Tagged: Mort Weisinger

Mike Gold: Darkseid’s Downside

There are two types of comic book characters that are nearly impossible to sustain: the omnipotent hero, and the omnipotent villain.

Whereas both feed nicely into the mythic environment, both suffer the same problem. If they can do anything, what can they do next?

Many decades ago, Michael Moorcock more-or-less tackled this question in his “Dancers at The End of Time” series of novels. Those who lived in the pocket universe of Moorcock’s creation could create, recreate, and alter any aspect of “reality” at any time. But this series was much more fantasy than heroic fantasy, even as contained within the author’s dark worldview. Characters are omnipotent, but they remain individuals with their own unique flaws and predilections.

In contemporary superhero stories, in comics and in the sundry external media, we do not have the luxury of controlling our landscape. We work in collaborative environments with a nearly infinite number of characters, and it seems damn near as many creators. So if one creator had something very specific in mind, in short order diverse hands will interpret it, reinterpret it, mold it or simply ignore it in order to fit the needs of the present story.

Let’s take Darkseid as an example. When Jack Kirby created him, he maintained complete control of the character. Nobody else in the DC universe deployed him for use in their storylines. One could argue that much of the DCU at the time could have used a massive Kirby infusion; then again, one could argue that such appropriation would have pissed Jack off the way it did when he was creating magic at Marvel.

Jack’s Darkseid was about as omnipotent as a character could be. I had the impression that when one of his well-populated schemes was near defeat, the stone-faced guy simply found it … interesting. He would note the results, evaluate the efforts of his lackeys, and move on to the next scheme. “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” or, at least, wiser. It would have been interesting to see how far Kirby could have taken that.

After he left DC, others picked up the characters and the mythology and slowly but surely incorporated it into the DCU. Some – many – of these writers and artists were among the best working in the genre at the time. But by expanding Darkseid’s story turf, they had to weaken the guy slowly but surely. He remained the most evil of the bad guys, but he was just that: the badist of a well-known and growingly tiresome bunch. The more he was around the more he was defeated, and he couldn’t continue to simply walk off-panel with his arms behind his back nonchalantly voicing philosophical folderol.

Overuse undermines the uniqueness of the character. Just ask The Joker.

So how do you stop the unstoppable, or, as Superman editor Mort Weisinger said (frequently), “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?” Well, what could happen is, you get one hell of a good superhero story.

The first time.

After that, such characters get weakened or get tiresome or both. There’s no suspense in repeatedly observing the adventures of a being that is both unstoppable and immovable. You can bring the character back after a significant period – something superhero comics seem incapable of doing – when and only when you have a story that is worthy of its cast.

Redundancy undermines uniqueness, and uniqueness becomes tedious.

Mike Gold: Bizarro – Who Am Him?

Bizarro Strip

One of the most enduring DC Comics creations, Bizarro has been with us since 1958 – either debuting in the Superman newspaper strip, according to editor Mort Weisinger, or in Superboy #68 according to where most baby boomers first found him. Either way, that original Bizarro was quite a different being than he is today. In fact, the personality, appearance and modus operandi of Superman’s brother-in-harms seem to differ with just about every use.

Bizarro 1Originally Bizarro was a sympathetic character, the result of an experiment that didn’t quite work. Half-Frankenstein’s monster, half-Quasimodo; he was a manufactured man who grew the most human of hearts over the course of his initial appearance in both the Superman strip and the Superboy story.

That Superboy story sold like a sumbych. Editor Weisinger started putting him in every Superman family title he could – cross-editor crossovers didn’t exist in 1958, except for the Superman/Batman stories in World’s Finest. In less than three years Adventure Comics cover-featured an ongoing Tales of the Bizarro World series.

In this series all the pith was removed and the creature and the stories were played for laughs. That wasn’t hard, as Bizarro’s superpower was to be and do the opposite of what the “normal” did. By now he had his own planet populated by equally imperfect duplications of other beings from both the reader’s universe and DC’s. Bizarro even introduced the Bizarro President Kennedy to the Bizarro Marilyn Monroe. This happened years before we found out that the real Kennedy and Monroe were making the beast with two backs right there in the people’s White House.

bizarro01Weisinger was a very, very well-connected man and he had many friends in high places. In 1976 I asked Mort if he had inside information at the time. He glowed, looked at me and said: “You know what they say.” I replied “Ummm… If I told you I’d have to kill you?” and Mort said “That’s right.”

The Tales of the Bizarro World stories lacked tension and the type of heroic action one associates with superhero comics, and because gravity does work it was necessarily lacking in internal consistency. After a little more than a year, Tales of the Bizarro World was replaced with Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes, and that ran for about seven years.

You can’t keep a good creature down, and Bizarro has reappeared with a frequency exceeded only by The Joker. But, as I noted at the outset, there was no external consistency to the character. He was a goofy monster, he was a confused construct, he was (most frequently) a monster who acted as a super-villain but with the motivation of a guy who simply does the opposite of what Superman would do. Maybe.

Bizarro 2I wish somebody would sit down and read Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein, published in the 1940s by Prize Comics. Many reprints abound; to start I’d recommend the one Yoe Books and IDW did in 2010. If you’ve never heard of it, it may very well be the best American comic book you’ve never heard of. Briefer is in the same league as Eisner, Cole and Toth, and he managed to tell a great many stories without tripping over the concept. Frankenstein was sympathetic and heroic, pithy and funny, and always a joy to read.

I like Bizarro, particularly that original newspaper comics story. And I like many of the various interpretations of the character that have come our way in the subsequent 58 years. Some are truly brilliant.

Despite DC’s multi-purpose guardianship over the decades, Bizarro has become an accepted term in the English language. The term “Bizarro World” is often used as a metaphor. It’s even in most computer spell-checkers.

And, really, who among us can’t identify with a character is constantly misunderstood?