Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Nam ... Rep ... Us!

The first person I ever heard about whose life made any sense to me was Superman.  He had come from an alien planet, Krypton, and wasn’t really related to Ma and Pa Kent, or anyone else on Earth for that matter.  Still, his parents were good people, and only wanted the best for him, so he had to figure out how to mingle in with Earth people, so that he wouldn’t get in trouble.  In one of the comics I had, there was a story-line where Superman had to tell the truth about everything – fortuntately, no one asked him about his secret identity.  Still, he had to tell the people around him what he really thought of them, when he could see with his superior intellect and x-ray vision that they were all in some way flawed or pathetic.  After one day of honesty, there were “down with Superman” rallies all over the country.  This was around the same time that everyone was burning their Beatles albums because John Lennon had said they were ‘more popular than Jesus.’  So much for honesty.

Another thing that fascinated was one of Superman’s lesser-known enemies, Mr. Mxyzptlk. Mr. Mxyzptlk was always trying to trick Superman into saying his name backwards, which would instantly transport him to the fifth dimension.  One time, Mr. Mxyzptlk tricked Superman into announcing the winners of a cricket race that worked like a horse race. He then bribed the cricket jockeys so that crickets named “Nam,” “Rep,” and “Us,” would be the first three winners.  Superman went ahead and announced them, but he didn’t suddenly get zapped into the fifth dimension.  Mr. Mxyzptlk was beside himself with rage, but Superman explained that it hadn’t worked because “Superman” wasn’t his real name.  His real name was Kal-el, so in order to send him to the fifth dimension, he’d have to say “Le-lak” (of course he didn’t really say those last words).  Foiled again.

Then there was the Bizarro world, where everyone looked like cubist paintings of their ordinary selves.  Not only that, but they all talked and thought backwards over there, mixing up “I” and “Me” and doing everything the opposite of the normal way.  There was even a Bizarro code: "Us do opposite of Earthly things! Us hate beauty, us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World."

Everyone who existed in the regular Superman world had a counterpart in the other: there was a Bizarro Superman, a Bizarro Lois Lane, a Bizarro Jimmy Olson, and so on.  For some reason that, even now, I can’t precisely identify, the Bizarro world made sense to me too.  The Bizarro Supermen were all married to Bizarro Lois Lanes, and their Bizarro super-kids were expected to do bad in school. If they did well, they were given Superman bad-tutors (complete with mortarboard hats) who taught them how to do it all wrong again.

Of course there was another code beside the Bizarro one, which was even more bizarre: the Comics Code, instituted after the moral panic over the evil influence of comic books on teenagers. No one could actually shoot anyone, no one could get killed, and bad guys always finished last.  Maybe it was the narrow restrictions of the Comics Code that drove writers to invent Mr. Mxyzptlk and the Bizarro World -- maybe not.  But if you could accept a guy in a blue suit and a red cape who could leap over tall buildings in a single bound, you could accept anything.

No comments:

Post a Comment