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 and Gustavo Duarte are sending Jimmy Olsen and Bizarro on a road trip to Canada, and their Silver Age-style buddy comedy continued in Bizarro #5. Our Superman writer, Kyle King, is along for the ride, and he reviews the mismatched twosome’s most recent adventure.
The penultimate issue of Corson’s and Duarte’s limited series sees our unlikely heroes traveling from Branson, Missouri, to Las Vegas, Nevada, to Area 51, and their trek causes them to cross paths with Chastity Hex, ARGUS agents, multiple aliens, Sam Lane, and one of General Lane’s daughters. It’s every bit as much fun as it sounds, but be forewarned: SPOILERS FOLLOW!
Agents Meadows Mahalo and Stuart “Chicken Stew” Paillard offer Jimmy and Bizarro $50,000 and an all-expenses-paid visit to Las Vegas if they will break into Area 51 so ARGUS can come in, clean up the resulting mess, and lay claim to the alien technology being hoarded there by the Army. Accompanied by Chastity and Colin the Chupacabra, they head to Sin City, where Bizarro answers a call from Jimmy’s publisher and learns that Olsen is only accompanying the flawed Superman duplicate to Canada so the Daily Planet photojournalist can write a coffee-table book about their escapades.
Once inside Area 51, the oddball team sparks a riot among the incarcerated aliens as part of a carefully orchestrated plan to get their hands on the Army’s storehouse of captured weaponry from other worlds. In a face-off with Area 51’s commanding officer, Sam Lane, Jimmy links in the general’s daughter and his Daily Planet colleague, Lois Lane, who threatens to expose her father’s illegal detention of alien visitors.
Rather than turn everything over to ARGUS, though, Jimmy and Bizarro give the technology back to the detainees and send them all home. Colin finds his otherworldly compatriots and returns to outer space with them following an emotional farewell. This leaves our heroes alone and gives Bizarro the opportunity to express his anger at Jimmy for deceiving him, after which he smashes Olsen’s automobile and flies away.
I bought two books this week: Bizarro #5 and Superman/Wonder Woman #22. After the preview of the latter, I had serious misgivings about the latest installment in the Justice arc, and my fears proved well-founded. Fortunately, Bizarro America: Part 2 was the perfect antidote to the toxin that was Heart of the Sun.
At this point, Bizarro has established its look and tone so well that recurring gags and themes appear effortless yet have lost none of their freshness. Jimmy remains the perfect straight man, consistently providing wry commentary and dry wit, irrespective of whether he is playing off of Bizarro, Chastity, Chicken Stew, or Sam Lane.
The running jokes still work. Although the line is used repeatedly, it still slays me every single time Olsen tells Hex, “Don’t call him Chief.” Likewise, it isn’t just funny once when Jimmy gasps, “Tanks!” at the sight of rolling armored vehicles and Bizarro replies with his own awkward formulation for, “You’re welcome!” Even the sound effects add to the hilarity, as Chastity’s ray guns emit a “pee-yow” with each laser blast and a punch from Bizarro produces an “ommahw” in a marvelous instance of backward onomatopoeia.
My lone criticism of the script is that it contains a couple of uses of mild profanity. One of General Lane’s soldiers asks, “Where’s the damn tank?” Lois later tells her father, “This is a hell of a scoop.” I don’t object in principle to cursing in comic books, but I don’t care for it in the mouth of the Man of Steel, and it feels equally out of place in a story with an E rating.
As always, the visual signature of the book suits the style of the writing. Nevertheless, the deliberately exaggerated cartoonishness of Duarte’s artwork does not rob his graphics of nuance, as physical humor still shines through in such subtle details as the facial expression Jimmy aims at the reader while Bizarro literally counts cards in a casino. Pete Pantazis’s colors are understated but effective at showing shifts in place, time, and mood.
Corson and crew are not just operating on autopilot, however; each issue of Bizarro has its own unique features, and this issue is no exception. Bizarro America: Part 2 contains a running string of Tom Cruise allusions, starting with a wonderful full-page reproduction of the actor’s ride down the escalator with Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. When Bizarro answers Olsen’s cell phone, he hilariously mimics Jimmy in a scene reminiscent of Jay Mohr’s call to Jerry O’Connell’s hotel room in Jerry Maguire. Finally, Sam Lane grumbles that they’ve “crippled a country today,” after the fashion of Jack Nicholson at the end of A Few Good Men. Throughout it all, Olsen keeps in contact with the outside world using a souped-up pair of sunglasses straight out of the Mission: Impossible movies.
