Talking Movies [Superman Month]: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace


In 2013, DC Comics declared the 12th of June as “Superman Day”, a day for fans of the Man of Steel the world over to celebrate Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman, the superpowered virtue of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” who is widely regarded as the first ever costumed superhero. This year, I’ve been spending every Sunday of June celebrating the Man of Steel by expanding Superman Day to “Superman Month“.


Released: 24 July 1987
Director: Sidney J. Furie
Distributor:
Warner Bros. / Columbia-Cannon-Warner-EMI Distributors
Budget:
$17 million
Stars:
Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Mariel Hemingway, Jon Cryer, and Mark Pillow

The Plot:
When criminal mastermind Lex Luthor’s (Hackman) nephew, Lenny (Cryer), breaks him out of prison, he enacts a diabolic scheme to destroy Superman (Reeve) by creating his own super-powered minion, “Nuclear Man” (Pillow/Hackman). As if this threat wasn’t bad enough, Superman (and his alter ego, Clark Kent) is suffering a crisis of conscience and the heart as he struggles to keep the world from nuclear destruction and to balance his love life.

The Background:
Superman III (Lester, 1983) might have been a critical disappointment but producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind were happy to produce a fourth film if its predecessor made over $40 million at the box office. Somehow, it did, but the duo’s financial concerns and Reeve’s reluctance to return to the franchise ultimately saw them selling the Superman rights to the Cannon Group for $5 million in June 1985. Cannon managed to entice Reeve back with a $6 million payday, additional creative control (the anti-nuclear angle of the film was his idea), and financing for another project. However, the production was off to a rocky start almost immediately; Richard Donner turned down the director’s chair, Reeve clashed with Wes Craven and was unable to convince the studio to hire Ron Howard, and co-star Jon Cryer described the entire film as a “nightmare” to shoot. Thanks to Cannon’s ongoing legal issues, the film’s budget was routinely slashed, an entire sub-plot was cut, and the once-vaulted special effects took a dramatic decline in quality. Unsurprisingly, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was a dismal box office bomb; the film fell short of $40 million, which is frankly pathetic after the success of the first film, and has been repeatedly touted as not only the death knell of the franchise but one of the worst movies ever made.

The Review:
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is another difficult one for me to revisit; as a kid, I remember being entertained by the film, which was full of bright colours, action, and another physical confrontation for the Man of Steel but, as many have stated in the years since, it can’t be denied that the series had taken a massive and unexpected dip in quality since the ground-breaking original and its influential sequel. The film opens with a poignant scene at the Kent farm where, following the offscreen death of his mother, Clark is preparing to sell his childhood home. Before doing so, he retrieves a glowing Kryptonian energy module from the remains of his ship, which is rendered forever cold and silent as a result, and Clark’s day-to-day life is made all the more complicated by the interference of David Warfield (Sam Wanamaker) and his daughter Lacy (Hemingway) in the running of the Daily Planet; annoyed at the Planet’s lack of profitability, the Warfield’s put pressure on editor-in-chief Perry White (Jackie Cooper) to sex-up the traditional publication and the elder Warfield is so full of himself that he makes his daughter’s promotion front page news!

An odd three/four-way love triangle develops between Clark, his alter ego, and his leading ladies.

Although Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole) is sadly missing from the film and no mention is made of her, an awkward love triangle (more like a love square, I guess) does become a sub-plot of the film when newcomer Lacy takes a shine to Clark Kent. This leads to such “hilarious” moments as Clark visiting a gym with Lacy and feigning difficulty with the machines, and a laughable sequence where Clark and Lacy double date with Lois Lane (Kidder) and Superman, forcing Clark to dive in and out of costume to keep both women happy before thankfully being called away by a greater threat. The film even unashamedly rips off the Superman/Lois romance from the first two films; having a crisis of conscience regarding the world’s nuclear crisis, Clark reveals his identity to Lois, takes her on a terribly composited flight around the world, and asks for her advice before wiping her memory once again. While there is a poignant moment to be found here when Clark laments how unfair it is that he is forced to share himself with the entire world rather than the woman he loves, this largely amounts to an uncomfortable bit of selfishness on Superman’s part since he freely toys with Lois’s emotions and her memory rather than finding a less invasive way of decided what he should do about the looming threat of nuclear war.

