Age fan of Superman - or Jimmy Olsen.
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