Superman: The Unauthorized Biography
Glen Weldon (Author)
A celebration of Superman's life and history - in time for his 75th birthday. How has the Big Blue Boy Scout stayed so popular for so long? How has he changed with the times, and what essential aspects of him have remained constant? This fascinating biography examines Superman as a cultural phenomenon through 75 years of action-packed adventures, from his early years as a social activist in circus tights to his growth into the internationally renowned demigod he is today.
Hardcover: 352 pages
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Last updated: September 27, 2004
The imp known as Mr. Mxyztplk first appeared in our dimension in Superman #30 (1st series, 1944) in a story by Jerry Siegel with art by John Sikela. For those who haven't seen the original story, you can find it in The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told trade paperback. The bald little fellow in the purple suit and green bowtie creates all kind of havoc -- including animating a naked statue he calls McGurk. Mxy describes himself as a "court-jester" from another dimension. The not very bright imp laughingly tells Superman that there is no way he can be tricked into saying the magic word "Klptzyxm" that will return him to his own dimension. Oops. Saying the word, Mxy vanishes (my nickname - don't expect me to keep spelling the full name!!)
A note at the end of the tale says, "If you enjoyed the antics of Mr. Mxyztplk and would like to read of his further encounters with Superman, let us know on a penny postcard." Obviously, Mxy was a big hit and returned many times.
The imp's name was later changed to Mxyzptlk (and for the consonant-challenged among you - the letters "t" and "p" are reversed). He had a long history of antagonizing Superman, supposedly every 90 days, until Superman inevitably tricked him into saying his name backwards. This restored everything back to normal and banished Mxy back to the Fifth Dimension for another 90 days. Until the Crisis On Infinite Earths series rewrote DC history.
Allow Me To Imp-troduce Myself!
The first of the re-booted Mxyzptlk stories is in Superman #11. Mxy stories are always a lot of fun, as we will see in this review. John Byrne re-introduces Mxyzptlk in a way that brings us many of the elements of the Silver Age imp. When we first meet Mxy, he uses the name Ben DeRoy (a swipe at The Beyonder, a Marvel Comics character who was supposedly omnipotent and who appeared in the two "Secret Wars" mini-series).
Mxy introduces himself to Superman and says that his real name would never translate to an Earth language. Animating a billboard typewriter, he decides to make up a name and types out Mxyzptlk (pronounced Mix-yez-pittle-ick as he so helpfully tells Superman). Actually, he prefers to be called *Mister* Mxyzptlk.
Mxy takes on the form of a short imp dressed in an orange and purple jumpsuit-type outfit, with a tiny purple bowler on his head. He has two triangular puffs of white hair sticking out from the side of his head and smokes a huge cigar.
Mxy tells Superman that he is from a parallel dimension that Superman would call the Fifth Dimension. He describes himself as a gamester and gambler who has been observing the Third Dimension for a while and says that he is looking for Superman to provide him with a good challenge.
He tells Superman that they will play the Name Game -- if Superman can get him to write, spell, or say his name backwards, he will return to his home dimension and all effects of his visit will vanish.
Mxy turns Lois into a mannequin, sets people on fire, alters Superman's appearance (I love the Alfred E. Neuman look and big-headed Superman) and animates the Daily Planet building, which goes on a walkabout, but Superman eventually wins the war of wits and Mxy vanishes. Superman later tells Lois that some theoretical physicists believe that the optimum transfer interface between the dimensions won't occur for another 90 days. Doncha just love those theoretical physicists?
This story nicely re-introduces Mxyzptlk with much the same character as he had before the re-boot. His look, powers, mischievous personality and fixation on Superman are much the same, and the 90 day rule is set in place. Fortunately, there is one important change to the mythos in Mxy's next appearance to allow for a greater battle of wits between Mxy and Superman.
Wacky Hijinks Ensue
In Adventures of Superman #441, Mxy shows up in Hollywood where he changes the famous sign into his own name. Superman rearranges the letters so that Mxy reads his name backwards, expecting Mxy to disappear again. Mxy replies, "Hate to burst your bubble, Supey ... but that was last time!" Now, each time Mxy appears, there is a new game with new rules. In this issue, the challenge is for Superman to get Mxy to paint his face blue.
