Kurt Busiek wrote a fair amount of thoroughly entertaining Superman stories between 2006 and 2009, astute little dramas that make good use of Superman’s supporting cast and presenting Superman not afraid to make use of their friendship. These are exemplified by the content of 3-2-1 Action, with Jimmy Olsen, the most prominent of Superman’s friends, taking a lead role.

Before the title story Busiek takes us back to Superman’s early days in Metropolis, with Clark Kent just starting his reporting career under the guidance of Perry White, who’s inordinately impressed with the dedication shown by young newspaper seller Jimmy Olsen. It’s also early days for a criminal organisation called the 10 setting up in Metropolis. What’s nice is how it re-establishes the basis of a friendship between Superman and Jimmy for the modern era, mixing a slight nostalgia for the 1940s notions originally responsible, but giving them a polish. Rick Leonardi keeps the art plain and tells the story well.

Jimmy has problems with transformations in the title story by Busiek and Brad Walker (sample art left). He’s obviously always admired Superman, but the powers he’s acquired are random and strange, even faintly ridiculous. That’s because this time Busiek is referencing the nutty Jimmy Olsen stories of the 1950s and 1960s, so how will Jimmy sustain a superhero career when his powers lack any form of reliability? Walker’s art prioritises head and shoulders shots, or half figures, and when several are merged on a page it transmits power, but also looks messy, although when he breaks into a big image they’re tremendous. The character moments are nice, especially Jimmy feeling fallible, yet doing what’s right anyway, and that combined with the twists Busiek throws in compensate for the Kryptonite Man not being much of a villain. It would have been nice if the relevant pages of Countdown had been included, as some action takes place away from this content.

Busiek has nothing to do with the final story, but editorially it’s a good fit as Jimmy is again the focus, and it’s a real treat to see Mark Evanier and Steve Rude producing a homage to Jack Kirby, who of course produced his own Jimmy Olsen material. Rude’s art (sample right) is phenomenal, and can be studied for a long time to figure out just how it’s recognisably his own graceful style, yet also channels Kirby’s power. It’s down to the layouts and the line, which has a greater delicacy to it than Kirby. Evanier throws in another Kirby hero, the Guardian, and a clever counterpoint to the heroics in the form of career Daily Planet doorman Bernie Sorbel forced well beyond his comfort zone. It’s frenetic fun and a great finale to a good collection.