Superman: Escape from Bizarro World


By Geoff Johns, Richard Donner, Eric Powell, Otto Binder, E. Nelson Bridwell, John Byrne, Wayne Boring, Curt Swan & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1794-5 (HB)                                : 978-1-4012-2033-4 (TPB)

One of the most consistent motifs in fiction is the “Dark Opposite” or “player on the other side”: a complete yet closely identical antithesis of the protagonist. Rock yourself to sleep at night if you wish, by listing deadly doppelgangers from Professor Moriarty to Sabretooth to Gladstone Gander

Sometimes though the word is not “dark” but “daft”…

Bizarro debuted in comics during ‘The Battle with Bizarro!’ Crafted by Otto Binder & George Papp, he was a tragic, misunderstood freak and unwilling monster in a captivating 3-part novel in Superboy #68, (October 1958).

Now celebrating sixty years of quirky comicbook un-life, the imperfect Superman duplicate has evolved into a potent symbol in the Man of Tomorrow’s mythology and humanity, with his childlike simplicity and complex, often-baffling reverse reasoning (“Us Bizarros Do Everything Backwards!”) perplexing and delighting generations of readers…

The shambling simpleton’s odd yet enduring appeal even brought lauded film director Richard Donner back to the characters he had transformed into global sensations in Superman: The Movie and Superman II. This volume collects Action Comics #855-857 from October – December 2007, plus earlier appearances from Superman #140, DC Comics Presents #71 and The Man of Steel #5.

Following Brian K. Vaughn’s Introduction ‘This Am Not One of the Best Bizarro Tales Ever Told!’, the lead saga eerily commences: co-written by Donner’s old assistant and super-scripter Geoff Johns, with macabre and stylish illustration from Eric Powell and colourist Dave Stewart.

One night in Smallville, the Kent home is broken into. By the time Superman arrives his mother Martha has recovered her wits and tells how Bizarro blasted in, snatching up Jonathan Kent.

It called him “father” as it bundled him into a rocket and soared away…

Consulting his Fortress of Solitude computers, Kal-El take precautions against his deduced destination’s blue sun before taking ship in hot pursuit…

On arrival, Superman is astounded to see square world Htrae, but even more so on landing when he is brutally attacked by a mob of zombie-like Bizarro creatures led by imperfect duplicates of Clark Kent and Lois Lane

Superman clashes with the Kent clone, accidentally exposing it as his imperfect double. The other creatures immediately switch their murderous attentions to Bizarro, declaring him “World’s Worst Enemy” and the Kryptonian interloper a “Bizarro Bizarro”. The enraged doppelganger’s response is to obliterate the marauding mob with flame breath…

The super-struggle rampages across the countryside, ending with the Man of Tomorrow’s defeat. The triumphant terror resumes his original task: quizzing Pa Kent on how to destroy Bizarro World…

‘Escape from Bizarro World Part II’ resumes the grim tale with glimpses of Bizarro’s well-meaning but disastrous time on Earth, why he left and how the incredible square planet was created. The power of the blue sun is also revealed to have given the flawed duplicate the gift of creating companions to populate this strange new world…

Those semi-sentient souls are currently debating how best to be rid of Bizarro and his smooth pink-skinned Perfect Duplicate as a leader rises amongst them. Bizarro Luthor conceives a cunning plan and a “Sekrit Wepin” he readily unleashes…

The unstoppable Bizarro Doomsday tracks his targets to the Fourtriss uv Bizarro and tears through an army of analogues mirroring Superman’s friends and foes. Taking advantage of the distraction, Kal-El frees his father, only to be faced with the faux Luthor and his zombie-mob. Suddenly, Bizarro is beside him, ready to help defend Pa, as the seemingly unstoppable Doomsday double launches itself at them…

Lunacy and Deus ex Machina moments abound as the conclusion commences with a satellite full of Bizarro Justice Leaguers landing on the dire killer resulting in an all-out brawl. With insanity mounting, Jonathan, Superman & Bizarro brainstorm a devious ploy to save the day and restore what passes for order to the cubic planet…

A glorious fun-filled, action-packed tribute to the anodyne insanity of the Silver Age, Escape from Bizarro World is a delightful Halloween commemoration of simpler times which you can then sample first-hand as the rest of this splendid compilation (available in hardback, trade paperback and eBook editions) provides a trio of vintage yarns starring the Imperfect Icon.

