For every story in which Jimmy demonstrated intelligence, resourcefulness, and competence, there were a dozen in which he was depicted as a vainglorious, overconfident doofus. And that might not have been so bad, if most of those tales had been smartly scripted ones about a vainglorious, overconfident doofus. But most Jimmy Olsen plots fell into the category of ridiculous, relying on outlandish gimmicks and impossible coïncidences.
A Jimmy Olsen fan longed for his appearances as Superman’s partner in a Nightwing and Flamebird story. In those, Superman family editor Mort Weisinger insisted that Jimmy be presented as responsible and mature. The same held true after Mort took over the editorship of World’s Finest Comics, when Jimmy appeared regularly at the side of the Man of Steel. “Upgrading” Jimmy was the only way readers would accept the notion that Superman would rely on his assistance so heavily.
But those occasions were infrequent. Most of the time, fans got the doofus Jimmy. Toss in an alien or a magic relic or anything invented by Professor Potter, and you were stuck with a plot that would insult the intelligence of a first-grader.
So you had the goofy Jimmy stories and, on a blue-moon schedule, the heroic Jimmy stories. That was pretty much it.
What the Silver-Age Jimmy fan wasn’t expecting was a trio of Jimmy stories that struck a different note. They weren’t silly or juvenile, and they weren’t dramatic and filled with hero-type derring-do. They were intriguing, and a little bit charming.
For three stories in 1964, Jimmy Olsen fans followed the whimsical romance of Magi the Magnificent and Sandra Rogers---the courtship of two people who didn’t exist.
If you had picked up Jimmy Olsen # 74 (Jan., 1964) back in that long-ago winter, you really didn’t get too bad a deal for your twelve pennies. The opener, “The Pranks of Jimmy the Imp”, was a standard Mr. Mxyzptlk tales with some twists. This time, Mxyzptlk focuses on Olsen as the target of his pranks and Jimmy isn’t too much of a blunderer. He actually comes up with a refreshing curve on the “saying your name backward” business.
The second story, “Jimmy Olsen and the Forty Thieves”, was actually a pretty decent “heroic Jimmy” adventure, marred only by the out-of-thin-air device used to send the intrepid cub reporter back to the time of Ali Baba and the improbable circumstance of running into Lex Luthor in the same era.
Jimmy’s more-or-less girl friend, stewardess Lucy Lane, is assigned to travel on her airline’s Flight 408 and report on the efficiency of the flight crew and staff. Because she is known to many of the airline employees, she disguises herself with a red-haired wig and an evening dress. Just before take-off, Lucy remembers that she had a date with Jimmy but she is unable to reach him to call it off.
A little earlier, at The Daily Planet---and the story makes no bones about it, calling it “a startling coïncidence”---Perry White gets a tip that a wanted jewel thief, “Slick Eddie”, will try to sneak out of town on the same Flight 408. Perry assigns Jimmy to board the flight and expose the thief. With typical Olsen modesty, the young reporter figures that he is too famous and will likely be recognised by Slick Eddie. So he stops off at his apartment and creates a new identity from his disguise trunk.
One tuxedo, top hat, black-hair wig, fake moustache, shoulder-padding, and pair of high-lift shoes later, Jimmy is ready to tackle his assignment. He, too, remembers his date with Lucy, but he also fails in his attempt to reach her.
And there is one other coïncidence, but since already one can see that this story is forming up to be a misadventure of sorts, it doesn’t rankle. On Flight 408, the disguised Lucy Lane is assigned the seat next to the disguised Jimmy Olsen.
“Wow! What a terrific looker!” thinks Jimmy.
“He’s a living doll!” thinks Lucy.
Once in the air, Jimmy makes a move to impress the “terrific looker” in the seat next to him by performing some minor slight-of-hand tricks. He is stage magician “Magi the Magnificent”, he explains. The tricks have the desired result and soon the two are head-to-head in conversation. As they say, nothing propinks like propinquity, and in no time, Lucy realises, “I’ve never been so strongly drawn to a stranger! He’s smooth, sophisticated! So unlike Jimmy!”
However, in a less giddy moment, Jimmy and Lucy both realise that it’s unfair to misrepresent themselves, and both determine privately to tell the truth at the first opportunity. Before either can do so, though, fate intervenes---first, in the form of a newsreel before the in-flight movie, one depicting Jimmy Olsen helping Superman capture a crook. Testing the waters, Magi asks his “gorgeous tomato” was she thinks of Olsen.
