With the release of the latest Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice trailer, we know for sure that the rumors are true, and Doomsday will be showing up. The movie, it looks like, is going with a different origin for the monster that killed Superman, with his creation coming from some experimentation with the body of Zod. For the purposes of this piece, we’ll be focusing on the comic book version of Doomsday.
Throughout the late 80s and well into the 90s, Superman was DC Comics’ main man. So popular was the Man of Steel that he had four comic books just about him, meaning that every week, there was a new Superman comic for fans to pick up. DC was trying to do something unheard of with the Superman books – they were all interconnected. You could just read Superman: Man of Steel if you wanted to, but for the full story, you really needed to pick up Superman, Adventures of Superman, and Action Comics as well. To help readers, DC included “triangle numbers” on the books. These numbers, which were not the actual number of the comic, were done based on reading order of all four books. It was pretty darn cool. Superman’s world was big, and each book focused on a different aspect of that world. To keep all the writers on the same page, DC would hold a “Superman Summit” every year, where the writers, artists, and editors would get together and discuss what the main storylines would be for the upcoming year. Every year, someone would joke “We should just kill him”. No one ever took it seriously. Not until 1992.
In 1990, the gang at the “Superman Summit” came up with a plan; they would finally have Clark Kent and Lois Lane get married. They had Clark propose to Lois in Superman volume 2, issue 50, then reveal to her that he was Superman in Action Comics issue 662. This was a big deal – Lois Lane and Clark Kent were maybe the longest will they/won’t they in all of history, and finally we had our answer – they would. Just not yet. There was the little problem of a rather popular TV show getting in the way.
The higher ups at Warner Brothers, the owners of DC Comics, squashed this plan. Warner Brothers was having some fantastic success with Superman on TV, namely with the show Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Audiences were really enjoying the will they/won’t they aspect of the show, and for the first time maybe ever, people saw Lois Lane and Clark Kent, played by Terri Hatcher and Dean Cain, as sexy. Warner Brothers didn’t want the fictional couple getting married in the comics, worried that the moment happening in the comics would in some way take away the suspense being built up in the show. With their plans for the coming year squashed, the Superman comics crew had to come up with something fast. Writer Jerry Ordway, as the story went, brought up the idea of killing Superman. While he said it jokingly, editor Mike Carlin took it serious.
Mike Carlin had felt that lately the world was taking Superman for granted. There had been a turn in comics towards grim and gritty, and readers wondered if the idea of Superman was outdated. What better way to show everyone that Superman was just as important in 1992 as he has ever been than by killing him? Let everyone see a world without Superman, and how much of a bummer that place would be.
And so was born Doomsday.
Doomsday would be a seven part story running through all the Superman comics, ending in Superman’s death. The monster, we would learn later, was from Krypton and was unstoppable. It was genetically engineered to evolve past anything that could hurt it. So, if Superman used his heat vision to burn Doomsday, the next time he tried to use his heat vision, the beams would have no effect on the creature. Doomsday was the darkness of 90s comics taking form. Giant muscles, low intelligence and pure violence; the monster, as created by Dan Jurgens and the DC writers and artists, was a response to everything they saw wrong in comics at the time.
The plan backfired, as the Death of Superman would become one of the biggest selling comics of all time, with people only interested in the fight, and how much they could sell the comic for. The meaning behind the story, and the two storylines that followed it, Funeral for a Friend, and Reign of the Supermen was lost on the majority of readers. In the comics, the story of Superman’s death and return lasted for a year, or 52 issues of Superman’s various comics. It was, in my opinion, a great story that did, in fact, show us why Superman was still needed in the early 90s, and is a good reminder of why he is still needed today.
But our focus is Doomsday, so how about we talk about the guy…
Doomsday is the creation of science gone bad. An unquenchable killing machine created by an alien scientist known as Bertron, the origin of the creature is a truly sad one. Coming to Krypton some 250,000 years before humanoids would evolve on the planet, Bertron put a baby on the planet surface and let it be killed by the animals living on Krypton. He then took the remains of the baby and cloned it, genetically modifying the clone to be able to withstand that which killed it previously. Bertron repeated this process for decades, making sure to keep the agony of every death recorded in the genetic makeup of the clones, so that it would hate all life. Bertron called his creation The Ultimate. The Ultimate had gained the ability to evolve itself without the need of Bertron, coming back from death all by itself. It killed Bertron, then killed everything living on Krypton. When a ship showed up to drop off some supplies for Bertron, Doomsday killed its pilot and took it.
