Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Superboy #68

Although he became a comical, silly character in the 1960s, the original Bizarro, shown above, was played as a tragic figure initially. The story is somewhat loosely based on Frankenstein as portrayed in the Boris Karloff 1930s movie, which in turn was somewhat loosely based on Mary Shelley's classic novel.

As the story starts, Superboy is helping an inventor, who is trying to duplicate a sample of radium. If his duplicator ray works, it will be a boon to hospitals, which use radium to treat patients.

An aside here: Radium was constantly being mentioned in the Silver Age. It was used as a treatment for cancer, with radium being planted in the body to kill the cancer cells (and probably a fair amount on non-cancerous cells. It is not used any more that way; according to this site, it is more common to use either indium or caesium, although the actual treatment is still pretty similar. Radium was indeed an extremely valuable substance and remains pretty spendy: Current prices are about $50 million per pound.

But the experiment does not work; the synthetic radium fails to register on the Geiger counter. But as Superboy is about to leave, the inventor trips, and accidentally beams the ray on the Boy of Steel, creating a faulty duplicate:

It's probably not commonly known, but in the original Frankenstein book by Shelley, the monstrous part of the monster was not that he was horrifically ugly, or that he had an abnormal brain (he didn't). It was that he lacked a soul.

When they return from getting rid of the glowing pieces of the machine, Bizarro has gone for a walk. Superboy asks again, is it alive? No, insists the inventor, no more than a car that moves is alive. We get the first inkling that Bizarro doesn't talk the way he did on the cover here:

Bizarro is upset at the reactions of the people to him, who recoil in horror. But when he sees his own reflection in a shop window, he reacts similarly:

But Superboy is helping corral some escaped animals from the Smallville Zoo (which appeared to have very poor animal enclosures, judging by how often breakouts happened). A posse is quickly formed, led by Professor Dalton, but their efforts to shoot Bizarro have no effect on the monster's invulnerable skin.

He retreats to the safety of the Kents' home, but Mom is terrified of her new "son":

He adopts a farming family on the outskirts of town and attempts to be helpful. But when he wears a scarecrow costume to town as his secret identity:

A psychiatrist could probably write a dissertation on why kids found Bizarro so compelling. On the one hand, the monster often makes silly mistakes while trying to do good; it's not hard to see how youngsters could find themselves in the same situation. On the other hand, he's so goofy that the readers, only a few years removed from infantile behavior themselves, could feel superior to him.

But at the end of Chapter 1, Bizarro finds one person who "sees" the real him:

Melissa is an amalgam of two characters from the movie, in which Frankenstein encounters a girl too young to be frightened of him, and a blind man who befriends him.

In the second part of the story, Bizarro comes to school and disrupts a gym class with his extraordinary strength, forcing Clark to save his fellow students:

He melts the screws with the heat of his X-ray vision. The boys reject Bizarro and he flies off in tears. Superboy realizes it's time for some more drastic measures. He locates a Kryptonite meteor in space, and, wearing a lead costume to protect himself, hurls it at the monster. But Bizarro is immune to the glowing fragments of the planet Krypton.

Determined to prove his good intentions, Bizarro sculpts a likeness of Superboy on a nearby mountain. But improbably:

Superboy and the military team up to try to destroy Bizarro with conventional weaponry, but (aside from some dynamic action), nothing happens. However, as he flies back to Smallville, Bizarro is momentarily weakened when he passes a garbage truck.

Bizarro overhears Melissa wishing that there was a babbling brook in her backyard, and drills down to a spring to create one. But when she falls into the water, he learns that she is blind. If she were sighted, she'd fear him like the rest of Smallville. Meanwhile, Superboy has realized that the glowing fragments of the machine that created Bizarro are what weakened him. And:

Their collision destroys Bizarro, but it does have an upside:

Comments: An absolute classic. I loved this story the first time I read it in a reprint giant as a youngster, and it still enchants me. It must have been very popular with the kids of the time, for DC soon brought back Bizarro as an antagonist for the adult Superman. Weisinger encouraged the kids to write in with their ideas about the stupid things the Bizarros did. This proved popular enough that they were briefly given the backup slot in Adventure Comics, bumping Aquaman.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks very much for this post! As a Silver Age Kid myself, I read the countless Bizarro stories and reprints, but somehow always missed this first tale!

Nor had I realized how much John Byrne was lovingly retelling in the Bizarro issue of the "Man of Steel" series that kicked off the "80's reboot!"

Randy C

I'm sure one of the touchstones that made Bizarro such a hit was its connection to the Frankenstein mythos; monsters, and in particular, the Universal Movies monsters-- were having a heyday at the same time!