Spinner Rack: "The Spendthrift and the Miser" — Part Two

Posted by Joanna Sandsmark on 9/4/2012

This month, we find out more about Jimmy's personal finances than you may have ever wondered.

Last month, we began reading the second story in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #125 called “The Spendthrift and the Miser." A quick recap: The lights in Jimmy’s apartment go out and he meets his new neighbor, Mr. Brown, who shares his candle. Brown, however, is up to no good as he gloats that he was the one who sabotaged the lights so that he could get into Jimmy’s apartment with a candle. Yeah, seems like a really weird goal to me, too. Perhaps the story will give us some more information. One can only hope.

The next morning, Jimmy arrives at work in a chauffeur-driven limo. When Lois questions him, Jimmy replies, “Why not ride in style?” He then gives Lois an expensive orchid — just because. Lois accepts it with gratitude … and concern. It's obvious that something is going on with Jimmy. The problem is figuring out exactly what that is. It's not like he's hurting anyone. In fact, he's being really nice. Okay, a little creepy nice. And that's why there's a problem.

Lois has good reason to worry because the next panel shows Jimmy giving a homeless man $10. This may not sound like much in today's economy, but in 1969 dollars that's the equivalent of $1.4 million — give or take a buck. (To give you an idea of value at that time, on the opposite page is an ad for a “Dragon Wagon” that is “The Crazy New Car Model By Monogram.” With “More Than One Half the Parts Are Chrome Finished” and a fire breathing dragon included, this is an expensive car model. The cost for this amazing chunk of coolness? $2.00.) The comic itself had just gone up in price from $.12 to $.15. It was a big deal. I remember thinking that the $.03 difference would probably mean the end of comic books in my life. Imagine how many comics I could have bought with $10! I remember thinking that Jimmy had just given that “bum” (to use the vernacular of the day) a king's fortune.

Jimmy then heads to an ice cream parlor that is full of children. He waves more dollar bills in the air, ordering the joint's “… biggest dish of ice cream” for all the kids. One of the shining-faced urchins says, “Gosh, he just rounded us all up from the street!” As a kid, I waited for some pal of someone famous to buy me ice cream and it never happened. Not once. I kept wondering why these kids were so lucky when it didn't seem to work for people like me. Of course, the key phrase in that sentence is “people like me” — as opposed to “fictional characters like them.” Don't worry, I did eventually stop thinking about strangers buying me ice cream. I think it happened just in time, as the whole “stranger buys kid ice cream and then abducts them” thing started happening soon after. Of course, having grown up in the Dairy State, the ice cream scenario was more realistic than random candy from a stranger. I could go on and explain why we weren't allowed to have margarine until some time in the late 60s, but I digress.

Clark Kent is sitting at his desk filling out a form titled, "Superman's Charity Drive.” (Doesn't he worry that others will find out his secret identity when he's at work? Isn't he at risk for being fired for doing stuff for his alter ego instead of working? Or do all things Superman transcend all other human activity? So many deep questions in this issue.) He hears Jimmy's supersonic signal watch and races to his pal at super speed. However, when he arrives, Jimmy — wearing his white fedora — is holding a handful of cash. “Here, Superman! A donation for your charity drive!” And now it makes sense why Clark Kent was looking at Superman's charity drive paperwork. You always have to introduce new information a panel or two prior to using that information. In case the reader didn't realize that Superman had a charity drive, it was right there on Clark Kent's desk. Then two panels later, Jimmy gives cash to the charity drive. This is Silver Age comic book writing at its finest. There's something so wonderful about never leaving a detail behind. It's rather amazing they always include an extra clue so that the children reading can figure things out. This is where that white fedora that Jimmy is wearing comes into play. The only time he wears it is when he is giving away money. That's our first clue that something is going on. Because the next panel shows Jimmy holding out his empty pocket (I don't know many people who have ever held out their empty pocket to prove their poverty, but I'm sure it must’ve happened at least once in the history of mankind), leaving Superman to wonder why he had suddenly turned into a “spendthrift”!

The next panel leaves the fedora behind. Now Jimmy is wearing pants with holes in them and a beat-up green coat instead of his dapper brown coat. He thinks to himself, “I've got to go out, but why should I wear my good clothes? This old suit will do fine!” This was in the days when a man wouldn't be caught dead — even a poverty-stricken man — without wearing a suit. Jimmy heads out to a park in the middle of the night and eats berries off of a bush to save the price of dinner. It's nighttime (our second clue, as spendthrift Jimmy did all his work in the daytime). Next, Jimmy leaps into traffic to pick up a penny off the street. A car heads straight for him. “Look out…” screams the driver, “I can't stop!” Luckily, Superman is out on “night patrol” and saves Jimmy. The crazy redhead appears oblivious to what had just happened as he gleefully stares at his new penny. He is looking pretty darn crazy. Superman is understandably perplexed.

“Now just because you saved my life,” says Jimmy, “don't expect me to donate this to your charity drive… Not a whole penny!” (I don't remember the United States having half cents in 1969. I remember having a coin collection back then and I had a half cent from the Civil War. I found it remarkable that at some time in history a penny was not the smallest coin — though the half cent was actually quite a large coin. Just saying. Oh, and don’t let the folks at NGC hear you saying “penny.” It’s a cent — you got that? A cent.) Greedily, he drops the penny, er, cent, into a coin purse.

Another great convention of Silver Age writing is using Superman to bring the points home. He's the one who announced that Jimmy had become a spendthrift. And now, for the title to make sense, he announces in a thought balloon that, “Jimmy is the opposite of a spendthrift now … He's become a miser!” And now the concept is complete. A spendthrift by day, and a miser by night. A well-dressed man in a brown coat and white fedora by day, and a guy who looks almost homeless in his moth-ridden suit by night. What on earth has happened to our Jimmy?

To find out the thrilling conclusion you'll have to come back next month. I know I will! So be like me — always a good goal.

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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