After a moral debate, Superman ultimately decides to rid the Earth of all nuclear weapons.

Indeed, perhaps the film’s most promising and appealing element is the question of worldwide nuclear destruction; I know a lingering fear I’ve always had about our world is the presence of nuclear weapons, just one of which could cause a cataclysmic disaster that could end all life on the planet, and tackling this issue with Superman has a lot of potential that really deserves to be in a better movie. When begged to intervene in the nuclear arms race, Superman finds himself torn between his morals since the ghosts of the Kryptonian council vehemently forbid him from interfering in human history. Ultimately, however, Superman decides that he loves the Earth too much to see it go the same way as Krypton and announces to the world’s governments that he is going to rid the planet of all nuclear weapons. He does this by, of course, having them all shot into space so he can gather them up in a giant net and hurl them into the Sun, an ingenious solution that potentially means the world should calm down into a semi-utopia but actually gives birth to a supervillain whose powers match (and, in many ways, surpass) Superman’s.

Using Superman’s DNA, Luthor births Nuclear Man, a ridiculous supervillain capable of crippling the Man of Steel.

This Nuclear Man is the latest brainchild of criminal genius Lex Luthor; easily freed from his imprisonment by his loud-mouthy, goofball nephew Lenny, Luthor (now completely disregarding both bald caps and wigs for Hackman’s natural hair) hatches a plot to take advantage of Superman’s deeds and birth a superpowered minion of his own using a strand of Superman’s hair (also acquired with a ridiculous amount of ease) and some ill-defined genetic tissue attached to one of the nukes. The result is the violent but child-like Nuclear Man, a being born of both Superman and Luthor who exhibits incredible superhuman powers when exposed to sunlight but becomes useless and dormant when bathed in the slightest of shadows. Still, Nuclear Man proves to be a formidable threat; not only does he cause all kinds of chaos and destruction across the globe with his powers but he is also able to cripple Superman with radiation sickness using his talons. However, thanks to the energy module from his ship, Superman is able to recover and ultimately defeat Nuclear Man by shifting the orbit of the Moon and dropping his inert form into a nuclear power plant.

The Nitty-Gritty:
I find Superman IV incredibly fascinating in a lot of ways; considering both Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman were pissed at the treatment of Richard Donner, I find it mind-boggling that the two (especially Hackman) agreed to be in this absolute mess of a movie. While the film doesn’t have to worry about being dominated by the buffoonery of Richard Pryor, any drama and tension that might be felt by Nuclear Man is completely negated by the presence of Lenny. Thankfully, he’s nowhere near as prominent as Gus Gorman but he’s basically Otis (Ned Beatty) dialled up to eleven and infused with a lazy, surfer-dude persona and I never quite understood why these films felt compelled to lumber Luthor with halfwit accomplices (though I actually probably would have preferred to see Otis take Lenny’s place).

The special effects and film logic have taken a massive hit thanks to the miniscule budget.

Of course, one of the first things you’ll notice about Superman IV is that the once-lauded special effects have taken a massive hit; the budget cuts are apparent right from the off as the opening titles pale in comparison to the first film, John Williams’ score seems devoid of all its usual enthusiasm, and even Superman’s rescue of a runaway subway train is lacklustre. Rather than film dynamic and unique flying sequences, the film simply reuses the same shot of Reeve flying at the camera over and over again and, unlike in the previous films, it’s pretty much impossible not to spot that this is a poorly-composited effect. The film’s wirework is equally sloppy and embarrassing compared to the last three films; the fight between Nuclear Man and Superman on the Moon is a plodding affair the lacks any of the intensity seen in Superman’s battles in the second and third movies. Add to that the frankly ludicrous depiction of Superman’s powers (he can now rebuild the Great Wall of China using just his eyes) and concepts as simple as outer space (not only do Nuclear Man and Superman move around freely on the Moon but Lacy is somehow able to breathe in the great void, despite astronauts and space-faring equipment being seen in the opening sequence!), and it’s frankly humiliating to see just how far the series has fallen since the first movie.

