Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Jimmy Olsen #42

Jimmy Olsen #42

Cover date: January 1960

"The Big Superman Movie!"

Writer: Unknown
Penciller: Curt Swan
Inker: John Forte

Reviewed by: Rick O'Connell

Click to enlarge

On an airliner leaving Metropolis Jimmy Olsen is regaling stewardess Lucy Lane with the story of his latest success. Mammoth Studios wants him to make a movie about his adventures with Superman. Jimmy has arranged for Superman to appear as himself in the film. "Maybe you'll win an Oscar!" says Lucy.

Arriving in Hollywood Jimmy is surprised to discover he has been invited to play a role behind the camera, as the technical director, and he will be portrayed on screen by famous juvenile star Cecil Hathaway. Bret Braxton, producer for Mammoth Studios, plans to use make-up experts to make Cecil resemble Jimmy. Cecil will also dress in Jimmy's clothes during the film. In exchange Jimmy is given a director's costume to wear (jodhpurs, beret, cravat).

Arriving on set the next day, Superman mistakes Cecil (made up in character) for Jimmy. Superman explains he will be busy on patrol during filming and tells Jimmy to give Cecil his signal watch. They agree when Superman is required on set Cecil will summon Superman with the watch. Lucy Lane, off-duty from her job as a stewardess, arrives at the Studio and is amused to discover Jimmy's role as technical director involves him acting as Cecil's stand-in.

The film's scenes are based on real incidents from Jimmy's past. Each scene, as written, should end with Jimmy's character summoning Superman using his signal watch. However while filming the first three reenactments the actor, Cecil, deviates from the script and ingeniously shows how Jimmy could have triumphed in each situation without Superman's help. Lucy is increasingly impressed by Cecil's ability to out-think Jimmy, intimating she would prefer to spend Saturday evening with Cecil rather than Jimmy.

During the filming of an indoor scene an untamed gorilla escapes on set. Lucy tells Cecil to summon Superman. "But... er... Cecil can't Lucy!" explains Jimmy. Jimmy confesses he lost his signal watch during his first night in Hollywood. Embarrassed by his carelessness he gave Cecil a fake watch from the props department and, stalling for time, invented the alternative clever solutions to the scripted stories himself, Cecil acting out his instructions.

Suddenly Superman arrives at the studio and imprisons the rampaging gorilla in a moon rocket prop. The signal watch worn by Cecil has been emitting the tell-tale zee-zee-zee of the real thing. Cecil explains he found the real watch in a pocket of one of Jimmy's suits while changing to film the scene.

That Saturday night, Jimmy offers to take Lucy to see Cecil in the film "The Boy Genius." Lucy admiringly tells Jimmy Cecil may be a movie genius but Jimmy is a real genius.

4Story - 4: You can tell this is a Silver Age story, it's got gorillas in it. Just kidding, actually you can tell this is a Silver Age story because in nine pages it tells a tightly plotted story with clever characterisation and a neat twist at the end.

The pace of the story is brisk (it's got a lot to do and only nine pages to do it) but it does pause every page or so for some nice characterisation usually humorous. (I particularly like the look on Jimmy's face when he's told the make-up people "will be making Cecil... er... less handsome, like you!")

This issue (cover date January 1960) would have reached the newsstands around November 1959. DC published a vast range of comics in 1959 - everything from The Adventures of Bob Hope to Mystery In Space, from situation comedy to science fiction. There are times the Jimmy Olsen series seems to be straddling both extremes at once... and surprisingly it usually works. In this particular story the science fiction elements (Superman, the signal watch) are merely plot devices. That doesn't mean it's all played for laughs. There is an undertone of genuine emotional drama - does Jimmy really deserve to be Superman's best pal?

The Hollywood setting doesn't mean the minor points of the Superman mythos are ignored. From a fanboy point of view I was pleasantly surprised to see an appearance by the Daily Planet's Flying Newsroom. It's one of the most accident prone vehicles in the history of comics and sure enough The Big Superman Movie includes a recreation of one of its many crashes. Now here's a question for you - the Daily Planet's Flying Newsroom has come down in the middle of the desert. The battery is dead, the radio won't work, you are starting to dehydrate in the midday sun - what do you do? According to the writer a refreshing drink from the helicopter's radiator will keep you alive till sunset. A reader from Hogansville, Ga. wasn't so sure and, in issue 45's letter column points out that helicopters are air-cooled not water-cooled. The editor responds that some helicopters are water-cooled, and the flying newsroom is one of them. I guess I'll have to take his word for it.

I've had no luck identifying the author of this particular story. It's clever construction and effortless humor is in keeping with the other two stories in this issue, both written by Robert Bernstein.

