Mr. Mxyzptlk - every Superman fan worthy of the name knows the name when they see it, though few know how to say it out loud. He is a "trickster god" type of character, like Loki from Norse mythology or the satyr Pan from Greek myths. Not only is the fifth dimensional imp a lot of fun, he pushes Superman out of his comfort zone. Mxy is one of the only villains Superman cannot defeat with his powers. To defeat him, the hero must figure out a way to trick him into saying or writing his own name backwards. This forces The Man of Steel to use his wits, to rely on brain over brawn.
Mxyzptlk has been getting a lot of attention lately, since he has shown up in Supergirl as less of a short, bald imp and more of an attractive man pursuing Kara. If you are unfamiliar with his history, or want to learn even more, here 15 Things You Didn’t Know About Mr. Mxyzptlk.
If you have ever seen arguments break out over the right way to pronounce Mxy’s name, you know that everyone thinks they’re right. Good news is that everyone is technically right in some way, because even DC doesn’t seem to know the correct answer. Words with so many back-to-back consonants are difficult - who knows when to break it up and where to put the emphasis? When the character debuted, the original spelling was Mister Mxyztplk. The t and the p were switched sometime during the Silver Age. The 1967 Superman series pronounced it mix-yez-PITTLE-ik forwards and kulp-ti-Mix-im backwards. The 1980s Super Friends cartoon said mix-ill-plick. The 1990s Superman animated series broke it down as mix-yes-spit-lick. Smallville went with miks-il-piti-lik. Other variations include: miks-yez-pit-lik, mix-yiz-SPIT-Lik, mix-yez-PIT-lek, and mix-yez-PIT-ul-ick. So go ahead and pick whichever version is easiest to say; don’t worry about sticking to whatever you were told was the real one.
L. Frank Baum, who created the magical world of Oz and characters such as Dorothy, the Wizard, Glinda the Good Witch, and the Wicked Witch of the West, may have also provided the inspiration for Mr. Mxyzptlk’s character. In Baum’s novel, The Magic of Oz, the evil Nome King learns a magic word from a Munchkin named Kiki Aru that allows him to cause chaos throughout the land until the Wizard brings them down. The magic word is pyrzqxgl, and Baum took care not to give any hints about its pronunciation. It has not been confirmed if this story helped inspire the Superman villain. However, Super Friends did have an episode titled “The Planet of Oz” starring Mr. Mxyzptlk wreaking havoc on the Justice League. The imp traps Superman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman in a dimension based on the Land of Oz and transforms them into the the Tin Woodman, Cowardly Lion, and Scarecrow.
On one of his trips to the third dimension, Mr. Mxyzptlk cannot find Superman anywhere. The Man of Steel is in self-imposed exile in deep space. Without his Kryptonian playmate around, he settles for tormenting Lex Luthor instead. Unfortunately for Mxy, Luthor is not as kind hearted and tolerant. Plus with Superman out of Metropolis, he is in the middle of a Machiavellian power trip - in a story arc named “Hostile Takeover” - and double-crosses the imp. It is during this encounter that Mxyzptlk learns the concept of lying. Luthor would come to regret teaching him this skill, as it makes Mxyzptlk a more formidable trickster. When the two meet again in "Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite,” Mxyzptlk is more prepared to properly mess with Luthor. He gives him a bit of red kryptonite that Luthor can use to incapacitate Superman, on the condition that Luthor never tells his foe who gave it to him. Luthor of course ends up violating this rule.
In most of their stories together, Superman must trick Mr. Mxyzptlk into saying his name backwards to force him back to the fifth dimension. But this does not always work. Sometimes there is a catch, such as Mxyzptlk is only banished for 90 days or that the person who says his name is also forced into the fifth dimension. Originally, the conditions would be different every time the imp visited. Superman discovers this during Mxyzptlk’s second visit to the third dimension. This time Mxyzptlk will not leave unless Superman can get him to paint his own face blue. The Man of Steel must endure his crazy antics, like bringing Saturday morning cartoon characters to life, until he can figure out how to achieve this feat. He eventually manages to trick Mxy using a special type of face makeup. But since Lex Luthor taught him how to lie, it would be extremely difficult to defeat him if he was allowed to change the rules every time; so the trick of saying his name backwards was reinstated by writers.
