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Jimmy Olsen is "Superman's best friend" and the second best known character from the hero's supporting cast. He was created for the Superman radio show in 1940, mainly as someone for Superman to talk with (besides Lois Lane, who was both a woman/LoveInterest and sometimes rather contrary) so he could explain things to the audience indirectly. Jimmy was later introduced in the comics themselves.
An anonymous character who looked like Jimmy turned up as early as "Action Comics" #6 (November, 1938). But the first actual comic book appearance for Mr. Olsen was "Superman" #13 (November-December, 1941). Presumably, he was also created as an Audience Surrogate for the show's fans, who were mostly young boys. Jimmy also has some resemblance to Archie (who was also very popular at the time) in that both were impulsive but well-meaning red-haired, freckled teenagers. They even dressed alike, including wearing bowties!
Jimmy works as a photographer for the Daily Planet, which is an excuse for him to accompany the intrepid reporters Lois and Clark in their adventures without being one himself. However, he has absolutely no problem getting into far more trouble and sent on far more bizarre adventures than he seeks out, and his unique status, which since Crisis on Infinite Earths has almost taken the form of a Running Gag, is the fact that he is possibly the single most powerful Weirdness Magnet in the entire DC Universe (and in this respect is often compared to The Avengers' ally Rick Jones from Marvel).
Jimmy became so popular he actually starred in his own comic book series, the humorous Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen. Which lasted for 163 issues, from September, 1954 to March, 1974. This series is better remembered today for the amount of bizarre transformations Jimmy underwent in many of its stories. However those were only part of the wackiness featured in the series, which ranged from romantic problems with his girlfriend Lucy Lane (Lois' sister) to temporarily adopting his own superhero identity (several different ones in fact.)
The description of the Superpower Silly Putty trope features Jimmy Olsen, and for a reason! That trope could have perfectly be changed to "The Jimmy Olsen" and nobody would have really noticed.
Jimmy owned a supersonic wristwatch that he used to summon Superman whenever he wanted (only Superman could hear its buzzing). The hero must have regretted giving it to him, as Jimmy either called him to ask mundane favors, or needed help from problems he constantly got himself into (including trying to arrest criminals on his own) on the assumption that Superman would come and save him. Maybe it was because of this that, like Lois, Jimmy often was a target of Superman's surprisingly mean sense of humor. And yet, Superman never took the wristwatch away.
Jimmy's series lasted into the 1970s, when, as with Lois, DC tried to make him a more modern, believable character. He got a new set of clothes (loooong after Archie had stopped using his own similar set) and had adventures that didn't involve Superman or zany plots. He even picked up the nickname "Mister Action" (despite not starring in DC's Action Comics). Ironically, the weirdness came back with a vengeance when, of all people, Jack Kirby came along to write and draw the series. Kirby, fresh off Marvel Comics, decided to take this series as there was no assigned staff at the time, so he wouldn't cost anyone his job. With the clean slate, Kirby used the series to launch his New Gods saga (which means that, yes, Darkseid debuted in this title!) Kirby also used the series to bring back his own, older creations, the Newsboy Legion (both as adult scientists AND as their teenage clones) and the superhero The Guardian. On top of that, he also invented the DNA Project (known now as Cadmus) that would later have an impact on characters such as Superboy with their cloning techniques. Oh, and in case you think he forgot about Jimmy, he added one more transformation to the character's collection: "Homo Tremendus", i.e. Jimmy as a berserking caveman!
After Kirby's departure, Jimmy's title was combined with Lois' to create Superman Family in which Jimmy's stories became more realistic urban crime adventures. In them, the crooks are usually Genre Savvy enough to remove his signal-watch, forcing him to rely more on his own wits. Fortunately, Jimmy is more than up to the task as a two-fisted Intrepid Reporter.
Jimmy's role has since waned over the decades; while he still appears in most versions of Superman, his role as best friend has effectively been taken over by Lois, as she not only is more agreeable, but is now *married* to Superman. Besides, most writers seem to recall Jimmy more for his silly adventures than for his serious ones. His last major story arc (which took place in the much-maligned Countdown to Final Crisis series) had him apparently gaining all the powers he had during his Silver Age series, but out of his control; it was eventually revealed that the reason was because Darkseid had chosen him as the vessel of the energy for the dying New Gods... for some reason.)