Superman IV‘s few good moments would shine all the brighter in a film that was actually good…

Superman comes under fire when he initially turns down the heartfelt plea from schoolboy Jeremy (Damian McLawhorn) to step in and help with the nuclear crisis, something he feels compelled to do despite the urgings of the long-dead Kryptonian council. Feeling a deepfelt love for his adopted world, he feels morally obligated to step in but only does so after confiding in Lois once more. Truthfully, the nuclear plotline is something I’d love to see addressed in the comics some time; I get that it’d be “too easy” to have Superman simply solve the world’s problems but I feel like getting rid of the world’s nuclear weapons deserves a bit of a pass. Clearly attempting to leech off what worked in the first movie, Superman IV’s various call-backs (Superman and Lois go for a fly, Luthor impersonates a military officer and communicates with Superman on a special frequency, Lois gets flustered interviewing Superman, and his abilities are restored using Kryptonian technology, to name just a few) just paint it as a pale, low-budget imitation of better movies. While there are a few decent moments in the film (Superman addressing the United Nations and being accepted by the world’s different representatives is pretty inspiring, and Reeve and Hackman continue to elevate even the weakest of scripts), all of them belong in a far better film. As a kid, I was enthralled by the battle between Superman and Nuclear Man but as intimidating as Nuclear Man with his demonic voice (his declaration of “I am the father now” hints at the potential of him to be a significant threat) and own array of terrible superpowers, but he looks absolutely ridiculous in his little black-and-cold outfit and his menace is ultimately neutered with ludicrous ease (though I guess this makes sense and goes a long way to show how Luthor prepared for his “son’s” hostile impulses).

The Summary:
I mean…what can you say about Superman IV: The Quest for Peace that numerous others haven’t already said? The film’s been picked and critiqued and criticised to death and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone say a good thing about it beyond praising Reeve for maintaining a consistent portrayal of the Man of Steel. I think the one thing you can say about the film is that it’s probably a decent amount of fun for little kids who, if they’re anything like I was as a child, will be easily pleased by the bright colours, daft comedy, and fight scenes between Superman and Nuclear Man. Once you grow a old enough to recognise how cheap and lazy the film is, though, it’s hard to look past Superman IV’s glaring flaws. If there’s any concept that can’t be done on the cheap, it’s Superman, because the result is this; a whole mess of recycled, low-quality shots, poor special effects, and a lame rehash of concepts realised far better in even the third film. Ultimately, there’s a reason people avoid this film as it’s a pretty sad state of affairs to find the once-lucrative and ground-breaking franchise in and you should only check it out if you have kids to entertain or if you’ve got nothing better to watch and want to get drunk to a bunch of ridiculous nonsense.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Terrible

I don’t suppose you’re a fan of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace? I mean, probably not but it’s worth asking the question, right? What did you think to the focus on nuclear weapons and do you think Superman should tackle this issue more directly? Were you a fan of Nuclear Man and his ability to injure Superman? What did you think to the romantic sub-plot and the return of Gene Hackman to the franchise? How influential was Christopher Reeve’s turn as Superman on your perception of the character? Whatever your thoughts on Superman IV, and Superman in general, drop a comment below.

Talking Movies [Superman Month]: Superman III


In 2013, DC Comics declared the 12th of June as “Superman Day”, a day for fans of the Man of Steel the world over to celebrate Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman, the superpowered virtue of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” who is widely regarded as the first ever costumed superhero. This year, I’m spending every Sunday of June celebrating the Man of Steel as I expand Superman Day to “Superman Month“.


Released: 17 June 1983
Director: Richard Lester
Distributor:
Warner Bros. / Columbia–EMI–Warner Distributors
Budget:
$39 million
Stars:
Christopher Reeve, Richard Pryor, Robert Vaughn, Pamela Stephenson, and Annette O’Toole

The Plot:
Clark Kent (Reeve) returns to his hometown of Smallville and reunites with his old flame, Lana Lane (O’Toole). However, conniving industrialist Ross “Bubba” Webster (Vaughn) hatches a devious plot to control the world’s oil supply by corrupting Kent’s alter ego, Supermen, using the computer genius of bungling programmer Gus Gorman (Pryor).

