My Favorite Monster: Horror, Humor, And The Brilliance Of Bizarro [Fantasy Week]
This week is Fantasy Week at ComicsAlliance, celebrating the best in magical fiction and imaginary worlds, and we've invited our writers to mark the occasion by celebrating a hallmark of the genre; the legendary creatures and outcast freaks we call "monsters." This is My Favorite Monster.
There are a lot, and I mean a lot, of duplicate knock-off Supermen serving as his villains, since once you’re defined as the top dog of the universe, the only way to match you is to literally match you. My favorite isn’t Zod, or Cyborg Superman, or the Eradicator; my favorite will always be Bizarro.
Debuting in October 1958 in Superboy #68, written by Otto Binder and drawn by George Papp, the appeal of Bizarro is immediate: he’s a Super-Frankenstein, a monster with all the powers of Superboy who, on the very cover, is having rocks thrown at him by superstitious villagers who are incomplete only in that all the torches were sold out at the Rampaging Village Mob shop.
Bizarro quickly transforms from a creature too flawed to ever fit in, into his own version of Superman; he wound up in charge of an entire square world where everything is the opposite of the way it is on planet Earth. It’s a simple statement that cannot for one second stand up to logical scrutiny --- Are the land masses there where the oceans are on our world? Do they breathe in CO2 and breath out oxygen? --- but logical scrutiny has no place on a world that’s fundamentally illogical.
To this day, ‘bizarro’ is a shorthand version for anything that takes place on a world removed from our own understanding, one of the most enduring contributions the Superman mythos has made to pop culture. Nowadays, when you describe anything as "Bizarro X" to mean "the opposite of X," just about everyone knows what you’re talking about.
What makes Bizarro great is that he’s a perfect comedy character. So much of the best comedy comes from putting either an absurd character in a normal situation or a normal character in an absurd situation, and Bizarro can do both. He can be totally absurd on our world, changing disgusting hot dogs into delicious cold dogs and flying around backwards, or he can be normal in a ridiculous situation, lamenting, say, the too-short election cycles of Bizarro World as a contrast to the one million month hellscape of the US presidential election that hopefully, mercifully, is about to end.
But Bizarro also has a sinister side, on the days where he decides that he has to be the opposite of Superman --- since that means that if Superman is good, thoughtful and kind, Bizarro has to be mean, evil and careless. He also becomes as versatile as Superman --- just as Sitcom Bizarro is the perfect “wacky next door neighbor” for Sitcom Superman, an out of control Bizarro highlights perfectly how much restraint and care must be part of Superman.
Bizarro also has a tragic side, as shown in stories like "Flowers for Bizarro," by Christos Gage and Eduardo Francisco, one of the many great stories in the late, lamented Adventures of Superman anthology.
Bizarro, by defining himself entirely by opposition --- by being what Superman is not --- is doomed forever to be reactive, to only fill the void where Superman isn’t, instead of becoming his own person. This makes him a perfect villain for the character who, when written well, has a kind word even for his foes, wanting them to be better.
Bizarro perfectly highlights the absurd, both in his world and in ours, and the fact that so much horror is based on the same things as humor --- the shock of something that Should Not Be, and how its presence forces us to ask uncomfortable questions about whether the world as we understand it makes any sense or is just as arbitrary as the Bizarros’ decision to be the opposite of whatever we’ve decided to be.
For this reason, Bizarro is my favorite monster.