A Tribute to the of
It will be quite unapparent for you, of course, but I've had a dickens of a time settling on an issue to review this time around. It's not that I don't have plenty to choose from, nor is it the quality of the offerings, but I seem to be suffering either a mild case of writer's block or lack of inspiration or something. I just didn't have anything reach out and grab me. Not that they always do, mind you, but the last half dozen or so have come pretty easily. Easily enough that I was a couple of installments ahead. I've also made an attempt, as I think I've mentioned before, not to do too many repeats of series until I've sort of run the gamut a bit. Well, now that I've goofed off for awhile and eaten into my reserve, it's time to get cracking again.
After much (much too much) deliberation, I've decided to swing back to the early part of what is commonly considered the silver age and to mine a little into the Superboy title. One of the few 10-centers that I have in my collection is the selection for this time around. It's Superboy #68 from October of 1958 [Cover by Curt Swan & Stan Kaye] and it features the very first appearance of Bizarro. "Bizarro--The Super-Creature of Steel" was written by Otto Binder (who, by the way, was Captain Marvel's scribe for many years), penciled & inked by George Papp with Whitney Ellsworth & Mort Weisinger sharing the Editor's desk. This issue also features the debut of the Smallville Mailsack letter column.
Bizarro creatures, as most of you already know, are imperfect duplicates of some of our favorite DC characters, nearly exclusively from the Superman family, though on one occasion a Bizarro Batman made an appearance in World's Finest #156 (03/66). One of the things I learned from this issue was that Bizarro No. 1, the Bizarro version of Superman, wasn't really No. 1. As we learn from this storyline, it was a Superboy duplicate who first wore the title of Bizarro. Let's see how he (or it, if you prefer) came to be.
The opening scenes are in Smallville, which of course is Superboy's home turf. He's spending time with Professor Dalton in his laboratory where the good doctor is running tests on his newly created duplicator ray. The scientist's initial goal is to duplicate radium for use in the medical field. Unfortunately, while it does duplicate the sample, it isn't a perfect copy and doesn't have the properties of radium. A follow-up test is equally unsuccessful. Directly after that, an accident occurs and the machine is turned on Superboy just before it blows into a million pieces. As the smoke clears they discover to their great shock a prone figure in a red and blue uniform that appears to be a duplicate Superboy. Upon closer inspection, the figure is an imperfect duplicate whose paper-white features appear almost crystalline. The double also has more of a butch-style haircut with a badly receding hairline and according to the professor it is made of non-living matter and is therefore a simple, inanimate object that they plan to dispose of after cleaning up the lab. As the debris that was once the duplicator ray is taken out to the trash heap, Superboy notes an odd glow emanating from the pieces, but dismisses it as they go to retrieve the strange figure. As you might expect, the creature is conspicuous by it's absence when they return and they soon track it outdoors where it is walking along confusedly, wondering aloud about it's identity. Superboy starts toward the being, commenting that it is certainly bizarre. The duplicate, hearing him, garbles the term a bit and says, "Him call me...Bizarro! Is...is that my name?" Before Superboy can do much more, though, his super-senses detect a problem some distance away in Metropolis, of all places. The zoo is having a mass breakout of animals and the Boy of Steel answers the call of duty, leaving the newly-christened Bizarro to continue his journey of discovery.
As the good people of Smallville encounter their newest citizen, however, they are less than glad to see him. Women scream and children cry and the confused creature doesn't understand what's going on. He then spots himself in a window and declares that he is ugly. This is a twist on the typical successor Bizarro stories where their charter indicates that they proudly do the opposite of "normal" Earth activities and that ugliness on Earth is beauty to them and vice-versa. At any rate, Bizarro Superboy is so upset with his appearance that he decides to chuck a handy nearby Packard through the window. This, of course, only gives the locals a more intense case of the heebie jeebies and the next thing you know a local posse has formed up to take him on. They soon find that their weapons are just as ineffective on him as they would be on the original Superboy. The ever more confused creature flies away, baffled at the way he is being received.
Now on page 5, something interesting happens. Again, we have the advantage of seeing later incarnations of Bizarro, so I'm not completely certain if this was intended or not, even though it sort of fits. The famous "S" emblem is suddenly in a reverse color pattern of yellow on red. I would think it was intended if not for the fact that up until now the uniform was an exact duplicate. On later Bizarro uniforms the colors are constant, but the "S" is a mirror image. Maybe the colorist just goofed, too. It's pretty hard to say nearly 45 years after the fact. Furthermore, the color scheme reverts and changes again a few more times during the story. Where are the editors when you need them?
