This month, Joanna Sandsmark dusts off one of her childhood favorites — Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #125.
I will readily admit that I have a soft spot for the comic books I read when I was young. A small stack of my childhood treasures survived because I had hidden them in the back of my closet under a pile of clothing. When I “rediscovered” comics as an adult, I went rummaging in that back corner during a trip home for Christmas and was thrilled to see they had survived my moving out of the house and starting a new life halfway across the country. I stuffed my old friends in my suitcase and headed back to my new life. Now, when I go through the stacks, trying to figure out what to write about, it always hits me when I see one of those familiar, beat-up covers. They're easy to spot. I was, shall we say, thinking more about drawing mustaches on the characters as opposed to being an archival collector. Today's offering is from the back of one of those original childhood comics (the scans are moustache-free — our lucky day!). “The Spendthrift and the Miser” is from Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #125. When I was a kid, I loved the cover story. The cover itself was so compelling because it has Superman crying on it and Jimmy Olsen gleefully collecting his tears. The comic nearly leapt into my hands when I saw it on the spinner rack. And yet the story I'm going to talk to you about is in the back, the lesser of the two tales but one that stayed with me for years. It's a story of dual personalities and white fedoras. It’s about unfettered wealth and miserly misery. In short, it's a perfect Silver Age cautionary tale. And who better to be cautioned than Jimmy Olsen!
The splash page does an amazing job of introducing you to the heart of the story, something at which Silver age writers were masters. On the left side, marked “By day…,” Jimmy Olsen is standing happily in a crowd of children, his hands outstretched, waving money while he says, “free sodas for everybody! The treats on me, kids!” And because the title has a long word in it, Superman coincidentally flies by to give us a clue as to what that word meant by thinking, “Why is Jimmy throwing away his money foolishly like a spendthrift?”On the right-hand side we see the title, “By night…” and there is Jimmy, kneeling in a pile of money, tossing it in the air and thinking, “Hah-H-H! Money… Money… Money! I'll hoard it and get more… More! HAHH!” Superman looks in the window (kinda creepy really, that he's ubiquitously there. What if Jimmy was entertaining a woman? Yeah, right.) and says, “Now Jimmy has turned into a miser who wouldn't spend a penny!” New word defined? Check. The hook of the story clearly illuminated? Check. Now it's just a matter of finding out how the situation began and what's behind it. I reckon someone is up to no good. But who? And why?
The story opens with Jimmy polishing his Superman Souvenir Collection. He thinks, “I'd never part with my Superman Souvenir Collection…” Er… is someone asking him to? Why is he even thinking that? Hmmm… a strange non sequitur at the start of the story — by golly, I think we have found Clue One! I just don't have any idea why that's a clue or for what it is a clue. I'm sure it will show up somewhere in the story. Let's move on.Suddenly the lights go out (although one of his souvenirs is glowing in the dark). The amount of foreshadowing in this single panel is unbelievable. Two very important aspects of the story are established right away. Silver age writers were masters of storytelling without subtlety. For one thing, their audience was made up primarily of children. They had to make sure the kids understood who these characters were. (As John Byrne always says, “Every issue is somebody's first.”) In a story of this length, they had to jump right in. They couldn't play games or have extraneous panels just because they're cool. Silver Age artists were not out to make money selling their art, so story always took precedent over splash. When you look at a Silver Age comic, you'll see page after page that doesn't have any action poses by a superhero. Story over splash.Jimmy goes into the darkened hallway and sees his new neighbor, Fred Brown. Fred offers to share his candle with Jimmy while they wait for the janitor to fix the electricity. Ten minutes later, the lights are on and Jimmy thanks Mr. Brown, who heads home. Brown, however, has a rather smug look on his face as he blows out his candle. He also conveniently thinks in terms of big plot points. It turns out he put a defective fuse in the fuse box in order to get into Jimmy's room with his candle. Fred Brown is a happy man because his “secret plan with the kid is working!” That is a very strange goal — to get into someone’s apartment with a candle. Why a candle? This is one of the weirder secret plans I’ve ever heard of. As we ponder what nefarious plot could be underway with Jimmy and the candle, we fast forward to the next morning outside the Daily Planet. Lois can't believe her eyes as Jimmy emerges from a chauffeured limousine. He explains it away by saying, “Why not ride in style?” Personally, I can think of quite a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it is very expensive to ride around town in a chauffeured limousine. Especially on the salary of a cub reporter in the 1960s. That begs the question, do cub reporters still exist? Or did they disappear with the electronic age? Or are bloggers considered cub reporters? I Googled it and found myself lost in a sea of Colbert clips that, although wonderful, did not increase my knowledge of all things cubby. I think I'll move on.
Lois continues to be surprised as Jimmy hands her an orchid. He knows it's not her birthday or any special day; he just picked it up for her. This makes our favorite investigative reporter uneasy. She's worried that Jimmy is spending his money foolishly (and he appears to be wearing a white fedora when he generally goes bare-headed. Hats were always the purview of Lois Lane and Clark Kent, not Jimmy. How very curious!) Although Lois doesn't appear to be concerned about his hat, perhaps she should be. Hat-wearing is often a gateway behavior to strange candle rituals. Regardless, Lois has good reason to be worried. Something is terribly wrong with Jimmy Olsen.Please join me next month as we find out more about Jimmy's personal finances than you may have ever wondered. We’ll also find out if he continues to wear that hat. Okay, you may not care about that last one. Ooh, I know: by the end of this story you will find out the cost of helicopter fuel in 1969. How's that for an intriguing question?See you next month for more silvery deliciousness!
If you'd like to learn more, including a detailed bio and more information about Joanna's books, please visit her website.
This is a guest article. The thoughts and opinions in this piece are those of their author and are not necessarily the thoughts of the Certified Collectibles Group.
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