After leaving Marvel Comics, Kirby’s first gig at National Comics (later to become DC) was on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen. To non-comics readers, this would be like if Steve Wozniak had quit Apple Computers to design electronic gizmos to put in McDonald’s Happy Meals. Even by the standards of a genre where men wear their underpants on the outside of their clothes, Jimmy Olsen was juvenile. But all of the bigger titles had established writers and artists, and Kirby didn’t want to kick anyone out of a paying gig. So Jimmy Olsen is where he ended up.
Enough talk! Time for action!
Jimmy Olsen meets his colleagues for a new assignment to the mysterious Wild Area, and checks out their fabulous vehicle.
The Newsboy Legion is a poverty-stricken, scrappy-as-hell kids’ gang consisting of four irritating white kids, plus Flipper-Dipper, a black kid with such an unquenchable obsession with scuba-diving that he apparently walks around the streets of Suicide Slum in full diving gear including an oxygen tank at all times.
Flipper-Dipper is awesome. You can just picture Kirby at the drawing board, chomping on a cigar, thinking, “Gee, I’ve got a blabbermouth kid, a nerdy kid, a handsome kid, a tough kid . . . what would round that out? Oh of course! That most beloved archetype in all of children’s literature, the scuba-diving kid!” And then one of his assistants says, “But boss, how are you gonna squeeze scuba-diving into the plot every month?” And Kirby shakes his fist and growls, “Bah! Just watch me!”
Meanwhile Clark Kent is bitching to his new boss, Morgan Edge, that the Wild Area assignment is too dangerous for Jimmy. Edge is pretty chill about possibly sending six children to their deaths . . . But he then puts a hit on Clark Kent to keep him from snooping around.I love that hiring a hit-man sounds like it’s easier than ordering a pizza. The Inter-Gang telephone receptionist must have a fun job. Anyway, the hit fails because Clark, of course, is Superman (spoilers!), and he decides to stop farting around with this job stuff and just go to the Wild Area himself. Meanwhile Jimmy and the Newsboy Legion go to the Wild Area in their flying car thingy . . .
Superman shows up in the Wild Area and is sarcastic as hell.The Outsiders defeat Superman with a kryptonite ray-gun–they apparently have access to crazy technology somehow–and Superman realizes that Jimmy is now hanging out with Elves from Dungeons & Dragons or something:Though Superman tries to persuade Jimmy that he’ll be killed if he sticks to his assignment, Jimmy Olsen ain’t no bitch. He was told to find the Mountain of Judgment, and that’s exactly what he’s gonna do. Shut up, old man!
In this single issue, we’ve got: a new writer, a new artist, a new team of sidekicks (to Superman’s sidekick), a super-car, a new villain mastermind, a new villain team (Inter-Gang), a “drop-out” society of hippies, and of course, the conversion of laughingstock man-child Jimmy Olsen into one of comics’s biggest bad asses who dominates practically everyone he meets. Meanwhile Superman comes across as a schoolmarmish killjoy at least partially motivated by professional jealousy.
While it’s customary to talk about how different this issue is from everything that’s proceeded it in Jimmy Olsen, which typically involves something goofy happening to Jimmy leading to a spat with Superman, there are some continuities too. First: Jimmy Olsen leading a futuristic motorcycle gang is probably the same order of wackiness as Jimmy becoming a member of the Beatles in Ancient Israel. Second: yep, conflict with Superman. It’s interesting that this isn’t smoothed out at the end of the issue; it’s clear these guys don’t really want to hurt each other, but Jimmy isn’t backing off the big assignment, even though he acknowledges it might kill him and his friends. Third: there’s a whole bit of business I omitted where Clark Kent has an answering machine with artificial intelligence, designed to give him an alibi–just the sort of goofy super-gizmo that is always saving Kent’s identity in any other issue.
Still, these continuities are transformed by the escalating tension in the book. Superman getting maced with kryptonite by some random biker dude under Jimmy’s orders isn’t even the climax of the story. Rather, it’s the irreconcilable disagreement over Jimmy’s mission, which even the Outsiders believe to be suicide.
At any rate, it is one hell of an opening.