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Possible Villains for the Zack Snyder Superman Reboot…

March is Superman month here at the m0vie blog, what with the release of the animated adaptation of Grant Morrison’s superb All-Star Superman. We’ll be reviewing a Superman-related book/story arc every Wednesday this month, so check on back – and we might have a surprise or two along the way.

This being a month dedicated to Superman and all, I thought I’d put together a “rogues gallery” of Superman foes that Snyder might possibly consider using for the upcoming Superman reboot. After all, Luthor and Zod are the only Superman foes to really get a shot at a big-screen adaptation so far, so there’s a whole range of choices out there. Superman might not have as deep a selection of foes as Batman or Spider-Man, but he’s not exactly short on major threats, either.

A viable threat to the Man of Steel?

Lex Luthor

Points in favour: Well, he’s Superman’s arch-enemy, so it’s hard to tell a definitive Superman story without him. He’s arguably a bigger fixture of Superman’s world than the Joker is to Batman. It helps that he’s a compelling and brilliantly constructed character who has never been used to his full potential on the big screen.

Points against: The five previous Superman films have featured either Luthor or a Lex Luthor stand-in as a villain, so there’s a definite sense of audience fatigue. Especially if you’re going to bring him back as a con artist and real estate crook yet again.

How I’d do it: Lex is one of the most cleverly developed and constructed villains in comics, so – if you’re going to do a Superman origin story again – I’d juxtapose it with Luthor’s childhood. Tie the two together, even though Clark and Luthor never really meet. The meteorite storm that brings Clark to Earth and to his parents also produces a hunk of rock which kills Luthor’s abusive parents and begins his fascination with kryptonite and the stars. Paint Lex as the hero of his own deluded little story – make him developed and sympathetic (paint him as a self-made man, in contrast to Superman’s “natural” gifts) and then, at the end, reveal just how self-serving and manipulative he is. Don’t make him the primary villain of the first film, set him up for the sequel as a true bad guy (like the Joker in The Dark Knight).

Brainiac

Points in favour: Well, he’s pretty much the only real threat in Superman’s selection of villains which can claim the name and brand recognition of Luthor. He has been so close to the big screen so often (he would have featured in Donner’s potential third Superman film and he featured in Kevin Smith’s aborted Superman Lives! script) that it makes him an obvious choice. Plus, if you argue that Superman is the ultimate immigrant, than Brainiac is the alien as invader. If you want to make Superman “relevant”, use it as a xenophobia metaphor. Superman is the alien as savior, while Brainiac is the alien as invader.

Points against: Of course, Warner Brothers might mistake “relevant” for “grounded”, so they might steer away from cosmic-level threats. And, if you’re going to tell the origin story, it might be tough to fit in the whole “invasion” angle against the “coming of age” character arc for Superman.

How I’d do it: Stick with the updates to the character that Superman: The Animated Series made to the character. Have him originate from Krypton (as the planet’s self-aware computer) rather than Culu. It ties the character to Superman’s origin and provides a handy little emotional link to the Man of Steel. Have him created by Jor-El, making him almost a brother to Superman, and have him fall to Earth with Superman as a relic from Krypton. Have him in weakened, fractured form (perhaps a computer programme in a lump of Kryptonite found by Luthor), and have Luthor accidentally free him while researching into Kryptonite. Like Luthor, I’d set him up during the first film and use him in the second (much like Nolan’s Batman sequel used arguably the two best Bat villains).

General Dru-Zod

Points in favour: Well, the rumours seem to favour Viggo Mortenson as Zod. So that’s a definite plus. Also, he’s one of the most iconic Superman heroes out there, despite not featuring in too many Superman comic books. He’s also a Kryptonian, so he’s easy to tie to Superman’s origin story.

Points against: Terence Stamp is Zod. “Kneel before Zod,” is a pop culture meme. Richard Donner already offered a defining version of Zod on the big screen. Anything else might seem like a pale imitation. Plus, you know, he has already had a shot at a cinematic adaptation, so there’s no need to be greedy.

How I’d do it: Distinguish him from Stamp (but make an odd cheeky reference). Have him mentor a young Clark Kent after Kent frees him from the Phantom Zone (maybe Clark doesn’t even realise it’s a prison), teaching him about his long-dead world. Zod would, ultimately, decide to rule Earth rather than serve it and Superman would have to decide between his human family and his Kryptonian heritage.