After Mr. Mxyzptlk learns how to lie, he is eager to try out his new skill. He tricks Superman and the Flash III - Wally West - into the Metropolis Stadium, where he has set up a race for them. Initially they refuse to partake in something so frivolous and order the imp to leave. Mxyzptlk tries to entice them by saying this is their chance to prove which hero is superior in speed. Superman arrogantly claims that the new Flash is nowhere close to Barry Allen’s speed and that this would really be a race between Superman and Kid Flash, which obviously offends Wally. They agree to participate in the imp’s race - the Flash wants to prove himself worthy of the name and Superman just wants the nuisance to leave. Of course, it is not a straightforward race. Mxyzptlk sets up several surprises along the way. Mxyzptlk expects Superman to win and sneakily sets a Flash victory as his condition for leaving. To his surprise, the Flash wins and he must bid adieu.
This was the first Post-Crisis race between the two heroes and the first time Wally raced The Man of Steel. The fan-favorite moment happened all thanks to Mr. Mxyzptlk.
The definition and scope of Mr. Mxyzptlk’s powers are not clearly defined. He is not bound by the physical rules of the universe, can warp the fabric of reality in the third dimension however he pleases, travel wherever he wants, create whatever he wants, take any form he wants, can survive in any environment, and is virtually unharmable. Basically, his power is that he can do whatever he feels like doing. The source of these impressive abilities is generally explained to be magic. Specifically, magic from the fifth dimensional that is more powerful than even the most powerful magic from the third dimension. However, this is not consistent. Sometimes, his powers are explained to be the product of extremely advanced technology from the fifth dimension; so advanced, that it appears magical to third dimensional beings. But when he returns to his dimension, his powers are not as extensivel. Either way, he is a forced to be reckoned with.
In one Silver Age issue of Action Comics, the prankster finally pushes The Man of Steel too far. Mxyzptlk’s antics force Superman to cancel one of his scheduled appearances and disappoint the children in attendance. Superman, angered that innocent children were affected by the imp’s nonsense, decides to stoop to his level. He gets revenge by visiting Mxyzptlk in the fifth dimension and causing trouble for him. He discovers that Mxy is running for mayor in his hometown and makes it his mission to ruin his chances of winning. The tables have turned on Mxyzptlk, who desperately tries to trick Superman into saying his name backwards so we will leave the fifth dimension. He does trick him into saying Superman backwards, but is dismayed to find out this does not work. When he is satisfied with his revenge, Superman quietly says Kal-El backwards to himself and is sent back to the third dimension.
The jester’s secret origins were revealed in Young Justice (the original comic book series, not the show). Robin, Impulse, and Superboy run into a much younger Mxyzptlk who claims that he is a serious researcher. He finds third dimension Earth quite interesting and decides to study the “primitive lifeforms.” Ignoring Robin’s warnings of altering the timestream, Superboy informs Mxyzptlk that he grows up to be a prankster who makes Superman’s life miserable. He is shocked to hear that he would become such a bothersome figure and swears that he will never become that imp. This decision ends up altering the timestream enough to destroy the world, forcing the three young heroes to try and convince Mxyzptlk to go back on his promise. They succeed by showing him videos of “The Three Stooges.” He abandons his studies and embraces his destiny. However, when Superboy mentions all of this to the adult Mxyzptlk he has no memory of the exchange.
There is an imp just like Mr. Mxyzptlk named Bat-Mite who visits Batman in the third dimension. While Mxyzptlk actively enjoys bothering Superman, Bat-Mite does not intend to annoy Batman. He idolizes the hero, even dressing up as a miniature version of him. Once he realizes that he has caused trouble for The Caped Crusader, he leaves out of his own free will.
The imps do not cross paths too often. When they do meet, sometimes they are at odds with each other. And at other times, they wreak havoc together. The two entered a feud when Bat-Mite prohibited Superman from helping Batman with an enemy; he did not want Superman to steal any of the glory from Batman. This infuriates Mxyzptlk, who can be oddly protective of The Man of Steel at times. He does not like seeing anyone else messing with him - only he is allowed to do that. In the one issue title Superman and Batman: World's Funnest, they engage in a more friendly rivalry. The two travel across dimensions in an epic battle of magic, temporarily destroying the entire universe in the process.
