Well, you’re probably thinking: “Here comes another stodgy review from the grumpy guy on the AiPT! staff. He doesn’t like anything. He gave the last issue of this Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber series…(pulls up review) a 6/10! Which is positive, but not enough!”
Rest assured, imaginary reader. This issue finally shows off this series’ potential, oddly enough, by being as messy as possible.
Fraction is going for an episodic structure, where each issue is divided into different segments. They have a sense of narrative unity, but can work on their own as comedic snapshots. Nowhere does that format work better than it does in #3.
To recap, my complaints for #2 were many, but the primary gripe was that Jimmy Olsen tries to be dramatic and comedic and does neither justice. Thankfully #3 chooses when and how to mix its tones with the deftness of Joss Whedon.
Even the long-winded introductions to each scene work better. What used to be the Marvel norm of authors injecting their own narration has been gloriously brought back. Stan Lee roped us in by directly addressing us with a wink and a smile. Now Fraction rambles on about getting an A in creative writing for using “a dark and stormy night”…and it works.
However, the first two segments are the weakest. We open, as usual for this series, with Joachim Olsen. While it’s more amusing than before, its main purpose seems to be giving Steve Lieber room to draw ye olde time paraphernalia. I’m sure this subplot will grow into something more interesting, but at the current moment, it hasn’t been worth incorporating into every issue.
Even less satisfying is a segment where Lex Luthor unearths a time capsule. I suppose its purpose is to show how sad he is beneath all his wealth. But I wasn’t aware that was a character arc we were pursuing at such a miniscule level.
But now we’re free from mediocrity! Next is an EC homage involving an astronaut who injected Jimmy with the turtle serum from #1. Not only is the art rendered and paced beautifully, but the inner monolog this guy has is genius, including the lines: “Who knows what could be hurt or even—ulp—killed! Why did I just think ‘ulp’?” This is where drama and comedy mix well. There are real stakes involved, but it’s done through this hammy homage.
Then there’s Paulie the Porcadillo, which is not dissimilar to the EC homage in terms of tone. It’s absurd to see this prickly guy burst into a law office and attack Ed Lynch, the landlord, but it has an undercurrent of tragedy by the end.
We flash back to Jimmy working with Doc Mantel on a subatomic level and of course things go wrong. But Fraction turns that into a hilarious skewering of how old sitcoms like to end on a one-liner, no matter what just happened. Felt very Get Smart, and I love Get Smart.
Moving forward, Jimmy fakes his own death with Metamorpho’s help and moves to Gotham across the next three sketches, all giving off a campy noir vibe. This main plot advances appropriately and makes us laugh along the way with jokes ranging from parody to absurdism.
It’s taken a bit to get there, but Fraction and Lieber have finally gotten the plot and humor to consistently speed along. I had doubts there’d be enough material for 12 issues, but there’s enough for 20+ if Jimmy Olsen can keep this level of innovation up.