Jimmy Olsen, Mr. Action

By | Friday, January 21, 2022 5 comments
A few years ago, I had the oppotunity to pick up this page of original art from Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #162 by Kurt Schaffenberger. I recognized it immediately as one of the comics I had as a kid. That image of Jimmy swinging away from that bed of spikes was very eye-catching and, although I hadn't actively thought about it in probably thirty years, it was still stuck in my brain.

(To give you a sense of how long it really has been since I thought about it, until I saw this, I could never have told you Schaffenberger ever even worked on the title! It was from a time before I really even understood that people had to create these comics, much less there might be a credit somewhere for me to read.)

As it turns out, I still actually have that issue. It's coverless now, yellowed and dog-eared. The first page is barely held in place. It's about in as bad a condition as it could be, but still be readable.

The story in question is called "The Savage Who Stalked Mr. Action" and it features a big game hunter named Savage who's carrying out a vendetta against Jimmy for busting her illegal fur trading deal. Oh, yeah. "Her." That's part of the big "hook" for the story... this mystery would-be killer is "just a girl" in Jimmy's words. The story isn't particularly good in and of itself, with some overly and unnecessarily complicated traps that Jimmy avoids fairly easily before tricking Savage into one herself, but it does sport the typically wonderful art of Schaffenberger.

But here's what caught me most off-guard: Jimmy Olsen is going around solving crimes and calling himself "Mr. Action!" It's played straight, with Jimmy as an adventurer/hero type. Almost like the Robin solo stories that were also being published as Batman backups around the same time. As near as I can tell -- I don't have the entire series and the internet seems awfully vague on this portion of Jimmy's long history -- the Mr. Action stories began in Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #158, and carried over into Superman Family until #167.

Generally, the only time the Mr. Action stories are brought up are when someone trots out Jimmy Olsen #159 in which Jimmy dresses up as a woman to evade police. But what makes that notable is largely Schaffenberger's art because he could seemingly not draw an unattractive woman. Meaning that we see a very shapely Jimmy sporting a mini-skirt and tight top that he seems completely comfortable in. Couple that with some blatant sexism permeated throughout the story (Jimmy is discovered because he didn't wear nail polish... because evidently all women wear nail polish and men never do) and it makes for a kind of bizarre tale.

Overall, it's a kind of odd take on Jimmy Olsen throughout the series. That he not only has the physical prowess and detective skills almost on par with Batman, but that he also goes out of his way to market himself as "Mr. Action" -- a name that only sounds cool if you're 7 -- seems totally at odds with every other incarnation of the character I've seen. I suppose that's why it's a concept that didn't last very long.

Still, there's some wonderful Scaffenberger art that came out of those stories, at least!
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Billy Hogan said...

I first learned to read in the mid-1960's, so I grew up on silver age comic books, especially Superman. While many of these stories have not aged well, I still consider Kurt Schaffenberger as one of the best silver age comic book artists, just behind my favorite, Curt Swan.

Matt K said...

Dang. Which sidekick has had the zanier career, Jimmy Olsen or Rick Jones…

@Billy -- Schaffenberger is very under-appreciated, I think. Much as I love Swan and consider his Superman definitive, I think Schaffenberger wins when it comes to Lois Lane!

@Matt -- Jimmy has turned into a turtle kaiju, a wolf-man, and a human porcupine; become real-life Gulliver-against-the-Lilliputians because of a tooth ache; has had virtually every super power imaginable including the ability to eat metal; was stalked by a ventriloquist dummy that looked like him; and married a gorilla. And that doesn't even get into the weird stuff!

The Internet is vague about Jimmy's career as Mister Action. In fact, I've only found your blog post and reference to Kurt Busiek's version from the early 2000s. However, going through my collection for an upcoming article on the subject, I discovered that Jimmy's first Mister Action issue is SUPERMAN'S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #155 and continues throughout much of that series and Jimmy's stories in SUPERMAN FAMILY that weren't reprints. The introductory blurbs in some of the SUPERMAN FAMILY features for Jimmy start with “They call him Mr. Action”, and Mister Action continues to be a nickname for him through SUPERMAN FAMILY #192.

All The Best,

James Heath Lantz
Freelance Writer
Staff Writer for Back Issue magazine
2021 Eisner Award nominee, 2019 winner, "Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism"

Thanks for that info, James! Let me know when your article comes out -- I'd definitely be interested in picking up a copy!