Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Now It Can Be Read! Bizarro World

Once again, reviews that for one reason or another, never originally saw the light of day are plastered here for your enjoyment. This one's a review of DC's Bizarro World anthology that came out early last year. I think the softcover edition will be out in stores this spring, so consider this a sorta-preview review if you missed the book the first time around.

Bizarro World
by various

DC Comics
, $29.95

This latest and second “alternative cartoonists meets DC superheroes” anthology is a decided improvement upon it’s predecessor, 2001’s “Bizarro Comics.” A good part of that is due to the lack of awkward framing devices that plagued the first book. More important, however, is the fact that a lot of the writer/artist team-ups seem better thought out and more complimentary than the first time around. For whatever reason, Rick Altergott and Ariel Bordeux or Johnny Ryan and Dave Cooper seem a much better match-up than say, James Kochalka and Dylan Horrocks.

Your enjoyment of “Bizarro World” is pretty much dependent upon your affection for and knowledge of Superman and his friends, not to mention a willingness to see them tweaked in an affectionate, G-rated fashion. As with the first volume, a lot of the jokes deal with placing DC’s caped cadre in mundane or heavily ironic situations. The Justice League has to endure a “take your kids to work” day. Batman has trouble upgrading the software on his computer. The League enjoys some down time at an amusement park. And so on.

The best jokes work when they don’t rely too much on obscure DC minutiae. Bordeaux and Altergott’s Legion of Super Heroes story works better than Evan Dorkin and Andi Watson’s because it doesn’t require as deep a knowledge of the original material. Hell, I read the comic as a kid and I still didn’t get the Mon-El joke.

The highlights here are many and varied. Evan Dorkin and Ivan Brunetti take Two-face to his logical and hilariously fitting conclusion. Peter Bagge and Gilbert Hernandez take a swipe at desperate C-list celebrities courtesy of the Red Bee. Chip Kidd and Tony Millionaire’s Batman story is even more bizarre than the first one if that’s possible. Mike Doughty and Danny Hellman manage to make Aquaman seem even more pathetic and lonely than ever before. And Dupuy and Beberian create a Batman that’s more Martha Stewart than dark detective.

Ryan and Cooper’s story, however, is the real gem of the book, and deserves a mention on its own, simply because it’s the only real example in the whole anthology that shows what the editors were thinking in forcing these cartoonists to team up. “Super Dumped” is a delightfully bizarre affair that utilizes Ryan’s snarkiness and Cooper’s gift for surrealism to create something you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see from either artist on their own.

Of course, for every piece that works there’s one or two that, if not outright failures, lay there flat and cold like yesterday’s oatmeal. Harvey Pekar and Dean Haspiel’s contribution feels strangely lifeless. And I don’t even know what to make of Tomer and Asaf Hanuka’s story that seems to have the Batman entering a little girl’s mind in order to defeat the Joker. Or perhaps it’s all a dream; I’m really not sure.

Improvements and goodwill aside, there’s not enough grade-a material here to convince me that forcing these artist/writer collaborations works better than just letting the individual cartoonists go it alone. Let’s put it this way. What would you rather see: Michael Kupperman do a Justice League parody with the co-writer of the film “Antz” or all on his lonesome? Now, how many of you would rather just read “Snake and Bacon?” I thought so. As it stands, "Bizarro World" is a nice diversion, particularly if you’re a fan of the artists or the underlying material, but it’s hardly essential reading.


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