Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen is art.
I do not say that lightly, and I mean it with the utmost sincerity. This is one of the funniest, most tightly-scripted comic books on the stands. Other than Chip Zdarsky’s Daredevil— which is just as great for completely different reasons– this might be my favorite title being published right now. And friends, it’s a tight race.
Saying that, this book is also incredibly difficult to review, for… several reasons. The most basic being that I pretty much just want to screengrab each and every page and just let the book speak for itself, because there are so many great jokes and gags that I’d feel bad leaving any of them out.
On another level, it isn’t exactly a plot heavy comic, at least in the traditional sense. There’s an overarching story that ties each issue together, and everything that happens is related to things that happened in other issues, if not the one you’re currently reading. Even still, it doesn’t follow a basic A-B-C storytelling structure, as Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber opt for a series of vignettes rather than a typical narrative.
This is not a complaint. No, it’s precisely what makes this book work: there’s a setup, a few pages of storytelling, and then a punchline or payoff. This is a book that is genuinely hilarious, knowing how long to drag out a joke while also managing to weave in some pretty interesting mysteries.
Like “just how many Jokers can be shoved into a yogurt place before Batman starts to notice?”
Not verbatim, but I wasn’t kidding. With Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, I am never kidding.
And yeah, while the book is consistently hilarious, it’s not just an endless stream of jokes. Like I said before, there are some pretty interesting threads that Fraction has been following since the first issue, each of which has developed more and more as the series has progressed. To be very broad, there are subplots involving Lex Luthor and his nefarious schemes, Jimmy Olsen going into hiding after a failed assassination attempt, and flashbacks to the histories of the Olsen and Luthor families. Fraction writes each story with a tone that verges on satire, and while it does occasionally dip into parody, it’s still told with a sense of urgency and sincerity that’s refreshing. That’s an incredibly tricky balance to hit, but I think he nails it perfectly. The comedy is ever present, yet it never upstages the story he’s trying to tell. To put it differently: the jokes work in service to the story, not the other way around.
So with Jimmy in hiding in Gotham City, it was only a matter of time before he crossed paths with the Dark Knight. And paths they crossed will… be? What?
Yes, Jimmy Olsen meets Batman, and Fraction and Lieber lean heavily into Bats’ “dark” “grittiness”. It is hysterical.
I love how even Bruce’s lettering is different. Jagged. Dangerous. Just like a grim avenger of the night should speak…
Also: KERSMACKO is a fantastic sound effect. Well done, Clayton Cowles.
Now that the Caped Crusader and Jimberly “James” “Jimmy” Olsen have come face to face, they engage in the time-honored tradition of matching wits and one-upmanship through nothing less than a prank war. It’s silly and amazing and, yeah, not something you’d typically see Batman engaging in, but that’s the thing: Fraction, Lieber, Nathan Fairbairn, and Cowles are having fun with these characters. Yeah, sometimes it’s at the characters’ expense, but it isn’t mean-spirited in the least. It’s told with a wit and style that relishes the inherent ridiculousness of comic books and pokes fun while still celebrating the base joy of the medium. They’re in on the joke, yeah, but they don’t treat it like it’s just a joke. You can tell that the creative team loves these characters as much as we do.
The writing is a definite strength, of course, and worth recommending the book by itself. As this is a comic, though, it’s just as much a visual story as it is a written one, and Steve Lieber, Nathan Fairbairn, and Clayton Cowles take the wry wit of Fraction’s script and visualize it perfectly. Lieber has a style that’s similar to Alex Toth, Darwyn Cooke, or Doc Shaner, in that his lines are simple and clean, yet not a single stroke is out of place. You look at how he draws Batman and Superman, two of the most recognizable characters in any medium, and you could see his style working just as well today as it would have, say, in the Sixties. It’s timeless in the absolute best sense, and Fairbairn’s coloring matches that quality. Cowles is clearly having a blast, too, mixing different fonts and coming up with some great lettering effects that only help to sell the jokes and gags even more.
Even the moments that are clearly supposed to be satirical work, as the backgrounds in various scenes are packed full of jokes and gags. I about died laughing at the name of Jimmy’s sister’s play, for instance:
Any excuse to get Jimmy into a silly costume should be taken, too. That is the lifeblood of the character, the book, and perhaps even the entire comics industry.
Funny as the book can be, and despite its more anthology-like structure, Fraction never loses focus of the actual stories he wants to tell. I may have been rolling on the floor laughing at Alfred admitting to Bruce that he pays people to laugh at his jokes, but that doesn’t undercut a shocking realization that Lex Luthor makes about his family history in another scene. It’s a perfectly balanced book that knows what it’s about, and how it should be about it. That’s why I’m filled with joy every time a new issue hits the stands.
If you don’t take anything else away from this book, though, I hope you remember this:
- You just love comics.
- And you love to laugh.
- You can laugh at the grim seriousness of Batman, and want to see what kinds of pranks he can pull.
Overall: No joke, this is one of my favorite comics being published right now, and one of the best series on the stands. Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen is simultaneously hilarious and sincere, inviting you to laugh at the outrageous story while still being invested in the characters. It’s an amazing balancing act that Fraction, Lieber, Fairbairn, and Cowles have pulled off perfectly each and every month, with hardly a bad issue yet. This is a funny comic made by people who are having fun with comics, and that joy is infectious and evident in the reading. Now pick it up, friends, and prepare to be Calendarmangled.