During his more compassionate moments, Mxyzptlk has expressed that he prefers Lois and Clark to be together and is very sad when their relationship hits a rough patch. (Although during his less compassionate moments, he has tricked Lois into dating him in disguise instead. But that has only happened once or twice). In one story, Mxy is disappointed to hear that Lois has broken off her engagement to Clark. He tries to rectify the problem by throwing Lois into dangerous situations and forcing Superman to rescue her and creating a fake child to bring the two together. He even grants Superman one special wish that he can use for anything, including for Lois to take him back. None of his plans work, but the couple reunites later out of their own volition. Mxyzptlk is delighted at the news and pays Superman a visit on his wedding day, disguised as Jimmy Olsen.
There is no doubt that Mr. Mxyzptlk is powerful. Unfortunately, he can also be quite gullible. This proves to be a dangerous combination at times; in particular, during the “Emperor Joker” storyline. Mxyzptlk is curious to see what someone else would do with his powers. But he makes the mistake of choosing the Joker as his test subject. He means to give the clown only 1 percent of his might, which is already more than enough the Joker needs to cause mayhem. But somehow, the Joker fools the imp into giving him 99.9 percent of his power instead. It takes just over a minute for The Clown Prince of Crime to plunge the world into absolute chaos, and Mxyzptlk is powerless to stop him. Superman manages to restore order to the universe. Mxyzptlk ended up liking some of the Joker’s twisted creations and keeps them in the real world.
As much as he loves to mess with Superman, there is an infinite amount of dimensions for Mr. Mxyzptlk to explore. In the "Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite” storyline, he tells Luthor he is having too much fun in another world to stay in Metropolis and trusts the man to bother Superman on his behalf. Then he mentions returning to his four new friends and morphs into a form that looks remarkably close to The Impossible Man - a villain of the Fantastic Four. Like Mxyzptlk, Impossible Man is a comedic nuisance that loves to annoy the heroes. Through rearranging his molecules, he can alter his appearance however he chooses. He can also teleport across great distances and dimensions. Mr. Mxyzptlk and Impossible Man can easily be one and the same.
Mr. Mxyzptlk has also been jokingly referenced by Spider-Man a couple of times. In The Amazing Spider-Man #426, Peter Parker awakes from a nightmare yelling Mxyzptlk’s name backwards, “Kltpzyxm.”
Mr. Mxyzptlk is such a well-known Superman villain that just about every major television series starring The Man of Steel, both animated and live-action, has featured him in some way. His first animated appearance was in The New Adventures of Superman. He also shows up in Super Friends voiced by Frank Welker, the voice behind Fred Jones from Scooby-Doo and Megatron from Transformers. Gilbert Gottfried, known for voicing the parrot in Aladdin, played the part in Superman: The Animated Series. Michael J. Pollard, who also played C. W. Moss in Bonnie and Clyde, portrayed the first live-action Mxyzptlk in The Adventures of Superboy. In Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Howie Mandel plays the part in the episode “Twas the Night Before Mxymas.” Trent Ford played Mikhail Mxyzptlk in Smallville. And Peter Gadiot portrays him in Supergirl. He has yet to feature in a film as of yet.
In the post-Flashpoint universe, it is revealed that Mr. Mxyzptlk has a wife named Nyxlygsptlnz - also known by the nickname Mrs. Nyxly. She is the daughter of the fifth dimension king, Brpxz. Mxyzptlk works as the court jester to entertain the royal family. His talent gets him in the king’s good graces, and the princess takes notice of him. The former court jester, Vyndktvx, becomes jealous and tries to kill his replacement, but he accidently kills the king instead. Mxyzplk and the princess flee to the third dimension, taking the forms of humans to disguise themselves.
Mrs. Nyxly’s disguise is that of an old landlady. She discovers that one of her tenants, Clark Kent, is living a dual life as Superman. She shares her own secret identity with the Kryptonian as the wife of Mr. Mxyzptlk. She informs him that his battle with Vyndktvx left the imp in a coma. Once he recovers, they return to rule the fifth dimension.
Mxy is usually a more lighthearted annoyance rather than a cunning villain. And it is a good thing that is the case, because the few times he has gone full evil have been terrifying. In Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, his torment of Superman goes from harmless pranks to serious threats on the hero’s life. He gives some of Superman’s adversaries extra power and prevents him from taking cover in the Fortress of Solitude. Once he reveals that he has been behind Superman’s woes, the Kryptonian accidentally kills him while trying to send him to the Phantom Zone. Superman permanently retires after this and goes into self-imposed exile to atone for the crime.
A darker version of Mxyzptlk also appears in Injustice: Gods Among Us masquerading as The Spectre. He is fully behind the evil Superman’s mission to take over the world and does whatever he can to help.
Supergirl airs Mondays on The CW.