Bracketed with fond and informative commentary from Geoff Johns, ‘Bizarro Through the Years’ first re-presents Superman #140 (October 1960). Although later played for laughs in his own series, most of the earlier appearances of the warped double were generally moving or menacing light-tragedies, such as Binder, Wayne Boring & Stan Kaye’s ‘The Son of Bizarro!’

Here the fractured facsimile and his wife Bizarro-Lois produced a perfect human baby. The fast-growing, bonny-looking tyke had a full set of super-powers but was naturally shunned by the populace of the world of freaks he was born on.

Thus, his simple-minded, heartbroken father had no choice but to exile his son in space where chance brought the lad crashing to Earth as ‘The Orphan Bizarro!’. Placed in the same institution where Supergirl secretly resided, “Baby Buster” soon became a constant headache for the Girl of Steel until an unlikely accident seemingly mutated the nipper just as his distraught father came looking for him at the head of an angry army of enraged Superman duplicates.

A devastating battle was narrowly avoided and a happy ending only materialised with the introduction of ‘The Bizarro Supergirl!’

DC Comics Presents was a Superman team-up vehicle with #71 (July 1984) featuring a truly outrageous escapade by E. Nelson Bridwell, Curt Swan & Dave Hunt. ‘The Mark of Bizarro!’ saw Bizarro – bored with his lack of awesome adventures alongside the Bizarro Justice League – create a really challenging menace in the malformed shape of Bizarro Amazo.

Whereas the original copied super-powers for his own gain, the new nasty steals them with the intention of donating them to somebody without extra abilities. Finding no one qualifying on Htrae, Bizarro Amazo heads for Earth, forcing Superman to ally with his own befuddled duplicate to curtail complete chaos…

The final rerun comes from The Man of Steel #5, cover-dated December 1986.

When DC Comics rationalised and reconstructed their continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths, they used the event to regenerate their key properties. The biggest shake-up was Superman and it’s hard to argue that change was unnecessary. The old soldier was in a bit of a slump, but he’d weathered those before. So how could a root and branch overhaul be anything but a marketing ploy that would alienate real fans for a few fly-by-night chancers who would jump ship as soon as the next fad surfaced?

Superman’s titles were cancelled/suspended for three months, and boy, did that make the media sit-up and take notice – for the first time since Donner’s Christopher Reeve movies.

However, there was method in this corporate madness…

The Man of Steel, written and drawn by Byrne and inked by Dick Giordano, stripped away vast amounts of accumulated baggage and returned the hero to the far-from-omnipotent, edgy yet good-hearted reformer Siegel and Shuster had first envisioned.

It was a huge and instant success, becoming the industry’s premiere break-out hit and from that overwhelming start Superman returned to his suspended comicbook homes with the addition of a third monthly title premiering in the same month.

The miniseries presented six complete stories from key points in Superman’s newly retrofitted career and continuity: reconstructed in the wake of the aforementioned Crisis. By the fifth issue Lex Luthor was his greatest foe and this episode deals with the creation of Bizarro – cloned by the brilliant villain from illegally acquired Superman cells.

The creature was intended to give the richest man in Metropolis a super-slave of his own, but the flawed process resulted in a rapidly-degenerating freak whose uncontrolled depredations terrorised the city more than imperilling the true Action Ace.

Moreover – and echoing the very first Bizarro tale – the beast sacrificed itself in a generous act, using its own essence to restore the sight of Lois Lane’s blind sister Lucy

With covers by Powell & Stewart, Swan & Stan Kaye, Eduardo Barreto and Byrne, this comic capsule of crazed counterfeit costumed crusader capers offers fun and fearsome frenzy in equal amounts: a deliciously offbeat outing for the World’s Finest Hero, and proves yet again that imitation is the sincerest and most effective form of flattery.
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