Byrne and Jerry Ordway come up with a nice twist on the new Mxyzptlk. In previous stories, the key to getting rid of Mxy was always making him say his name backwards. Having Mxy create new rules for every visit makes the stories a lot more flexible and a lot more interesting. Mxy doesn't have to be the higher being of lesser intelligence who can always be tricked into saying his name backward in a mere 22 pages (after all, it's not like kltpzyxm is a common word -- how hard can it be to avoid saying it?) Mxy also now has his own code of honour in setting up and following those rules.
As usual, there is lots of fun in this second appearance, with Mxy turning Superman into a cartoon and having him fight Smurfs and other cartoon critters, as well as animating objects and turning a popular game show into the Wheel of Torture. Also as usual, Superman wins on Mxy's terms and the imp vanishes.
Mxyzptlk next appears in Superman #31, while Superman is in his outer space exile. Not finding Superman in town, he decides to take on the next best thing: Lex Luthor. Luthor proposes a game, but then cheats and gets Mxy so angry that he leaves voluntarily. Mxy behaves like a angry child, saying that the place is no fun and vows to never return. After he disappears, Luthor's aide worries that Luthor has taught Mxy to lie.
Magical Red Kryptonite
Mxy shows that he has learned to lie when he next returns in Adventures of Superman #463. He arranges for a race around the world between Superman and the Flash (Wally West). His rules are that if Superman wins the race, Mxy will go away again for another 90 days. Flash is promised a special prize, selected just for him if he wins. At the end of the race, Flash wins.
Mxy swears and says that he now has to go home. He had tried one of Luthor's tricks and been setting up a false deal. Despite what Mxy had said, he was only planning to leave if Flash won. He says, "You win because I have to abide by my own rules and go! I should have known it wouldn't be easy to lie to myself!" By Mxy's twisted code of honour, even though he has learned to lie and be deceitful about what the rules of the game are, he still has his rules and still feels bound by them.
During the race, Mxy finds Luthor searching for a kryptonite meteor and decides to make a gift to him of some red kryptonite. Luthor leaves it behind, believing it to be useless. The red K takes center stage during the Krisis Of The Krimson Kryptonite (Superman #49, Adventures of Superman #472, Starman #28 (the Roger Stern penned series), Action Comics #659, and Superman #50 -- collected in trade paperback).
Mxy turns himself into a red-K rock (with derby) and tells Luthor to make a wish. Luthor's wish robs Superman of his powers. Mxy's rule is that Luthor can't tell Superman that Mxy is involved. Luthor decides that if he can't tell Superman, he can at least tell Clark Kent, who can pass on the information. Oops. Mxy pops back in and wants to know, "Who is this Clark Kent?"
Mxy sets up a new game with Superman, offering to leave if Superman punches out Luthor. Mxy arranges to get his way (in a weird way) and disappears. We also learn that Mxy has other dimensions that he visits in different forms. In this issue, he turns into the Marvel Universe's Impossible Man, to have fun with the Fantastic Four.
A Mxy-ed Up City
Mxy returns to plague Metropolis, and specifically Luthor, in Adventures of Superman #496. He changes the city into his image, with everyone (except Clark and Luthor) wearing bowlers and dressed in orange and purple. Superman is now Mxyman and Luthor has tattered clothes and a hook for a hand (as he gets ejected from MxCorp). Mxy says that he will leave if Superman gets Mxy's guards to spell MxCorp backwards. Superman does, but Mxy doesn't leave saying, "Don't you get it? That was ... ta-da ... my first lie!" (Obviously, Mxy is lying here, since his first lie was in Adventures of Superman #463.)
There is a terrific scene of Lex trying to open a can of beans with his hook, followed by a murder scene ripped from the opening of the classic Watchmen mini-series. Sight gags and humour abound in the issue. Mxy puts Luthor in an electric chair and forces Superman to guess which of three identical imps is telling the truth. Superman figures it out and, as Mxy returns to the 5th Dimension, all returns to normal.