The Background:
Although, as I mentioned in my reviews, both Superman (Donner, 1978) and Superman II (Lester, 1981) were critically and financially successful, their production had been not only expensive but also tumultuous; behind the scenes tensions between director Richard Donner and the film’s producers saw him replaced by Richard Lester despite having plans for a third film in the series. Development of a third film continued regardless, with both Vril Dox/Brainiac and Kara Zor-El/Supergirl considered as inclusions; elements of this story, which also featured Mister Mxyzptlk (as played by Dudley Moore) corrupting Superman, remained prevalent throughout the long scriptwriting process. By the time filming began, the production continued to be fraught with bad blood; both Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman had publicly opposed the treatment of Donner and were removed or significantly downgraded for the third film, which was much more focused on slapstick shenanigans. Nowhere was this emphasised more than in the casting of comedian Richard Pryor, who was paid $5 million for his substantial role after declaring his affection for the previous films. With a worldwide gross of barely over $80 million, Superman III was the least financially successful of the series at that point; the reviews were even worse, especially regarding Pryor’s tomfooleries (though Reeve’s consistent portrayal of the Man of Steel (and his turn as the corrupted Superman) continued to be praised).

The Review:
Despite the fact that I had some issues with the first two films, there’s no denying the quality on display in Superman and Superman II; even with all the behind-the-scenes shenanigans, both films have pretty much the perfect balance of action, romance, intrigue, and humour and never veer too far into one element or the other. This means that they both manage to deliver perhaps the most influential portrayal of the Man of Steel while also including just the right level of camp, with both of these aspects being bolstered by some truly impressive and ambitious special effects. Here, things largely proceed as you might expect; with the status quo restored following the memory-wiping kiss of the last film, Clark continues to pose as an awkward, mild-mannered reporter while exuding confidence and reliability as the charismatic Superman.

Clark returns to his home town, reconnects with old friends and earns the town’s adulation as Superman.

However, in a change from the last two films, Superman III sees Clark return to his hometown of Smallville for a high school reunion; there, he reconnects with old friend Lana Lang but continues to right wrongs with his superpowers. Crucially, this includes preventing a nearby chemical plant from a potentially disastrous meltdown, which earns the Man of Steel the adulation of the entire town. One aspect about the film that I really enjoy is seeing Superman interacting with ordinary civilians and emergency services more often; when approaching an emergency situation, Superman always defers to whoever is in charge before offering his assistance, which goes a long way to showing how polite and willing to collaborate with others he is and is a great parallel to his later turn towards the dark side. With Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) absent for the vast majority of the film thanks to an assignment in Bermuda, Lana fittingly takes over as Clark’s new love interest. A childhood friend and former flame of Clark’s, Lana is a struggling single mother to young Ricky (Paul Kaethler) who is constantly fending off the unwanted advances of the bullish borderline alcoholic Brad Wilson (Gavan O’Herlihy) and dreams of escaping the suffocating confines of Smallville. Though she’s maybe not quite as loud and feisty as Lois, Lana is a capable enough woman in her own right but still laments that she’s stuck without a husband since all the “good” men in Smallville are taken. Crucially, unlike her Metropolis counterpart, Lana’s far less besotted by Superman and is more appreciative and interested in Clark, whom she sees as a kind and caring alternative to the likes of Brad. Lana admires that Clark has made a life for himself out of Smallville and is grateful for his positive influence on Ricky, who is often shunned for being the only kid in town to not have a father, but there’s really not a whole much for her to do in terms of the film’s overall plot beyond be a pretty face for Clark to converse with and to ponder Superman’s later change of character.    

Webster is willing to do anything to add more power and wealth to his already-vast empire.

