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Alvin Schwartz, creator of Superman’s Bizarro image, dies at 95

Author Alvin Schwartz, famous in the comic books world for his creation of Bizarro, Superman’s cracked mirror image, died Oct. 29 at 95 in Canada, where he had lived for many years. He also wrote detective novels, conducted motivational and marketing research and, in his 80s, published two books described as "remarkable spiritual autobiographies."

Among the comics cognoscenti, Schwartz is revered for creating Bizarro. “He saw the Superman character … as a creature of radiant light, and conceived Bizarro as sort of a dark Superman — not evil, as opposed to Superman’s goodness, but a Superman without radiance,” one comics blogger wrote. Bizarro debuted in a Superboy comic book in 1958 and since has returned many times in many forms.

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Schwartz, who was born in New York City in 1916, wrote his first Batman story in 1942, and his first Superman two years later. He wrote most of DC Comics’ newspaper strips between 1944 and 1952, and also wrote stories for Aquaman, Vigilante, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern and others. Schwartz also wrote two Superman operas for the character’s late 1940s radio program. In an online forum Schwartz ran, he described the programs as having sold successfully on 78 rpm vinyl records, but bloggers say one of the discs is a rarity prized by collectors if it is findable at all.

Schwartz left the comics world in 1958 after disputes with the company that owned Superman and continued on a spiritual journey as he discovered that “writing heroic characters — Superman, especially — was giving him issues of identity and a wide array of emotions over his own worth as a human being.”

In Schwartz’s 1997 memoir, “An Unlikely Prophet: Revelations on the Path Without Form,” he wrote: “My ordinary, everyday self — now that I understood — was finally the key to everything. It was my entree to the powers of the universe. And it was also something else. It was the place where the infinite rested on the finite.”

The book chronicles his visit by Thongden, a 7-foot-tall Buddhist monk who claims to be his tulpa, a physical representation of Schwartz’s imagination and inner thought.

A 2006 follow-up, “A Gathering of Selves: The Spiritual Journey of the Legendary Writer of Superman and Batman,” tells of how “with the aid of his mentor Thongden, Schwartz is carried beyond the ordinary boundaries of personal identity into an interpersonal consciousness inhabited by a multitude of selves, including the dark figure of Batman.”

A description of the book said that during the time he wrote for the comics, Schwartz “lived a double life, one half of which was spent writing the adventures of Batman and Superman, the other half writing novels and spending time with members of New York’s intellectual society such as Saul Bellow and Jackson Pollack. … While in ‘An Unlikely Prophet’ Schwartz was able to channel the ever-present figure of Superman into a positive voyage of self-discovery, in ‘A Gathering of Selves’ he uses the raw strength offered by Batman to carry him to the next stage of understanding: What we think of as ‘self’ is but one layer of an onion-like structure of multiple selves that coexist, representing the foundation of the fundamental unity of all being.”

The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org.

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