Over the years in my home blog — and a decade-plus before for a fannish amateur press alliance — whenever I put together a batch of capsule mainstream comics reviews, they've appeared under the title of "The Fifteen-Minute Comic." The title's always seemed apt to me. For most adult readers, the average 32-page floppy takes less than that amount of time to consume (just $2.99 for fifteen minutes of pleasure!), though occasionally one comes across works that require more extensive attention. At his best — which is generally more frequently than many comics scripters reach over the course of their entire careers — Grant Morrison demands attention.
Which brings us to his current collaboration with artist Frank Quitely, the newest issue (#7) of his All-Star Superman tribute. Steeped in the minutiae of the Silver Age Superman — an era where pulp writers were encouraged to concoct splendidly half-baked science fiction conceits to motivate their stories — Morrison's densely scripted tales carry me back to the days when I was a kid, learning to increase my vocabulary by reading DC comics (okay, so I also learned some words that weren't really words, too). As a young reader, I used to struggle through every word balloon in those silly little books, and, at times, perusing the panels in "Being Bizarro," I similarly found myself stopping to puzzle over just what the heck it was Morrison and Quitely were showing me.
In many cases, the answer proves to be pages away (a wordless scene featuring our hero wrestling with a multi-tentacled whatsit doesn't get explained until thirteen pages later), though you can trust that Morrison will eventually provide it. Other times, Morrison simply tosses in some Meaning-Resistant Jargon and chortles at us good-naturedly while we try and make sense of it all.
This is not, in other words, a spoon-fed superhero comic. As a well-known part of the Superman World, Bizarro's a creation that has received multiple back-stories as different writers have attempted to corral the character. In "Being Bizarro," Morrison takes a figure frequently played for broad comedy in its original heyday, the "imperfect duplicate" of Superman called Bizarro, and makes it a more convincing comic book menace: a planet eater crudely mimicking the Earth, sending out highly contagious "infra-material" (how's that for M-R Jargon?) which copies and infects its target.
We first see these Bizarro creatures during an office Christmas party at the Daily Planet, where a previously unseen fat lady staffer telegraphs what's going happen to her by telling Lois Lane and Perry White to "Eat, drink and be merry…" As if to liven up what looks to be an especially dull party, a featureless creature burst out of the elevator to grab our hedonist fat lady, and it immediately starts physically mimicking her down to her tight party dress. Seemingly infected by the creature, the newspaperwoman starts speaking Bizarro — a broken backwards style of speaking even less grammatical than the infantile dialog given to the original Bizarros — and attempts to infect the other partygoers. "It spreads like gangrene," an embattled scientist later tells us.
The original Bizarro was a Frankensteinian creation – a mad scientist's unsuccessful attempt at recreating the Man of Steel – though in Morrison's hands, the creature is more Pod People creepy than monstrously pathetic. Quitely's version of Bizarro neatly reflects this change. Where the original looked like a granite statue chipped out by a palsied sculptor, the All-Star model looks like a shrunken-faced member of the living dead. Happily, however, scripter Morrison still manages to find a way to restore a long-lost concept from the original Bizarro stories: the cube-shaped Bizarro World where its inhabitants chaotically imitate planet Earth. First half of this two-parter ends with our hero stranded on BWorld; the elementary school kid in me is really eager to see what he and Quitely do with this setting.
Quitely's art (digitally inked and colored by Jaimie Grant) is a treat throughout: his Man of Steel has the smooth-faced straightforwardness of the world biggest boy scout and the physical stature to convey his powerfulness. The artist's panels are both simple and rich, often rewarding the kind of intense scrutinizing that his collaborator's material demands. Looking at the cover to issue #7 — a scene showing Superman and Bizarro in battle in the midst of a besieged Metropolis — yields several small pleasures. My favorite detail involves the image of Bizarro's cross-eyed beams shooting to both sides of Superman's head.
Goes without saying that after seven issues, All-Star Superman continues to be the best Superman title currently released, but I'll say it again, anyway. This is the best Superman title currently being released.