Thursday, October 3, 2019


Downsizing my Vast Accumulation of Stuff often means parting with comics that have meant a great deal to me. Such is the case with my collection of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen.

Jimmy Olsen is one of my favorite comics characters, both the goofy Silver Age version who was, nonetheless, brave, clever and loyal and the Jack Kirby take on the character who was all those things but also feisty and two-fisted. Later versions of Jimmy Olsen have sometimes pleased me as well.

I’m selling my Jimmy Olsen collection at my garage sales. But, as I was bagging, boarding and pricing those issues, I held back a few so I could write about them in the bloggy. Welcome to the first installment of that series.

Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #57 [December, 1961] was published long before I got into the comics industry, but it has special meaning for me because of my comics career. The cover was penciled by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye. I still get a kick out of that smile on Supergirl’s face as she flies in to rescue her intended.

“Jimmy Olsen Marries Supergirl!” was written by Jerry Siegel, the co-creator of Superman, penciled by Swan and inked by Kaye. In this classic “imaginary” story, Supergirl is exposed to red kryptonite. She loses her powers and her memories of being Supergirl, but I am getting ahead of myself.

At the time this story was published, Supergirl has been adopted, but her existence had not yet been revealed to the world. She and Jimmy meet at the orphanage where she lived as Linda Lee after her arrival on Earth. Attracted to the sweet pretty girl, Jimmy gives her one of his Superman souvenirs. Yep, it’s the Red K. He thinks it’s harmless because it can’t affect Superman a second time. Jim doesn’t know there’s another Kryptonian on Earth.

Linda is attracted to Jimmy as well. They go out on a date and he proposes to her. She accepts. When Jimmy introduces his bride-to-be to Superman, the Man of Steel figures out what has happened. When he sees how happy Linda and Jimmy are, he decides not to interfere in their wedding. Outside of financial issues - that tightwad Perry White won’t give Jimmy a raise - the young couple’s marriage gets off to a great start.

Then the effects of the Red K wear off. Linda/Supergirl remains in love with Jimmy, but is unsure where they go from here. When Linda secretly prevents an airliner from crashing, Jimmy gets the scoop and earns a raise.

Linda decides to introduce her husband to Supergirl, then get him to fall in love with her super identity. Yes, her genius plan is to make Jimmy fall in love with Supergirl. Even though he’s married to her civilian identity. I’ll let you count all the ways this plan is wrong and all the ways it can end in tears.

Jimmy does fall in love with Supergirl, but he is loyal to Linda. Back at their home, Linda is crushed at her failure to make Jimmy cheat on her. Jimmy confesses he’s met another girl. He says that he loves Linda, but, when he’s with the other girl, he can’t help thinking about what a swell wife she would be. Jimmy feels like a skunk for feeling that way.

A deliriously happy Linda strips down to her Supergirl costume in front of Jimmy. He faints. One panel later - the last panel of the story - he’s conscious and over the moon thrilled that his wife is a Supergirl. Honestly, as twisted as this is, it’s more of a happy ending than poor Jimmy usually got in the 1960s.

Here’s where my personal connection comes in...

The summer of 1976. I’d been hired by DC Comics as a full editor. I was looking forward to perhaps liberating some talented artists and writers from Marvel Comics. I was looking forward to creating new titles which I’d launch and turn over to other writers. I was looking forward to working with DC’s talent. I went to Cleveland to close out my apartment. When I returned to New York to start my new job, it all went to shit.

Other than DC’s habitual inability to keep its agreements with me - and don’t take that as a knock on today’s DC which has, at least, honored the letter of its agreements with me - I don’t know exactly what happened. When I returned to the DC offices, I was informed I wouldn’t be a “full” editor but a “story” editor. Indeed, I would not be allowed to speak with the artists drawing the comics in my charge. I would have to give the scripts to new art director Vince Colletta and he would give them to the artists. If I had notes for the artists, I would have to give them to Colletta who might pass them along to the artists.

Comics being the sweet mixture of writing and art, I found this to be an absurd situation. I had learned how to work with artists from the likes of Stan Lee and Roy Thomas. I knew how to motivate weaker artists into exceeding their usual skill levels. I’d done the whole job of being an editor. It made no sense to me.

Colletta couldn’t have cared less about the quality of the comics. To him, as near as I could tell, the art director’s gig was just a dodge. He’d assign himself as much inking as he and his assistants could handle and knock it out as quickly as he could. Behind the closed door of his office - we lesser beings were told our office doors must always be open - he was doing his freelance. Everyone at DC knew this. No one ever called him on it.

