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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

NEAR MYTHS: [WOLF-MAN JIMMY], (1960/1961)

In this post I wrote:

As a matter of critical process I want to specify that I'm not simply critiquing this story's presentation of Jimmy Olsen in terms of the character's verisimilitude. If it were simply a matter of the character acting atypically in different sections of the same story, that would be simply a failure of the dramatic potentiality, which deals with the interactions of conscious personalities. What I'm critiquing is the degree to which Olsen's character is put into a mythopoeic situation-- that of transgressing on the sexual hunting-grounds of a friend / father-figure-- and then fails to follow through on that mythic potential. 

I happened to re-read a couple of JIMMY OLSEN stories published about three years after "Wedding of Jimmy Olsen," and it seemed to me that these stories came closer to "following through" on what little potential one might find in the trope of a simple character like Jimmy Olsen macking on his best friend's girl (or girls).

To be sure, Jimmy-- in contrast to Lois Lane, whom I view as a character of greater mythicity-- displays a pretty low amplitude in this regard. Jimmy was introduced by name in the SUPERMAN radio show, whose basic pattern was largely imitated by the successful 1952-58 teleseries. Prior to the major film adaptations of Superman, American audiences largely knew Jimmy, if they knew him at all, from the TV show, except for kids who read the JIMMY OLSEN comic, which indubitably came about in reaction to the show.

It's important to note that the dominant image of Jimmy from the show was that of a lovable goof, and for the most part this is the image that has remained ingrained in the minds of comic-book fans. The first three issues of the character's solo feature actually started out making him fairly competent, but I would guess that some editor clamped down on that, declaring that Olsen of the comics must be just as dorky as Olsen on TV. For most of his run-- which I discussed in this essay-- Jimmy remained a lovable goof, although with an important difference from the TV version: the character had a lot more romantic encounters in his own comic book.

I don't plan to sit down and hash over Jimmy's assorted love-connections, but I do think that cumulatively they contributed to his overall personality as a story-character. Thus, by 1960, the same fellow who wrote "The Wedding of Jimmy Olsen," Otto Binder, puts Jimmy in the position of a junior-level lothario, albeit for humorous effects.



Thus in the first of the two stories, "The Wolf-Man of Metropolis," his girlfriend Lucy gives him static about his amorousness:



Later, yielding to his tendency to do stupid things like drink untested magic potions, Jimmy becomes afflicted by a curse, causing him to change into a wolf-man at night, though unlike most fictional lycanthropes, Jimmy possesses no beastly urges. In fact, he can't even take advantage of Lucy when she obligingly dresses up like Red Riding Hood.



The second Curt Swan panel is refreshingly grim given the overall light tone of the story, though of course it's very politically incorrect today for him to muse about the unattractiveness of any woman. He does have a particular reason for so doing, though, since the curse can only be reversed by the kiss of a pretty woman. (Binder was perhaps conflating his werewolf tale with both "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Frog Prince.") Still, humor takes precedence over potential tragedy, particularly when Wolf-Man Jimmy tries to proposition a hot number to kiss him-- in the park, of course.



Superman eventually solves his buddy's problem, arranging for the cursed reporter to meet an unnamed (but presumably comely) woman in a dark room and receive her kiss. The reader later learns the female is Superman's cousin Supergirl, who alone possesses enough intestinal fortitude to suck a hairy face. At this point in time, Supergirl is unknown to the public, still being kept under cover by her avunucular cousin. A few stories, particularly this one, suggest a buried incestuous vibe between the two Kryptonians. If so, then Superman is being extraordinarily generous in pimping out his cousin in this manner. As icing on the clansgressive cake, the cover above shows two women fleeing from the Wolf-Man, who are probably supposed to be Superman's regular romantic interests Lois Lane and Lana Lang: however, Lana isn't in the actual story and Lois, who is, never sees the Wolf-Boy, though she does aggravate Lucy's suspicions about Jimmy's secret shame.



The second and last story of the reporter's adventures in lycanthropy-- scripted this time by Jerry Siegel-- doesn't seem to be as popular as the first on the Internet. It's significant that again, Wolf-Jimmy is presented on the cover as scaring the bejeezus out of a group of female characters-- respectively, Lucy, Lois, and Lana-- who are all in the story this time.

This time, though, Jimmy's not to blame for his curse. Mischievous Mister Mxyzptlk pops into Metropolis, spots Jimmy squiring around Lucy, and promptly falls in love with Lucy, just as the imp had previously gone gaga over her sister. Lucy rejects Mxyzptlk's suit by protesting that she has a boyfriend. Mxyzptlk decides to get rid of the competition in the usual roudabout way of all Superman stories from this period: he inflicts the curse on Jimmy with his magic but makes him think that he's imbibed the magic potion again.

In some ways Siegel ratchets up the comic absurdity of the "Frog Prince" trope. Again Jimmy seeks his Kryptonian pal's help. But though Supergirl imparts to Jimmy the same secretive smooch she did before, the affliction doesn't go away. In short order nearly every female character of the Superman universe at the time finds out about Jimmy's hairy problem. The result that he not only gets liplocked by his girlfriend, but also by Superman's inamoratas Lois and Lana, AND by the hero's former squeeze, the mermaid Lori Lemaris. Mxyzptlk watches them all fail, confident that Lucy will desert Jimmy in due time.




Then a strange woman appears, kisses Jimmy, and instantly reverses the curse. It turns out to be Mxyptlk's own inamorata, Miss Gsptlsnz, another magical imp from the Fifth Dimension, making her first comic-book appearance. Jimmy, having been bussed by so many hot girls in the last few days, can't help thinking a rather uncomplimentary thought about his savior.



However, this touch is also a neat reversal of the original curse's parameters, since the reversal of the pesky imp's magic doesn't depend on matching the curse-victim up with a hot girl. Everything goes back to normal and the story ends with Lucy calling Jimmy a "wolf" again, this time because he got a lot of smooches from other women.

Again I'll repeat that I'm not endowing these stories with anything more than minor mythicity, the result of some clever mucking-about with fairy-tale tropes. But to the extent that Jimmy Olsen the Character possesses even a minor penchant for mythicity-- that of the young rival to his older buddy-- these stories come closer to the mark than "Wedding." I'll also observe that I wouldn't have a problem with the earlier story if I thought that the dominant character of Jimmy was that of an unromantic klutz, like say, Dilton Doiley of the ARCHIE universe, seen here in all his glory:




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