Review: Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen: Who Killed Jimmy Olsen? trade paperback (DC Comics)

Superman Pal Jimmy Olsen Who Killed Jimmy Olsen

Flipping through Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen: Who Killed Jimmy Olsen? — with its short, comic strip-like vignettes (up to and including a Calvin & Hobbes parody) and images of gorillas, dinosaurs in top hats, and a human-porcupine supervillain — one wouldn’t be blamed for thinking what we have here is a dedicated humor comic (and the space-cat vomiting blood. Don’t forget the space-cat vomiting blood).

The biggest surprise for me, then, was the actual murder mystery plot buried in the center of all of this. If the culprit isn’t exactly a mystery, then at least the motives take a little while to piece out, and in the meantime, writer Matt Fraction doles out the vignettes that make up the story in interesting fashion. The narrative skips forward and backward in time, revisits and doubles up on itself (including when Lois Lane seemingly gets caught in a time shift); in the end, Who Killed Jimmy Olsen? is absurd and wacky, but it’s also much more narratively clever than I expected. This is no mere humor book, or at least it’s also one that doesn’t underestimate the reader’s intelligence.

[Review contains spoilers]

Indeed, whereas I thought silliness might be the barrier to entry, the one conceit that caught me short here is the idea that Jimmy Olsen is rich — as a matter of fact, scion of one of the oldest, wealthiest families in Metropolis, along with his brother Julian and sister Janie. This is not a wholly new concept, in that I believe the New 52 iteration of Jimmy had wealthy parents (though without siblings?), though unless I’m mistaken I don’t think it has long historical basis (me, I remember when John Byrne’s Jimmy Olsen was raised by a white-haired single mother with a little crush on Superman).

This is not particularly my favorite conception of Jimmy — I’d as soon a Brooklyn-esque-born Jimmy, with maybe a little more in common with the Newsboy Legion, than Jimmy the ne’er do well and dilettante photographer — but it’s assuredly necessary for the purposes of Fraction’s story. And I do at least like Jimmy as “of Metropolis,” akin to (and, as we later find out, kin to) Lex Luthor. Clark Kent is a transplant to Metropolis, as is Lois Lane, and so short of Perry White, that at least one of the Daily Planet's big three is “Metropolis-born” is close enough, even if he comes from privilege.

Related, another way this book defies expectations is that, if I’m scanning the coming solicitations right, it seems like events at the end of this book will follow over to the Superman books — Jimmy Olsen becoming publisher of the Daily Planet, that is. Again, I guess going into this book I expected something more like Heath Corson and Gustavo Duarte’s DC You Bizarro, which saw the backward title character and Jimmy Olsen on a cross-country romp but was largely a-continuity, whereas it seems this is not (though, no sense trying to figure out where Lex Luthor fits vis a vis “Year of the Villain,” and I rather wish there’d been an acknowledgment of the events of Superman Vol. 3: The Truth Revealed and there is not).

As for the story itself, Fraction and artist Steve Lieber wrap a take-off on a hard-boiled detective novel within a series of comics parodies and sight gags. The Tyrannosaurus in a top hat who appears in the background is an unexplained oddity unless one caught, amidst this book’s copious amount of text, that Metropolis has “a dinosaur for a mayor” — a visual pun that none of the characters seem concerned with. Ditto that the Red Lantern Dex-Starr is here for reasons never fully explained except that a cat who randomly vomits molten blood over everything is funny. There’s a cop on the case, Jim Corrigan (but not that one, and not the other one either), a super-villain that knows too much, a variety of double-crosses, and Jimmy Olsen in a bunch of disguises.

Fraction and Lieber also have some fun with a tightly-wound Batman, who gets his own vignettes such to sometimes threaten to steal the book from Jimmy entirely. Among highlights, it apparently bothers Batman greatly to be accused of not being funny and he tries hard to prove otherwise; also there’s a reoccurring bit where Jimmy’s prankster alter-ego Timmy Olsen sends increasing numbers of clowns into a public area to see how long until he can raise Batman’s suspicions. Lieber is far from just a humor-comics artist and has even drawn Batman a time or two, and his straight approach throughout enhances the humor. Be it invading aliens, the “Reign of the Subparmen,” or Jimmy sneaking in to a (public school) casino (night), the look of the book is never absurd even as the goings on are.

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Having now read Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen: Who Killed Jimmy Olsen?, I’m curious to re-read a couple of additional scenes that Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber contributed to the Superman books in the interim. I think these were in the Superman: Heroes and Superman: Villains specials as part of Superman Vol. 3 and not anywhere else, nor do I think they were particularly consequential, but it’s nice to be “in the know” now, and maybe these should have been epilogues to this book. (I’ll likely be doing the same thing after the trade of Greg Rucka and Mike Perkins' Lois Lane drops.) Anyway, seems like this book was a one-off by Fraction and Lieber, I don’t expect we’ll get a sequel — though I’d surely read it — but I’m glad at least that the story continues on into the Super-titles.

[Includes original and variant covers]


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