While reading the synopsis it may seem like the story is all plot, plot, plot. At its core, however, it is a character piece - it plays with the reader's preconceived notions of Jimmy. He's a little bit boastful and doesn't really deserve to be Superman's pal... or does he? He doesn't have movie star good looks and Lucy Lane could do better... or could she? He dresses foolishly and he's not terribly bright... or is he? The answers are he's basically good intentioned, Lucy should treat him better and he's brighter than he looks. Needs some help with his wardrobe though.

5Art - 5: Curt Swan and John Forte are a terrific team - this is the real thing as far as Superman art in the Silver Age. Swan doesn't just create images of the story as written. He understands the author's intent and enhances the tone and characterisation with his visuals. For example in this story Jimmy's facial expressions, clothing, even posture (during the pool scene) reinforce the nuances of the story. He's good with action scenes too, the motor cycle chase is dynamic.

"Perry White, Cub Reporter!"

Writer: Robert Bernstein
Penciller: Curt Swan
Inker: John Forte

It's Perry White's fifty-fifth birthday. Family and friends, including Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, gather at his home to help him celebrate. While cutting his cake Perry announces tomorrow is the Metropolis Chamber of Commerce's "Boss-For-A-Day" where the head of every office exchanges jobs with the lowliest employee. Perry will be a cub reporter and Jimmy will be Daily Planet Editor and Perry's boss for a day. As she hands Perry a piece of cake Perry's wife, Alice, chides him about gaining weight and Perry affectionately observes Alice is his boss for life.

The next day Jimmy clears Perry's belongings from his desk, including a recently arrived Life Insurance Form. Superman arrives with a new name plate for the desk ("Jimmy Olsen, Editor") and Jimmy sets about handing out the assignments. Lois is sent to cover a Fashion Show, Clark is sent to cover a football game and two unnamed reporters are sent to Florida to cover a Bathing Beauty Contest. Perry, however, is given four physically grueling assignments - climbing to the top of the Statue of Freedom in Metropolis Harbour to take pictures, rowing to a remote island to interview a millionaire recluse, testing a space flight simulating centrifugal force machine at an army lab and finally having to walk through the Mohave Desert to cover a missile launch. At the end of a long day, Superman returns an exhausted Perry to the Daily Planet offices.

The following morning Perry is back in his rightful place as editor of the Planet. Jimmy expects to be fired, but Alice White has already explained to Perry the series of exhausting assignments were intended to make Perry lose enough weight to pass his insurance medical exam. It worked - Perry lost twenty pounds in a day. Jimmy observes between the two of them, Perry was the best cub reporter - pound for pound.

5Story - 5: I've set the Krypto-Scale to 5 for this story. You may be surprised. I was a little surprised myself.

Why do I like this story so much? Because it portrays a group of iconic, likable characters with a great deal of humor and, at the same time, provides a neatly plotted story. It contains all the clues you need to guess the denouncement, without being patronizing about it. And, for the 21st century reader, it perfectly captures the good-natured spirit of the Superman family comics of the time.

By the end of 1959 Superman had become a firmly entrenched part of American popular culture. Through comic books, radio shows, cartoons, movie serials and (most importantly for this story) television episodes, we (the general public) had grown to know and like this group of characters. I think the creators had grown to like them too and in this story the affection shows. Perry's family and friends singing happy birthday on page one. At the bottom of page five, Perry growling "Wait, Olsen! Wait! You'll pay for this!" Superman carrying Perry, like a baby, through the window of the Planet's offices. "He slept all the way to Metropolis!" Lois, her hand on Jimmy's back, pushing him into Perry's office during the final scene - "Here's Jimmy, P.W.!" There's a reason it's called the Superman Family (and it's not just because Clark and Kara are cousins.)

The story isn't perfect. There's some silly ideas. For starters, how would you feel to be labeled the lowliest employee in the work place? Gotta be a blow... but Jimmy takes it grinning. (In the letter page of issue 45 a reader from Queens N.Y., less concerned about Jimmy's feelings and more concerned about getting the facts right, asks "Wouldn't the janitor be the lowest employee?" The editor responds Perry was thinking only of the Daily Planet editorial staff.) And then there's the idea of subjecting a 55 year old man who clearly hasn't been exercising regularly (and smokes!) to twelve hours of physical exertion. The words cardiac arrest do spring to mind. But no, it's the Silver Age, Perry loses twenty pounds.

The author, Robert Bernstein, was one of the best Superman writers of the time. Unlike Otto Binder or Jerry Siegel he didn't create many of the major story elements we associate with the Superman Silver Age but he did know how to use those elements to best effect.

