Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #86-87 Point-Counterpoint

Jimmy Olsen #86 (July 1965)
title: "The Team of Olsen and Brainiac!"
writer: Jerry Siegel 
penciller: Curt Swan 
inker:George Klein
editor: Mort Weisinger
cover: Curt Swan and George Klein

Jimmy Olsen #87 (September 1965)
title: "The Arena of Doom" 
writer: Jerry Siegel 
artist: Al Plastino 
editor: Mort Weisinger 
cover: Curt Swan and Sheldon Moldoff 
reviewers: Russell "Bilingual Boy" Burbage and Mike "Nostalgic Kid" Lane

While covering a story, Jimmy sustains severe brain damage. Brainiac offers to help but secretly replaces Jimmy's brain with an electronic one. Now programmed to serve Brainiac, Jimmy lures Superman into a trap. The Man of Steel quickly defeats Brainiac. The villain agrees to restore Jimmy's brain in exchange for his freedom, but places him under hypnotic control. Now teamed with Lex Luthor, Cosmic King, Lightning Lord, and Saturn Queen, Brainiac forces Jimmy to steal kryptonite from the Fortress of Solitude and lure Superman into another trap. Weakened by the kryptonite, Superman offers to help the villains if they would agree to spare him. Lex and Brainiac want to accept, but are outvoted by the Legion of Super Villains. Jimmy executes Superman by exposing him to the kryptonite, but the moment Jimmy realizes what he has done, the villains are encased in transparent globes. It turns out that thee kryptonite is not real, but merely a container holding the bottled city of Kandor. Superman's cowardly behavior was so that he could bide time until the citizens of Kandor could activate a special machine to entrap the villains. Whew!

Jimmy is covering the debut of a new armored truck made from a new, supposedly indestructible alloy. Unfortunately, after a criminal gang fires a bazooka at the vehicle it proves to be quite destructible. Superman arrives and dispatches the gang but finds that Jimmy has suffered massive brain damage in the truck's crash. He is dying and Superman fears his only option is to send Jimmy into the Phantom Zone. However, Brainiac suddenly arrives and offers to save him. His only condition is that Superman not use his x-ray vision to look into his ship while Brainiac operates on his pal.

Mike: He cannot use his x-ray vision while Brainiac is saving Jimmy's life? That is not suspicious at all. I know Superman is terrified of Jimmy dying but no way is this a good idea. I am not sure if I understand why the Phantom Zone is a good option either. With Mon-El, he was hoping to find a cure. I guess that is the case with Jimmy? I am also not sure why Superman is worried about Jimmy leading a lonely existence there since he has massive brain damage. Is Jimmy somehow going to regain consciousness in the Zone?
Russell: Whoa, there, Mike, Stop Making Sense! As Rob Kelly would say, this is a claaassic Silver Age Superman story. No logic allowed. The previous stories in this issue featured Jimmy as Congorilla and as  Nazi meeting Adolf Hitler (I am not making this up) so, clearly, this particular story is trying to win emotional points for showing us how deeply Superman cares for his pal.  

Superman continues on patrol, wondering if he made the right decision in trusting Brainiac (he did not). In his flying saucer, Brainiac removes Jimmy's brain and replaces it with a computer brain. He gives Jimmy a sixth-level intelligence, unlike his own twelth-level mind. Brainiac then returns an apparently healed Jimmy to Superman, who appears to accept that Brainiac was true to his word.

Mike: Brainiac removes his brain and replaces it with a computer! Silver Age comic book science was really something. One point I got hung up on here...how did Superman not feel the need to scan Jimmy with his x-ray vision?? He just handed him over to Brainiac and was forced to promise not to peak with his x-ray vision? You would think that would be the first thing he would do once Jimmy is back.
Russell: Yeah, how naive can you get? You're trying to tell me that Superman isn't going to check to see if, you know, Brainiac planted a bomb in Jimmy's intestines or something? My favorite part of the story is this panel, though, where Brainiac (in the voice of Ted Cassidy from the Super Friends TV show) thinks to himself, "Ha! There really isn't a shred of sentiment in my electronic mind!" Ouch!! I would have paid good money for a Brainiac-Computo-Ultron team-up.

