When Greg Berlanti's TV series Supergirl cast Mehcad Brooks as Jimmy Olsen, it changed the conventions of the character in at least one significant way. Fans previously saw Olsen as an office boy, a photographer, a costumed hacktivist, and even a giant turtle, but rarely if ever has Superman's pal been portrayed as being even remotely cool. Brooks' Olsen skips the bowtie (and typically a few shirt buttons) and exudes confidence and charisma as a believable choice to head CatCo in Cat Grant's absence, and as an on-and-off romantic interest for Kara Zor-El.
Season two ups the ante, sending Olsen out on an explosive-laden motorcycle as the armored vigilante Guardian, a significant step up for a character who's spent 70-plus years in near-perpetual peril as a sidekick and MacGuffin-in-distress whose primary weapon is the signal-watch he uses to call Superman for help. Throughout his long history, however, Olsen has managed some significant acts of heroism — even if many of them have been retconned into alternate realities or explained away as dreams.
If you get tired of waitin' for Superman, check out these 15 Times Jimmy Olsen Came To The Rescue.
Many people remember playing Marco Polo in swimming pools as kids, but in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #157, a magic jewel called the Star of Cathay gives the titular cub reporter the chance to relive a past life, and he discovers he's the latest reincarnation of the legendary Venetian explorer whose travels along the Silk Road to China and Persia helped to open up trade between the East and West in the 13th Century.
Netflix recently produced a $9-million-per-episode series about the explorer's life, but somehow left out many of the details divulged in "The Strange, Second Life of Jimmy Olsen," including Polo's flying genie companion Kurol and the time the explorer used his criminally underreported skills as a kung-fu master to save the Mongolian Emperor Kublai Khan from a leopard attack. Was this one of the scenes Samuel Coleridge intended to include in his famous poem before the intruding "person from Porlock" derailed the writer's opium-inspired train of thought? We may never know.
Although Kara has an extremely hard time coping with James Olsen's vigilante turn in Supergirl's second season, even she'd be hard pressed to argue that he hasn't been helpful to her. In the climactic battle from the episode "Changing", for example, his appearance as Guardian provides a possibly lifesaving distraction as she fights the power-draining alien Parasite.
Sure, Olsen taking up the mantle most often occupied by Jim Harper in the comics puts a strain on his currently platonic relationship with Kara (and by association her relationship with Winn, who built Guardian's suit and super-cycle using office supplies pilfered from his day job at the Department of Extranormal Operations). And it virtually ensures he'll be putting himself in extreme peril in almost every episode, but near-death experiences and trouble with the ladies are almost standard-issue for every iteration of Olsen, even without the explosives and the generic-brand Captain America shield.
According to many comic-book fans, James Bartholomew Olsen first appeared as an unnamed Daily Planet office boy in Action Comics #6, though he wasn't given a name until two years later on the radio version of The Adventures of Superman. But Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #101 offers a different version of Olsen's first meeting with Kal-El from Krypton. After agreeing to test out a "time ship," Olsen travels across time and space to visit Krypton before it's destroyed and winds up taking a job babysitting the boy who would be Supes in exchange for room and board.
Olsen is unable to save Krypton from destruction, but he does see that young Kal-El gets off world safely, and even manages to teach the unruly infant some manners, 1960s style, by giving him a spanking. The return trip to the present wiped the whole incident from Jimmy's memory, but Superman remembers it all too well.
A babysitting gig for Jimmy Olsen involves time travel and ends in planetary destruction, so why shouldn't a stint as a dog sitter inspire some deep undercover work to take down a mobster? In "Miss Jimmy Olsen," first appearing in Superman's Pal #44, our hero's sometimes girlfriend Lucy Lane asks him to drop by her apartment and feed her dog while she goes out of town. Jimmy uses the opportunity to get friendly with her chorus-girl neighbor Maisie — but only because Maisie can help Olsen in his Some Like It Hot-esque scheme to pose as a chorus girl in the same club where he suspects the owner of perpetrating a recent jewel heist.
As anyone familiar with screwball comedies might guess, Olsen's scheme works all too well, and his alter-ego Julie Ogden attracts the amorous eye of club-owner "Big Monte" McGraw. Perhaps less predictably, this results in Olsen feeding McGraw dog food and tricking him into kissing a monkey. Crime doesn't pay when Olsen's on the case.
Friendship is a two-way street, and while the value of Superman's friendship to Jimmy Olsen is obvious every time the Kryptonian refugee flies his pal out of an exploding what-have-you, what Olsen brings to the table isn't always so easy to see. John Byrne's decades-spanning Elseworlds series Superman & Batman: Generations, however, gives readers a glimpse of how Olsen can be helpful to Superman beyond giving him a plot device to rescue or making Clark Kent seem a little less dorky by comparison.
