Titles: The Olsen Experiment & The Face of a Nightmare
Publication Date: November, 1973
Writers: Leo Dorfman, David George
Heroes: Jimmy Olsen, with the constant help of Superman
Villains: bank robbers, mysterious science
This issue has two stories, the first twelve pages long and the second eight pages. In both of them, Jimmy Olsen, our intrepid reporter, finds and escapes trouble. In the first, Jimmy Olsen is exploring an abandoned biochemical warfare laboratory, and accidentally breaks a mysterious beaker. He shortly finds that his body now gives off a mysterious radiation that can disintegrate any man-made material. This quickly interferes with Jimmy's life and career, and his attempts to stop an armored car theft with his new-found powers come to ruin when he disintegrates all the money. The story is resolved happily in the final page when Superman realizes that it is not Jimmy, but his signal watch that is causing the destruction. Jimmy can go back to being an investigative reporter and doesn't have to walk around with a skull & crossbones shirt anymore!
In the second story, which seems to be part of a series, Lucy Lane, Jimmy's sometimes girlfriend, has been transformed into an old woman by a shaman in the jungle who was saving her life from a mysterious fever. Lucy is still alive, but doesn't like being an old woman, so she dedicates her life to working in a children's hospital. One day, there is a fire and Lucy, not having much to live for as an old lady, runs into the burning building to save a trapped child. Jimmy Olsen runs in to save her, and while carrying her out, a cannister of DNA and other biochemicals mix and reverse Lucy's condition.
This comic book was released in 1973, when the nation, and comic books, had lost their innocence, but you wouldn't know it from reading this title. The stories are short, with the entire plot being driven by mysterious science that can be resolved in under a dozen pages. The logical questions about the plot abound: why is a lone investigative reporter bumbling around inside of a biochemical weapon laboratory, which isn't even roped off? If the mysterious radiation eats through anything manmade, how is it trapped inside its glass bubble? What type of radiation only targets man-made objects? You could ask all these questions, but you would be a total spoil sport. This is the way Silver Age comics work. This is why Alan Moore's satire of them is so good, although in some ways the Silver Age is impossible to satirize: any type of plot twist or explanation you could imagine involving mysterious science was already done, and done every month. Although it should also be noted that this title's simplistic plots were somewhat of a throwback, because it had just come off Jack Kirby's run on the series, where he had taken one of DC's least remarkable titles and introduced much of DC's wider metanarrative into it. Darkseid and the New Gods first appeared in this title, about a year before this issue.
As much as the comics are illogical, formulaic and predictable, there are few things that make me as happy as sitting down with a Silver Age comic book. There aren't many other places where all the problems will be solved in a dozen pages. Also, those who laugh at this type of comic would also be laughing all the way to the bank, since it is actually fairly valuable. Although I bought it for around a quarter, its list price is twenty dollars in mint condition, which is about five times the value of any hologram, gatefold cover collector's edition comic from the early 1990s.