Bizarro

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Bizarro and Batzarro. Superman/Batman #22 © 2005 DC Comics. COVER ART BY ED MCGUINNESS AND DEXTER VINES.

Bizarro

(pop culture)
The history of Bizarro, the defective replica of Superman, is as craggy as the creature's disfigured face. While the layperson or contemporary fan might regard Bizarro as the doppelgänger of the Man of Steel, this tragic character first appeared in “the adventures of Superman when he was a boy,” DC Comics' Superboy #68 (1958), written by Otto Binder and illustrated by George Papp. In that tale, Superboy observes the unsuccessful trial run of Smallville scientist Professor Dalton's duplicator. Not only is Dalton a failure as an inventor, he is clumsy, too—he stumbles into his machine, causing it to bathe the Boy of Steel in radiation. And thus is born a (cracked) mirror image of Superboy, a jagged-complexioned, childlike duplicate who dubs himself “Bizarro” after Superboy gasps, “Gosh, that creature is bizarre!” Possessing all of the Boy of Steel's remarkable abilities—except for his grammar (Bizarro substitutes “me” for “I”; “Me am Bizarro” is one of the most famous catchphrases to spring from comics into the American vernacular)— this superpowered cipher blunders through the streets of Smallville looking for acceptance (“Why no one like me?”), inadvertently instigating panic. The unavoidable Superboy-versus-Bizarro clash occurs, and the monster unexpectedly allows itself to be obliterated in an explosion that restores the sight of a blind girl, the only person who befriended this misbegotten soul. A Bizarro storyline by writer Alvin Schwartz and artist Curt Swan was intended for publication in the Superman syndicated newspaper strip prior to the publication of the Superboy #68 but was delayed, sparking disagreement among comics historians as to which team—Schwartz and Swan or Binder and Papp—actually created the character. While the definitive answer remains lost to unrecorded history, Binder's prolific résumé as a comics and science-fiction author throws more weight into his corner. Binder introduced the adult Bizarro as a foe to Superman in Action Comics #254–#255 (1959), drawn by Al Plastino. Criminal genius Lex Luthor plagiarized Professor Dalton's duplicating machine and turned it onto the Man of Steel, but by the end of this two-parter, instead of destroying Superman as Luthor had hoped, Bizarro had created a bride—Bizarro Lois—and flown off for an extended honeymoon. Editor Mort Weisinger quickly realized that Bizarro better served the Superman franchise as a comedic character—and as a Bizarro society. With the character's subsequent appearances in various titles, Bizarro used the duplicator ray to produce an expanding civilization of duplicates of his superself, with the original Bizarro wearing a “Bizarro No. 1” medallion for reader identification (and perhaps out of pride). Before long, Bizarro and his wife Bizarro Lois No. 1 were joined by a son (Bizarro Junior No. 1), more Bizarro Loises, and Bizarro versions of Luthor, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Lana Lang, Krypto, and even Batman! This uncanny race resided on the Bizarro World, a square-shaped planet where its inhabitants followed a peculiar code of conduct: “Us do opposite of all earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!” Beginning with Adventure Comics #285 (1961), “Tales of the Bizarro World” graduated into its own series, with Jerry Siegel, the co-creator of Superman, taking over as writer from Binder and with John Forte as artist, running monthly in the title through issue #299 (1962). “Camp” comedy became the trend in superhero comics of the mid-1960s, and as many caped crusaders played it for laughs, Bizarro lost much of his uniqueness. By late 1967 he had disappeared from the pages of DC Comics, not appearing again until late 1976. Bizarro No. 1 schlepped through irregular late 1970s and early 1980s appearances, forsaking his humorous past and once again posing a threat to Superman, but the maturing comics market showed little interest in the villain. Children who had discovered DC's superheroes via the various incarnations of TV's Super Friends series thought differently: Bizarro was one of the Legion of Doom in The