It isn’t just survivors of Krypton who get to fulfill their dreams of becoming a National City superhero anymore: James Olsen is finding his own path to superheroics on The CW’s Supergirl. The decision may seem a bit predictable with the move to the Arrowverse network – a world in which character development is inextricably linked to adopting a vigilante identity – but for those who know the history of “Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen,” it isn’t as drastic a departure as it may appear.
James began his career in vigilante crimefighting on the most recent episode of Supergirl, but fans already know of the uniform he’ll receive from the show’s resident supersuit designer – and the name he will take: Guardian. The armored costume and massive metal shield, while true to Guardian’s comic book source material, are sure to get a few raised eyebrows or chuckles. But take a stroll through the history of Jimmy Olsen’s many superhero identities and superpowers, and this is actually pretty believable.
Here is our list of Jimmy Olsen’s 15 Weirdest Superhero Identities.
15. The Batman-Superman
Who knew that as fans were crying out for a World’s Finest movie combining the talents of both Batman and Superman, Jimmy Olsen had achieved that same feat decades earlier. That’s right, in “Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen” #93, Jimmy Olsen caused an explosion involving a dimension-traveling machine that sent him to Earth-X. On this different world, Clark Kent was a science fiction writer who, upon discovering Jimmy had the superpowers of Superman, helped him model a superhero identity after those who had created.
Modeling himself after Superm– sorry, Steel-man, Jimmy added a cowl and cape to conceal his freckles and red hair, and the “Batman-Superman” was born, as titled by the comic itself. One major twist later – that the head of the Luthar League, the Joker – was actually clark Kent in disguise, and Jimmy was headed back to Earth as his old self. Seriously, how is this not DC’s next movie?
14. Speed Demon
When you think “DC Speedster,” it’s The Flash who comes to mind, first appearing in the pages of “Flash Comics” in 1940. But it wasn’t until the Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick stepped aside to allow Barry Allen to take the mantle, ushering in the Silver Age of comic books that the hero became the one widely known today. For starters, the speedster was given a science fiction/chemical origin for his powers. But believe it or not, Jimmy Olsen beat him to it by a single month.
In the pages of “Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen” #15, Jimmy accidentally drank a super speed serum that blessed with with the velocity of the Man of Steel. His tenure as ‘Speed Demon’ was short-lived, and spent on things like reading papers and gathering Lois Lane’s broken pearls. The weirdest part? His constant boasts of being able to achieve tasks “in a flash” just one month before the hero returned to DC’s Universe.
Every Superman fan knows Doomsday: the monster. The hero-killer. The ancient Kryptonian experiment gone wrong. Jimmy Olsen’s alter ego. Wait, what? Believe it or not, that’s the superpower twist that arrived in Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s “All-Star Superman.” When a dose of Black Kryptonite turned Superman into a raging, angry take on a crazed Bizarro, it fell to his old pal Jimmy to come to his aid. In this case, that meant injecting himself with a formula that would turn him into Doomsday.
Obviously the transformation alone left Superman stunned, seeing a familiar face transform into the monster that had successfully killed him years before. But he didn’t have much time to consider the twist since Jimmy came out fists swinging. A blast of Heat Vision later, and Jimmy won the fight, and transformed back to his human self. It was, in his words, the best “For a Day…” storyline someone could hope for, and a shame nobody could know about it.
12. Elastic Lad
It definitely falls under the ‘heroic and kind of horrifying’ category of superpowers, but there’s no denying the being able to stretch and bend your body at will comes in handy. Just look at Marvel’s Mr. Fantastic, or DC’s Elongated and Plastic Man. And in “Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen” #31, Jimmy fulfilled his dream of being super alongside the Man of Steel as ‘the Boy of Rubber.’ But if you think that’s as insane as that particular story gets, you would be wrong, since it’s a perfect example of the strange, silly stories comic fans used to eat up.
For starters, Jimmy gains his powers when Superman drops a chest he found flying through space on the reporter’s desk before heading out to stop a crisis. Assuming a jar of green liquid is Kryptonite, Jimmy tries to dispose of it – and smashes it all over himself, turning his bones and body into bendable elastic. Heading immediately to join the circus as a sideshow freak, Jimmy is recruited by a team of gangsters to wash a second story window. And by “wash,” we mean spread an acid on the glass to let the gangsters assassinate the district attorney.Thank goodness Superman arrived to set things right.
11. Giant Turtle Man
If this list hasn’t made it clear already, it was hard for comic readers of the late 1950s to know just what to expect from “Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen” – which was probably what helped sell issues. For instance, turning open Issue #53 would give readers a glimpse at an insane scene: Jimmy Olsen, massive in size, covered in leathery green skin, eye bugging, and dropping battleships and submarines into an active volcano. Superman was there too, as always, wondering what on Earth his “huge, twisted turtle-mind” could be thinking.