Mxy does appear briefly in the Dead Again! story arc (Action Comics #705), but only for four panels and only to deny his involvement.
Mr. Mxyzptlk, Meet Mr. Bogdanove - Mr. Bog, Mr. Mxy
Mxy gets more play in his later appearances, notably in the two part story in Action Comics #721 and Superman: The Man Of Steel #56. Both issues are recommended, but the jewel is the second half -- most notably due to the efforts of Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove. Mxy gives everyone in Metropolis one wish -- leading to multiple lottery winners, giant coins, and walking buildings. The transition scene between the two issues has Mxy appearing naked in Clark Kent's shower. Mxy also reveals that he knows Superman's secret identity.
Mxy's real interest is in re-uniting Lois and Clark (who had broken off their engagement at the time). Mxy (or, as he says, "the name's MISTER Mxyzptlk!") puts the couple through some knee-slapping changes. He tempts Superman to wish that Lois will fall in love with him again. Superman appears to consider the offer, but uses his wish to make Mxy return home. This story almost made the entire break-up worthwhile.
Bog gets another crack at Mxy in Superman: The Man Of Steel #75, titled "The Death of Mxyzptlk!" My favorite scene is when BadaBingBadaBoomsday grows one bony protrusion too many. There's a lot of good writing and visual humour. I strongly suggest DC hire Bog to do quarterly specials on Mxyzptlk and a Golden Age Superman (maybe both together).
Bog (with 'kibitzing' by Louise Simonson) plays Mxy with broad and outrageous humour. Mxy is still fixated on Superman (and Lois) and will go to any lengths for attention. As Plastic Man does for the JLA, so does Mxy for Superman.
Mxyzptlk has also had a couple of specials aside from the regular titles.
The one-shot, prestige format Silver Surfer/Superman has Mister Mxyzptlk teaming up with the Marvel Universe's Impossible Man. George Perez writes a fun tale, with lots of magic and mayhem. The contrast between the morals of the two imps and their battle against each other highlight the story. Mxy is in his 'post-Luthor' phase of lying and manipulation. It's actually the Impossible Man who seems more like a combination of the early, innocent imp and the outrageous Bog Mxyzptlk.
In New Year's Evil: Mr. Mxyzptlk #1, Alan Grant gives us the first view of the 5th Dimension and its other inhabitants. The first seven pages, where we see Mxy and his fellow citizens, are terrific. The rest of the issue isn't bad -- it's just different from the slapstick tone of the setup. To escape the "Invader From The 10th Dimension", Mxy enters the worlds of his weird comic book collection. and the rest of the story focuses on parodies of comic books, rather than Mxy.
Young Justice #3 has Peter David presenting a young Mxy, who is a serious young fellow from the 5th dimension. The boys aim to keep Mxy on the straight and narrow path until the resulting damage to the integrity of the timestream forces them to set Mxy on a more twisted path. PAD uses the insidious techniques of A Clockwork Orange and the equally insidious Three Stooges to alter the young lad forevermore. One hopes, anyway. All that and the secret origin of McGurk!
Although not a Mxy tale, Grant Morrison draws upon the Fifth Dimension in his 1999 story, "Crisis Times Five", a four part story in JLA #28-31. As usual with Morrison, he weaves a number of plot lines - including a rare JLA/JSA team-up. The main story is an invasion by a Silver Age imp foe of Aquaman called Quisp, who also manipulates two Earth bound imps into a battle that threatens to destroy the planet. Morrison even ties in JSA sidekick Johnny Thunder's magical Thunderbolt into the story, by revealing it to be an exiled imp from Mxy's home plane.
Although Mxy doesn't appear in the story, it opens with the ominous sight of a Mxy-like derby hat. We do meet some native Fifth Dimensioners including Mxy's Silver Age girlfriend, Gsptlnz. She leads the charge to save Earth because, "Your flatland is my quinto-partner's hobby; if we don't protect Earth, Mxyzptlk will never leave the house again!"