Also absent from the film is Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman); in his place is Ross Webster, a wealthy philanthropist who is, basically, a poorly veiled stand-in for Superman’s traditional archnemesis. Alongside his spiteful and cruel sister, Vera (Annie Ross), and the voluptuous Lorelei Ambrosia (Pamela Stephenson), Webster initially plots to avenge himself on the nation of Columbia after they refuse to do business with him but soon turns his attention towards the more profitable hording of oil, and makes destroying Superman his top priority after the Man of Steel interferes with his coffee plot. While Vera enables Webster’s ambitions and craves the acquisition of further power and influence (it’s her idea to target the oil, for example), Lorelei plays the part of an airheaded bimbo but is actually much smarter than she appears (it’s her idea to use Kryptonite against Superman). Unlike Luthor, who saw pitting his criminal genius against Superman as the ultimate challenge, Webster is largely dismissive of the Man of Steel and believes destroying him should be a simple task since they’re well aware of his weakness to Kryptonite. It can’t be understated how much Vaughn’s presence and allure elevates this film ever so slightly above mediocrity; thanks to him, Webster makes for a charismatic and manipulative villain. Webster is far more approachable and fair-minded than Luthor but no less dangerous and authoritative; he doesn’t care a lick for the lives he endangers with his schemes and is easily able to threaten and coerce the likes of Gus Gorman into doing his bidding thanks to the power and breadth of his wealth.

Sadly, the film is far too focused on Richard Pryor’s bombastic attempts at comedy.

That, of course, brings us to the ultimate underdog, Gus Gorman, who begins the film as an out-of-work buffoon who finds that he has a talent for computer programming when he lands a job at Webscoe. Gus is a greedy, bumbling fool who believes that the world owes him more than it’s given and who wants to enjoy life now, while he’s young. While it’s child’s play for him to embezzle Webscoe’s funds into his mediocre pay cheque, Gus immediately regrets this decision when he is brought before Webster; however, Webster is as impressed by Gus’s capabilities as he is despondent by the man’s foolishness. To get out of being locked up for this crimes, Gus agrees to redirect space satellites and oil tankers for the industrialist but soon comes to realise that his talents make Webster’s threats obsolete and thus demands that the villain fund and construct a giant super computer of Gus’ own design. A selfish and outlandish figure, Gus only realises the error of his ways when his supercomputer is perverted by Webster into a tool for killing Superman but, sadly, Gus mainly exists to flood the film with all kinds of ridiculous pratfalls; providing both physical comedy and outlandish, energetic rants that appear to be ad-libs on Pryor’s part, Gorman is like a living cartoon and sticks out like a sore thumb as the one buffoon in a film full of mostly straight men.  

Synthetic Kryptonite alters Superman’s demeanour and splits him into two beings!

When Webster orders that Superman be killed, he has Gus synthesise a chunk of Kryptonite but Gus is forced to make some compromises in the element’s construction due to its alien nature. The result is a green hunk of rock that, rather than weaken and kill Superman, affects him more like the red variant from the comics. Initially, Superman becomes distracted and disinterested in his usual duties, which causes him to arrive too late to help out in a minor disaster on a Smallville bridge. Pretty soon, though, he’s flying all over the world and causing all kinds of nuisances, such as straightening the Leaning Tower of Pisa (brought to life through the finest green screens money can buy…), blowing out the Olympic Flame, and gulping shots at the bar. Soon, his costume and demeanour noticeably change for the worst; he wears a constant scowl, sports dark stubble and darker eyes, and his suit takes on a muddier, subdued hue. After being sexually manipulated by Lorelei to cause an environmental crisis with one of Webster’s oil tankers, Superman has a violent breakdown in a junk yard and literally splits into two beings! This leads to a violent brawl between the virtuous Clark Kent and his aggressive doppelgänger that ultimately results in Clark emerging victorious and returning as the one, true Superman. It’s quite a bizarre sequence, to be sure, and is mostly hand-waved away but I can’t deny that the fight between the two is a real highlight of the film.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Right off the bat, Superman III shows us exactly what it’s all about: slapstick, goofball attempts at comedy. Skipping the traditional title sequence (though I swear this was included when I first saw the film on television…), the film opens with this convoluted series of pratfalls and accidents as the people of Metropolis get into all kinds of madcap hijinx. These elements are only exacerbated every time Pryor is onscreen and we’re treated to such delights as him acting out Superman’s impressive feats; rather than spending the money on showing Superman stopping a tornado, we get to hear Gus tell us about it while wearing a makeshift cape which, as entertaining as Pryor can be, is never going to be as enjoyable as actually watching these events happen onscreen. Instead, we get to see Gus flailing around like a fool, falling from the roof of Webster’s skyscraper without injury simply because he’s wearing skis, and him getting into all kinds of scrapes such as impersonating a military officer, jumping at his own reflection, going off on wild tangents in an attempt at humour, and drinking Brad into a stupor to access his company’s computer.

