James Bartholomew Olsen. We haven’t seen much of Superman’s Pal since the radio show, but rest assured that he’s been headlining his own comic. The kid sure hated bigotry in the stories we’ve looked at before, I wonder what he’s up to now.
“Jimmy’s D-Day Adventure”
The Daily Planet’s youngest reporter, Jimmy Olsen, is covering a story about some newly-opened Nazi archives and finds a film reel that depicts someone who looks exactly like himself receiving a medal from Hitler. This piques Jim’s curiosity and, since he just happens to have an experimental time-travel device lying around, he rents a WWII-era war correspondent costume and heads back in time to see what’s up.
(Things happen fast in a Silver Age comic)
Arriving at Normandy, Jimmy is impressed to see General Eisenhower being interviewed by the real war correspondents of the era, but he knows that if he’s going to learn about his Nazi doppelganger, he needs to cross into enemy territory. So he heads out alone into the the fray.
Before long, Jim comes across an Allied paratrooper unit in a bad spot. They’re surrounded and out of ammunition, only having smokescreen grenades left. Jimmy, who will never miss an opportunity to wear a costume, knows how he can help. He grabs the helmet of a fallen German soldier and takes the poison warning label from a bottle of iodine. Putting the skull-and-crossbones sticker on the helmet, he claims to be Private von Olsen, of the Death’s Head Chemical Warfare Squad and present the unit to the Nazis as his prisoners.
Jimmy gets permission to execute the Allied unit, which he does via “poison gas grenade” to conserve ammunition. In actuality, he used one of the unit’s smoke grenades creating a smokescreen to allow them to escape. But the Nazis are fooled.
The General asks how Jim could have captured a whole Allied squad like that. Jim claims to have a crystal ball (actually the part of his time-travel device that is meant to recall him when it runs out of power) that lets him see the future. Luckily, Jimmy had the forethought write down various details of the invasion before coming back in time, so he is able to “prove” his abilities by citing things before they occur. This earns Jim a promotion to Captain, which he welcomes as a chance to sabotage Nazi battle plans and discover who his German double is (which should be obvious by this point even if we hadn’t seen the splash page).
Jim gives the Nazis his “predictions” with such timing that the Germans never actually get a chance to act on them, but he is always proven right. This goes on for a while. He’s made a Colonel and awarded an Iron Cross. He gets promoted to work alongside the Fuhrer and he continues the scam until he’s made a General. Eventually the High Command get fed up that, for all his future knowledge they are never able to use his information. They begin to suspect he’s a spy. They set a test for von Olsen by having a supposed Belgian woman “accidentally” drop an incriminating note to see how he reacts.
Jim sees through the ruse because the Nazi agent Lotte Lutz was not wearing clogs (and, because that is pretty slim evidence, I also have to assume she also held up three fingers the wrong way or something). Jimmy proves his loyalty to the Nazis by turning in the supposed spy and thus gets even more esteem in their eyes. He is promoted again and it thus turns out that the footage he witnessed earlier was himself being commended by Hitler.
But Jim’s whole situation abruptly ended by the assassination attempt in July 1944. Hitler is incensed that von Olsen hadn’t warned him and the Nazis find Jimmy’s list of historical events, up to and including Hitler’s suicide. Jim just runs for it.
Lotte Lutz tries to stop Jimmy, but accidentally winds up taking out her fellow Nazis. An SS solider then throws a grenade at Jim, but the young reporter’s time-travel device runs out of power and returns him home at the exact moment needed to save his life.
And, I guess that the fact that Jimmy left the Nazis with a note detailing the rest of the War just doesn’t matter. The end.
Issue: Jimmy Olsen #86, July, 1965
THE “L” THING
I didn’t mention it when it came up last time, with a character called Llela Llark, but we’re well into the era in Superman history when the creators are fully committed to the idea that the letter “L” is of utmost, yet mysterious, importance to the franchise. In this issue we get Nazi agent Lotte Lutz, which causes Jimmy to comment on numerous L-named people he knows.
I don’t think the L thing was ever intentional. I figure it began as a coincidence, but eventually creators/fans noticed that they had the El family and Lois Lane and Lex Luthor and so on, and they decided to lean into it. They began using the initials for more and more characters, but it went beyond just initials (I remember an issue in which two clocks being at 3:00 was the L thing for the story, for one example). I suspect that numerous stories were written backwards, once they had worked out a clever way of referencing the Ls, and this may even be one of them.
Either way, it has become a tradition that continues in the franchise to this day, albeit with less silliness (or imagination) involved. In the Silver Age, they let things get strange. If you have a higher tolerance for “Youtube Essay Theatrics” than I do, you can check out this video on the topic:
As they say there, intentional or not, the L thing nicely connects Superman back to the roots of his Jewish creators in an interesting way.
Which makes this especially contrived bit a little better:
- Obviously there was nothing in here about the Nazi’s racism or concentration camps or anything like that. I don’t think that sort of thing would have been allowed in a Code-approved book for a long time yet. Here, the Nazis are generic military enemies in the way they were in the War-era stories I’ve looked at, just seen from a historical angle. There is, I suppose, some minimal educational value to Jim listing a few real events and naming a few real Nazi figures. It’s not much, but I have to admit it is technically there. Also, during the Comics Code era, the explicit mention of Hitler’s upcoming suicide has to be a rarity.
- That said, I was surprised to see Jimmy’s “Chemical Warfare Division” ruse. When “von Olsen” offered to execute his prisoners, General Fritz said it was a “splendid idea… worthy of a soldier of the Third Reich.” Without actually getting into the stuff I want them to get into, the creators are seemingly treating the Nazis as villains a shade more evil than most Silver Age crooks.
- Jimmy mentions here that he “was an infant during World War II” which points out the ever-growing difference between real time and “comic time”. On the radio, Jimmy actively fought against Nazis during and after the War. In stories told in the present as of this writing, World War II was more than half a century before Jimmy was born. I suppose, if nothing else, this allows us to see the characters experiencing the war from every temporal vantage point.
- Just sayin’, if I had a crystal ball and it was the only thing that could return me home during a time-travel mission, I certainly wouldn’t call attention to it by claiming it was magic in front of dozens of Nazis.
- Given the dates involved, Jim spent about a month and a half in the past for this mission, which he was not even being paid for as a reporter. When the kid gets into something, he commits.
- The costume rental places is never getting that war correspondent outfit back.
- It’s worth noting that the story immediately preceding “Jimmy’s D-Day Adventure” presents us with the first (and unless I’ve missed something extremely obscure only) appearance of the African chapter of the Jimmy Olsen Fan Club. In an era when a comic could easily go a year without a non-white character showing up, I’m happy to see this group of kids helping out the protagonist, even if only for a few panels.
WHENEVER CLARKIE ISN’T ON SCREEN PEOPLE SHOULD BE ASKING
Superman doesn’t show up in “Jimmy’s D-Day Adventure” and, though he does appear elsewhere in the issue, I thought I could do a bit where I say, “Let’s see what was going on in Superman’s own book that month,” and then I’d post a picture of some wacky hijinks or something. But when I actually looked at that month’s issue of Superman, this is what I found:
Now, to be clear, those are not Nazis. They are just mobsters who happen to dress in military uniforms with skulls on their armbands. I sure wasn’t expecting that. It actually gave rise to some questions in me about depictions of Nazi imagery as generic villains over the years and I think I’m gonna need to dwell on that for a bit.
So, uh, let’s see what was going on in Action Comics that month then…
I do want to do a deeper look at depictions of Nazis and Nazi-alikes, but also I’m also going to try to get a more Lois-centred story. She’s been woefully under-featured in this series of articles.