World’s Finest Comics # 141 (May, 1964) can boast of two historic “firsts” in DC history:
1. It features the first appearance of the Batman’s the bat-insignia surrounded by the yellow ellipse. (Actually, it was originally a yellow circle, and the “New Look” Batman is something we will definitely be discussing in a future column.)
2. The debut of the Olsen-Robin Team.
If your reaction to that second one is “How’s that, again?”, then you probably weren’t reading DC comics during the Silver Age. Now, the fact that Robin frequently appeared in World’s Finest Comics comes as no surprise, tied as he was to the Batman. And certainly, Jimmy Olsen appeared from time to time in the title, thanks to his rôle as “Superman’s pal”. But the concept of the two junior heroes forming a team of their own, paralleling that of their mentors, may have escaped those fans who came in late.
Part of the reason for its inconspicuousness is the fact that the Olsen-Robin Team appeared in only six stories in as many years. Nevertheless, it was treated as a viable element of the combined Superman-Batman Silver-Age mythos.
So, if the Olsen-Robin Team is a new thing to you, sit back and I’ll tell you all about it.
The title to the cover story in World’s Finest Comics # 141 pretty much said it all: “The Olsen-Robin Team Versus the Superman-Batman Team”. The events of the tale, scripted by Edmond Hamilton, described the actions of Superman and Batman, after they discovered that an unknown villain had murdered their junior partners. As you might guess, things were not what they seemed. The truth to the situation lied with a trio of criminal raiders who were able to render themselves invisible, thanks to an invention called a “de-visor”.
By happenstance, Jimmy and the Boy Wonder had stumbled across the gang in the midst of plotting. The bandits intended to kidnap the two junior heroes and hold them hostage, to deter Superman and Batman from interfering with their criminal raids. But, before the two youngsters could move to apprehend them, the crooks activated their de-visors and vanished from sight.
In order to thwart the invisible gang’s scheme, Jimmy and Robin decided to make Superman and Batman---and the crooks---believe they were dead. (O.K., maybe they didn’t think this idea all the way through.) To this end, they arranged a complicated hoax to deceive the World’s Finest heroes into believing a mystery villain has murdered them. While Jimmy and the Boy Wonder had appeared in the same story in the past, this marked the first occasion when they worked together as a team, and to be sure, they didn’t do things halfway.
Like all teams, Olsen and Robin needed a headquarters, and they found theirs atop “a high mountain midway between Metropolis and Gotham City.” At the summit of this peak was an old observatory abandoned years ago because landslides had made the roads to it impassable. In preparation for carrying out their plan, Olsen had repaired the electric dome-opener, to permit the landing of a helicopter, and installed radar equipment. But, it was Robin who gave their secret hideaway its name.
“It’s like an eagle’s eyrie in the sky!” noted the Boy Wonder. “Say, in a way, we’re both birds. You’ve been ‘Flamebird’ and I’m ‘Robin’, so let’s call it the Eyrie!”
I don’t think it requires a spoiler warning to reveal that, ultimately, Superman and Batman tumble to machinations of the two youngsters and manage to corral the invisible bandits, to boot. The last two panels indicate to the readers that the Olsen-Robin pairing is no one-shot idea, as it shows the two junior heroes posting souvenirs from this first case in a trophy room in the Eyrie. (Significantly, the youngsters did not tell Superman or Batman about the existence of their new headquarters, a secret they would keep from their mentors through most of the Olsen-Robin Team stories.)
That was the in-fiction origin of the Olsen-Robin Team. But what was the real-life reason for its creation?
“The Olsen-Robin Team Versus the Superman-Batman Team” was the first story under new World’s Finest editor Mort Weisinger. Weisinger became the editor of World's Finest Comics during the same Spring, 1964, shake-up that saw the rest of the titles featuring the Batman assigned to editor Julius Schwartz.