It’s no surprise that Lucy Lane would express that opinion; it pretty much represents the fickle way she treated Jimbo throughout the Silver Age. Jimmy was rarely more than a fallback option for Lucy, in the event that a stalwart pilot or a handsome movie star didn’t ask her out. And if one did, she’d cancel a date with Jimmy in a snap, usually when he showed up at her door, so she could rub his face in it. But let Jimmy go out with someone else and her eyes turned a ripe shade of green. Opportunistic, deceitful, and possessive---one wonders what Jimmy ever saw in her. (One of the few satisfying developments of the Bronze Age for me was when Lucy finally figured out that she lost out on a good thing with the Jimster; when she tried to win him back, he showed her the door, and with a lot more class than she ever displayed.)
Lucy’s honest personal appraisal of Jimmy Olsen derails Magi’s intention to reveal who he really is. Meanwhile, Lucy is on the verge of telling him who she really is, when she accidentally drops her valise while getting it out of the overhead compartment. It falls open, revealing a number of wigs she had planned to wear during her undercover assignment.
Magi/Jimmy flashes a look of disgust when he spots a blonde wig among the pile. “Ugh! This blonde wig annoys me,” he remarks. “It reminds me of a former girl friend who was very fickle! I’ll bet she’s with some other guy right now!” (What goes around, comes around, my dear Lucy.)
Lucy covers why she’s carrying so many wigs by explaining that she is “Sandra Rogers”, a British movie starlet visiting America, and the wigs are costume props for various rôles. Inwardly, though, she is aghast at the fact that Magi doesn’t like blonde-haired girls, and decides to hold off revealing who she is until he’s known her long enough to overlook his dislike of blondes.
As they settle back for the rest of the flight, “Magi” and “Sandra” each reflect, and without too much distress, on the fact that, as Jimmy and Lucy, they’re dumping each other.
After an interlude which does little but intensify their growing feelings for each other, Magi/Jimmy and Sandra/Lucy, along with the rest of Flight 408’s passengers and crew, find themselves in real trouble when a fuel leak forces an emergency landing of the airliner. Fearing the worst, the disguised couple share a good-bye kiss.
The pilot manages to safely land the ship on a submerged ice floe, but as everyone disembarks, they discover that it’s only a temporary reprieve; the weight of the plane causes the floe to start cracking apart. With lives at stake, Jimmy reaches to activate his Superman signal watch, despite knowing it will reveal his true identity to “Sandra”. However, other circumstances bring the Man of Steel to the scene without Jimmy having to expose his imposture. Superman rescues the plane and also nabs jewel thief Slick Eddie (remember him?) in the bargain.
Magi/Jimmy and Sandra/Lucy get separated in the excitement, and each is left wondering if they will ever see each other, again.
As a stand-alone tale, “Jimmy Olsen’s Secret Love” is a nice bit of light romance, worthy of Preston Sturges. The apparent plot of Jimmy locating and identifying the criminal Slick Eddie is immediately subsumed by the ironic situation of Jimmy and Lucy each falling for the other in a different guise. Their playful banter masks feelings of romance and the dawning realisation that they are better off continuing to be their phoney selves, rather than their true ones.
Unlike other tales of whimsy that DC would occasionally run, this one begged for a follow-up. And Weisinger and company delivered, with “The Return of Jimmy’s Lost Love”, in Jimmy Olsen # 78 (Jul., 1964). This tale picks up a short time after “Jimmy Olsen’s Secret Love”, and Jimmy is still Lucy’s lapdog. After finishing a visit with her sister, Lois, at the Planet, Lucy hits up Jimmy for a lift to the airport. During the drive, it becomes obvious that the young couple’s relationship has stalled. Jimmy’s sincere efforts to woo Lucy fail to impress her, as she is preöccupied by her memories of Magi the Magnificent. And Lucy’s now-constant rebuffs send Jimmy’s thoughts more and more to Sandra Rogers.
At the airport, Lucy receives another uncover assignment from her boss. Someone, and it’s believed to be an airline employee, has been stealing mail from the planes. Lucy is assigned to try to identify the thief. Unlike Slick Eddie from the last story, the mail thief will play a greater part in the end, so he’s not just an excuse for Lucy’s masquerade.
In a private office, Lucy once again, “for sentimental reasons”, becomes Sandra Rogers. As she walks through the parking lot on her way to the main terminal, she unknowingly passes Jimmy’s convertible, where the cub reporter is still daydreaming over Sandra. He’s jolted from his reverie when he spots her in the flesh. From a spare disguise locker in the trunk of his car, Jimmy digs out his Magi disguise. Putting it on, he then rushes to the terminal from a different direction. Thus, he and Sandra “accidentally” meet.
“Sandra” is just as thrilled to see “Magi” again, and they lock in a passionate embrace. They both whip up white lies about being stuck in the Metropolis Airport for a long layover and make plans to spend the hours together.
Sandra/Lucy asks Magi/Jimmy to perform some of his magic tricks. One has to give points to Jimbo for cleverness here. Seeing the fresh edition of The Daily Planet being delivered to the airport, he produces a crystal ball and “divines” the headline. For his next trick, he pulls out a magic wand and commands Superman to appear. And he does, thanks to Jimmy secretly pressing the button of his signal-watch hidden in his coat pocket.