Darkseid

Points in favour: If you want a “big” villain against whom Superman can show off his awesome strength, with epic battles and genuine physical and emotional threat, you can’t do any better than Darkseid. Created by Jack Kirby, Darkseid is quite possibly the biggest bad guy in the DC Universe, so he’s a fitting foe for the Man of Steel. Plus, I would absolutely love to see Zack Snyder’s take on the dystopian alien landscape of Apokalips.

Points against: Well, he’s not really a Superman bad guy, per se. Jack Kirby created Darkseid as part of the Fourth World and the New Gods. However, he only really began a strong association with Superman after those books finished. Plus, he’s also the biggest bad in the DC Universe, so he might be better saved for a Justice League movie (though Warners claim that isn’t happening). He’s also really, really a cosmic bad guy, which might cause problems if the company wants to make the hero “relatable.”

How I’d do it: I’m going to attract some controversy for suggesting it, but I’d liberally borrow some of Grant Morrison’s ideas about Darkseid from Final Crisis, without adapting the whole plot. I’d save him for the “capper” of a Superman trilogy, but I’d hint at his presence throughout the first two. Basically, I’d tie the destruction of Krypton to the “death of the fourth world” which would also include the destruction of Apokalips. Or “the death of the old gods”, the ending of a particular cycle of cosmic history. For bonus points, and using the theory of relativity like Donner did, I’d suggest that Superman took millions of years to arrive on Earth (while still a baby) as an ambassador from the old gods.

Basically, Morrison proposed that humanity and Earth would become the “fifth world” and the “new new gods”, an idea that I think fits Superman well. Superman is about showing us how we’re better and stronger than we often think we are. Darkseid would, following the death of his old world, attempt to manifest on Earth, “infecting” people with evil and corruption and vice, before making his presence known. He would be the perfect adversary to the Man of Steel.

In fighting him, Superman would end the trilogy on an optimistic note, the idea that humanity are worthy and brilliant and that we will continue to strive towards excellency and enlightenment. A whole “humanity is special” ending which perfectly fits Superman’s themes.

Bizarro

Points in favour: Well, they could save some of the budget on hiring another actor by just getting Henry Cavill to double in the role. Bizarro is one of the more famous Superman rogues, at any rate. He’s also a rather obvious (but effective) counterpoint to Superman. Plus, if done right, he’s comedy gold.

Points against: Bizarro is generally more tragically misunderstood than outright evil. He’s also rarely self-motivating. He’s also fairly bland and shallow as a Superman foe goes. Plus, if done wrong, he’s a comedy nightmare.

How I’d do it: Unfortunately, a deleted scene from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace seems the most obvious way to do it, which is never a good sign. One of Luthor’s experiments gone wrong – an attempt to create his own Superman. Have him die managing to save the world, saying “Hello, Superman” as the perfectly tragic ending.

Mr. Mxyzptlk

Points in favour: The man can bend reality to his very will, so he’s certainly in the right class. And he also provides an intellectual threat to the Man of Steel.

Points against: He’s a very “light” villain. The only time he has ever really seemed threatening was in Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? or when the Joker stole his powers in the Emperor Joker storyline. He’s traditionally very camp and very Silver Age, so I reckon that will count against him.

How I’d do it: Have him show up to judge and test humanity, with Superman as their champion. Okay, it’s not gold… but I have nothing better.

Doomsday

Points in favour: Like Batman’s foe Bane, Doomsday was introduced in the nineties as key part of one of the most iconic stories to feature the character. Doomsday featured in The Death of Superman, which I think a lot of people outside comics are familiar with. Plus, he’s tied to Krypton, so he can’t be too awkward to insert. He’s also one of those rare villains who poses a genuine physical threat. Also, his nineties co-superhero-breaker is appearing in Nolan’s upcoming The Dark Knight Rises, so it might be somewhat fitting.

Points against: Unlike Bane, Doomsday never really evolved or caught on. He’s a very shallow villain with a very stupid gimmick (he can only be killed a particular way once). He’s a very shallow character, perhaps the most shallow villain in a selection of Superman bad guys who can be pretty shallow.

How I’d do it: It seems a bit redundant to use Doomsday unless you’re going to do an adaptation of The Death of Superman, as (despite a decade-worth of appearances since), that’s still what the bad guy’s associated with. But I’d use him as popcorn fare myself, just a big bad guy for Superman to thrash, someone he doesn’t have to hold back against.

The Parasite

Points in favour: He’s certainly visually distinctive, which means Snyder would have a field day with him. Plus, he’s not an alien and his origin is simple, so he’d make a decent little villain.