Jimmy discovers that his sixth-level intelligence has gifted him with new abilities. He accompanies Perry White to a racetrack and is able to calculate the most likely winner. He then bets the entire Planet Fresh-Air Charity Fund on his horse. This terrifies Perry, but the Chief quickly changes his tune when Jimmy's horse wins. Jimmy is then called by his "master" Brainiac, who uses him to lure Superman into a trap.

Mike: At this point I started to dwell on the implications of what Brainiac had done. If Jimmy's brain was replaced then that cannot be "our" Jimmy, although he appears to still identify himself as such when he interacts with Perry. The narrator also seems to be reinforcing that this is still the Jimmy we know, just one that has been altered. Once he meets with Brainiac though, things appear more as I would expect in that he is not acting like our Jimmy, but instead as a servant to Brainiac.
Russell: I didn't know what to expect of that side exchange with Perry at the race track. Super smart guys know which horses to bet on? Really? I *was* impressed that Jimmy managed to count the grains of sand in his ant farm (before going off to the race-track). I thought that was geeky cool, and something "our" Jimmy would do if suddenly given a 6th level intelligence. 

Superman comes under attack by space-bats with matter-dissolving rays. He quickly defeats them and realizes that his friend has betrayed him. While an invisible Brainiac explains what he did to Jimmy, Superman's hearing picks up a clicking sound instead of  a heartbeat and he realizes that Brainiac is a machine. Superman speeds to a nearby power plant and sets the generator to give off a tremendous barrage of static, which disables Brainiac.

Mike: Space-bats with matter dissolving rays. That is just glorious. That is even better than sharks with friggen laser beams attached to their heads. There is so much going on in this two-part story. Here, the space-bats get two panels, but nowadays that would be a battle that could last a whole issue.
Russell: Does it make me sound nerdy if I say I would love to see the return of the matter-dissolving ray-blasting bats? They are freaking awesome!! The Legion should have faced them!!! I NEED TO WRITE THAT STORY!
Anyway, Evil Computer Jimmy has turned so evil ("How evil was he?") that his green suit has turned purple. Everyone knows that purple = evil.

Brainiac agrees to return Jimmy's real brain if Superman frees him, but insists that Superman leave immediately or no deal. Superman agrees and departs because he has learned nothing. Brainiac does give Jimmy back his brain but also places him under hypnotic control. He calls together Lex Luthor, Cosmic King, Lightning Lord, and Saturn Queen, and they send Jimmy to the Fortress of Solitude to steal some kryptonite for them.

Mike: I love the jars with brains in them in Brainiac's lab. Very horror film/mad scientist vibe. It seems very random of him to call Superman's arch-enemies in to join him. It is certainly fun to see them, but it just seems a very out of character thing for Brainiac to do.
Russell: I agree with you, Brainiac calling in others seems like something he would not do. On the other hand, wasn't there a whole We Hate Superman Club or something that he and Lex were the (sole?) members of? I'm not up on my Silver Age Superman lore, but I feel like I've heard of them. I also love how in the panel reproduced above each of the three characters shown are talking in explanatory dialogue. Claaaassic.  

Jimmy once again lures Superman into a trap, and he is weakened by the kryptonite. Superman surprises everyone by begging for mercy. He offers something to each of the villains in exchange for his life. Jimmy is sickened to see his hero pleading for his survival.

Mike: At this point it is obvious that Superman is faking and must have a plan. But I still enjoyed each of the villains imaging his gifts. Those are among my favorite panels in these two issues (after space-bats and the brains in jars).
I know Siegel was using Jimmy's reaction to try to get readers to buy into this, but really, Jimmy should have had much more faith in Superman given their history. And he is being awfully judgmental given that he has twice lured Superman into a trap (admittedly not his fault but still).
Russell: I laughed out loud when General Charles DeGaulle there told Lex, "...If Superman hadn't betrayed humanity by giving them to you, just to save his skin!" Right, I'm sure that is what the survivors of New Lexor would have said to Emperor Lex.
Funny how Superman offered Saturn Queen beauty, but offered Lightning Lord and Cosmic King more power. Sexist much?

