We’re doing something different this week, boys and girls. Some of you might have realized by my post earlier this week concerning the nature of Superman and what I want in the next movie that the Man of Steel is on my mind. This week, we will not be discussing him but rather his imperfect reflection.
BIZARRO #1: What down, cat?
And joining me this week is the imperfect duplicate in person: Bizarro #1, as he calls himself. Now, as continuity stands, Bizarro was initially created during an attempt to clone Superman. The scientist who made him, employed by Lex Luthor, was unable to fully understand the alien DNA of a Kryptonian. As a result, this “bizarre clone” became an imperfect duplicate, with calcified skin and a twisted form of logic. Later attempts led to the same results and each clone was destroyed, until finally the Joker-
BIZARRO #1: Not speaking frontwards! Bizarro #1 am me and not end that way!
I’m sorry? “Not speaking frontwards”? Is that you’re Bizarro way of saying you WANT me to tell it backwards?
BIZARRO #1 (nodding head): NO!
But I’m speaking chronologically. It’s how we do things on round Earth as opposed to your square Bizarro World.
BIZARRO #1: Your DAD not speaks chronologically!
There’s no need to make this personal! Look, let’s just jump into the fashion discussion, okay? I warn you though, we’re doing the rest of this chronologically! And we’re sticking primarily with mainstream continuity!
BIZARRO (growling): Me like you very much.
Whatever. Let’s get on with this.
THE PHANTOM SUPERMAN
Officially, Bizarro was first introduced in 1958. But in actuality, his origins start four years before that. In 1954, Action Comics #199 presented the story “The Phantom Superman.” In this tale, Superman’s enemy Luthor decided the best way to defeat Superman was to match his powers exactly. Luthor used a machine that took a negative image of Superman and then put it through his “3-D Materializer” which could create “duplicate atoms” and bring any image to life.
Luthor now had a “perfect duplicate” of Superman, though dressed all in gray. Luthor explained this by telling the audience that “duplicate atoms cannot transmit colors.” For this reason apparently, the Phantom Superman’s skin and hair were as gray as his costume.
Of course, this artificial being had a major weakness. It needed to recharge its energies with Luthor’s machine. During a battle with the real Man of Steel, the Phantom Superman used up his energies after a high-speed mid-air collision with his twin, followed by a vicious underwater battle. Superman then stole the Phantom Superman’s clothing and impersonated the impostor in order to trap Luthor and send him back to jail.
BIZARRO #1: Phantom-Me am very drab and dull. Is perfect! Me like!
You know you’re right, kind of. The concept of the character isn’t bad (fake-science aside), but the design is a bit boring. “Let’s make Superman completely gray.” Really? Perhaps if he looked more spectral, making him a true phantom. In fact, looking at the scene of his creation, I think it would have been cool to have made him a photo-negative of Superman (though this may have been difficult with inking techniques of the time).
THE IMPERFECT SUPERBOY
The true Bizarro first appeared in Superboy #68. 1958 was an important year for the Man of Steel. It was during this year that a wave of new stories and revised continuity was introduced, beginning the era of the Silver Age Superman and making the character more of a sci-fi adventurer with strange, impossible things such as time travel field trips during his teenage years, an alien enemy who shrank entire cities and kept them in bottles, and the famous Fortress of Solitude. In general, any story published before 1958 was now up for revision or dismissal. A couple years beforehand, it was also decided that the adventures of Superboy (initially introduced as a parallel universe version of the hero) were indeed cannon and featured the early days of Superman himself.
So in this Superboy story, we found out that Clark, while still living in Smallville, encountered a strange device known as the Duplicator Ray. This device kept making only imperfect duplicates of whatever came in front of its beam. The Duplicator Ray created a strange version of Superboy with faceted, alabaster skin. But beyond that, there’s no change. The Ray apparently has no problem with fabric, only every other substance known to man, so really this could be a great gimmick for taking over the fashion industry or clothing the homeless.
His costume is just Superboy’s suit, so it’s kind of boring. But Bizarro’s face is interesting. It’s a weird mixture of Frankenstein-like monster and a very innocent creature.
BIZARRO #1: Young-Me am not cute!
You kind of are, actually. It’s no wonder then that, despite his destruction at the end of this story after a high-speed mid-air collision with Superboy, Bizarro came back for many more stories later on. Eventually, we got to see the adult Bizarro fight the adult Clark Kent.
FROM IMPERFECT TO REVERSE
As a teen or as an adult, Bizarro was a mixed bag. At times, he was a threat to Superman and the people of Earth. Sometimes this was because he genuinely got angry and lashed out. Sometimes this was because his twisted sense of logic led to him accidentally putting people in danger. Likewise, he wasn’t coordinated and didn’t seem to know his own strength so occasionally he meant to help someone and only caused destruction and further harm.
