Reading “Us Do Opposite”

At my old job I had one student who was fascinated by superheroes and the differences between their comic book versions and their movie versions.  I don’t think he actually cared to read comics himself, but he was enamored with the wide array of trivia that exists surrounding pretty much any character that exists under the Big Two comics publishers.  Because I happen to have a pretty great love for the medium and the superhero genre myself, I enjoyed telling him about all the little tidbits that I knew about any given character he took an interest in.  One time, probably in the months of hype leading up to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (still haven’t seen it!), this student learned about the weirdness that is Bizarro, an old Superman villain who hails from a planet that’s exactly the opposite of Earth.

Bizarro is the name of the race of aliens on this Bizarro-Earth, and all of the members of this race are polar opposites of people on our own planet.  The Bizarro that antagonizes Superman is his own opposite, but no one calls him Bizarro Superman, probably because he’s the first Bizarro introduced in the comics.  Anyway, along with the Bizarro Superman, there is also a Bizarro Lois Lane, a Bizarro Jimmy Olsen, and so on and so forth.  It was inevitable, with a setup like this one, that someone would eventually create a Bizarro version of Batman (we call him Batzarro, because comics), which is the one that my student was intrigued by.  He asked me if there were Bizarro versions of the other members of the Justice League, and in my brain stuff with far too much comics trivia, I remembered that in fact there were, and I had the comic in which they appeared.

“Us Do Opposite” is that comic.

I was really excited that I had an actual hard copy of a thing that a student was expressing interest in, so I brought my volume of All-Star Superman for him to look at one day in the hope that he’d enjoy other things about the book besides the one page gag that is the Bizarro Unjustice League.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be; like I already mentioned, this student was more interested in the trivia of comics than the storytelling of them, so he returned the book to me satisfied but unimpressed by any larger notions of a tale well told.  He just wanted to see the panel of the Bizarro Flash, the slowest man alive with a top speed of two inches per hour.

Anyhow, that’s the story that always comes to mind now when I think about “Us Do Opposite.”  The story itself is largely unremarkable: Superman finds himself trapped on the Bizarro planet with his powers fading, and he launches a desperate plan to rally the Bizarros to help him build a rocket that will fly him back up to normal space.  He succeeds on the strength of his ability to adapt to the logic and culture of the Bizarros, culminating with him tricking Bizarro Superman into throwing him into space following a nonsensical insult that still confuses me (I vacillate between being impressed by the complexity of Bizarro grammar that Morrison has written and wondering if he just arbitrarily made some stuff up that vaguely matches the idea that Bizarros express ideas in a language built on words having the opposite meaning to what they have in English).  This one’s a story about how even with his powers Superman is super competent.

Contrasted with Superman in this issue is the character of Zibarro, a mutant among the Bizarro race who has grown with exceptionally high intelligence (for a Bizarro) and a perspective that’s more in line with humanity.

He’s also insufferably smug.

I want to say it’s intentional that Zibarro’s colored to look like a pasty white guy, but that’s probably not what they were going for. (Artwork by Frank Quitely, inks and colors by Jamie Grant, letters by Phil Balsman & Travis Lanham)

I used to think that Zibarro was a sympathetic character put in place so Superman could interact with someone in a less confusing way than he does with the other Bizarros.  There’s something undeniably tragic about a character who knows that he is fundamentally different from everyone else around him and suffers deep loneliness because of this knowledge.  Zibarro just comes across in such an ill-mannered way though.  His constant harping on his own genius in comparison to the rest of the Bizarros (while continually badgering Superman to look at his writing and to bring him along) rubs me the wrong way now.  I see in Zibarro a character who, while he does have legitimate differences from his peers, has carved out his entire sense of identity by way of his “superiority.”  Never mind that the Bizarros appear to be developing a working culture and their linguistic system, while slightly impenetrable to untrained listeners, has an underlying logic to it.  Zibarro revels in self loathing, and I’m not entirely sure that Morrison and Quitely realize that’s how they’ve presented him.

Despite Zibarro’s unlikeability, he does serve an important function in this story.  Superman’s job is helping people, and Zibarro’s the only person on the Bizarro planet who demonstrates any kind of need.  The rest of the Bizarros are content with their lives, but Zibarro needs reassurance that his life matters too; Superman points out that the Bizarro world must be getting smarter if it created a Bizarro as self aware and observant as Zibarro.  It’s a nice moment for Superman that times back to the the series’s central premise.

We also get a short scene in this issue where Lois Lane finally learns that Superman is dying (it’s about time), which sets up the impending climax.  We’re moving forward into the last third of the series, and things are going to pick up speed a little.

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