The creature was of course The Giant Turtle Man, one of the most infamous superpowered alter egos of Jimmy Olsen. The transformation arose from a raygun Jimmy found on a beach that turned everyday objects and sea creatures into giant versions of themselves. By triggering the ray to hit a nearby turtle and then his own body, the Turtle Man was created. While the powers would return with more heroic outcomes in the future, this terror ended once Superman learned an Atlantis criminal was controlling Giant Turtle Jimmy’s mind. It’s kind of obvious, when you think about it.
Not every instance of Jimmy Olsen’s powers came from a failed experiment or trip through time. In the modern pages of DC’s “Earth 2” – set on a planet devoid of many of DC’s biggest heroes – Jimmy Olsen is famous for his placement at the head of an organization known as ‘Accountable.’ With tendrils able to hack anywhere in the world to bring the most important information to those who need it, Jimmy isn’t actually a part of Accountable… he is Accountable.
How is it that he’s able to launch a global hacktivism crusade all by himself? That’s thanks to his metahuman powers, making it possible for him to, in his words, “basically breathe information.” Simply give him a device or connection to the digital world, and the data courses through him like something out of sci-fi adventure movie. He doesn’t get the chance to be a superhero in terms of action scenes, but by getting the heroes the intel they need, proves he’s a key asset – even when he’s not in his Giant Turtle Man form.
9. The Human Octopus
We know what you’re thinking: in a comic book story, suddenly sprouting four extra arms from your torso would be a nightmare, not a dream come true (we’ll get back to that later). But when Jimmy Olsen awoke one day with eight limbs, he learned that “having six arms gives a feller many advantages.” The source of the mutations was a collection of outer space souvenirs Superman dropped off on Jimmy’s desk – there’s a pattern developing here. Jimmy accidentally starting eating one of the space fruits from a planet of six-armed inhabitants, and the rest was history.
Unfortunately, things went bad as soon as the Union reps showed up to claim Jimmy was now three times the employee he had been, requiring a raise… but getting fired instead. He tried entering an open contest to knock out a former champion boxer, but was disqualified. Next came the gangsters pressing him into becoming a pickpocket (it was strange time in America). Finally Superman cooked up an antidote… at which point Jimmy realized everything had been a hallucinogenic trip brought on by the fruit, and he probably never left his bed.
In case readers might think that all of Jimmy Olsen’s experiments in superpowers are laughable, it should be pointed out that he truly has played the Robin to Superman’s Batman… literally. When the two men found themselves held captive in the Bottle City of Kandor (shrunk down and without powers), they needed to concoct new powers, a new plan, and new identities. Stumbling on a stronghold and gadgets reminiscent of the Batcave, Superman took his inspiration from the names of two forms of Kandor birds: Nightwing and Flamebird (yes, this is where the Nightwing moniker came from).
Equipping themselves with jetpacks and costumes clearly meant as a tongue-in-cheek homage to the Dark Knight and the Boy Wonder (even including a take on the Batmobile), the two emerged as serious superheroes among Kandor’s citizens. Obviously they won the day, and to show their love and dedication, the citizens of Kandor constructed memorial statues of the two folk heroes – probably the greatest superhero honor Jimmy Olsen has ever received.
In the storyline “Superman versus Ultra-Olsen” the truly unthinkable happens: the Man of Steel and hist trusted pal come to blows. But the story wasn’t quite what the title (or above image) implied. you see, Jimmy’s own superpowers came from an ancient amulet this time around, blessing him with basically all the powers of Superman. With one catch: his powers would only be fueled as things tried to collide with him. No surprise that before long, Jimmy’s father was kidnapped and he was forced to commit super-burglaries to keep him alive.
A stolen ring, some silver, and a massive barrel of charity donations later, and he successfully told Superman that the only way to make his powers wear off was not to fight him. The powers disappeared, and the two worked together to find the criminals. His career as ‘Ultra-Olsen’ was turned evil almost immediately, but he did get to bring down a building before turning to crime. Which is more superheroics than the average person enjoys.
6. The Jimmy From Jupiter
Hybrids between humans and aliens may seem like modern science fiction, but way back in his title comics in 1958, Jimmy was being turned into a Jovian from Jupiter. No fancy science needed, just an alien appearing in his TV and turning him into an alien to test their physiology in an Earth-like atmosphere. Wrapping himself in bandages to conceal his changes (apparently that didn’t raise suspicion back in the ’50s), Jimmy soon learned he could read minds – and just in time to break story to win the Newsman of the Year Award.
By listening in on people’s thoughts, Jimmy tipped Superman off to criminals in hiding, planned prison breaks, and even used his telepathy to report the Oscar winners before the show aired. It also filled him in on Superman’s secret identity, but with a Superman movie showing in theaters, Clark Kent was able to brush his thoughts of ‘being Superman’ off as simple wishful thinking (which every Superman fan can understand).