It would be easy to dismiss this story. It contains no major turning points in the Superman mythos, no big new ideas, no startling character developments. But sometimes, in the middle of a book that's almost fifty years old, in the space of 7 pages, you find something done well and with a lot of affection. And I think that deserves a little recognition.

If you are interested in reading this story it was recently republished in the Superman: Daily Planet trade paperback.

5Art - 5: It's been argued that, from the late fifties all the way through the mid-eighties, Curt Swan was the definitive Superman artist. The way he drew the characters was the defacto standard for all other artists. That's not to say his character designs didn't change over thirty years. Lois's look changes with the fashions of the times and here she has a bit of the Ava Gardners about her. (That's a good thing.) There's also a kind of Eisenhower era affluence about the settings and the way everyone dresses. Visually the characters seem to be always on the move (Superman ducking into a storeroom or Clark dashing out of a room) and these movements have a swagger and confidence which fits in nicely with the news room setting and the tone of the story. You can also see it in the small things like the way the Daily Planet journalist at the football game has his hat pushed back from his forehead. (And yes, he does have a card with Press written on it in his hat band.) It's all great stuff.

"Jimmy the Genie!"

Writer: Robert Bernstein
Penciller: Curt Swan
Inker: Creig Flessel

Superman flies Jimmy Olsen to the Arabian desert and tells him to be prepared for a big scoop. Using his Super-Breath he sweeps away huge volumes of sand and reveals an ancient tomb, undiscovered for centuries. The tomb is full of antiquities. Superman agrees to let Jimmy take some of the ancient treasures back to Metropolis so he can photograph them before they're handed over to a museum.

Back at his apartment Jimmy, munching on a candy bar, feels a toothache coming on. One of the ancient relics to be photographed is a lamp. A disembodied voice from the lamp offers to grant Jimmy's every wish. Jimmy rubs the lamp, as directed, and a genie, Abdul, appears. At Jimmy's request the genie heals the toothache. Jimmy, realising Abdul really is the genie of Aladdin's lamp, asks for a date with Lucy Lane. Immediately the phone rings - it's Lucy calling to see if Jimmy is free that night. Hanging up, Jimmy asks the genie for a super-banana split. The genie creates the huge ice cream desert as requested. Jimmy then asks for a picture of the secret chief of the criminal Ghost Gang. The photograph appears. Jimmy is amazed to discover the identity of the boss of the gang is J.B. Hayes, a banker and close friend of Perry White.

Jimmy exclaims "This will kill Perry when he finds out!" With a puff of smoke an instantaneous transformation occurs - Jimmy is dressed in Abdul's turban, waist coat and cummerbund, while the genie is dressed in Jimmy's familiar bow tie and suit. Abdul writes the word KILL on a blackboard and explains according to the legend of Aladdin's Lamp whoever says the word kill in his presence dooms himself into being the new genie of the lamp. The spell can be reversed if Abdul says the word kill. "I won't mention it," he says, "I don't want to go back into that lamp!"

Abdul's first wish is for Jimmy to build him a castle on a private island. Jimmy obeys and builds the castle in an instant. Next Abdul asks for a million dollars. Still angry at being tricked, Jimmy delivers the million dollars in a shower of coins. Abdul asks for greater wealth - a mountain of gold! Jimmy intentionally creates the mountain of gold in the middle of a busy flight path, hoping the pilots will send an SOS to Superman. They do, and Superman (from his Fortress of Solitude) blasts the gold into nothingness using his X-Ray Vision. Seeking revenge on the Man of Steel, Abdul orders Jimmy to create an earthquake to destroy the Fortress of Solitude. Jimmy must obey. Superman, hearing the approaching quake, digs beneath the fortress then lifts the entire threatened area in one piece. The earthquake rumbles past as Superman holds the Fortress above his head.

Abdul then orders Jimmy to turn himself into living Kryptonite and summon Superman using his signal watch. Superman appears and collapses. Abdul proclaims Superman dead.

Gloating, Jimmy's new master relaxes. He orders Jimmy to screen some motion pictures for his enjoyment. Jimmy arranges a triple feature of Frankenstein, Dracula and Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde. Jimmy sets a trap by asking Abdull to choose the screening order of the films. In saying Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde aloud, Abdul inadvertently says the syllable kyll. It's a homonym for the magic word kill and is sufficient to reverse the spell. A puff of smoke and Jimmy is himself again, Abdul is once again the subservient genie.

Suddenly Superman appears. "I'm not dead!" he explains. After the incident with the mountain of gold Superman located Jimmy with his telescopic vision. Observing what was occurring but hesitant to tangle with the genie's supernatural powers he sent a Superman Robot in his place in response to the signal watch. It was the Superman Robot that appeared to collapse and die.

