Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #1 Review and Spoilers

What a Pal!

Written by: Matt Fraction

Art by: Steve Lieber
Colors by: Nathan Fairbairn
Letters by: Clayton Cowles
Price: $3.99
Release Date: July 17, 2019

So, Matt Fraction's at DC (courtesy of Brian Michael Bendis?) and he's chosen to write… a Jimmy Olsen book. To be fair, I'd read his take on any character shy of G'nort, but I've got to be honest. Jimmy Olsen has never really floated my boat and any book featuring him (much less a 12 issue maxi-series) isn't even on my list of 'DC books I'd quite like to see'. (Don't tell Jim, but a Metal Men book – even one written by Dan Didio – actually is…) But, this is Matt (Sex Criminals, Hawkeye, Ody-C) Fraction, so it's got to be worth a look, right? Let's find out…

This first issue opens with a short two-page story about how one of Jimmy's ancestors got killed over a land dispute and features some chirpy, tongue-in-cheek narration and a title that makes a dreadful pun on the word 'fall'. Its monochromatic art and short length would make it a somewhat unimpressive opening to the book were it not for Fraction's skills as a storyteller. Although he speaks in broken English and actually says very little, Joachim Olsson's bravery, stubbornness, and belief in 'right' make him an immediately sympathetic character. These are qualities we shall see again in varying quantities later.

The next section of story opens with a conversation between Julian Olsen and Lex Luthor in which the former gives a potted history of the Olsson/Olsen family's role in establishing and developing Metropolis and it is pointed out that, by contrast, the Luthor family are johnny-come-lately nouveau riche upstarts. Well, of course, they are. Luthor has the last word, however, by referencing Jimmy who has had something to do with the 'Luthor Lion', a monument that is in the process of being restored by the city, courtesy of some fundraising by Julian.  If all of this sounds like a lot to take in, it is, but when the story shifts to Jimmy preparing himself for a parachute-less fall through the Earth's atmosphere from low orbit, the fun really starts.

Jimmy, it seems, is, as well as being a Daily Planet reporter, something of an internet celebrity and is more than happy to fulfill his fans' requests to do potentially suicidal things. Presumably, when his mother asked him that old chestnut of a rhetorical question "If x told you to jump off a cliff, would you do it?", Jimmy was the kid who (a) didn't realize it was a rhetorical question and (b) said, "Yes" in reply. What follows is ridiculous and necessitates the involvement of Superman but – and here's the thing – for all its silliness, Fraction makes it work. Olsen is a daredevil, slightly klutzy guy who happens to be a friend of the most powerful man on the planet. He's got a super-powered safety net and he knows it. (Although what he does when Supes is stuck in the Phantom Zone or dealing with a multiversal crisis on Earth-39 is anyone's guess.) He's not obnoxious or annoying about it, though. He's having fun and Fraction makes sure the reader gets to share in it.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the penultimate section which features an irate Perry White complaining to Jimmy about how much he costs the Planet in terms of extra insurance premiums. White is on the verge of firing him when he's informed that, because Jimmy has embraced 21st-century technology and ventured into live-streaming his content, he's the only one of the Planet's reporters actually making money for the company. The resulting about-face is amusing enough, but it's the six-panel page featuring Jimmy's ever-increasingly weird adventures that had me laughing out loud. Lieber's art is excellent throughout, and he conveys comedy with consummate skill.  (The panel with Jimmy running away from the flying truck is just perfect.) Whatever else you might feel about it, this is a genuinely funny book.

That's not to say it's without its problems. The last section sees Jimmy suddenly relocating to a dingy apartment in Gotham City and indulging in the kind of witty, but slightly long-winded conversation with his landlord that was popularised by Brian Michael Bendis about fifteen years ago and, for that matter, Fraction himself in his Hawkeye run. Is it a deal-breaker? No, not really, but the realization that the main storyline has only got going just as this first issue ends may annoy some readers. Witty banter has its place, but if it's not complemented by a sense of forwarding momentum, the result can be the kind of self-indulgence with which this issue certainly flirts.

That said, Fraction is a heck of a writer and it's good to have him on a DC property. In this first issue, he and Steve Lieber have crafted an entertaining series opener that, having delivered some laughs (I actually laughed out loud twice – I have witnesses and everything), left me intrigued enough to confirm that I'm in for the foreseeable. Nice job, everyone.

Bits and Pieces:

I'm still not sure why Matt Fraction wants to write about Jimmy Olsen, but, as this issue is entertaining, intriguing and genuinely funny, I'm not going to let that bother me too much. Lieber's art adds considerably to the humor and, at times, the tension in these pages; he and Fraction deliver an impressive slice of fast-paced, almost 'madcap', comic book storytelling. On the whole, despite an oddly downbeat start, this works for me.


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