Rich Handley Author and Editor

Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen: Classic Crossdressing Adventures

Hi, folks! Rich here. I’ve been taking an extended blogging break to rest my burnt-out brain. But I’m ready to begin posting again, and I’m going to start with this guest post from my pal, Valentina Rossi, who takes a very fun look back at some rather silly, yet important stories in DC Comics’ history.

In the essay I submitted to the Joker anthology—The Man Who Laughs: Exploring the Clown Prince of Crime, upcoming from Crazy 8 Press—edited by Rich Handley and Lou Tambone, I briefly talked about the Silver Age crossdressing adventures of Superman’s pal, Jimmy Olsen. These are extremely weird and curious, and I thought it might be fun to expand on the topic, since the essay I wrote for the book was about the queer identity of the Joker, not Jimmy. However, these Jimmy Olsen stories are just too delicious and Silver Age-weird to mention just in passing.

I fell in love with comics when my grandfather lent me his marvelous collection of Editorial Novaro Comics, Spanish translations made in México of USA comics. These were mainly adaptations for the Spanish-speaking market of DC Comics, Dell, Gold Key and other smaller editorials. If you are interested of the enormous reach of Editorial Novaro in Latin America and Spain, here is a link (in Spanish).

I was already interested in queer fiction then—I was about eight years old—so it was utterly wonderful to discover the infamous Jimmy Olsen crossdressing tales! These were translations from Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen issues 67, 84, 95 and 159, published in Supermán Novaro 297, 424, 557 and 1007. Writer Grant Morrison did a wonderful analysis of these stories in his book Supergods (2011), though he presumably read the originals, while I read the Spanish translations. It was much later that I could read the issues in English.

The Novaro translations are very close to the originals, which is quite an interesting fact, since the censors would cut or edit the content of stories that were considered too violent or with sexual subtexts. Note these comics were read in Franco’s Spain and Pinochet’s Chile. But these crossdressing tales seem to have flown below the radar of the powers that be, making them even more remarkable. For a long time, I was not even sure they existed, or if I had only dreamed that I read them. Fortunately, the Spanish-speaking comic fans have been trying to rescue the output of Novaro from oblivion, and these issues finally resurfaced.

As an aside, I still think that DC Comics should have included Jimmy Olsen in the DC Pride issue… Maybe he is there as a background character? I love to imagine he is! I guess he is just too weird/comedic to be included, but he looks great in Wonder Woman drag, as shown in the recent limited series Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen: Who Killed Jimmy Olsen? (2020).

Moving on to the classic crossdressing stories, the first one is from Supermán Novaro 297, the Spanish translation of Jimmy Olsen issue 67. I am including the Novaro translations instead of the originals, since they are extremely rare and have never been reprinted. The original English comics are widely available in digital form and in trade paperback collections. Note how the dialogues are typewritten: this was a requirement from the Mexican Ministry of Education—Novaro was based in that country—since they were afraid that children might lose or get diminished sight while reading handwritten comics (!).

In any case, in this weird first story, Jimmy dresses like a girl to uncover a mafia plot.

Jimmy is very convincing as a girl and the mob boss wants to have him as a lover… he wants to kiss Jimmy, but fortunately he has a monkey at hand, so the mobster kisses the monkey instead! It is a kiss in the dark, which cinches the deception (?), Silver Age-logic style. In the end, Jimmy is discovered by the mob boss because of his Adam’s apple, but otherwise the mobster does not seem to be too bothered by the fact that the gorgeous girl is really a boy reporter. Yay! He seems to be a really progressive mob boss! Superman comes in at the last minute to save Jimmy and end all the foolishness.

Crossdressing fun with Jimmy continues in Jimmy Olsen 84, published in Supermán Novaro 424.

In this story, Jimmy disguises himself as a girl reporter, after being fired since the Daily Planet needs more women. Affirmative action from a Fifties comic! Wow!

In the art, Jimmy looks really pretty as a girl! And I like that his famous disguise trunk has a dress and wig, just in case, I guess! As girl reporter “Leslie Lowe,” Jimmy gets hired at the Planet and tries to sabotage her career—so “Leslie” gets sacked and Jimmy gets rehired, but “she” seems to do everything right, despite herself. In the end, Leslie unmasks, but everybody at the Planet tells him that they already knew, since he forgot to take out his Superman signal watch. I am using quotes and pronouns liberally, since Jimmy always identifies—as far as I know—as a boy.

An interesting aside is how these crossdressing comics, and some others from the Jimmy Olsen and Superman series, were appropriated by artist Lewis Klahr. In his short, Pony Glass (1997), Lewis animates cut-outs of these comics and creates a story of sexual repression set in Fifties conformist USA. After having an affair with Lois Lane’s sister, Jimmy is confused with his sexual identity and cross-dresses to seduce Perry White, his boss at the Daily Planet. The short starts loud and kitschy but becomes more poignant as it progresses. The only way to watch Pony Glass for a long time was in the DVD collection Anxious Animation (2006) or in animation festivals. But it now available online, at the blog Metraje Encontrado. You can watch it here, and it is worth a look.

Back to Jimmy’s crossdressing adventures! In Jimmy Olsen issue 95, published in Spanish in Supermán Novaro 557, Jimmy decides to posse as a female fan of himself to do a secret contest for his all-boy fan club. “She” does a series of pranks acting like a petulant child, until one of the members of the club realizes the ruse, thus passing the test. The prize? Being the president of the Jimmy Olsen Fan Club! Yay!!

This story is full of the sexism that pervaded the comics of the time, with girls being killjoys of the fun that boys can have. It is also fairly reminiscent of Little Lulu comics—also published by Novaro in Spanish—with Tubby and his clubhouse where girls are not allowed. Normality is restored at the end, since the girl that created the disruption at the fan club was actually a boy in disguise.

The final crossdressing outing of Jimmy happens in Jimmy Olsen issue 159, published in Supermán Novaro 1007.

In this story, Mr. Action—that is, Jimmy in the ’70s—must disguise himself as a girl to escape the framing of a crime. He finds everything he needs in a secondhand store, and almost manages to escape the police looking for him. However, he is discovered because he forgot to paint his nails, and no girl could be out without a manicure…sigh… feminism via Silver Age comics.

All these comics are sort of goofy, but according to writer Grant Morrison, they betray some knowledge of the S/M and gay scenes of New York at the time. That might be, but I think the distance of time and language do not let me appreciate that.

Morrison himself acknowledged Jimmy’s classic crossdressing stories in a panel in All-Star Superman (2005). And Matt Fraction included a really fun scene with Jimmy in drag in his marvelous Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen: Who Killed Jimmy Olsen? limited series, that I mentioned at the beginning of the article. It is really my hope that Jimmy Olsen might be recognized one day as a pioneer queer character by DC Comics.

In any case, it was mega fun to revisit these weird stories! I give my infinite gratitude to my grandfather, who not only introduced me to comics, but—accidentally—also introduced me to queer narratives via these strange, classic Jimmy Olsen crossdressing tales.

Robotics engineer boy by day, cinephile comics fangirl by night, Valentina Rossi is a queer genderfluid Latinoamericana currently living in Switzerland. She fell in love with comic books in general, and with DC characters in particular, when her grandfather lent her his large collection of Editorial Novaro Spanish translations of US superhero series.

Val’s favorite excuse for everything is “English is not my native language,” which unfortunately only works in the US/UK. She can be found on Twitterstill functional as of this writingand, a micro-blog siteas @rossi_tg.

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