Bizarro World

by Michael Arner

8 June 2005



Bizarro World

(DC Comics)
US: Feb 2005

Alternative music fans may know Bizarro as the title of The Wedding Present’s 1990 album. Others may know it from the now classic TV show Seinfeld. Jerry mentions Bizarro during the “Man Hands” episode describing the backwards group that reflects Jerry, Elaine, Kramer, and George. I first learned about Bizarro from the also-classic Challenge of the Superfriends cartoon series that ran in 1978 (and still gets rerun today). Bizarro was a member of the Legion of Doom; a gathering of evil foes whose transport looked like a disembodied Darth Vader mask. Bizarro, the opposite Superman, first appeared in Action Comics #254 (7/59).

In 2001, DC Comics released Bizarro Comics, an original graphic novel written by some of the biggest names in alternative/mini comics. (One story, “Letitia Lerner, Superman’s Babysitter”, was published by DC in a comic that was recalled and destroyed at the 13th hour.)

Bizarro World is the sequel that expands upon Bizarro Comics’ original premise—the DC world as viewed by artists and writers out of the mainstream—by using more diverse DC Comics’ characters, but unfortunately forgets about the beloved Bizarro. Of the 35 stories, only two feature Superman’s mirror image. This is a small, but not fatal criticism. The wide array of characters includes Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Superman, The Spectre, Aquaman, Supergirl, The Justice League, Flash, and many more. The entire 202-page book couldn’t sustain its entire length with just Bizarro tales, so the additional breadth of characters is acceptable.

Chip Kidd and Tony Millionaire’s Batman and Robin story featured intriguing though not entirely appealing artwork, but the story was finished too quickly and without a satisfying conclusion. The eight-page length limits them to a certain extent, but other creators do not suffer from the same problem. A more concise idea is fully realized in Andy Merrill and Roger Langridge’s Superman Christmas legend, which only uses five pages to make you rethink your holiday celebrations.

Comedian Patton Oswalt’s Batman story, featuring Bob Fingerman on art, featured a clever but somewhat transparent idea. Still, the story was quite enjoyable, and one of my favorites in this book. Former Soul Coughing singer, Mike Doughty, combines heartache with open-mic mentality, highlighted with some nicely detailed artwork by Danny Hellman, to give readers an Aquaman tale that leaves the reader wanting more, not because it doesn’t end strongly, but because it’s just so good.

The Justice League’s almost-dialogue-free story, by writer Eric Drysdale with incredible Tim Lane artwork, sums up in five pages what I’d love to see more of in comics: friendship. Unfortunately, if you aren’t familiar with the individual personalities of the characters, the tale accomplishes little, a danger anytime one works with characters with such an involved backstory.

The star of his own cartoon series, Krypto (Superman’s Dog), is presented by Paul Dini and Carol Lay and uses just two pages to tell a simple, yet complete, appetizer. If you enjoyed Steven T. Seagle’s It’s a Bird graphic novel, Dylan Horrocks and Farel Dalrymple’s “Dear Superman” tale is another touching and personal story with a surprising and effective ending.

Bizarro World is typical of most anthologies in that some stories are great and some just aren’t. You also get a chance to sample writers and artists that you may have heard of. Tomer and Asaf Hanuka were completely new to me, but their tale sums up the entire Batman mythos in just five pages. Outstanding detail and stylistic artwork highlight Batman helping a young girl’s trauma from meeting the Joker. Stories like this demonstrate the strengths of both comic books and the anthology format: brilliance and economy.

Although the book featured strong and unique tales, the anthology does have some problems. The table of contents featured page numbers for the individual tales, but the numbers weren’t printed anywhere on the pages themselves, so what’s the point? Also, many stories were either bland and uninteresting, or just plain stupid. With the high price point of this book, I expected more enjoyable stories and stronger quality control from DC.

The really good stories more than make up for the abundance of lesser works. I recommend this collection only if you can get it heavily discounted. Otherwise, wait for the cheaper paperback version. However, if you are a big fan of indie comics and names like Eddie Campbell, Harvey Pekar, Don Simpson, Kyle Baker, Peter Bagge, Maggie Estep, and Chris Duffy, you may just want to purchase this immediately. Like the non-mainstream tunes of The Wedding Present, traveling the less-trodden path of the “alternative” usually rewards. The concept of letting alternative creators play with their favorite DC Comics characters is a refreshing change from the mundane DC world. I just expected better.

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