When exposure to red kryptonite transforms Superman into a not-at-all-jolly green giant and he begins attacking a freighter, Olsen puts on a Mentallo helmet from Planet X, enabling him to telepathically transmit to his friend trapped beneath the fog of mineral-induced madness until the effects wear off, ending a potential rampage and saving countless lives. Sometimes, even Superman can use a friend to talk him down.
His skills as a sidekick nonpareil can make it easy to forget that Jimmy Olsen is, first and foremost, a newspaperman working as a cub reporter and photographer for The Daily Planet. In the 2008 James Robinson-penned special issue of Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen titled "From a Cub to a Wolf," the rookie reporter investigates the origins of the villain Atlas, uncovering an elaborate assassination plot that requires a road trip to Project Cadmus and ultimately puts Olsen in the crosshairs of the telepathic vigilante Codename: Assassin.
In classic fictional-journalist fashion, Olsen begins his investigation by enlarging an originally insignificant detail in a photograph and winds up taking a lead from an exposition-spouting source on the verge of death. To discover the truth about a potential threat to his friend and the world at large, Olsen persists in his line of inquiry, even after learning the unenviable fate of the original Newsboy Legion.
Superman casts a super-sized shadow, and his number-one pal often seems content to just chill in the shade. Nick Spencer's story arc "Jimmy Olsen's Big Week" — first printed as a secondary story in Action Comics #893-896 and then rereleased as an 80-page standalone — sends Supes out of town, and Jimmy just wants to fill the time until he gets back by playing Superman: The Game (which must be significantly more fun than perennial worst game ever nominee Superman 64). The game portrays Olsen as pathetic — "Superman! Pleeeeeease save me! Save me! I'm helpless without you," his digitized doppelgänger pleads — and his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend Chloe Sullivan agrees, just before walking out the door.
Intent on proving he can be exciting even without his super-powered buddy, Olsen gets mixed up with some hard-partying aliens intent on throwing an epic rager on planet Earth. His week just gets weirder from there — including a fifth-dimensional shotgun wedding and a trip to Yarn Barn with Supergirl. But, unfortunately for Olsen's rep as a party animal, he's the perfect person to convince the aliens that Earth and it's people are too boring to host their destructive shindig.
Kara deciding to just be friends with James at the beginning of Supergirl season two came as a shock to many viewers, but the character's difficulties with women have been well chronicled. In Superman's Pal #76 (1964) it's Lucy Lane who's complaining that Jimmy's just not as exciting as the other men in her life — just before he's enlisted by the Legion of Superheroes to help them with a mission in the 30th century.
On a quest to deliver a valuable Venusian idol to the Astro Museum, Olsen suits up as Elastic Lad and finds himself stretched out between Light Lass, Saturn Girl, and Triplicate Girl as they all aggressively vie for his affections. His futuristic friends, it turns out, are really just trying to be good wing-women, putting on an act intended to make Lucy jealous. But Lucy, who's supposed to be watching enviously on a time monitor at home, falls asleep and misses the whole thing.
When Jimmy Olsen's mother calls Clark Kent at The Daily Planet to plead for help on her son's behalf at the beginning of "The Story of Marina Baum," (The Adventures of Superman radio show, 1949), listeners are forgiven for thinking that Olsen's once again in danger. He's been in a fight and he has a black eye, but it's a case of "you should see the other guy." The other guy, it turns out, was a xenophobic bully who told Jimmy's new girlfriend Marina, a Polish refugee who fled Nazi occupation, that she's not welcome in America. Olsen's uncharacteristic response is to "beat him unmercifully," putting the boy in the hospital.
Olsen's mother isn't much nicer to Marina than the bully was, but Kent manages to set her straight without even changing clothes. After Kent relates the harrowing story of Marina's escape from the Nazis, Mrs. Olsen has a change of heart and invites the girl to Thanksgiving Dinner. Supergirl similarly used the holiday to promote tolerance, with Alex Danvers coming out to her mother (with significantly less conflict) in the season two episode "Medusa."
Perhaps because he's famous for his freckle-specked babyface, one of Olsen's go-to moves when going undercover is to grow a beard. A growth serum helped him sprout whiskers when he needed them for obvious reasons to infiltrate the Beard Band in Superman's Pal #23 (1969), but a fake beard — along with a "weirdo costume ... straight from the Hippieland Haberdashery" — is apparently good enough to get Jimmy into "Guru Karma's Dreamland Pad for Truth-Seeking Hippies."
Karma uses advanced mind manipulation to convince Olsen and a mob of young truth seekers that Superman is the real enemy, and they hold a "hate-in" to tell the world that "Superman is a freak-out." Obviously, the whole demonstration is a trap designed to kill Superman with a string of Kryptonite marbles disguised as love beads, but fortunately, Olsen returns to reality in time to help his straight-laced pal escape death-by-hippie in the Summer of Love.
