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

Posted by Joanna Sandsmark on 10/9/2012

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?

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. Still a really weird goal. The next morning, Jimmy begins acting like a spendthrift. He rides to work in a limo, gives Lois an orchid, treats all the neighborhood kids to ice cream and gives a generous donation to Superman's Charity Drive. But by night, things change. Instead of wearing his jaunty fedora and dandy brown coat, he changes into moth-ridden pants and a ratty green coat. He becomes so miserly that he won't buy dinner and simply eats free berries in the park. He risks his life picking up a penny on a busy thoroughfare — if not for Superman's eagle eye, Jimmy would be penniless roadkill. So, what is going on? Let's find out.

To bring the concepts of spendthrift versus miser even more into the light and see how difficult things have become for Jimmy, the examples of his two extremes continue. He asks for a loan from Clark and an advance on next week's salary from Perry. Is he spending it wisely? Of course not! He's rented out a big block of seats in the theater so that he could watch in “solid comfort!” This was the panel I remembered the most from my childhood. There was something about seeing someone so rich that they could buy several rows of seats that brought the image home about wealth and crazy spending. Not that I didn’t daydream about being rich enough to do the same. Had I actually done that, I probably wouldn’t have remembered where I’d gotten the idea. When I reread this story, I saw that panel and got this huge grin because now I know. It was Jimmy Olsen, of all people!

Later, when Superman again answers Jimmy's signal watch, he finds Jimmy asking Superman to squeeze a lump of coal into a diamond for monetary gain. Superman is not amused. That night, Jimmy dreams of running through money. We can tell by the patches on his elbows and his money-themed dream that, even in sleep, his personality has switched back to a miser once again

Miser Jimmy heads to a pawn shop and hocks some of his possessions (his baseball glove, a pair of binoculars, ice skates and a couple of rectangles — I really can't tell what those last things are). Those should get him of a huge amount of money from the pawnbroker with the enormous chin. Everyone loves a good rectangle.

But, wait! What's this? That's not a pawnbroker with an enormous chin! That's Mr. Brown, wearing a fake beard that the colorist failed to color! Good, now we get to find out the entire scheme. His henchman happily begins the “this is how we did it” portion of the comic. When the lights went out in Jimmy's building, he invited Mr. Brown and his candle to enter his apartment. Then Brown hypnotized Jimmy saying, “Keep your eyes on the wavering candlelight. Now remember … You will be a spendthrift by day and a miser by night!” (Hmmm … No mention of the white hat — how curious!) Jimmy answers, “I hear … and obey!” And because none of that makes any real sense, Mr. Brown continues to tell us what was going on. They want Jimmy to squander his money so it'll force miser Jimmy into hocking the things they want. He says this as he tosses everything Jimmy just hocked. (One of those rectangles looks like a camera now, and another looks like a clock.) If we were paying attention, we could figure out exactly what they're after by remembering how the story started. Silver Age writing never leaves anything to chance, or has things come from left field. All the clues are always there.

(I have to take a moment here and mention what a bizarrely complicated plot these villains have contrived. Rather than just breaking into Jimmy's apartment and stealing the Superman souvenirs, they decide that the better choice is the lights out / hypnosis / spendthrift / miser / pawnshop option. I don't think these crooks are very good at their job. I'm sorry, but someone had to say it. Now back to this insane story.)

The next day, Jimmy is out in the Flying Newsroom and is, to Superman's dismay, showering the Metropolis streets with cash. (I loved this panel when I was little. It made me wonder if some day someone might fly over my house and pour money down on top of me. Strangely, it never happened.) Not that Superman doesn't appreciate the fact that Jimmy is over a poor section of town — he does. He is just wondering, "What is up with Jimmy?" When you've lived in a Silver Age comic long enough, you know weird things don't happen without consequences.

The next night, miser Jimmy checks under his mattress and is horrified. “My money … It's gone! Help … Police! Army … Navy … Marines … Help!” No mention of Superman? He calls on the Army, Navy and Marines, but not Superman? Okay, I'll admit, I was amused by his calling out to the Armed Forces for his stolen money, but it does seem strange that he doesn't call on Superman. He always calls on Superman. Often for dopey reasons. So it's strange. Strange, but, as always, there's a reason for it. At this point in the story, Superman can't make an appearance because he's needed outside Jimmy's apartment so he can spy on him. He sees Jimmy painting the word “souvenirs” on a large wooden box. He did quite a nice job of the labeling. It appears to be on all four sides of the box. As he paints, he says aloud, “Hahhh! Hocking these will bring me lots of money!”

Superman is crushed. He gave Jimmy several space souvenirs and because one corner of the box glows, he's positive that's what is in the box. “::Choke::”

Jimmy lugs the box into the pawn shop and asks for $5,000. Mr. Brown, in his disguise, sees the glow and assumes it is Jimmy's Superman souvenir collection, which is just what he wants, doesn't bother to check and pays the price asked. After Jimmy leaves, Superman — who has been spying on Jimmy nonstop at this point — watches the crooks with his X-ray vision. He recognizes Mr. Brown as actually being “Swindle” Stanton with his partner, Lefty Blake. As Stanton crowbars open the box, Lefty discusses his plan to impersonate Superman, since he is his double. I sure hope Lefty never needs glasses because he'll look in a mirror, see Clark Kent, and suddenly know Superman's secret identity.

They dump out the souvenirs and, lo and behold, it's yet another box of worthless junk. The glow was caused by a chemistry set. There was also a typewriter, a tennis racket, a football, two horseshoes and an electric train. I find it a little surprising that the crooks never bothered to open the box of souvenirs before handing over the money. After all, they came up with a bizarrely twisted plan to get their hands on the Superman souvenirs. It involves so many steps and arcane machinations, and yet they decided to never look inside the box until Jimmy was gone with the five grand? Crooks are weird.

Superman takes off after Jimmy as the crooks bemoan their financial loss (after all, in 1969, $5,000 was equivalent to $97.3 billion in today's money). Jimmy is surprised to learn that Superman thought he’d hock his collection. No amount of money would be worth that! (Even, apparently, more solo trips to the theater for “solid comfort.”)

Superman flies Jimmy up into an electrical storm, holds him in front of a giant bolt of lightning (yeah, that seems like a good idea), having it miss him by inches. (1969 inches are the equivalent of nano-somethings in today's measurements.) And yet, this lightning therapy cures Jimmy. At least it might have, because Jimmy then hands Superman the $5,000 pay he got for his old junk and tells Superman to give it to his charity. That charity is really making out and Jimmy probably should've held onto that money. The next panel shows Superman gloating about the charitable donation to Stanton and Lefty. Those two gentlemen are not happy.

The last panel is priceless. Well, not actually, because it's all about price. Jimmy is figuring out his budget, now that he's broke from constantly giving Superman all his money for the charity. Here's a trip in the wayback machine:

Lunch — $.18
Car fare — $.22
Gas for Flying Newsroom — $.31
Movies — $.00

I had no idea that Jimmy had to pay for the gas for the newspaper's helicopter. What's even more surprising is that you can fill the helicopter's gas tank for $.31. Two lunches (barring more free berries in the park) cost more than gas for the helicopter. Then again, 1969 budget estimates are about $6 trillion in today's money.

I hope you enjoyed this tale of split personalities, really stupid crooks, candles, cash and lightning. There's no telling what next month’s column will bring you, but I can guarantee that it won't include that exact list of plot twists. However, since these are Silver Age DC Comics, there will be a guaranteed dose of wackiness in every byte.

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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