The Crank File: Jimmy Olsen and the Planet of the Capes!

Saying that an issue of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen is crazy is like saying that the Pacific Ocean is wet, or that Rad, the Hal Needham bike racing picture from 1986 where young Cru Jones faces the Helltrack and goes on a prom date entirely on his BMX, is rad. It’s sort of a foregone conclusion.

Jimmy’s craziness, after all, is one of the things that makes him the iconic character Silver Age. But every once in a while, an issue comes by that involves a viking robot girlfriend or a trip through time to meet Hitler that’s so completely bat-shit insane that it transcends even the normal Olsen standards.

Leo Dorfman and Kurt Schaffenberger’s Jimmy Olsen #117 is one of those.

 

 

The fact that this cover has Jimmy being literally sold into slavery and yet the caption box is fixated on his potential owners’ fashion choices might just be the least crazy thing about this issue, and that’s saying something.

The whole thing gets kicked off with Jimmy tooling across the desert with Professor Lewis Lang (the archaeologist father of Superman’s ex-girlfriend who occasionally went to the future and turned into a horrible insect creature, because, you know, the Silver Age) when they stumble across a monolith left by an alien civilization. A giant pink monolith.

 

 

As it turns out, the giant pink monolith is in reality–no joke–the Dimension Penetrator, a strange device with the potential power to destroy the universe. As you might expect, the aliens are junking it on Earth so that they don’t have to deal with it anymore, and I’ve gotta say, that’s a dick move aliens. The crazy honeycomb tunnels that run through it are actually dimensional portals, and while they’ve written a warning in a complex mathematical code that I’m sure was a big tip-off to Mr. Brontosaurus up there, they didn’t actually bother to put any doors on it, apparently forgetting that a handle you have to turn will generally keep out most people who can’t figure out a puzzle that combines sudoku and cryptograms. One can only imagine that in the millennia that this thing sat around, all kinds of dinosaurs were wandering through to parallel dimensions and causing trouble, which….

Huh. Now that I’ve actually written that down, it seems like a pretty good plan to make other dimensions more awesome. Carry on, aliens.

Back in the present, Professor Lang translates the math into a warning, and despite the fact that they remembered to put the word “Dangerous” at the beginning of the warning, Jimmy is Jimmy, and this happens:

 

 

Once he’s through the dimensional honeycomb (which of course vanishes behind him), things seem more or less normal, until he and Professor Lang get to customs, and the TSA agent notices something awry:

 

 

Yes, Jimmy has entered a parallel universe whose main feature is a law that anyone not wearing a cape can be immediately taken into custody and sold as a slave. Now, I don’t make laws, but that seems to go beyond draconian and into the realm of the psychotic, which is pretty much the defining feature of this universe. Well, that and the fact that everyone’s an asshole, as we see when Parallel-Professor Lang totally pulls a St. Peter on him:

 

 

With no way to prove his identity–the Daily Planet building of this reality is the Daily Palate, a rooftop restaurant shaped like a globe–Jimmy is sold on the auction block for less than a dollar, and this is about where the story starts to get really weird:

 

 

For one thing, he’s sold to Clark Kent, who in this reality is a wealthy playboy who needs an extra hand to throw a pool party, which is strange for two reasons: One, it’s a pool party for people who wear capes, and two, as Jimmy finds out, all of the clothes in this dimension are made of metal threads, thus begging the question as to who the hell thought it would be a good idea to put on a cape and metal pants and then go swimming.

Thanks to the Comics Code, Clark’s drown party goes off without a hitch, and with no need for an extra hand, he bounces Jimmy off to a few more owners before he’s finally bought by…

 

 

Himself!

Yes, the stage is now set for a good old-fashioned doppelbang–the term coined by Kevin and Dr. K to describe just such an occasion–but it turns out that Cape-Jimmy (or as I’ve taken to calling him, The Deuce) just needs a stunt double. Also, the Deuce turns out to be the only non-douchebag on the entire planet, even going so far as to help Jimmy gain the attention of the mysterious Dr. X, who designs all the capes.