Once Brainiac confirms that he cannot locate Kandor on his own, he proposes that they accept Superman's offer. Lex agrees but they are outvoted by the Legion, who commands Jimmy to execute Superman with the kryptonite. Jimmy is crushed when he realizes that he is responsible for killing his friend, and Brainiac's frustration over not learning Kandor's whereabouts dampens his joy over Superman's demise.

Mike: I thought it was a nice touch to have Brainiac try to locate Kandor himself before accepting Superman's offer. That seemed much more in keeping with his character's ego. And man, that scene where the Legion are shouting for his death while Jimmy kills Superman...I gotta wonder what kids in the Sixties were thinking? Even if they knew there was an out, that is a pretty twisted scene for a DC Comic of this era. The weirdest part though was seeing Lex pleading for Superman's life to be spared. Again, there is so much going on in this story....!
Russell: Although I laughed at the panel with Lex' fantasy, I gasped when I read the exchange between Brainiac and Superman about Kandor: "You realize, of course, that once I recover Kandor, I'll mercilessly destroy its millions of inhabitants." "I don't care what happens to Kandor! *I* want to LIVE!" Just typing that up makes me shudder. Brainiac is clearly one bad-ass serial killer.

Suddenly, the villains are all encased in "pearl-like force globules." Superman recovers and explains to Jimmy that the villains' powers are nullified by the globules. He also reveals that the kryptonite was not real, but was actually protective casing for the bottled city of Kandor. This time, Superman knew he was walking into a trap and when he saw the kryptonite, he arranged for the Kandorians to prepare a means to defeat Brainiac and his allies. His cowardly performance was merely a delaying tactic.

Mike: Superman still should not have left Jimmy alone with Brainic again, but at least he is not a complete idiot and caught on that something was up. The Kandor thing was very much a deus ex machina, but I loved the image of the globules encasing the bad guys too much to care.
Russell: We all knew that Jimmy didn't really kill Superman so that bit was not a shock (spoiler alert?) but the role played by Kandor came as a surprise to me. Although I have to say, the whole scene with Superman giving clues to Brainiac as to the location of Kandor threw me off. What if Brainiac had figured it out? He has a 12th level intelligence, after all. He might have noticed a seam in the kryptonite!

Mike: Overall I really enjoyed this two-issue story. There are so many crazy elements here, from the brain transplant to the space-bats to the pearl-like force globules. And Jimmy's brain is replaced and that only ends up being a small part of the story!
I admit it that it does not always put Superman in the best light, and Jimmy is almost a guest star in his own story. He spends all but three or four panels under the villain's control. In a way this is almost more of a Brainiac story then it is a Jimmy Olsen story. Nevertheless, it was still a lot of fun.
Russell: I agree that this was really more of a Superman vs Brainiac story, which was fine, but....! I didn't realize that Superman didn't know Brainiac was a robot until this story. In fact, I did a little research and up until a year before this, Brainiac was an alien, not a robot. He was retconned into being a computer in 1964! Which is why Brainiac 5, when he first appeared in 1961, claims to be Brainiac's *actual* descendant!
Anyway, I would have liked to have seen the Legion of Super-Villains do more in this story. I saw this issue at a comic con and bought a raggedy copy because of the LSV on the cover. So I was a bit disappointed that they didn't really DO anything.....although I guess you could say that Saturn Queen was the power keeping Jimmy under hypnotic control.


  1. The guy over at "Super Team family" has done a Brainiac-Ultron cover at least. https://braveandboldlost.blogspot.com/search?q=brainiac+ultron

  2. The surreal image of Jimmy removing his forehead should be a meme. I'm surprised its not.

    Oh, and while I admire Al Plastino's work on its own merits, when you look at the differences between his work and Curt Swan's here...Swan is the man.


  3. I'm a little confused--it doesn't seem as if, in your entertaining synopses, that the LoSH appeared in these stories, and they're not listed as characters in the Grand Comics Database's summation of these stories, so why are you reviewing these stories?

    1. BaySchintgens is right, this is an LSV appearance and we are trying to cover those. Also, because we are reviewing those Jimmy Olsen stories that have any Legion connection.

  4. I assume because the Legion of Super Villains are LSH villains. It seems to me that the majority of LSV appearances in the Silver Age did not involve the Legion.