Bizarro Back Issues: The Existential Dread Of Halloween On Bizarro World (1962)
When I started soliciting questions for my Halloween-themed Ask Chris columns, one of the questions I got pretty often was about whether there was a comic book character that I found to be genuinely frightening. There are certainly a few, like the Invunche from Swamp Thing that are built from such disturbing, horrifying imagery that they stick with you long after you put down the book, but there's one in particular that creeps me right the hell out every time I see him.
And that is Bizarro. Seriously.Mock me if you will, but think about it for a second. We all know that Superman has incredible physical powers, but his true strength lies in his unshakable morality. Bizarro, though... he's every bit as powerful as Superman, but has no concept whatsoever of morality. In fact, he's actively and instinctively opposed to beauty, truth and goodness in all its forms, and has created a world of wrongness and impossible angles in his own image, an image that exists as an affront to both God and Man. Take that to its logical conclusion -- which, you know, is what those of us who obsess over Silver Age books tend to do -- and you've got something that's downright Lovecraftian.
The whole thing tends to make my skin crawl in a way that most horror comics don't, and 1962's "The Halloween Pranks of the Bizarro Supermen" -- which, oddly enough, would've hit shelves sometime in January -- is a pretty solid example of why. It comes courtesy of Jerry Siegel and John Forte in the pages of Adventure Comics #294, and it's worth noting that this issue also includes the somewhat Halloween-ish "Dial M For Monster," in which a bunch of alien exchange students come to Earth and threaten to blow everything up if anyone calls them out for being total dicks about virtually everything.
This story, however, takes place entirely on Bizarro world, and opens up with one of the most shudder-inducing splash pages of all time:
Bad enough that the Bizarros' coal-black eyes are peering out from their lifeless, smiling flesh-masks as they drop twisted mockeries of baseball bats and ruined footballs onto children, but let's zoom in on that oddly muscular child crying out for mercy from an uncaring God, shall we?
Once we get past that, there's a brief introduction of the Bizarros for anyone who isn't already familiar with how they work, and I'm not gonna lie: Jerry Siegel seems pretty hostile, even going as far as referring to them as "the stupid Bizarros" in his opening caption. Part of me can't help wondering if he was just really cheesed off at Otto Binder that day, but given the way I view the Bizarros, I'm going to go ahead and assume he meant it in the same way that Azathoth is referred to as the "Blind Idiot God," a roiling mass of confusion that blasphemes against the very idea of an ordered universe. That might just be me though.
For our purposes here, it just means that they do circle dances instead of square dances and that ads involve celebrity Bizarros (or celebizarros) talking about how much they hate a product that they're "endorsing." Once that's settled, we get right into a dalliance with the supernatural. For you see, on Bizarro World, it is the night of Maye 24... the night... of Halloween!
I was going to write about how even numbers lose their underlying structure on the world of the Bizarros, but let's be honest: The most unnerving thing about this panel is the use of the phrase "buddy-pals."
And just who are Bizarro's BPFs? Why, they're equally horrifying misshapen duplicates of himself and Bizarro Lois, of course, who decide to hit the town in an effort to spread terror and engender an even deeper hatred of Earth in their mixed-up fellows:
Yes, it's the adult Bizarros who get up to "mischief" on Halloween, and like many things on Bizarro world, this is a crazy mixed-up opposite of the way we do things! See, on Earth, we think of Halloween mischeif as involving toilet papering someone's yard or egging their house (and occasionally mild arson in your rougher neighborhoods), but on Bizarro world, it's a little different.
Mostly because it seems to be built around torturing animals.
It's the facial expressions that really get me in this issue: the slack-jawed horror of the Bizarros fleeing Mickey Mantle, the glee of Bizarro #1's face and the abject misery on Bizarro Krypto's as he is threatened with death as part of a hilarious prank. John Forte knows how to make things creepy.
At this point, the story actually shifts into being all about Bizarro Krypto, as he runs away from home in an effort to find a new master who won't attempt to kill him if he doesn't stuff his slavering maw with hot dogs. His first stop is Bizarro Lana Lang, who is currently caught up in a spot of romantic trouble:
I think we all have an ex like that.
From there, he goes to Bizarro Mxyzptlk -- and I don't even know what that dude has to say to go back to his home dimension -- who uses his powers to conjure up a few playmates to keep his new puppy entertained. Unfortunately, B-Krypto ends up burning one to death and then shattering another into a million pieces (really), so Bizarro Mxyzptlk decides to give him an invulnerable friend by summoning the Real Krypto over to Bizaro World.
They do not get along.
Rather than watch his grotesquely misshapen doppelgänger die, Krypto begrudgingly boots the chunk of Blue Kryptonite back into space, and then gets the hell out the planet, referring to Bizarro Krypto as being "like something out of a nightmare." And when a telepathic space-dog with super-powers is freaked out, you know something weird is going on.
From there, B-K tries out Bizarro Luthor, who looks less like his Earthly counterpart and more like a disturbingly lumpy Telly Savalas. After demonstrating how he fights crime by keeping a few flightless Loises from robbing a bank, Bluthor reveals his master plan to fix Bizarro World once and for all by sending a bunch of robots with shovel hands to round off its sharp edges.
It seems like a solid plan to me, but Bizarro Krypto foils it in order to keep Bluthor from violating the Bizarro Code, which he apparently did not know about despite living on that planet for his entire misbegotten existence. Then again, I guess he is the opposite of an evil genius and has an excuse for being a kind-hearted moron.
So kind-hearted, in fact, that we finally find out how f**ked up Bizarro World really is:
They have a government agency dedicated to promoting cruelty to animals, and they have arrived to stop Bizarro Luthor from showing even the smallest kindness to B-Krypto. Thus, having apparently run out of people to shack up with, Bizarro Krypto returns home for a life of blissful Stockholm Syndrome and vicious abuse.
And that's Halloween on Bizarro world. Admittedly, this story dispensed with anything that actually had to do with Halloween by page 3, but man, we got something a lot more deeply disturbing than any story of ghosts and goblins ever printed.