Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Weird World of Jimmy Olsen: And then there was that time Olsen was responsible for the death of thousands

edit note:  special apologies to Mike Sterling of Progressive Ruin, who I belive is the originator of the "And then there was that time..." series of comics posts.

Holy smokes.

So over the Thanksgiving holiday I ran by Austin Books' Sidekick Store.  The ABC Sidekick Store is an outlet that opens only when the Comic Gods (Brad, I guess, who would look sharp in Sun God robes), consult the star charts and tea leaves and make decrees such as "Yea, in the days following the eating of the Turkey, we shall open the doors and release upon the public a torrent of $1 back issues".  Fortunately for me, some kids of days-of-yore didn't take good care of their Jimmy Olsen comics, and there's often some issues that I don't have, or if I do have them they ones here are sort of in "dollar" shape, so I'll grab a "reader" copy while I'm picking up Superman back issues (usually from the Bronze Age).

Yes, I am the guy buying those comics.

And so it was that I found myself  reading Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #120 over the weekend.

The feature story was about how Superman, for no particular reason, propagated a misconception that Jimmy had obtained "Hyper-Strength", which led to Jimmy believing he had accidentally killed Perry White (who wasn't really Perry, but Superman in disguise.  Back in the day, it was all about disguises. I have no idea what issues editor Mort Weisinger was working through, but they were many). And, as always, Jimmy refused to learn anything from Superman's chicanery.

In the 8 page back-up story?  Jimmy kills 2200 people and calls it a "boo-boo".  I am totally not kidding.

In this tale, Superman is duped into looking in other eras, but Jimmy tracks The Climate King to 1889 (yes, the year), where the Climate King is wreaking general mayhem.  Olsen and the Climate King tussle, Jimmy steals a "Sun Wand" from CK (basically a laser), the beam of which goes astray, knocking over a dam. 

Which leads to the following:

Oops, Jimmy!  Ha ha ha!  ...hey, wait a minute...

For those of you who didn't bother to read the panels, what's been clearly stated is that Jimmy Olsen caused the Johnstown Flood of 1889.  According to Wikipedia (that has no real motivation to lie), the flood killed 2200 people and did untold damage.  The place even has its own National Park.  And here's an article.

And here, gentle readers, is where our story ends.
That's it.  That's all she wrote.  After that is an ad for a toy car, some fan letters, a half-baked humor strip called "Ollie", ads for Sgt. Rock and Batman in Brave and the Bold, an ad for a submarine toy, an ad for fake mustaches (I have no idea), and the back cover selling you 100 Toy Soldiers for $1.25 (which, even in 1969 dollars, seems like a steal).

By today's standards, that page alone would be a summer cross-over and three-year-in-the-making event, with the scenes of the 4 panels above spreading out over at least three issues.  But back in the day, you could kill 2200 people and be reasonably certain that it just wasn't going to be mentioned ever again.  I assume Jimmy was home by supper and slept like a baby.

I know the Comics Code Authority had their hands full and likely didn't keep a World Book Encyclopedia handy, but the mind boggles. 

Most curious is that there's no reaction seen by Superman to the news that his "Pal" has been uncovered the the source of a terrific tragedy.  Is he giving an "aw shucks" smile?  Is he staring on in horror, knowing that he has no ability to change the course of history? Was life really that cheap in Metropolis in 1969?  Was Superman covering Jimmy's tracks?  Was there a philosophical "no fault if you're in the past, sorry about that butterfly" rule in effect?

Just when I think I'll see nothing new in a Jimmy Olsen comic...

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