The highlight of the hilarity comes when Jimmy patches in Lois, to whom he exquisitely refers as “Ms. Lane”. When a hologram of the Daily Planet’s premier reporter tells her father what a scoop this would be, the chastened general replies, “Bunny… you wouldn’t—”. While a timid Clark Kent brings her a couple of lattes from the Lexbucks coffee shop, Lois says to Sam: “C’mon, Pop. You know I would. I’d sell out my best friend for a story…” That joke was exactly the tonic downtrodden fans needed after Truth, providing the metaphorical counterpunch to the literal shot to the chops Lois took in the issue of Superman/Wonder Woman that hit the stands the same day.
Such superbly subversive slyness sprinkled into a clever comic rated E for everyone underscores the genuine depth of this series. Bizarro #5 ties everything together, neatly wraps up several storylines, draws the connection between Colin and the aliens that some readers saw coming from the beginning, and puts a bow on the previous four installments. Even so, though, there are lessons being learned and points being made, as Jimmy finds out the hard way when he must pay the price for his selfishness and insincerity. Bizarro may be simple, but Bizarro is not simplistic; Corson and Duarte are crafting a tale that is lighthearted but not lightheaded.
Through their words and pictures, Corson and Duarte continue expertly to walk the tightrope between delightful absurdity and engrossing adventure. The steady stream of amusing wackiness should not obscure the fact that Bizarro #5 easily could have been played straight, as evidenced by the similar prison riot portrayed in a far more harrowing manner in All-Star Superman #5. Here, though, the heroic drama leavened by an undercurrent of humor delivered by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely in The Gospel According to Lex Luthor has been reversed, as primacy is given to the funny with an overtone of daring gallantry.
What the creative team behind Bizarro gets is that silliness is not synonymous with shallowness. The Silver Age, to which this series owes so great a debt, was not lacking in pathos; indeed, that era produced two classic tales about Superman dying and expended much energy emphasizing Kal-El’s sense of loss over the destruction of Krypton. Bizarro, like the period of superhero comics history that spawned it, conveys meaningful themes in a way that is uplifting rather than disheartening.
Nowhere is that more apparent than on the page contributed by guest artist Rafael Albuquerque. Emerging from Area 51’s alien armory in a full-page spread, all three humanoid heroes are clad in gear gathered from distant visitors. Chastity Hex is equipped with Adam Strange’s Alpha Centauri apparatus, Jimmy Olsen heads into battle with Katar Hol’s Thanagarian police accoutrements, and Bizarro stands front and center wearing Superman’s suit from the earliest days of Jerry Siegel’s and Joe Shuster’s Action Comics adventures. There is no incongruity to the insertion of such inspiring imagery in an issue that still keeps the “funny” in “funny book”.
I have noted here before that I’m a Superman guy, but, really, I’m just as much a Jimmy Olsen guy. Perceptively, Comics Alliance’s Chris Sims has written that “Jimmy Olsen represents the highest ideal for a young Superman fan” because the message he conveys to readers is: “‘Be a good person and Superman will want to be your pal!’” Audiences have been able to relate to Jimmy for three-quarters of a century, in spite of his travels through time and his transformations into giant green turtle men and his apparent ability to afford an apartment in Metropolis even though he’s a teenaged cub reporter, because he’s just a regular fellow whose best friend happens to be the Man of Steel.
Because he lacks superpowers or even special training in anything more exotic than photography, Olsen more often is being rescued than he is involved in rescuing. Accordingly, his best-known accessory, besides the bow tie, is the signal watch with which he calls for the help he invariably needs. Well, this time, Jimmy Olsen is on his own, sans signal watch, and he is leading his oddball team against an actual army while wearing Hawkman wings, ARGUS sunglasses, and a smile, calling his cohorts to action with the exclamation: “Let’s do what we do best: make a mess.”
Yes, this is all in fun, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t also heartening. Yes, Bizarro winds up stranding Jimmy in the desert, but that doesn’t mean the final issue in the series won’t succeed in combining a worthwhile lesson with a happy ending. Heath Corson, Gustavo Duarte, and the rest of the Bizarro team are giving us the best of DC Comics’ past without the worst of DC Comics’ present. The result is a comic that, like Olsen’s character, is just cool, and I look forward to Bizarro #6 knowing that the future’s so bright, Jimmy’s got to wear shades.
What was your favorite part of Bizarro’s, Chastity’s, Colin’s, and Jimmy’s mission into Area 51?
Are you excited for Bizarro’s big finale or sad to see the series end?
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T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Heath Corson and Gustavo Duarte have created a series that is smart, funny, uplifting, adventurous, and fun.