The effects are surprisingly decent and the evil Superman gives Reeve more chances to shine.

These comedic elements are a stark parallel to the film’s darker elements; seeing Superman go from a virtuous paragon of truth, justice, and the American Way to an apathetic and mean-spirited villain is perhaps the best element in this otherwise ludicrous film and really belongs in a far better Superman movie. The dark Superman really gives Christopher Reeve a chance to show his range as an actor and he spits his lines with a real venom and spite and seeing him relish in causing trouble and indulging in his vilest whims really helps the film to keep its head above water. While Superman’s rescue of the trapped chemical plant workers and his solution to freeze a nearby lake and drop it on the inferno is ambitious and impressive, other special effects don’t hold up so well, especially the rendition of technology. Overall, though, the film’s special effects remain largely consistent with those from the previous two films; there’s far more in-camera shots of Reeve being propelled across through the air on wires (though there are some instances where the wires are a little too visible…) and the flying effects, in general, actually hold up a little better than in Superman II, potentially because the film’s budget is being used to slightly better effect or not being stretched across two films that are spiralling out of control.

Despite the awesome power of Webster’s supercomputer, Superman is able to triumph through his wits.

One of the main themes of the film is that of the growing reliance on computers and technology, which is depicted as being both mysterious and capable of almost anything. With just a few taps of a keyboard and a swipe of a screen pen, Gus is able to make all kinds of ludicrous stuff happen, and the depiction of computer “hacking” horribly dates the film since we know that there’s no way that he’d be able to issue the commands he’s making without utilising proper code. Later, Gus is able to manually reprogram everything from traffic lights to cash machines to send the city into a frenzy, the severity of which is, again, played to cringeworthy comedic effect (the traffic light men even inexplicably get into a fist fight!) Finally, when Superman heads off to confront the villains, Webster manually sends a number of rockets and a large ballistic missile his way using a crude videogame-like interface. While Webster is, in many ways, exactly the same as Luthor except without the same level of personal animosity towards Superman, what helps bolster him and make him slightly more distinct are his sister and lover and his commission of Gus’s supercomputer. Just as the dark Superman is basically a version of Bizarro, this supercomputer is kind of like a dumbed-down interpretation of Brainiac; sure, it doesn’t speak, or look or act anything like Brainiac, but it’s clear that the finale has some roots in the popular villain. The machine is capable of analysing and counteracting with a person’s weaknesses when it feels threatened and is constantly adapting to combat threats; this includes trapping Superman in an odd plastic bubble (that, somehow, manages to choke him even though he doesn’t need to breathe…) and bombard him with pure Kryptonite. Seemingly gaining sentience through its battle with Superman, the computer turns on its creators and even transforms Vera into a cybernetic avatar in a truly horrific scene. Ultimately, Superman takes a page out of Luthor’s playbook and opts for mind over muscle by utilising a highly corrosive acidic substance to fool the machine into destroying itself. Since Gus tried, in his own way, to help Superman in the finale, Superman spares him imprisonment (a favour that Gus immediately squanders) and Kent sets Lana up at the Daily Planet, ending the film with a hint towards a rivalry between her and Lois over Clark’s affections that, sadly, would be completely ignored in the sequel.

