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Bizarro World
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Fred Hembeck

Bizarro World
Uploaded January 28, 2000

Me am so happy!

Of all of the elements of the Superman mythos to emerge from the DC brain trust over the last sixty-odd years, one of the most enduring is the 'Bizarro' concept. You want proof? Jerry Seinfeld used the idea as the jumping-off point for an episode of his television series.

Ahem. I just received an email from one Mr. Alvin Schwartz, taking me to task -- and rightfully so -- on some of the details on this page. Considering his credentials on the matter, I certainly bow to his authority and have made the appropriate corrections to what follows. The parts I've re-written/edited are in this lovely rust colour.

Alvin Schwartz (writer) and Mort Weisinger (editor) created the Bizarro character originally for the Superman daily newspaper strip in 1958. As editor, Weisinger habitually shared new elements of the 'Superman universe' with the group of writers working for him. Because of the long lead times involved in publishing newspaper comic strips, Otto Binder, best known (possibly) for his work on Fawcett's Captain Marvel, ended up writing the first Bizarro story to see print, even though it was actually the second Bizarro story written.

Superboy #68

In Binder's Superboy story, Bizarro was a laboratory-created accidental duplicate of Superboy. Due to improper testing and a lack of adequate quality control, the ray used to create Bizarro was far from ready-for-prime-time, and provided only imperfect duplicates. This facsimile of the Smallville sensation had most of Superboy's powers, minus the intelligence and coordination required to use them properly. On top of this, his (its?) skin had a white, chalky, chiseled appearance that would send even the most hardened plastic surgeon running in fear.

That first story seemed to follow Frankenstein-ian lines, showing Bizarro as a well-intentioned - if clumsy, and not particularly bright - creature. If you're paying attention, you'll notice that there are similar themes in both Bizarro and Swamp Thing, so it's hardly surprising that this use of the 'misunderstood monster' theme proved as popular as the latter's. After first trying to destroy Bizarro with kryptonite and then callously duping Bizarro by swapping the girl he had fallen for with a store mannequin, Superboy engineered a deadly confrontation that resulted in Bizarro's disintegration. Don't fret over Superboy's sense of morality, though; in his own words, after all, "It won't be like taking a life, for he's not a living creature! He's just a lifeless imitation of me, made non-living molecules!"

Schwartz had an entirely different sentiment in mind when he created Bizarro, however. He had decided to deconstruct Superman, applying Jung's shadow archetype to the Man of Steel to come up with Bizarro. In Jungian terms, the 'shadow' is everything in us that is unconscious, repressed, undeveloped and denied. Applied to Superman, we can see how this might play out. Superman is always in control, while Bizarro would be undisciplined and reckless. Superman is very smart and canny, while Bizarro would be confused and easily misled. Superman is staunchly reserved, while Bizarro would be much more free with his emotions. (In many respects, Clark Kent can also be viewed in term of the shadow archetype. Cary Bates and Elliot S! Maggin played with this in a run of stories in the mid-1970s that had Superman lose his powers while garbed as Clark Kent. While living in the powerless Clark Kent role for several days, he became increasingly assertive about his life and career, and not surprisingly, happier. Of course, it was back to the status quo once the Superman-Kent split was revealed to be part of an alien invasion plot.)

The specific elements of Bizarro's origin from that first story by Schwartz are lost, unless someone turns up copies and can provide details, but the primary plot had Bizarro falling in love with Lois Lane. Far from seeing him simply as a lifeless construct that could easily be disposed of, however, Lois felt empathy for a creature that quite obviously had and could express feelings.

Instead of the 'lifeless construct' approach, subsequent stories drew upon Schwartz's motif, with a new version of Bizarro introduced in the Superman titles, along with a Bizarro Lois Lane. You see, Bizarro being an imperfect duplicate of Superman, shared Supes' obsession with our favourite gal pal reporter, and kept kidnapping her in order to express his admiration. Since women typically don't recognize major felonies such as kidnapping as reliable expressions of courtship, this posed something of a problem. After all, Bizarro wasn't particularly evil or malicious; he was just deeply, deeply misguided and missing a whole whack of social graces.

After briefly considering enrolling Bizarro in a Dale Carnegie finishing school (not really), Superman used the ray to create a Bizarro version of Lois Lane for the big lunk to shack up with. It's not often that you see such a blatant fix-up in comics, but fortunately for all concerned, the matchmaking exercise worked out in the end.

Later stories featured the creation of the so-called 'Bizarro World', on a planet terraformed by Bizarro into the shape of a cube. Yes, a cube. Because ours is a sphere and on the Bizarro World, everything am backswards.

Of course, planets need populations, so they pulled out that old ray again, and began creating an entire cadré of Bizzaro Supermen and Lois Lanes. This massive act of parthenogenesis later won the Bizarro World its own backup feature in a few titles, so it wasn't a completely bad idea. The 'Tales of the Bizarro World' stories essentially showed a civilization in which everything that takes place is a screwed-up version of our own world.

Or maybe, just maybe, the Bizarros had it right, and ours is the screwed-up version...

It's something to think about.

The Skylab reference in this strip, by the way, shows this to be one of the more obviously dated strips. The 78-tonne space station fell back to the earth on July 12, 1979, with debris raining across southwest Australia in what was apparently a spectacular fireworks show. That a Bizarro Skylab space station would break orbit and veer away from the planet instead is quite appropriate. Come to think of it, maybe that missing Mars probe has a 'Made by Bizarro NASA' imprint on it somewhere.

- NP

The copyrights, trademarks and publication rights to Fred's cartoons belong to DC Comics, Marvel Comics, and Fred Hembeck where appropriate. Proud Robot Productions graphics, site design, cartoon re-coloring and commentary copyrights belong to Neil Polowin and Proud Robot Productions.

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