For centuries, Doomsday laid out a path of death across the universe, killing Green Lanterns, messing up Darkseid’s wedding, and killing a Guardian. It was on the planet Calaton where Doomsday would seem to meet his match in the hero called Radiant. Radiant was able to kill Doomsday, but not before a fifth of the planet was decimated. The Calatonians, wanting to ensure that Doomsday’s soul would never rest, shackled the big beast up, locked him in a metal casket, and shot him into space.
Hundreds of years later, that metal casket would crash into Earth. You know what happened next.
The creators of Doomsday – Dan Jurgens, Brett Breeding, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson, and Roger Stern – have never really talked much about the inspiration for the character, but I think he fits in pretty well with the classic science monsters of the Atomic Age.
The best known of the atomic monsters is, certainly, Godzilla. Making his debut in 1954, the same year that The Creature from the Black Lagoon was released, Godzilla was a worldwide hit and started the Kaiju movement. The concept of Godzilla was created by Shigeru Kayama, with the script written by Ishiro Honda and Takeo Murata, and it is hard not to see the creature as anything but a response to what happened to Japan at the end of World War II. Godzilla came to Japanese movie theaters just nine years after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and according to producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, Godzilla was nature’s way of taking revenge for the creation of the nuclear bomb. Co-writer and director Ishiro Honda saw Godzilla more as an allegory for the bomb itself, saying that Godzilla was basically a walking atomic bomb in his eyes.
While Japan was creating giant monsters to help them deal with the aftermath of World War II, American filmmakers were looking at the effect using nuclear power could have on humans. Perhaps, we as a country, felt a need to be punished for dropping two atomic bombs on another country, and used the idea of radiated people and insects destroying America time and again as a sort of penance? Or perhaps we were looking at how fast science and technology was moving, and we couldn’t help but be worried that we were too busy doing to stop and consider why we were doing any of it. When you watch a movie like 1957’s The Beginning of the End, where attempts to genetically modify crops with radiation to solve hunger leads to giant grasshoppers destroying Chicago, you can imagine a movie with a similar idea being made today to play on people’s fears of GMO foods.
Sometimes, nuclear power was used as a metaphor for the concerns that America’s government was becoming too strong. The Amazing Colossal Man focuses on Lt. Col. Glenn Manning, who gets caught in a test of a new nuclear weapon and begins to grow. Glenn becomes larger and stronger, but with his newfound power comes insanity. As he gets bigger, as more and more people are forced to do what he wishes, the power goes to Glenn’s head, At sixty feet tall, Glenn, a military man, turns against the people of America and starts to destroy Las Vegas. Glenn meets his end at the Hoover Dam, one of the greatest structures ever built by man in order to control nature. While I’m sure I’ve put more thought into The Amazing Colossal Man than the people who made it, I can’t help but look at the film as what many people feared America would become at the time. Four years after the release of the film, President Dwight D. Eisenhower would warn Americans to be wary of the growth of the military industrial complex in his farewell address to the nation.
Of course, these concepts existed before World War II. HG Wells covered the idea of science messing around in God’s domain pretty well with The Island of Doctor Moreau, which he called “an exercise in youthful blasphemy.”
I would be remiss if I didn’t bring in Dan O’Bannon’s creation, Alien, to the conversation. While it doesn’t exactly fit with the timeline we’re discussing, both the Xenomorph and Doomsday are unkillable monsters with one goal – destroy. Both creatures can be seen as personifications of nihilism – one of the first things we see Doomsday do is crush a bird that lands on his hand.
To these aliens, there is no purpose to life, and so life means nothing. As the mythology of the Xenomorph has been expanded on in sequels and spin-offs of Alien, we have seen that the creature, like Doomsday, evolves quickly in order to adapt to its environment. Also, as with Doomsday, the Xenomorph was arguably a better character when the audience knew less about it. Like many things in horror, sequel stories to The Death of Superman have taken away the power of Doomsday. A decade after Doomsday was first introduced in the comics as a monster that Superman could not stop, Superman knocked him out pretty easily in a fight that took only one issue. As tends to happen with the things we fear, the more we see of it, the less frightening it becomes.
*Photos: DC Comics