Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Superman: Doomed, Chapters 1-3

In the New 52, some events in previous continuity happened, and some events didn’t. Bane broke Batman’s back, and Hal Jordan became Parallax, but Doomsday never killed Superman. The end of Grant Morrison’s Action run showed a Lois and a Jimmy who remembered Doomsday having killed Superman, but that wasn’t the New 52’s Lois and Jimmy, so this story is breaking new ground.

Superman: Doomed is a crossover event with its first three chapters all going on sale the same day, so readers need to be careful to follow the reading order to avoid spoilers, which this review contains in abundance.

In 1992, Doomsday was introduced for the very purpose of killing Superman. His abilities were revealed as the story progressed, but his origin was left as a mystery, with such details as his state of confinement left unexplained. They were probably better left a mystery. Subsequent stories resorted to hackneyed reveals and a painfully illogical “power” (that no one can defeat him twice) borrowed from the 1970s origin of the Calculator. Everything that made Doomsday intriguing and mysterious was stripped away in story after story, until nothing remained of the character but a way for writers to introduce, cheaply, a moment where the reader thinks, “This is bad.”

Superman: Doomed removes, at least initially, most of the characteristics of the 1992 story except for the creature’s appearance. We begin, in 2014, by knowing that Doomsday had a past on Krypton, although this past comes to us through an intriguingly doubtful story-within-a-story told to Kara by Zor-El in Batman/Superman #3.1. In a major alteration of the character, this Doomsday feeds off the lifeforce of nearby beings, more akin to the Parasite, and left the entire population of Smallville in a coma and killed many other people elsewhere. Also unlike the original, this Doomsday is able to teleport, and specifically avoids fighting Superman. Again unlike the original, this Doomsday is beaten physically without too much trouble, being ripped in half by Superman at the end of a battle which goes from place to place before concluding in Smallville. As the most significant alteration from the original character, this Doomsday is a sort of infection which is now inside Superman, and he must summon the willpower to fight the infection or he will have, in effect, lost the battle by becoming the next incarnation of the very villain he physically beat.

In what we’ve seen so far, the story has a few flaws. The art surrounding the battle in Superman: Doomed #1 was unusually chaotic and confusing. It was difficult to tell whether punches were being landed, dodged, or thrown the other way. When the battle moved to a new place via teleportation or conventional movement, the motion and the motives were largely left uncommunicated except by narration boxes. Superman decides to take the battle away from humanity, but this only seems to apply to one brief portion of the battle, a few punches taking place on a nicely-rendered landscape of Venus. Before and after this, the battle takes place on Earth, with no explanation for why Superman abandoned his strategy to fight far away from potential victims.

An important characteristic in Superman’s moral make-up is his reluctance to kill, and when the story brings this up, it does so briefly. Superman implicitly decides that killing Doomsday is worth it, but then relishes it when Wonder Woman asks him to bring her Doomsday’s head. If the story is to redeem its potential, it needs to revisit this decision in more detail, as the decision itself was dispensed with rapidly as it occurred.

At this point, the story is one of internal struggle against what is in effect demonic possession, Superman’s inner nature battling a contagion, a dynamic which has been used many since 1960s stories that used red kryptonite to advance that plot. More recently, 52 Aftermath: The Four Horsemen showed Superman resisting the slowly-growing influence of a similar evil demigod while his allies tried to help him. Superman: Doomed will be a thorough disappointment if it aspires only to repeat that plot but with more PR this time. It may likewise repeat the “Bad Superman” of Superman III, the “Doomsday always comes back stronger” from the creature’s first go-around, and we’re left to see going into chapter four if the story has something new to add.

A different plot which is getting more attention is the tension between Lois Lane and Wonder Woman as rivals for Superman’s love interest. Decades of tradition placing Lois Lane (almost always) in that role have been on hold in the New 52, with Wonder Woman owning Superman’s heart for over two years now (versus about two issues in post-COIE continuity). If the Superman-Wonder Woman relationship is meant to tear away easily, leading to a triumphant renewal of the Superman-Lois relationship, then this event might be the place where it happens. On the other hand, the things Superman and Wonder Woman have in common as warriors should apply more in this story than most others, and we’ve already seen how Wonder Woman is more at place than Lois in most aspects of the story, although Lois has the byline for the articles that start each issue.

The story has asserted that Superman, as Doomsday’s target of choice, is the strongest being on Earth, with nary a word of contradiction regarding Shazam, Supergirl, or Martian Manhunter. We know from solicits that Superman will lose the battle against the Doomsday infection before he ultimately wins it. We will see as the story unfolds if it can win the battle against duplicating older stories with no real purpose or originality.


  1. Rikdad -- I find that Superman in the New 52 has been a mess of both narrative and characterization. Morrison's Action run had its high points, but much of the rest has been barely readable (Unchained started strong but the slow production schedule has lost me. The recent start of Greg Pak's Action run is the one bright spot, in my view.).

    I'd feared the worst for the Doomed storyline, and your post confirms it. It is sad in 2014 that most of the Superman I read is from issues with numbered triangles on the front that I pull from my collection. Whatever flaws I once thought some of those stories had, they tower over present-day Superman.

