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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: "THE COURTSHIP OF BIZARRO" (1958)

This week's mythcomic is a little different from others, in that I'm working for an incomplete story, though I believe that I have enough of the narrative to fill in the blanks as needed.

"The Courtship of Bizarro" is the title given to a sequence of the SUPERMAN comic strip by my late friend and pen-pal Rich Morrissey. He reprinted the first appearance of the "Bizarro" character in the apa-zine kapa-Alpha, but he only had access to roughly the middle and end of the sequence, lasting from October to December of 1958. Thus the sequence does not show the actual creation of Superman's "imperfect duplicate," ostensibly by some "alien device," though the event is referred to elsewhere in the sequence. A different Bizarro appeared in an Otto Binder SUPERBOY story almost concurrently with the comic strip sequence by Alvin Scwhartz and Wayne Boring, but I tend to validate Schwartz's claim that he originated Bizarro for the strip. Since it was a regular practice for Mort Weisinger, editor of the SUPERMAN comic titles, to recycle ideas, it's not unlikely that Weisinger simply assigned Binder to do his take on the same basic idea. Ironically, though Schwartz's story is more sophisticated than the comic-book stories with the character in the early 1960s, Bizarro probably would have been forgotten by all but a tiny number of comic-strip enthusiasts, had the character not been given a second lease on life in the funnybooks.

The story as I have it implies that Bizarro has been on the loose for a while. Superman is aware of the trouble that his artificial duplicate can create, since Bizarro possesses all of Superman's powers but little intellect or restraint. Bizarro has also caught sight of Lois Lane and fallen in love with her, though as yet he has not revealed his feelings to her, fearing that he will be rejected because of his inhuman, chalk-white features. (At least I presume that the black-and-white strip intended for Bizarro to possess  the same white flesh that he did in the comic books.)

In the first reprinted strip, Bizarro casually decides to take a nap on a park bench. Naturally he attracts the attention of the authorities, and they summon Superman. But because Bizarro is not truly alive, but a creation of unliving matter-- a point Schwartz returns to again and again-- Superman mistakes the creature's deep sleep for death. Nor does Bizarro wake up when he's transported to a laboratory and sealed into a chamber for future study. However, he does wake up when no one's around to see it, and, hearing people talk about his supposed death, decides to "stay dead" so that he can continue his clandestine pursuit of Lois Lane.

The "Thing of Steel," as he was later called, sends Lois flowers and a diamond necklace. Because the world thinks Bizarro is dead, Lois believes Superman sent the gifts. This annoys the Man of Steel, whose dominant characterizaton in the late 1950s was that of extreme emotional reticence. The hero's resentment may stem in part from Bizarro's being free to express emotions Superman might like to express, were he less devoted to his superheroic duty. In addition, Bizarro's other courtship-plans include retrofitting a distant asteroid to serve as a "honeymoon hideaway" for himself and Lois. Bizarro's efforts to make this new haven include things like uprooting trees from the Metropolis parks, and since no one sees him perform these feats, Superman gets blamed for the transgressions-- though the hero soon suspects that Bizarro is still alive.




Bizarro reveals himself to Lois and whisks her away to his asteroid, still without confessing his amorous passion. Only when he reveals to her a ramshackle house and an ersatz garden does Lois react at the enormity: "Did you bring me to this horrible place just to propose to me?" Bizarro is frustrated that she deems his work ugly, and he destroys his own creations in a tantrum. However, Lois mollifies the creature, and. long before Superman shows up at the asteroid, she manages to talk Bizarro into taking her back to Earth, thus effecting her own rescue. But once back on Earth, Lois overreaches her influence by trying to make Bizarro perform some minor chores. Bizarro causes chaos as usual-- the only time in the abbreviated sequence that he's really played for laughs.

Bizarro butts heads with Superman again, resulting in another stalemate. However, the hero has gained some insight about a way to destroy Bizarro with a radioactive element that will affect the creature the way kryptonite affects Kryptonians. Superman wants Lois to lure Bizarro into a trap. Why the superhero himself can't simply approach the creature with the fatal element is never adequately explained, and Lois rightly objects to being used as a "judas goat." But Superman guilts her into cooperating by lecturing her about all the harm Bizarro might cause to innocent people through his tantrums. Neither Superman or Lois are aware, however, that Bizarro is listening in to their conversation.

Lois does obey Superman's plans up to a point, but she reneges, trying to warn the hapless artificial being. Bizarro, anxious to help Lois despite her planned betrayal, encounters the rays of the element, and falls into a cistern. Lois begs Superman to save Bizarro, but the superhero reveals that Bizarro, who was never truly alive, has dissolved into nothingness. Though Lois is angry at Superman for his callousness, the sequence ends with her wondering if Bizarro's feelings for her reveal the true emotions of the Man of Steel.

Certainly a modern reader is more likely to share Lois's opinion of Bizarro-- that he was real because he "had courage and real feeling"-- over Superman's dismissal of the creature as "only a kind of shadow of myself that somehow materialized." Schwartz's dialogue does not allow Superman to show anything but superficial pique at Bizarro's activities, but the superhero's actions are consonant with those of an attitude of personal affront at a being who infringes on Superman's own sense of identity. The "shadow" comment recalls a likely source for Schwartz's creation: the Mary Shelley FRANKENSTEIN. In the original novel, the monster created by the titular scientist then haunts Frankenstein's tracks, and acts like an evil doppelganger, devoted to destroying the creator's family and friends. Bizarro's ridged-looking skin was certainly modeled on that of the classic Universal version of the monster, and even Bizarro's stringy hair resembles that of the Universal menace more than it does the spit-curl of Superman.





Bizarro's fractured speech is also probably borrowed from the Universal film BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Schwartz doesn't indulge in the famous "language reversal logic" of later Bizarros-- like saying "hello" in place of "goodbye," a trope given pop-culture immortality in an episode of SEINFELD-- but this Bizarro's substitution of "me" in place of "I" may have given rise to the trope in the first place. Most importantly, Bizarro, like most versions of the Monster, captures the pathos of being a "thing" that looks somewhat human but is too distorted to associate with humanity.
Though the comic-book Bizarro became little more than a goofus in the 1960s, some later versions, from creators as different as Marty Pasko and Grant Morrison, have tapped into that pathos to good effect.

There are some reproductions of this sequence online, but as most of them are not very legible in reprint form, interested parties should check out Paul Kupperburg's site for readable copies.


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