2020 is a year in which most of us are reckoning with how and why we consume media as it disappears from the public sphere only to become an increasingly absorbing facet of very limited social options in the United States. Reading the final installment of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen compels me to consider what it is that I love about superhero comics because each time I read it, I am filled with a powerful sentiment that fuses hope and audacity—offering a moment of genuine comfort in the form of an amusing distraction. That's a purposefully broad description of a comic that still manages to defy description after 12 issues, providing so many facets that to review even the most notable ones would read like a laundry list. It was a superhero comic that loved being a superhero comic; a series that represents so much of what both the genre and medium in that description are capable of offering.
One element so impressive as to demand attention is how well this sprawling and often scattered story assembles its many pieces into a comprehensively considered comedic climax. There are no dangling threads from a plot that sometimes resembled an ill-advised knitting project. Even a recurring joke about Crocs offers one of the issue's most satisfying chuckles. A collected version of this series will become quickly thumb-nailed from flipping back and forth to see all of the ideas that pay off in notable fashion here. Flashback sequences that read as one-off gags become critical to the story's resolution, and also justify narrative decisions that would otherwise be objectionable contrivances, even in the superhero genre. Jimmy Olsen #12 manages to offer the satisfaction of a four-figure jigsaw as all of its pieces are assembled.
Each piece seems to click into place with some sort of laugh, even as the stakes are raised in a surprising fashion in family showdown that makes for the darkest of puns as a Daily Planet headline. Jimmy Olsen never loses track of a snappy comedic rhythm that is difficult to muster in a single issue of comics, but has been maintained across the entire series. It cements Steve Lieber's reputation as an absolute master of comics comedic delivery, a man who can seemingly make any joke land.
However much I appreciate Lieber's ability to tell a joke, it's the final few pages of Jimmy Olsen #12 that still leaves me feeling a genuine sense of awe. They summarize the sincerity this series has emanated so well in an appraisal of human heroism that demands the innocence of the superhero. The bustle of a newsroom serving the profession's highest traditions, the elevation of a new generation prepared to fight the good fight, two pals offering a genuine reflection of friendship, and a deeply optimistic vision of the future; it's all here and every ounce of it is earned. It's possible to look at all of these things with a cynical—easy, perhaps—but Jimmy Olsen offers them as a myth worth taking inspiration from. The coloring of the final page offers a warmth that becomes reassurance.
These final moments tap into the concepts that tie all of the wildly different modes and ideas of this comic together. Superman is often compared to a god, but it's never an apt comparison because he doesn't derive any power from humanity's belief in him; Superman's power comes from his belief in us. It's that belief that characterizes Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, a series that loves strange and flawed characters, makes time for diversions, and celebrates the best in every situation it encounters. This is characterized without naïveté, too, as criticisms of class, wealth, and corruption are centered and remain present even in its hero's victory. There's a clear sighted sensibility to the series optimism, as it celebrates an idea of who we are that's very much worth believing in.
Published by DC Comics
On July 15, 2020
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Steve Lieber
Colors by Nathan Fairbairn
Letters by Clayton Cowles
Cover by Steve Lieber and Nathan Fairbairn