Thursday, November 24, 2011

Review #17: Bizarro am #1!

Superman: Escape from Bizarro World

Writer: various

Artist: various

Published: DC, 2008

In my mind, Superman is in a similar category as Captain America: this kind of bland, “boy scout”-ish personality, too busy doing the “right thing” to be truly interesting. In fact, I would go as far to say that Superman is sooo mediocre of a character, that all other comic book heros can be measured in relation to him. If a hero is less interesting, he's a crappy character; if more interesting, he's a good character. It's fitting, as he was the original superhero. Perhaps that's why I like Bizarro, as he adds a little pizazz to the Man of Steel.

Few characters in the DC universe are as odd as Bizarro. He is an imperfect clone of Superman, his imperfections being his chalk-white and rock-like skin and that he does everything backwards. Bizarro [sometimes referred to as Bizarro #1] is the creator of Bizarro World [AKA “Htrae”], a square planet revolving around a blue sun and home to a race of “bizarros” [duplications of the duplicate] who are all just as ass-backwards as the original. They speak in broken English and shun all things perfect and valuable in favour of the flawed and worthless.

Anyway, this here is a compilation of several Bizarro stories ranging from 1960 to 2007, the newest being the titular tale.

Escape from Bizarro World

Jonathan Kent [Supes' adoptive father] is kidnapped by Bizarro in some weird effort to get help to destroy his own world, where he is unhappy: his fellow bizarros have rejected him for trying to be a hero and make things "right". Supes shows up to save his pa and a brawl with bizarros ensues, as they mistake him for Bizarro. When they realize their goof, they refer to him as Bizarro Bizarro, which I thought was pretty funny.

So, Bizarro Lex Luthor approaches the weird citizens of Htrae with a “sekret wepin” to destroy Bizarro once and for all. Looks like some things haven't changed from Earth. The weapon is a bizarro version of Doomsday, who, as you may recall, famously killed Supes back in '93.

Arguably my favourite part: when the Bizarro Justice League shows up to “ruin the day”. Backwards versions of Batman, Wonderwoman, Flash, Hawkgirl and Green Lantern [Yellow Lantern][in another great moment, his Yellow Power Ring transports him against his will to Sinestro's HQ for ignoring previous summons], all of whom are completely useless. Nevertheless, Bizarro Doomsday is subdued.

Anyway, rather than help him destroy Bizarro World, Pa Kent comes up with a plan to redeem Bizarro in the eyes of his people: Superman attempts to bring order to the backwards planet, and when Bizarro stops him, the crowd hails him as “#1!” once again.

So: loved this story. Geoff Johns and Richard Donner not only stuff it with funnies, both large and small [just a tiny detail, but I couldn't get enough of Bizarro Luthor's sinister iteration of “hello” as a farewell to his victims], but they add some real poignant moments [Bizarro #1's intense desperation for companionship that drives him to create his world] that really bring the bizarros to life. The artwork fits perfectly, done by The Goon artist Eric Powell. It has a wonderful, goofy, cartoon-ish vibe, but retains Supes' classic, square-jawed look. Can't say enough good about this one.

The Son of Bizarro

For some weird reason, Bizarro and Bizarro-Lois Lane have a human-looking son. Two negatives make a positive? The Bizarro couple must tearfully give up their child at the demands of the bizarro people, because “him guilty of crime of being perfect”. He is put in a spaceship that accidentally ends up on Earth, similar to Supes' origin story.

He is discovered and brought to an orphanage where Linda Lee [the secret identity of Supergirl] works. She figures out that the baby has superpowers and, after seeking Superman's advice, tries to keep it a secret. Hilarity ensues! Actually, a series of dumb “close calls” ensue. In a really weird twist, a couple sent to adopt Baby Bizarro turn out to be robots [?] built by Supes to sneak him out of the orphanage. Mission accomplished, the robot couple promptly dispose of themselves in a bed of quicksand [??]. Baby chills in the Fortress of Solitude until Supergirl accidentally blows up some of her chemistry homework all over him, which somehow changes his appearance to that of a bizarro [???].

