Alternative superheroes

Superheroes have dominated comic books medium since the 1938 debut of Superman in Action Comics No. 1, much to the dismay of the many fans who fear such adolescent stories prevent the form from getting the respect they feel it deserves. Despite the inherent clunkiness of the superhero format, there's no end in sight to the genre's domination. Fortunately, comics' deconstruction of said heroes has been going on nearly as long as the genre itself--from Mad's vicious mid-'50s parodies of "Superduperman" and "Woman Wonder" to '80s graphic novels such as Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen and Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

Reading DC Comics' intensely pleasurable new hardback collection Bizarro Comics is like falling into a time warp where all of those re-imaginings occur in one volume. Indie-comics luminaries such as Carol Lay (Story Minute), Evan Dorkin (Milk & Cheese), and Dylan Horrocks (Hicksville) take on the overly familiar likes of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman in the same way that late-'80s hip-hoppers like Public Enemy, De La Soul, and Eric B. and Rakim cribbed beats from their parents' record collections. The results are just as fresh.

"Silence of the Fishes," written by Dorkin and Brian David-Marshall and drawn by Bill Wray, finds Aquaman's ability to speak to his fellow underwater creatures neutralized: "I'm no longer speaking to the denizens of the deep," he informs his family as they're tied to a reef and tortured by the evil Black Manta. "We had an argument. It's a long story and I'd rather not discuss it right now." In "Super-Pets," writer Sam Henderson (Magic Whistle) and artist Bob Fingerman (Minimum Wage) imagine Kryptonian farm animals stealing Superman's thunder. "The Man Who Cried Fish," written by Jef Czekaj (Hypertruck) and drawn by Baltimorean Brian Ralph (Cave-In), is a wordless story in which Aquaman cries, well, fish with his mental powers once too often, which turns the sea creatures against him. And Kyle (Why I Hate Saturn) Baker's "Letitia Lerner, Superman's Baby Sitter" is a dazzlingly rendered work of slapstick genius, full of rich color and witty sound effects, as a teenage girl unwittingly ends up caring for the world's strongest baby.

Best, though, are a pair of stories dealing with the everyday lives of the young, bohemian woman in the city, an indie-comics staple upended by being applied to superheroes. "The Clubhouse of Solitude," written by Horrocks and drawn by Jessica Abel (Artbabe), observes the retired Mary Marvel during her annual coffee-shop meeting with a still-active Supergirl; the two commiserate over cheesecake. And "Wonder Woman's Day Off," drawn by Ellen Forney (I Was Seven in '75) and written by Ariel Bordeaux (No Love Lost), finds the Amazon calling in sick to the Justice League. ("Great Hera," she says after informing Batman that she won't be around to handle Sinestro, "that man is insufferable.") She also goes into the city for coffee and enters a poetry slam, where her poem, "Hero's Desire," brings her and audience members Batman and Hawkman to tears.

This review originally appeared in City Paper. E-mail comments to [email protected].