Thursday, November 21, 2013

Karmic Comic Book Reading: SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN # 89 (December, 1965).

Does karma ever enter into merely choosing a comic book to read?  As we reach the fiftieth anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, let’s revisit this ten-year old entry from my retired” APA and Fanzine column, “The Issue At Hand” (circa 2003), and relive what was for me a rather memorable experience.  So, is everyone ready to travel back a decade?  Let’s go…  

November, 2003 saw the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and the TV networks and other media were ablaze with commemorative specials and features.  Many of them were quite interesting, providing me with new or additional perspective on the Kennedy years, during which I was a very little kid. 

It just so happened that, during the fateful anniversary, I randomly selected (from a batch of recent purchases) and read the particular comic book discussed here… for the first time.  I was so amazed at the unexpected twist this story took that I e-mailed any of my friends that might possibly have this issue in the dark and musty recesses of their collections and told them to read (…or re-read) it… RIGHT NOW!   Let’s take a closer look and see why…

The Issue at Hand Is: SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN  # 89  Cover Date: December, 1965.   Published by DC Comics.

The Infamous Four”   8 pages.  Writer: Jerry Siegel (…Co-creator of Superman).  Artist:  Kurt Schaffenberger.  Lettered by:  Milt Snapinn.  Edited by the legendary Mort Weisinger. 

Click on any of the comic images to enlarge. 

Though he needs little in the way of introduction, here’s some background information on our title character.  From his online writings, cartoonist and comics historian Scott Shaw! offered the following…

James Bartholomew Olsen (supposedly) first appeared in ACTION COMICS No. 6 (November, 1938) -- referred to only as an unnamed “office boy” – but it wasn’t until SUPERMAN Vol. 1, No. 13 (November – December, 1941) that his name was mentioned. In September/October, 1954, THE DAILY PLANET’s red-haired eager-beaver photographer and “cub” reporter finally received his own comic book series. SUPERMAN’S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN.

Reportedly, this was prompted by the popularity of likable young actor Jack Larson in the role of “Jimmy Olsen” in the syndicated TV series, THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN (1951 – 1957). In any event, Jimmy’s series went on to become one of the longest-running “Oddball Comics” of all time, as well as one of the most relentlessly kooky.
Then, now, and forever: Superman's pal!
The stories in the early issues of SUPERMAN’S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN were originally rather earthbound (similar to THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN TV show).  However, it wasn’t long before the Man of Steel’s bow-tie-and-signal-watch-wearing, befreckled young “pal” —thanks to editor Mort Weisinger -- began to find himself transformed into a variety of far-out, semi-comedic Oddball incarnations.

"The World of Doomed Olsens"...Yes, really! 
These included a human porcupine, a giant turtle-man, a monster-movie star (on another planet), a werewolf, a stretchable super hero known as “Elastic Lad”, a Bizarro, a human octopus, a witch doctor, a gangster, an alien, a baby, an old man, a TV horror-movie host, a super-spy – even a woman!”


One of MY favorite covers!  Talk about a "Doomed Olsen"! 
As the esteemed Mr. Shaw! (Yes, he uses an exclamation point as part of his name!) indicates, the OLSEN stories from the stable of Mr. Weisinger were strange, weird, far-fetached, often funny (…whether intentionally or otherwise)… and sometimes they were simply amazing.  This is one of those latter instances.  Weisinger and Siegel even give us fair warning that something big is going to occur with the following caption in the story’s first panel. 

AN OPEN LETTER TO OUR READERS!  Every so often, we get a story which maintains its suspense until the very last panel.  This is such a story… and we challenge you to guess the surprise finish.  And please, after you have read it, do not reveal the ending to any of your friends!” 

Yes, sir, Mr. Weisinger, sir!  You can count on me, sir!  I’ll not reveal the ending to anyone… except the readers of this fanzine […now BLOG]!  Shhh!  Don’t tell Mr. Weisinger about this, folks.  He wouldn’t be at all pleased… 

Anyway, editor Perry White assigns “cub-reporter” Jimmy Olsen to find a new angle for a story on the following week’s upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.  Determined not to submit a “turkey”, and in order to beat the “stuffing” out of the competition, Jimmy checks out one of the historical exhibits at the Metropolis Museum. 

According to this sign, the Indian tribe which celebrated Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims, had a legendary medicine man…Red Hawk…who claimed that when he puffed his magic pipe inside that hollow totem pole, spirits would transport him into the future.

Hmmm… I wouldn’t mind learning what “legendary medicines” that “legendary medicine man” was inhaling into his “legendary lungs”.  But, rather than pursue THAT story, Jimmy secretes himself in the totem and puffs a piece of the “peace pipe”.  Sure enough, as luck and the conventions of eight-page Silver Age comic book stories would have it, Jimmy is whisked off to the Metropolis of November 22, 2063! 

There, he experiences the wonders of the World of Tomorrow – a contemporary wardrobe from a convenient “Clothes-O-Mat” machine, automated service at the “Interplanetary Food Emporium”, and instant dry cleaning while still in his clothes – as if he’d accidentally wandered into a JETSONS comic
Sing with me:  "Meet JIM Jetson!"
Despite some minor mishaps, all goes well until he enters a large warehouse-like structure with signs warning everyone to “Keep Out!”  There, he stumbles upon a saucer-craft emblazoned with the image of the “Skull and Crossbones” and four suspicious looking men, the leader of which exclaims – OUT LOUD, no less:

That snooper will recognize us as The Infamous Four, the notorious space-pirate brothers, who are wanted on a hundred planetsIf he tells the authorities we’re hiding here with our loot, while repairing our craft, we’re sunk!” 

