Superman 23.1: Bizarro

Alternating Currents: Superman 23.1: Bizarro, Drew and PatrickToday, Drew and Patrick are discussing Superman 23.1: Bizarro, originally released September 4th, 2013. This issue is part of the Villain’s Month event. Click here for our Villains Month coverage.

villain divDrewWhy do we like Bizarro Superman? Is it his goofiness? The absurdity of the premise? For me, I think part of the appeal of Bizarro stories has always been the way they reveal Superman’s compassion for even his exact opposite. Then again, I also just love a good backwards-joke and sentences that begin with “me am.” Whatever it is that draws us to Bizarro — and might make us pick up an issue with his name on the cover — Sholly Fisch willfully avoids in Superman 23.1. We may have expected a story about a goofy, unintentionally dangerous oaf, but instead, Fisch seems content to offer us one about a hyper-serious, willfully antagonistic genius. What we get is so perfectly the opposite of what a Bizarro story should be, it almost achieves a kind of fevered meta-genius — a Bizarro story of Bizarro stories — but it’s simply not good enough to deserve any kind of benefit of the doubt. At least, not beyond how fitting it is that it features a totally senseless monster exploding into a pile of messy goo.

Other than a strange opening sequence that serves no apparent purpose other than introducing ideas about opposites it never delivers on, the issue is told entirely from Luthor’s perspective. A handy flashback reminds us that Luthor managed to collect a sample of Superman’s blood way back in Action Comics 2. Of course, Luthor has genetic engineering plans for that Kryptonian DNA, and is ready for his first test run. Also of course, the plan goes horribly awry. Bizarro time? NOPE. The monster created by Luthor is decidedly not Bizarro, and is also dispatched within a few pages. Hubristic as ever, Luthor vows that his next try will go much better (oh, and will probably actually be Bizarro).

Obviously, I’m peeved at the complete absence of Bizarro in this issue. I’ve never been a fan of retellings of origin stories, precisely because they favor going over well-worn story beats instead of having the character actually doing the things that make us like them, but I think this is the first origin story I’ve ever seen that features neither the character as we know him nor the origin of that character.  It’s related to Bizarro in the worst way possible (“Here’s a shitty explanation for how and why he looks and acts the way he does”), and related to Luthor in the dumbest way possible (“His mistakes make him try harder. Also, here’s that time where he accidentally put salt in his coffee”). Failing any kind of character purpose, this story simply explains why there might be a tank in Luthor’s lab that contains Bizarro, something that would have more imaginatively been explained away as a “failed experiment” whenever that tank finally opens.

Unfortunately, this issue is overflowing with similarly hyper-redundencies (things that have not only been said before, but actually never need to be said under any circumstances). Take, for example, this handy exchange, here for no other reason than to remind us that Lex Luthor might not be Superman’s biggest fan.

Oh, I get it -- he means "NOT nice"!Beyond being unnecessary here, this exchange is unnecessary in every Superman story, ever. Hey! Did I mention that Lex Luthor doesn’t like Superman?

I do have to hand it to Fisch for being so committed to Luthor’s voice. Indeed, Luthor is so convincing in his confidence that he’ll find a solution to his rampaging monster problem that the scene never picks up even an ounce of tension.

SO SIMPLE, DUHI never fear, nor suspect, nor care that something bad might happen to Luthor. It’s a masterclass of boredom.

I dislike everything about this issue, which again, might come off as intentional if I was feeling a bit more charitable (but because of, you know, disliking everything about it, I’m not). I’ll admit to never really being able to get over the utter lack of Bizarro, but I think I could have if the story was actually worth reading. I don’t know, Patrick — am I missing something redeeming here?

villain divPatrick: Well, this is fascinating. I didn’t find much to enjoy in this issue — it’s basically the least exciting part of the Frankenstein story — but I don’t think I take it quite so personally. The issue patently doesn’t deliver on the promise of “Bizarro,” and the Bizarro that it suggests isn’t the goofy, backwards-Superman concept that that Drew and I have a fondness for. I think part of what Drew might be responding to is the really unfortunate idea that the impossibly silly concept has been replaced with “superman clone.” Which, incidentally, is kind of what happened to Superboy too… Anyway, it’s certainly a sad day if this issue proves that there is no such thing as Bizarro world – that’s the kind of inspired nonsense that thrives in comics, and so rarely works in other media. Can you imagine how fun a throw-back Bizarro story written by Matt Fraction would be? Or anyone interested in telling a fun story? Unfortunately, “fun” is not the order of the day at DC, so we get this thing instead.

But what I find so interesting about Drew’s reaction is that we always always always try to approach comics with a fresh set of eyes – none of our preconceived ideas about characters or concepts are going to sour us on a good idea that just so happens to be new. You know how some people have taken one look at Batman: Zero Year and determined that “there’s nothing new here?” It’s that kind of thing we want to avoid. Whatever we may love and value about the Bizarro concept, we shouldn’t have a knee-jerk reaction of “this is terrible because it’s not what I expected.”

Holding the issue up as its own piece of literature isn’t very rewarding either. For one thing Luthor is motivated to make a humanish Superman clone by events that take place outside of this issue, and he obtains the Kryptonian DNA similarly outside the issue. So at the start of the issue, he has the means and motivation to do something and then he does it. Wooooo. Not a particularly dramatic development.

If there’s one thing I do like about this issue, it’s how well prepared Luthor is for an out-of-control Superman. By his own reckoning, the Kryptonite gun “would have decimated a true Krryptonian.” Decimated? Sounds like you’ve got your Superman deterrent already, huh, Lex? But the next two examples — those of Superheated Plasma Drones and Transdimensional Quantum Hounds — are ridiculous in just the right way. Lex’ final solution is fine and all, but I would have liked to see him exhaust more anti-Superman measures. If there were some more clever and/or convoluted methods of containing Bizarro-A, we could have learned something about Luthor’s intelligence. But in the end, we’re left to take Luthor’s word for just how smart he is.

I mean, whatever. The whole issue seems like build-up to the following joke:

B-0Get it? Bee-zero? Bizarro. villain divFor a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

14 comments on “Superman 23.1: Bizarro

  1. I agree that expectations generally hinder objective readings, but I don’t think it’s unfair to hold this issue’s complete lack of goofy fun against it. I think there’s some level where we have to expect some semblance of the character as we know it. People like Batman because he’s brooding and dark — give them an issue of Fantastic Four with Batman on the cover, and I think their disappointment would be unfair. Moreover, doing so fails to appeal to the audience that might actually like the content.

    In this case, I was enticed by the promise of a Bizarro comic, and I think it’s totally fair that I expected some goofy fun featuring a superpowered oaf — in my mind, those are immutable elements of the character. Instead, we got a joyless issue featuring a non-powered genius. I really don’t think this is me holding my expectations against this issue — I think this is this issue disregarding the reasonable expectations of anyone who might be interested in a Bizarro story.

    • I think an interesting comparison will be how we feel about the Lobo issue. It too will say Lobo on the cover, and even feature a big ugly drawing of outerspace biker-warrior. But the actual issue is something else entirely. That too is a bait and switch, no? Defying anyone’s expectations of what a Lobo story should be. I don’t disagree with your assessment of the issue AT ALL, but I do think it’s interesting to note that there is a bias here.

      • Right, but I think that bias is to be expected when working with beloved characters. Like, I think “this doesn’t feel like Batman” or “this doesn’t feel like a Bizarro story” are valid criticisms, not simply close-minded expectations. There are a lot of things different interpretations can change about a character, but I think it’s fair to say that a Bizarro story should be lighter in tone and actually feature Bizarro.

  2. In fairness, Bizarro has been depicted as a clone in several iterations. Though, my favorite interpretation is the original one (where he is the result of a “duplication ray”) and the last Pre-52 version (where Joker, after stealing Mxyzptlk’s powers, create the mirror Superman).

    Regardless, I’m sick of “no-fun” DC too. Let funny books be funny!

    • Yeah. The origin of Bizarro in “Superman: The Animated Series” is surprisingly similar to this issue, except, of course, the cartoon’s version is fun and action packed and surprisingly emotionally heartfelt. Oh, and we actually get to see quite a bit of the big lug. Go check it out of y’all can/haven’t yet. It ultimately makes this issue even more redundant than it was before, but that’s no big loss.

      • Sholly Fisch first wrote Superman in Superman Family Adventures which is basically the cartoon version of Superman, so that might be a good assessment that he was drawing from the animated version. I get the feeling that Fisch was remarkably restricted in what he could and couldn’t do with Bizarro by perhaps there already being an introduction to the new version of the character written in an issue of Forever Evil proper. Anybody else get that feeling?

        • Oh this issue definitely feels like someone was told to do an Bizarro issue, but not to feature Bizarro at all (oh, and also: here’s the character’s origin). I don’t fault Fisch at all for this issue, it certainly reads like his hands were tied.

        • I’ll go as far as to say that I feel like the only reason this issue exists at all is because the cover orders had to be in so early that they didn’t realize it would create a scheduling conflict with his introduction in the mini-series and then they had to roll with it because they had made a bunch of 3D Bizarro covers. I also feel like the decision to reboot Lobo wasn’t made until after the cover art deadline and that’s why there’s a very misleading pre-boot Lobo on that cover. Who knows, though? We can only speculate since these gaffs are rarely acknowledged

  3. I totally get everyone’s dislike of this issue, however, I enjoyed it.
    That said my reasons for enjoying it have to do with the fact that Lex Luthor is my favorite part of the Superman Mythos and Bizarro is one of my least favorite. 🙂
    I like the Concept of Bizarro and really enjoy Big Dumb Villains (Harley, Croc, Everyone from Brave & Bold Cartoon, Bane in the Batman & Robin movie!) but I hate trying to READ Bizarro speak. Those two chapters are my least favorite in All-Star Superman.
    In conclusion, I liked for all the reasons everyone else hated it AND everyone else is right that this book was hugely misleading and should be upset about it!

    • I’m a big Lex fan too, which is why I didn’t hate this issue. Still, the title was totally misleading. Superman 23.1: Lex Luthor or Superman 23.1: B-A are the only two titles I would have accepted for this.

    • I’m happy to sort through Bizarro’s misconjugations because they please me so. I was hoping I could find a quick and dirty resource that would translate Bizarro to English and vice versa, but the internet has let me down.

  4. Pingback: Justice League 23.4: Secret Society | Retcon Punch

  5. Pingback: Action Comics 23.4: Metallo | Retcon Punch

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