That’s right, folks: This story just became about Jimmy trying to entrap a mysterious fashion designer. Deal with it.

At long last, the mystery is revealed, as it turns out that Dr. X is none other than…

 

 

Jor-El of Krypton!

At this point, any shred of internal logic this story might’ve had is out the window. See if you can follow along: On Earth-Cape, Jor-El’s entire family came to Earth but didn’t gain super-powers (except that Clark, who is actually Kal-El and is living under an assumed name for reasons that are never explained despite the fact that he was never raised by the Kents, actually does have super-powers, except they’re not Superman’s, he has shape-shifting face-changey powers like Zartan), and while he came from an advanced culture with science far beyond Earth’s, Jor-El’s inventions are roundly rejected and he’s forced to live in a shack out in the desert, possibly because he wears the same green pantsuit every day.

Still with me? Okay, because this is when the Justice League shows up:

 

 

Except that it’s not really the Justice League. It’s Superman–the real Superman, or at least the Earth-1 version that Jimmy’s friends with–and a bunch of other super-heroes (all of whom wear capes), accidentally straying into a parallel dimension during a tour of the universe, mistakenly identified as an invading alien army by Jor-El, who tries to shoot them and instead uses a duplicator ray (did we mention he invented a duplicator ray? Because he did) at the exact moment they turn around, duplicating their capes as they leave. And since cloth is so rare on Earth-Cape, it is immediately ratified that all citizens will wear capes or be forced into slavery.

Then, in a move that’s perfectly logical when you consider the sequence of events that led up to it, Jor-El shoots Jimmy with the Dimenson Zone ray (did we mention he invented a Dimension Zone ray?) but instead of sending Jimmy to the Phantom Zone, it just blasts him back to the more-or-less normal universe of Silver Age Earth.

And all of this happens in three pages.

Take a bow, Jimmy Olsen #117: You’re the craziest Goddamn thing I’ve ever seen.*

 

*: This week.

40 thoughts on “The Crank File: Jimmy Olsen and the Planet of the Capes!

  1. Strangely enough, that earth that Jimmy wound up on? Earth-2.

    For some reason they just didn’t bring up that “no-cape-slavery” policy a lot in JSA-JLA team ups.

  2. I’m used to Silver Age stories being pretty stream-of-conciousness, but when they start off going on about pink monoliths that penetrate dimensions, you just have to wonder when was the last time Leo Dorfman got laid.

    And I never ever wanted to wonder that.

  3. Wait, hadnt you already established elsewhere that `the deuce’ was actually both Archie Andrews and Cobra Commander? Or is this ANOTHER duece. Im confused. More so I mean.

  4. I’m still trying to figure out how an Earth-like dimension develops tiny metal thread technology before it figures out how to make cotton thread.

    Of course, these are the same people who steal alien capes and decide to base their ENTIRE CIVILIZATION around cape-age.

    Or is it cape-itry? Cape-iosity?

    It’s the Silver Age, is what it is.

  5. Why the hell DC don’t hire you to do, well, exactly this in a printed format for all their Silver age stuff is beyond me. They would be rolling in moolah.

    Good work Sims.

    Even heard your new podcast – can you turn the levels up please as it’s too faint to listen to in a car!

  6. You know, I got almost the whole way through this piece laughing out loud in all the right places, chuckling at the alt-text, and shaking my head at the acid-drenched writing sessions that must’ve happened to allow the creation of something like this, but when I read the line “And all of this happens in three pages” I let out a Jesus Fucking Christ!! that earned me a stern look from my sweetie.

    THAT is the bat-shit insane part, right there. Hooo-mama!

    By the way, what sort of ginger girly-man gets a heatstroke without his pith helmet? Pith helmets are only worn for style, not necessity.

  7. If you’re too fucking stupid to just tie a towel around your neck in order to avoid a life of indentured servitude, then I’m sorry, you deserve to be a slave.