Jimmy's a great reporter... Look how he gets his subjects to open up and TALK!
Well, no “shift-differential”, Sherlock!  If Jimmy DIDN’T have the scoop before, he certainly does NOW!  Will ALL villains’ dialogue be THIS revealing in the future, or did this soliloquizing sociopath just happen to be an unfortunate and accidental victim of an experimental “expository suppository”? 
Say... has BLUTO traveled to the future with Jimmy?
Could be!
We’ll never know about that suppository, because battle immediately breaks out between Jimmy and the thugs, using such weapons-at-hand as “Brainiog Cannons”, “Protective Aura Belts”, and “Sky Sleds”.  Jimmy briefly holds his own, but, ultimately, makes for the open streets, with the Infamous Four in hot pursuit.      

Heading for the safety of the totem pole, and a quick return to 1965, Jimmy hardly notices that the entire population of Metropolis is standing silent and at attention – transfixed at the spectacle of a towering holographic image of a man standing benevolently over the city. 
Run, Jimmy, run!
Now to dart inside and light the pipeThe motionless people are staring at a looming form up in the skyI can only see it from behind…, thinks Jimmy. 

Once again inside the totem pole (…which, thankfully, the authorities of that era didn’t cart away!), Jimmy fires up the magic peace pipe and, failing to follow the example of former president Bill Clinton, inhales his way back to the twentieth century. 
He returns to the Daily Planet, sans story, bracing himself to face Perry White’s wrath.  The Infamous Four fare even worse, as the next panel shows them being taken into custody by the laser-toting Metropolis Police of 2063. 
Nice touch that they addressed the matter of Jimmy's CLOTHES!  It would have be easy (but annoying) to ignore.
We’ll let the story’s dialogue will take us the rest of the way…

Metropolis Cop:The Infamous Four.  If you hadn’t been moving, when everyone else in America was standing motionless, we wouldn’t have noticed you and captured you!” 

Infamous Four Gang Member:  “OkayBut explain one thing to us aliensWhy did all those Earthlings stand still

Metropolis Cop:The answer is up there in the skyThat is a TRI-DIMENSIONAL SKY PICTURE… of JOHN F. KENNEDY, ONE OF OUR GREATEST PRESIDENTSToday, exactly 100 years since he was assassinated on November 22 1963, the citizens of the United States paid respect to his memory… by standing still and silent for five minutes!”

Editorial Caption:  “Jimmy will never know exactly what happened… but YOU do!” 

We close with an inspiring image of JFK standing majestically over the skyline of Metropolis, 2063 -- and all I can say is WOW!    

At the time of this story’s original publication, I was aware of the death of President Kennedy and some of its circumstances, but I doubt I would have appreciated this tale at all – much less to the degree I did upon first reading it (unintentionally, I might add) well into informed adulthood… and at the 40th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, no less. 

Ah, the way things work out, sometimes!  I’d say that Ol’ Editor Mort Weisinger lived up to his hype, this issue and for several decades hence!  


Bruce Kanin said...


Well done! I may have read this ten years ago in your earlier forum, but it was wonderful to read it again. You did a masterful job of providing JB Olsen's background. Big LOL re: your comparisons to The Jetsons and Popeye!

As for Jimmy's adventure, how many times has he or Lois taken a whiff or sip of something that seemingly propelled them through time?! If only it was so easy, why — why — I'd do that and go back to either buy ACTION COMICS #1 or Microsoft stock in the 80s!

November 22, 2063. I'll be 110 and hopefully still enjoying your blog, although by then it will be mentally beamed into people's minds.

Yes, what a surprise for you to select this particular comic book and find that story – with its poignant ending. You realize that Ye Editor (Mort Weisinger) was perhaps breaking an unspoken rule in comic books in that There Shalt Be No Political Comments. Saying that JFK was one of the "greatest presidents" could be argued by others (not by me – I thought he was one of the best).

However, perhaps even as late as December 1965 (the cover date of this issue), the nation was still somewhat in mourning, or at the tail end, at least, so Ye Editor was reflecting that somber sentiment and not politics. Or maybe it was a story written a year or so prior to that but it just didn't make it to print because Jimmy had more important time traveling, transformations and Superman-related adventures to partake in.

Side note: this is one of those issues that reflects the times, what with U.N.C.L.E. on the cover – the "spy craze" was perhaps at its peak and about to slowly fade…



PS- The "please prove you're not a robot" is like an eye exam !!!!

Joe Torcivia said...


I very likely DID see that you saw this in its original form. And, certainly, you must have been one of the folks I e-mailed about it at the time.

Aside from it being such a completely unexpected tribute to President Kennedy, imagine that, even as an avid Silver Age comic book reader, I hadn’t managed to purchase that issue until 2003 – and that I chose it, completely at random, to read at that particular time – attracted to it by the U.N.C.L.E. reference and tie-in.

As for JFK being one of the “greatest presidents”… First of all, he WAS! And, beyond that, the idea of expressing that opinion in a comics magazine, was the product of an entirely different era from the one in which we now live. That was an era in which we still looked up to our presidents, respected the individual as well as the office, and every word and / or deed was not politicized to the advantage of one side or the other. There was a reverence that transcended the partisan pettiness that exists today.

If, in that time, Ronald Reagan was the president – and his life and time in office were tragically cut short, as was Kennedy’s, a similar sentiment would have been shared by all.

I'm afraid that wouldn't necessarily be the case today. And, how sad for ALL of us as a nation, if true!

The December 1965 cover date (indicating a fall release) would also be the result of comics publishers working much further ahead that they do today. This story may have taken shape shortly after the events of November 1963 and, with lead times being what they were, may have taken that long to get into print, because to get it out for the fall of 1964 may not have been possible.

I can’t imagine what that might have been like to read it new off the newsstand!