In his first named appearance in a Superman story ("Donelli's Protection Racket," The Adventures of Superman radio show, 1940) Jimmy Olsen — "a redheaded, freckle-faced copy boy" — asks Clark Kent for help handling Chip Donelli, a gangster shaking down Olsen's widowed mother's candy store for protection money. As might be expected, Superman eventually intervenes and knocks some sense into Donelli's hoods, but the gangsters don't give up so easily.
Afraid that his criminal activities will wind up printed in The Daily Planet, Donelli attempts to abduct Olsen and Lois Lane for leverage. Olsen escapes, leaving Lane behind, but when the cabin she's being held in catches fire, he races into the smoke-filled woods to help her out. Superman eventually saves the day, but Jimmy finds her first and — ignoring her pleas to leave her behind because she's twisted her ankle — helps her get to safety with a briefcase full of evidence of Donelli's crimes.
The fourth issue of Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman begins with a somewhat standard scenario: Superman hears Jimmy Olsen's signal watch going off and races to save him from a "superheavy gravity" chamber on a top-secret moon base. But during the rescue, black Kryptonite from the "Underverse" contaminates the chamber and, as Kryptonite often does, begins messing with Superman's mind, making him become the opposite of himself. "Who's going to stop me from doing anything I want?" Superman, his eyes aglow with menace, challenges the frightened Jimmy. "You?"
In order to prevent his super-powered pal from destroying the world in a radioactive rampage, Olsen injects himself with the Doomsday serum and pounds Superman into submission. Fortunately, the serum wears off before "The Death of Superman" is reenacted, but Olsen gets the rare opportunity to beat up Superman and have the hero thank him for it. They also get a free pair of tickets to the "Broadway smash" Frankenstein on Ice, because Morrison has a strange sense of humor.
"Someone very important to you is dying — only you can save his life!" says Superman to Jimmy Olsen at the beginning of "A Phoenix of Steel" (Superman Family #187), the exciting conclusion to "Save My Friend, Kill Your World" (Superman Family #186, 1978). Turns out that VIP is Olsen himself. Superman of Earth 2 is on a mission to save his version of Jimmy Olsen from an unspecified nigh-on-incurable illness. The only prescription is an experimental organ transplant, and the Olsen of Earth 1 is the best possible donor.
When Superman 2 takes a transmatter machine to pick up Olsen 1, he accidentally frees Krogg, a monstrosity banished by a wizard to a dimension of "perpetual warfare." Heat-visioning Krogg until he explodes requires the powers of both Supermen working in unison, but when either Olsen's life is at stake, says Superman 2, all inter-dimensional implications are, "Fascinating — but irrelevant!"
In another encounter with the past-life-recalling alien jewel the Star of Cathay (Superman's Pal #159, 1973), Jimmy Olsen discovers that he's not only the current incarnation of the explorer Marco Polo, but of the Roman gladiator Spartacus, as well. Reliving his past life as the famous leader of Rome's Third Servile War (73-71 B.C.), Olsen quickly forgets about his life as Metropolis's favorite cub reporter in a classic variation on Zhuangzi's existential butterfly dream dilemma.
Forced by Caesar to battle to the death with the mighty Ursus (a familiar-looking gladiator with superhuman strength), Olsen instead leads a rebellion of escaped slaves and nearly succeeds in causing a rift in the space-time continuum by toppling the Roman Empire with modern warfare tactics. A deus ex machina returns Olsen to the present day before mass-crucifixion can occur, but he's nevertheless so distressed by the experience that he tries to smash the Star of Cathay with a sledgehammer.
If they were given access to a time machine, many people say they'd travel into the past and kill Hitler before the start of World War II, and Superman's Pal #86 (1965) gives Jimmy Olsen the chance to do just that. Our hero, however, is no assassin — he just wants to know what's up with the newsreel footage he's seen of himself accepting an award from the fascist dictator. So Olsen takes a time machine back to the D-Day invasion disguised as a combat correspondent, but because war is hell, he ends up having to pose as "Private Von Olsen of the Death's Head Chemical Warfare Squadron" to save the lives of a squadron of paratroopers from the Nazis.
After he tells the Nazis he has psychic abilities (to explain how he single-handedly captured those paratroopers), Olsen is compelled to prove it by forecasting several upcoming defeats, and Hitler himself promotes Olsen to Chief Military Adviser — making sure to pose for the newsreel cameras. Although Olsen fails to warn Hitler of an assassination attempt, the Fuhrer lives to fight another day, but Goering and Himmler do get conked on the head by a shot-up swastika in Olsen's escape, helping the war effort somehow, maybe.
What are your favorite times Jimmy Olsen saved the day? Let us know in the comments below.