Challenge of the Super Friends (1978) and resurfaced in The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians (1986), voiced both times by William Callaway. When writer/artist John Byrne signed on to reboot Superman in the 1986 miniseries The Man of Steel, Bizarro was one of the first supervillains to be reintroduced, in issue #5. Byrne's updating borrowed from both the teen and adult Bizarro origins, as Lex Luthor—in the revitalized continuity a vainglorious businessman—tapped geneticist Dr. Teng to clone Superman to use as a superpowered weapon against the real deal. Teng's bio-matrix could not adequately replicate Superman's Kryptonian DNA, and the clone collapsed, soon mutating into a terrifying, chalk-skinned monstrosity with Superman's powers. This darker, more frightening Bizarro lacked the “me” vocabulary and airiness of the original. After operating on residual memories genetically transferred from the Man of Steel and attempting to assimilate into society as a bastardized Clark Kent, the befuddled Bizarro became enraged upon meeting Superman, leading to a climactic conflict that toppled buildings. Once Superman realized that his “ugly friend” was “an artificial being,” he shattered the creature into nothingness. Aside from a second-season episode (featuring actor Barry Meyers) of the syndicated, liveaction TV series Superboy (1988–1992), Bizarro was not seen again until a serialized DC Comics storyline in 1994, when Luthor's second attempt to clone Superman fared no better than the first. Infatuated with Lois Lane, this Bizarro manufactured a wonky junkyard city—a nod to the 1960s Bizarro World—and, like his comic-book predecessors, died tragically. Also in 1994, ABC's Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993–1997) aired the episode “Vatman,” a Bizarro homage about a simple-minded Superman duplicate created from a strand of the hero's hair. A Bizarro Superboy, a distorted variation of the contemporary Teen of Steel (who himself is, coincidentally, a Superman clone), debuted in Superboy Annual #2 (1995). A new and unpredictable Bizarro, spawned not by Luthor but by Batman's arch-nemesis the Joker, premiered in Superman vol. 2 #160 (2000). When the Joker acquired Mr. Mxyzptlk's realitywarping powers he re-created Earth, with evil supplanting good … and the new, medallion-sporting “Bizarro #1” was born. Although the Joker's lunatic world was short-lived, Bizarro survived. Bizarro #1 boasts Superman's most recognizable powers like flight and superstrength, but in true Bizarro-fashion possesses the opposite of others (such as freezing vision instead of heat vision)— plus, he is energized by the one substance that weakens Superman, kryptonite. In Superman/Batman #22 (2005), Bizarro was joined by a Dark Knight doppelgänger, Batzarro, and was one of the supervillains waging war against DC's superheroes in the crossover Infinite Crisis (2005–2006). Bizarro lent his name to a pair of anthologies featuring modish cartoonists' offbeat interpretations of DC superheroes, Bizarro Comics! (2001) and Bizarro World (2004). He was also seen in the “Bizarro's World” episode in season two of the animated cartoon Superman (1996–2000), and has been produced as action figures in various Superman lines. Comic books and related merchandising aside, the 1960s version of Bizarro continues to chisel a place in the pop-culture pantheon. In “Kltpzyym!,” an essay in Give Our Regards to the Atom Smashers! (Pantheon Books, 2004), a collection of writers' reflections on comic books, author Tom Piazza commented, “I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the original Bizarro, the way one has a soft spot for the monster in The Bride of Frankenstein.” Bizarro's widest claim to fame was screenwriter David Mandel's “The Bizarro Jerry,” an immensely popular episode in season eight of the long-running sitcom Seinfeld (1990–1998). While comic-book references were common in the series, Mandel's teleplay was structured around the “reverse image” Bizarro template: Elaine encountered kindhearted counterparts to the spiteful Jerry, George, and Kramer. Jerry's dialogue expounds the writer's—and actor Jerry Seinfeld's— love for the super-miscreant: “Up is down. Down is up. He says ‘hello' when he leaves, ‘goodbye' when he arrives.”