Weisinger had established a detailed mythos around the character of Superman, and since World's Finest featured joint appearances of Superman and Batman, there was a certain logic in assigning Weisinger as the title’s new editor. Mort treated World's Finest as one more part of his Superman universe. He immediately moved to incorporate its tales into the Superman mythos, the highly elaborate and evolved set of science-fiction ideas that included Kandor, the Phantom Zone, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and other futuristic characters and concepts. As a result, the World's Finest story elements during Mort’s editorship leant heavily on ideas previously introduced as part of Superman's environment.
Consequently, Jimmy Olsen, one of Weisinger’s favourite elements in the Superman mythos, was promoted from simply making occasional appearances in World’s Finest Comics to becoming virtually the Man of Steel’s partner. Far more often than in the other Superman titles, Jimmy Olsen was seen to work with the Man of Steel on cases, even in World’s Finest stories that did not include the Olsen-Robin Team. Most likely, Mort had seen to the addition of Jimmy Olsen as a matter of balance. Batman had Robin, so Superman needed an opposite number for the Boy Wonder.
It would also be like Weisinger to not just settle for borrowing concepts from his other Superman titles to throw into World’s Finest. He would want to find elements he could forge into sub-sets within the title itself, with which he could open up story possibilities. The most obvious of these would be the junior partners to the two main heroes, and forming Jimmy and Robin into a team of their own would be the next logical step. (Mort would later see to a similar pairing of Supergirl and Batgirl, though they never established themselves as a formal team, as did Olsen and the Boy Wonder.)
Significantly---and necessarily---the maturity level and competence of Jimmy heightened in his World’s Finest appearances under Weisinger. The vainglorious and reckless Jimmy Olsen that appeared in his own title would not do in World’s Finest. In order to appear a worthy sidekick to Superman and equal partner to Robin, Jimmy had to be shown bringing his own skills and resourcefulness to the table. This Jimmy was shown to be responsible to the point where the Batman revealed his and Robin’s identities to the cub reporter in World’s Finest Comics # 144 (Sep., 1964).
Thus, readers of World’s Finest Comics saw a mature and capable Jimmy Olsen that was rarely seen in the pages of his own stories.
With the next Olsen-Robin Team story, Weisinger and Edmond Hamilton solidified the notion that the two youngsters were a discrete team. “The New Terrific Team”, from World’s Finest Comics # 147 (Feb., 1965) saw a number of additions to Robin and Olsen’s joint operation. They installed more equipment in the Eyrie and added new items to their trophy room.
And they acquired their own distinctive modes of transportation. Using spare parts for the Batmobile’s engine, they super-charged the motor in Jimmy’s convertible. Also from the Batcave, they commandeered a compact, two-man, vertical-take-off-and-landing (VTOL) jet. The youngsters dubbed these vehicles the Olsenmobile and the Robinplane, respectively. The Olsenmobile was never seen again, after this story; however, the Robinplane became their signature transportation in all future Olsen-Robin Team stories.
Another team element that appeared in this story and never again was the youngsters’ adoption of skin-tight stylised costumes, to further signify that they were operating as a separate team from Superman and Batman.
In this tale, more than any other, the two junior heroes are seen in action as a team, on their own, without the aid of their senior partners. Jimmy and Robin acquit themselves credibly and display the same kind of easy comradery shown by Superman and Batman.
“The New Terrific Team” was the high-water mark for the Olsen-Robin Team. Never again would the Olsen-Robin Team feature as prominently in a story. In later tales, their status as an individual team would primarily rely on the trappings established in these first two outings. The Eyrie and the Robinplane would be seen again often, but the two youths operated as team only minimally from here on in.
Case in point was the next appearance of the Olsen-Robin Team, in the “The Invulnerable Super-Enemy”, from World’s Finest Comics # 158 (Jun., 1966). The two lads actually kick off events when they discover three bottled cities similar to the bottled city of Kandor. Finding that the three cities are inhabited by miniature life, they decide to investigate the cities, using a replica of Brainiac’s shrinking ray. That was the end of Jimmy and Robin’s active participation in the story; they did not reënter the plot until the final chapter, when they are seen being held as hostages in one of the bottled cities, to be rescued by Superman and Batman.
