Collects: Bizarro #1-6 (2015-6)
Released: February 2016 (DC)
Format: 144 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9781401259716
What is this?: Jimmy Olsen takes Bizarro on a road trip so he can abandon Bizarro in Bizarro America (Canada) and write a coffee-table book about the experience.
The culprits: Writer Heath Corson and artist Gustavo Duarte
Despite this being a review of Bizarro, I am not going to write any jokes in Bizarro-speak.
In Bizarro, Clark Kent prevails upon Jimmy Olsen to take Bizarro from Metropolis to Canada, where Jimmy will abandon him. The road trip, Clark says, could be turned into a nice book — a bestseller, even …
So Jimmy and Bizarro visit a variety of places — Smallville, a ghost town, Branson, Area 51, Las Vegas — on an aimless journey across America. The book starts slowly, seemingly spinning its wheels for the first three issues. Part of the inertia can be traced to the difficulty in getting used Bizarro-speak, and it doesn’t help that not everything can be expressed in a negative and that writer Heath Corson occasionally fumbles Bizarro’s dialogue. (He also gets English wrong occasionally; Zatanna talks about a “mystic portico,” meaning a “shortcut between dimensions,” but a portico is a porch, not a portal.) But the plot, such as it is, isn’t as strong as it could be either.
The first two issues are somewhat aimless, despite a digression in which Jimmy and Bizarro confront a mind-controlling used-car dealer. After picking up a classic car in the aftermath, cities and heroes across DC America make cameos. (The order of these appearances suggests neither Corson nor artist Gustavo Duarte is much bothered by geography.) Issue #3, set in a ghost town — with literal ghosts — introduces major supporting character Chastity Hex, and that story, which takes the entire issue to complete, is a step in the right direction.
It isn’t until #4, when Jimmy becomes a Bizarro and Bizarro turns human after a Zatanna show in Branson goes wrong, that Corson does anything interesting with the characters — anything that couldn’t be done with a generic dumb, strong character and a smarter, powerless sidekick. That issue forces the story to supplement the “wacky” things that happen to the characters with actual character development; even though Jimmy, for instance, doesn’t stop making fun of Bizarro’s intelligence and planning to commercially exploit their time together, he does gain some sympathy for what it must be like to be Bizarro.
The humor in Bizarro is hit and miss, unfortunately. Bizarro, once past Bizarro-speak, is usually funny; I admit I’m a sucker for malapropisms. Jimmy’s irritation at Bizarro’s incompetence also made me laugh, although as a fan of Green Acres and NewsRadio, I have long had a fondness for the one sane person in the middle of an insane cast. And Bizarro wearing a “You have failed this city” shirt in Starling City is hilarious. Other jokes fall flat, though, over and over again. I think the “Best by” date for X-Files references is long past, especially when the jokes don’t go beyond making alien-hunting government agents look like Mulder and Scully. And I’m not sure who is supposed to be amused by calling one of the agents “Chicken Stew” (real name: Stuart Paillard) over the agent’s protests.
Unfortunately, Corson puts a lot of stock in that humor. As I mentioned, characterization languishes for the first half of the book, and although Jimmy bats his eyes at a couple of women, one of which seems to reciprocate, he never gets farther than that. The eventual villain, who pops up unexpectedly in #6, became the villain through an inexplicable heel turn. Colin the Chupacabra, Bizarro’s pet / other sidekick, has a single personality characteristic — irritated hissing — and the revelation of his true identity comes out of nowhere. (To be fair, Colin doesn’t make an especially convincing chupacabra, though.)
The ending, which you can probably guess from what little of the plot I’ve mentioned, boils down to “Friendship is magic.” Jimmy learns not to financially exploit or mock Bizarro, whom he has grown fond of, and Superman teaches Bizarro that leaving Jimmy to die in the desert wasn’t a proportional response to Jimmy being a bad friend. Bizarro and everyone he and Jimmy came across in the series team up to save Jimmy from the subpar villain. The end.
(Sorry to spoil the ending, but if you’re reading Bizarro for the plot … well, you don’t deserve the ending spoiled, but perhaps you could take this as a lesson to realign priorities.)
Duarte’s artwork works well for this story. His artwork is well matched to a comedy, with his cartoony style using broad expressions and movements to get more than a few laughs, but his action scenes are surprisingly well done. Humor and action are hard for artists to pull off simultaneously, but Duarte does it. He also plants a few background jokes into the art.
I’m not fond of the title’s use of guest artists, who contribute a large panel or page to each issue. Some of their styles are jarring compared to Duarte’s work; some of them fit in so well that it’s only rereading the book that I noticed they weren’t by Duarte. These guest artists don’t add much to the story; instead, I think I was supposed to laud the editor for his ability to get artists like Paul Dini, Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, and Rafael Albuquerque to contribute to this miniseries.
Which brings me to a final note, this one about the reproduction of the book. The Bizarro TPB includes the comic covers, but they aren’t marked as such. You would think, as full-page illustrations, they would be easy to pick out, but some of the guest art pages look exactly like covers, and a few of them fit into the flow of the story as well as a cover illustration does. Would it kill you, DC, to explicitly label the covers as such?
On the other hand, I enjoyed the trade dress on the spine going in the opposite direction than normal DC trades. It’s not as important as the cover thing, but, well, it’s something. (The credits pages also count down the story — issue #1 is labeled as Part 6, #2 as Part 5, etc. This is nice, but again, it’s not so nice as to make me forget it’s hard to tell exactly where those parts begin and end, especially as those title pages come a variable amount of pages after the covers … I think.)
Bizarro is exactly the kind of book you should borrow from the library or a friend … or pick up cheap, if you’re looking for a light read steeped in the DC Universe. Unfortunately, when I read this book, I thought of how it could be better, and I ended up cursing the flaws rather than enjoying its strengths. That’s my fault, but I can’t unsee those flaws now.
Rating: (2.5 of 5)