However, Jimmy recently got his own mini-series, starting as a co-feature in Action Comics, before getting canceled, and later reprinted with the storyline complete. In fact, it was praised as one of the best series' of the year, and deeper delving into Jimmy's character, particularly his Genre Savviness about his cosmic plaything status, has yielded surprisingly solid results.
This storyline also finally introduced the popular Smallville character Chloe Sullivan into official DC Comics continuity, and paired the two fellow Canon Immigrants (Chloe from Smallville, Jimmy from the radio serials) together.
This renewed interest in the character just goes to show, Jimmy is likely to remain a part of the Superman Mythos forever.
Jimmy Olsen provides examples of the following tropes:
- Ambiguously Gay: A few times, and hilariously so in All-Star Superman.
- Adaptive Armor: His powers during "Countdown" were triggered only when he was in actual danger.
- Action Hero: As Mr. Action.
- Attractive Bent Gender: Jimmy looks pretty darn fetching as a woman, and in one story, a mobster falls for the disguised Jimmy.
- Badass Normal: Pre-Crisis, Jimmy did some pretty heroic things, mostly to avoid the inevitable debris of hanging around the planet's most powerful being, on top of providing exposés of crime rings for public viewing.
- Baleful Polymorph: Some of the forms Jimmy was turned into include:
- Bromance: With Superman.
- They tried to give him one with Robin back in the Silver Age.
- Butt Monkey: Poor Jimmy is a constant target of Super Dickery.
- Camera Fiend: Some versions of Jimmy.
- Canon Foreigner: Introduced in the radio show, though some claim an (unnamed) copy boy in an earlier Superman comic was supposed to be Jimmy.
- Captain Ersatz: Superman and Jimmy Olsen become Batman and Robin Expies Nightwing and Flamebird in the bottled city of Kandor, allowing Jimmy to fight crime alongside a depowered Superman (since Kandor is under a red sun.)
- Cloning Blues: The Newsboy Legion. Pre-Crisis, they're the completely identical sons of the original Newsboy Legion from The Golden Age of Comic Books, whose fathers made tiny clones of, without their prior consent. Post-Crisis, their Uncanny Family Resemblance is explained by them being direct clones of their "fathers".
- Cosmic Plaything: Jimmy didn't need to know Superman or even do anything extraordinary for things to *just happen* to him.
- Fridge Brilliance: That may be why he's Superman's best friend.
- Deus Exit Machina: Quite a lot of stories had Superman doing something in space, or Jimmy's watch would be broken, or tampered with, or something would have happened to it.
- Disguised in Drag: Jimmy does this pretty darned often, to the point he may just be a Wholesome Crossdresser.
- Henpecked Boyfriend: Lucy was as shrewish to Jimmy as Lois was to Superman.
- Instant Fanclub: Jimmy had one, in some of the comics.
- Mad Scientist: Often the cause of Jimmy's transformations.
- Never Be a Hero: Because his role was always to be Superman's little buddy. However, unlike Lois, Jimmy did get to replay some of his superhero identities: in particular, he was Elastic Lad and Flamebird (sidekick to Superman under the identity of Nightwing, playing expies of Batman and Robin.)
- Redheaded Hero
- Super Dickery: The original site even has its own Drinking Game for him!
- For anyone interested, there's only one rule; if Jimmy gets a super-power, take a shot.
- Superpower Silly Putty
- Transformation Comic: Practically; just look at the page image!
- Weirdness Magnet: Holy crap.
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Oh, he also disguised himself as a woman on occasion as part of a mission. Makes you wonder...
- Played, er, "straight" in All-Star Superman, when asked if he's in disguise for a story, he simply replies, "Nope."
- Written Sound Effect: His signal watch's: Zee! Zee! Zee!
- Zany Scheme: Jimmy either made one, or got involved in one.