Monday, June 20, 2016

Enter Bizarro - Dueling Pencils (and Plotlines)

Superboy #68 (October 1958)
"The Boy of Steel Versus the Thing of Steel"
Otto Binder-George Papp

The Man of Steel #5 (December 1986)
"The Mirror, Crack'd"
John Byrne-Byrne/Dick Giordano

Doug: Yup -- half a century old, am I. I know I'm joining a club populated by many of our Bronze Age Babies, and I trust you'll treat me kindly in this land of AARP. Now if I could only remember what issue I'm supposed to review today...

Funny that I'm joking about being forgetful; well, maybe it's not even forgetful. I think it was William many a'moon ago (when we solicited ideas for posts) who queried what we had collected on our shelves but had never read. I can attest to owning The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told, but have not read all of the tales contained therein -- and quite honestly have not cracked the book in perhaps 20 years. Figuring it had been awhile since I reviewed a Superman yarn (I've been really heavy on the Bat-side of DC lately, but that's the lion's share of what I have from those folks), I thought I'd check the table of contents of the "Greatest" trade. Now I've remarked several times that I've always been a Superboy guy, never Superman (well, not never). So when I saw Superboy #68 sitting there, and it was the 1st appearance of Bizarro to boot, I knew I was going to review it. But after I read it, I was like "Hey, wait a minute..." So I dug up our BAB review of Man of Steel #5, and darned if Anonymous (one of the most common baby names of the mid-60s) didn't comment:
Anonymous said...
Two things:
(1) at the time of the miniseries, Byrne stated that the purpose of the Bizarro story was to show Superman's first encounter with a super powered foe;
(2) the blindness thing is a call back to the first Bizarro story - where something similar happened. Bizarro died - and when he blew up, he cured a blind person (though I don't think it was Lucy Lane).
So there you have it -- cart planted squarely in front of horse. But you know that's not fair, so howzabout we take a look at these two stories, told almost 30 years apart, and see how similar they are? For those keeping score at home, I am going to blend in thoughts about Man of Steel #5 from mine and Karen's original review of that  publication.

The Creations: In Superboy #68, our young Kryptonian has visited a Professor Dalton, who is about to conduct a very important experiment. Dalton thinks he has invented a "Duplicator Ray" that will be able to exactly reproduce any material. His first attempt is on radium -- because after all, the 1950s was all about radioactivity. The radium that's created is a dud -- no radiation whatsoever. Dalton then turns his ray on a jewel, but it proceeds to melt like ice. Frustrated, he declares himself a failure. Ever empathetic, all Superboy can utter is, "Too bad, Professor! Well, I'll be on my way!" (at this point, please do yourself a favor and head on over to for more bad manners (and etc.) from Superboy, Superman, and a host of other comics bores). You know, it would serve Superboy right if that ray got turned on him and made an indestructible duplicate of him. Yeah -- that would fix smart-mouthed Superboy! And so it happened. But the duplicate, who we are repeatedly assured is some form of non-life (nevermind that it feels, thinks, has emotions, et al.), is soon out of the lab and on the loose and heading straight for mischief.

Skip ahead approximately 30 years and...

Lex enters a large laboratory where a Dr. Teng, dissident Chinese scientist, labors over a large sarcophagus. We learn that Luthor had his offices layered with cameras and untold diagnostic equipment that captured every iota of information about Superman while he was on the premises. The doctor then used that data to program his technology to create an exact duplicate of the Man of Steel. One problem, however: The equipment was infallible for any sort of terran lifeform. It's at this moment that Lex deduces that Superman could very likely be an alien. The professor unveils his creation, cautioning Luthor that it has been a failure. The sarcophagus is opened and out steps an entranced doppelganger of Superman... who then immediately collapses on the floor, and begins to crystallize. Luthor, enraged, grabs his hired hand and offers that he truly hopes he has not wasted his $100 million investment.  But just as quickly, he orders the creature removed -- Luthor is going home to Metropolis.

Close Encounters of the Bizarro Kind: Bizarro, being duplicated from Superboy, is somewhat aware of Superboy's life and surroundings. As such, he shows up at the Kents', the Kents' neighbors' home, and in various places around Smallville. Overall, he scares people. He is one goofy-looking dude. But there's a real innocence about him, child-like. He wants to fit in, and most of all to be loved. But everyone seems afraid of him and often runs the other way. As Bizarro sits alone on the curb crying, he's approached by a pretty teenaged girl who asks him what's wrong. She tells him that he seems kindly enough, a gentle soul. Bizarro is about to bust, and he flies away to tell a farm family who had humored him earlier. And then we learn that the girl is blind.