    One question: You say the Lois and Jimmy who remember the Doomsday battle are not from the New 52. I recall that being mentioned in a particularly tangled Morrison issue, but I thought those were present-day Jimmy and Lois. Was I wrong?

    Thanks, as always, for your insight.

  2. ManWithTenEyes,
    I read most of the "Superman" titles rather rapidly recently, having missed most of it. I may or may not write that up, but I'll say that for one of the prime titles of a flagship character being rebooted, it felt uninspired and even disorganized, although I think Scott Lobdell has done nice things since he took over.

    I really like how Superman's characterization has changed since Flashpoint. I feel like it's dramatically improved a la my wishlist in my post "Who Took the Super Out of Superman?" I'm curious as to how that has been enforced so effectively across titles.

    The scene in Action we're referring to is early in Action #16, and the narration regarding Superman's first death at the hands of Doomsday continues on through #17. Interpreting what's happening with reality in those issues is not completely straightforward; for example, the deaths of the Mars colonists are depicted, but is retroactively made not real. I'll have to parse these issues more carefully and get back to your question. My earlier interpretation was that everything very bad was un-done by Superman's victory, but that may not be supported by the story. It's worth a closer look.

  3. Speaking of Morrison's Action Comics, just what was that device Batman plants on him? Why tease us with a subplot when you knew you were leaving in a dew issues Grant? CURSES!

  4. Supes has definitely changed in terms of characterization, but enforcement unsteady.
    In "Unchained," he could well be pre-Flashpoint Supes. I even feel a bit of early '70s Superman there -- confident, concerned and drawn really, really well.

    But then you get to "Trinity War" and he's far too easily taken out of the action. Necessary for that plot perhaps, but everything about him in those issues says "weak."

  5. ManWithTenEyes,
    Some clarification on whether or not Superman died at the hands of Doomsday in the New 52.

    It appears that the creators have shown a difference of opinion on this. Morrison said in an interview after his run that he believed the answer was yes, and wrote with that in mind. I misinterpreted that, with most of the unhappy events in Action being retroactively canceled, but Morrison intended the references to Superman's first death at the hands of Doomsday to have taken place.

    However, Charles Soule concluded a long answer to that question with: "I think there are a lot of open questions about Superman and Doomsday and his (quote/unquote) 'death.'"

    So apparently the matter is somewhat open, or has some qualification coming (or not!), and we'll have to read the current story to find out.

  6. Rikdad --

    Thank you for researching that. Continuity is certainly fluid in the New 52. That doesn't bother me -- I just hope the story in front of me at the moment is compelling and internally consistent.

  7. Another important datum on Doomsday to add to the research: In Superman-Wonder Woman #2, which is the first time in the New 52 that any of the protagonists discuss Doomsday, it is very clear that Wonder Woman has no previous knowledge of Doomsday, and if Superman ever fought Doomsday before, he doesn't allude to it when he seemingly would.

    So, if Doomsday did fight Superman before, that fight is not known to Wonder Woman and he doesn't tell her about it. Either it didn't happen, or he's deliberately hiding it from her, or something funny is going on with space-time.

    Swamp Thing #1 made a reference to Superman having come back from the dead, but offers no specifics.

    Morrison, as we've seen, wrote a story where Superman's death did take place, but played around with space-time to an extent that it's easily reinterpreted.

    I, too, don't care much about differences of intent between the writers of these various stories, as long as they do something good with each story. It was always clear that Morrison's Batman and Dini's Batman were hard to reconcile factually, but they both wrote great stories and didn't throw contradictions in the reader's face, so I'm extremely happy with the directions they took.

  8. Rikdad, you're wrong on this one. Superman did kill Doomsday, it just isn't something he's very open to discussing with people in-story(metatext). Doomed itself specifies that the current Doomsday Superman is fighting is an evolved version of the one he fought years ago. They even show a visual comparison depicting the classic Doomsday overlaid to the New 52 version.

    You might also want to check the previews for Johns and Romita's Superman run. The opening pages detail Daily Planet headlines leading up to Forever Evil. It has the "Superman dies" cover story, and then "Superman lives!", both throwbacks to the classic pictures. Perry event comments and confirms that Superman died, returned, and then Lex became a hero in Forever Evil. This is Johns planting them firmly in continuity.

  9. Reverse that, Doomsday DID kill Superman. Oops.

  10. Mark, you're right, although the text in Superman: Doomed is vague on the history. It says of one computer image of Doomsday, "this is the Doomsday you're most accustomed to meeting." That implies that Superman has met Doomsday more than a couple of times, but doesn't indicate what those meetings were. The same meetings we saw in various Jurgens-written stories? As you say, it's been indicated elsewhere that at least one of the meetings led to Superman's death.

    Hal Jordan's time as Parallax is also in continuity, and that was related to Superman's death, while the JLA that initially fought Doomsday is not in continuity, so we have a mishmash of 1990s stories that are and aren't in continuity, and it would be nice to get further clarification.

    But for the matter at hand, it's for sure, Doomsday did kill Superman before, and the current story builds on that past.