July 21, 2014


Spy Vibe Comics Week: AGENT OLSEN. Spend the week in our secret lair as we share images and stories from the Spy Vibe collection. Today we look at an issue of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen that was inspired by The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and James Bond! Details below. Spy Vibe's archive of vintage photos of people reading comics here

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #89 hit the newsstands in October 1965, two months before Thunderball was released, and just six months before US viewers were introduced to The Avengers. Produced by DC Comics during the second season of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the issue directly capitalized on the Spy Boom with the cover tag-line: "Even Superman cries U.N.C.L.E. when he sees how agent Double-5 Olsen swings with spies and their chicks in… Olsen's Super-Survival Kit!" The spotlight on spy gadgets probably hooked kids into handing over their twelve cents, but the story itself contains some popular spy conventions you might not expect from a Silver-Age Superman book. Our Agent Bensam has reported the issue was credited to Otto Binder, a writer who cut his teeth on Captain Marvel and other Golden-Age comics before joining DC (National Periodical Publications) in 1948. DC editor E. Nelson Bridwell also credits Binder with the early Bizarro tales! Story continues below.

The set-up for the story involves Jimmy and Lucy Lane's viewing of a movie called Agent .003 starring Sam Connolly. "I read the book!" Jimmy says. "Wait'll you see the clever tricks .003 uses against spies… When assassins ambush him, .003 uses his car's ejector seat to escape!" Goldfinger is not the only Bond reference; they also watch a scene with a trick briefcase inspired by From Russia With Love. The story takes off as Jimmy witnesses the assassination of man whose dying words are a plea for Superman to help a Professor Juarez in Andulia. Encouraged by the spy movie, Jimmy decides to tackle the "cloak and dagger" stuff himself.

Jimmy, now Agent Double-Five, introduces his various spy gadgets and takes off the following day for Andulia. The action picks up with a two-page sequence where he is met by a femme fatal named Carmenita, who tries to kill him by dropping him through a trapdoor in a monorail. His flashlight-parachute saves the day! But then the story take a dark turn. Carmenita checks for his corpse, and it is revealed she is after his Superman signal watch! Jimmy gets the drop on her, but not before she bites down on a coin. With her dying breath off-panel, Jimmy says, "Holy smoke! The odor of almonds… These false coins contain cyanide! The code of the spies forced her to take her life rather than reveal any secrets!" Jimmy then goes on the run, disguising himself with a trick comb that changes his hair color. The plot unfolds with the introduction of new characters, capture and narrow escape, more gadgets, more betrayal, the apparent suicide of a major character, and then the ultimate protection of Professor Juarez's new heart transplant technology. In a particularly Cold War moment at the end, Superman tells the baddie, "Your regime will collapse! With your secret police and spy apparatus gone, the people can establish a democratic government!" I picked up this copy of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #89 in fair condition for a few bucks, but it's a priceless time capsule that offers a window into the spy craze and political climate of the era. Stay tuned for more examples during Spy Vibe Comics Week.

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  1. Great summary! This story is credited to old school pulp author Otto Binder (also a seminal writer from comics' Golden Age) so it makes sense he'd be familiar with the conventions of the spy thriller genre.

    If you'll forgive one small, minor quibble: the comic is cover dated December...which means that owing to the peculiar conventions of comic book distribution, it went on sale months earlier than that. In this case, JO #89 appeared on the stands on October 14. Of course, the rest of your observations re the historical context of the issue still apply!

  2. thanks! i'll revise the release date and see if there are interesting connections from Oct 1965. best, -jason

  3. Jeepers, Mr. Whiton! Being an honorary agent of this fine organization is quite an accolade!

  4. I only recruit the best agents. Welcome to the team! We can all go to a nice Village when we retire :)