If I Could Tell The World Just One Thing: Bizarro in Action Comics #856
How do you humanize the pre-verbal monster of the Superman continuity? If you're a gifted writer like Geoff Johns, it might mean pulling back and allowing the artwork to tell the tale.
Writing a contemporary Superman comic heavily featuring Bizarro is no easy task. After first appearing in the pages of Superboy in 1958 and later in Action Comics in 1959, Bizarro has popped up in the DCU frequently with his trademark backward “S”, Frankenstein’s monster appearance, and muddled, broken speech.
More than anything, Bizarro’s hokey manner of speaking--Me am Bizarro. Me say opposite of everything--makes it painfully difficult to actually read a comic with Bizarro for more than a few pages. As a reader, the shtick wore thin pretty fast, a semi-novel concept quickly dissolving to schoolyard antics on “backwards day”. Anyone else get tired of Backwards Day in elementary school? (“I like you” is funny for 7 year olds because it means “I don’t like you”.)
Even in the hands of legends like Jerry Siegel, John Byrne or Curt Swan, Bizarro, a pathetic anti-hero capable of misunderstood goodness on occasion, remained plagued by too much confusing and inconsistent dialogue.
The only thing that made me pick up Action Comics 855-857 was that it was drawn by Eric Powell (The Goon) and colored by Dave Stewart (Hellboy, B.P.R.D), to whose work I am a devoted follower. To my surprise, writers Geoff Johns and Richard Donner craft a winning tale, largely devoid of the characteristic Bizarro trappings. One of the reasons is that they cede a large chunk of the storytelling to Powell’s graphic narrative which cuts down on the dialogue typically expressed by Bizarro and opts to tell the story visually.
In this page from Action Comics 856, Bizarro (who is now the third iteration in the post-Infinite Crisis DCU) seeks to make a home for himself. Painfully aware of his awkward speech and difference, Bizarro dreams of a world apart.
Powell’s zombie-esque Bizarro elicits sympathy and compassion despite his destruction and horrific image. Bizarro resembles the monster of Shelley’s Frankenstein, as his sullen eyes convey the humanity within. On this page the reader shifts from a third person perspective of the tortured Bizarro to a first person look at Earth from the outside. The outsider perspective, with Bizarro’s hands slowly framing the world to reflect that perspective, conveys more about Bizarro than anything he could possibly say. Stripped of Bizarro-speak, this is Bizarro as we’ve never seen him: silent, sad, and surprisingly human.