Thursday, September 20, 2007

Superman Dumbsday

This is going to look bad, ripping on two Superman movies in a week’s time, but I am compelled to do so today. Spoilers lie ahead for “Superman Doomsday.”

Superman Doomsday” suffers from a version of what Roger Ebert calls an idiot plot: “Any plot containing problems which would be solved instantly if all of the characters were not idiots.” In this case, Superman is that idiot.

Doomsday is a biologically engineered creature designed to kill. He is unearthed by an illegal drilling operation run by Lex Luthor and Doomsday immediately starts killing things. He kills them a lot. I stopped counting snapped necks after the third one. Inevitably, Superman goes to face off with this monster, as he should.

The pair exchange vicious blows for several minutes, knocking each other through buildings, cars, tearing up Metropolis like it was made of so much cardboard and cellophane. At one point, Doomsday leaps up to grab hold of the Daily Planet helicopter, flown by Lois Lane. He clings to the body of the helicopter in an attempt to kill passenger Jimmy Olsen because he has dared to take a photograph of the monster. Superman tries unsuccessfully a couple of times to pry Doomsday’s hand from the helicopter, and then shears off the landing gear with his heat vision, allowing Doomsday to fall to earth. It should be noted, therefore, that Doomsday cannot fly.

Superman comes back down after landing the helicopter safely, and the battle continues.
Doomsday gets Superman on the ropes, eventually hitting him so hard that Superman starts coughing up blood. In a moment of desperation, Superman flies Doomsday up into space, and then turns him right back around and piledrives him through the atmosphere, right back down into the middle of Metropolis. The shockwave from the impact obliterates dozens if not a hundred buildings, which were not evacuated. Doomsday is dead, and Superman collapses in front of Lois, and supposedly dies as well. Herein lay the idiocy.

Superman had flown him into space. Since Doomsday could not fly, Superman could have:

1. Thrown him into the sun. He meant to kill him, so why not? Even if Doomsday survived the fury of the sun, he could never have escaped the gravity of the core.

2. Thrown him into deep space. He could have even pushed him gently, so that it would take generations to even travel out of the solar system. He could have worked out a more permanent solution at his leisure.

3. Placed him in orbit of the Earth or the Moon, anywhere he would have been rendered harmless by his inability to fly.

4. Driven him into the Moon. There’s no atmosphere to slow his descent, and no one lives on the moon. Lives would have been spared.

5. Landed him in the desert, the ocean, a volcano, the north pole, the south pole, anywhere lacking a population of millions.

Unfortunately, in order for Superman to die in Lois’ arms, he had to drive Doomsday right back into the middle of a huge city. And everything that happens consequently in the story hinges around the fact that Superman died an idiot. Turns out that he was only mostly dead anyway, like the Man in Black in the Princess Bride, but he was still an idiot.

Superhero writers need to play role-playing games. My friends and I played out the Death of Superman storyline from more than 10 years ago in the comics. I wrote up Doomsday as a Champions character and put him up against our superhero team. They were nowhere near as powerful as Superman but easily subdued him without even breaking a sweat. If you can fly and your opponent cannot, you have a distinct advantage. You can keep them off balance in the air. If you have a ranged attack and they don’t, you reign supreme. You will never have to be touched by them. Think like you’re Superman, not a fanboy who wants to see mass destruction on the screen.

But back then in the comic book, Superman just stood toe-to-toe with Doomsday and they landed simultaneous finishing blows, ala Rocky II, except neither got back up. When I first saw Superman fly Doomsday into space, I got a sudden emotional rush, thinking, “Finally! The writers are thinking from the perspective of Superman,” only to be crushed moments later by the monumental stupidity of returning the monster to Earth. I literally said aloud, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” My 17-month old daughter Sera was playing in the room with me while I was watching the movie and she looked at me, wondering what I was mad about. I have a feeling she’ll be writing better stories than this by the time she’s 12.

The Kevin Smith cameo was kind of cool, though.


Michael O. said...

Thanks for the save.

I was mildly curious about it. For just a moment, I thought about using the oh-so-enticing and evil "1-click buying" button on Amazon. But something in me made me think, "Maybe I'd better get the opinion of someone I know first. Someone who gets it. Some who's..."

Not an idiot.

Thanks for saving me from surely speaking the same words when I got the big moment. Whew! Close one!

Martin said...

Jim, thanks for saving me some money. I was curious about this but not enough to get it right away. I'll catch it on cable someday - maybe - for free. Meanwhile, I'll pass.

Jim McClain said...

Guys, to make things worse, while listening to the commentary track last night, all the participants were complimenting Bruce Timm on fixing the part of the comic book that wouldn't work on screen by having Superman fly Doomsday into space instead of them landing simultaneous punches.