Jimmy Olsen: Who is Superman’s Pal?

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Heroes

[Supergirl sees a framed newspaper of Superman’s debut]
Supergirl:I’ve seen this picture, like, a million times. It won a Pulitzer. Wow.
Jimmy Olsen:Yeah. Only because it was the first real shot of him. Little secret, he actually posed for that. Guess he liked me.

Supergirl “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)

A man sneaks through a warehouse. The tip about strange items being smuggled into the city was right on the money. Laser rifles, strange liquids, and gear straight out of Star Trek are unloaded from crates and stowed on shelves. He raises his camera and presses the shutter button.

He hears a sound behind him and presses another button on his camera. He whirls around and takes a picture, blinding a guard with the flash. The man shoulder checks the goon and runs. An alarm blares. He presses a button on his watch. Help is coming, but he needs time. The man reaches into a crate and pulls out a bottle of teal liquid. Eh, any port in a storm, he thinks as he takes a healthy swig.

The man’s clothes tear as his skin forms thick armor plates. A club tail emerges from his rear. He’s become a human ankylosaur. Bullets bounce off his armor while several swings of his tail smash through the guards. The last one falls as the man hears someone clear their throat. Jimmy Olsen chuckles sheepishly at Superman’s knowing grin.

Jimmy Olsen is an odd duck. He can barely eat lunch without getting caught up in zany adventures. So who is he? How did he become Superman’s pal? How many powers does he have? Let’s find out.

Cub Reporter: Jimmy Olsen’s Backstory

Superman:Great Krypton! Jimmy has started a Beatle craze in the ancient past! He’s as popular as Ringo!

Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #79

Jimmy Olsen debuted on The Adventures of Superman radio show in 1941. He was created by Jerry Siegal, Joe Shuster, and Bob Maxwell. He was introduced so Superman would have someone to talk with besides Lois Lane and became popular enough to make the jump into comics. 

Jimmy Olsen was a Daily Planet photographer who frequently accompanied reporters Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Jimmy would invariably get into trouble, requiring Superman to save him. Superman eventually gave Jimmy an indestructible Signal Watch to summon help. 

Jimmy became a leading man in “Superman’s Pal: Jimmy Olsen.” He got into adventures while pursuing Lois’ sister, Lucy. Writers often gave Jimmy temporary superpowers or a zany transformation on the cover to pique reader interest.

Jimmy’s stories grew more serious over time. Writers tried to make him a man of action investigating urban crime without Superman’s help. While not as popular, this era introduced Superman staples like Project Cadmus, Intergang, and Darkseid.

Mr. Action: Jimmy Olsen’s History

[Superman and Lois are kissing in an unused room]
Jimmy: [walks in] “Oh my God! Lois? Superman! What would Mr. Kent say?!
Superman:Jimmy! Er… I…
Jimmy:I’m just messing with you. I’ve always known who you are.
Jimmy: Do you have any idea how many Superman photos I took? I blew them up and manipulated them and stared at them as I worked. And I shared an office with you. Also, every bored photographer has drawn glasses on their photos.

DCeased: Hope at World’s End

Modern stories struggle with Jimmy Olsen. His role as Superman’s foil isn’t as necessary after Clark married Lois. There was a brief attempt to make him a superhero related to The New Gods that went nowhere. What do you do with an iconic character that the story has outgrown?

Jimmy was recently given another series. He’s portrayed as a reporter accustomed to the weird things in his life, using experience to outwit bizarre threats. In other words, Jimmy Olsen has become a non-time traveling version of The Doctor from Doctor Who.

Take The Shot: Jimmy Olsen’s Powers and Personality

[Superman has been driven mad and runs amok]
Jimmy: [injects himself with a syringe gun] “This gun’s not for you, Superman.” 
Superman: [blasts him with heat vision] “What am you talking about?! [smoke clears to reveal Jimmy has become Doomsday] Oh, no.”
Jimmy:Hurrr. Cool.

All-Star Superman

Jimmy is a skilled reporter and photographer. His signal watch emits a sound that only people with super senses can hear.

Jimmy briefly served as heroes called Elastic Lad and Mr. Action. He’s been turned into a psychic by aliens, became a werewolf, had his brain swapped into a gorilla’s body, grew into a giant turtle man… we’ll be here all day if we list every transformation. These powers inspired the Jimmy Olsen Drinking Game. Take a shot every time he gets powers or transforms. 

Jimmy started out as a naïve twerp comparable to Burt Ward’s Robin. He became brave and always willing to help others. Years of wacky adventures have made Jimmy eccentric, but capable of dealing with almost anything.

The Actors Who Play Jimmy Olsen

Jack Kelk and Jack Grimes – Superman (Radio Series)
Jack Larson – The Adventures of Superman
Aaron Ashman – Smallville
Mehcad Brooks – Supergirl
David Kaufman – Superman: the Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League: Doom
Mark McClure – Superman: The Movie, Supergirl
Ishmael Sahid – My Adventures With Superman

Didya Get All That?

Superman’s Pal who’s finally able to stand on his own.

Image: Jimmy Olsen stands ready with his camera while Lois clutches Superman in “My Adventures with Superman”. Courtesy Warner Brothers

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