The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Character
photographer and Superman's pal
Jimmy Olsen, famous as the photographer friend of both reporter Clark Kent and his alter ego Superman, was one of the earliest additions to Superman's cast of characters. Jewish comic book writer and artist Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster introduced Jimmy Olsen into the fledgling Superman mythos in Action Comics #6 (1938), just months after the introduction of Superman himself.
The reasons for the lack of overt religious identification for Jimmy Olsen are the same as for other characters created in the era that produced him. Jimmy Olsen, whose full given name is James Bartholomew Olsen, was created during a time when the religion taboo was strongly in place in comic books and other popular media. In order to maximize audience acceptance and minimize potentially controversial material, comic books of the time rarely mentioned the religious affiliation of any major character, although it was common for writers to create their characters using ethnic and religious templates based on real life and demographic groups they knew.
Given his last name, it is reasonable to presume that Jimmy Olsen was envisioned as a typical "all-American" Lutheran young man. The character's creators lived in Cleveland, Ohio, where there would have been no shortage of Lutherans who were second- and- third-generation Scandinavians. Olsen (or Olson, as the character is sometimes mis-identified) is one of the most stereotypical Lutheran American names the writer could have chosen.
But despite the seemingly obvious identification of Jimmy Olsen as a Lutheran, and despite his having been featured in over six decades of stories, there exists little actual textual support within DC Comics canon for the identification of Jimmy Olsen as a Lutheran. Olsen has never been written as if his religious background was anything other than Lutheran, but the character has not been portrayed as a devout churchgoer nor is he known to have overtly stated his religious affiliation. Perhaps the best evidence for Olsen's Lutheran religious background or affiliation is influential Superman chronicler Elliot S! Maggin's identification of Olsen as a Lutheran. Maggin seems to have simply articulated what other writes have assumed about Olsen for decades, but it is arguable whether this can be considered "canon" (official DC Universe continuity).
Jack Larson, the actor best known for playing Superman's pal "Jimmy Olsen" in the 1950s Adventures of Superman TV series, is a self-identified Quaker.
From: Bruce Bachand, "Interview: Elliot S! Maggin", published in Fanzing (The Independent Online DC Comics Fan Magazine) Issue #9, August 1998 (http://www.fanzing.com/mag/fanzing09/iview.shtml; viewed 6 December 2005):
Elliot S! Maggin was the principal scriptwriter for DC Comics' Superman titles during the 1970's up until the mid-1980's. He has written two Superman novels (Last Son Of Krypton and Miracle Monday, both which are currently out of print) as well as numerous other stories, articles, interviews and projects. One of his most recent publications is the novel KINGDOM COME (which is available through Warner Books) which came out in February 1998. It is based on the very successful DC comic book mini-series KINGDOM COME by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. (It is well worth mentioning that Ross contributes a number of new painted illustrations to the Maggin novel!). Sales have been steady for the Maggin novelization. It is over one hundred thousand words full of action, characterization, and plot sculpting.
BRUCE BACHAND [interviewer]: Do you see Superman as a man who prays and/or worships God regularly? If so, what would the Man of Steel pray about from your perspective?
Elliot S! Maggin: I give all my characters religions. I think I always have. It's part of the backstory. It's part of the process of getting to know a character well enough to write about him or her. Jimmy Olson is Lutheran. Lois is Catholic. Perry is Baptist... Clark - like the Kents - is Methodist.
From: Heinen, Tom, "God comics: Illustrated fiction spreads word on religious ideas", published in Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 11 Marcy 2006 (http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=407297; viewed 8 May 2006):
Delve more deeply into comic book metaphysics, and you can explore the actual or surmised religious affiliations of dozens of superheroes by clicking on the "Comic Book Characters" link at www.adherents.com. Or visit its image-packed companion page, www.ComicBookReligion.com.
Superman is a Methodist and Jimmy Olsen is Lutheran? The Thing is Jewish? Elektra is Greek Orthodox? The X-Men's Nightcrawler is a devout Catholic who once wanted to be a priest? Batman is either a mostly lapsed Catholic or a mostly lapsed Episcopalian?
Yes . . . or more often, maybe.
There have been reverent comic books about Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa, but secular publishers - especially the two dominant ones, Marvel Entertainment and DC Comics - have often avoided or only hinted at their superheroes' faith lives.
From: Jan Edmiston (a self-identified Presbyterian), "Where Would Mutator Worship?", postd 14 June 2006 on "A Church for Starving Artists" blog website, part of the "Presbyterian Bloggers" webring (http://churchforstarvingartists.blogspot.com/2006/06/where-would-mutator-worship.html; viewed 14 June 2006):
...Newsweek reported this week that Superman is Methodist... You, too, can find the affiliation of your favorite Super Hero at [link to Adherents.com website]...
