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Why “Jenny Olsen” Could Be A Pretty Good Move

I’m just going to come right out and say it: The whole thing about Jimmy Olsen being reinvented as Jenny Olsen for Man of Steel? I am not only in favor of it, but I wish that other superhero movies were willing to do the same kind of thing.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t have anything against Jimmy as a character or concept, per se (My love for Jack Kirby’s 1970s run with the character is a strong and passionate one, if nothing else), but changing Jimmy into Jenny manages to rectify a problem with the traditional Superman set-up – That there’s only really one woman in the regular cast, and she’s the love interest – without really changing anything about Jimmy’s character. After all, there’s nothing that’s actually gender-specific about Jimmy’s dual role as photo-journalist and Superman’s pal, and there’s even something particularly appealing about the notion that Superman’s best friend is a woman, in a way. Look! Up in the sky! A man who can have a platonic friendship with a woman! if you see where I’m going.

The gender shift in the character is, for me, as positive a sign for Man of Steel as the casting of Laurence Fishburne as Perry White. Both decisions demonstrate a willingness to recognize the traditional dynamics offered by the Superman supporting cast but – and this is the positive part for me – an equal willingness to play around with that dynamic and the details in order to shift the status quo into something more contemporary and less rooted in the white patriarchy of the character/franchise’s 1930s/40s roots (For those who are outraged about this shift: Your hero is still a white guy called Superman. I think you’ll be okay).

It’s that lack of being beholden to the source material that makes me eager to see where Man of Steel ends up. As much as such changes make some fans nervous – Do the changes come from an understanding of what can be changed without uprooting the essential appeal of the supporting characters, or just a desire to shake things up in general? If it’s the latter, does that mean that other, more important, things could also be changed or lost somewhere else in the movie? – I’m finding myself more excited to see a movie that isn’t as married to its comic book incarnation as 2011’s Green Lantern, for example, which felt weighed down by the many ways in which what should’ve been Easter Eggs for the comic book faithful instead turned into gigantic, unavoidable declarations of “authenticity.”

If there’s one thing that the best of Marvel’s movies have demonstrated, it’s that the way to make great superhero movies seems to be to strip the concept back to its bare bones, and then rebuild from there. Imagine an Iron Man movie where Robert Downey Jr. had to stay consistent with the comic book incarnation, for example, or an Avengers that replaced Mark Ruffalo’s snarky, sardonic Bruce Banner with the nervous, panicked version from the comics at the time of the Avengers’ formation, and shoehorned in Ant-Man and the Wasp instead of Hawkeye and Black Widow. Okay, maybe Ant-Man might have been a little more useful than Hawkeye, but you see what I mean.

Jenny Olsen may, of course, turn out to be a bad idea; the movie is still four months off, and we literally haven’t heard one word from the character yet in any of the teasers or trailers to date. But if she is, it’ll be because the moviemakers managed to screw up the character for reasons that have nothing to do with the fact that she’s not a man called Jimmy. Instead, let’s take this as a sign that Warners and DC has learned from their mistakes and Marvel’s successes. For now.


  • Chris Williams

    That girl is way too cute to be even a Jenny Olsen.  Not necessarily against jenny olsen, just not a fan of the fact Olsen isn’t a little buddy type character anymore.  All these changes to update characters have removed some of the charm from these comics. 

    One thing about Batman, He is never going to lose his charm mostly because he is a millionaire(billionaire) man in a a batsuit that still maintains the ridiculousness of everything, and also bats are fundamentally scary on some level even if it is absurd.

    Superman is a character that is carried a lot on nostalgic charm, being from the heartland and sheltered he is a guy with an optimism about people that just doesn’t seem to fit, and Jimmy Olsen, though a bit older, is there to encourage that kid in us that embraces rather than riducule be absurdity embraces the wonder.

