Wednesday, April 24, 2013

There Should Always be Room for a Little Whimsey

Superman had a lot of silly, low-threat villains. While Braniac and Luthor were always trying to conquer/destroy worlds or kill the Man of Steel, guys like Toyman and the Prankster were played largely for laughs, pulling off less extreme crimes while playing practical jokes or employing high-tech toy soldiers as minions.

Mr. Mxyzptlk is another such villain, though his seemingly all-powerful magic could often be very dangerous. A version of Mxyzptlk first appeared in the Golden Age, with the Silver Age version introduced in Action Comics #208 (September 1955). He'd pop in from the Fifth Dimension and use his magic in annoying ways to make Superman's life miserable. Eventually, Superman would trick him into saying his name backwards, sending him back to the Fifth Dimension for 90 days and undoing all his magic tricks.

Then there's Bizarro. In Superboy #58 (Nov. 1958), a scientist   invents a duplicating ray that works imperfectly and creates a bizarre clone of Superboy. This first Bizarro is soon destroyed, but in Action Comics #254 (July 1959), Lex Luthor uses the ray to make (he hopes) an evil clone of Superman. But this Bizarro turns out to be more silly than evil.

I'd have to do an entire multi-part series to cover the evolution of Bizarro's story arc, but in a nutshell that duplicating ray turns out to be the most abused item of super-science in the history of the DC Universe. Soon, there's a Bizarro world (a square version of Earth) populated by many, many Bizarro Supermen married to many, many Bizarro Lois Lanes and having Bizarro babies. There are also Bizarro versions of Jimmy Olson, Perry White, many of the Justice League Members, Krypto, Lex Luthor and I'm not sure who else.

Anyway, Bizarro's do everything backwards. They have Ugly Contests instead of Beauty Contests. They eat cold dogs instead of hot dogs. Bizarro dogs are chased by Bizarro mailmen and it takes an hour for a Bizarro Lois to make instant coffee. The original Bizarro (who wore a sign reading Bizarro #1) would also occasionally return to Earth and get into mischief.

Bizarro World got it's own back up feature in Adventure Comics for a time, written purely for laughs by Jerry Siegel. It was in Adventure Comics #286 (July 1961), that Bizarro meets Mr. Mxyzptkl. Or at least he meets a Bizarro version of the imp called Bizarro-Lktpzyxm. But that's close enough for me. I refuse to do another post that requires me to make sure I'm spelling Mxyzptkl correctly, so I'm just going to cover both characters together.

Bizarro #1 is broke, so he decides to go into business as a private detective. And there is indeed a crime spree on Bizarro World. Someone turned the mayor's broken-down mansion into a beautiful building and filled it with priceless art. From a Bizarro perspective, this is a horrible crime, since all that beauty is just plain ugly.

Bizarro checks out several suspects, including the mayor whom Bizarro figures is guilty because he had no motive. But the culprit turns out to be Bizarro-Kltpzyzm, who's idea of mischief is fixing broken stuff the other Bizarros don't consider broken.

Bizarro #1 tries several plans to de-power the imp or trick him into saying his name backwards, but these all fail. It turns out, though, that he simply had to ask Kltpzyzm to surrender, because this is a plan that would NOT work for the original Mr. Mxyzptkl.

And that's pretty much that. The humor in the Bizarro stories is never laugh-out-loud funny and occasionally the jokes fail completely. But there's a sense of whimsy and a sort-of cuteness to the stories that still make them fun to read.

The existence of characters such as Bizarro and Mr. Mxyzptkl in the Silver Age DC Universe was, in the end, one of its strengths. It was, after all, a multi-faceted universe with countless diverse elements. It's nice to know that Mort Weisinger and his writers remembered that there was room for some occasional whimsey along
with the constant barrage of Earth-threatening evil plots.

That finishes our look at Superman's Rogue's Gallery. Our next visit to Weisinger's Superman universe, I think, will finish off the Legion of Super Pets with a look at Streaky and Comet.

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