Mar 28, 2018

Jimmy Olsen, Superman's First Boyfriend

Many gay boys growing up in the 1950s and 1960s dreamed of dating Superman.   In 1954, Daily Planet reporter Jimmy Olsen got his chance: he began to appear in his own comic book title, as Superman's "boy pal."

What, precisely, was a boy pal?  A boy sidekick, like Kaliman's Solin?  An adopted son, like Batman's Robin?  Jimmy wasn't a boy or even a teenager: he was tall and sturdy, with the standard comic book body-by-Michelangelo (since reporter outfits are not particularly revealing, almost every story required him to be in underwear, in a swimsuit, or ripped out of his clothes). 




The "boy pal" relationship differed considerably from ordinary friendships:

1. It was physical.  Superman and Jimmy flew with their arms wrapped tenderly around each other, a position that no one else, not even Lois Lane, rated.

2. It was romantic.  Superman gave no one but Jimmy a gift of jewelry (a special signal watch).



3. It was of public interest: “There goes Superman’s boy pal!” passersby would whisper, and when the duo quarrels in “Superman’s Enemy” (Jimmy Olsen 35, March 1959), every stage of their breakup and reconciliation made Daily Planet headlines. 

4.  It was exclusive: each had other friends and even other sidekicks, but in “Superman’s Super Rival” (Jimmy Olsen 37, June 1959), when Jimmy seems to be courting a newly-arrived superhero named Mysterio, Superman is so jealous that he challenges the rival “pal” to a fight. 

5.  It threatened heterosexual romance: in a fantasy story, “Jimmy Olsen’s Wedding,” (Jimmy Olsen 38, July 1959), Jimmy’s girlfriend agrees to marry him only under the condition that he never see or contact Superman again (one can’t imagine why). He complies for several years, but eventually he cannot bear to be separated any longer, and arranges a secret rendezvous with his “pal.” His wife discovers him in the act (of what?), shrieks in anger. and leaves him.

Such an overt same-sex romance made me scrounge to beg or borrow all of older Jimmy Olson comics I could.  The issues I could buy in the store (the series lasted until 1974) were no good; about 1965, Jimmy and Superman broke up.  Though they stayed on friendly terms, no further stories featured their romance. 

And the special signal watch was never seen again. Perhaps Jimmy returned it the day he told Superman over coffee, “it’s not you, it’s me.”

In 1972, Jimmy found a new boyfriend, an African-American cop named Corrigan, whom he sometimes even called his “pal.”

Unfortunately, the homoromance was not maintained in tv versions of the Superhero.  Smallville gave Superman two boyfriends, but neither were Jimmy Olsen.

1 comment:

  1. The boy pal thing (I always just called the trope "his boy" and superheroes weren't the only genre to use it. Westerns, space opera, and jungle man stories all used boys with surprising frequency as well. Medieval fantasy had squires, but I guess sword and sandal stories wanted to avoid the obvious implications, because I don't think I've ever seen a boy in sword and sandal stories; even characters who were the forerunner of the boy trope could be aged up or just deleted.) is still a source of ribbing. Must be watching Superfriends reruns on Cartoon Network, where at one point it seems every Superfriend had either a boy or an animal companion, except Wonder Woman and the OCs DO NOT STEAL, which can be classified as token minorities, annoying apprentices, or boys. (Note that Batman's boy is Robin.)

    I bring up Superfriends because Green Lantern's boy rode on his buttcheeks when Green Lantern flew.

    Oh, and I must add, even when a hero's boy is a girl, such as Wolverine with (Shadowcat, Jubilee, his own daughter), I still call her his boy. That's because, well, first it's a reference to MGM's Tarzan (and Boy was added despite not existing in the novel, and Burroughs had his own son of Tarzan character), and secondly, TBH, when the boy trope was at its height was before women's lib and gay lib. You could pretend the pederastic implications weren't there, unlike heterosexual implications, and women are generally at best an afterthought in preadolescent male fantasies; isn't that what Tropes vs Women is all about?

    I should mention, however, that if a hero had two boys, the second one would be female. You can have a nuclear family dynamic, or prepare for eventual shipping.

    By the way, that's another superhero trope, the super family. Batman actually comes off as this, when Catwoman or Talia al-Ghul isn't a villain.

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