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.
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Heath Corson’s and Gustavo Duarte’s Bizarro #3 was released last week and the latest chapter of Bizarro’s and Jimmy Olsen’s zany road trip to Canada was well worth the wait!
The previous issue ended with the unlikely duo in a Wild West ghost town, populated by literal ghosts, which is where the story begins in Bizarro America: Part 4. The tales are titled in reverse numerical order, in keeping with the opposite logic of the title character. If that rationale appeals to you, this is the comic book for you!
In Ol’ Gold Gulch, the traveling buddies get into the spirit of their surroundings. After parting ways with Chastity Hex, Jimmy and Bizarro enter the local watering hole, the Brass Bugle. After introducing themselves as Deadeye Olsen and the Bizarro Kid, they encounter Jeremiah Blackhearse. Soon, though, the disembodied phantasm of the Old West villain El Papagayo and his band of outlaw wraiths arrive to raid the town full of their fellow apparitions.
Bizarro’s showdown with the incorporeal bandit initially goes nowhere, because neither of them can touch the other. However, El Papagayo and his ethereal parrot Pepito eventually enter and inhabit the physical forms of Bizarro and Colin, his pet chupacabra. Faced now with a superpowered foe, Jimmy summons the cavalry, which appears in the form of Jonah Hex’s specter. Jonah nabs the phantom El Papagayo as Chastity grabs the physical Jeremiah. With Jeremiah in the trunk, Jimmy and Bizarro give Chastity a ride to Branson, Missouri, where Zatanna will be appearing and more adventures undoubtedly await.
Yet again, Duarte’s artwork is suitably matched to Corson’s writing. The exaggerated cartoonish look of the book fits exactly with the wacky plot and the amusing dialogue. Guest artists Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba add to this atmosphere with their detailed depiction of Bizarro’s inner workings. Colorist Pete Pantazis’s contributions are especially evident in this issue, right from the sepia-toned start.
Pantazis’s understated palette of greys, greens, and browns is well suited to Ol’ Gold Gulch’s Old West aesthetic, and he creates an effective visual contrast between the real-world heroes and the shadowy inhabitants of the ghost town. Pantazis does his best work on the battle between the glowing El Papagayo’s ghostly guns and the primary-colored Bizarro’s ice vision.
In scripting this issue, Corson has continued to remember that what makes this series work are silly sight gags, snappy banter, and just plain fun. When Deadeye Olsen and the Bizarro Kid order sarsaparillas in the Brass Bugle, the frothy beverages are slid down the bar to them; as the ethereal mugs pass right through the heroes’ hands as Jimmy wryly observes, “Yeah, I should have figured that.”
Olsen’s droll sensibility permeates this story throughout. When Bizarro explains that his version of X-ray vision only works on lead, Jimmy remarks, “Yeah, that tracks.” He justifies his decision to summon the shades of deceased gunmen by shrugging, “I figure ghosts beat ghosts.” At the tale’s most tense moment, Superman’s red-headed pal responds to Chastity’s criticisms with a sardonic, “Yeah, well, I’m kinda dealing with the ghostly repossession of my best friend’s body right now.” Olsen understands that, when the going gets goofy, it’s best just to roll with it and let the wackiness happen.
Each of Corson’s characters has his or her distinct voice. Bizarro, obviously, continues his over-the-top backward-speak, but the townspeople also echo the extravagant speech conventions of their bygone era in such utterances as, “Will this ne’erending nightmare ne’er end?” The moustachioed, bandolier-wearing El Papagayo hams it up as the classic Western bad guy, confessing that he, too, has “tasted the sweet and salty kiss of love on his blood-pumper”.
Chastity, in particular, has her own unique mode of expression. Told the ghostly villain has history with her kinsman Jonah Hex, Chastity stares down El Papagayo and answers with a saucy, “Mister, you’ve been dead a long time. Everything about you is history.” Confronted with circumstances beyond her capacity to comprehend, she explains that she’s a bounty hunter, not “whatever the equivalent would be in this here situation.” Focusing on her primary task, Chastity states her intention to “see if any of these here specters have laid their cold dead eyes on Jeremiah Blackhearse.” Jimmy, ever the perfect straight man in this buddy comedy, replies, “That’s… descriptive.”
Even Pepito the parrot speaks with personality, although the multicolored bird mistakenly states that El Papagayo and the Bizarro Kid have arrived at “checkmate” when what he really means is stalemate.
Although his dialogue sparkles, Corson does not skimp on the physical comedy. The writer wisely lets the situational humor unfurl effortlessly from the sheer absurdity of a poncho-clad Bizarro crashing through the wall of a daguerrotype photographer’s studio and walking through the swinging doors of an Old West saloon. Before their showdown, El Papagayo twirls his pistol on his finger, and Bizarro responds by holding his popgun still while spinning himself around in a head-over-heels full-body flip.
The best joke in Bizarro #3, though, comes when Jimmy realizes the Riddler lifted his signal watch when the pair shook hands in Gotham City. This leads to a two-panel aside in which a curious Edward Nygma pushes the button on the watch in his Quiz-A-Torium and is promptly found by a partially-seen Superman. Such quick-hit comedic bits are essential to this series’ charm.
In order to appreciate fully what makes Bizarro wonderful, you first have to understand what made the Silver Age great. In that era, comics conventions and creative constraints combined to produce Superman stories that were kid-friendly, governed by their own internal logic, and able to be delightfully weird without ultimately disrupting the status quo of the characters when the inevitable happy ending unexpectedly occurred in the oddest possible way.
That’s a tall order, and such stories went out of vogue some 45 years ago, when Jack Kirby kicked off the Bronze Age by radically reworking that paragon of the Silver Age, James Bartholomew Olsen.
The beauty of what Heath Corson, Gustavo Duarte and crew are doing in Bizarro, is that this clever comic book – rated E for everyone – is bringing back an enjoyable slice of Silver Age magic. On the first page of the current issue, Jimmy thinks to himself, “This is what I expected from a road trip to Canada with Bizarro. Strange places. Weird outfits. Mysterious strangers.” What Olsen has anticipated, this creative team delivers.
At the end of the issue, Chastity asks Bizarro, “You’re a complicated guy, ain’t you Chief?” The imperfect Superman duplicate grins and answers with an enthusiastic, “Nope!” As usual, Bizarro is saying the opposite of what he intends, but this particular backward reaction contains more than a kernel of truth to it. Bizarro the character, like Bizarro the book, is simple and straightforward in the most welcome of ways.
In the midst of an appropriately inclusive and forward-looking DC You campaign, the comics publisher has made good on its promise to offer a story for every sort of superhero fan. Corson’s and Duarte’s nice nod to a noteworthy period in DC Comics’ glorious history hits all the right notes for everyone who loves the Silver Age.
Next month’s issue promises to continue Bizarro’s and Jimmy’s romp through the past, as it will feature another product of the Silver Age, Zatanna. With any luck, the mysterious federal agents and the even more mysterious aliens will be back, as well, and I’m still holding out hope for a classic Jimmy Olsen transformation into an overweight giant green stretchy porcupine-quilled caveman or something similarly silly.
All right, that’s enough of what I think. Now it’s your turn to tell us what you think!
Are you following Bizarro? Are you enjoying Corson’s and Duarte’s buddy road trip as much as I am?
Join in the ComiConversation in the comments below!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Bizarro #3 is bringing back an enjoyable slice of Silver Age magic!