T. Kyle King’s published work ranges from newspaper columns to film reviews and from short stories to law review articles. Most notably, he served as a site manager and staff writer at DawgSports.com, a daily weblog devoted to University of Georgia athletics, from 2006 to 2013, and he is the author of a book about the history of the college football rivalry between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Clemson Tigers published by Clemson University Digital Press in 2013. Kyle is a lifelong comic book fan whose thoughts on comic books previously have appeared at ComicsVerse, Progressive Boink, and the Superman Homepage. Kyle is a Superman guy.
Bizarro and Jimmy Olsen take a road trim in Bizarro #1 by DC Comics.
I’m not ashamed to admit it. I love the Silver Age.
Following Fredric Wertham’s assault on crime, horror, and superhero comics and the resulting Congressional hearings on juvenile delinquency, in the 1950s, comic book creators were severely hamstrung by a strict content code that heavily limited the topics and depictions that were deemed suitable. These restrictions were excessive to the point of being absurd, but their unintended side effect was a tremendous flowering of creativity among comic book writers and artists who now had to find clever ways to do more with less.
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Thankfully, great progress has been made since those days, to the point that the comic book industry is more open and wide-ranging than ever before. Ample evidence of this is to be found in the explosion of post-Convergence “DC You” titles, which exhibit a deserved emphasis on the growing diversity of comics’ creators, characters, and audience. However, DC Comics’ welcome focus on present possibilities and future opportunities has not blinded the longtime publisher to the richness of its past. Nowhere among the new releases is this more wonderfully exhibited than in Heath Corson’s and Gustavo Duarte’s magnificent modern spin on Silver Age sensibilities, Bizarro.
Though nominally a supervillain and originally cast in a role reminiscent of Frankenstein’s monster, Bizarro was created by Otto Binder and debuted in 1958, placing the character squarely within the confines of the whimsical and wacky Silver Age. Htrae, the cube-shaped homeworld Bizarro came eventually to inhabit, was the setting for all sorts of lunacy, and the imperfect Superman duplicate’s childlike mindset and crude opposite-speak marked Bizarro as a ham-handed would-be hero with good intentions misguidedly applied, rather than as a wrongdoer in the mold of Lex Luthor or Brainiac.
Likewise, Jimmy Olsen is a paragon of Silver Age sensibilities. The cub reporter first appeared on the Adventures of Superman radio serial in 1940 before debuting as a named character in the comic books the following year, but the plucky young photographer came into his own in the hands of Binder, who scripted the stories for Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen from the time of the solo tile’s debut in 1954. So closely linked are Olsen and the Silver Age that Comics Alliance’s Chris Sims describes Superman’s pal as “certainly the most pure product of his time” and traces the start of the Bronze Age from the time Jack Kirby took over Jimmy’s title in 1970.
When two characters so strongly associated with the madcap antics of the Silver Age at its zaniest are thrown together in a 21st-century comic book, the results are predictably unpredictable, and Corson brings a suitable comedic sensibility to a lighthearted adventure that is appropriate for children yet enjoyable by adults. The smart and snappy dialogue is strongly augmented by Duarte’s exaggeratedly cartoonish artwork, which adds a stylized look to the writer’s pithy tone.
The stage for this series was set by Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder in Action Comics #40, which saw Superman deposited on Htrae, with amusingly irrational results that adhered strictly to the internally consistent backwards logic by which Bizarro is bound, complete with pigs piloting biplanes. The unselfconscious weirdness of it all paved the way for Corson’s and Duarte’s buddy comedy in comic book form.
The premise is simple: Bizarro is constantly causing trouble in Metropolis, making such a nuisance of himself that Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen, joshing over coffee in the Daily Planet newsroom, jokingly contrive a plot to carry the imperfect Superman duplicate “to Canada and tell him it’s ‘Bizarro America’.”
This is all in good fun — Clark is drinking steaming hot java from a Batman mug, which, when you think about it, is a nice nuance in Kal-El’s effort to preserve his secret identity — but Jimmy decides actually to give it a try when his colleague comments that a road trip north of the border with Bizarro would make for a great “James B. Olsen coffee table book.”
Wait a second . . . secret identity?
Hasn’t Clark’s cover been blown? Isn’t that now a part of the new DC continuity?
Yes, it has, and it is, but Bizarro exists outside the current continuity, and, as evidenced by the regrettably now-defunct Adventures of Superman non-continuity book, existing outside the confines of current canonical storylines offers the sort of freedom from rational restraints that typified the Silver Age. That aspect, more than any other single factor, accounts for the perfect pitch of this comic; it’s Jimmy, it’s Bizarro, it’s fun, just roll with it, all right?
Rolling with it, in fact, is exactly what Jimmy and Bizarro do, and we meet them in medias res as they head down the highway with Olsen’s aggravating yet good-hearted passenger engaging in over-the-top behavior that never wavers from the silly inscrutability of the irrepressible character at his best. By turns, the uptight cub reporter and his oversized sidekick recall such similar pairings as Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (when they bed down for the night in the only motel room available to them) or Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church in Sideways (when they crash Jimmy’s car into a tree), but, ultimately, the duo resembles no comedic couple as much as David Spade and Chris Farley.
There is more to it than that, of course; much more, in fact, as the series’ first issue (billed, in a Bizarro-appropriate inversion, as “Part 6” and wrapped up with a concluding “To be started…”) contains a chupacabra named Colin, who is Bizarro’s pet, and who may be connected to the aliens that take time out from searching for an “entity” who “crashed forever ago” to pull a trick on an ancient Egyptian-attired used car dealer that turns him into a super-powered salesman. (See? I told you it was delightfully odd!)
Though the series’ defining sensibility and leading men are straight out of the Silver Age, the ambience is not confined to the 1950s. The aforementioned used car dealer, Regis “King Tut” Tuttle, has the feel of a super-villain from Steve Gerber’s 1970s Howard the Duck run, and the setting is resolutely modern. This is traditional funny-book fun recast for 2015, giving Bizarro a present-day appeal for comics’ current wider audience, even though the series stars two straight white guys — one of whom literally is white.
After such a promising start, what might the rest of this series hold? As noted above, I suspect Colin is the entity for whom the aliens are hunting, and, since the first issue mentioned that Tuttle’s father is buried inside a pyramid of cars, I’m hoping Bizarro and Jimmy will find themselves fighting a zombie car dealer. Tuttle’s daughter, Regina, has been set up as a potential love interest for Olsen, and, since we know the travelers will pay a visit to Area 51, it is reasonable to wonder whether the shadowy figures following them (one of whom is now known only as “Chicken Stew”) are the dreaded Men in Black. Plus which, it’s Jimmy Olsen, so being transformed into a giant green turtle man by a crackpot scientist or a bogus swami remains within the realm of possibility.
This is what happens when the boundlessness of imagination is unleashed in a comic book. It was fun in the Silver Age, and, with a few 21st-century tweaks, it’s still just as much fun today.
I am optimistic that it will remain that much fun on July 1, when Bizarro #2 is scheduled to hit the stands. You’d would do well to pick up a copy and join in on the good times.
Kyle King is a Contributor for ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing