Bizarro Back Issues: The Mystery Of The Tiny Supermen! (1960)
So let’s talk about the Jimmy Olsen Fan Club for a minute.
I love Jimmy Olsen, and I will go to bat for him as being one of the single greatest comic book characters of all time, but even I am occasionally mystified by the fact that in the canon of the Silver Age, he had a worldwide fan club whose members thrilled to his every adventure, purely by virtue of just being Some Guy Who Knew Superman. I mean, Lois had a fan club, too, but that makes sense. She’s an ace reporter and a go-getter. But I’ve read a lot of Jimmy Olsen comics in my day, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen any indication that he’s actually any good at his job.
Perhaps the weirdest thing about the Jimmy Olsen Fan Club isn’t that it exists, but that it once inadvertently caused Jimmy, Superman, and Supergirl to screw up so bad that it took a dozen tiny Supermen to fix it.
Historically speaking, the most important thing about Otto Binder and Curt Swan‘s “The Mystery of the Tiny Supermen” in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #48 was that it introduced the Superman Emergency Squad. Here’s the thing, though: When you get right down to it, the idea of a bunch of microscopic cosplayers from the Bottle City of Kandor who have to show up to keep an eye on things whenever Superman’s not around is actually one of the least strange things about this entire comic.
The whole thing starts with the Fan Club, to whom Jimmy has promised to show off one of his fantastic Superman souvenirs every single day for a week, even if it means that he has to fly to their clubhouse on a helicopter. This is, I think you will agree, a pretty baller way to spend one’s life, but it does have its drawbacks. For one thing, the first thing Jimmy tries to show off is a belt that turns him invisible, meaning that his fans can’t really get any good photographs.
Oh, and there’s also the somewhat more pressing problem of the helicopter not working.
This never would’ve happened if Jumbo the Helicopter Pilot, Jimmy’s short-lived sidekick, hadn’t been written out of the story. But if we can’t have one very large person to save the day, I suppose that several very small people will do just as well.
Obviously, this is a pretty shocking sight even for the Silver Age, and certainly a newsworthy one. The only problem is that when Jimmy tries to tell Perry White — a man whose entire business model is built on writing up stories of a flying spaceman who occasionally has a lion head and fights a 5th dimensional wizard — Perry insists that it must’ve been a dream. Or a hoax. You know, some kind of… imaginary story.
Even Jimmy himself starts to doubt what he saw the next day, when he’s getting ready to show the fan club another souvenir: A pair of glasses that Superman crafted for a nearsighted alien giant:
I am honestly torn between my love of the idea that Silver Age Superman had so little crime to fight that he had to spend some time as a space optometrist, and my secondhand frustration on behalf of the kids in the fan club who showed up to see a Superman souvenir and were given a pair of glasses that were slightly larger than normal.
Anyway, Jimmy’s so exhausted from staying up all night thinking about Tiny Supermen (been there) that he ends up falling asleep at his desk. When he wakes up, he realizes that he’s over deadline, and the only way for his story to be typed up in time is for him to call Superman — and this may actually be the single most frivolous use of the Signal Watch in the entire history of Superman comics: Jimmy calling Superman to literally do his job for him because he napped too hard at work.
He gets something a little different though.
Also, that entire sequence is amazing.
As you might expect, the Fan Club is actually pretty unimpressed by the giant glasses, so for the next day’s exhibit, he decides to show them something that’s actually interesting: a ray-gun! And this, it seems, is the moment that the Emergency Squad has been waiting for:
It’s at this point that we finally find out who these Tiny Supermen are, but as we already know here in the far-off future, they’re the Superman Emergency Squad from Kandor. There are however, who things that are pretty great about this little two-page exposition sequence.
First, the reminder that in the Silver Age, the Bottle City of Kandor was literally sealed with a gigantic cork. I don’t know why, but when I saw that today, I found it unexpectedly hilarious. It’s such a weird fairy-tale part of what is ostensibly a sci-fi story!
Second, and perhaps more importantly, the reason that Superman isn’t around himself. It seems that he’s back in the past dealing with some dinosaur questions!
So what’s the deal with the ray gun? As it turns out, the reason it can never be photographed is because if it was, someone with a whole lot of free time might be able to discover the secret identity… of Supergirl! This seems pretty unlikely, given that at the time, the world at large wasn’t even aware that Supergirl existed, but, y’know. Better super-safe than super-sorry.
The problem here is that before Superman gave the ray-gun to Jimmy, he showed it to Supergirl, and — being unfamiliar with her own strength — she accidentally left an impression of her fingerprints in the handle. If someone was to notice, take a photograph, and then compare those fingerprints to, I don’t know, a directory of orphanages, they could discover both the existence and identity of Supergirl!
It’s a long shot, but one imagines that life in the Bottle City of Kandor gets pretty boring. You gotta do something to relieve the tedium. But then, if they were going to go through all this trouble, why didn’t they just take the ray gun from Jimmy’s apartment instead of waiting for him to bring it to work and bondaging him in the office?
Well, dear reader, you’ve already seen the answer if you care to look at the panels above. I’ve solved this mystery. Have you?
Here’s the answer:
With that, and a little bit of light arson to cover their tracks, the Emergency Squad have accomplished their mission, and they’re ready to head back to Kandor. The only thing left is for Superman to find out about that dinosaur, and hey, look at that! It was a Chirotherium all along!