Points against: I’ve never been able to look at him the same way since Superman: The Animated Series used his powers as a rather disturbing metaphor, which might be distinctly uncomfortable for a big-budget superhero film. His origin also doesn’t really have any traction or tragedy, there’s no particular depth or pathos to it. He’s just sorta “one of those Superman villains.”

How I’d do it: I’d use him as a supporting villain. Make him one of Luthor’s experiments gone horrible wrong. Maybe Luthor can’t control him. I know it’s not much, but I don’t think there’s a lot to go on. In fairness, Geoff Johns’ recent Superman: Secret Origin gave the character a decent origin and Grant Morrison used him to great effect in All-Star Superman. Just have him act as more of a mindless, brute force sort of bad guy, one without any inherent humanity – a pure monster in the very fifties “hokey sci-fi” sense.

Metallo

Points in favour: He’s a human villain. His origin tends to vary (crooked reported, all-American soldier, tired old mercenary), but they’re simple enough for a two-hour film and all prove a fascinating counterpoint to the hero. He’s visually interesting enough to make a cool villain (think Superman vs. The Terminator).

Points against: He’s arguably too simple to serve as a lead villain. He’s also rather gimmicky (in that he’s powered by a Kryptonite heart, so that’s pretty much his “I beat Superman” card right there). He lacks any sort of name recognition.

How I’d do it: Metallo actually appears in my dream Superman origin movie, actually. John Corben is a former US marine who has now become a soldier of fortune (a dark mirror to Superman’s all-American charm). He is Lex Luthor’s hired muscle, the man who does his dirty work. When an encounter with Superman leaves Corben on the verge of death (which is what happens when you stab Superman with Krypton while he’s flying with you in hand), Luthor thinks he’s hit the jackpot.

Luthor’s programme to introduce cybernetic robot soldiers that he can sell to the Pentagon has hit a snag. His technicians can’t develop a suitable Artificial Intelligence to drive it. Looking at Corben’s barely alive remains, Luthor decides to model the A.I. on Corben, figuring a former soldier is the perfect mind for his “men of steel.” Corben is initially overjoyed at the sheer power of his new body, but grows increasingly unstable when he learns he can’t feel and is virtually indestructible.

In a feat of insanity, Corben decides to hijack all the cybernetic warriors and overload Luthor’s power plant at the heart of Metropolis, so as to kill himself with the resultant EMP (and anyone else in city limits). Luthor acknowledges to the army there’s nothing that can be done and pleads for a complete evacuation of Metropolis (conceding in his arrogance) he has no back-up plan. Superman manages to save the day, defeat Metallo and plunge Luthor’s power plant into the upper atmosphere. The kicker? Luthor’s embarrassment is only compounded when the press dub Superman the real “man of steel.”

Kryptonite Man

Points in favour: Well, as the name implies, he’s a pretty direct threat to Superman, isn’t he?

Points against: Kryptonite has been used repeatedly against Superman in the past five movies, so audiences might be sick of it. Also, the character has never really had an especially strong storyline or character arc in the comic books (or any other media), so it might be tough to come up with a compelling angle on this one.

How I’d do it: You got me. In what’s becoming a theme here, maybe Lex Luthor has an experiment go wrong?

Bruno Mannheim

Points in favour: If Snyder wants to “ground” Superman, he could use the character of Mannheim, the former head of Metroplois’ organised crime gang, Intergang.

Points against: He has some associations with Darkseid, but he’s not really a threat to the Man of Steel, is he?

How I’d do it: Give him a supporting role, like Falcone in Batman Begins as a means of illustrating how crap Metropolis was before Superman turned up. Alternatively, have him “infected” by Darkseid.

General Sam Lane

Points in favour: Well, if Snyder wants to “ground” his Superman origin, he could feature the US military and their response to the arrival of this alien. To make things extra awkward, Lois’ father, the xenophobic General Sam Lane, could be tasked with tracking down and getting rid of Superman, until he can prove that he’s friend rather than foe. Even after he proves that, Lane doesn’t trust him.

Points against: Lane reminds me a lot of General Ross from The Incredible Hulk, so he’s already a familiar archetype from another franchise. Plus, he doesn’t really serve as that much of a physical threat (even with military backing) against Superman. I wouldn’t anchor a movie on him.

How I’d do it: I’d make him a supporting cast member, Lex’s contact at the Pentagon – the man driving spending on LexCorp’s weapons technology. And more of a foil to Superman and Lois’ relationship than a direct threat to Superman (even after Superman wins over Metropolis).