    Also I stopped reading when you wrote that Lois Lane is the primary Love interest.  While true on a technicality, she is so much more.  Yes she is a love interest but she is also a women that can be and should be portrayed as more than falling from buildings and screaming.  For me in a perfect world she has her street smarts and intuition, which are what lead her into trouble which is also ultimately how superman finds the villain, not because lois is a weak woman in danger, but because Lois is a daring investigative, and all too fragile human, reporter who is in over her head.  She fills the role of damsel on a technical level, but ultimately her brain contributes as much as supermans brain and superhuman brawn.

  • Jamal Igle

    They didn’t change any of the core characters into a different gender in the marvel movies. if they wanted to create a new female photographer, I’d be fine with that, or here’s a wacky idea, use an existing Superman character (Cat Grant or Dana Dearden/ Obsession who would eventually become obsessed with Superman) instead of eliminating a core Superman character, a character that carried three series of his own and is tied heavily to the New Gods.

  • Todd Matthy

    The character is JIMMY NOT JENNY. Jimmy Olson is one the most iconic parts of the Superman mythology. Lawrence Fishburne playing Perry White is still Perry White. Changing Jimmy Olson to Jenny Olson changes the character completely. If they want to create a new female character and make her a photographer, that’s fine. But, don’t change a character that’s is one of the primary members of the supporting cast. It’s unnecessary.  

  • alphawaves

    Boy, I eat all of this delicious fanboy rage up. Seriously, changing the gender of a character is a big deal? It’s any deal at all? It’s a movie! Who cares?! To paraphrase the author, thank god they didn’t commit the mortal sin of changing Superman’s race! That would be too much to handle!

    Cathartic sarcasm aside, I’ll try and be the dissenting voice who is still a Superman fan, but really could care less whether Jimmy’s a boy, girl, or transvestite. As if it will have some effect on the movie’s quality, anyway.

  • heelociraptor

    So iconic that you can’t even spell his name correctly.  You’re right, he’s essential.

  • Cover55555

    Good points made, at first I was worried it was change just for change sake. But, if it’s still Superman’s pal I am all for it. Though I was worried, because they might get the Starbuck treatment in BSG. Which was so awesome.

  • alphawaves

    Hey Jamal Igle, while we’re on the topic of Superman, one time you drew part (or all, I can’t quite remember) of Green Lantern #52, and it made 5-year old me all kinds of excited to watch GL and Superman throw down on Mongul. 

  • Eltrandi

    I like the idea.  

  • Raymond Conrad

    I used to get all enraged whenever they change something but I’ve realized it really doesn’t matter. The movie is either going to be good or it’s going to be bad.  Whether they deviate from the source material or not is not going to change that fact.  I think we’ve all seen adaptations that have stuck to the source material pretty heavily and it was still crap.  Sink or swim – Jimmy’s vagina won’t change that.

  • Eazmundo

    Jimmy is crucial to Superman. You wouldn’t like it if Alfred were a woman now?

  • Michael J

    platonic friendship with a woman? 

  • Michael J

    Platonic relationship with a woman? I see this setting as a young woman who’ll have a crush on the Man Of Steel, thus a love triangle but as we all know Superman will choose Lois Lane.

  • Zach

    Anyone who argues that Jimmy Olsen’s gender is vital to the story or the character is by default arguing that Jimmy Olsen’s genitals are important. And no one in the history of the real or comic worlds has ever given a shit about Jimmy Olsen’s genitals.

  • xMatt

     She should be ginger.

  • Mark Walley

    I think this sentence is really good and gets to the point of it:

    “Do the changes come from an understanding of what can be changed without uprooting the essential appeal of the supporting characters, or just a desire to shake things up in general?”

    You couldn’t make Captain America black or female without fundamentally changing the character and the era (not that a WHAT IF Captain America had been a black woman wouldn’t be interesting to see or read, but that it wouldn’t be the Captain America story we know). But you could make Peter Parker another ethnicity and still keep the essential appeal and character of Peter Parker. Or Jimmy Olsen female.

