MARTHA THOMASES: That’s What Friends Are For
Over the weekend, I read the entire trade paperback collection of The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen. I had anticipated a rollicking journey through my childhood, since I’d read most of these stories as a kid.
Alas! It was not to be.
The stories are fun, don’t get me wrong. Jimmy Olsen, the Everyboy of the DC Universe, is transformed from a working guy into a futuristic genius, a fat man, a werewolf, a porcupine, a turtle boy, a giant, a Bizarro and more. He travels to the future with the Legion of Super-Heroes, and he’s courted by two separate beauties from other worlds. As a kid, even a girl-type kid, I identified with Jimmy, and wanted to be Superman’s Pal.
Now, reading these stories as an adult, I still find them funny, but also oddly bleak. Jimmy Olsen is a lonely, lonely man. Superman may be his pal, but their interaction in these stories seems limited to story set-ups. Superman brings Jimmy a collection of stuff he found in outer space, leaves it for the young reporter to write about, and mayhem ensues. Sometimes Superman saves him, sometimes the bad stuff wears off, and sometimes Jimmy is sharp enough to save himself. In every case, he’s terrified that he won’t fit in, and his friends will shun him.
Professionally, Jimmy is on thin ice. He gets fired time after time, and often is forced to go and join a carnival freak show to earn a living. For some reason, there is always a freak show conveniently in town, with a side-show slot for him. Maybe things were different when these stories were written, but I thought most newspapers required at least a high school diploma to get a job. Doesn’t Jimmy have any other marketable skills? Why doesn’t he consider a related career, maybe in advertising or public relations, where his writing ability and photography skills would earn a more reliable income?
His love for Lucy Lane is just as messed up. He loves her, but other men compete for her affections. How do they do this? They bring her extravagant, expensive gifts. What is there about his interactions with Lucy that makes Jimmy think this is a relationship worth committing his life? In the story “Jimmy Olsen, Freak” these men are lined up outside her apartment, waiting their turn to present their offerings. It looks like a whorehouse. Where is her co-op board?
When I read these stories, I didn’t think it was odd that Jimmy and Superman considered themselves to be best pals. And yet, I had friends. I was in elementary school, and my friendships didn’t involve drinking but rather playing with Barbies, riding bikes and hopscotch (yes, it was Ohio, and it was the early 1960s, so it was remarkably wholesome. Sue me.). We might not talk about relationships and the meaning of life, but we did talk about television, and who was snobby in our Girl Scout troop, and what teachers were really mean. We walked to school together, passed notes in class, and talked on the phone at night. We communicated with each other. We shared experiences. We made each other laugh.
In my world, a pal would be someone who helped me to deal with these aspects of my life. My friends are there when I need them, to talk over a drink, or a cup of coffee, or a walk in the park. I realize that, as manly men, Jimmy and Superman wouldn’t do anything so girly, but men hang in sports bars, at sporting events. They go fishing, or bowling, or golfing. Superman may not be able to do these things with Jimmy in costume in Metropolis, but they could go off-world to kick back and hang.
In the Silver Age, Superman spends more time with and relates more honestly to Krypto than he does to Jimmy. And Jimmy has no one, at least not that we see in the stories, until he and Robin team-up. When are we going to see The Adventures of Nightwing’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen?
Martha Thomases is media queen of ComicMix, and has yet to turn into a giant turtle-girl. But she tries.
Artwork copyright DC Comics. All RIghts Reserved.