Thursday, April 22, 2010

Review - Bizarro Comics

Bizarro Comics
2002 Eisner Winner for Best Anthology
Contains "Letitia Lerner, Superman's Baby Sitter"
by Kyle Baker
2000 Eisner Winner for Best Short Story
2000 Eisner Winner for Best Writer/Artist: Humor

Before I get lost in one of the stranger stories of the Eisners and the comic book industry I suppose I need to say something about the anthology itself. It is exactly what it says in the title: bizarro comics. DC unleashed a host of creators of independent comics on their iconic heroes and let them do zany things. It's quirky, off beat, and generally enjoyable showcase for these creators.

That done, let's get to the story of "Letitia Lerner, Superman's Baby Sitter".

In the late 1990's DC was publishing a line of anthology specials called 80-Page Giants. And "Elseworlds" was DC's identifier for stories that were not part of their ongoing stories and in which they usually did some kind of high concept twist on the original (Batman is a vampire, Superman is a communist, and so on). So Elseworlds 80-Page Giant was an anthology where they put a different spin on the characters.

For this anthology Kyle Baker wrote and drew "Letitia Lerner, Superman's Baby Sitter" in which an infant Superman causes comedic havoc for his babysitter. He constantly stumbles into apparently dangerous situations like falling asleep in the middle of a freeway which require her to rush in to save him. The last panel featured the baby cheerfully sitting in a microwave.

This was a step too far for DC publisher Paul Levitz. He ordered the story pulled from the issue but there was one tiny problem with that: he saw the story and ordered it pulled after the comic had been printed. A few thousand copies had already been shipped to the U.K. and a handful of copies got around to people in the U.S. but the rest were pulped less than a week before it was set to reach comic shops.

Word quickly got around and the few copies that were out there were in high demand. People wanted to see the story that DC decided to destroy. It was a massive embarrassment for them and I strongly suspect that was the reason a comic that was not available in any form to the vast majority of the public won two Eisner awards.

Which isn't to say it's a bad story. It's a lot of fun, had me amused the whole time, and demonstrated Kyle Baker's incredible skill at comedy. The escalating dangers of the baby rushing off and his babysitter chasing afterward has been used in a lot of cartoons but somehow having the baby be indestructible just makes it more amusing. I just suspect that it wouldn't have won if it was not for the controversy drawing attention to it.

So as this controversy raged DC comics decided that they needed to publish "Letitia Lerner, Superman's Baby Sitter" after all but there wasn't a good place for it with their current books. So they came up with the idea of an anthology book featuring similarly odd and humorous stories and they titled it Bizarro Comics which brings us back full circle.

Since Bizarro Comics is such a diverse anthology it's hard to pin down. There's twenty-six stories in this book. The longest is the framing story in which the villains Mr. Mxyzptlk the cartoonish imp and Bizarro the backward Superman have to play games against a rules obsessed universe conqueror. This would have been an entertaining comic on its own. Other highlights for me include an Aquaman adventure in a bathtub, Batman getting an inferiority complex after trying to help Superman, and a child sneaking into the Batcave. I can't single out a single story that I disliked though I did find many of them to just be too abrupt which was due to the short story format. The only downside that I can find is that many of the stories are dependent upon the reader being familiar with the character; if you don't know the Metal Men then the story about them disguising themselves as human to go to a nightclub will be less comprehensible.

Bizarro Comics is a good anthology. It's diverse, features a lot of great stories, and showcases a lot of comic book creators who just don't get much attention. I recommend it with the caveat that if you aren't at least generally familiar with superheroes then it won't make any sense.