Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Steve Lieber and Nathan Fairbairn
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by DC
What do you get when you throw the writer of Hawkeye and the artist of Superior Foes of Spider-Man at one of the most madcap characters in the Superman mythos? You get Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #1, a solid if unbalanced debut featuring Metropolis’s biggest hard-luck/good-luck hero. Like Jimmy’s great-great-grand-whatever, you can tell from this creative team’s pedigree that there’s storytelling gold to be found in them thar hills, but the jerky pacing of this first issue means writer Matt Fraction and artist Steve Lieber haven’t quite struck the motherlode just yet.
Some of this is due to Fraction playing a longer game than you might expect – Jimmy Olsen isn’t just a character with a wild Silver Age history, but he’s a character with unexpected ties across the DC Universe, and one whose name has unexpected meaning with the rise of Metropolis itself. That said – and it’s probably not exactly fair to compare this to an eight-year-old limited series – Fraction doesn’t quite give Jimmy the instant warmth and sense of engagement that Nick Spencer did in his own Jimmy Olsen series back in 2010.
Instead, the writer opens the book in almost a narrative neutral, before suddenly gunning the engine for a much-needed dose of wild action, introducing one of Jimmy’s most iconic alter egos. But that burst of narrative momentum is short-lived, as Fraction then downshifts to a change in Jimmy’s status quo – it’s funny, and it sets all of Fraction’s pieces in the right direction, but as a standalone chapter, it also feels a little too cute and a little too drawn-out. Even with Jimmy’s insane lifestyle, the stakes feel low, and the jokes aren’t quite landing as fast and furious as Fraction’s previous chapter in the Leviathan special – but at the same time, one could absolutely make the argument that if you read this issue in conjunction with others, all the pieces will likely fit together much more smoothly.
To his credit, however, artist Steve Lieber is definitely swinging for the fences in this issue, although I’d also add that he has to work within the constraints of the script structure he’s been given. While the energy for the opening flashback feels a little lackluster, Lieber is at his best when he’s able to juggle his well-established comedy chops with the spectacle of the DC Universe, with his surprisingly action-packed take on the Turtle Boy being the absolute highlight of this issue. (Well, besides a dramatic double-page spread of another iconic DC locale, given a magnificently malevolent green hue by colorist Nathan Fairbairn.)
Surprisingly, I feel like Lieber’s most expressive moments are with the supporting cast – I’d read a whole issue of his slightly (malfunctioning) robotic Clark Kent, stuck in mid-wink at the audience, if I’m being honest – while his Jimmy still feels a little like a work-in-progress, with his Tin Tin-by-way-of-Bart Simpson spiky hair. It’s not a dealbreaker by any means, but Jimmy as a character has always had one foot in the Silver Age, and one foot in whatever current trends can work to make him fit as a young person in the modern age, so I’m confident that as Lieber continues to feel out the character, his Jimmy will likely become one for the ages – but to make that unfair comparison once more, it’s not as effortlessly charming or likable as R.B. Silva’s Jimmy Olsen storyline in 2010.
This is not to say that I think Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen is a failure by any means – but I might argue that as a standalone first issue, readers may wish to adjust their expectations accordingly. This isn’t the first issue of Hawkeye, nor is it the first issue of Superior Foes of Spider-Man – the aims of this book aren’t nearly as lofty, and the end results are a bit more down-to-earth than you might expect from Superman’s most over-the-top sidekick. That said, even this baseline has plenty of solid moments, and there’s never any moments that stop Jimmy’s adventures in their tracks – one has the sense that this series can only go up from here, and given where Jimmy Olsen is starting, that bodes well for future installments of this comic book to come.