Crowning An Emperor
During Summer 2000, the Joker recreated the universe in his mad image. Under the story titles, "Superman: Arkham" and "Emperor Joker" (triangle numbers 2000:34-42), the madness began without warning in Superman #160 as the renegade Superman escapes Arkham Asylum only to be captures by the heroic Bizarro #1.
The first clues to the warped reality occurred in the next issue, The Adventures of Superman #582. In the first few pages, we see Mr. Mxyzptlk (resembling his first appearance and wearing his original purple suit with bowler hat) on the very first page - until a safe drops on him. The madness continues in Superman: The Man of Steel #104 with another appearance by the little imp, who manages to give a warning to a confused Superman before a one ton weight drops on the little guy.
Finally, in Action Comics #769 , a peeved Mxy gets his act together and zaps Superman's memory back. Writer Joe Kelly homages Silver Age history as he and artists Kano and Marlo Alquiza homage three phases of Mxy, including his original and current look as well as the evil Mxy look used in Alan Moore's classic "Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?" Silver Age finale (available in trade paperback).
The writers also appear to ignore post-reboot history as both Superman and Mxy assume that Mxy will return to his own dimension merely by saying his name backwards. The following issue, Superman: Emperor Joker #1, retreats from that position a bit as Mxy explains his powers to Superman:
"Stop me if you've heard this one. I am an imp from the 5th dimension. I used to drop in every 90 days or so to drive you mad. Ah, those were the good old days. We'd have some laughs at your expense - play some games like you tricking me into saying my name backwards - and I'd get sent home. Over and over and over again."
Mxy reveals that he made a proposal to give Joker 1% of his powers. He says he was bored and wanted to see what would happen. However, he claims that the Joker tricked him into revealing "my secret name, which every imp has. And in doing so, he took 99.9% of my powers. Okay. So maybe I am an idiot."
Confusion and chaos continue with sight gags and wacky hijinks through Superman #161, Adventures of Superman #583 and Superman: The Man of Steel #105. The storyline concludes in Action Comics #770 as Mxy explains to Superman that the Joker is playing by his own rules and Superman must figure out those rules to win. Superman finally figures out the Joker's weak spot and uses it to drive the madman back into his own madness, returning power to Mxy.
After a quick universal clean up, Mxy packs his bag, gets a stern lecture from Superman and vanishes upon saying his name backwards.
However, it appears that the effects of Joker's stolen Mxy powers remained, at least to some extent, with several characters, including Bizarro, remaining behind in the DC Universe.
The Mxy Twins
When Mxy reappears in Adventures of Superman #617 and 618, it's as a sibling act. Writer Joe Casey (with art by Charlie Adlard) starts his story with white haired, formally suited twins trying to sell encyclopedias. Introducing themselves as Dale and Doloris, they abruptly change from trying to sell their Encyclopedia Universal to tormenting Clark and Lois. The story never provides much in the way of explanation for the two, but the solicitations refer to them as the Mxy Twins.
While never specifically admitting that they are Mxyzptlk, Superman apparently recognizes 5th Dimensional magic and confronts them with, "I'm not even going to entertain an explanation from you, Mxyzptlk." Doloris replies, "How astute! You know what they say ... two heads are better than one."
The Twins then snap their fingers to remove the Earth's gravity. Superman and pals eventually stabilize gravity using a White Dwarf star. Superman again confronts the Twins and offers to buy a set of encyclopedias. When Dale asks, "How're you going to pay? Cash? Credit? Kryptonian jewel chips? Your soul, perhaps?", Superman merely replies, "Just bill me. And for the record ... I think I liked you better as the funny little imp."
The Twins, angrily reply together, "Oh, you did eh..? Well, we like us like this. I think we'll stay this way just to tick you off. Look what we've done her ... and this was nothing. When we leave, we'll put it all back, just like it was. But you'll know what we're capable of. This is just the beginning, Superman. No more games. No more saying our name backwards to get rid of us. We're in the mood to be a real super-villain...".
