A version of the Silver Age comic book villain, Bizzaro, makes a first appearance on CW's Supergirl.
SupergirlAirtime: Mondays, 8 pm
Cast: Melissa Benoist, Peter Facinelli, Hope Lauren
Subtitle: Season 1, Episode 12 – "Bizarro"
Air date: 2016-02-01
Unlike most of the superheroes that arose during the 1940’s "Golden Age" of comics, Superman -- and to a lesser extent, Batman -- enjoyed continued success. The Superman radio show continued until 1951, when the mantle was taken up by the wildly successful syndicated television program, Adventures of Superman. Meanwhile, the Superman comic strip provided Superman adventures on a daily basis from 1939 to 1966.
In those days, DC coordinated its most famous character across media platforms in a way that was a precursor to the current coordination of characters and storylines now seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Storylines and characters were often shared across newspaper, radio, television, and comics. At its worst, this meant that Superman's comic book adventures often felt as if they were constrained by the same budget considerations that limited the television show, with Superman forced to fight gangsters instead of cosmic super-villains. At its best, it meant that popular characters and ideas introduced in one medium could move to other venues. The radio show was the origin for Superman's pal, Jimmy Olsen, who then went on to play a central role in Superman's radio and comic book adventures.
By the late 1950s, and the beginning of what is usually called the comic book "Silver Age", Superman's comic book stories were as vibrant and fun as they had ever been, or ever would be again. This was especially true when writer Otto Binder was at the helm. Binder was a force of nature when it came to comic book storytelling. His tenure on Fawcett Comic's Captain Marvel family, from 1941 to 1953, was filled with quirky storylines and characters. When he moved to DC, Superman comics were transformed. He layered mythology on top of mythology, and introduced characters that would energize the comic for years to come. One of those characters was Superman's cousin Supergirl. Another was the strange anti-Superman known as Bizzaro.
Bizzaro first appeared in the comic book Superboy in 1958, and was clearly meant as a version of the Frankenstein monster. In his first appearance, the teenage Bizzaro was accidentally created when Professor Dalton's duplicator ray has unforeseen consequences. Shortly thereafter, an adult version of the creature appeared in both the comic book (written by Binder) and in the newspaper strip (written by Alvin Schwartz). There is some uncertainty as to whether Schwartz or Binder deserve credit for the development of the adult character, though it’s altogether possible that Bizzaro was a collaborative creation, especially considering the way that DC managed its Superman stories across media platforms.
In any event Bizzaro was a sensation. Sometimes threatening, but always loveable and charming, Bizzaro and his wife, a Bizzaro version of Lois Lane, went on to found a whole Bizzaro world, known as Htrae, and to vex Superman and the Superman family for years to come. All these years later, the Superman cast of characters is still thriving in a new version of the multi-media world that gave them birth.
This background informs the latest episode of Supergirl: one of Binder's creations, Supergirl herself (created along with artist Al Plastino), takes on another of Binder's creations, Bizzaro (created with artist George Papp). In Binder's original adult Bizzaro story, Lex Luthor uses Professor Dalton's duplicator ray on the Superman to create his "imperfect double".
In this episode of Supergirl, Maxwell Lord (Peter Facinelli) -- a sort of Lex Luthor with hair or a Donald Trump with brains -- uses a sample of Supergirl's DNA to experiment on comatose young women until he is able to produce a seemingly perfect duplicate of Supergirl (Melissa Benoist), some of whose powers are the opposite of the originals (Supergirl has freeze breath, Bizzaro has fire breath.) The matched powers make for some of the best battle scenes of the series so far. There's lots of kryptonite at play here, including the introduction of the blue kryptonite needed to stop Bizzaro, a plot point right out of the comic books. And, of course, before it's over, the duplicate of Supergirl is disfigured to more closely resemble the comic book versions of the character. (Bizarro is played by Benoist until after her physical change, when she is played by Hope Lauren.)
As in Binder's early story, this Bizzaro kidnaps her antagonist's love interest, in this case James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks). Their interactions shed some important light on James' feelings for Kara, and raise the stakes in the romantic subplot that’s been driving this series. It is just one of many developments on the romantic front in this week's show.
While "Bizzaro" is a really solid episode in what’s shaping up to be a stellar series, this episode does expose one weakness of the series, however. Namely, despite the light touch that pervades the series -- there's none of the gothic moodiness of Gotham or the always unhappy characters of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D -- Supergirl needs to laugh a little more. Bizzaro has taken many turns through the years, including darkly serious ones, but at heart he’s always been a funny and sympathetic character. This episode certainly provides the sympathetic side of the character, but her tragic origins as a real human being leaves little to laugh at. Binder's Bizzaro was composed of "lifeless matter", which meant that, at his core, he wasn't human. Supergirl's Bizzaro is totally human and, perhaps, the most tragic character introduced in the series so far. And, unless there is some surprise twist in store, her origin story transforms Maxwell Lord into a truly evil menace. It all makes for a dark turn, especially considering all the happiness and laughter that Bizzaro has given readers through the years.