Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen has been one of his most enduring supporting characters over the last 70 years. Originally introduced in radio program The Adventures of Superman, before he made his debut in the comics, the cub reporter/photographer is one of Clark Kent’s closest confidants and a sidekick of sorts to the Man of Steel.
Due to his iconic place in Superman’s history, there have been dozens of versions of Jimmy Olsen across in comics and across different forms of media. Some have been good while others have been… less so (both literally and figuratively.) There have even been a few with their hearts in the right place that don’t quite work. So without any further to do, let’s look at some of the best and worst versions of Jimmy Olsen over the years!
10 Worst: JLA: The Nail
The Elseworlds series “JLA: The Nail” takes place in a world where Jon and Martha Kent never discover baby Kal-El because their truck gets a flat tire. This change leads to catastrophic consequences that ripple throughout this version of the DC Universe.
Instead of being a naive young photographer, here Jimmy Olsen is the deputy mayor of Metropolis and has a hardline anti-metahuman stance. Not only that, but he has been working with the new President of the United States Lex Luthor, who has used DNA found in Kal-El’s crashed spaceship to turn Olsen into a crazed human-Kryptonian hybrid.
9 Best: All-Star Superman
Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman is one of the greatest tributes and reconstructions of Superman and his surrounding mythos. One issue of the series spotlights a day in the life of Jimmy Olsen and it doesn’t disappoint.
Pulling from both the Silver Age stories and Jack Kirby’s Bronze Age take on the character, All-Star Superman #4 follows Jimmy Olsen as he writes his regular column wherein he takes a different strange job each day. The column he is currently writing involves him taking the post of Director of the DNA P.R.O.J.E.C.T. for a day, and of course, super-powered hijinks involving Black Kryptonite and Doomsday ensue.
8 Worst: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has become infamous for its controversial reinventions of existing concepts and beloved characters. An early scene shows Lois Lane and an unnamed photographer captured by a Nairomian warlord, with the photographer being executed when it is revealed he is a CIA operative.
The film’s director’s cut (which is much longer and slightly more coherent) reveals that this photographer was supposed to be Jimmy Olsen, with the death of an iconic supporting character meant to be a surprising twist.
7 Best: Superman: The Animated Series
Together, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini may have created one of the most definitive takes on the DC Universe for many fans of the genre, with their various animated series from the 1990s and 2000s. Superman: The Animated Series may not garner the same attention as Batman: The Animated Series but it contains some well-crafted stories and versions of our favorite characters.
Superman: TAS’ Jimmy Olsen is an amalgam of his best iterations over the previous decades. Other than the pseudo-mullet he rocks through the series, it’s a fairly timeless representation of the character, one that manages to encapsulate his trademark “gee-whiz” enthusiasm without coming across as annoying.
6 Worst: Superman: Red Son
Superman: Red Son is one of Mark Millar’s most celebrated works, telling the story of Superman if he had crashlanded in Soviet Ukraine rather than Depression-era Kansas. Like JLA: The Nail, this change has massive repercussions across the universe, including Lex Luthor (once again) becoming President.
His Vice President is an older and toadying James Olsen, who haplessly signs off on Luthor’s plans of using alien technology and an army of super-soldiers to take out Superman, now the Premier of the USSR.
5 Best: DC: New Frontier
There aren’t many comics that delve into what it must be like to be Jimmy Olsen quite as well as Darwyn Cooke’s DC: New Frontier. Throughout the work, we see Jimmy Olsen accompany Lois Lane through war-torn Korea, Challenger Mountain, and finally the epic battle between America’s heroes and the alien Centre.
Olsen is in the thick of the final battle, and he narrates a great sequence where he is seconds away from being killed by an alien reptile. He describes how he mentally makes it through the different insane and dangerous scenarios his job puts him in and manages to maintain his professionalism even in the direst of moments.
4 Worst: The Arrowverse
This is a tricky one because Mechad Brooks’ performance as James Olsen is solid and thoughtful. He plays an older version of Olsen, who has matured into a far more self-assured and confident character. This is an interesting take, one where the youthful innocence of Jimmy Olsen has morphed into a more grounded and “been-there-done-that” version of the classic sidekick.
However, when the show delves into his tragic backstory in order to set him up as the Arrowverse’s version of the Guardian it feels a little off. How much can a character be changed and still be recognizable? Other than his friendship with Superman, this iteration of Jimmy Olsen feels as though he could have been any character.
3 Best: Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen (2019)
Matt Fraction brings the ridiculousness of classic Jimmy Olsen to the New 52 era (or Rebirth era, or whatever we’re calling it now!) with the maxiseries Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. The series follows Olsen through places like Gorilla City and Gotham, as he builds a viral following and fakes his own death.
The comic has the same kind of Silver-Age outrageousness mixed with modern self-awareness that typified Fraction’s FF series at Marvel while throwing some new revelations about Olsen and his family’s place in Metropolis’ rich history into the mix.
2 Worst: Silver Age Jimmy Olsen (Sometimes)
The Silver Age was a wonderful time for comics, with some of the most effortlessly strange stories being told. The original Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen series leaned into this, with some wild results. Similar to the depiction of Lois Lane in her series during this time, Olsen’s personality and intelligence would shift depending on the story he found himself in.
Sometimes, the story being told would call for Olsen to be much more naive than he’s usually depicted or much more hip and “with it.” This would result in adventures where he brings Beatlemania to the ancient Greeks, or get in over his head and accidentally transmogrify himself into an evil genius.
1 Best: Silver Age Jimmy Olsen (The Rest of the Time)
The flip side of Silver Age Jimmy Olsen is that his adventures could sometimes be the most colorful and imaginative ones offered by DC during this era. Look no further than the classic adventure which sees him getting turned into a giant Turtle-Man.
Due to the character’s youth, writers would use Olsen to explore various trends that were popular at the time including a memorable incident where he becomes a werewolf, in a riff on popular films like I Was A Teenage Werewolf and I Was A Teenage Frankenstein. While these stories could be hit or miss, they mark an important time in comics history where a lack of self-consciousness meant that literally anything could happen.
Like every other Superman character, there have been many different versions of Jimmy Olsen over the years, but which are his best iterations?