5. Jimmy The Genie
Everyone knows the story of Aladdin’s magical lamp and the genie that rests inside, but did you know that at one point Jimmy Olsen actually became the genie? Following another instance of Superman leaving Jimmy with dangerous artifacts or objects and assuming nothing would go wrong, the relics retrieved from an Egyptian tomb made their way to a photo shoot in Jimmy’s apartment. Just then, Jimmy was struck with a devastating toothache (this is the real story) and his dentist was unable to see him.
So, what would anyone do with a crippling toothache and a magic lamp calling out to be released into the world? Simple: release the genie, and wish for relief, a date, and a banana split. But when Jimmy speaks the word “kill,” he switches places with the genie, and becomes the slave to his new master’s wishes. With some help from Superman and old fashioned quick thinking, Jimmy gets the genie to utter the same word, reversing the curse and landing the artifact safely inside Superman’s Fortress of Solitude.
4. Human Porcupine
If you’re thinking that the superpower origin stories of Jimmy Olsen can’t get any weirder, you’re in luck. Most classic Superman fans know of Mr. Mxyzptlk, a troublemaking imp from the 5th Dimension. His girlfriend Miss Gzptlsnz isn’t quite as famous, but is just as much of a headache. When her marriage proposal to her boyfriend was dismissed, she headed to Earth to propose to Jimmy instead. Jimmy shot her down, and the story could have ended there. But when he insulted the absent imp to Superman, she overheard, cursing him into becoming a Human Porcupine until he accepted her proposal.
The story only got weirder from there, as Jimmy tried to avoid poking people with his quills as he concocted scheme after scheme to get Miss Gzptlsnz to say her name backwards (banishing her and ending the spell). Jimmy never got to practice his powers for the good of Metropolis, but he did get excited at the sight of his girlfriend Lucy Lane, firing a quill that blasted her hat off of her head. We call that heroic on the writers’ part, at least.
3. Jimmy Olsen in the 50th Century
He may have enjoyed some superpowered antics thanks to his friendship with Superman, but in Issue #17 of his comic series, Jimmy Olsen actually got to enjoy the feeling of being the real Superman. When he found himself on a runaway rocket breaking through the ‘time barrier’ of the universe (don’t ask how he got there), Jimmy wound up emerging in the year 4956. The science of the future completely changed Metropolis, but the legacy of Superman lived on – with the public believing his true identity was that of Jimmy Olsen.
You see, this constant storm of newspaper headlines boasting of Jimmy’s powers and Superman’s heroics turned the two into one over time, and with some believing it to have all been a massive hoax, the true believers needed Jimmy to prove it was all real. To do it, they outfitted him with futuristic technology to mimic Superman’s powers, and since no photos of Superman survived, the world believed he was the real thing. Thankfully, Superman showed up just in time for the entire plan to fall apart, and returned the two back home.
2. The Human Flame-Thrower
Believe it or not, of all the powers that Jimmy Olsen has enjoyed, there’s one that even the Man of Steel himself couldn’t match. When Jimmy accidentally smashed an experiment in transforming the “cold fire” of fireflies into real fire (we don’t know what any of that means, either) all over himself, the side effects were shocking, to say the least. Simply let out a cough or fast exhale, and Jimmy could deliver a blast of fire that would make a dragon jealous. And you’d be surprised how effective such a talent can be. Aside from cooking your lunch quickly, or drying off a wet missile (that really happens), there’s the ability to accidentally turn charity money into ash.
To fix the problem, Jimmy goes the one place he knows will always earn some cash: the circus freak show. Unfortunately, his talents aren’t impressive enough to keep an un-air-conditioned crowd happy, and he once again finds himself hoodwinked by local gangsters. Superman saves the day, and his curse is ended when a team of firemen blast a firehose down Jimmy’s throat. Water was the cure. So an important lesson to young readers, we suppose.
1. Mr. Action
Now that we’ve run down the many powers of Jimmy Olsen since his very first comic series to the modern era, how about the version of Jimmy that was blessed with all of them at once? It happened in the pages of DC’s “Countdown,” coinciding with the larger event known as the “Death of the New Gods.” We’ll hold off on the explanation for now, but the short version is that Jimmy Olsen realized he was suddenly superpowered. And after some testing, further realized that his powers seemed to be limitless, manifesting in whatever form they needed to for a given situation.
Like any good kid, Jimmy took up a superhero identity and costume – “Mr. Action” – and attempted to join the Teen Titans… to less than stellar reactions. Eventually, it was revealed that the powers were due to a type of soul battery placed within Jimmy, allowing him to capture the powers of New Gods as they were killed (all part of Darkseid’s larger plan). He would get his moment of glory though, accompanying Earth’s heroes into battle. But as long, illustrious career as a superhero just wasn’t in the cards. Oh well. There’s always photography.
Which of Jimmy Olsen’s many superpowers, magical curses, or superhero identities is your favorite? Let us know in the comments, and feel free to bring up storylines we missed – since there are plenty to choose from.
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