Sometimes you wear the cape and sometimes you’re… Jimmy Olson.
James Bartholomew “Jimmy” Olsen is a fictional character who appears mainly in DC Comics’ Superman stories. Olsen is a young photojournalist working for the Daily Planet. He is close friends with Lois Lane and Clark Kent/Superman, and has a good working relationship with his boss Perry White. Olsen looks up to his coworkers as role models and parent figures.
Until recently, I didn’t think much about Jimmy. If I did, I thought more about the slapstick side of his character–always getting in trouble, calling on his buddy the S Man to save him, a bright yet oddly unobservant foil to Clark and Lois.
About a month ago, I made the decision to leave my cape behind in search of a new one. In the process, I have found myself in a Jimmy Olson kind of in-between.
Some days I feel like an ever-reaching sidekick sitting just on the edge of the action while Clark Kent and then Superman take the main story line on its journey. I feel unknown, new and maybe a little bumbling.
Some days I feel like I’m on the edge of the next big thing–experiencing each shift in the story line from the fresh eyes of a cub reporter–ready for action, eager for excitement, and full of possibility.
Some days I feel like both and neither and I wonder exactly what I was thinking.
Jimmy Olson isn’t a superhero, he isn’t on any lists of favorites I could find, and I don’t think he would be considered a main character by many. But… everyone knows Jimmy. He’s right there for each adventure, either capturing the action with his notebook and pen, supporting the heroes the best he can, or maybe even causing the trouble at times. He often plays a significant role in the story even if he isn’t in the thick of the action. In my search for Jimmy’s story I found this list of moderately super things Jimmy experienced just by being a part of the story (link for complete list):
Speed Demon – In 1956, a month before the debut of Barry Allen as the new Flash, Jimmy drank a potion produced by a Professor Claude and briefly gained super-speed.
Radioactive – After being exposed to a radioactive substance, Jimmy began to irradiate everything in his presence.
Super-Brain – Jimmy briefly evolved into a “man of the future” with superhuman mental powers.
Monstrous beard growth — The machinations of the sinister Beard Band cause Jimmy to grow an immense beard.
Gorilla – When Jimmy switched minds with a gorilla, he went about his reporting duties as a gorilla in Jimmy’s clothes.
Elastic Lad – As Elastic Lad, Jimmy by serum or by alien virus could sometimes stretch himself, akin to Elongated Man or Plastic Man. As Elastic Lad, Jimmy was inducted as an Honorary Member of the Legion of Super-Heroes. In the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity, Jimmy was afflicted with uncontrollable and painful elasticity by the Eradicator. It had to be genetically edited out.
Fire-Breather – An accident involving an experiment gives Jimmy fire-breath.
Wolf-Man – In the vein of the 1957 Michael Landon film I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Jimmy found himself transformed into a werewolf.
Woman – Jimmy would occasionally go undercover dressed as a woman in #44, #67, #84, and #159. Grant Morrison paid a brief homage to this in the JLA: Earth 2 graphic novel and in All-Star Superman.
Giant Turtle Man – One of Jimmy’s most frequently cited transformations was that of his turning into a giant turtle man.
Human Porcupine – After rejecting the romantic advances of an imp from the 5th Dimension.
Flamebird – This is the name he took as a costumed superhero, with Superman disguised as Nightwing, in the shrunken Kryptonian city of Kandor.
That’s quite a list… speed, radioactivity, a series of animal experiences, fire-breathing, elasticity, and even superfluous facial hair growth.
And now the life lesson. It’s a bit of a stretch, but there’s nothing new about that in this Abecedary…
Wearing your cape isn’t always about being super or greater than. At times, it is about allowing yourself to put your cape down and reconnect with the greater story–remembering the reason you wear that cape to begin with. Sometimes, connect with your inner Jimmy Olson and embrace the learning that comes.
With that in mind, take time to notice the Jimmy Olson’s. The stalwart members of your team that may or may not know they play an important role in the greater story. Notice and celebrate the role they do play and recognize the heroism in the day to day.