Jimmy orders Abdul to return to the lamp. Superman stores the magic lamp in the Fortress of Solitude where it will do no harm.

3Story - 3: This story is another good example of Robert Bernstein's writing style - it is cleverly plotted, makes subtle use of humor and incorporates the many diverse aspects of the Superman mythos without assuming a patronizing tone or stopping the story in its tracks with unnecessary exposition. Oh yeah, and it's fun. Robert Bernstein knew how to write fun.

It's the most fantastic of the three stories in this issue. The genie may be straight out of the Arabian Nights but in truth the plot is a variation of the familiar Mister Mxyzptlk stories. Unfortunately the genie Abdul has none of Mxy's zany charm. The challenge of making a supernatural nemesis say a magic word is a story premise as old as story-telling, but is not part of the Aladdin legends as claimed. (Okay, I'm being pedantic.) Superman uses "X-Ray Vision" to blast a mountain of gold... well it's some kind of vision. (Maybe heat vision? Melt not blast?) And the final scene, where Superman and Jimmy agree the lamp is too dangerous to use again seems a little conservative to me (but hey, it was the fifties).

The Signal Watch appears in all three stories. On the letter page a reader from Bronx, N.Y. asks why Lois isn't suspicious - Superman gave a watch to Jimmy but not to his "best friend" Clark. The editor thinks Lois would be more likely to want a watch herself, but agrees the idea is a good springboard for a story. I guess in current continuity having Jimmy build the watch himself solves all these problems.

The issue also contains a one-page Binky community service story, a Cora the Car Hop story (two-thirds of a page) and a Varsity Vic half-page.

I was surprised by the lack of DC house ads in the book. The only hint of other comics from this publisher is the one third of a page dedicated to Coming Super-Attractions. And that's all text. Tantalising stuff though - Superboy in "The Ghost of Jor-El", Superman in "The Super-Outlaw from Krypton!", Lois Lane in "Three Nights in the Fortress of Solitude."

5Art - 5: More great Curt Swan art work, more iconic imagery. On page 8 when Superman lifts the Fortress above his head I was reminded of Brandon Routh lifting the New Krypton continent in Superman Returns. I don't think it's more than a coincidence - I guess both harken back to the classic image of Atlas with the earth above his head. Apparently this time Curt is inked by Creig Flessel and perhaps the outlines around the characters are a little heavier and some of the detail lines aren't as fine as in the previous two stories. There may be some unnecessary lines too - in issue 44 a reader from Mitchell, S.D. points out the genie has six fingers in panel 3 on page 3. Well spotted! Looking at it again I think it may be a colorist's mistake. Luckily I don't have to rate the colorist.

5Cover Art - 5: Curt Swan & Stan Kaye produce a classic cover. No unnecessary details in the rich yellow background. Relatively restrained use of word balloons. Superman, fallen to one knee, his skin a particularly bilious shade of green. Abdul, fists clenched. "Destroy Superman!" Jimmy's body a swirling mass of cloud. "I must obey his command!" How could any kid resist grabbing this off the comic rack?

Pre-Crisis Superman Comic Book Reviews



  • Superman #76 (May/June 1952) - “The Mightiest Team in the World”
  • Superman #80 (January/February 1953) - “Superman's Lost Brother”
  • Superman 3D (1953) - “The Man Who Stole the Sun”, “Origin of Superman” and “The Man Who Bossed Superman”
  • Superman #87 (February 1954) - “The Prankster's Greatest Role”
  • Superman #88 (March 1954) - “The Terrible Trio”
  • Superman #89 (May 1954) - “Captain Kent the Terrible”, “Superman of Skid Row”, and “One Hour to Doom!”
  • Superman #91 (August 1954) - “The Superman Stamp” and “Great Caesar's Ghost”
  • World's Finest #88 (May/June 1957) - “Superman and Batman's Greatest Foes”
  • Superman #115 (August 1957) - “The Midget Superman!”
  • Superboy #65 (May/June 1958) - “The Amazing Adventures of Krypto Mouse”
  • Action Comics #242 (July 1958) - “The Super-Duel in Space”
  • Superman #123 (August 1958) - “The Girl of Steel”
  • Superman #127 (February 1959) - “Titano the Super Ape”
  • Action Comics #252 (May 1959) - “The Menace of Metallo” and “The Supergirl From Krypton”
  • Superman #129 (May 1959) - “The Girl in Superman's Past”
  • Superman #130 (July 1959) - “The Curse of Kryptonite!”, “The Super-Servant of Crime!”, and “The Town that Hated Superman!”
  • Jimmy Olsen #40 (October 1959) - “Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl's Pal”




Compilation Volumes


Back to the Mild Mannered Reviews contents page.