Superman may be the most famous superhero in the world, but he doesn’t go it alone. The Big Blue Boy Scout has had a huge supporting cast over the years – from his one true love Lois Lane to his surprise family members (like Supergirl). One of the most underappreciated members of team Superman, however, is Clark Kent’s best friend – Jimmy Olsen. Photojournalist Jimmy works alongside Clark and Lois at the Daily Planet and he’s always been there for Clark (and for Superman).
Despite this (and his long history in the DC Universe), the redheaded cameraman is often thought of as little more than a glorified sidekick. However, there is much more to James Olsen than meets the eye. He’s not just Clark’s friend, he’s a talented journalist, a long-running comic character, occasionally superpowered, and has even had his own title! Read on for 15 things you never knew about Superman’s Pal.
15 He First Appeared On Radio
Jimmy Olsen is one of several famous comic book characters who didn’t actually make their debut in the pages of a comic book. Instead, Jimmy’s first appearance was on the 1940s radio program: The Adventures of Superman. The serial show ran from 1940 to 1951, and was comprised of fifteen-minute episodes airing several times a week. Each adventure centered on Superman (obviously), and on April 15th, 1940, the character of Jimmy Olsen first appeared.
In The Adventures of Superman, Jimmy was very much the same as the character that we now know – a fellow Daily Planet employee who befriends Clark Kent, never knowing that he is secretly Superman. The character was well-received, and made the move from radio to the comic books nearly two years later, in December 1941 (Superman #13). Since then, Jimmy Olsen has been a mainstay in Superman stories, although his popularity and importance has waxed and waned over his 70+ years with DC.
14 He Has Two ‘First Appearances’ In Comics
Although Jimmy first appeared as a named character on The Adventures of Superman radio show, he did make an unnamed appearance in comics before then. In Action Comics #6 (1938), an unnamed boy makes a brief appearance at the Daily Planet offices. The “office boy” has blonde hair and wears a red bow-tie, and in the story he is listening in at the office door when Clark Kent is getting an assignment. The character exists only to tell Lois what he hears so that she can get involved in the adventure, and isn’t seen again after he does.
However, this unnamed office boy looks almost identical to the aspiring reporter who appears in Superman #13 – who is named as Jimmy Olsen. In this issue, he is still a blonde office boy at the Daily Planet (although he appears slightly older), who reveals his dream of being a reporter. He gets his wish, too! When he gets involved in the story with Lois Lane, Jimmy ends the issue with his first byline.
13 His Name Isn’t Jimmy – It’s James Bartholomew
Although it’s rare for fans to hear him called anything but “Jimmy”, that’s actually not his real name. Jimmy is a nickname given to the character, and the one that he goes by in day to day life (and that appears on his Daily Planet bylines). However, his original (and full) name is actually James Bartholomew Olsen. Jimmy is a common variant of the name James, although it was much more common in the 1940s when the character first appeared. His middle name has also been confirmed as Bartholomew -- another name that has definitely declined in popularity over the past seven decades, but which was quite common in the 1940s.
Although the name James ‘Jimmy’ Bartholomew Olsen has remained constant throughout his time in comics, he did also get a name change on the small screen. In Smallville, there were actually two ‘Jimmy Olsen’ characters. Initially, a Henry James Olsen (Aaron Ashmore) went to high school with Clark and the gang, and was assumed to be the Jimmy from the comics, albeit with a tweak to his name. However, after Henry James’ death, his younger brother was introduced… with the original name of James Bartholomew.
12 He Had His Own Comic Title
Although Jimmy isn’t superpowered (like Superman), gadget-powered (like Batman) or skill-powered (like Green Arrow), he still got his very own comic title in the 1950s. With the huge popularity of Superman leading to more demand, and especially after his appearance in the TV series Adventures of Superman, fans wanted more Jimmy Olsen. DC responded with a comic book series called Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. The series ran from Sept/Oct 1954 until March 1974, with 163 issues published over that twenty-year run. Each issue presented Jimmy Olsen getting involved in some kind of (usually funny) adventure, often with Jimmy being turned into an animal or granted super-powers. Superman was usually involved as well – often saving the day after Jimmy’s misadventures messed things up.
The series also introduced both Lucy Lane and Supergirl as love interests for Jimmy, rounding out his character with a romantic life. The series was considered for a TV show after the end of Adventures of Superman, but the project was eventually dropped, and the series wrapped up in the '70s.
11 He Had A Fan Club (In The Comics)
During his time as ‘Superman’s Pal’, his various adventures brought him into the public eye – not just in the real world, but in the comic world as well. While the character grew in popularity, DC created an in-comic fan club for Jimmy Olsen that appeared in several issues of the pre-Crisis DC universe.
