While the majority of people only know Jimmy Olsen as Superman’s dopey redhead sidekick, the character has a long history as the conduit for really strange shit. In the pages of the Silver Age Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, the young Daily Planet photographer would land in wild situations that often involved physical transformation, leaning into the madcap aspects of living in a superhero world. Jack Kirby introduced his iconic Fourth World characters when he jumped from Marvel to DC and took over Jimmy Olsen, then DC’s lowest-selling title, and while those stories were underappreciated in their day, they give Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen a legendary pedigree. The series is back this summer, marking another DC debut by a creator who broke out with his work at Marvel: Matt Fraction.
While Hawkeye didn’t wrap until 2015, Fraction more or less cut ties with Marvel Comics in 2013, when he decided to drop his other books to pursue creator-owned work for Image. He moved far away from superheroes on titles like Satellite Sam (erotic historical fiction), Sex Criminals (erotic crime comedy), and ODY-C (erotic sci-fi reimagining of mythology), so it’s a surprise to see him attached to a new corporate superhero book, and at DC Comics, no less. Featuring art by Steve Lieber, colorist Nathan Fairbairn, and letterer Clayton Cowles, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1 (DC) gleefully embraces Jimmy’s wacky history but still brings in the understated energy that grounded Hawkeye, a fusion of styles that makes for an especially compelling debut.
After spending years following whatever creative instinct he had without restriction, Fraction returns to the confines of Big Two superheroes with bold ideas for the story structure. He’s taking heavy inspiration from the past, breaking each issue down into individual chapters that each have their own funny introductions and a clear beginning, middle, and end. It gives Jimmy Olsen a very different rhythm than other superhero titles, and allows the creative team to make big jumps between chapters by treating them as separate units that come together to form a cohesive narrative.
This team’s first Jimmy Olsen story, part of last month’s Superman: Leviathan Rising Special, highlighted the secret agent aspect of Jimmy’s multi-faceted personality, which comes back into play in the final pages of this debut issue as the creative team establishes a new status quo for the 12-part miniseries. Steve Lieber worked with Fraction on the Hurricane Sandy issue of Hawkeye, and his artwork strikes the balance of fantasy and reality that the script demands. Reality takes precedence in the opening scene set in the pre-Metropolis frontier, but then there’s a rush of fantasy when the story veers drastically to drop Jimmy Olsen from Earth’s atmosphere and transform him into Giant Turtle Man.
Fraction continues Brian Michael Bendis’ excellent work with the Daily Planet bullpen, and Lieber’s character acting shines as Jimmy clashes with his superiors. A stand-out page in the bullpen scene breaks down Jimmy’s past adventures in six silent panels, each an evocative image with its own distinct palette and composition. A two-page spread at the end of the issue introduces a new setting for Jimmy to unleash chaos in, and the art team goes into overdrive to deliver a dynamic page-turn reveal of a city full of activity that aggressively projects a dangerous atmosphere. The magic of Hawkeye was in how the entire creative team collaborated to give the book a unique identity that pushed both the genre and the medium forward, and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen has a similarly confidant, cohesive vision that celebrates the past while delivering something totally fresh.