Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Review: Superman #23.1 Bizarro

Superman #23.1 Bizarro came out last week, written by Sholly Fisch with art by Jeff Johnson. Of all the villain spotlight issues coming out this month, I was, perhaps, looking forward to this issue the most. And, happily, I wasn't let down.

I was definitely a big fan of the Sholly Fisch back-up features in the Morrison Action Comics run feeling that they provided some depth to the characters and Superman's origins, filling in some gaps that Morrison might not have the time to cover in the main storyline. I said it before, if Morrison's work were the bricks in the origins of the New 52 Superman, then Fisch's work was the cement holding them together. So I am not surprised that this issue was my favorite villain issue so far. I was definitely happy to see Fisch is still contributing to the Superman mythos.

This is certainly an interesting look at the first imperfect duplicate seen in the New 52. But more importantly, it not only links forward to the Forever Evil event, it links back to tie into the Morrison story. Much like those back-up features, this story really sort of pulls together events from Superman's past and present.

Bizarro can be anything from a silly character to a confused monster to an evil powerhouse. Jeff Johnson's art has a bit of a cartoony feel to it which suits some of the action here. Bizarro should be a sort of parody of Superman and his art really gives off that vibe. Plus there are some nice flourishes art-wise which works well.

The issue starts off as something of a whirlwind. Luthor is the narrator here, stirring the drink of the plot. And we start with a rapid fire couple of pages with flashbacks from 5 years ago, plunked in the Morrison story, inked in red. Then we have some of Luthor's aspirations inked in blue. And then we snippets of the 'current story' which takes place 3 years ago.

So here we have this flashback to Action Comics #2 when Superman's invulnerability is being tested by Luthor and the police. Back in that issue we see a bloodied Superman. And here, we see that Luthor was able to get his hand (or lapel) on some of that blood and therefore Superman's genome.

Luthor's monologue is quite classic for him, wondering why Superman doesn't take over the world and do anything he wants. There is the fundamental difference in the characters.

One thing I liked about these pages are the panels, looking like shards of broken glass, letting us now some action is probably happening in the actual story. But I thought it riffed more on the crystalline classic feel of Bizarro.

Armed with Superman's DNA, Luthor dreams of making an army of cloned Supermen working for him.

Again, Fisch seems to be able to give us the Cliff Notes version of Luthor. His dream shows his superman thrashing the Superman. But also, he is draped in the Luthor L, bearing a Luthor flag, and flying to the United Nations. When Luthor dreams, he dreams big!

Here, in the blue inked pages, we really have a Bizarro feel.

With the set-up over, we head to the story. As I said, this story takes place three years ago. So we are looking at Luthor's first attempts at creating a clone of Superman. 

Here, a volunteer at LexCorp has agreed to get injected with Serum A-0, a nanobot injection on an adenovirus vector, which will splice a new DNA into his genome. I liked the effort to use more realistic science to explain this. It really felt more like Byrne's Man of Steel origin and much better than an imperfect duplicate ray.

And in a nice touch, the volunteer ironically wears a Superman shirt because Luthor is going to make him 'strong'. It explains the look of Bizarro here. And the poor guy doesn't even know the serum is Superman-based. I thought this was a nice touch.

After the genome switch, Luthor then floods the volunteer's body with yellow sun rays. And remarkably, it works, making the scrawny subject become buff and muscular.

Hmmm, an injection of a super-serum followed by a flood of vitality rays. There is more than a twinge of Captain America here. I wonder if it is intentional/

Unfortunately, the serum works too well. The cells go crazy, mutating wildly, making the volunteer become a warped out-of-control monster.

This panel more than any shows just why Johnson is a great choice for this issue. You need someone who can pull off a crazy distorted creature. I mean, that left arm might have a perspective coming to the reader, but it is still way out of proportion to the rest of his body. He looks bizarre!

Whether it be pain or simple mutation, this creature begins tearing up the facility.

Luthor uses all this anti-Superman weapons at his disposal. Kryptonite rays, super-heated plasma drones, Lexbots, transdimensional quantum hounds - none of Luthor's tricks work. I really like Luthor in this book especially since we see he was planning to attack Superman even back then.

But Fisch even goes one step further. Tapping onto Bronze Age Bizarro, he gives this monster freeze vision and flame breath. He truly is the opposite of Superman.

Look at these panels. Doesn't Johnson's art mesh well with the action.

When his defenses fail, Luthor falls back on his most lethal weapon - his mind.  The only way to stop this creature is to overload it. And so he blasts it with intense yellow sunlight, making this Bizarro bloat, becoming a tumorous mess.

There definitely is a monster movie feel to this and seeing this volunteer get control of himself just enough to say 'help me' must be a nod to The Fly. But I love the cold Luthor, no emotion on his face, less than human appearing with his eye shields on. This series of panels, with the upshot of Luthor, is slick.

Overloaded, the bizarre clone's body literally explodes, showering the lab with blobs of his tissue. Having learned from this lesson, Luthor knows the next attempt has to be without the weak carrying vessel of humanity. 

But you know what I love here? Look at where the exploding flesh lands on Luthor. Could the searing flesh of Bizarro have given Luthor the scars he know sports? I sure hope so. Because then this issue links to both the past and the present of the DCU.

Serum A-0 failed three years ago.
Now, in the present, we see the gestation tube for serum B-0. Get it? B-0 ... B-zero ... Bizarro!

So this isn't really a Bizarro story. This is a Luthor story talking about the prototype of Bizarro. The story flows well with a nice quick pace and great art that complements the story perfectly. And it is linked to the current DCU in an organic way. I thought this was very good. I thought this truly added to the Superman story, not just a forced issue to fill a slot in Villains Month. 

I really hope that Sholly Fisch continues to get a crack at Superman in the future.

Overall grade: B+


Anonymous said...

Great review but why the B+?

Why does Lex have all that technology? Am I supposed to believe that he invented all that himself?


Martin Gray said...

Eki, Luthor has traditionally been a super-scientist, so yeah, you are :)

Great review, Anj, and superb catch on the B-O and scar business. I enjoyed this but wasn't knocked out - I guess I was hoping for a Bizarro focus, but this guy didn't even have cracked skin, never mind the POV. DC really should have called it a Lex Luthor book, adjusting my expectations. And while the script and art were good, I want the imperfect duplicate angle, not a transformed human. Ah well, maybe later ...