Friday, October 15, 2010

The Many, Many, Many Bizarre Transformations of Jimmy Olsen!

I've spent a lot of time here singing the praises of wacky old Silver Age comic books, but oddly enough, I have barely touched on the gold standard of wacky old Silver Age comic books: Superman’s Pal: Jimmy Olsen. With three stories in each issue, His stories initially involved him seeking out scoops and raiding his bottomless disguise trunk, but when that wore thin, the tales got more and more far-out, leading to Jimmy Olsen’s infamous bizarre transformations.

Panels from "The Adventures of Chameleon-Head Olsen"

Bruce Banner may spend a lot more time transforming than Jimmy Olsen does, but at least he only transforms into one thing; Jimmy has morphed into everything but the kitchen sink (unless I missed an issue), sometimes repeating himself, or revisiting an especially popular identity. Olsen has turned into an Elastic Lad, a Future Brain, a Fat Boy, a Genie, a Giant, a Wolf-Boy, a Bizarro, a Human Octopus, a Human Porcupine, an Alien, a fire-breather, Invisible, a Blob, a Robot, an old man, a baby, a gorilla, and a Giant Turtle Man. And I've probably forgotten several.

With only eight to ten pages per story, not much time is wasted on setup. Bonehead Jimmy is usually fooled into drinking some dodgy serum concocted by his absent-minded scientist friend, Professor Potter, or in some cases by some random scientist he's interviewing. Next thing you know? Super Brain!

Sometimes the hapless bow-tied dullard is undone by fumbling around with dangerous artifacts brought back from space by Superman. Sometimes he's been tricked by a yet another fifth-dimensional imp, and sometimes aliens are to blame. But all incidents have one common factor: stupid, stupid Jimmy Olsen gets turned into a freakish, dangerous eyesore for 24 hours,and Superman has to devote all his resources to keeping him from killing himself and/or others.Sorry, murder and robbery victims across the world, Superman is too busy dealing with "Giant Turtle" Olsen to help you right now!

When Jimmy wanted to infiltrate the Bearded Gentlemen’s Club of Metropolis, he drank a tonic handed to him by a stranger, and rather than unconsciousness followed by rape, he actually became a Bearded Boy, in a hairy little episode which we’ve discussed here before

As if being bearded wasn't bad enogh, he got the obligatory long, white beard of old age when he became an Old Olsen, thanks to the Cabinet from Krypton:

And hey, who hasn’t swapped minds with a gorilla for a day, leaving the gorilla to caper around in their human body while they carry on with their daily business in a gorilla body? Hijinx were ensuing like crazy that one time when Jimmy got his mind swapped with a gorilla, and became the Gorilla Reporter of Metropolis!

Eventually, the silly, charming Silver Age of Superman ran its course, and Jimmy Olsen ran out of steam, creatively and in sales. Jack Kirby came to DC and revamped the title, bringing in his own brand of weirdness. Recently, DC tried to weave Jimmy's transformations into the Countdown storyline, but it wasn't remotely the same. At this point, the beat we can hope for is that Jimmy Olsen can continue to transform into an interesting character for the modern age.


ZADL said...

Didn't Jimmy recently regain all those random powers in the pages of Countdown?

ZADL said...

D'OH! I should have read the last sentence. Call me a fool.

Richard Bensam said...

"Hearken, Perry White!" Future Jimmy reminds me uncomfortably of Fry as a robot in that Futurama episode: "Fear not, mammal, I shall assist ye!"

Lazarus Lupin said...

Well I think why this works is because he's friend with superman. Not only did it offer the universal excuse for weirdness but superman was always the ultimate safety valve/daddy if things went too far. It allowed them to just play which is a rare luxury.

"Playfulness" is not a adjective that is used often in modern comics. Sad.

Lazarus Lupin
art and review

hobbyfan said...

Jimmy would be a werewolf one final time, in the pages of Super Friends 28 (Jan. '80 issue). And he got to be the hero making the save that issue!