A scene from the Bizarro World. Artist: John Forte.


Original medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1958
Creator: Alvin Schwartz
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Comics writer Alvin Schwartz, who scripted the Superman newspaper strip in the 1950s, said many years later that he saw the Superman character, at that time, as a creature of …

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… radiant light, and conceived Bizarro as sort of a dark Superman — not evil, as opposed to Superman's goodness, but a Superman without radiance. That's how he pitched the story to Mort Weisinger, who edited the Superman line for DC Comics, and that's how the character was introduced in both the strip and the comic books.

The first Bizarro story to see print was written by Otto Binder (Captain Marvel, Fatman the Human Flying Saucer) and drawn by George Papp (Green Arrow, Seven Soldiers of Victory), and appeared in Superboy #68 (November, 1958). Bizarro was a pathetic, quasi-living creature, who had come into being when a device supposedly capable of duplicating physical objects was used on Superboy. It proved not quite up to the task, and the result was a brain that functioned at a child's level, behind a face that looked like crumpled-up paper. Bizarro (who took his name from hearing the word "bizarre" applied to him) had all of Superboy's wonderful powers, but no real spark of life — a fact he was just bright enough to understand. He returned to oblivion on the final page, and was no-doubt happier that way. There weren't very many laughs in the story.

The newspaper version ran shortly after, scripted by Schwartz and probably drawn by long-time Superman artist Wayne Boring. It was about the same, but the protagonist was the adult Superman.

Bizarro made a hit with readers, and was brought back as a recurring character, using the same duplicating device — but he got funnier with each new appearance. By Action Comics #254 (July, 1959), he was still serious enough to wring a little sympathy from readers for his hopeless love of Lois Lane. But next issue, when he flew off to create the Bizarro World, where he could live happily ever after with a Bizarro version of Lois, it became pretty clear his future lay in comedy.

The Bizarro World was a formerly uninhabited planet, artificially re-formed into a cube — naturally, since a round planet would violate the Bizarro Code ("… Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World"). Before long, it was populated with Bizarros of all of Superman's friends, as well as every single member of The Justice League of America, and a fair number of bad guys, as well as endless repetitions of Bizarro-Superman and Bizarro-Lois. All (except Bizarro-Krypto and Bizarro-Titano the Super Ape) spouted grammatical solecisms even a child could see were wrong, and behaved in every anti-logical way their writers, assisted by write-in suggestions from fans, could think of. The level of humor is indicated by the name they gave their planet, Htrea. "Earth" spelled backward — get it?

Before long, they had their own series. "Tales of the Bizarro World" began in the back pages of Adventure Comics #285 (June, 1961), crowding out Aquaman and Congorilla. A month later, they got their first cover. It was a regular riot, but the joke soon wore thin. In #300 (September, 1962), their slot was taken over by The Legion of Super Heroes.

After that, Bizarro appearances in the Superman line were less frequent, but continued as generations of comic book readers came and went. By the 1980s, with perhaps a majority of adults having read stories about Bizarros at one point or another in the past, the word had actually become part of the English language, like "Rube Goldberg device" and "Caspar Milquetoast", which also came from comics. "Bizarro" came to mean a weirdly mutated version of anything, not just a DC character. It's also used as an intensified form of "bizarre". It's even been used as the title of an increasingly popular newspaper cartoon by Dan Piraro.

Even today, after several major revisions of the entire DC line, the Bizarros haven't been forgotten. In fact, their range is wider, since they're no longer regarded merely as Superman supporting characters, but as long-established denizens of the DC Universe, who can pop up anywhere. But the serious themes behind the concept's creation and early use are seldom alluded to.


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Text ©2002-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © DC Comics.