  8. Dimension Penetrator

    …i want to see an issue where lois lane uses one of these. especially if it’s giant and pink.

  9. You know, last time I was in a comic shop I picked up a trade of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol and had a quick flick through it. First I wondered what the hell was going on. Then I wondered how one man could summon this much mental per issue for however many years the run went on. Now I understand. Grant just read a lot of silver age DC when he was growing up, and it snapped his brain.

  10. I’m there with Mal G. The whole this is COMPLETELY, GLORIOUSLY INSANE, of course, but the fact that all of that insanity managed to be squeezed into three pages is the absolute kicker.

  11. When you mentioned the dinosaurs wandering through the pink monolith’s dimensional portals, I immediately thought of that being a Grant Morrison-type explaination for all the time-displaced dinos ever to appear in the DCU.

    Heh, “shipload”.

  12. Flashbacks, at first I saw the cover having vague recollections of reading this, then I saw the link to RAD and and full on flash back of childhood coming of age thing.

    Seeing Lori Loughlin Dry humping her bike seat brought back so many old memories. Damn I need to track down a copy and re-watch it.

  13. After seeing this, I feel like Silver Age comic writers had access to drugs far more potent and entertaining than anything we use today.

  14. So that’s what happened to the dinosaurs, I guess. Aliens left the back door open and they all wandered off.

  15. To give credit where credit is due, Kevin Church totally came up with the term “doppelbanging” on his own. I just helped expand the definition beyond clones to include time travel and parallel dimensions.

    And I’m sad that Exiles got cancelled before Jeff Parker could get into some serious doppelbanging in that comic.

  16. One can only imagine that in the millennia that this thing sat around, all kinds of dinosaurs were wandering through to parallel dimensions and causing trouble, which….

    You’ve more or less just described the basic premise of the BBC series Primeval.

  17. I can hear the script pictch now… just read this post to your friends, really frantically, and with all punctuation replaced by ‘”and then” or just and exclamation point.

    “And then Jimmy has entered a parallel universe whose main feature is a law that anyone not wearing a cape can be immediately taken into custody and sold as a slave!”

  18. Goofy as it is, this Planet of the Capes is still more entertaining than the slightly more recent Planet of the Capes OGN was.

  19. You know, I wouldn’t mind living on the planet of the capes, as I just want wearing capes to be the norm.

  20. Oi oi! I just downloaded the issue, and what’s with all this “in three pages” bollocks? By the fourth page, they’ve only got so far as Jimmy being taken as a slave for the first time.

  21. Oi oi! I just downloaded the issue

    Nice job, thief.

    and what’s with all this “in three pages” bollocks?

    The “three pages” remark refers to everything after the sentence “See if you can follow along,” not the story entire.

  22. Paunchy beardo Batman on that cover makes me laugh so much. The fact that someone thought that would make a good cover baffles me. It’s so absurd it’s awesome.

  23. No foolin’ I’d be down for a Justice League that inexplicably consisted of Superman/Batman/Robin/Supergirl/Triplicate Girl as opposed to the one we’re getting that’ll have Starfire and Donna Troy.

  24. This isn’t Earth-2, Earth-52 or Earth-S.

    This is Earth-”International House of Pancakes”.

  25. I’m just pleased by the fact that there was a time when a comic as unrelentingly insane as Jimmy Olsen could run for over 117 issues.

    I love you Silver Age.

  26. “Nice job, thief. ”
    Cheers

    “The “three pages” remark refers to everything after the sentence “See if you can follow along,” not the story entire.”
    Ah, I see. My mistake.

  27. You have to remember that for many DC comics of the period, they came up with a cover first and then wrote a story to go with it. Also Mort Weisinger used to get story ideas from little kids in his neighbourhood. The actual writers weren’t the possessors of especially bizarre imaginations*; they were just coming up with stuff to fit a warped brief.

    (*Though after a few years it might have got to them…)

  28. It’s also, of course, a reference to “Planet of the Apes.” It’s likely you didn’t mention that because it’s obvious, but I just thought I’d point it out.