: Bizarro World

During the first round of the Marvel/DC wars in the '60s, Marvel used to boast that their most outrageous comic-book stories were "Not a dream! Not a hoax! Not an imaginary tale!" Decades later, Alan Moore poked back at Marvel in the Superman classic "Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?", writing, "This is an imaginary story. Aren't they all?" The short superhero stories in the DC Comics anthology Bizarro World technically qualify as "imaginary," given that whatever happens to Superman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the DC icons within its pages has no lasting impact. Like its 2001 predecessor Bizarro Comics, the new volume features alternative-comics artists and a handful of non-comics writers treating the DC universe as their own personal puppet theater, often concocting ways to cut off narrative threads that have been dangling since the '30s.

Also like Bizarro Comics, Bizarro World misses as much as it hits. Too much of the art is grotesquely ugly, even for a book of superhero spoofs by underground artists, and too many of the stories take one-note jokes and run them aground. But even some of the one-note jokes are pretty funny, like Patton Oswalt and Bob Fingerman's explanation of how "Jingle bells / Batman smells" came to be. In "It's Not Easy Being Green," Jason Yungbluth and Jason Paulos riff on Green Lantern's vulnerability to the color yellow, climaxing with this rant from one of the Guardians Of The Galaxy: "How the deuce could we expect you to protect the universe if all it took to defeat you was the color yellow? You'd be killed by the first moron who came at you with a piece of American cheese!"

The book's better stories close down the superhero store altogether. In Aaron Bergeron and John Kerschbaum's "The Power Of Positive Batman," the Dark Knight sees a psychiatrist and quits the business, while in Todd Alcott and Michael Kupperman's "Ultimate Crisis Of The Justice League," the League eradicates all major crime and is left to settle petty beefs. Not all of the writers and artists are so quick to dispatch DC's star attractions, though. In Bizarro World's one truly exceptional piece, Dylan Horrocks and Farel Dalrymple depict the action on a city street from the point of view of The Flash, who loses his unique perspective whenever he slows down to take a closer look. It's the kind of fresh insight into a well-worn character that makes this exercise in trademark-trashing not just forgivable, but necessary.

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