The next stop for the rejected creature is the Kent farmhouse, where he obviously knows something of Superboy's private life. At first, Ma Kent is so busy in the kitchen that she doesn't realize it isn't her boy Clark. She sends Bizarro packing, too and the heartbroken figure, who is literally shedding tears through all this, decides he needs to find another family to take him in. He offers himself as an adopted son to the next farmhouse he finds and the frightened couple humor him until they can come up with a better plan. In an attempt to be helpful, he scares the crows off from the cornfields but realizes in the process that he can't even make friends with the birds of this cruel place he's found. The pathetic creature next assumes a secret identity by donning the clothes of the scarecrow, but of course once he hits town the denizens scatter again on sight of him. Miserable, he finds a curb and has a good cry when a young girl comes upon him and asks what's wrong. To his delight, she doesn't flee. In the last panel as Part I comes to a close, Bizarro happily flies away, accepted at last, but he fails to notice Melissa's mother coming out of the house and reminding her daughter that she shouldn't be outside without the benefit of her seeing-eye dog and white cane.
Part II opens with the return of Superboy from his Metropolis mission. He discovers a comatose form in the woods and after checking for vital signs decides that the whole Bizarro incident has come to a close. He delivers the body back to Professor Dalton and calls it a night. The morning, however, finds a well-rested duplicate, ready to find Melissa again at Smallville High. Clark Kent spots Bizarro speaking with her as she goes to her Braille class and realizes he's still got to deal with this presence running amok. Still trying desperately to fit in, Bizarro visits the gym class and accidentally destroys equipment left and right as he tries to use it. Clark deflects as much as he can clandestinely, and thinks to himself that while no malice is intended, this being continues to be a major hazard who doesn't realize his own strength. Superboy comes to the conclusion that the only way to deal with Bizarro is to subdue him with kryptonite. Fashioning some armor from lead, he heaves a meteor at the creature, who is immune to the substance, but thinking it's some sort of game, throws it back, knocking the armor from the Boy of Steel and rendering him unconscious. Thinking he's made a new friend, the being decides to show his appreciation by sculpting Superboy's image in a nearby cliff. Look out Mount Rushmore. Unfortunately, this gesture is for naught as a freak lightning storm strikes the image, making it look very much like an imperfect duplicate. Bizarro's good intentions are thwarted again. Superboy prepares another trap for his double with the help of the local Army base as Part II concludes.
Part III begins with Superboy luring Bizarro to a firing range with a full-sized marionette of Melissa as the bait. Of course as the posse learned earlier, this version of Superboy is every bit as invulnerable as the original, and a pile of equipment is ruined while Bizarro thinks it's Romper Room again. Believe it or not, they decide to try an atomic weapon, which the creature hurls upward in another game of catch. The bomb detonates on the moon while the Boy of Steel ponders his next move. Meanwhile, Bizarro has discovered the deceptive dummy of Melissa and vents his rage at Superboy as they trade blows with no clear victor between the two unstoppable figures. Prepared to admit defeat, at least as far as stopping the creature, Superboy suddenly sees that Bizarro is being overcome by something in a passing junk hauler. It turns out the truck was hauling the remains of the exploded duplicator ray which is acting as Bizarro's own personal kryptonite. He takes a large piece of it and despite his warning to the duplicate, Bizarro charges full force and completely disintegrates back "...into the lifeless molecules from which he was formed." In a strange and fortuitous result, Melissa's sight is restored following the super shock wave of the impact. As Superboy flies away, he muses to himself that perhaps the lonely and unhappy creature had a flash of inspiration that some good could come from his demise, causing him to make the ultimate sacrifice.
Thus ends the tale that first showed us a Bizarro creature. I understand that the later Bizarro's were brought back via Lex Luthor and of course in the coming years we would see Bizarro Supermen, Lois Lane's, Luthor's, Mxyzptlk's and Krypto's, among many others, dwelling on a square earth, being vulnerable to blue kryptonite, speaking like Neanderthals and generally giving the writers a break from the usual fare on an infrequent basis.
The thing that often occurred to me when I read this story was the similarities to the earliest Frankenstein movies. Dr. Frankenstein's creation, like Bizarro, was suddenly thrust unwillingly into a world that immediately rejected him. He only sought acceptance and barring that, peace, but both were to be denied these comforts and ultimately destroyed. Add in the parallel of Frankenstein's monster encountering the kindly blind man in the country cottage and Bizarro meeting an accepting blind girl and you can perhaps see why I wonder if we didn't have a teensy bit of plagiarism going on. I don't know off the bat what year the movie in question came out, but it would be interesting to see which came first.
Another interesting departure was the way that Bizarro later evolved. Instead of a character that actually evoked some sympathy, as he did in this story, they became simply a caricature of the Superman family, primarily a parody that was more comedy relief than anything else as the creatures either tried and failed to interact with their counterparts on Earth or simply existed in their screwy way on their screwy world. Ultimately, Bizarro was considered a member of the rogue's gallery, despite being somewhat harmless, at least in the intent arena.
For an enjoyable read with the introduction of a soon-to-be classic character I grant this issue a rating of 9.
Thanks again to those of you who have written recently. I've thoroughly enjoyed the dialogue and hope to continue it with you and any others who wish to join in. I can be reached any time at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you're of a mind, sign up for the free mailing list, which will alert you each time this feature is updated and there are also the archives and guest book beckoning for your patronage. See you again in a couple of weeks with the next installment of the Silver Age Sage.
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