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Ah, the days when a brutalized woman could be the source of mirth and merriment – Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #61

April 8, 2011

The Jimmy Olsen series is a rich trove of Silver Age weirdness. Remember that old Peanuts quote, “Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest”? Well, Jimmy’s adventures are the Silver Age-iest of that temporal lot. They also sometimes present a fascinating little glimpse in the the subconscious mores of the time, and this one, published in 1962, certainly delivers in that regard.

This issue has three stories in it, only one of which (the second) is really worth digging into. Still, a few words can be spared for the others. The first (“Jimmy Olsen, Coward!” by  Leo Dorfman, Curt Swan and George Klein) has Jimmy undergoing a “personality transplant” and becoming a simpering wuss, despite being given what amounts to a placebo:

I have to say, I find the “cowering pussy Olsen” more convincing than the “swarthy bare-chested pirate Olsen” seen on the front cover.

Perhaps the only thing of note in this story is how much this professor dude looks like a human Guardian of the Universe:

Now for the doozy, “Olsen the Roughneck!”:

Scripted by Robert Bernstein with art by John Forte, it opens with Jimmy and his gal, that frosty shrew that goes by the name Lucy Lane, taking in dinner and a show. The entertainment is something called an apache dance — I had no clue of what the hell an apache dance was, so don’t be ashamed to click that link back there to fill yourself in. It’s basically a charged dance that features some theatrical intersexual violence. Jimmy’s amazed by the fact that the woman in the dance is attracted to her slap-happy partner, and appears to take a cue from the performance when Lucy gives him the cold shoulder:

Add “I was swatting a spider and the table slipped” to the litany of abusive excuses, like “she fell while we were moving furniture” and “she slipped on the sidewalk.”

Things don’t get much better the next day when Jimmy, who’s just covered a visiting circus/carnival, has one of the attractions tail him to Lois’ place, where Lucy is enjoying a party with games like “Pin the Tail on the Krypto” — those Lane girls really know how to throw a shindig:

I’m betting you’ve already guessed where this is heading:

Okay. I’ll grant that a pissed-off, boxing-gloved kangaroo is funny. And while I realize “Smack!” is the running gag of this story, I think a timely “Ker-POW!” would really have sold these two panels.

Jimmy — of course — takes the blame for this punch, as no one saw the kangaroo and it escaped out a window before being noticed. Is that improbable? Yes. Yes it is. No one noticed THE HUGE SMELLY MARSUPIAL. But we’ll have to roll with it. And Lucy’s drawn out pummeling isn’t quite over yet, either.

Later, Jimmy’s showing some of his accumulated treasures at a meeting of the virgin-infested Jimmy Olsen Fan Club, and one of the gizmos has ominous implications:

Once again, I think we can see where this is going. Our collective foresight is proven correct in short order, when Jimmy’s a passenger on a plane that Lucy is stewardessing (Can I make that a verb? And am I still allowed to write stewardess?):

Later, back on the tarmac, there’s a Snakes on a Plane scenario when a poisonous serpent escapes from its cargo crate and scares the wits out of the battered Lucy. Jimmy this time has to deliberately give her a beating to shock her back into coherence and stop her shrieks, which are attracting Mr. Snake:

Superman shows up, and luckily for Lucy he doesn’t have the urge liquify her face with a super-punch. He deals with the snake, and all seems forgiven between our two young lovers:

“Oh, lover, thank you so much for your relentless beatings…”

Back to this in a second.

“Jimmy Olsen’s Wildest Adventure!” brings up the rear and is nothing spectacular, despite being the cover story. Here’s the gist of this Bill Finger/John Forte effort — some costumed, masked crooks are scheming to dupe poor gullible Jimmy:

And that’s about all you need to know about that.

Let’s return to that middle story. What the hell? You know? I mean, it’s kind of silly and funny, but then you take a step back and realize that it’s kind of not. Lucy’s band-aids and shiner by the end are sobering. I realize that at no point in the story is Lucy being maliciously pounded, but the comedic treatment of her repeated smacks is odd. No one even pulls Jimmy aside to give him the old “if you’re going to treat her this way you have to put a ring on her finger” rationale. Reading this in 2011 certainly arches an eyebrow. Then again, the success of Mad Men, with its glorious 1960s sexism and barely submerged undercurrent of misogyny, would seem to indicate that this sort of fictional ethos isn’t all that far from the mainstream even today. Still, for a comic book, especially one aimed at young people, this particluar plot strikes me as a rather astonishing treatment of woman-beating, even in those relatively Neanderthal times.

I know it seems that I’m getting all in a twist over this. I’m not. Honestly. This one’s cavalier, “light-hearted” take on such a harrowing topic just grabbed my attention, that’s all.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 9, 2011 5:29 pm

    Superman’s pose in the splash page bothers me. He’s got a smug, almost trying to be “hip” posture of that era. It’s like one of those stories were Superman’s body is taken over by someone else. Superman trying to be “cool”, is like watching your dad play Wii. Its not right and you see a lot of things you wish you could forget.

    • April 13, 2011 3:11 pm

      You’re on to something. It kind of reminds me of Reeve in Superman III when he was all dastardly and smug and was leering at Lana.

  2. Tom permalink
    April 28, 2012 12:26 pm

    Hi Jared, very much enjoy the site.
    I hope you don’t mind me popping in with a question this long after your post, but I didn’t want to threadjack another, more recent topic. Recently having rediscovered the joys of Jimmy Olsen (amongst some other silver age titles) I’ve had a lot of fun looking back on his exploits on the internet.
    I have been curious why bloggers like yourself or Brian Hughes over at AWTC limit the amount of pages/panels when you showcase a comic like this one. Are you restricted to a certain percentage legally, or is it more because of time restraints? (I fully understand scanning in old comics for daily posts must be a quite herculean labor of love)
    Anyways, just curious. Thanks for the entertainment and information

    • April 28, 2012 3:45 pm

      Good question, and I’m surprised it’s taken this long for someone to ask it. I can only speak for myself, but for me the answer is “both.” While there’s no set percentage on the amount of panels that a blogger can post (that I know of), there is a concept called “fair use.” It essentially says that, to foster discussion of art, ideas, and so forth, it’s okay to quote sections of another person’s work, so long as it’s clearly presented as such (there are limits — do a Google search to learn more). Posting images is a bit more of a gray area, but it’s okay — those limits again. There are some bloggers out there that post entire comics. I’m not comfortable doing that. That feels like stealing, and all I want to do is talk about stuff, whether it’s good, bad or ugly, so I just post the few panels that are pertinent to the points I want to make. And if any copyright holder out there wants me to take something down, I will. (Yet to happen, and I don’t see why they would, since it’s free advertising.)

      That’s the longwinded half of the answer. The other half is it’s a rather laborious process to scan things and I’m lazy.

      Hope that answers your question(s). Do call again.

  3. Tom A permalink
    April 28, 2012 4:30 pm

    Thanks for the quick response. That’s pretty much what I thought. Anyways, thanks again for the entertaining and informative site. I’ll be lurking around often.
    Cheers.
    Tom

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