The Fat Boy of Metropolis

Jimmy Olsen always dreamed of being a big man in Metropolis and in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #49 (Dec. 1960) , he gets his wish, ballooning overnight to a weight of 300 lbs and landing in a mess as outsized as his waistband.

Nobody seems to know who wrote this story, but the art is provided by Curt Swan and John Forte, who actually mesh together rather well here to draw some convincing fat folks, a task any artist can tell you is not as easy as it sounds.

We begin on a hot summer day as Jimmy visits Professor Potter's lab "to get a story on his latest invention." Considering how often this scenario ends disastrously for Jimmy, you'd think he'd be on his toes, but no.

Professor Potter is out, but his assistant, Dr Rance, is happy to show Jimmy the latest discovery; a revolutionary new vitamin formula.

Wow, that was subtle. "Yes, Detective, the poison is probably still here at the crime scene. Here, have a cup of tea while you look for it."

Predictably, Dr Rance soon discovers he's accidentally given Jimmy a bottle of the weight-increaser, mistaking it for soda pop. Of course the real question is what kind of lousy soda pop did they have in 1960 that Jimmy couldn't tell the difference in taste? Anyway, the surprise twist here is that it was no accident: Rance deliberately slipped Jimmy the elixir to make him "as fat as a hippo!", though we won't learn why until later.

That evening, Jimmy shows up at Perry White's house to collaborate on an article about Superman's trophies, bringing a few along in his briefcase. The work lasts well into the night, so Jimmy is invited to sleep on Perry's porch. He's rudely awaked the next morning when his now-gigantic frame breaks the cot.

Too big for his pajamas, Jimmy resorts to the old trick of wearing a rain barrel until Perry can dig up "some extra big clothes" from the attic. Unfortunately what he comes up with isn't all that helpful.

Fat guy. Santa suit. Get it? Honestly the weight jokes practically write themselves. Comedy gold.

Perry offers to give Jimmy the week off until Professor Potter returns with an antidote, but Jimmy insists he can still do his job. To prove there are uses for extra weight, he sits on his briefcase to close it, but instead smashes it. Thus, he's forced to carry his trophies home in an improvised sack, so he looks even more like You-Know-Who.

Of course why he needs the stocking cap is anyone's guess, especially since it's already been established Metropolis is suffering a heat wave. But whatever.

Walking down the streets of Metropolis (and getting plenty of stares), Jimmy spots an object falling from a skyscraper construction site onto the roof of an apartment building, and goes to investigate. By an amazing coincidence, his girlfriend happens to live in the same building.

Fat guy in a Santa suit...with a a chimney. In the summer! Wow, this just keeps getting funnier!

But then it's off to a men's store to be fitted for a king-size suit. Fortunately there's a few extra yards of "Dork Green" fabric lying around. It's all worth it for this side-splitter, which probably boasts a pedigree stretching back to the glory days of Vaudeville:

Either a slip of the brush or a printing error has given Jimmy a missing tooth to go with his new belly, but it works for me.

Back on the job, Jimmy boards an Army cargo plane with Clark Kent for a Daily Planet article. When the plane has engine trouble and heads for a crash, everyone bails out, but Jimmy's parachute can't support his tremendous weight, so Clark secretly lends a puff of super-breath to slow his fall and aim him at a nearby swimming pool.

As Jimmy hits the pool, horrified onlookers gasp, "He must weigh a ton! He's displacing a hundred gallons of water!"

Undaunted, Fat Jimmy proceeds to his next assignment; for an upcoming article called "Fireman For A Day," he's to do everything a real firefighter would do, which gets him into more trouble as he climbs a ladder to save a cat that's got itself stuck atop a flagpole (don't ask). No one is overly surprised at what happens next.

Jimmy's so fat he breaks the firemen's net, but Superman has been watching and pulls a last-second rescue.

