The Comic Book Club: Jimmy Olsen and Butcher Baker

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up discussing what we picked up. This week, Evan Narcisse, Douglas Wolk, Matt Peckham and Graeme McMillan talk about the Jimmy Olsen one-shot and the first issue of Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker.

EVAN: The first chapter of the story collected in this week’s Jimmy Olsen special was my first introduction to Nick Spencer, and the flurry and the rush of ideas and dialogue hit me like a jolt of electricity. I immediately remember thinking, “This guy’s gonna go places.” (And he did… straight to a Marvel exclusive.) But the think about Spencer that struck me right away was how well his generational “voice” matched Jimmy Olsen and, almost magically, a chunk of the audience buying superhero comics nowadays.

DOUGLAS: When it appeared in Action Comics a few months back, this was also the first thing I’d read by Spencer, and I still think he’s a very interesting writer. I haven’t found myself absolutely loving a lot of what he’s done yet–although I adored this!–but I like almost all of it, and I have a feeling he’s about 30 scripts away from really hitting his stride. Now, if that Newsarama interview from a couple weeks back is on the mark (“Usually, if I’m writing eight scripts in a month, I feel like I’ve done my job”), that’s, like, less than four months from now. Assuming he doesn’t burn out first. He’s doing T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Morning Glories, Iron Man 2.0, Secret Avengers, Infinite Vacation, and apparently a bunch of other stuff…

(More on TIME.com: The Comic Book Club: “You’ll Never Know” and “Action Comics”)

EVAN: Spencer cruises off of the mighty strength of his reference-fu in these stories, but somehow manages to walk the fine line of not getting lost in them. I read this collection worrying that I might be witnessing the hipster-ing of Superman’s Pal, but Jimmy felt relatable throughout. His ache for ex-girfriend Chloe was something that I could relate to, and who amongst us hasn’t felt adrift in work, peer group or other parts of adulthood?

All too often, stories focusing on Jimmy Olsen make it seem like he’s mostly got it together, and there’s not much internal churn to the character. But a guy so well-adjusted to saving the world from super-villainy can’t be all that great in the other parts of his life, can he? So putting him in a sitcom set in the DC Universe showcases the foibles of a normal dude in a superhero universe. And these are all classic sitcom plot devices: the uninvited guest, the romantic rival, the “was it all a dream?” episode. Tacking on oxygen-binging aliens just makes them better.

DOUGLAS: Definitely–this is a really clever way of updating Jimmy Olsen, keeping him as a guy who gets involved in light-comedy adventures all the time without making him seem like a bowtied throwback. (I laughed out loud at the “co-Superman” business and “you’re trying to conquer the world by screwing over net neutrality?”) The tone really is very modern–I don’t know if I’ve seen “amirite?” in a mainstream comic book before. But it’s also recognizably the DCU setting, and the other characters get to play straight foils to Jimmy (nice Natasha Irons cameo, in particular): no tragedy, no trauma, just characters at cross-purposes.

I really like RB Silva’s artwork here, too: it can’t be easy making a story this densely plotted look as spacious and relaxed as he does, and he makes a lot of sequences go over just on character acting. The Amanda Conner front cover of this one-shot is a nice touch–Silva’s approach to character comedy reminds me a lot of Conner’s in some ways.

(More on TIME.com: Weekly Comics Column: Where Are the Lois Lane Comics?)

EVAN: Part of the fun in this book is how Spencer pokes fun at the status quo of the Superman books. The “taking a walk” joke, the choose-a-stand-in panel and the fact that–since no one was allowed to write Superman during Stracynski’s tenure–Kal-El never speaks a word when he shows up.

DOUGLAS: Not to mention the broader joke that Jimmy figures out that the way to take all the fun out of a Superman (cough cough) video game, and drive the audience away in droves, is to take Superman out of it. That is some rather barbed commentary right there…

GRAEME: It helps that one of the possibilities to play when Superman has to leave is Mon-El, the character who took over the Superman series when that whole New Krypton thing was going on. Oh, Nick, you’re a sly one.

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