Superman: The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen


By Otto Binder, Alvin Schwartz, Robert Bernstein, Jerry Siegel, Leo Dorfman, E. Nelson Bridwell, Cary Bates, Curt Swan, John Forte, Pete Costanza, Kurt Schaffenberger, Ray Burnley, Creig Flessel, Stan Kaye, George Klein & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1369-5

Over eight decades, Superman has provided excitement, imagination and fun in more or less equal amounts. This compilation relies heavily on the last two categories and offers the kind of reading experience we just don’t get enough of these days…

Although unnamed, a red-headed, be-freckled plucky kid worked alongside Clark Kent and Lois Lane from Action Comics #6 (November 1938). He was called by his first name from Superman #13 (November-December 1941) onwards. That lad was Jimmy Olsen and he was a major player in The Adventures of Superman radio show from its debut on April 15th 1940; somebody for the hero to explain stuff to for the listener’s benefit and the closest thing to a sidekick the Man of Tomorrow ever needed…

When the similarly titled television show launched in the autumn of 1952 it became a monolithic hit and National Periodicals began cautiously expanding their valuable and precious franchise with new characters and titles. First up were the gloriously charming, light-hearted escapades of a rash, capable but naïve photographer and “cub reporter” from the Daily Planet: titular star of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, which launched in 1954 with a September-October cover date.

The comic was popular for more than two decades, blending action, adventure, broad, wacky comedy, fantasy and science fiction in the gentle manner scripter Otto Binder had perfected a decade previously at Fawcett Comics on the magnificent Captain Marvel. As the feature progressed, one of the most popular plot-themes (and most fondly remembered and referenced today by most Baby-Boomer fans) was the unlucky lad’s appalling talent for being warped, mutated and physically manipulated by fate, aliens and even his friends…

The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen delightfully collects some of the very best and most iconic tales from the series; all of which originally appeared in issues #22, 28, 31-33, 41-42, 44, 49, 53, 59, 65, 72, 77, 80, 85 and 105 of the comicbook, plus the lead story from giant-size anthology Superman Family #173, into which SPJO evolved.

The spellbinding wonderment begins with a selection of beautifully reconfigured covers (from issues 22, 44, 59 and 105) which act as contents and credit pages after which the story segments open with ‘The Super-Brain of Jimmy Olsen’ by Binder, Curt Swan & Ray Burnley, wherein resident crackpot genius Professor Phineas Potter evolves the boy into a man from 1,000,000AD. The apparently benevolent being seems to have a hidden agenda, however, and is able to bend Superman to his towering will…

The same creative team produced ‘The Human Skyscraper’ with another Potter production enlarging Jimmy to monumental size, whilst in ‘The E-L-A-S-T-I-C Lad’ Superman is ultimately responsible for the reporter gaining stretching powers after leaving a chest of alien artefacts with the nosy, accident-prone kid.

‘The Jimmy Olsen from Jupiter’ by Alvin Schwartz, Swan & Burnley sees aliens mutate him into one of their scaly selves, complete with mind reading powers, whilst Binder’s ‘The Human Flame-Thrower!’ reveals how Potter’s latest experiment causes the worst case of high-octane halitosis in history, after which Robert Bernstein, Swan & John Forte display the lad’s negligent idiocy when Jimmy eats alien fruit and becomes ‘The Human Octopus!’

Creig Flessel inked the hilariously ingenious ‘Jimmy the Genie!’ in which boy and magical sprite exchange roles after which ‘The Wolf-Man of Metropolis!’, by Binder, Swan, Stan Kaye, blended horror, mystery and heart-warming charm in a mini-classic of the genre.

Professor Potter is blamed for, but entirely innocent of, turning Jimmy into ‘The Fat Boy of Metropolis!’ – a daft but clever crime caper from Swan & Forte – whilst sheer mischance results in the now-legendary saga of ‘The Giant Turtle Man!’ and his oddly casualty-free rampage (courtesy of scripter Jerry Siegel) before Leo Dorfman, Swan & George Klein collaborated to produce the sparkling tale of alien love gone amiss, which resulted in our boy temporarily becoming ‘Jimmy Olsen, Freak!’

When Jimmy spurns the amorous attentions of supernatural Fifth Dimensional hottie Miss Gzptlsnz, she quite understandably turns him into ‘The Human Porcupine’ by Siegel, Swan & Klein, who also crafted the intriguing enigma of ‘The World of Doomed Olsens!’ wherein Jimmy is aggressively confronted by materialisations of his most memorable metamorphoses…

‘The Colossus of Metropolis!’ sees Jimmy deliberately and daringly grow into a giant to tackle rampaging Super-Ape Titano, whilst Siegel, Forte & Klein’s ‘Jimmy Olsen, the Bizarro Boy!’ is a merry comedy of errors with Potter’s cure for the backwards-living artificial beings going painfully awry, resulting in the poor lad being ‘Exiled on the Bizarro World!’

The immensely popular Legion of Super-Heroes guest-star in many of these tales and play a pivotal part in ‘The Adventures of Chameleon-Head Olsen!’, a madcap mirth spree as only Siegel, Forte & Klein could make ‘em, whilst the far more menacing tale of ‘The World of 1,000 Olsens!’ (by Binder, E. Nelson Bridwell & Pete Costanza) was a product of changing times and darker tastes; with an actual arch-enemy trapping Jimmy on a murderous planet where everybody looks like but hates the cub reporter…

This fabulously strange brew concludes with a smart thriller set in the Bottled City of Kandor where Jimmy resumes his occasional costumed-hero identity of Flamebird beside Superman (AKA Nightwing) to save the last Kryptonians from the ‘Menace of the Micro-Monster!’ …a sharp terrorism-tinged shocker by Cary Bates & Kurt Schaffenberger which satisfyingly closes this magically engaging tome.

As well as relating some of the most delightful episodes of the pre-angst-drenched, cosmically catastrophic DC, these stories also perfectly depict the changing mores and tastes which reshaped comics from the safe 1950s to the seditious, rebellious 1970s, all the while keeping to the prime directive of the industry – “keep them entertained and keep them wanting more”.

I know I certainly do…
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