In the John Byrne version...

In Metropolis, we get to see Lois Lane's apartment and meet her sister Lucy. We learn immediately that some sort of tragic accident has recently befallen Lucy and her sight has been lost. Lois tries to encourage her, but Lucy is obviously depressed. Byrne depicts the sullen Lucy seated alone, head in hand. Cut away to the streets, where an ambulance careens out of control. A blown tire brings the vehicle to an abrupt stop, but since it is carrying a patient the situation is even more dire. Suddenly a familiar pair of red boots lands and hoists the vehicle.  It is very soon spirited to the closest hospital. As the crew emerges to thank Superman, a look of surprised horror crosses their faces. We see the Man of Steel's foggy reflection in the ambulance window, but cannot make out what must have spooked the EMTs.

Back at Lois' highrise, Lucy has moved onto the balcony and is poised to leap. She asks to herself that Lois forgive her, and pushes away. She doesn't fall far before blue-clothed arms reach out and scoop her away from her desired death. Taken back to the balcony, she's gently set down. She asks if her benefactor is Superman, but he says nothing. She feels him fly away, and is puzzled as to why he wouldn't speak. Cut away then to the Daily Planet, where Lois has arrived to work. After some banter, Jimmy (still sportin' that bowtie) asks if anyone has heard about the break-in at a men's store next door. Seems the perp busted thousands of dollars of plate glass to swipe a $100 suit, and left alone a jewelry store right next door! Clark uses his telescopic vision to peer down into the lobby and notices an odd duck wearing a sport coat over what looks to be a red cape. In a really nifty panel, Byrne gives us the first Superman quick-change and the Man of Steel emerges in the lobby to question this weirdo. Trouble is, when the guy turns around, he's an ashen duplicate of -- Superman! 

Attempted Destruction: Wow - the 1950s must have been pretty reckless. Superboy tries to subdue Bizarro by flying into space in a leaden suit of armor to retrieve a Kryptonite asteroid which he uses in an attempt to murder Bizarro (unless you believe that the creature was inanimate, as is continually suggested). When that fails, actually afflicting Superboy due to a counter-attack by Bizarro, the Teen of Steel asks his army buddies to bring out the conventional weapons. Seriously -- tanks, mortar shells, flamethrowers, you name it. With no positive results, Superboy suggests he be allowed to drop an A-bomb on Bizarro. You read that right. Remember in Kingdom Come when Kansas was obliterated? Superboy drops an atomic bomb on his doppelganger, who catches it and hurls it to the moon.  I'm not making this up. With nowhere else to turn, Superboy engages Bizarro directly.

But in Metropolis...

(Continued from above) The new guy on the block doesn't talk much, but he does pack a wallop! Superman is sent reeling out of the building, landing in the middle of a city bus. He urges the passengers to stay put and heads back out to confront his assailant. We get a good look at the guy, who is fully garbed in a navy blue (not royal blue) Superman suit and what looks to be Clark Kent's wardrobe! Superman soon finds that this imposter possesses all of his powers, including his vast strength. When Lois comes on the scene, Superman decides it would be beneficial to rid his enemy of the civvies. As Superman takes a shot, Lois comes closer -- close enough that she draws the creature's attention. He grasps her wrist and flies her away.

Lois decides that she'll try to talk to the "guy". But when she does, he turns his full attention to her, and kisses her! In a nice piece of writing, Byrne has Lois think, "I don't believe it! Five years I've been dreaming of being kissed by Superman..." Anyway, the creature lands on the same balcony to which he'd deposited Lucy earlier in the story. She is still outside, and can see Lois and "Superman" approaching! Lucy approaches the doppelganger, but as she moves to touch his face, the real Superman arrives. He tries to move the ladies to safety, but is pummeled by his duplicate. They engage, and Superman is hurled straight down into the street. He notices that some sort of powder has rubbed off on his fist and sleeve. Looking at it with his telescopic vision, he notes that it is inorganic -- the creature isn't alive. "Our ugly friend is some kind of android -- an artificial being -- just one step ahead of a robot!"

