Much as with its sister title ACTION COMICS, ADVENTURE COMICS had adjusted to shrinking page counts by reducing the number of features that it ran from three to two. That second feature position eventually wound up handed over to the Legion of Super Heroes, who promptly took over the entire magazine. But before that, it seems as though there was a bit of a struggle in landing on a back-up that evidenced the sort of draw power that Supergirl had in ACTION. Consequently, for a period of just over a year, ADVENTURE showcased one of the most oddball strips in DC’s history: Tales of the Bizarro World! But we’ll get to that in a bit.
Before that, though, we need to talk about this issue’s lead feature, a Superboy adventure that was a reworking of an earlier story that had appeared in the title more than a hundred issues previously. This version was the work of writer Bill Finger and artist George Papp. With the audience for comic books theoretically turning over every five years or so, editor Mort Weisinger would routinely redo stories and premises that he’d used at an earlier time. And why not? There wasn’t any organized fandom yet, no internet to tell readers that the story they were reading today was simply a pastiche of one that previous readers had consumed a decade before.
The Superboy adventures of this period were simply nice littel yarns. They didn’t often have anything big at stake in them apart from possibly Superboy’s feelings. But I never entirely warmed to them, in part thanks to the artwork of George Papp and others. Papp’s work felt as though it came from an earlier era–it was very diagrammatic and a little bit stiff. Given that these storties are meant to be taking place in Superman’s past, that may have been a deliberate stylistic choice. But it was one that often left me cold. There’s nothing wrong with these Superboy stories, but there also isn’t enough right to make me seek out more of them.
This one’s all about the people of Vonrovia, a South American nation that boasts their own super-powered young hero, Bronze-Boy. After a bunch of set-up in which it looks as though Superboy may be outclassed by this great hero based on the films he views of Bronze-Boy in action, it turns out that Bronze-Boy is actually Superboy himself, having been covered in metal by a space alien attack and then having lost his memory due to exposure to Red Kryptonite. But Bronze-Boy is such an inspiration to the citizens of Vonrovia that Superboy feels compelled to keep up the charade, enlisting local youth Juan to also pose as Bronze-Boy to help complete the illusion. None of this really matters in the slightest, but it’s diverting enough.
After that, we get a rare full page cover-facing house ad for a pair of editor Mort Weisinger’s other Superman titles on sale then. Like pretty much all of these ads, the typography and lettering was done by Ira Schnapp, an undersung talent of the Silver Age. As usual, the covers to both of these issues provide plenty of mystery to entice a buyer, and they’re both elegantly executed by Curt Swan, who became the main Superman artist during this period, replacing Wayne Boring.
Next comes the Smallville Mailsack letters page, which continues to skew younger than most other similar letters pages of the era, at least a little bit. In this one, in recognition of his new feature, editor Weisinger had inaugurated a challenge to the readers to suggest their best ideas for Bizarro Business, and the audience definitely responded. Some of these ideas are pretty wild and out there–and that’s saying something when in reference to a strip as outlandish as Tales of the Bizarro World! In aggregate, it almost reads like a Yakov Smirnov routine: “On Bizarro World, the national hero is Premiere Khrushchev!”
Then it’s time for the book’s main selling point, at least as far as I’m concerned: another ridiculous entry in Tales of the Bizarro World. Initially introduced as a tragic monster laden with pathos in SUPERBOY (and the Superman Newspaper Strip at around the same time) recurring appearances had transformed Bizarro into a more comedic figure, his reverse antics eliciting smiles rather than sympathy. He’d also been gifted an entire sub-mythos of his own, with a square-shaped planet called Htrae where he and other Bizarros (most of which are imperfect copies of Superman and Lois Lane) reside. Each installment wasn’t so much about creating a compelling story so much as providing a framework for a lot of goofy gags about the Bizarro acting the opposite of the way in which regular human beings would. This particular story was written by Jerry Siegel (who somehow had a knack for Bizarro storries, go figure) and drawn by John Forte.
Talking about DC’s strange obsession with gorillas could fill an entire volume easily. But the gist of things is that reportedly, DC/National’s editorial director Irwin Donenfeld noticed that issues that depicted gorillas on the covers (especially gorillas mimicking human behavior) tended to sell more strongly than the surrounding issues. So before you knew it, he wound up having to institute a policy limiting the line to only one gorilla cover released a month. The gorilla in this case, the “Kookie Super-Ape” of the title is a Bizarro version of Titano, the giant gorilla with kryptonite vision. He’s created by Bizarro after wife Bizarro-Lois accidentally becomes the wrestling champion of Bizarro World. Bizarro intends to represent his Bizarro Ape as a wrestler, and have him win out over Bizarro-Lois so that she can get out of the business without becoming a laughing stock. Don’t try to make any sense of the logic of any of this–the fact that it follows only the most absurd patterns of logic is really the whole point here.
The whole plan works out perfectly, with only a few complications that might have been at home on Lucille Ball’s television program. It’s fun, but in an almost dada-esque way, in which the fact that nothing really makes sense or tracks is the heart of the appeal. It’s a very stupid series, but one whose appeal is pretty obvious for young readers. It was anarchy of an approved sort within the context of the Superman line of comics, a place where anything could happen without the status quo being overturned. Nobody will ever confuse these stories as being high art, but they do have a strange sort of charm to them.
And before the issue completely winds down, Mort includes a second house ad for his other titles, this one in the tried-and-true Coming Super-Attractions format. Supergirl faces her greatest challenge (guest-starring the Legion of Super-Heroes)! Jimmy Olsen has three oddball stories going on! Lois Lane takes charge of Superman when he’s regressed to being a baby! (Baby stories were another sub-genre that DC couldn’t get enough of in this period. And the approved style of baby speak in most of them was no different from Bizarro speak. Make of that what you will.)
2 thoughts on “WC: ADVENTURE COMICS #295”
Siegel really liked shtick. It shows up in a lot of his stories. But with Bizarro it works.
I agree about Papp. Don’t have a problem with the stories being insignificant — if it’s reasonably engaging, I don’t feel a superhero yarn needs to be earth-shaking.
One should give the “Bizarro Code”:
US DO OPPOSITE OF ALL EARTHLY THINGS! US HATE BEAUTY! US LOVE UGLINESS! IS BIG CRIME TO MAKE ANYTHING PERFECT ON BIZARRO WORLD!
Now, if a writer is delivering a light entertainment product, they could do worse than what’s essentially an episode of a wacky situation comedy. Yes, “opposite” is a shtick, but in terms of sitcom gimmicks, it’s flexible enough to work in many stories. It ranks reasonably well compared to e.g. hiding the genie/martian/witch/etc.
And some of the jokes are amusing enough. I particularly liked the line “Time for me to stop reading pathetic comic book!”.