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After the Golden Age by Alvin Schwartz
Giving a glimpse into the formative years of comics and beyond.

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AFTER THE GOLDEN AGE for 08/13/2001
Volume 2, Number 15

In the years of working on Superman, I always found myself struggling to overcome his blandness. By that I mean, he seemed one-dimensional. Real humans have mixed and not always positive emotions. They are not always rational. They do not always act in the best interests of those they try to protect or help. Or even of themselves. So in a sense, despite the leavening effect of the Clark Kent identity, Superman was beginning to feel to me, the writer, rather one dimensional. In Jungian terms, we might say, he seemed to lack a shadow side. With much of my interest in story at this time also being expressed in the novel, I felt that without changing Superman, it should be possible to mirror the character in a way that would bring out those negative sides that might round him out. In a mirror, everything is reversed. Also, in a mirror, if you come upon one accidentally, you don't really recognize yourself.

I've had animals who seeing themselves in reflection, attacked their images. One was a dog, another was an apparently much simpler life form, a pet iguana. Each attacked its image in the glass.

That was my reasoning and I resolved it by creating an awkward, immoral, emotion-driven being with all of Superman's powers, but with reasoning skills entirely driven by emotion. He was a primitve, loving, hating, childish, creative and haunting being, something that Lois Lane discovers when it devolves upon her to help betray Bizarro so that the dangerous creature can be destroyed by Superman. And Lois cannot do it. She cannot accept the blanket assertion that Bizarro is merely a mechnical and unreal being, and destroying him is no different than getting rid of a menace like a plague or an out-of-control robot. In actual fact, as the shadow or dark image of Superman, he in some respects equals Superman in his humanity. Bizarro can love. He has loved Lois Lane and Lois is aware of that. Unfortunately, the record on the Bizarro story is not complete.

I have described above what my motivation was for creating Bizarro. My friend, the late Rich Morrissey, who searched for the missing original Bizarro script for the Daily was not able to find the pages describing the origin. And for me, it happened so long ago that the memory is gone. What Rich did find for me was the segment beginning with Bizarro's very human, very touching and clumsy attempt to woo Lois. And Lois, recognizing this very human side of Bizarro, cannot bring herself to take part in the plot to destroy him.

But all this is not my real point here. That point, an effort to bring an element into Superman that would challenge him in a different way, and effectively make him a more rounded character, was not achieved as I planned it. Instead, the Bizarro idea went through a number of different hands, from Otto Binder, through John Byrne to Jerry Siegel who returned to DC some time after I left in 1958.

Then, not very long ago, I made another strange discovery in the Bizarro saga. Actually it was at the recent San Diego 2001 Con, where I found a copy of a World's Finest introducing the weird teamup of a first Bizarro Batman with a Bizarro Superman, not to mention The Joker, pretending to be Bizarro. I had to have the book, so I traded a copy of one of my own books, AN UNLIKELY PROPHET for it. It was, ironically, the March 6, 1966, No. 156 edition of World's Finest, the book I had created at Jack Schiff's request that first joined Batman and Superman in the same stories. I had thought that by 1966, the writers' credits would be featured, but somehow in this edition, they weren't. Perhaps it was a reprint? I don't know.

In any case, this amusing, lightly done story, complicated by its double-Bizarro image, was already so vastly changed from my original idea both by editorial and creator intervention, as well as that tendency I have been discussing here of the characters introducing their own changes, that I could hardly recognize my initial Bizarro concept. In this one, Bizarro is still regarded as something non-living, in a way that stands in sharp contrast say to the view of the Second Generation Star Trek crew who do not regard Data, the robot, as unliving, nor does it appear to me in Jerry Siegel's stories of the Bizarro World, that there is any treatment of Bizarro as being non-living. In fact, the non-living element was probably an editorial aberration because the charm and the comedy of the Jerry Siegel Bizarros would have been much diminished by the idea that the Bizarro World was populated by non-living personalities. There's nothing funny about the aberrations of non-life, just a meaninglessness appropriate to that condition. It's the living Bizarros on the living square planet that make the stories interesting and humorous. And in terms of the new discoveries about self-creation, it's interesting to note that Bizarro, without asking anybody's permission, or being expressly endowed with life, gradually became alive all by himself.

By the time we get to the new Bizarro book just released by DC along with those delightful spoofs of all the other major characters, we find a Bizarro world not only lively but really living it up, even though it's not exactly the Bizarro world I first conceived. Some other way of giving Superman that extra dimension still needs to be found. At the San Diego Con, there were available at the DC booth some large new sales posters of Superman, all very big and colorful, with an angry and threatening Superman crashing right out of the middle of it. Why? Is that the Superman we want or the one we care about, or merely the split-off image of an aspect of the character that more and more is becoming irrelevant. So I'll continue to think about it. And I'll certainly keep in mind Mike Carlin's reminder that DC needs to sell lots of comic books and make money. As an old member of the DC family, I think that can and should be made to happen. I'd like to give it a try myself, but I'm also counting on the character to make some of the necessary changes on his own. And if all this isn't enough to convince you it can happen, then have a look at my book about what happened between me and Superman in recent years. AN UNLIKELY PROPHET. Justin now has a bunch of them, at a very good price, plus postage. Just contact him here at the web site and get yourself a copy.

Next week, I'm going to discuss another interesting idea about Bizarro and Superman. About how Bizarro is really the deconstruction of Superman, and what that means in itself and for Superman. The notion of deconstruction which was developed in the sixties by the French thinker, Jacques Derrida, has taken the universities by storm. Is there anything to the whole idea or is it just another academic fad? And can it really have an effect on Superman through the presence of the Bizarro world?

Until next week...

- Alvin

<< 08/06/2001 | 08/13/2001 | 08/20/2001 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Round Table.

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