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The Free Jimmy Olsen & Chloe Sullivan Comic Knocks Our Socks Off [Review]

When it was first announced that Nick Spencer and RB Silver were going to be adding Jimmy Olsen backup stories to “Action Comics,” I’ll admit that I was a little apprehensive — and more than a little jealous of Spencer, who got my dream job. Jimmy is, after all, one of my all-time favorite characters, but he hasn’t exactly had much luck getting good stories in the Modern Age, especially since a major selling point seemed to be the inclusion of “Smallville” character Chloe Sullivan making her DC Universe debut.

Even so, the solicitations certainly made it seem like Spencer had captured the feeling of the stories that made Jimmy great. So when DC and comiXology made the first ten-page story available in its entirety for free on both their iPad app and the website, I couldn’t download it fast enough.

And there’s a good chance this might end up being my favorite comic of the year.I’ve mentioned before that nobody — nobody — got screwed over by “Crisis on Infinite Earths” like Jimmy Olsen did, but on one level, I can understand that. The post-”Crisis” DC Universe was largely about a rejection of the “silliness” of the Silver Age, and no other character, not even Superman himself, embodied the glorious excesses of the era more than Jimmy.

As Superman’s #1 fan, he was the ultimate wish-fulfillment character, the youngster who earned a spot as the best friend to the most powerful man in the world through sheer moxie. He was a kid with no super-powers, no training — he even had to work for a living — and yet he was so clever, brave and loyal that Superman himself made him his pal. DC was essentially rewarding their readers for liking Superman, telling them that if Superman was real, he’d totally like them too.

And as a result, Jimmy had the best, craziest adventures of the era. He had girlfriends in the future. He gained super-powers. He owned a jetpack. He had a secret hideout in an abandoned observatory that he shared with Robin. He went back in time to infiltrate Hitler’s inner circle and bring down the Nazis, all because he was a Superman fan. And his job was to write it all down, which — aside from making him the Silver Age’s most important author of self-insertion fan-fiction — essentially made him the role model for every kid who grew up wanting to write those comics.

But those are all very Silver Age ideas — especially the part where Superman had enough free time to hang out when he wasn’t punching out robots — and they ended up getting jettisoned in their entirety after “Crisis,” and while other characters with similar silliness were modified to fit the zeitgeist, Jimmy was just sort of there. The Legion of Super-Heroes, Metamorpho, even Lois Lane got new characterizations (though the Legion had their share of stuff thrown out), but Jimmy was just sort of there. The only things anyone actually bothered with were the elements that Jack Kirby introduced during his run on the title, which — much as I love Kirby — didn’t really have much to do with Jimmy himself.

Which isn’t to say that there’s not a reason for that: When Kirby came to DC in 1971, he legendarily told them to give him their worst selling book and he’d make it their best, because, you know, he’s Jack Kirby. And he then did exactly that — again, because he’s Jack Kirby.

Either way, the things that defined the character as being the guy so cool that he’s Superman’s best friend were left by the wayside. But in today’s DC Universe, with the emphasis on looking to the past that’s been spearheaded by writers like Grant Morrison and Geoff Johns, they’re finally ready to acknowledge that stuff again. It’s the flipside to the nostalgia problem I’ve talked about so often, that people actually are going back and looking at stuff that was once summarily dismissed.

And Spencer and Silva pull it off amazingly well. Not only does the story start with a typically classic Jimmy Olsen adventure, wherein he pretends to be a genie to get a story…

…which I’m pretty sure is a reference to the fact that Silver Age Jimmy was actually the reincarnation of Marco Polo, who would occasionally regress to his past life where his best pal was a genie named Korul…

…but Spencer also totally calls Jimmy out on how he just hasn’t done anything in a while:

That, by the way, is Chloe Sullivan, and while bringing a character over from “Smallville” was one of the things I was worried about in this book (which is ironic, considering that Jimmy himself got his start as a character on the radio show who was so popular that he made the transition to comics, making him the Golden Age Harley Quinn), she’s great.

Spencer has made her a rival reporter with a column where she spends a week shadowing a famous person…

…which is exactly what Jimmy himself was doing with his “For A Day” column in “All Star Superman,” a book that boasted the best Jimmy Olsen stories in 30 years:

I love this. By making Chloe an idealized version of Jimmy and having her call him out, he’s illustrating exactly the frustration that modern readers have with the character: The waste of potential that comes from the fact that he doesn’t do anything. She’s not just what Jimmy could be, she’s what Jimmy should be.

Also, in casting her as Jimmy’s love interest, Spencer has replaced Lucy Lane, which is great, as Lucy Lane is a hateful shrew.

God I hate you Lucy Lane.

Chloe, meanwhile, actually has a legitimate complaint, and the fact that she’s Lois Lane in miniature — and that the arch-nemesis for Jimmy that Spencer introduces is Lex Luthor in miniature — casts Jimmy as exactly what he should be: The Superman of his own story.

And Silva draws the heck out of it, too. He manages to nail techno-genies just as well as he portrays Chloe’s frustration, Sebastian’s pompous smirk, and Jimmy himself is confident and stylish without a reliance on the bowtie as a signifier. He gets everything that Spencer throws at him and does wonders with it.

Long story short, I love this comic, both as a huge fan of Jimmy Olsen and as someone who just likes good comics. It’s sharp, it’s funny, it’s got great action, it plays with expectations and acknowledgments of the past in clever, interesting ways, and the premise of Jimmy betting that he can have a more exciting week than some trumped-up corporate exec is the perfect hook for a Jimmy Olsen story.

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