But as time went on, Bizarro became more of a comedic character, creating a home on the cube Bizarro World, also known as “Htrae” (get it?). As the first true Bizarro, he named himself Bizarro #1.
BIZARRO #1: That also because am WORST Bizarro on planet! Foot-bump for disrespect!
I am not foot-bumping you. Anyway, as we can see, Bizarro is still kind of the adorably imperfect duplicate who now does things in reverse. He’d reward his son for disobeying him all day, he watched negative prints of movies where the villains always won, etc.
But still, this costume is a bit boring. It’s just Superman’s suit with the decoration now of a loose sign.
Years later, the idea changed. The Bizarro code said that nothing on the planet could be perfect and they realized they were all wearing a perfect replica of Superman’s S-shield. So the symbol was reversed, making enough difference that it was now technically imperfect. This is a bit better. It lets you know that this isn’t some random creature wearing Superman’s wardrobe. This creature obviously sees himself in opposition to Superman. This look was borrowed for the SuperFriends cartoon as well when Bizarro showed up alongside the show’s villains.
Later on, things went a step further and Bizarro got some reversed powers, such as fire-breath and ice-vision (as opposed to Superman’s Arctic Breath and Heat-Vision). If you knew nothing about Bizarro and saw his image before, you might just ask “why is a monster wearing Superman’s costume?” But with the simple visual of a reversed S-shield and reversed powers, you instantly get the message. Backwards-Superman. Twisted Man of Steel. Nice.
BIZARRO #1: You call Bizarro “monster.” This not good thing?
Um, sure, monsters can be good. Look at Sesame Street. Most of them are furry, little monsters!
BIZARRO #1: Want eat Big Bird.
Right, moving on then.
In the mid-1980s, the crossover Crisis on Infinite Earths caused the DC Universe to be torn apart and then rebuilt. This gave writers and editors the chance to revise or reboot some characters and histories. Bizarro was definitely a target of this. In Man of Steel #5, writer/artist John Byrne re-introduced the creature as a nameless monster that resulted from Lex Luthor’s attempt to clone the Man of Steel. This creature was silent and exhibited very primitive behavior, seemingly intent on imitating some of the memories it had absorbed from Superman and then reacting aggressively when it was approached by the true Kryptonian hero. When Superman used his heat-vision on the creature, its own costume became darkened as a result.
This truly is “Superman as Frankenstein.” There is nothing cute or endearing about this creature before us. The darkened Superman uniform now implies that this is not an imperfect or reversed version of the Man of Steel but more like a twisted, dark reflection, something to be feared. Since this creature didn’t speak and was meant to be more menacing, the visual makes sense. This non-living clone composed of non-organic material lasted only until the end of the issue, dying when (you guessed it) he suffered a high-speed mid-air collision with Superman.
Some years later, Luthor created a new Bizarro. This version did speak and his logic seemed closer to the Pre-Crisis incarnation of the creature. But by using Byrne’s dark uniform, this still seems, at first glance, to be a frightening monster rather than the imperfect, sometimes adorably flawed copy that he now acted like. This creature died and Luthor did attempt to recreate it again, but never with any true success.
BACK TO BASICS
In Superman: The Animated Series, the creative team decided they wanted a Bizarro who was dangerous but not really through any fault of his own. Though he didn’t speak in any backwards fashion, this animated version was definitely much closer to his classic Pre-Crisis comic book counterpart. Starting off as a Luthor-created clone of Superman, he later mutated (and, inexplicably, so did his costume).
So we have here a very twisted take on a Superman duplicate. The S-shield implies “imperfect” and “twisted” without saying “backwards.” Since this Bizarro did not speak in reverse logic, this makes sense and it’s a nice visual. You look at this creature and you realize, even before he speaks, he’s probably “a little off.”
BIZARRO #1: Cartoon-Me seem nice. ME HUG HIM TO DEATH!
Alas, live-action media has not been so kind to Bizarro. When he showed up in the live-action Superboy series, it was pretty laughable.
And in Smallville, we got this version instead. A clone of Clark Kent inhabited by the spirit of a Kryptonian criminal who had been exiled to the Phantom Zone. When asked who he was, this villain told Clark, “I’m you. Just a little more bizarre.”
In the miniseries Trinity, writer/artist Matt Wagner took a cue from the animated series and did his own angular/twisted take on Bizarro’s S-shield. I rather like this. You have the symbol in reverse AND it’s imperfect. So Bizarro is letting us know he’s not just in opposition to Superman, he’s warped!
