Superman: Escape from Bizarro World

Superman - Escape from Bizarro WorldSummary: The dynamic writing team of Geoff Johns & Richard Donner joins artist extraordinaire Eric Powell (Eisner Award winning writer/ artist of THE GOON) for SUPERMAN: ESCAPE FROM BIZARRO WORLD!

Bizarro, the twisted, imperfect duplicate of Superman, has kidnapped Pa Kent, and now the Man of Steel must fly to Bizarro World to rescue his adoptive father. On this cubic world, populated by Bizarro versions of the Justice League of America, Lois Lane and more, Superman must stop Bizarro’s tormented, Frankenstein-like rampage long enough to get away — but will Bizarro versions of Doomsday and other evildoers prove to be too much for Superman?

This volume collects Action Comics#855-857, Superman #140, DC Comics Presents #71 and The Man of Steel #5.

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Superman: Escape from Bizarro World, by Geoff Johns, Richard Donner and Eric Powell 7.5

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with Bizarro, the massively flawed copy of Superman that Lex Luthor once created with a duplicating ray. I like that he’s an oddball Superman, but I’ve always found that stories involving the creature are usually fairly random and less than compelling. Not that I’ve read tons of them, but the ones I did read felt lightweight.

That all ends with Geoff Johns and Richard Donner’s take on Bizarro (yes, THAT Richard Donner – although the level of his input isn’t exactly made clear). For the first time, I find that the character is strange enough to warrant the name Bizarro – but not so random that it feels like the writers were simply trying to string together gags (and lame ones at that!).

In ‘Escape from Bizarro World’, Jonathan Kent is kidnapped by Bizarro from reasons unknown and Superman is tasked with tracking him down – which leads him, inevitably, to Bizarro’s home, Bizarro World, a cubic planet in an alternate solar system centered on a blue sun. When Superman arrives, the planet’s denizen mistake him for Bizarro and attack him.

Now Superman not only has to find his adoptive father, he has to battle a whole city of Bizarros!

To make matters worse, Bizarro Luthor shows up and unleashes Bizarro Doomsday on Bizarro and Superman (who is referred to as Bizarro Bizarro on Bizarro World!). Then the Bizarro Justice League appears and, after a protracted fight, our guys win (naturally). But Luthor has another plan to stop them: he will release all of the prisoners of Arkham Amusiment Park!

Oh, what me am to do? What me am to do…?

I like that, in this book, Bizarro is a well-meaning dunce and that his motivations are utterly different from Superman’s – and so random that they are incomprehensible. The thing is that these qualities make him creepy and dangerous because he acts recklessly – like tossing a girl off of a skyscraper to help her fly. He isn’t mischievous or out to hurt anyone, but still… brrr.

What makes the book a joy to read is that it’s not just silly but also touching: Johns and Donner decided to explore Kal-el’s relationship with Jonathan Kent, interspersing bits of young Clark discovering his powers and showing us the guidance that Jonathan provided then. It’s rather affecting because it humanizes Superman and deeply connects the two.

The artwork is also quite pleasing to the eye: Powell’s style is a bit cartoony, yet gritty at once, and it seems really perfect for a book that’s mostly set on Bizarro World. Unfortunately, his Superman is drawn in a different style and it lacks the defining qualities that usually makes him super, and imposing. Here he just seems like some dude; he’s underwhelming.

It’s a real shame.

However, that aside, ‘Escape from Bizarro World’ is a thoroughly entertaining read: it’s funny, self-consciously quirky, and yet multilayered. Plus which, having been culled from three issues of Action Comics, it’s fleshed out just enough that it feels complete without overstaying its welcome. It’s just a nice, light read with enough punch to make it memorable.

I look forward to reading Johns and Donner’s other collaboration, ‘Last Son’.

What’s especially great about this collection, though, is that it includes a few more Bizarro-related Superman stories from various eras:

The Son of Superman
Unfortunately, the first set, which consists of three ‘Superman’ comics from 1960, is just $#!t. It basically tells of Bizarro and Lois Bizarro’s newborn, who looks human (and thus, is considered a freak on Htrae – which is Bizarro Wiorld’s name in the original comics), being shipped off to Earth by mistake and, coincidentally enough, being minded by Linda Lee/Supergirl.

Then Bizarrokid uses his powers and gets into all sorts of unintentional mischief, and Supergirl and Superman have to stop him. Urgh. I mean, this is exactly the kind of tripe that put me off of comics in general when I was a kid: It’s an unexciting chain of dumb gags (like eating a big display cone thinking it’s a real one, for instance) contrived into one long, dull “story”.

F- me now.

Superman and Bizarro
Taken from a 1984 DC Comics Presents issue, this one-issue story finds Bizarro, bored of fighting with the Bizarro Justice League for gits and shiggles, creating Bizarro Amazo. But, instead of stealing powers for his own use (like the real Amazo does), Bizarro Amazo decides to steal powers and redistribute them to those who don’t have any, like a Superpowered Robin Hood.

Problem is that he gets outwitted by Bizarro, so he decides to go to Earth instead, causing havoc by giving everyone powers. And since he’s stolen powers from everyone, he’s nearly undefeatable by the combined powers of Superman and Bizarro. The art is decent, the book is passably entertaining, but it just doesn’t make any sense – especially the resolution, which is absolutely dumb.

Oh well.

The Beast Within
Then there’s John Byrne’s take on Bizarro, which was featured in issue five of his landmark ‘Man of Steel’ mini-series. Here Bizarro is just a sort of zombie Superman, created by a Japanese scientist at Lex Luthor’s bidding. A failed copy, he’s to be disposed of but instead escapes. Gone is the silliness; Bizarro doesn’t even talk, so his strange way of expressing himself is absent.

Even though I really like this take on Bizarro, it’s slightly unsatisfying because it’s so short (it’s just one issue!) that there are plot gaps: like, why Bizarro escaped, why his presence is helping Lucy Lane’s sight, …etc. The art is very good, but it seems to get lost in the inking; with smaller details it becomes sketchy, for some reason. Too bad, because Byrne is one of the greats.

Still, it remains by far the best of these bonus strips.

And, frankly, even though I found most of them unsatisfying, it’s terrific to have so many of them collected together under one cover. Although the main draw and the strongest entry is ‘Escape from Bizarro World’, having multiple interpretations is always fun. So I have to give the book props if only for bringing them all together in one place. And that am bad. Very bad indeed.

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