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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Jimmy Olsen and Bizarro are taking a trip to Canada by way of the Silver Age, and their journey continues in Heath Corson’s and Gustavo Duarte’s Bizarro #4. Our own T. Kyle King is following along, and he writes from the road to review the unlikely duo’s latest antics.
This month’s installment carries Jimmy and Bizarro to Branson, Missouri. The traveling twosome opts to take time out to enjoy a show, but the adventure again goes awry when Bizarro figures out Zatanna’s magic act, with wild results once more ensuing.
Jimmy, Bizarro, and Chastity Hex have arrived in Branson. After receiving their share of the bounty for capturing Jeremiah Blackhearse, the Canada-bound companions go to see Zatanna perform magic on stage.
Bizarro’s reversed reasoning renders him able to interpret Zatanna’s backward incantations, and he succeeds in replicating her mystic abilities. Equipped with magical powers, Bizarro goes on a multi-dimensional romp before he accidentally steals Zatanna’s spell-casting skills and switches places with Jimmy. The newly normal Bizotto and the still-resourceful sorceress work together to tame the rampaging Jimzarro.
No sooner has the status quo been restored, though, than ARGUS agents Meadows Mahalo and Stuart “Chicken Stew” Paillard apprehend Jimmy and Bizarro. The government agents who have been following the odd couple since they left Metropolis finally reveal their secret purpose; ARGUS needs Jimmy and Bizarro to help the agents “break into Area 51!”
I absolutely loved the opening edition of this limited series. As a result, I have worried every month that the latest issue would be the one that disappointed me; after all, Corson and Duarte can’t possibly maintain this zany energy leavened with cleverness forever, can they? Well, maybe not, but they haven’t let me down yet, and they didn’t in Bizarro America – Part 3 either.
Another solid setup introduces this issue. A tarot card reading from a Branson fortune teller impresses the credulous Bizarro but not the skeptical Jimmy, who explains his disdain for magic: “You never know the rules. You never know how things work or un-work.” Bizarro, however, regards wizardry entirely without guile, allowing him to suss out how Zatanna’s inscrutable powers work.
In retrospect, the connection ought to have been obvious, but the story’s sly linkage of Zatanna’s word-reversal with Bizarro’s opposite-speak was a brilliant breakthrough tying together two longstanding DC Comics characters in an unanticipated way. When she says, “Raeppa sevod!” and doves appear, Jimmy dismisses her words as “gibberish,” but Bizarro, who knows better, announces that he can “misconstrue them.”
The imperfect Superman duplicate then proceeds to prove it, haltingly replicating Zatanna’s reversal of verbiage by saying, “Um… Orrazib… uh… raeppasid.” Sure enough, Bizarro vanishes, and he (and we) are off on a quick-hit trip through the DC Comics back lot, popping into and then out of the Rock of Eternity, Gemworld, the House of Mystery, the Parliament of Trees, and Skartaris, accompanied by side-splitting cameos from Shazam, Elvira, Etrigan, and the Warlord.
The gleefully empowered and tuxedo-clad Bizarro proudly returns to Branson to show Jimmy and Zatanna his newfound talents. After Olsen criticizes his maddening companion for (among other things) continually misusing the word “construe”, Bizarro answers: “Em eurtsnoc!” Instantly, the ginger photographer is chalk-white and saying the opposite of what he means, while the ham-handed would-be hero is being mistaken for a “nice normal guy”.
Olsen remains the perfect straight man in this buddy comedy. It continues to crack me up every time he tells Chastity not to call Bizarro “Chief”, and Jimmy’s sighs, double sighs, and internal dialogue with the angel and devil aspects of his nature all play well. His hysterical dry commentary on the absurdity around him reaches its peak when Zatanna loses her powers and Jimmy hopefully offers, “Maybe you realize later that magic was inside of you all along?”
The issue’s cliffhanger ending features a full page of such exchanges. Held at gunpoint with his hands on his head, Olsen asks, “What does the Advanced Research Group Uniting Super-Humans want with us?” Bizarro, noting the “terrible initials”, wonders, “How you not know that?” as Chicken Stew blandly points out that Jimmy’s traveling companion is “an unregistered omega-level superhuman alien threat cutting a swath of destruction on a road trip through our great United States”. Well, yeah, when you put it that way, sure.
The snappy banter consistently keeps the characters’ interactions lively, and the artwork continues to suit the scenes with their cartoonish exaggeration. Despite being deliberately over the top, Duarte’s and Darwyn Cooke’s drawings do not lack for subtle touches. Facial expressions and body language are a large part of the physical comedy being displayed on the page, and the artists use perspective effectively in such shots as the overhead angle depicting Bizotto looking up at a plummeting automobile.
What makes Bizarro #4 so delightful are the ongoing references to DC Comics history. A varied assortment of characters and settings drifts through like Alfred Hitchcock appearing in the background in all of his movies, offering readers the pleasure of catching glimpses of past publications and enjoying the thrill of recognition. We knew Zatanna was going to guest-star in this issue, but the appearances of her peers were a welcome surprise.
At the heart of the unlikely heroes’ adventure in the Show Me State, though, is the long-awaited transformation of Jimmy Olsen into something other than a redheaded photojournalist in a bow tie. Back in the day, Jimmy essentially defined the Silver Age, and the essence of his wacky exploits in that era was the short-lived transformation. Between crackpot potions, alien interventions, and random chance, Olsen routinely found himself temporarily changed into something else entirely, including a Bizarro version of himself.
Jimmy may hate magic because he never knows the rules, he never knows how things work, and he never knows how to undo what has been done, but Corson’s and Duarte’s lighthearted exploration of this intriguing theme comes together in the form of an amusing and, ultimately, moving love letter to a bygone time in superhero comics history.
As attested to by this series’ “E” rating, Bizarro is appropriate for all ages. Longtime comic fans like me can enjoy immersing ourselves in this gloriously wacky ride down memory lane, while younger readers can have fun following the stars’ slapstick antics while being introduced to DC Comics’ rich history.
For me, what Bizarro is all about is embodied in the photograph above. That is a picture my wife took last Wednesday night, when I was reading the latest issue to my seven-year-old daughter, who is herself a budding comic book fan. We both enjoyed the story immensely, albeit for very different reasons, and the pleasures of what Heath Corson and Gustavo Duarte have created are summed up nicely in the foregoing shot. I wouldn’t even mind if Jimmy Olsen wanted to use that image in his coffee table book.
Comic books should be fun, for adults and kids alike. Bizarro gets that premise and delivers on that promise. Corson and Duarte once again have hit a home run.
What did you think of the latest issue of Bizarro?
How intrigued are you by the notion of Jimmy and Bizarro heading to Las Vegas and breaking into Area 51?
Share your impressions with us in the ComiConversation going on in the comments section!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing
Bizarro #4 is fun for adults and kids alike.