  • Christian

    Jimmy Olsen hasn’t been relevant for like 25 years (or more). His most prominent role in recent years was in Countdown. Countdown! I mean, c’mon. I know, he had a series that lasted 20 years, in which Kirby’s Fourth World debuted. But you know what? Jimmy Olsen WAS relevant back then (kind of). It was feasable that the young reader of that time identified with him. That hasn’t been the case since, I don’t know, the last half of the ’70s? Jimmy is nothing like Alfred, or Gordon, or Foggy Nelson. They started respectively a bumbling idiot, an ineffectual foil/then ineffectual ally, and a jealous back-stabbing friend (then a bumbling idiot), but they EVOLVED, and became crucial elements to their respective hero’s universe. Heck, even Aunt May, who has been mainly a plot device thru all her career as a supporting character, evolved during Straczynski’s run into an active ally of Peter (who even cancelled her subscription to the Daily Bugle). Jimmy hasn’t had that. Sure, they tried, but no new spin on the character has crystalized yet. He still is the same character from the ’50s. Jimmy needs a story that evolves him, like DKReturns/Year One did for Jim Gordon. Maybe, Man of Steel is that story, maybe a gender swap is what the character desperately needs. Let them try, at least.

  • Chris McFeely

    Can I just ask when we started trusting information that randomly shows up on IMDB?

  • Another Ian

    I think a female Alfred would be quite an interesting idea to explore. 

  • Monkeyhelpertrainer

    Hey, the Wasp is way more fun than Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow! Don’t believe me? Just watch Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

  • Il Nobilone

    Meh. Movies and serials about Superman have always failed to sketch out a good Olsen carachter, and I hoped this movie could break the spell. Jimmy is the only male friend Superman/Clark has: Luthor loathes him, Perry is his boss, Pete Ross is envious, his dad is dead, his father-in-law thinks he’s an alien jerk, Steve Lombard mocks him, Jose Delgado has some issues with him, Ron Troupe simply ignores him. Bruce! But he is out of the question.
    On the other hand, he’s SURROUNDED by women that love him: Lois, Lana, Cat, his mom (she survives Jonathan most of the times) Lucy, Lori, Maggie Sawyer, Janet Klyburn.. damn, he even has a landlady and female neighbors! 
    So we can only imagine Clark watching football with Bibbo or prof. Hamilton. 
    For some reason, showrunners and filmmakers feel the need to add more female figures to the cast (hello, Chloe!) this may be OK for some cases (Batman, Green Arrow…) but I don’t see the point, here.

  • BoosterSilver

    Chris, if you don’t think Clark can have a female buddy type character go watch a few episodes of Smallville. Her pluck and sass and platonic support of Clark is what made a lot of episodes of that show great. (Yes, it was thinly veiled behind a deeper crush from time to time but hetero people will be hetero.)

    Jenny will still be young and will still be a vehicle for younger people to put themselves into the story. Only this time, younger girls will be able to do it too!

    Yes, Lois is an amazing role model for women. Strong, resourceful, successful on her merits and not her appearance. She holds her own in a newsroom full of men and one backstabbing b*tch, (I’ll get back to Cat Grant in a minute.) It is totally understandable that even the most amazing woman in Metropolis is head over heels in love with the most noble, physically attractive, (and in some depictions, fastest thinking) man she can find. However it still comes across as pure romantic entanglement. All the best friend support and emotional anchoring that comes from their marriage and long-term friendship in comic runs, TV shows, cartoons, and animated movies does not fall into the movie. In the end when you walk into the theater, Lois just ends up being the damsel. A smart, brave heroic damsel but a damsel nonetheless.

    While it is stunning to see a platonic relationship on the silver screen I do not think it has the biggest effect on Superman. Nobody would say that he’s a womanizer or incapable of having platonic relationship with women. He’s Superman. It’s far more important for women to see a young female character that doesn’t just want to immediately want to bone Superman. Women can have platonic relationships and it’s important that a young women are given a way into this mythos that isn’t based on just romantic desire.

    “It’s okay to change Perry White to being black because he’s still a guy.” That is the argument you just made, Todd.

    Jamal, you can have a female Olsen that can still discover the New Gods. Having a penis is not a prerequisite for meeting Lightray and Highfather. If they decide to do that in a later movie Jenny can still fill that role. I doubt they’ll end up going that route but we’ll see.

