This is a hard series to pin down; i.e., its intent is troublesome. See, I think we all assumed this would harken back to Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye series. Both peek behind the curtain of stalwart heroics to find the lowly, average shmucks behind it all. Yet, Hawkeye worked as a comedy and its individual arcs were engaging, stretching the boundaries of genre. Yet…Jimmy Olsen isn’t quite effective as comedy or drama.
This issue is also divided into chapters, #1 going back to Joachim Olsson, #2 about Jimmy’s overachieving brother, #3 features Superman in a comedic role, and #4 goes back to Gotham ever so briefly.
Firstly, I’m fine with us going back to Joachim. That’s a cute idea. Unfortunately, it’s too brief to do much other than give us a little twist at the end. But it serves to show how versatile Steve Lieber is, even when he’s tasked with fire-lit historical fare.
However, introducing Jimmy’s brother is an odd move. It tries to split the difference by being comedic but also dramatic. And by straddling both, the scene falls flat. We should be feeling genuinely sad for Jimmy as we watch him get verbally and emotionally eviscerated by Julian. Yet, when Julian pushes his brother, Lieber conveys it like a pratfall, softening physical abuse. (Note: I’m aware it might not have been Lieber’s call to frame everything in a comic light. Don’t flip your lids.) Here’s my point: mixing tones can be awesome, but here, the tones cancel each other out so none of them are truly successful.
#3 isn’t necessarily funny, but it’s cute to see Superman framed as a wee bit of a, well, dork. Harkening back to the lighter fare of the early Superman days is rarely a bad thing, but (there’s always a but) this segment serves to point out how underwhelming this series already is. Superman offers to take Jimmy with him to stop a crime and Jimmy refuses. We then get almost two pages depicting all the many wacky adventures Jimmy’s had previously.
So here’s the problem: Matt Fraction is trying to show Jimmy attempting to be more mature. But if he’s now a mellowed-out Jimmy, why should I read this? Besides, Jimmy wasn’t told not to go adventuring by Perry White, he was just reallocated. I suppose he could really be stricken with guilt from his brother’s harassment, but that scene was executed in a comedic fashion, undercutting any real impact.
Lastly, Jimmy finds his apartment ransacked and himself in danger of a conspiracy. So he calls Lois Lane! And then…oh, that’s it. Unfortunately, the great reveal of the first issue, that Jimmy’s now in Gotham, isn’t capitalized on. The possibility of contrast between the sunny disposition of Jim and Batman’s gargoyle land is all but left on the drawing table.
Herein lies a book with an identity crisis. It’s marketed as a showcase of Jimmy’s shenanigans, but the book insists it’s smarter than that and thus, undercuts its existence with a muddled mix of drama and cuteness. But hey—it’s at least different. If you liked the first issue, go for this one too.