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.