At first, I was wishing we could claim Wonder Woman (pagan) or even Jimmy Olsen (Lutheran). But seeing each other as Mutants and Mutators [referring to two actual Presbyterian comic book characters] is actually not too far off the mark as I think about members I've known and loved...
From: "Denominational Affiliations of Superheroes", posted by Sheridan Voysey on 2 July 2006 on "The Open House (life, faith, culture)" blog website (http://www.theopenhouse.net.au/2006/07/denominational_affiliations_of.html; viewed 19 June 2007):
With all the hoopla this week of the Superman Returns movie, you might be interested to know that almost all our superheroes have some kind of denominational affiliation. Baptist, Anglican, Methodist, Catholic - you'll find connections in the storylines of our best hooded, caped, spandex-covered, super-people...
Superman's other close colleagues have denominational connections too. Jimmy Olson is a Lutheran, Lois Lane is a Catholic, Perry is a Baptist, and Lex Luthor is Jewish (although a non-observant one, as Jews today thankfully remember).
From: Rick Phillips, "Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Characters", posted 14 July 2007 on "Black Lightning Limited" blog website (http://blacklightninglimited.blogspot.com/2007/07/religious-affiiation-of-comic-book.html; viewed 14 July 2007):
I have linked to this site before but I didn't see the photos [collage illustrations] that they now have on the site. It is called The Religious Affiliation of Comic Book Characters [http://www.adherents.com/lit/comics/comic_collage.html]. This is their group of Baptist superheroes [picture is posted]. Near the center of the group is our favorite, drawn by the great Jim Apro, Black Lightning. I found it hard to believe that Ghost Rider was any religion other then Atheist. Apparently Johnny Blaze said he was Baptist in one story. If you have your body possessed by a demon it is pretty good sign you aren't a Christian. However, just cause you are born into a religion doesn't make you a Christian unless you accept Jesus Christ into your heart.
Anyway if you have ever wondered what faith your favorites were you can get a hint by looking at this site. Who knew Jimmy Olsen was Lutheran?
From: "Superheroes by Religion" forum discussion, started 11 January 2007 on "Political Crossfire" website (http://www.politicalcrossfire.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=73989; viewed 16 July 2007):
Posted: Thu Jan 11, 2007 7:20 pm
I wasn't sure whether to put this here or the Lounge, but this place rarely has anything light-hearted, so I suppose it needs it. So, here it is. I thought this was fascinating and should be expanded:
Yes, the Thing is a Jew.
I never expected that, lol.
Quote: Born on Yancy Street in New York City's Lower East Side, to a Jewish family, Benjamin Jacob Grimm...
Perhaps modelled after the Golem, no doubt?
Superman and Batman are, of course... Christian. ["Rolling Eyes" emoticon] (Superman is a Methodist, Batman is an Anglican.)
Let's see... Green Lantern is a bad Jew ("Jewish Catholic").
And ooh, Wolverine is a Buddhist! ["Very Happy" emoticon]
The Central Scrutinizer
Posted: Fri Jan 12, 2007 2:38 am
No, the atheists drafted Wolverine in the second round. This is bulls**t.
Nightstalker [sic: This poster means "Nightcrawler."] is Eastern Orthodox, not Catholic...
How is it that the Episcopalians and the CoE bunch get more big-name superheroes than any other group?
This site clearly has an Anglo-Saxon bias.
Posted: Fri Jan 12, 2007 3:16 am
What are you complaining about? the poor Lutherans only get Jimmy Olsen!
From: Kelly Fryer, "Share Your Faith Like A...Superhero?", posted 31 July 2007 on "Reclaiming The F Word [Faith]" blog website (http://reclaimingthefword.typepad.com/reclaiming_the_f_word/2007/07/so-how-come-rel.html; viewed 12 August 2007):
...By the way, of all the Superheroes listed at adherents.com, only THREE are Lutheran (my shy denomination). I never even heard of two of them: Reflex and Elastic-Lad. And the one I have heard of - The Little Mermaid - is listed as Lutheran/Atlantean (NOMINAL). I'm not even sure how she made the superhero list in the first place! Lutherans!!! Oh well. I'm glad you're using your superpowers to make a difference where you live! You inspire the rest of us.
Webpage created 22 December 2005. Last modified 12 August 2007.
We are always striving to increase the accuracy and usefulness of our website. We are happy to hear from you. Please submit questions, suggestions, comments, corrections, etc. to: firstname.lastname@example.org.