Snapshots of Jimmy Olsen #51: Mehcad Brooks

Source: Supergirl (2015- )
Type: TV
We're 8 episodes into the new Supergirl show, and on hiatus for the holidays. Let's talk about the show's Jimmy (James) Olsen.

I know the casting and portrayal has been rejected in some quarters. Not overtly because Brooks is a black actor and the "iconic version" of the character a ginger, but because he's buff, and a heartthrob, and too much of a presence to ever be the nerdy "pal" getting his bacon saved consistently by Superman. I couldn't disagree more with that assessment. Here's my unreserved defense of Brooks as Jimmy, and it has nothing to do with the diversity issue.

The common complaint is that if the portrayal is going to be completely unlike the iconic comic book version, then it should have been an entirely new character. But is Brooks' James Olsen "unlike" the comic book Jimmy? I don't think so. (I do feel that way about Supergirl's version of Vartox, however.) If your problem is that Jimmy can't possibly be popular with the ladies and an action man, then I will point in the direction of the Silver and Bronze Age Jimmy Olsens. Hell, even the post-Crisis Jimmy had a prolonged affair with Cat Grant!

Perhaps you can't imagine a guy in a bow tie as a heroic sex symbol (but aren't we past that in the post-Matt Smith era?), but the comics didn't. Jimmy was a "nerd" in various films and TV/cartoon shows, mostly based on what modern audiences think of his look. In his prime, he had his own fan club separate from Superman's (we're talking IN-universe now), had his own book in which he had many daring adventures (including Jack Kirby badassery in the Fourth World), and even called himself "Action Man". Alien queens would come and ask his hand in marriage, and though Lucy was harder to get, she always came back calling. So in the books, he WAS an action-oriented hero, and DID have luck with the ladies. All they really did there was update his look to something less old-fashioned. Jimmy became a total nerd BECAUSE he was still dressing the way he had in the 50s when that getup was still cool.
And the insecurities you remember him having in the comics, he still has on television. I think the most studly package actually heightens them. When you put comic book Jimmy next to Superman, the contrast is immediate. OF COURSE, Jimmy is the second banana, just look at him! But put Brooks there instead, and now you've got a guy who can handle himself in the real world, but still feels completely inadequate when it comes to his Kryptonian friends. Remember, he was quick to call the Man of Steel when the going got tough in the Reactron episode. Old habits die hard, and this is a guy who spent the better part of his career calling for help. That was his role. CALLING. FOR. HELP. In a way, that's worse than being the damsel in distress.

As it is for Superman, so it is for Lucy. Just like in the comics, she's got him wrapped around her little finger. No matter who studly, SHE runs the show, SHE decides if they're together or on a break. And he has very little say in the matter. That's Silver Age Jimmy in a nutshell. All complaints that he's too handsome fall apart because he doesn't ACT like the handsome one.

And then there's the fact that this isn't a Superman story. Jimmy has always been rather malleable when not paired up with the Man of Steel - in his own adventures, principally - and he doesn't fill the "Jimmy" role in Supergirl's life (Winn is closer to it). He's part of a romantic triangle, he's a bit of a mentor as Superman's ambassador, and he's a friend and confidant. They've allowed him to grow up. They asked, where would Jimmy be in his life a few years down the road, if he were actually allowed to change? And what if we then put that guy with Supergirl? Jimmy as mentor figure? That's flipping the tables on the Jimmy-Superman relationship, which is really interesting.

And Brooks is a very good actor. Bottom line, that's what I'd rather have than a comic book look-alike. That scene where he talks about the first picture he ever took is one of my favorites of the entire series to date, and the best "secret origin" for Jimmy I've ever seen. And since you've cast a black actor, use it. His line in the anger management episode about knowing all about the importance of not showing your anger in public added layers to the character.

I don't know about you, but I think they're giving us the perfect blend of the character as we knew him, the character as he might be in new circumstances, and a little bit of something new.

Now, that doesn't mean I wouldn't welcome a bit of Elastic Lad or Turtle Boy...

2 comments:

Brendoon said...

True, wasn't a bad portrayal, wasn't a bad show. Having it in NZ opposite Doctor WHO was pretty dumb though. Hopefully that won't happen for the rest of the season.
Also treating longstanding characters as throwaway villains isn't cool though... I had a fancy for Red Tornado's empty eyesockets and yellow forehead arrow at one time. Seeing him destroyed instead of joining the JLA kinda sucked.

Siskoid said...

We can rebuild him. We have the technology.

 

Blog Archive

Category

5 Things to Like Activities Advice Alien Nation Aliens Say the Darndest Things Alpha Flight Amalgam Ambush Bug Animal Man anime Aquaman Archetypes Archie Heroes Arrowed Asterix Atom Avengers Awards Babylon 5 Batman Battle Shovel Battlestar Galactica Black Canary BnB 2-in1 Books Booster Gold Buffy Canada Captain America Captain Marvel Cat CCGs Charlton Circles of Hell Comics Comics Code Approved Conan Contest Cooking Crisis Daredevil Dating Kara Zor-El Dating Lois Lane Dating Lucy Lane Dating Princess Diana DCAU Deadman Dial H Dice Dinosaur Island Dinosaurs Director Profiles Doctor Who Doom Patrol Down the Rabbit Hole Dr. Strange Encyclopedia Fantastic Four Fashion Nightmares Fiasco Films Within Films Flash Flushpoint Foldees French Friday Night Fights Fun with Covers Galleries Game design Gaming Geekly roundup Geeks Anonymous Geekwear Gimme That Star Trek Godzilla Golden Age Grant Morrison Great Match-Ups of Science Fiction Green Arrow Green Lantern Hawkman Hero Points Podcast Holidays House of Mystery Hulk Human Target Improv Inspiration Intersect Invasion Invasion Podcast Iron Man Jack Kirby Jimmy Olsen JLA JSA Judge Dredd K9 the Series Kirby Motivationals Krypto Kung Fu Learning to Fly Legion Letters pages Liveblog Lonely Hearts Podcast Lord of the Rings Machine Man Motivationals Man-Thing Marquee Masters of the Universe Memes Memorable Moments Metal Men Metamorpho Micronauts Millennium Mini-Comics Monday Morning Macking Movies Mr. Terrific Music Nelvana of the Northern Lights Nightmare Fuel Number Ones Obituaries oHOTmu OR NOT? Old52 One Panel Outsiders Panels from Sheena Paper Dolls Play Podcast Polls Questionable Fridays Radio Rants Reaganocomics Recollected Red Bee Red Tornado Reign Retro-Comics Reviews Rom RPGs Sandman Sapphire & Steel Sarah Jane Adventures Saturday Morning Cartoons SBG for Girls Seasons of DWAITAS Secret Origins Podcast Secret Wars SF Silver Age Siskoid as Editor Siskoid's Mailbox Space 1999 Spectre Spider-Man Spring Cleaning ST non-fiction ST novels: DS9 ST novels: S.C.E. ST novels: The Shat ST novels: TNG ST novels: TOS Star Trek Suicide Squad Supergirl Superman Supershill Swamp Thing Tales from Earth-Prime Team Horrible Teen Titans That Franchise I Never Talk About The Prisoner The Thing Then and Now Theory Thor Thursdays of Two Worlds Time Capsule Timeslip Tintin Torchwood Tourist Traps of the Forgotten Realms Toys Turnarounds TV V Waking Life Warehouse 13 Websites What If? Who's This? Whoniverse-B Wikileaked Wonder Woman X-Files X-Men Zine