PAUL KUPPERBERG: My 13 Favorite Funky JIMMY OLSEN Covers

Y’know what? Jimmy’s a real pain…

13th Dimension columnist Paul Kupperberg has seen it all in his 45 years or so in and around the professional comics industry. DC, Marvel, his beloved Charlton, you name it. He stops in here on a regular basis to riff on his favorite topics and I guarantee you will be entertained. You’ll even learn a lot of groovy things too. Far out. — Dan


I’ve never really liked Jimmy Olsen. I mean, what the hell was Superman doing hanging out with this annoying punk who was better at getting into trouble than out of it?

I didn’t mind his “Jeepers, Mr. Kent!” naivete as played by Jack Larson on TV’s Adventures of Superman so much, but in the comics? Jeepers, what a schmuck!

Even when I briefly wrote the character in Superman Family #215-222 (Feb.-Sept. 1982), he annoyed me. I couldn’t even make him particularly likeable. The comic book Jimmy was always a smug braggart, but I wrote him as an egotistical asshat.

Even Jimmy Olsen’s Slurpee cup showed him to be a self-satisfied jerk.

Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen ran for 163 issues between Sept.-Oct. 1954 and Feb.-March 1974. If nothing else, Mort Weisinger, editor of the Superman group of titles, knew how to create vivid cover images that drew in his young readers. Even Superman wasn’t immune from embarrassing situations and transformations on the covers of Superman and Action and, while Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane covers put the plucky gal reporter through changes of her own (making her fat or turning her into old hags and witches), nobody took a beating quite like James Bartholomew Olsen. But it’s not as if the little twerp wasn’t getting what was coming to him in the first place!

1. Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #20 (April 1957). “The Merman of Metropolis” (written by Otto Binder, cover art by Curt Swan and Stan Kaye) was one of Jimmy’s earliest “bizarre transformation” covers. As those things go, this one was pretty mild, but it was a harbinger of some of the weirdness to come. The fact that this transformation was a hoax perpetrated by Superman to keep Jimmy from learning his secret identity — the motivation in what feels like half of Weisinger’s output — only makes this fish tale the more absurd.

2. Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #24 (Oct. 1957). Remember: Gorillas sell! They were all the rage on DC’s covers in the 1950s when someone took a look at the numbers and noticed a bump in sales for any comic that featured a gorilla (especially purple ones) on the cover. “The Gorilla Reporter” (written by Otto Binder, cover art by Curt Swan and Stan Kaye) finds Jimmy’s brain being swapped with that of a gorilla in a “weird experiment” and hilarity ensues. This would not be Jimmy’s last experience with apes.

3. Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #32 (Oct. 1958). So, like, these guys from Jupiter show up and want Jimmy to be a test subject, transforming a human being into a scaly green Jovian, complete with the ability to read minds. Sure, says Jimmy. What could possibly go wrong? “The Jimmy Olsen from Jupiter” (written by Alvin Schwartz, cover art Curt Swan and Stan Kaye) uses his newfound abilities to cheat (told you he’s an asshat) and win “Newsman of the Year” and, oh yeah, also read Clark Kent’s mind and learn his secret identity.

4. Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #53 (June 1961). This is the bizarro Jimmy Olsen cover: “The Giant Turtle Man” (written by Jerry Siegel, cover art Curt Swan and Stan Kaye). The absurdities begin when Jimmy accidently fires the enlarging ray-gun he finds through a turtle before hitting himself, thereby becoming not just a giant, but a giant turtle man because… science? And as giant turtle-men will do, Jimmy begins collecting tons of steel to drop into an island volcano, but it’s not Jimmy’s fault. He’s being telepathically controlled to do the bidding of the Atlantean criminal who left the enlarging ray-gun for the reporter to find because there’s pirate treasure buried on the island, according to mermaid Lori Lemaris, so Superman breaks out Brianiac’s shrinking ray and badda-bing, badda-boom… well, all I know is, the status is quo’ed by story’s end, and in the Silver Age, wasn’t that all that really mattered?

5. Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #59 (March 1962). First of all, you’ve got to love any 1960s comic-book story about polygamy, but “Jimmy Olsen, Freak!” (written by Leo Dorfman, cover art by Curt Swan and George Klein) has so much more, including body shaming and another thing about Jimmy Olsen that annoyed me, even as a kid: Lucy Lane! We didn’t have the term “cuck” back then, but Jimmy was hers. And after being slapped down by her yet again, Jimmy accepts a marriage proposal from the first beautiful alien dame who comes along. But before the wedding can be held, four male aliens show up and turn Jimmy into a “freak,” i.e. make him fat and give him funny ears. Snap! Turns out the four aliens are his intended’s four other husbands (cuck!) and it takes Superman to straighten things out. And you just know Jimmy went crawling right back to Lucy.

6. Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #65 (Dec. 1962). A frequently used bit of business in those days involved some female (human or otherwise) finding Jimmy irresistible and screwing up his life when he doesn’t return their affections. In this case, it’s Miss Gzptlsnz, a lady imp from the same 5th Dimensional realm as Mr. Mxyzptlk who takes umbrage at his rejection and transforms him into “The Human Porcupine!” (written by Jerry Siegel, cover art by Curt Swan and George Klein). Jimmy has a lot of trouble keeping his quills in his pants until he can trick her into saying her name backwards and banish her back to her own dimension.

7. Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #72 (Oct. 1963). Never one to let go of a good gimmick, editor Weisinger brought back a whole bunch of his greatest hits in “The World of Doomed Olsens!” (written by Jerry Siegel, cover art by Curt Swan and George Klein). The Collector brings Jimmy to the planet Gion-El, inhabited by doubles of all the transformations he’s undergone, but, ah!, Jimmy can be clever when the plot calls for it, and he deduces he is being hoaxed by the Legion of Super-Heroes (the planet Gion-El… get it?!) who reveal he’s passed his initiation test to become an official honorary member of the LSH. Couldn’t they have just sent an invitation?

8. Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #79 (Sept. 1964). I’m imagining editor Weisinger catching the February 9, 1964, American TV debut of the Ed Sullivan Show and scribbling a note to himself, “Beatle Jimmy Olsen!” And not just any Beatle… but “The Red-Headed Beatle of 1,000 B.C.” (written by Leo Dorfman, cover art by Curt Swan and George Klein). It’s got everything: Jimmy getting tricked by a bad guy, a Legion time bubble and time travel, Jimmy being framed, Jimmy being rescued and re-rescued by a mysterious hero (spoiler: it’s young Samson) before Superman shows up to save Jimmy and return everybody back where they belong. The Beatles connection? A throwaway bit in the story, but just enough to justify the cover image, yeah, yeah, yeah.

9. Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #98 (Dec. 1965). “The Bride of Jungle Jimmy!” (written by Leo Dorfman, cover art by Curt Swan and George Klein) is as simple as it is nuts. Jimmy is given a bit part in a Metro Movies jungle movie being filmed in Africa. And once again, curse young Olsen’s fatal attractiveness to females outside his own species. As soon as the local tribe’s sacred ape Bruna gets a gander at him, she’s smitten and wants to take him as her mate, much to Jimmy’s chagrin. After his earlier experience as “The Gorilla Reporter,” you’d think he might have shown more sympathy to poor Bruna.

10. Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #105 (Sept. 1967). Weisinger was never hesitant to reuse plots and story gimmicks, as he did with the bit from #73’s “The World of Doomed Olsens!” for “The World of 1,000 Olsens!” (written by Otto Binder and E. Nelson Bridwell, cover art by Curt Swan and George Klein). In this later take on a planet full of Jimmy duplicates, including all his strange transformations, they’re out to kill him, and even Superman can’t tell who’s who. But it all works out: They’re androids created by the evil Tempus to help him shove the planet out of its orbit so it will destroy Earth because, hey… wouldn’t you be tempted if you had the opportunity?

11. Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #116 (Dec. 1968). OK, I already covered this story, “The Gorilla Reporter” (written by Otto Binder) as my No. 2 pick, but I’m going back to it on a technicality: for this reprint of the 11-year old story, Weisinger commissioned a new cover (by Curt Swan and Jack Abel) that is, in my opinion, even better than the original. Whereas the former had the gorilla reporter seated behind a typewriter in a cage, the revisited cover features the gorilla reporter dressed up in Jimmy’s clothes. And wearing a hat that human Jimmy would never wear, because, I suppose, humans and gorillas differ in their fashion sense.

12. Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139 (July 1971). Without a doubt, Don Rickles is one of the strangest real-life guest-stars ever to appear in comics. When Jack Kirby went to DC to create his epic Fourth World Saga, the first title he worked on was Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, which he selected because it was one of the company’s lowest-selling books. The title wove in and around the fringes of the main New Gods/Forever People/Mister Miracle trilogy and, somehow Jack convinced his next-door neighbor Don Rickles to stop by for a visit. “The Guardian Fights Again!” (written by Kirby, cover art by Kirby and Vince Colletta) took full advantage of the acerbic Rickles wit… but don’t think it was over in just one issue, you hockey puck!

13. Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #141 (Sept. 1971). This issue asked the question, “Will the Real Don Rickles Panic?!?” (written by Jack Kirby, cover art by Kirby and Neal Adams) because there were two of them running around, Don himself and his clueless double, Goody Rickles. But, come for the Rickles, stay for the semi-incoherent but always entertaining plotting of Kirby while Superman has to escape aliens and Jimmy, Don, and Goody fight to survive Ugly Mannheim’s plot to kill them. You got a lot for your quarter back in the day, fanboy!

Paul Kupperberg has been writing comic books from Archie to Zatanna for 45 years at DC, Archie, Charlton, Marvel, Bongo and others. He is also the author of Paul Kupperberg’s Illustrated Guide to Writing Comics (Charlton Neo Press); I Never Write for the Money… But I Always Turn in the Manuscript for a Check (Comics Career); the comic book industry-based murder mystery The Same Old Story, the short-story collection In My Shorts: Hitler’s Bellhop and Other Stories, and JSA: Ragnarok (all from Crazy 8 Press), all of which are currently — or shortly will be — available at Amazon.


— PAUL KUPPERBERG: My 13 Favorite 1960s Comic Book Books. Click here.

— PAUL KUPPERBERG: My 13 Favorite Short-Lived Series of the 1960s. Click here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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  1. I totally agree that mid-century Jimmy was an asshat and Lucy Lane’s cuck (I’m sure Lucy was a member of the mile-high club), and I love these choices. I also think Giant Turtle Man was the best-ever Olsen cover. I think it’s worth noting that the cover is a knockoff of the July 1940 issue of the pulp THRILLING WONDER STORIES. Weisinger was reaching WAY back for inspiration with that one.

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  2. Number 8: The girls weren’t turned on by Jimmy’s music, they were just looking up his toga!

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  3. Crazy, man! I remember Hembeck doing a version of the Beatle Jimmy cover and remarking that the reason Superman is thinking about Ringo is that Ringo was the only name that the adults could remember among the Fab Four.

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  4. “Jeepers, what a schmuck!” LOL, Paul!!!!

    Great picks. I especially remember Giant Turtle Jimmy and Porcupine Jimmy!

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  5. I thought it was funny how the back-up story would sound more interesting than the cover story. For example, with issue 59, I’m much more intrigued by “Jimmy Olson Fights Titano” than “Jimmy Olson, Freak.”

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