The Man of Steel plays along with the gag, having learnt in the previous tale that Magi was actually Jimmy. What he didn’t learn in the earlier story was that Sandra was really Lucy. As far as Superman knows, he’s just helping his pal impress a hot-looking redhead, so the Metropolis Marvel lays it on thick. He remarks on how he’s lucky that Magi is his good friend and not an enemy before he takes off.
If Jimmy seemed cavalier about stepping out on Lucy Lane in the last story, he redeems himself here. During the remainder of their afternoon, Jimmy is caught up in a true conflict of emotions. He adores the way Sandra showers him with affection, remembering the cold shoulder Lucy had given him on the drive to the airport earlier. But then, he recalls occasions when Lucy has been genuinely sweet and affectionate and he begins to feel like a rat. His conscience begins to gnaw at him.
Lucy, however, shows no such recriminations. All she can think about is how much she wants to be with Magi. So much so, in fact, that she deliberately shirks her assignment to catch the mail-thief. Later on, when plot permutations require Magi to change back to Jimmy in order to deliver a message to Sandra, Lucy fears that Olsen’s sharp eye will see through her disguise---not because she feels guilty for two-timing him, but because Jimmy may expose her in front of Magi.
Things come to a head in the last scene, when Magi and Sandra stumble across the mail-thief in the act of stealing another delivery. Unfortunately, the crook reacts quicker than they do and has them helpless as he prepares to gun them down. Magi/Jimmy discovers that he doesn’t have his signal-watch this time, but pulls off a last-second gambit that brings the Man of Steel to the scene in time to save them.
The close call makes both Magi and Sandra realise how much they care for each other and drives any lingering doubts about double-dealing Lucy out of Jimmy’s head. In an awkward moment, they stand silent, as they both consider revealing the truth about themselves, realising that their increased closeness will inevitably lead to exposure.
Then, in their private thoughts, each imagines an angry response from the other over being deceived and they keep still. Instead, making up excuses, “Magi” and “Sandra” reluctantly part company.
Afterward, Jimmy meets Lucy, and it’s evident that, even more than before, they are simply going through the motions. Their thoughts say it all.
“Wouldn’t it be awful if I married Jimmy on the rebound,” she thinks, “and he never knew that, in my secret heart, I love Magi most of all?”
“Sigh! I guess Sandra’s the type you worship hopelessly!” muses Jimmy. “Then you settle for someone like . . . Lucy!”
The second Magi-Sandra tale was more downbeat than the first. “Jimmy Olsen’s Secret Love” took the idea of Jimmy and Lucy falling in love with each other under false pretenses lightly, focusing on the ironies of the situation. “The Return”, however, took a look at the more serious implications of such a thing. As a couple, Jimmy and Lucy grew more and more remote, ironically falling short in competition with their own fake identities. Within Jimmy, his lack of faithfulness to Lucy began to dig into his conscience. And lastly, both of them understood that their impostures would not hold up long under the intimacy of a long-term romance. These were mature subjects for DC at the time, and especially striking to find in a Jimmy Olsen story of all things.
One thing Mort Weisinger wasn’t prepared to do was leave things on such a downcast note. Mail had started to come in. The saga of Magi and Sandra had scored high with readers and they beseeched Mort not to let it end sadly. Weisinger was nothing if not responsive to his readership. No doubt the fans were overjoyed to see that Jimmy Olsen # 82 (Jan., 1965) brought them---“The Wedding of Magi and Sandra”.
With Lois away on assignment, Lucy is left alone at home, where she continues to dwell on her feelings for Magi. She considers calling Jimmy for a date, but she is in no mood for “his juvenile yakking.” Instead, she relives her romance with Magi by doing herself up as Sandra Rogers and going out for a walk on a moonlit night. As chance would have it, Jimmy happens to drive by on his way to call on Lucy and spots “Sandra”. Pulling into a deserted alley, Jimmy dons his Magi disguise and hurries back on foot to catch up to her.
He arrives just as an armed robber jumps out of the bushes and shoves a gun in Sandra/Lucy’s face. Jimmy ignores his impulse to summon Superman; he wants to rescue the girl he loves himself. And he does.
Following a hot clinch and an even hotter kiss, Magi squires Sandra to Metropolis’ most expensive nightclub. It is a magical, whirlwind evening for both of them and as they gaze as the stars from the club’s terrace, Magi decides to propose to Sandra. He asks her to meet him at the same place the following evening, when he shall ask her “something very special.”
However, in the wee hours, after the glow of the evening has faded and she’s alone again in her apartment, Lucy’s thoughts are fitful. She realises that, if she marries Magi, she will have to reveal herself for who she is. Afraid that Magi will feel that she trapped him into marriage, Lucy determines not to see him the next night or ever, again.