The next Mxy that appears is the funny little imp. This time it's Greg Rucka writing in Adventures of Superman #630. Penciller Matthew Clark and inker Nelson draw the cute, original, Golden Age version of the character. He announces himself with a "Hey, McGurk", plays a quick "imp got your nose?" and pulls Superman "down the rabbit hole", through the telephone into a Matrix type virtual room. Fun and weirdness are mixed with a warning: "Last tip: It's the Twins you're gonna have to worry about." Then with a "poit", he's gone for another 90 days.
Although the issue is vague about which Twins, Rucka apparently means the twins who are given powers of the Parasite in issue #633. However, Rucka has long term plans for Mxy to appear every four issues, building to a climax in early 2005.
Although Mr. Mxyzptlk is fun on his own terms, he's even more enjoyable when teamed up with his imitators. Mxy has starred in crossovers with other companies, notably the prestige format one shot, Silver Surfer/Superman #1 which has Marvel's Impossible Man and Mr. Mxy meet and decide to swap heroes into the other's universe. Written by George Perez with art by Ron Lim and Terry Austin it's a fun story with all the elements you would expect and then some.
Superman & Bugs Bunny is an inter-company crossover between DC and Warner Bros. written in four issues by Mark Evanier with layouts by Joe Staton and finished work by Tom Palmer and Mike DeCarlo. This time it's Mr. Mxy and Do-Do exchanging universes and characters wholesale. Evanier originally planned to use Bug's Bunny's magical little Gremlin character but that character wa= s unavailable. To quote him from a post on the rac.dc.universe newsgroup: "Let's just say gremlins sabotage airplanes, whereas lawyers sabotage comic books". Imps everywhere. While enjoyable, the series seemed to be stretched too long for four issues, but still has plenty of fun moments.
In the 1960's, with the campy Batman television series in full gear, the comics often had Batman's magical miniature fan, Bat-Mite, appear to cause some wacky hi-jinks. This tiny figure was dressed in what looked like a poorly stitched home-made Batman costume. Given the serious turn that Batman has taken since Frank Miller's influential The Dark Knight Returns, Bat-Mite just doesn't seem to fit with the darker tone of Batman's world.
Bat-Mite has gotten two stories in the 1990's though. Both were written by Alan Grant with surrealistic art by Kevin O'Neill. The first was in Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight #38 from 1992. Batman interviews a drug addict named Overdog who claims to have seen "an elf dressed in a crazy-looking Batman costume!" From his Arkham Asylum cell, Overdog claims the imp told him that everyone in his dimension has magical powers. The mites get their kicks by watching the Earth and dressing up as superheroes to play games with each other. Bat-Mite comes to Earth to help his hero, but disappears after he screws up without letting Batman see him.
The 1995 prestige format one-shot, Batman: Mitefall takes a crack at the Knight-Fall/Quest/End stories in the Bat books where Batman had his back broken by Bane. Overdog is released from Arkham during the bust-out of bad guys, but after being forced-fed some drugs, is approached by Bat-Mite who is suffering a similar crisis in his dimension. The rest of the tale takes place in the mite universe and satirizes the events in the main Bat-books. Goofy fun with an edge.
World's Finest #6 (a ten issue series written by Karl Kesel in 1999) is delightful fun as Mr. Mxyzptlk teams up with Bat-Mite to argue which of their heroes is the better one. The story is filled with Silver Age references to give an additional treat to long time fans, while being perfectly fun and enjoyable to everyone. Some examples are seeing Batman and Robin climb the side of a building in tribute to the television series and seeing Superman and Batman swoop in to rescue Lois in tribute to their first team-up in Superman #76.
Finally, in 2000, both imps starred in a very special prestige format, Superman & Batman: World's Funnest, written by Evan Dorkin with an incredible array of artists. It's tempting to name just some of them, but there's just too many notable artists. The premise of the story is that Mr. Mxyzptlk and Bat-Mite get into a cute dust up comparing Superman and Batman when the dispute accidentally turns deadly. This leads to a chase across alternate dimensions with massive destruction to each universe in a series of pinups homaging DC's various incarnations. The issue is a treat for long time fans familiar with DC's history, as well as a great showcase for newer fans.
And that's all for now ...