Jimmy Olsen’s fans were especially proud of his various (semi-successful) transformations where he became an actual superhero, but they are also pretty big fans of pretty much anything he does. They also seem to be quite disturbingly devoted to the reporter, and at one point they even created a fake Viking Princess robot for him (in order to make Lucy Lane jealous) and watched all his interactions with her via a hidden camera. It sounds stranger than it was at the time; several other Superman characters also had in-comic fan clubs, including Lois Lane (whose fans held baking contents).
10 He Hasn’t Always Worked At The Daily Planet
Although Jimmy is best known for working alongside Clark Kent and Lois Lane at the Daily Planet, that’s not the only job he’s held. The character first appeared as an office boy at the Daily Planet before becoming a journalist, and later a photojournalist. In the 1990s, however, the character underwent a personality change, and the usually mild-mannered Jimmy became much more aggressive and arrogant. He left the Daily Planet to work in television with Galaxy Broadcasting, but his time there came to an abrupt end. Having thought that he had figured out the true identity of Superman, Jimmy said that he would announce it live on air. He changed his mind (and didn’t have it right, anyway), and was fired for wasting air time. That knocked him down a peg, and he returned to the Planet. He has also done some freelancing for Newstime Magazine, including his iconic photo of Superman’s ragged cape fluttering in the wind (during the Death of Superman arc).
9 He Is A Pulitzer Prize Winner
The Daily Planet seems overrun with Pulitzer winners at times. Not only have Lois Lane and Clark Kent both received the coveted award, but Jimmy Olsen has bagged himself a Pulitzer as well. He’s also an incredibly talented journalist – although Jimmy is usually seen as the photographer to Lois or Clark’s journalism, he has done plenty of writing himself. He started out as a reporter, and even worked his way up to the star reporter of the Daily Planet, usurping both Clark Kent and Lois Lane for a brief while.
His main focus is still photography, however, and that developed into a photojournalism career (one largely centered on Superman, but not limited to pictures of the hero). His Pulitzer was also mentioned in the TV series Supergirl. In this incarnation, Jimmy has taken a job as art director at CatCo Media (as a favor to Superman, who wants Jimmy to look out for his cousin). It’s mentioned that Jimmy won a Pulitzer for his world-famous photo of Superman – the first ever taken.
8 He’s Immune To Telepathy
Although Jimmy Olsen isn’t super-powered (save for a handful of brief, one-off occurrences), it was recently revealed that he is immune to telepathy. At least, Jimmy appears to be immune to telepathy in a very specific storyline, as this is the only time that we hear about this talent.
During the Superman: New Krypton story arc, Jimmy goes up against Codename: Assassin, a telepathic and telekinetic assassin. Jimmy uncovers a conspiracy to destroy Superman involving the Assassin, and along the way he discovers that the Assassin’s powers have no effect on him. This isn’t explained, and we don’t see Olsen display this power during any other point in his comic book history. This could potentially be limited only to Codename: Assassin, or it could be a wider-ranging ability (potentially a leftover from his New Gods powers). Although this apparent immunity to telepathy doesn’t appear to be important and isn’t particularly useful, it’s an interesting semi-superpower for Superman’s Pal to have.
7 He Has Been (More Than One) Superhero
Although Jimmy Olsen is generally considered a sidekick, not a superhero in his own right, he has taken on a super-identity more than once. During the Silver Age, Jimmy was routinely given temporary superpowers for his stand-alone series. Some of these were more amusing (and surreal) than useful, like his sudden beard-growing ability (thanks to the Beard Band). Many, however, were actually pretty useful, and Jimmy had a few superhero stints.
Most famous was his time as Elastic-Lad, when he had the ability to stretch himself out, Mr Fantastic-style. As Elastic-Lad, Jimmy was even inducted into the Legion of Super Heroes as an honorary member. Much later in his comic history (2007/2008), Jimmy once again found himself superpowered in connected to the Death of the New Gods. During this time, Jimmy began to develop multiple superpowers, and so strapped on a suit and started calling himself Mr. Action. However, this attempt at hero-ing didn’t go down so well. His attempts to join established super-teams (including the JLA and Teen Titans) failed, and he gave up the new title (and eventually, his powers).
6 He’s Doctor Impossible On Earth-2
Jimmy Olsen gets superpowers yet again in the alternate reality of Earth-2, and this time, the powers stick. On this Earth, Jimmy isn’t a reporter or a photographer, but instead is a hacktivist who goes by the handle ‘Accountable’. He’s incredibly talented, a technopath, and has a photographic memory, but he isn’t infallible. Accountable is eventually caught and sent to Arkham, although Batman eventually breaks him out.
After this, Earth-2 Jimmy gets some New Gods powers (in a storyline echoing his involvement in the Death of the New Gods comic) and becomes the superpowered Doctor Impossible. Initially using his powers for good, Olsen helped to save millions from Darkseid, and aided other Earth-2 heroes. However, he eventually became less-than-benevolent as an overlord, and attempted to re-make the world in his image, not unlike the Lord of Apokolips has often sought out to do. The Justice Society brought him down, ending his time on Earth-2 forever by trapping Jimmy/Doctor Impossible in an energy cocoon.
