Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Bizarro Origin of Superman's Nemesis Bizarro, Part 1

The Bizarro Origin of Superman's Nemesis Bizarro, Part 1

By RJ Sullivan

A few weeks ago I discovered at our local library a single volume collection of comics from the late 1980s titled "The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told," essentially highlights spanning from 1940 through 1986. My personal comic history knowledge spans from the 1960s through early 2000s, and is decidedly Marvel-Comics centric. As such, my experience with Superman is spotty. So I thought, "Cool, a chance to fill in some holes in my classic comic knowledge," and checked it out.

Now, I had heard that comic books, before the mid-sixties lacked…how to be kind…a certain sophistication. The opening tales of this volume certainly spoke to that, but were entertaining in their quaint ways. BUT…even allowing the most generous curve with the knowledge that "this was not written for me," a little tale from 1958 entitled "The Battle With Bizarro", (added, I hope, because of Bizarro's future role as a major player rather than the story's merits) offers many exasperating moments of WTF almost every panel, that I simply must discuss.

Whether out of love, or a love to hate, you decide. Ready? Here we go.

Our tale begins with the oldest of tropes, Superboy standing by to witness "an amazing experiment" by an unnamed Smallville scientist. Any comic reader can tell you if you want something to go terribly wrong to kickstart your plot, comic book land is chock full of well-intended scientists ready to trigger a major disaster or at least an origin story.

So this scientist is testing a "duplicator", which looks like an oversized old-school movie camera on a tripod, shaded green. "I'm hoping my duplicator will duplicate this sample of pure radium!" the scientist helpfully explains. Said Duplicator does indeed create a copy of the block of radium.

But Superboy observes two panels later that the radium is non-radioactive, and "imperfect and worthless." The scientist adds, "My machine is a failure." Now, to be fair, they make an excellent point. This duplicator failed to recreate the unstable properties of the radium because it just makes stable duplicates.

So yeah, screw that. I mean, his machine just creates replicas of nonliving matter in seconds. Now, if our society had a booming industry with an ongoing need to create plastic or metal mold parts as a first step toward mass production—well, that would be different.

If it did. Just supposing. But whatever, trash that piece of s***.

Two panels later, the scientist emotes "Oops, I stumbled!" while he reaches out for the device which Superboy has helpfully stepped in front of. And before you can say "Maybe you should have installed a safety switch," Our Hero has been zapped and we next see a pale crystalline duplicate of Superboy lying on the floor, complete with blue suit and cape. "It isn't alive, is it?" asks Superboy. "Hardly…It's made of nonliving matter," says the scientist. This will not be the last thing the scientist gets completely, horribly wrong.

Speaking of, a couple panels later, Superboy and the scientist are disposing of the duplicator's scrap parts when Superboy says, "Odd…why does this metal all glow now, professor?" "Who knows? It isn't important."

Now clearly, the scientist must have been distracted, and thought he heard, for instance, "Do you prefer the Nook or the Kindle?" We'll never know, we're given no insight into that. But I can't possibly think the scientist heard Superboy correctly and thought, "Glowing metal? Psh, why are you bothering me, kid?"

And sure enough, the distraction allows the duplicate enough time to sneak away while they weren't looking. Superboy logically asks "How could it walk off by itself if it isn't alive?" A fair question, and one that deserves a good answer, and our scientist offers up a doozy. "Lifeless machines like cars can also move by themselves."

Okay, I take it back, maybe he did hear Superboy correctly on the glowing metal question.

So our poor creature is wandering down the street talking in half sentences while Superboy flies off to look for him. "That creature is Bizarre!" declares Superboy, at which the "nonliving" creature asks "Bizarro! Is that my name?" displaying evidence of the accepted axiom for defining life: "I think therefore I am."

A convenient breakout at the zoo distracts Superboy for several panels (a massive animal stampede caused by a flash of lightning—I guess the Smallville zoo better look into upgrading those balsa wood cages) gives Bizarro a convenient excuse to go on a rampage.

We get the usual scenes of citizens fleeing for their lives, and when we next spot the scientist he has shown up with a couple of thugs armed with pump-action shotguns. Before you can say "Can I see your permits to carry those elephant guns in public?" they're firing away and scaring Bizarro off while he laments that no one wants to be his friend.

During all this, no one has tried to talk Bizarro down. At the same time, Bizarro says in several panels "Bizarro mean you no harm." It is quite clear even by page 4 of our overlong tale that Bizarro is mentally challenged, appears "ugly" by conventional standards, and doesn't act with the intent to do harm; he simply doesn't know his own strength.

Over the next several pages, Bizarro flies to the Kent residence, driven by some primal memory transferred from the duplication process. Ma Kent eventually shoos him off after Bizarro uses his heat ray to finish cooking the Kent meal. The fiend.

More rampaging follows, until a pretty young blonde innocent named Melissa boldly walks up to Bizarro saying, "I can sense that you're a gentle person." Pleased to have found his first friend, Bizarro flies off. In a plot twist that would surprise no one these days, the reader is told that Melissa is blind.

The comic concludes "Part One" here, and given the length of this blog, I think I'll do the same. Tune in tomorrow for part 2, in which Superboy's first brilliant idea nearly gets him killed, and the second brilliant idea results in the destruction of millions of dollars in military weapons. (Spoiler: neither of Superboy's plans are "let's try to talk him down and try to reason with him.") Yay for the good guys!

Learn about all things R. J. Sullivan at www.rjsullivanfition.com and http://seventhstarpress.com/current_authors/r_j__sullivan.html

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