: Spent for suggestions, Superboy heads back to Smallville to see if there isn't something he can think of that he can use to get rid of Bizarro. The creature follows him back to town, but as Bizarro arrives he falls from the sky -- as if under the influence of Kryptonite. But having exhausted that as an option, Superboy races to find the substance that has affected Bizarro. Flying by Professor Dalton's lab, he sees a custodian emptying the remnants of Dalton's Duplicator Ray machine and notices that the parts emit a glow... hazardous waste? Pfah! Grabbing a huge piece, Superboy threatens to end Bizarro's existence; although Bizarro retorts and uses the word "kill". Bizarro, in typical Bizarro fashion, flies directly at the Teen of Steel.

In the Post-Crisis Superman revamp...
Superman rockets upward as the creature turns toward him. Suddenly it launches downward and the two meteors strike head on. Superman emerges apparently no worse for the wear, but the creature is nowhere to be found.

Eyesight to the Blind: As Bizarro impacted Superboy's metal plate, he exploded into dust particles. A distance away, Melissa felt the impact and was awash in waves of the dust particles. Suddenly her eyesight returned!

 And finally, in 1986...

Bizarro exploded into a huge cloud of dust and crystal particles. And it's those particles that apparently cured Lucy's blindness. Superman is complimented for taking the action that cured Lucy; however, the Man of Steel muses that he really didn't know it would work out that way... but the creature must have.

I feel the need to offer some additional thoughts on Superboy #68, as this comparative post will serve as the review of the story. It was certainly one of those Silver Age books that, with the right mindset, could be enjoyable. I'm sad to say, however, that my mind might not have been exactly positioned in that manner. The basics of the story were fine -- plot, art, etc. But oh the dialogue... I was reminded early and often why as a kid I loathed Superman comics. Generally speaking, Superboy comics tended to avoid the following, but all are in full use here: telescopic vision, super-strength, super-breath, heat vision, super-wits, super-hearing, super-force, super-ventriloquism, super-blows, super-judo... as well as super-vibration, super-impact, and super-inspiration. Whew! Otto Binder actually used every one of those terms in a 24-page story. And it wore me out.

I enjoyed the art, but again through the lens of the Silver Age. I don't know how much George Papp art I've ever seen, but this was pleasing to the eye and appropriate to the subject matter. Papp's art fit in with the "aw, shucks!" sense I get from stories of this vintage.

If you made the jump above to our Man of Steel review, you saw Karen and I comment on John Byrne's attitude toward Bizarro and how it seemed to preface what he'd do to the Vision a few years hence in the pages of West Coast Avengers. I felt in Byrne's treatment, and especially in Binder's script, that Bizarro was too easily discarded as some form of non-life. You ask me, the dude was alive. Also, and in closing because I've taken enough time out of your day, I'd add that Binder's scientific explanations throughout the Superboy tale are at once charming and "say what?!", but most of all pretty dumb.

But I'd read that story again -- it was addictive in a "why am I eating this" sort of way.


Anonymous said...

Happy birthday, Doug !!!

Edo Bosnar said...

Happy birthday, Doug! I'll refrain from making any "man, you're old" jokes because, frankly, I'm getting pretty close to the big 5-0 myself.
And thanks for the nice review. I've never read that Superboy story, and I'm now a bit surprised that Bizarro first appeared in Superboy rather than Superman. And man, based on your review, I have to that Silver Age Superboy does not come out of this one looking very good - in fact, he's a compete jerk! Your reference to Superdickery is apt. Not only is he completely and unnecessarily mean to Bizarro, he even tries to drop an A-bomb on him while the blind girl is sitting right next to him! It's only when Bizarro throws the thing back at him does he seem to remember the problem of collateral damage. Sheesh. Given all of those other powers you mention him using in this story, he could have avoided a lot of trouble if he had used his super-emphathy at right from the start...

Martinex1 said...

Happy Birthday Doug! Cheers!

It is funny recognizing that Byrne's reboot is closer in time to the Superboy referenced than we are currently to the Byrne story. I always felt those '50s stories were so antique and quaint. I guess that is how the youth of today feel about our beloved era.

Yes ...the Super Jerk is kind of interesting to see. By writing a story that avoided obvious wisdom and solutions, they created a flying Eddie Haskell. I wonder if people reading at the time had the same perception; did they have empathy for Bizarro too?

Doug said...

Thanks for the kind wishes, fellas.

More often than not, Superman and Superboy seemed to be written as jerks in the Silver Age. I'm not sure why DC editorial thought that made the character more attractive. Did the George Reeves television sow portray the Man of Steel similarly? I've not seen enough episodes to make a judgment.


Redartz said...

Happy Birthday Doug! Welcome to the 50's...

