Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #3 Review


Written by: Matt Fraction
Art by: Steve Lieber
Colors by: Nathan Fairbairn
Letters by: Clayton Cowles
Price: $3.99
Release Date: September 18, 2019

Jimmy's dead and hiding out in Gotham City; back in the past his ancestor Joachim is about to have his revenge on the man who tried to kill him. Lex Luthor is opening boxes, Lois Lane is knocking on doors, and Superman hears all. That's right, it's another ring-ding, knockabout slice of what-the-hell's-going-on-here comic book self-indulgence! Roll up and dive in!

Not for the first time this week, I find myself asking an impertinent but nevertheless important question: Why does this book exist? The short answer is… I just don't know. The longer answer is that, clearly, someone thought that inviting one of the best writers in comics to write a jokey, fragmentary, snail-paced story bearing the title of the comic book whose main claim to fame was being the launching pad for Jack Kirby's Fourth World saga was a good idea. And, to be honest, that 'someone' may yet turn out to be entirely justified in their decision. Matt Fraction has some proper writing chops and a mostly impeccable sense of comic timing. Throw in some genuinely, beautifully exquisite comic book art from Steve Lieber, and you do have a quality comic on your hands. It's just that, as a monthly reading experience, it’s too scattergun, too frenetic, and too 'jolly' to be wholly enjoyable – at least for me.

This issue is a case in point. We start with the customary two-page Joachim Olsson opener, in which our shaggy-haired ginger bear of a main character looks like he's about to inflict some old-style frontier justice on his would-be murderer only to tar and feather him and kick him out of town instead. (I'm guessing that Luthais Alexander undergoes a name change at some point in the future.) There's a nice tie-in to the next section (which sees modern-day Lex open a time capsule that was buried near the 'Luthor Lion') in the form of an eyeglass and the phrase 'look ahead'. What this all means is a mystery, of course, which, given the fragmented nature of the narrative and the slow pace of the story, may not be solved for some time.

The next section harks back to Jimmy's turtle transformation of the first issue and explains how the Metamorpho DNA with which he was meant to be injected got swapped for the turtle DNA. Okay.

Then we get a section in which Ed Lynch, a 'landlord lawyer', gets killed by the amusingly-named 'Porcadillo', followed by a section in which a miniaturized Jimmy joins a scientist on his quest to harness the power of black holes, barely survives and is, in the following section, bequeathed a cloned version of himself which is designed to be an 'assassination decoy'. Handy. The decoy sees some use pretty much straight away, too. Handier.

The remaining two sections deal with Jimmy's burial of the decoy and a conversation with Lois Lane to whom he reveals that he's worked out the identity of the person who wants him dead. Great. It's to the credit of the creative team that this revelation is nowhere near as flat as it should be. Partly that's down to the look of shock on Lois' face; partly it's down to Fraction's dialogue.

And let me say this: Despite the big reservations I have with this book, it is indisputably well-written. Some of the gags are very well played and, despite the light touch, there are some genuinely affecting moments. If the jokey, self-conscious narration grates at times (and the one that introduces the Lex section is just horrible), the overall plotting and scripting of each section are really very impressive. Without Lieber, though, this book would not work anywhere near as well as it does. His facial expressions are clear, varied and subtle; his panel progression reveals him to be an excellent visual story-teller. (The final page of the 'Mysterious Villains Will Kill My Entire Family' section is just perfect.)

That said, this is a book which, on a conceptual level, I really struggle with. The approach to the story-telling is splintered and almost atomized, with mostly tenuous links between the different sections. It is not entirely clear how Ed Lynch, for example, ties in with the rest of the story this issue, and Joachim remains a peripheral figure in terms of the plot, although it's clear that, at some point, his significance will be made clearer.

But, that's the problem. Having split his story into a multitude of narrative fragments, Fraction is bringing them back together very slowly. In trade, I suspect this would read perfectly well, but on a monthly schedule, it's less impressive and the sense that the reader needs something more substantial to get his teeth into never really goes away.

Bits and Pieces:

Another month, another fragmented – but enjoyable – installment of Jimmy Olsen's story. Lieber's art continues to be charming, powerful and clear; Fraction's script, despite some excesses, continues to impress with its wit and cleverness. In trade, this will doubtless be wonderful stuff; in a monthly book, it feels bitty, superficial and far too pleased with itself.


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