If my demotion and the wall set in place between me and the artists drawing my titles weren’t demeaning enough, a middle management guy treated me like I was an assistant editor. He would interrupt my meetings with my writers - I was allowed to talk to them - and command me to drop everything to proofread letters columns or write cover copy on titles other than my own. I didn’t mind pitching in. I’d done that at Marvel. But it rankled me that he was treating me and my writers so disrespectfully. My writers came to my office to work out plots and go home with an assignment. Instead, they would have to wait until I finished whatever task I’d been given by the middle management guy.
That’s how I became involved with “Jimmy Olsen Marries Supergirl!” or, more accurately, its reprint publication in The Superman Family #181 [January 1977]. That was the last issue of the title before it switched to the new “Dollar Comics” format. The editor of record was Murray Boltinoff. While it’s possible Murray might have asked me to help out on this issue - we were friends - it’s more likely the middle management guy barged into my office and ordered me to pick some reprints and write the cover copy for the already-drawn cover.

Writing the cover copy was quick work. Looking back, it’s not the most inspired cover copy, but it did fit in with what was usual for the company. Picking the reprints was even easier.

I’d always liked “Jimmy Olsen Marries Supergirl!” Using that story meant I’d only have to come up with one reprint. Especially since I quickly confirmed it would fit the allotted page count. But I had another reason for wanting to run it.

I had been assigned to write the Supergirl and Jimmy Olsen stories for Superman Family. I think my stories were scheduled to start in the second or third issue of the revamped title. I’ve a good memory for most things involving my DC Comics career, but I was so unhappy during my time on staff that I’ve pushed some of it out of my head.

Inspired by the reprint, I pitched incoming editor Denny O’Neil on Supergirl and Jimmy becoming romantically involved. I don’t recall the details, but there would’ve been a situation where Jimmy would work with a powerless Supergirl to stop a villain. Jimmy would be impressed by Supergirl’s courage even without her powers. Supergirl would see why her cousin Superman considered Jimmy his best friend. The Superman/Jimmy relationship would change as Olsen’s romantic relationship with Kara developed.

Supergirl and Jimmy would try to keep their romance secret. Which given that Lois Lane and Clark Kent are two of the world’s greatest reporters clearly wasn’t going to happen.

No one was happy about the Supergirl/Jimmy pairing. Superman felt Supergirl was putting Jimmy and her secret identity at risk. Lois was pissed because her sister Lucy had wanted to get back together with Jimmy. Perry White was pissed because reporters should report the news and not make it.

Things got worse when the world learned of Supergirl and Jimmy were in a relationship. I hadn’t decided how that would happen. Maybe it would be the work of a villain. Maybe Superman tried to “teach them a lesson” and things went awry. Maybe a jealous Lucy dropped a dime on the couple. In any case, once word got out, Perry fired Jimmy’s ass...and Jimmy’s life got a whole lot more dangerous. Even so, the young lovers would stand by one another and try to build some sort of life together.

That’s about as far as I got in writing whatever pitch I pitched to Denny. There was some hesitation about taking these characters in such a radical direction. I probably mumbled something about this being the “illusion of change” and that we could break them up at some point in the future.

“Illusion of change” was the furthest thing from my mind. My plan was to write the bejabbers out of this relationship to the extent the fans would demand it continue and grow. I wanted Supergirl and Jimmy to get married...and I loved the idea of Supergirl and Jimmy being estranged from the Superman family.

I ended up not writing either Supergirl or Jimmy Olsen. I wasn’t in a good place during my not-brief-enough-time as a DC Comics “story editor.” I was disrespected and angry about being disrespected. It messed with my head to the point where I found it difficult to do any comics writing.

Joe Orlando was in my corner. Some of the editors were also there. It wasn’t enough for me to overcome my anger and, yes, my shame at having let DC Comics screw me over on multiple fronts. I quit the DC staff job and stayed in New York for a month or so afterwards. Then I moved back to Cleveland and an extremely uncertain future.

Someday I’ll write about my return to Cleveland. Working in comics for nearly half a century means I have a lot of untold stories just waiting to be told. Stick with me and, hopefully, I’ll get around to tell you most of them.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.  

© 2017 Tony Isabella

1 comment:

  1. That was the only issue of Superman Family I bought (I was a regular reader of Batman Family, but mostly I was only reading Marvel at the time, with an occasional DC issue here and there). That Supergirl/Jimmy story has always stuck in my mind (I don't even remember the cover story). It's too bad you didn't get to write those stories- I could see that pulling me into the series. Then again, I guess it would have probably all been wiped out by Crisis on Infinite Earths several years later, anyway...