The Cyborg Superman

Points in favour: He’s (rather obviously) a fitting counterpoint to Superman. He looks like Superman, and he’s a character who would give anything not to be Superman (in the same way one senses Superman would like to live his life as simply Clark Kent). He is tied to The Death and Return of Superman, but the character has grown and developed since then.

Points against: He’s grown and developed into a Green Lantern villain, even if it makes no sense to feature a Superman-themed villain in a Green Lantern movie. He’s also a villain intent on committing suicide, so it might seem strange in a mainstream superhero film (I’d love to see it, but I don’t see Warner Brothers going with it).

How I’d do it: Hank Henshaw is a handsome, skilled scientist in the employ of Lex Luthor with his beautiful and beloved wife. He’s working on the artificial intelligence development team with his beautiful wife (who he lives for). During a freak accident, Henshaw’s wife is killed, but Henshaw himself has his brainwaves transformed into something like radio-waves, able to remotely control technology. Going insane from the loss of his love, which he blames on Superman, but unable to die (as his brainwaves just transfer), Luthor offers him the perfect revenge on the hero: take a robotic duplicate body and wreak havoc, destroying his good name.

The Toyman

Points in favour: He’s arguably more of a Batman villain than a Superman villain – and Batman’s hot right now, right? Plus, there’s possibly some fun stuff Snyder could do with the visuals.

Points against: He’s arguably more of a Batman villain than a Superman villain – and this is a Superman movie. Plus there isn’t really a lot of depth to him unless you want to “go dark” like in Lex Luthor: Man of Steel or Superman: Doomsday. And I really don’t want the film to “go dark.”

How I’d do it: Give him a cameo, or incorporate the character’s secret identity as an Easter Egg, but that’s about it. I think he might have worked in Tim Burton’s Superman Lives!, as much as anything in that movie would possibly have worked.

Yes, in case you’re wondering, I do have a my own personal Superman trilogy in my head, so tired was I waiting for a decent Superman movie. I might share it closer to release date, even if it is a little fan fiction-y.

9 Responses

  1. Superman’s villains gallery is a hard one to choose from, but Zod is most likely.

    • My money’s on Zod, which is odd. Zod is the only Superman villain who has been done right on film (in fact, he’s been done better onf ilm than in the source material). I don’t doubt he can be done better, but Luthor is greater need of repair and there are far more exotic Superman villains out there deserving of a shot.

  2. I was gonna say, please no more Lex Luthor!! But then I read your argument and I could see how it could work. Totally agree about tying it with their childhood, usually the worst enemies were the best of friends.

    • I don’t even mean have them as childhood friends or anything as corny. Just show us their origins and how they differ from each other – Clark always having to hold abck in case he hurst somebody, while Lex always has to give it his all to prove he’s not just some kid from the slums. Clark is loved by his adoptive human parents, whiel Lex loathes his drunken and abusive father. Clark sees the good in people, while Lex believes that people need to be led and controleld for their own safety. Lex has to build a skyscraper to hover over the city, something Superman does naturally. Lex donates millions to charitable causes and makes real and sutainable changes to Metropolis, and yet never attains the profile of Superman.

      Basically, Lex’s motivations don’t necessarily make him a villain. He could be a (flawed) hero, if you believe a hero can be vain and arrogant. However, it’s his actions which make him a bad guy – the lengths he’ll go to in order to reach his desired ends.

      • Oh I thought you were thinking somewhere along the line of what Smallville is doing w/ Lex & Clark. I don’t mind that story but that show is just atrocious, bad acting, dialog, the list goes on… I can’t bear watching even as a huge Supes fan.

        Yes, playing on the stark contrast between the two is certainly something I’d watch. Isn’t there a Superman animated series on TV that makes Lex a US president? That’ll create an interesting conflict surely. So yeah, if written properly I can see Luthor being a very compelling Supes’ villain, but I still prefer to see Zod, but we need an actor as good as Terrence Stamp to play him on film.

  3. Am totally voting for Bizarro !

    • Bizarro am Number One!

      I’d love to see a regular audience try to wrestle with Bizarro speak, myself.

  4. I would do it this way.
    first movie zod with general sam lane in the background and superman having a connection to lex luthor like said in this article.
    Second movie has luthor gets a sample of supermans blood from the first movie battle and creating bizarro with metallo as a merc
    Third movie is a little hard. The choice is between darkseid and brainiac. I would do darkseid as controlling things for the past two movies than directly attacking earth. Doomsday would come in as a final weapon used by darkseid against superman.

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