Jimmy Olsen is a supporting character in the Superman comic book series published by DC Comics. This fictional character's full name has been revealed as James Bartholomew Olsen.
Jimmy is usually depicted as a bow tie-wearing young red-haired man who works as a cub reporter and photographer for The Daily Planet, usually in conjunction with Lois Lane and Clark Kent, whom he idolizes as career role models. Jimmy has often been portrayed as somewhat naive, but also as clever and resourceful. In his recent comic incarnation, Jimmy has managed to win the Pulitzer Prize for his photographic efforts.
Jimmy is also known as "Superman's pal" and has privileged access to him with the aid of a special signal watch, which with the press of a button emits a special ultrasonic frequency signal that Superman can hear anywhere on Earth. He also goes by the nickname "Mr. Action" and in the Silver Age occasionally took a potion which gave him stretching powers as "Elastic Lad." Jimmy has also appeared as the costumed "Flamebird" with Superman disguised as Nightwing in the shrunken Kryptonian city of Kandor. These names were inspired by two native Kryptonian birds, the nightwing and the flamebird.
Golden & Silver Age Versions
During the Silver Age, Jimmy starred in his own comic book, Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, which featured his various adventures with and without Superman; it debuted in 1954. The stories in the title would often feature particularly outlandish situations for Jimmy to find himself in (either through his own naive nature or by bad luck), and would range from being hurled back in time to Krypton before its destruction in issue #36 to dealing frequently with gorillas of all sorts, e.g., in issue #98. Because of these factors, the comic was regarded by some as a poorly written subsidiary title.
The major exception to this was in the early 1970s, when the singular writer/artist Jack Kirby took over the title and created his own distinctive stories as part of Jack Kirby's Fourth World, which introduced many additions to the DC Universe, including the supervillain Darkseid and Project Cadmus. The series revolved around Project Cadmus, and the genetic experiments held there - most notably Cloning. The series ended in 1974 with issue #163, when Jimmy's book was folded into the anthology title Superman Family. In that book, Olsen became a more serious character who battled criminals as an investigative reporter in urban crime stories that rarely involved Superman.
The Many Transformations of Jimmy Olsen
Especially in the days of the Silver Age, Jimmy would often find himself temporarily transformed, for better or worse. This tradition is still referenced and duplicated the present day, whether through homage or parody. The following is a partial list of some of the various forms and powers that Jimmy found visited upon himself:
Elastic Lad - Whether by serum or by alien virus, Jimmy can stretch himself, akin to Plastic Man or Mister Fantastic.
Speed Demon - In 1956, a month before the debut of Barry Allen as the new Flash, Jimmy drank a potion produced by a Professor Claude and briefly gained super-speed.
Radioactive - After being exposed himself, Jimmy began to irradiate everything in his presence.
Monstrous beard growth - In a story reflecting the ludicrous perversity of the earlier ages of comics, the machinations of the sinister Beard Band cause Jimmy to grow an immense beard.
Alien-form - Aliens transform Jimmy into a telepathic Jupiterian.
Wolf-Man - In the vein of the popular Michael Landon 1950's film, Jimmy found himself transformed into a werewolf.
Hippie - Jimmy grows a beard and joins a Superman-hating band of hippies. On the cover of this issue, Jimmy's seen wielding a rather humorous sign saying "Superman is a freak-out!"
Transvestite - Jimmy goes undercover and dresses up as a woman. His cross-dressed self oddly proves rather popular with the gentlemen, and even becomes a chorus girl.
Also a genie, a 6-armed man, a fire-breather, a water-breather, a human porcupine, a giant turtle-man, a gorilla's husband and more.
Modern Age Version
Despite being modernized to fit the current times, Jimmy Olsen has not been significantly changed in the Modern Age. He is still a cub reporter working for the Daily Planet, and is still friends with Superman. His look was made over as he stopped wearing bowties, and started wearing casual clothing.
June 2003 saw Jimmy Olsen as the focus of a twelve-part miniseries entitled Superman: Metropolis. Written by Chuck Austen and illustrated by Danijel Zezelj, the series focused on the futuristic technology unleashed in Metropolis by Brainiac in a previous storyline, and how it affected the everday lives of Metropolis citizens.
Currently, Jimmy has taken a position as a regular star reporter for the Daily Planet, replacing the recently demoted Clark Kent. This has caused a strain in the relationship between Clark and Jimmy.
In Frank Miller's 1986 graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns Jimmy Olsen is featured as the writer of a Daily Planet article entitled "Truth to Power."
In JLA: The Nail, an alternate reality in which a nail punctured the Kent's car, preventing them from finding the spaceship containing a baby Superman, Jimmy Olsen is revealed as the one behind all the other superheroes' troubles. Jimmy had served as an aide to Lex Luthor. Luthor grafted Kryptonian DNA onto Jimmy causing him to go insane and posess superpowers similar to Superman's. Jimmy played up the public's fear of superheroes via propaganda, hoping to have them imprisoned so he could use their DNA as well. When Jimmy attacked an Amish couple and their son during a battle with the JLA, the couple was killed, but the son was revealed to be Superman. In this alternate reality, the Amish couple had raised Superman, and brought him up as a pacifist, so he had never used his powers in conflict. Jimmy offered Superman to join him and when Superman refused, the two battled. During the battle, Jimmy's body started to refuse the Kryptonian DNA, causing him to disenegrate. The JLA then asked Superman to lead them.
In Other Media
Jimmy Olsen has appeared in every major filmed adaptation of Superman. The first actor to portray Jimmy Olsen in live-action was Tommy Bond in the serials starring Kirk Alyn.
On the Adventures of Superman television series starring George Reeves, Jimmy Olsen was portrayed by Jack Larson.
In the four motion pictures starring Christopher Reeve beginning with Superman: The Movie, Jimmy Olsen was portrayed by Marc McClure. McClure also played Jimmy Olsen in the 1984 spin-off movie Supergirl.
On the television series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Jimmy Olsen was portrayed by Michael Landes in the first season and Justin Whalin for the rest of the series' run.
In Superman: The Animated Series, Jimmy was voiced by David Kaufman.
In Bryan Singer's 2006 movie Superman Returns, Jimmy Olsen will be portrayed by Sam Huntington.
The Spin Doctors had a minor hit with their song "Jimmy Olsen's Blues" on their album Pocket Full of Kryptonite, in which they portrayed Jimmy Olsen as infatuated with Lois Lane and jealous of Superman. In the period after the song became popular, artist Jon Bogdanove, who at the time was the regular penciler on the Superman: The Man of Steel comic, would occasionally depict Jimmy wearing a Spin Doctors T-shirt.