Fascinating side-by-side comparison today. Never realized how many parallels to the original story Byrne included in his reboot tale. Of course, this is the first time I've seen the original Superboy story, so it's all an education. Thanks, teacher!

It is remarkable to see the amount of 'superdickery' in these tales of old (from our 21st. century perspective, anyway). It also seems that Bizarro's supposed villainy was assumed essentially from his appearance. As Martinex wondered, did readers at the time have any sympathy for Bizarro? Did they catch the undertone of 'surface appearances can be deceiving', and note Superboy's rather brusque reaction?

One other thought on the old Silver Age Superman stories: a minor thing, as generally I enjoyed the stories for what they were. The use of the interjection "Uh" within dialogue, intended no doubt to indicate a pause in speech or thought. It was found frequently, as in "...this thing isn't...uh...alive". "It must illusion". And so on. It always seemed to make the speaker sound a bit slow of thinking, rather than denoting someone searching for just the right word. Perhaps a speech pause could have been represented simply by using ...say...a string of periods with no 'Uh'. Oh well. all part of that Silver Age charm...

Doug said...

Similarly, Redartz, the use of "Oh!" when a character was in some state of calamity seemed to occur repeatedly in some Silver Age stories. The best example that comes to mind is Daredevil #1, where our character often uttered that declarative sentence.


Anonymous said...

Doug, do you realize that you created a post that starts off mentioning that this is the day you came into this world and it's titled "Enter Bizarro"? Haha

Happy Birthday!!!


Doug said...

Tom -

No, I did not realize that.

And yes -- it certainly is appropriate! :)


Karen said...

I want to wish my partner Doug a happy 5-0. We shared some discussion offline but I just want to say, nobody could ask for a better partner in this endeavor and I wish him the very best birthday. Especially as he enters the realm of the Big 5-0.

I'm also quite intrigued by this story, as I too had not realized that Bizarro first appeared in a Superboy story. The callousness of the characters in the Silver Age tale is also rather off-putting. I wonder if Superboy and Superman at that time had very flexible personalities -I'm struggling to express myself this morning. What I am trying to say is, did they simply write them to suit the story they were trying to tell? Did they wanted to elicit a feeling of sympathy for Bizarro by making Superboy seem so oblivious? That seems like a reckless way to handle characters.

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Doug. I hit 50 3 weeks ago, so I’m right there with you, delighted I made it this far and wishing I had less backache.

Did it cause you to start considering your Bucket list? (surely a viable topic for a thread here, given the necessary ago of the BABsters).

I celebrated by staying in Portmeirion – the ‘Village’ where they filmed the Prisoner. Definitely one ticked off my Bucket list there. (I was going to do a footnote explaining what the Prisoner is, but I’m guessing I don’t need to explain that to this tribe).

Have a great birthday,

Anonymous said...

Hey, happy birthday, Doug! I've got six years to go before I hit the big five-ohhh, but it's coming fast.

As for Bizarro, he probably would've worked better as a one-time character, but when they kept bringing him back he just got annoying. And everybody were kind of jerks in the Silver when the LSH made Superboy think he failed all their tests, then were like "Just kidding!"

Mike Wilson

Anonymous said...

Happy 50th birthday Doug!!!! Wooo, how time flies!

Well, Bizarro certainly was one of those characters who owed a lot to Frankenstein, right down to encountering a blind girl who doesn't know what all the fuss was about; a certain green skinned goliath years later at what would become Marvel comics also would be influenced by the Frankenstein legend.

Like kryptonite, Bizarro seems to have been created as a foil for Superman. How do you create drama and conflict for a hero with godlike powers? Make a flawed doppelganger with the same powers and abilities!

- Mike 'like Bizarro, gets same horrified reaction from girls' from Trinidad & Tobago.

William said...

Happy Birthday Doug!! Welcome to the Five-Oh club. Always room for one more. Just turned 51 myself a couple of weeks ago.

Cool post today. I loved John Byrne's Superman run. I miss that version of the Man Of Steel. That Bizarro story was a particular favorite of mine. I liked the way Byrne updated him for the post Crisis era Superman.

Anonymous said...

Well, happy birthday. I'm in my late forties, and these types of celebrations lost their appeal for me a long time ago.
I've lost muscle, energy, stamina, libido, and hope, but, on the upside, in return I've gained aching joints and a receding hairline.
I guess that's an even trade.
I look at it this way: so far everybody who has wished me dead remains fustrated.

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