I swear, sometimes the characters in the story seem just as confused about what's going on as I am.


For brevity's sake, I can't get into how weird everything gets. Long story short, Bizarro finds out his son is on Earth, declares war on the planet, Supes saves the day and a Bizarro Supergirl is created and dies six pages later. “Poor creature! It's better this way!” Supes laments, clearly not giving a shit.

This one is definitely the weirdest of the bunch, but hey... that was the 60s. Funny fact: the penciller is a guy named Wayne Boring, and his generic 60s-era style reflects that.

The Mark of Bizarro

This 1984 tale starts off on a great note, with Bizarro growing tired of beating up his Bizarro Justice League friends. He wants to make a bad guy for them all to fight. There have been previous attempts, but they have all been disappointing [the Bizarro Joker is just sad all the time, as he is the only sane person on the planet]. They make a bizarro version of the android Amazo, a JLA foe known for his ability to “steal powers” from his opponents. Of course, being opposite from the original Amazo, he decides to go on a mission of goodwill, and give all the powers he steals to “needy”, non-powered folk.

Naturally, his desire to help and fix things makes him the perfect villain on Htrae. Bizarro #1 tricks him into giving him his powers back, and Bizarro Amazo [Bizazo?] flees to Earth to avoid further tricks. Bizarro gives chase to warn Supes about the rogue villain. Amazo wreaks havoc by giving powers to normal people who don't know how to control them, like Supes' pal Jimmy Olsen.

Supes and Bizarro manage to trick Bizarro Amazo into taking the powers and giving them back to their rightful owners on Htrae. In some wonderful bizarro-logic, to become the greatest villain on Htrae, one must have zero powers, so Bizarro Amazo takes it a step further and shuts himself off. Since he can never think or do anything again, by default, he becomes the greatest villain the planet has ever known. He is put in a glass case and idolized. “No wonder everyone admire him!” muses Bizarro Lois, “Us merely think stupid... him not think at all!”

I liked this one... it had it's proverbial ducks in a row more than the 60s story. It was still weird, but it made sense within that weirdness. Writer E. Nelson Bridwell seems to have a good grasp on all things Bizarro.

Funny fact: this issue was the first appearance of Yellow Lantern, making it way ahead of the actual creation of the Yellow Lanterns by Sinistro. Crazy.

The Mirror, Crack'd

As the serious/pretentious sounding name might indicate, we have entered a new phase of Bizarro. The differences between the 1984 and this 1986 issues are huge. The '84 take on Bizarro has more in common with the '60 than with the '86. The art is more modern and the tone is a lot less jolly. The “gritty” era brought on by Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns must have swept across the industry rather quickly.

After being created by Lex Luthor, a mute and surly-looking Bizarro escapes the lab and starts doing good deeds, even saving Lois Lane's sister from killing herself! Of course, it is misunderstood and people are horrified by its appearance. Except Lois' sister, who was recently blinded by chemicals! This story really makes an effort to portray our poor Bizarro as a “creature”, an “it” rather than a “him”, and not actually a living being, as Supes discovers.

"Bizarro smash!"

The story doesn't seem to be entirely canonical, as it actually shows Superman destroying Bizarro [good thing he's not alive, or that would be murder!] at the end, unless this was meant to happen before the current Bizarro was created. Or maybe it's one of those things that was retconned later. Anyway, Bizarro's body disintegrates into dust, which somehow restores Lucy Lanes' vision. This makes sense! NOT. Lame ending. This story kind of takes away the things that define Bizarro, like his Yoda-esque speech patterns and his child-like demeanor.

Overall, I liked these stories. They were hilarious at the best of times and delightfully nonsensical at the worst. The only time it didn't ring true was the attempt to give Bizarro a “super-serious make-over”. The nature of Bizarro demands silliness.

Until next time, hello.

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