Of course, there are other Bizarros. There’s a whole Bizarro Justice League, a Bizarro Luthor and Bizarro Brainiac. But we’re going to focus on the copies of Superman’s more direct family. Namely, the Bizarros that were created to reflect Supergirl (a title held by multiple women, but traditionally and currently by Superman’s cousin Kara) and Superboy (not young Clark Kent, but a teenage clone created much later named Kon-El/Conner Kent).
First, the new Superboy AKA Conner Kent got an evil twin in the form of the clone named “Match.” Match was fairly boring to me, visually. Identical to Superboy in face, except for white hair. Fine. But what’s with the costume? A yellow jumpsuit with some black line work and white boots and gloves? Lame. Not a fan of most costumes that are mainly yellow and just have some black decoration.
Later on, Match began to degenerate, becoming a Bizarro. Along with this, he got an outfit that now looked like what Superboy was actually wearing. This is definitely better visually. And while Bizarro may have been hilarious and well-intentioned at times, Match was always a power-hungry jerk who had now become a brain-damaged power-hungry jerk. So I’m all for him looking creepy.
In Supergirl #52, Linda Danvers (who was the then-current “Supergirl” in operation) got to fight this Bizarro Supergirl. This was an attempt by the villain Two-Face to clone the hero. Basically, she’s wearing Linda’s costume but with some colors switched around and reversed. Not bad, though again, I’m rarely a fan of pitch black and yellow working together.
Most recently, Jamal Igle gave us this very cute, very fun, new Bizarrogirl. These days, Bizarro has founded a new Bizarro World (the first and only one in existence, as far as continuity is concerned) that orbits a blue sun. The solar radiation of this star gives Bizarro new powers, including the ability to create new Bizarros and duplicates of himself. Eventually, Bizarro decided he needed super-powered back-up and created Bizarrogirl, a duplicate of Superman’s cousin Kara Zor-El, the classic Supergirl.
Bizarrogirl is just cute. The altered colors are very nice and I like that she wears a very loose-fitting outfit that covers her whole upper body, as opposed to Kara who has been exposing her midriff for years now and wears a more form-fitting costume.
TODAY’S BIZARRO #1
In the storyline Emperor Joker, Batman’s greatest enemy stole magical energy from the 5th dimensional prankster Mr. Mxyzptlk. As he reshaped the world, he decided to create his own version of Bizarro, one similar to the clones that Luthor had created but who would be truly alive and would have reverse powers such as ice-vision and fire-breath. He gave this creation a reversed costume with a new color scheme and labeled it “Bizarro #1″ to mark it as superior to the previous Bizarro clones that had all died or been destroyed.
BIZARRO#1: Lookit how handsome I’m not! Bizzaro #1 am the dog’s bark!
Indeed, indeed, and I dig changing the colors here. Making the S-shield purple and orange rather than black and orange is a nice change. Again, if you have Bizarro acting with warped logic or using backwards speak, I’d prefer that you show him as an off-version of Superman and not a dark reflection. Ed McGuinness does that very well with this design here.
That isn’t to say he always has to look like a funny guy. He IS dangerous at times and, like a child, doesn’t always understand what he’s doing. He realized that when you touch the character Human Bomb, it creates a small explosion. Enjoying the light created by this effect, Bizarro beat the hero to death. So yes, he should look like a monster in the face, but I think he should seem more like a pathetic monster rather than an intimidating one. The cartoons did this and many recent stories with Bizarro have followed suit. It’s also a nice visual because, as the comics stand now, Bizarro isn’t always terribly liked on his own brand-new Bizarro World. This definitely makes him a twisted image of Superman.
Some artists have kept the reversed S-shield but otherwise have returned to Superman’s color scheme and I just think this makes him look fairly boring. I really do prefer doing something to the palette.
In the recent Blackest Night crossover, Bizarro had this somewhat different costume. Again, like Wagner’s take, this says both “imperfect” and “backwards.” It’s pretty fun and clever, resembling a child’s attempt to replicate Superman’s symbol. Since Bizarro is child-like himself, it definitely works. Not bad at all.
And that brings us to a close, folks. Hope you enjoyed this. Say good-bye, Bizarro.
BIZARRO #1: HELLO, EVERYONE! SEE YOU NEXT WEEK!
And this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off.
Alan Kistler writes the comic book history/fashion column Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. He is an actor and freelance writer living in New York who has been recognized by Warner Bros. Films and major media/news outlets as a comic book historian. He is also the creator/host of the web-show “Crazy Sexy Geeks: The Series.” He knows entirely too much about the history of comics, Star Trek, Doctor Who, time travel, and vampires that don’t sparkle.