Wednesday, June 10, 2009


I'm late to the party on Superman: Doomsday (2007, directed by Bruce Timm, Lauren Montgomery, and Brandon Vietti). In truth, I didn't want to rent it and I didn't want to buy it. I had something of the same reaction to the comic book upon which the movie is based back in 1993. I was reading Superman at the time, but for some reason, I skipped the whole "Death of Superman" story. It remains a gap in the Superman section of my longboxes to this very day. The story that followed it was pretty spiffy. It was titled "The Reign of the Supermen" and it even had a cinematic legacy in so far as it introduced Steel, later to be portrayed on screen by Shaquille O'Neal. Regardless, this cover does not occur in my vast archive of comics:

I was pretty disenchanted with superheroes at the time. Still am, actually. And Superman: Doomsday is a good reason why. The original story was basically a punching match, and while Dan Jurgens was certainly an expert cartoonist when it came to all things pugilistic, I just didn't care. There wasn't really any suspense, there wasn't any sense of something at stake. You could tell that the character--and I use the word loosely--of Doomsday was intended specifically for one plot purpose and one plot purpose only. To beat Superman to death.

Fun, eh?

Well, this purpose is carried over to the movie. I suppose I could live with that if it weren't for the fact that what turned me off of superhero comics in the first place was the sense that the creators of them were weaned on WWF Wrestling on Saturday afternoons. That's what these comics became. And like the WWF, comics completely marginalize women. Women are a pair of boobs. This is a problem with this movie in particular, because the story features a prominent role for Lois Lane. You could argue that she's co-equal with Superman in this, and there's a long precedence for this in Superman stories. For the most part, Superman: Doomsday actually does get Lois Lane right, even to the point of advancing her relationship with Superman in a logical way. But why, then, does it seem like she's always dressed like a hooker in this? Super-low-cut tanks and skin-tight leather miniskirts are her workaday attire. I mean, really? There's a serious disconnect between the character as written and the visual. And it's infuriating.

Also infuriating is the maturity of Jimmy Olsen, boy photographer. Well, he grows up a bit here. He turns paparazzi for the tabloids and behaves more or less like the worst douchebag you've ever met.


Jimmy Olsen is a douchebag.


That all said, the second half of the movie is interesting. They've scrapped the baroque "Reign of the Superman" story for a variant, in which Lex Luthor clones Superman to do his bidding. But the cloned Superman has an agenda all his own, one that mines the essential fascism of the superhero archetype for all it's worth. This part of the movie acts as an interesting exploration of the psyche of Lex Luthor, which is, frankly, the best part of the movie. Lex's plot to fill the sky with Superman clones under his command is one of the better evil plots. I also like the depiction of The Toyman, one of Superman's more ridiculous villains, here turned into a kind of deranged pederast. He's creepy as hell, but he also exists to demonstrate a point, and that point is very, very ugly. And then there's a big fight at the end. Yawn.

Thinking about the way this film resolves itself, I was struck by yet another thing that bothered the hell out of me about the reboot of Star Trek. Like this film, Star Trek's ending depends on the resolution of a fistfight. There are a LOT of movies where this is the gauntlet the hero has to run to save the day, in varying degrees of stupidity. Heroes never save the day through guile, cunning, or charm anymore. Fisticuffs it is. One longs for Dr. Doom as done by Lee and Kirby to show up and proclaim that "Doom does not engage in fisticuffs." Alas.

What really disappoints me about all of this is the fact that this is the work of Bruce Timm, whose earlier work with Superman (and Batman) was absolutely stellar. This is a sad come-down. The Superman Animated Series was easily as good as any depiction of the character and it's better than most. Best of all, that show didn't dress Lois Lane like a hooker.

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