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An African American astronaut perspires as he thinks about how he’s been extorted into harming Jimmy Olsen, in Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #3, DC Comics (2019). Matt Fraction, Steve Lieber/DC Comics

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Jimmy Olsen #3 has a big homage to one of the most famous comics in US history

The significance of a perspiring astronaut

Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber’s Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen has big shoes to fill. The original Jimmy Olsen series is famous for some of the wildest and weirdest one-and-done stories in the DC Universe. The book only got weirder when legendary comics creator Jack Kirby took the reins.

And so it’s fitting that this week’s Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #3 would be both absolutely ludicrous and have some references to history’s most impactful comics, as you can see in these four exclusive preview pages.

A page from Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #3, containing a big homage to EC Comics’ “Judgement Day,” the nearly-censored story of a black astronaut. DC Comis (2019). Matt Fraction, Steve Lieber/DC Comics
A preview page from Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #3, DC Comics (2019). Matt Fraction, Steve Lieber/DC Comics

EC Comics’ stand against racist censors

EC Comics might be most famous for creating Tales From the Crypt and Mad Magazine, but there was an era in which its best selling books were pulp sci-fi anthologies like Incredible Science Fiction and Weird Fantasy. And the most famous story in Weird Fantasy might be “Judgement Day.”

The short story depicts a human astronaut visiting a world that is inhabited by a civilization of blue and orange robots. Even though they are otherwise identical, the robots are divided by color, with one shade holding fewer rights than the other. He decides that the robots are not ready for admission to the Galactic Republic, and returns to his spaceship, his mission complete.

There, in the story’s final image, he removes his helmet, revealing for the first time that he his black. It’s a striking image, drawn by artist Joe Orlando, that connects the beauty of black skin to the beauty of the stars — a pretty rare sentiment for America in the 1950s!

The final panel of “Judgement Day,” featuring a black astronaut in his spaceship, EC Comics. Al Feldstein, Joe Orlando/EC Comics

In 1956, EC editors struggled to produce the horror and sci-fi comics the company was known for under the new Comics Code of America, the set of industry-wide content guidelines partially shaped by EC’s competitors to put their biggest books out of business. The Code’s enforcers had already struck down one of the new stories in their latest issue of Incredible Science Fiction, and when it was replaced with a reprint of the pre-Code “Judgement Day,” it was struck down again.

This particularly ticked off EC editors, as comics historian Digby Diehl recounted in Tales From the Crypt: The Official Archives:

This really made ‘em go bananas in the Code czar’s office. ‘Judge Murphy was off his nut. He was really out to get us’, recalls [EC editor] Feldstein. ‘I went in there with this story and Murphy says, “It can’t be a Black man”. But ... but that’s the whole point of the story!’ Feldstein sputtered. When Murphy continued to insist that the Black man had to go, Feldstein put it on the line. ‘Listen’, he told Murphy, ‘you’ve been riding us and making it impossible to put out anything at all because you guys just want us out of business’. [Feldstein] reported the results of his audience with the czar to [EC’s owner, Bill] Gaines, who was furious [and] immediately picked up the phone and called Murphy. ‘This is ridiculous!’ he bellowed. ‘I’m going to call a press conference on this. You have no grounds, no basis, to do this. I’ll sue you’. Murphy made what he surely thought was a gracious concession. ‘All right. Just take off the beads of sweat’. At that, Gaines and Feldstein both went ballistic. ‘Fuck you!’ they shouted into the telephone in unison. Murphy hung up on them, but the story ran in its original form.

Because of the controversy over it — and, let’s be real, the undeniably great story of two comics editors shouting “Fuck you!” at a judge — the final panel of “Judgement Day” is deservedly famous in the American comics world.

So if you’re wondering why the perspiring astronaut in this week’s Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen is lit so dramatically — now you know. But there’s more:

A preview page from Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #3, DC Comics (2019), featuring the Porcadillo, who seems to be a man-porcupine-and-possibly-armadillo hybrid. Matt Fraction, Steve Lieber/DC Comics
A preview page from Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #3, DC Comics (2019), featuring the Porcadillo. Matt Fraction, Steve Lieber/DC Comics

If you’re wondering what the Porcadillo has to do with any of this, it seems likely that he’s a joke about the Armadillo, one of writer Brian Michael Bendis’ pet Marvel Comics characters, by Jimmy Olsen writer Matt Fraction, who is a close personal friend of Bendis, who inspired/browbeat/lured him into writing Jimmy Olsen.

Check out two more images from Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #3 below, the cover and a variant cover by Ben Oliver.

The cover of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #3 asks “Who shot the decoy corpse of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen?” in very large font. DC Comics (2019). Matt Fraction, Steve Lieber/DC Comics
Jimmy Olsen buries his decoy corpse in his own grave on the variant cover of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #3, DC Comics (2019). Ben Oliver/DC Comics