September 18, 2009

Bizarro Meets Frankenstein

Superman’s wrong-way clone, Bizarro, was a Frankensteinian concept. The character was first introduced as a teenage monster, a bungled Duplicator Machine copy of Superboy, in 1958. In a story that borrows from Frankenstein movie lore, the awkward creature strives to be loved but elicits horror, and its only friend is a blind girl. Instantly popular, the character would return often, eventually as an adult when Lex Luthor trained a defective Duplicator Ray on Superman. Soon, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and the entire cast of the Superman saga would be dopplegangered and moved to a crazy, cube-shaped Bizarro Planet.

Back in the Fifties and the early Sixties, comics were still squarely kid’s lit. You got your comic books in drugstores, newsstands or off spinner racks with a sign that said, “HEY KIDS! COMICS!”. Superhero books competed for shelf space with westerns, war stories, jungle adventures and Funny Animals. The market started changing as early as 1956 when DC Comics introduced updated versions of their wartime superheroes and Marvel Comics would kick in with their own brand of flawed superheroes in 1962. Comics would grow up, so to speak, eventually catering to teens and young adults. But back in ’61, comics were aimed at the very young and DC’s Superman inhabited a friendly Mom and Apple Pie world where he tangled with cartoony villains and silly monsters.

In the goofy, twisted logic of the Bizarro Universe, everything was backwards. Bizarros would greet each other with a cheery “Goodbye!” and part with a hearty “Hello!”. When an alarm clock rang, you went to bed. “Chrismast” was celebrated on “Juyl 4th” and “Decumber 24” was “Holoene Eev”. Perfection was detestable, everything crooked, broken or botched was beautiful.

Bizarro Meets Frankenstein was a one of three stories in Superman No. 143 (February 1961). Written by Otto Binder, with pencils by Wayne Boring and inks by Stan Kaye (the cover is by Curt Swan), it’s a brisk nine-page romp wherein Bizarro is jealous of the movies' Frankenstein Monster. “Me, Bizarro Number One,” he proclaims, “Am most Famous Monster in history!”

Home on the square-sided Bizarro Planet, Bizarro and his family — Bizarro-Lois and their two Bizarro kids — are watching TV beamed from Earth. When the kids are terrified by a Charlie Chaplin movie, they switch channels to a “laugh program” featuring Wolfman, the Mummy and The Black Ogre (?). “Papa,” asks Bizarro’s Son, “Why Earth kids scared and call them ‘monsters’? They look nice, not ugly!”

When an ad for a new Frankenstein movie flashes onscreen — “World’s Scariest Monster!” — Bizarro is insulted. “Me can scare more Earth-people than Frankenstein!” he says, and promptly flies across space to Earth where he scares the Abominable Snowman, proving he is still “The World’s Worst Monster!”

Zooming off to Hollywood, Bizarro heads for the movie studio where he throws the Frankenstein actor out the window — “Me fixed Frankenstein!” — and into the arms of Superman, who happens to be in the neighborhood.

Bizarro then goes on a scare tour, but things don’t pan out as expected. Descending on a group of starlets dressed as Amazons, he is greeted with kisses, like a matinee idol. Turns out the girls think it’s really Superman in a monster mask. Frustrated, Bizarro tries to scare a couple of cowboy actors who laugh at him and shoot at his feet to make him dance. Mortified, Bizarro doesn’t know that the two men are — get this — stoned out of their skulls, having mistakenly chewed “loco weed” instead of mint leaves!

Next up, Bizarro spots a couple of children. “Me got most awful face in the world,” he growls, “uh… You not… er… scared?” The kids sit on his lap. A little girl pats his face, “You look kind, Mister” she says.

Bizarro doesn’t know the kids are with a circus freak show and are comfortable hanging out with weird-looking people.

Now enraged, Bizarro goes on a rampage, demolishing the Frankenstein set, smashing a Frankenstein statue. Superman swings into action to prevent anyone getting hurt. Fiddling with a prop “static machine”, Superman sends an electric current through wires in the floor, causing the actors’ hair to stand up on their heads.

“You all scared of me now, he?” says a gloating Bizarro, “Now ME laughing! Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha!… Me still CHAMPION MONSTER!”

Back home, Bizarro scares his kids with a Superman string puppet. Observing this with his telescopic vision, Superman reflects, “Up there, I’M the World’s Worst Monster. Even my marionette scares Bizarro kids!”

Writer Otto Binder was astonishingly prolific. Starting out as a science fiction pulp writer in 1930, he moved to comics in ‘39, writing some 50,000 pages of comics over the next thirty years. He wrote the original Shazam-era Captain Marvel comics at Fawcett in the Forties, he contributed to such titles as Captain America at pre-Marvel Timely Comics, and The Mighty Samson at Gold Key. In a long stint on Superman at National/DC, he created Brainiac, the Phantom Zone and Krypto the Super-Dog.

As a science fiction writer, Binder created the classic Adam Link series, which has its own Frankenstein connection. In I, Robot (an acknowledged inspiration for the young Isaac Asimov), the artificial Adam Link is shunned by people and unfairly accused of killing his creator. The robot reads Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to understand why he is reviled and mistrusted. The story was adapted to television as an episode of the original Outer Limits.

The Bizarro character has gone through several revisions, evolving into a sort of evil twin, a malevolent, steroid-muscled Mr. Hyde to Superman’s Jekyll. He was a lot more fun as the funhouse mirror reflection of the square and stalwart Superman of days past.

Comics... Goood!


Peter Bernard said...

Otto Binder also wrote books about "real" UFOs that are as entertaining as his admittedly fictional material.

Steve said...

Oh my gosh! I remember this one!

wich2 said...

Great stuff, Pierre!

Curt Swan and Wayne Boring's "Monster Club" members - Frank, Drac, Wolf, Mummy - are fondly remembered...

Slighty odd, but skirting close to the "classic" designs, they remind me a bit of the Lincoln, Tomland, and Mego figure variations on same that came not long after.

(By the way, I don't recall - have you covered those here at The Frankenstein Site Of Record?)

Great weekend,
-Craig W.

Alexander said...

Check out the recent Escape From Bizarro World as well, his redesign in that story has Frankenstein written all over it.

Michael Jones said...

Frankie goes to Hollywood in The Adventures of Bob Hope 95-104 and Jerry Lewis 83!

Pierre Fournier said...

I'll get sround to the Monster Club, and I have those weird Bob Hope comics, too. Fun stuff! Glad you're all enjoying this.

Christopher said...

ok! i've seen everything..

Mike Q said...

Don't forget the Bizarro solo story from Adventure Comics 289, "Bizarro's Amazing Buddies!" in which our "hero" goes back in time to try and meet the (fictional) Frankenstein monster, and instead ends up inspiring Mary Shelley...

Dan said...

In 1 Superman story Bizarro time traveled into the past and was seen by Mary Shelley becoming her inspiration for the Frankenstein monster.