Jimmy's next assignment seems safe enough; he's to interview the owner of a visiting carnival. As fate would have it, however, the carnival's resident "Fat Man" has just been fired for losing too much weight, and when Jimmy shows up he and his "Fat Lady" wife assume Jimmy's a new performer, come to take the "Fat Man" job and break up their act as "Mr. and Mrs. Fontaine, Fattest Couple in the World".

To prevent him from seeing the carnival manager, Mrs. Fontaine drags Jimmy to an ice cream shop, pretending she believes he's an old boyfriend. As soon as she sees the manager driving away, she brings the "date" to an end, dumping the ice cream on Jimmy's head just in time for Lucy Lane to walk by in another of those remarkable coincidences.

Say what you will about Lucy, she does do one thing no one else can do; she makes her sister Lois look like a prize.

At last Jimmy thinks he's found an upside to his situation: a Hindu Maharajah whose life he once saved is coming to Metropolis to show his gratitude by giving Jimmy his weight in jewels. As he's now 300 lbs, that means Jimmy will get enough jewels to donate to charity and still end up wealthy. Superman agrees to fly Jimmy to the Maharajah's yacht, partly out of curiosity about the Hindu religion, as the Maharajah is known to be a devout practitioner.

Later, Superman and Jimmy fly off and the "Maharajah" is revealed as an American crook, in league with the crafty Dr Rance. "Superman never suspected I was impersonating the real Maharajah," he gloats, "so that we could dupe him into smuggling our stolen jewels into America!" Rance notes that "by anchoring off the 3-mile limit, Superman couldn't arrest us even if he did catch wise!"

Now that the jewels are safely in America, all that's left is to break into Jimmy's apartment and steal them, but when the crooks get there they find Superman waiting. Turns out the phony Maharajah gave himself away by serving up champagne and meat, as "it's against a devout Hindu's religion to drink liquor or eat beef!" And now that the bad guys are on American soil, they can be thrown in the clink.

Then in a Scooby-Doo-worthy summation, Superman unspools a true masterpiece of strained logic:

All's well that ends well as Jimmy gets back his trim figure, even if it does mean earning a lot fewer jewels once he's weighed in by the real Maharajah.

Of course that begs the question, why did the Maharajah even have meat and champagne on his boat for the crooks to offer? Or did they sneak onto his boat dragging along a case of their own champagne and a cooler full of steaks? The whole thing would have made a lot more sense if the Maharajah was never really coming to Metropolis at all, and the crooks faked the whole thing.

Obviously in the Silver Age, obesity was as mortifying a social stigma as...gasp!...baldness. Fatness equates to foolishness here, but it's interesting that the meanest lines are directed from one fat person to another. At the ice cream shop with Mrs Fontaine, Jimmy thinks, "I suppose the only way to get rid of this female elephant is to feed her!" Mrs. Fontaine ends the "date" by saying, "Get lost, Fat Stuff! Who needs you now!" and then calls Jimmy a "blubber-belly." So even though being fat is her livelihood -- and not being fat enough may cost her husband his career -- she obviously has some negative feelings about obesity.

When in another Silver Age tale Lois Lane grows temporarily fat, it's treated as a mix of comedy and tragedy (what man will want her now?), but with Jimmy it's played strictly for laughs, such as they are. Of course you could never use those gags today, partly because we're much more sensitive and mature as a culture (yeah, right) but also because "Fat Jimmy" looks uncomfortably close to the modern stereotype of a comic book fan, which wouldn't sit well. Also, we know a lot more about rapid weight gain and loss today, so it's hard to relax and enjoy this one without troubling thoughts about stuff like stretch marks, surgical removal of excess skin after extreme weight loss, damage to the cardiovascular and skeletal systems, and so on.

My final verdict? Worth it if only for the art. And minus the too-expensive-to-film parachute scene, I could see it working as an episode of the Adventures of Superman on TV. It's a bit of a downer that Lucy proves to be as fickle and superficial as her sister, but at least Superman sticks by Jimmy, adopting the attitude, "He ain't heavy, he's my pal."

Okay, so maybe the fat jokes don't write themselves after all.