    Alphawaves, the fact that this is a movie does not trivialize the importance of the depiction of the characters. Quite the opposite. Seeing the characters from these books on the big screen is for most the endgame. To not have to just imagine but literally see a grand adventure with iconic characters that you love. To share that experience with so many others is a pleasure and joy that most fans are dying for and have always craved. It is not JUST a movie. It is a depiction of characters that have a longer lasting and more pervasive effect on the global consciousness than any one issue or graphic novel. Comic movies are ALWAYS a big deal and saying they aren’t with respect to the characters themselves is a cheap, shallow, and logically flawed way of dismissing the reactionary responses of fans without addressing the deeper issues behind those responses.

    That being said, you are correct in that Jenny is a character that could add just as much to the Superman cinematic mythos.

    Anyone who cites Cat Grant as being an alternative should remember that she has always been depicted as a foil for…everyone. She’s either been a manipulative, oversexed cougar or a prissy, small minded neo-con. Making Cat Grant NICE is a bigger 180 for a character than just sticking breasts on Jimmy.

    I love Jimmy and his brotastic relationship with Superman. He’s the brother that Clark doesn’t otherwise have (until Conner and even then they aren’t as close). It’s just as important that men get to see deep, positive male friendships that aren’t constantly being mocked as secretly homosexual (as if men aren’t capable of thinking with their penis even with other men). But see the thing is….we already have PLENTY of those. Plus Jimmy hasn’t ceased to exist. He’s in all the past movies and has had his chance for all of us guys to imprint ourselves into this universe. Jimmy will still live forever.

    Jenny deserves a chance to be something new for this generation. To give young girls today the chance to identify with this mythos in a way us guys have always been able to.

    It would have been nice if she had been Latina or Asian though….just saying.

    P.S. heelociraptor, trying to invalidate a flawed point on spelling…really? Jimmy IS iconic. A typo doesn’t change that and trying to say it does just makes you and the people who liked your comment look smaller and more petty than you really are.

  • MrMGU

     They changed Jarvis from a white male to a computer

  • joe fiore

    “The whole thing about Jimmy Olsen being reinvented as Jenny Olsen for Man of Steel? I am not only in favor of it, but I wish that other superhero movies were willing to do the same kind of thing.”

    Then you are part of the problem, because this move SUCKS BALLS!!

  • Ziggy Blumenthal

    At least no one ever made Juggernaut a mutant.

    Oh wait….

  • Jamal Igle

    Jarvis had been a computer program before in the comics back in the 1980’s and on the Iron Man cartoon. There’s established precedent.

  • KraziJoe

    Make her homely please!!! Get that Blossom chick from TBBT and cast her. 

  •!/ David R. Schmitt

    But Marvel has changed the sex of a character before. They changed Marrow into Spyke for the X-men Evolutions ‘toon. 

    Besides. It’s Jimmy Olsen we’re talking about. Who goes to see Superman to see Jimmy Olsen? Besides it may just turn out Jimmy has a sister. ;)

  • John Teece

    Again – they didn’t change Marrow into Spyke – they created Spyke as a new character. If Spyke was just a male Marrow, why’s he suddenly related to storm?

  • Jim in Texas

    Jimmy Olsen had a long history of transvestism and there is in fact a Jenny Olsen in a parallel universe created by a 5th Dimensional imp with gender changes for everybody back in the 1970’s. The problem with Jimmy Olsen is like the issue with Robin the Boy Wonder. Sexual liberation made everybody way too Freudian and homophobic about any sort of close relationship between male characters with any suggestion of a subtext which Jimmy Olsen’s comic book series was dripping with as we all know, Don’t personally bother me but I’m sexually secure.

  • Jim in Texas

    Oh and by the way, just because Jenny’s id badge now has a different last name than Olsen, that still doesn’t rule out she’s Jimmy Olsen with a sex change. Now we don’t see Jimmy Olsen but she’s around. If she disappears and Jimmy turns up that’s just like “How come you never see Clark Kent and Superman together?”