Two comics, both with the cover date of June, 1968, carried the next stories of the Olsen-Robin Team. “Jimmy Olsen, Boy Wonder”, from Jimmy Olsen # 111, hit the stands first. In this tale, Jimmy, stung at being rejected for membership in the Mystery Analysts of Gotham City, determines to prove himself worthy by out-hoaxing the sleuths themselves. Jimmy summons Robin to the Eyrie and outlays his plan: the reporter intends to pose as the Boy Wonder for several days, figuring if he can fool the Batman---the World’s Greatest Detective---the Mystery Analysts will have to accept him.
Robin assents to help Jimmy with his impersonation, giving him a crash course in acrobatics, martial arts, and combat tactics, as well as briefing him on the intimate details of his life both as the Boy Wonder and Dick Grayson. Once disguised as Robin, Jimmy embarks on his scheme. As it develops, the reporter’s imposture is seen through readily by the Masked Manhunter. However, Jimmy triumphs in the end, when his detective skills unmask a counter-hoax designed to teach him a lesson.
The other Olsen-Robin Team story to come out at that time---“The Superman-Batman Split”, in World’s Finest Comics # 176---barely gives a chance for the two youngsters to do anything. Reacting to reports of a fierce feud between their two mentors, Jimmy and Robin rendezvous at the Eyrie to try to make sense of the whole thing. Thanks to monitor hook-ups they had secretly placed in both the Batcave and the Fortress of Solitude, the pair learns the truth behind the feud. But before they can act, they are rendered unconscious for the rest of the story by knock-out gas introduced into their headquarters by an unseen hand. (Actually, Superman’s, and for a good reason.)
The last story of the World’s Finest sub-team appears in Jimmy Olsen # 130 (Jul., 1970). “Olsen, the Teen Wonder” is a sequel of sorts to “Jimmy Olsen, Boy Wonder”, and like the earlier tale, involves the Olsen-Robin team only in passing. Once again, Jimmy’s ego is pricked when, as a candidate for “Young Man of the Year”, he is beaten out for the award by Robin. After they fly to the Eyrie in the Robinplane, Jimmy dares his sometimes-partner to let him take his place again, to prove that, with the costume, utility belt, and other gimmicks, anyone could be Robin. Referring to the earlier story, Robin points out that before, Jimmy didn’t encounter any genuine crooks or face any real danger. But Olsen won’t be swayed. Reluctantly, the Boy Wonder agrees to let Jimmy pose as him, again.
Not surprisingly, Jimmy falls flat on his face as Robin, but his skill and knowledge as a reporter enable him to locate the mysterious Mercury Gang responsible for a crime-wave in Metropolis, and with Superman’s help, captures the crooks. The real Robin’s only other contribution to the tale is to show up at the end and give Jimmy a pat on the back.
The first two Olsen-Robin Team adventures, the ones in which their partnership formalised and took centre stage, were written by Edmond Hamilton. Hamilton obviously knew how to play a “junior” team to the “senior” one. (He had done the same thing earlier, when he created the Legion of Substitute Heroes, over in Adventure Comics.) Unfortunately, the writers of the later tales---Cary Bates and Bob Haney---weren’t as facile. Instead of featuring the team in action, they used the fact of its existence to launch tales that were really Jimmy Olsen showcases.
By 1971, both Weisinger and Hamilton were out of the comics business, and in the DC universe, Jimmy was “Kirby-ised” and Robin was off to Hudson University, establishing himself as a solo hero. No longer strictly in the shadows of their senior partners, their orbits had grown too far apart too envision them palling around in the Eyrie or collecting mementos for their trophy room, anymore.
The idea of an Olsen-Robin Team had come and gone.