The same thing is vexing Jimmy, who has walked the streets in his Magi identity until dawn. He knows he got carried away but he doesn’t know how to get out of it. Along the waterfront, a solution presents itself when a little girl falls into the bay. Jimmy dives in, rescuing the child. But as he hands her off to a police officer, he fakes a sudden attack of cramps and shouts out that he is Magi the Magnificent just before he goes under.
Jimmy and Lucy continue their relationship, more out of inertia than anything else, since Lucy can think of no-one but Magi, and Jimmy’s thoughts are consumed by Sandra. Nevertheless, Jimmy eventually pops the question to Lucy, mainly because it’s what he’s “supposed to do” as this stage in their relationship. And Lucy accepts, because it’s what she’s supposed to do. They decide to elope and slip off to a remote resort. They both manage to put on a cheerful front.
“I hope my smile looks genuine,” thinks Lucy.
“Am I . . . a grinning rat-fink who marries in haste,” ponders Jimmy, “only to repent at leisure?”
Leaving Lucy in their hotel room, Jimmy goes for a walk but can’t shake his doubts. He decides that it is unfair of him to remain married to Lucy when he really loves Sandra. He’ll break the news to Lucy at dinner that evening.
Lucy has arrived at the same conclusion, for the same reason---that her heart belongs to another. But she cannot bear to tell Jimmy to his face. She writes him a letter, telling him of her desire to have their marriage annulled, before she leaves the resort. She decides to leave the letter on his disguise trunk, but pauses to take a last look at some of his disguises, as a final remembrance of happier times.
As she delves through the disguise trunk, she finds a tuxedo, a black wig, padding, etc., and realises the truth. That night, Lucy shows up for dinner and stuns Jimmy by donning a red wig. Now, Jimmy knows the truth, too. Their initial resentments at being deceived lead to a food fight. Jimmy takes a cherry pie in the kisser, while Lucy is treated to a faceful of wedding cake. Facts fly along with the foodstuffs and eventually the entire comedy of errors is revealed.
And now they know they are still in love. But, as the young couple prepares to depart on their honeymoon, fate tosses them a curve. As it develops, the official who married them just discovered that his justice-of-the-peace licence had expired a few days earlier. Jimmy and Lucy aren’t legally married. The renewal paperwork will take a few days, but if they can wait until then . . . .
With a happy shrug, Jimmy and Lucy decide not to fight fate. Driving off, they privately realise that they both have more interesting facets than they had suspected. They’ll make sure, though, that the next justice of the peace has his documentation up to date.
Not surprisingly, this triptych of tales was written by Jerry Siegel.
Jerry Siegel’s status as the co-creator of Superman, I think, tended to overshadow his skill as a writer. More than anyone else in Mort Weisinger’s stable of writers, Siegel had the ability to mine human interest out of Superman’s adventures, to tap into the emotional drama of being the Man of Steel. Siegel’s classic tales---“Superman’s Return to Krypton”, “The Death of Superman”, “The Sweetheart Superman Forgot”---all engaged the reader’s heart more than his thrill of adventure.
With his three Jimmy Olsen stories about the confused romance of Magi the Magnificent and Sandra Rogers, Siegel demonstrated that his talent wasn’t limited to heavy pathos. Had he chosen to craft a plot with only one of the principals being disguised---either Lucy or Jimmy---and then having the other fall in love, he actually wouldn’t have accomplished much more than he had when he set up the original Superman-Lois Lane-Clark Kent triangle. But by mirroring the artifice, putting both Jimmy and Lucy in disguise, he created a parallel circumstance which permitted the reader to compare the couple's individual attitudes and reactions.
Not surprisingly, we find that Jimmy and Lucy have different personal ethics on the idea of stepping out on the other. Jimmy displays a sense of guilt at the idea of two-timing Lucy for Sandra. On the other hand, Lucy is untroubled by the idea of cheating on Jimmy. In fact, it barely occurs to her that she is. This is consistent with the way the two characters have been presented all along; Jimmy always had a larger emotional investment in his relationship with Lucy than she did.
It is also telling that, after they both decide that they have made an ill choice in marrying, Jimmy is prepared to tell Lucy to her face and endure the consequences, while Lucy opts to just leave him a letter and sneak away.
None of these distinctions is hammered over the reader’s head; they are subtly inserted, forcing him to engage his brain and ponder over what he is reading. If he wants to. Certainly, the story can be enjoyed strictly on the superficial level of its premise. But Siegel also included sly indicators as to the moral compasses of Jimmy and Lucy and to the nature of their relationship, and if the reader bothers to do so, those nuggets are there for him to discover.
Jerry Siegel tended to insert emotion into his stories with a broad brush, but the Magi and Sandra tales show that he was also capable of coaxing human interest with nuance.