It was with much anticipation that I entered my local comic store this Thursday. Chief on my list of must-buy books was The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen. It's a collection of DC's solo Jimmy Olsen stories from the 1950s and 1960s, when goofy eight-page stories reigned supreme.
I had been waiting for this book since DC announced it last April. For weeks the oddball, nostalgic cover by the amazing Brian Bolland graced my monitor at work. Working in a corporate environment, I got many curious looks at the weirdo display of Jimmy Olsen's altered egos. I marked my calendar with "Jimmy Olsen" on July 5th, and waited. As DC's Countdown loomed closer and mini-posters reading "Jimmy Olsen Must Die" flooded my DC books, my anticipation grew more and more urgent.
I confess that I have sort of lost sight of the Superman books in recent years. Not that they were at all lacking in content and beautiful art. It's just that in the fight to preserve what's left of my bank account after my weekly comic book store visit, I often find myself prioritizing other books I follow more regularly over a new stab at old favorites.
Another confession; this loyalty to my regular books has sometimes proved my undoing, like with Allan Heinberg's brief run on Wonder Woman (go back to The OC! I don't care if it's cancelled!). So maybe it was a little out of character, this interest in a character I wasn't really following, who didn't have a book of his own.
And yet, here I was, eagerly awaiting this book of oddball stories that didn't really have much of an impact on the current DC continuity. Or did they? From the second issue of Countdown, Jimmy Olsen's story harkened back to these impossible tales from the Silver Age. (I won't tell you exactly how, that would be spoiling a great series.)
Time for one more confession. I have a serious soft spot for the concepts of Oddball and Nostalgia. Think of it this way. My idea of the perfect threeway is myself sandwiched between Oddball and Nostalgia, letting them have their way with me and then taking away all my money. Kind of like reverse prostitution. This nostalgia would explain hanging on to less-than-commendable reads of "loyalty books" waiting for that one good story.
The oddball fetish? Well, that's a different story. Oddball means I picked Madman just because the cover had surreal primary-color characters swirling around in Technicolor vomit. Never mind that I didn't even know who Madman was. Or actually liking Electric Blue Superman just because his skin was blue. Blue! Yeah, I know. Whore!
So July 5th finally arrived and I picked up my much-awaited book. I wasn't disappointed! From the first story, "The Super-Brain of Jimmy Olsen," I gulped down story after story until my brain had gone so soft that I just couldn't read the final tale, "Menace of the Micro-Monster." That I saved for Friday morning.
Several themes recurred during my reading. Jimmy often did more harm than good during his misadventures, and the editors at DC beat the reader vigorously about the face and head with this theme so consistently that you might think the current Countdown editors are spreading this "Jimmy Olsen Must Die" garbage just so that the character can finally be taken seriously. Maybe Superman really gave Jimmy that signal watch because he knew exactly how dumb Jimmy was.
Transformations also reminded me of the inescapable fact that Jimmy will forget that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person at least twice as many as the number of times he discovers this supervillain motherlode. Although this occurs only twice in this book, I was reminded of the many times during my childhood how much of an idiot Jimmy was not to remember this oh-so-important fact regarding his "best pal".
OK. Back to Oddball. And some pressing questions. Like, "Why does the giant Turtle Man Jimmy have huge eyeballs with tiny pupils and no corneas?" Turtles don't look like that, at least not any of the many turtles I've seen at the zoo or in National Geographic. Or, for that matter, "Why doesn't Turtle Man Jimmy have a shell?" Honestly, folks, that one's just a no-brainer.
Then there's, "Why was Human Porcupine Jimmy's circus sideshow freak outfit a green banana hammock?" Not that it wasn't rather fetching. Jimmy did look like he had been working out. Then again, so did anyone that Curt Swan ever drew. I just thought they were a little more modest back then. I mean, it's bad enough putting your junk out there front-and-center, but risking nudity while ejecting a porcupine quill just seems, well, excessive.
There's "Why was Human Skyscraper Jimmy so stupid?" I mean, he just got hit in the head by a rock. Since when does a tap on the head make people stupid? Why must we be subjected to lines like "Me play choo-choo train!" and "Yum! Me hungry!"? It's almost as if any comic character over eight feet tall is required to attend the "Incredible Hulk School of Lower Learning". Maybe it's just method acting.
If the "Human Octopus" Jimmy had surfaced in the nineties, the writers could not have resisted throwing out a joke or two about what every man would really do if he had six hands. I know what I'd do.
How about "Why does Fat Boy of Metropolis Jimmy clean out an entire pool with just one cannonball?" Even at five hundred pounds the most he's going to produce is a good splash. Maybe wet the first five or so feet of deck immediately adjacent to the pool edge.
More importantly, there's "Why does Fat Boy Jimmy woo the circus fat lady?" Just because he's fat? Shoot! I've gained a few extra pounds in my thirties and forties. That doesn't mean I'm going to turn around and go trolling for fatties. Ugh!
If all of this is beginning to sound a bit silly, that's because it is. Gloriously silly. And it's not all that way. In one story Jimmy is given honorary membership to the Legion of Superheroes.
In another, longer-haired 1970s Nightwing Jimmy actually sacrifices his own life to save the citizens of the bottled city of Kandor. Even "Jimmy Olsen, Freak" contains a solid message regarding sexual politics and the double standard, albeit turned on its head. Maybe it's this Jimmy that DC's current leadership wants to bring back. Hopefully it won't be just in time for them to kill him off.
This book is so much unadulterated fun that you don't care if it's silly. In fact, you kinda like silly once it's done.