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The History of Mister Mxyzptlk, Superman’s Impish Frenemy

by  in CBR Exclusives, Comics, Comic News Comment
The History of Mister Mxyzptlk, Superman’s Impish Frenemy

One of the most interesting balancing acts modern day comic books maintain is how to bring characters who existed in an era where comic books were mostly directed at children into the current era, where comics are aimed at an older audience. When your audience has been made to expect a certain style of comic book character, where does someone like Mister Mxyzptlk, the mischaevous imp from the 5th Dimension, fit into the DC Comics Universe? We’re finding that out right now, as Mxyzptlk is making his triumphant return in the DCU’s Rebirth era. While we celebrate his comeback, let’s look back at his impressively long comics career as one of the few Golden Age Superman characters to make it out of that era!

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Mister Mxyzptlk was first created by the same fellow who created Superman, Jerry Siegel, along with artist Ira Yarbrough, for 1944’s “Superman” #30. However, due to a delay in scheduling, the character actually first showed up in the “Superman” newspaper comic strip (by Whitney Ellsworth and Wayne Boring), as the strip and the comic book were often treated nearly interchangeably at the time, as they were both under the direction of Ellsworth, who was the editor of all “Superman” comic-related matters at the time (until he left the series in the hands of Mort Weisinger when Ellsworth began handling the famed television adaptation of Superman, “The Adventures of Superman”).

Here he is from the comic strip…

And here he is in what was supposed to be his comic debut, from “Superman” #30…

Note the spelling of his name. When he debuted, the P and the T were switched, so his name was Mister Mxyztplk.

When Mxyztplk first showed up, he was a good deal crueler than he would later become, but that, in a way, pretty much describes the sensibilities of the Golden Age period. The humor of the Golden Age was, generally speaking, cruder than the humor following the introduction of the Comics Code in the mid-1950s. At most companies, including DC Comics, things had toned down considerably by the end of the 1940s, even, on a voluntary basis. You only have to look at the early Joker appearances to see how the character was toned down within the first few years of his existence. In any event, when Mxyztplk first showed up, he got off on making people think he was dead repeatedly in his first appearance. Originally, his intent was to conquer Earth, but that quickly devolved to just wanting to irritate Superman. Initially, the way to get rid of him was for anyone to say his name backwards, Klptzyxm, but that also very quickly changed to specifically having it be he who would have to be the one to say the name backwards. Saying the name would force him to go back to his home dimension for 90 days. Back in the Golden Age, if they thought that they hit on a good character, they would use that guy over and over again and that’s what happened to Mxyztplk. He was possibly Superman’s most common enemy in the late 1940s/early 1950s.

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Also note the original outfit that Mxyztplk wore. His original outfit was that suit and derby look. That look lasted until 1953, when Al Plastino gave him basically the most common outfit for Mxyztplk, but just not the right color yet…

That would happen four issues later, in “Superman” #86…

That would become his classic look. Now early on in Mort Weisinger’s tenure as “Superman” editor, Mxyztplk stopped showing up for a few years. By the time he showed up again in “Superman” #131, it sure appeared as though no one remembered how to spell his name, so he suddenly became Mister Mxyzptlk, the name that would stick from that point forward (note that years later, it was established that Mister Mxyztplk was from Earth Two and Mister Mxyzptlk was from Earth One)…

Mxyzptlk was popular in the Silver Age, but even by the 1970s, he had fallen out of favor a bit as a character, as the “Superman” titles were trying to be a bit more “modern” under the new editorial direction of Julius Schwartz.

Alan Moore famously used Mxyzptlk as the main villain of his “Farewell to the Pre-Crisis” Superman in 1986’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow”…

After “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and the subsequent “Man of Steel” reboot of the “Superman” mythos, John Byrne actually brought Mister Mxyzptlk back into the fold a lot sooner than most people expected, re-introducing him in 1987’s “Superman” #11…

However, Post-Crisis, Mxyzptlk appearances were treated as very special occasions (also, initially at least, the way to get rid of him was now different each time he showed up). Eventually, though, “Superman: The Man of Steel” artist Jon Bogdanove, clearly a fan of the character, began to work him into the comic with a little more frequency…

Meanwhile, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm brought the character into the “Superman: The Animated Series” cartoon, where he was depicted like his classic look and he was voiced by Gilbert Gottfried.

This take on the character proved to be very popular, which makes sense, as Mxyzptlk’s sensibilities really lend themselves to cartoons especially well (especially as that basic trope had been used in cartoons for years, like the Great Gazoo in “The Flinstones”). Mxyzptlk was also a popular character on the 1960s “Superman” animated series.

As the 21st Century began, Mxyzptlk got a special spotlight in a classic graphic novel by Evan Dorking, “Superman and Batman: Worlds Funnest” where Mxyzptlk and his Batman-counterpart, Bat-Mite, fight each other throughout the history of the DC Comics Universe.

Soon after, Mxyzptlk was at the center of a major “Superman” event when Mxyzptlk is tricked by the Joker into giving him his powers and, well, things don’t go very well for the world in “Emperor Joker.” Luckily, the heroes are able to stop the madman and get Mxy his powers back.

During the rest of the 2000s, writers didn’t seem to quite know what to do Mxyzptlk. For a time, he was split into a pair of vicious twins who were a lot more evil than annoying, but that was quickly dropped (this was before Greg Rucka’s run on “Adventures of Superman,” where he had Mxy show up every four issues as little breaks in the overall narrative). During the “Countdown to Final Crisis,” Mxyzptlk was kidnapped by Superboy Prime and forced to use his powers under Superboy Prime’s service. However, since the New 52 occurred, Mxyzptlk had only made one appearance in a Grant Morrison-penned issue of “Action Comics,” but Morrison’s “Action Comics” was always a bit of a different animal than the rest of the New 52, so he didn’t really have a place in this new take on the DC Universe. With “Rebirth,” though, the very idea that the DC Universe has been changed has been a major plot point and thus, with the re-introduction of Mister Mxyzptlk, we are addressing head on the idea that there might be a very good reason why Superman hasn’t seemed to remember him anymore, even as we have learned that Mxyzptlk transcends the Multiverse itself.

Where we go next with Mxyzptlk looks to be a fascinating examination of the changing nature of the DC Universe, but wherever we go, it’s just fun to have this fun character back in play again.

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