5 He Has Already Been Killed Off In The DCEU
When DC announced the creation of an Extended Universe that would bring together multiple famous characters on the big screen, many fans assumed that Jimmy Olsen would be a part of it. But when the DCEU began with Man of Steel, Superman’s Pal was nowhere to be seen. He did make an appearance in the follow-up, Batman V Superman, only to be killed within seconds of showing up on-screen.
In the DCEU, Olsen was actually a CIA agent, posing as Lois Lane’s photographer in order to get access to an African warlord that she was interviewing. When he is discovered, he tells the warlord that Lois didn’t know about his ruse, and is then promptly shot in the head. His was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo (especially in the theatrical cut), and many fans were furious that such a huge name in the DC universe was killed off so quickly. Despite fan outrage, it was confirmed that this character was Jimmy Olsen, and that he is in fact dead – so we won’t be seeing Jimmy again on the big screen any time soon.
4 He Communicates With Superman Using A Signal Watch
Although Jimmy doesn’t use many gadgets (unless we count his camera), he does have a particularly useful watch. The signal watch looks similar to an ordinary wristwatch, but when Jimmy presses a button, it emits a high-frequency super-sonic noise. This noise is beyond the range of human hearing, but Superman’s Kryptonian ears are able to hear it, allowing him to home in on the watch (and Jimmy himself, of course). The watch was a gift from Superman to Jimmy, so that the reporter would be able to call Superman for help if he ever got in trouble.
While the Pre-Crisis watch was a gift, the Post-Crisis version was actually created by Jimmy himself. In this continuity, Jimmy created a super-sonic signal device when he needed Superman’s help one night, and the superhero was so impressed with Jimmy’s ingenuity that he suggested miniaturizing it so that Jimmy could wear it and signal Superman whenever he needed. This watch has also made an appearance in Supergirl, where Jimmy Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) uses it to communicate with Kara (Melissa Benoist) as well as with Clark Kent.
3 He Has Been A Giant Turtle, A Gorilla, and A Porcupine
Over the course of his adventures in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, the hapless Olsen was transformed time and time again. Sometimes, this gave him superpowers, including super-speed, a super-brain, and super-elasticity. More often than not, however, he was transformed into strangely wonderful animal hybrids for more comedic adventures.
We can’t cover every single surreal storyline here, but there are plenty of highlights. At one point, he switched minds with a gorilla, and simply carried on as Jimmy Olsen in a gorilla body, even putting on his clothes and heading to work. As a gorilla. Another time, he finds a mysterious enlarging ray, and manages to get hit by the ray while it is also passing through a turtle, turning him into a giant turtle (a shrink ray manages to reverse this in the end). When an imp from the 5th dimension had romantic designs on Jimmy and was rejected, he turned Jimmy into a human porcupine in revenge. He’s also grown extra arms, been able to breathe fire, become radioactive, and spent time as a hippy, a Viking, a Genie and a Werewolf.
2 He Has Died More Than Once
Life as a comic book sidekick is a dangerous occupation, and Jimmy Olsen hasn’t always made it through alive. In fact, Olsen has died multiple times over his decades with DC. First, in his run-in with Codename: Assassin, he was shot in the chest and fell into the ocean (immunity from telepathy doesn’t stop bullets!). This was later revealed to be insufficient to kill him, but he used it to fake his death and continue investigating in secret.
Sadly, he died for real in Justice League Beyond when he was working for the Justice League. Assigned to protect Amanda Waller during Kobra’s world-domination attempt, Jimmy sacrificed himself to save her. He’s also ‘died’ on Earth-2 as Doctor Impossible – although this is more of an eternal energy-prison than a real death.
In live-action, Jimmy hasn’t fared much better. In addition to being killed off in Smallville (as Henry James Olsen), he is already dead in the DCEU. Let's hope his Supergirl incarnation has better luck.
1 He Created Supergirl
Supergirl, Superman’s long-lost Kryptonian cousin, became a staple of the comic book world since she appeared in 1959 – except that she actually first appeared in 1958, courtesy of Jimmy Olsen. Technically, this is a different character: she's Super-Girl rather than Supergirl, but the two are closely linked. Both blonde, with the same powers and costume, it’s the origin story that is the main difference between the two. Super-Girl, rather than coming to Earth in a pod the same way Kal-El did, is actually wished into existence. Jimmy Olsen gets his hands on a magic totem, and uses it to wish for a female helper for his favorite super-hero. The plan goes relatively well, although the two clash several times. But when Super-Girl is fatally injured, Jimmy wishes her away again to put her out of her misery. (We won’t ask why he couldn’t just wish her healed…)
This appearance was intentional, a way for DC to gauge reaction to a female counterpart to Superman. Super-Girl was received positively, so a year later, the Supergirl we know made her debut.
Do you know of any more fun facts about Superman's best bud? Let us know in the comments.