Every so often I get the feeling that there is some sort of cosmic karma, some sort of serendipity that could be chalked up to coincidence but seems a little too convenient to be left to chance.
This last week I watched the movie 'Charly' on TCM, a movie starring Cliff Robertson and based on the Daniel Keyes novel 'Flowers for Algernon'. I had not seen the movie in years and haven't read the book since junior high (many many moons ago).
The next day I read 'Flowers for Bizarro', a story with some of the same beats as 'Algernon' but with a decidedly bizarre angel. What would happen is suddenly Bizarro had normal intelligence? What would he do? How would he deal with his sudden clarity and maturity? How would the world react?
Writer Christos Gage spins a semi-tragic story about overcoming obstacles, dealing with isolation, and almost succumbing to despair. And, like Charly, it seems that a reversal of fortune to a more diminished form can actually lead to greater happiness.
Suffice it to say, I loved this story.
Eduardo Francisco provides the art in this issue. Francisco is able to bring a fluidity to the Superman portions of the game while adding a crude feel to Bizarro. I am sure that isn't necessarily easy but definitely added to the feel of the book.
Gage brings us a misguided Bizarro. He isn't necessarily evil but his antics always end in destruction.
Bizarro's backwards thinking and need to maintain that persona can be used to Superman's advantage. I have seen Superman try to get Bizarro to help him in the past by twisting words.
Here, Superman cons Bizarro into going catatonic. If Superman is awake, a perfect 'imperfect' duplicate would be asleep. That is one strong compulsion by Bizarro! I do like the 'sour dreams' line.
But you can seen Francisco differentiating the two characters nicely here.
Superman knows that this trick won't last long. He takes Bizarro to STAR labs where Professor Hamilton does an indepth evalution of Bizarro's physiology. It turns out that brain scans and diagnostics are able to pinpoint a deficiency in certain neurotransmitters. This most likely is the underlying cause to Bizarro's mental deficiencies. And his compulsion to be the opposite of Superman was just a flawed way to try to define himself.
In this way it mirrors 'Algernon' nicely. Charly needed enzymes and restorative therapies to reach his intellectual potential. This also feels more like Bizarro being a flawed cloning attempt with a genetic abnormality as opposed to a botched result of an imperfect duplicate ray.
And, amazingly, Hamilton's treatments work.
Suddenly Bizarro is intelligent and aware. We don't get backwards speech or disorganized thinking anymore. Instead, we have a Superman in a rougher exterior.
What I love about this is Bizarro's immediate understanding of all that he has done and his desire to make amends. Maybe he was just a misunderstood Superman.
And I also like Superman's reluctance to bear the burden of role model. It shows the humility of Superman. He wants people to feel free to be who they want to be.
I really like the second panel, as though Bizarro is reaching out to the ideal of Superman, trying to grab it and achieve it. Art and words complementing each other! I love it.
Despite the good he is doing, teaming up with Superman, people just can't seem to look past his exterior or his past. And Bizarro can hear it all. You can see how it pains him.
Maybe he was happier when he was the addled Bizarro?
Bizarro can also hear all the horrors of the world. He doesn't know how Superman can deal with all the tragedy and pain of the world, something Bizarro was oblivious to before.
I am a sucker for Pa Kent wisdom. Pa told a young Clark to find the beauty in the world as well. Superman tries to explain that as a hero he looks for the good in the world as well as the bad, that he helps as much as he can without being overwhelmed by the problems of the world.
Bizarro never had such a loving upbringing. He is suddenly just exposed to this.
Unfortunately, at times it seems like Hamilton's cure is wearing off. Bizarro begins to again do the opposite.
And finally, he seems to have snapped, attacking everyone and goading Superman into a fight.
It is a ruse. Whether it is the pain around him, or his lack of emotional maturity, or just realizing he might well still be a monster, this attack was a suicidal gesture. He was trying to get Superman to kill him, to put him out of his misery.
It is sad. Here Bizarro finally has some semblance of normalcy in his existence and it is making him severely depressed. I sympathized for him.
I felt sympathy for Bizarro! That is a sign of a good writer.
And then the truth comes out. Bizarro can't move forward. He has no emotional foundation, no upbringing to fall back on when dealing with pain and suffering. He can't deal with this new life on this planet.
I have always said that Superman is really Clark, that the life with the Kents are what molded him to be the hero he was. This reinforces that take on Superman. It isn't his powers that makes him a hero, it is his ideals.
Again, this made me feel sad for Bizarro, caught in a world he can't understand. He was happier when he was the imperfect duplicate. This life of sanity is too painful.
And so he asks to leave and Superman agrees. With the help of Hamilton, Bizarro is sent to a planet where he can create a world for himself. I suppose that away from Hamilton and treatment, he reverts to his Bizarro person again. And yet, on a world of his design (complete with an Eve called Bizarra) he is at peace and happy.
Like Charly, the regression to his flawed baseline leads to a more peaceful existence.
So this was more a character study of Bizarro rather than a Superman story. But by using Bizarro as a reflection of Superman you see just how strong and grounded Superman is. How difficult the life of the hero is and how few can bear that burden.
Just wonderful stuff.
Adventures of Superman has remained a great treat for me, a look at a more classic Superman by top creative teams. This Bizarro story entertained and moved me.
Overall grade: A