Sholly Fisch had the unenviable task of writing the back-up stories for Grant Morrison's run on "Action Comics," so it's nice to see him get a full issue in the Superman corner of the DC Universe. But while he and Jeff Johnson do their best to turn out a comic that introduces the idea of the Bizarro Superman to the DC Universe, it's also hard to shake the fact that this is slightly pointless.
The best part of "Superman #23.1: Bizarro" is easily Fisch's depiction of Lex Luthor as a genius. It's easy to have him default as just a megalomaniac, but doing so loses sight of the more interesting part of his personality. "Superman" #23.1 is a comic where everything -- both good and bad -- happens directly because of Luthor's actions. Perhaps more importantly, Fisch doesn't just throw random scientific terms at the reader. It still uses some made-up concepts, but it's nonetheless easy to follow and both the creation and eventual defeat of Bizarro makes perfect sense. There isn't a scientific deus ex machina to click everything into place; instead it's all set up right from the start.
As a lead-in to a future issue of "Forever Evil," though, there's no denying that you could skip "Superman" #23.1 and not have missed a thing. Fisch ultimately has to put almost everything that he's taken out of the box back into it when it's done, and on some level it's almost like he's still writing back-ups for Morrison. He can't make any big changes, he's stuck shadowing someone else's plot, and just gets to write small prequels or side stories connected to the overall arc. That's too bad, because at this point Fisch really deserves something where he can run free and create something bigger.
Johnson's pencils are mostly unremarkable. They're not bad at all; I've always enjoyed his style and it's instantly recognizable some two decades after I first encountered it. Johnson has good panel-to-panel transitions, and he understands how to make something simple (like the beam that shoots out of the K-Cannon) look fun. He also gets to have a little fun, with flashbacks and daydreams drawn in shard-like panels instead of normal squares and rectangles; they stand out well and are a good visual nod to what's going on. Javier Mena and Jordie Bellaire add in a shrunken color palette for those panels, but Johnson makes that almost unnecessary because of his layouts.
Johnson's at his best when he gets to cut loose drawing Bizarro, though. His characters are normally so perfectly proportioned that it makes him a smart choice for "Superman" #23.1, because his Bizarro is instantly off-kilter on a visual level; the out of proportion limbs and twisted gait stands out in a good way. At the end, that last panel of Lex Luthor all covered in debris but allowing a smile to creep onto his face gives you the shivers -- and it should.
"Superman" #23.1 is a little frustrating because this is by two good comic creators who are ultimately undone not by anything of their own fault, but by the nature of the assignment. If this had been able to get broken free of "Forever Evil" and tell a story that got to head off in its own direction, I'd be much more enthusiastic about it. Instead, this feels like an exciting car ride that suddenly and with no warning ends right back where you started. Next time, let Fisch and Johnson pick their own destination, please.