The Summary:
Honestly, this is a hard one for me. I remember really enjoying this film as a kid because it’s not like we had superhero films coming out of our asses like we do these days; however, as so many have said on many occasions, Superman III can’t be seen as anything other than a massive disappointment. There are some positives to be found here, though: Robert Vaughn adds a great deal of gravitas to the film and Christopher Reeve continues to be excellent in the title role and Superman III gives him some fantastic moments to show new sides of his personality; the fight between him and his dark self remains a highlight of the film, it’s just a shame that it’s wedged into this unfortunate mess of a film. There’s so much potential in Superman III that is sadly never fully realised because it’s more focused on giving the late, great Richard Pryor a chance to practise his stand-up routine; had the filmmakers exercised some restraint and pulled back on some of Pryor’s more outlandish outbursts and scaled back the slapstick comedy, and maybe even gone all-in with the supercomputer to bring Brainiac to the screen then there might have been something here. As it is though, what we’re left with is a film that’s probably enjoyable enough for little kids but is a bit of a slog to sit through unless you’re a big Richard Pryor fan.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Are you a fan of Superman III? What did you think to Richard Pryor’s inclusion in the film and his attempts at comedy? Did you enjoy the switch from Metropolis to Smallville and what did you think to Ross Webster as the film’s replacement for Lex Luthor? Were you a fan of the dark Superman sub-plot and the fight between him and Clark Kent or would you have preferred a more direct interpretation of Bizarro? What did you think to the themes of computer technology spiralling out of control? Where would you rank this film against Superman’s other live-action adaptations and how have you been celebrating the Man of Steel this month? Whatever your thoughts on Superman III, drop them down below and check out my review of the much-maligned fourth entry in the franchise.

Talking Movies [Superman Month]: Superman II


In 2013, DC Comics declared the 12th of June as “Superman Day”, a day for fans of the Man of Steel the world over to celebrate Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman, the superpowered virtue of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” who is widely regarded as the first ever costumed superhero. This year, I’m spending every Sunday of June celebrating the Man of Steel as I expand Superman Day to “Superman Month“.


Released: 9 April 1981
Director: Richard Lester
Distributor:
Warner Bros. / Columbia–EMI–Warner Distributors
Budget:
$54 million
Stars:
Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Terence Stamp, Sarah Douglas, Jack O’Halloran, and Gene Hackman

The Plot:
Having thwarted Lex Luthor’s (Hackman) maniacal plans, Clark Kent/Superman (Reeve) faces a new challenge when intrepid reporter Lois Lane (Kidder) manages to deduce his secret identity. While Clark prepares to give up his incredible powers to be with Lois, General Zod (Stamp) and his two followers escape from the Phantom Zone and begin terrorising the planet, leading Clark to choose between his happiness and his responsibilities to mankind.

The Background:
As I detailed in my review of Superman (Donner, 1978), producers Ilya and Alexander Salkind and Pierre Spengler convinced Warner Bros. to produce a two-film adaptation of the character back in the late seventies. However, the production was fraught with issues, both financially and creatively; director Richard Donner frequently clashed with the producers and Richard Lester was brought in as a mediator to allow the filmmakers to focus on the first film, which was a financial and critical success. Despite having shot 75% of the sequel, Donner was replaced as director with Richard Lester, a decision that irked star Gene Hackman so much that he refused to return for the necessary reshoots. Lester shot an entirely new opening for Superman II in addition to making numerous changes to the tone of Donner’s original version to place more emphasis on slapstick silliness. Star Christopher Reeve returned to the project after negotiating a better deal with more artistic control for himself but Marlon Brando was excised completely from the film due to his unrealistic financial demands. Despite all the behind the scenes turmoil, Superman II was still a financial success; its worldwide box office gross of just over $190 million might’ve been less than its predecessor but it was still highly praised, with Stamp’s turn as Zod drawing particular acclaim. Many years later, of course, in the build-up to Superman Returns (Singer, 2008), Donner would finally return to the film to assemble a version that closely resembled his original vision of the film.

The Review:
As far as I can remember, Superman II is another of those instances where I actually saw the sequel before the original; consequently, the film had much more of an impact on my childhood and I remember being more entertained by it thanks to it having a far brisker, more action-orientated flow and featuring villains who could actually match Superman in combat rather than simply just outwitting him. Not that I have a problem with the “mind over muscle” concept, it’s just far more gratifying to me to see Superman getting into a superpowered scrap as Superman II definitely delivers in that regard. Thankfully, for those who haven’t seen the first film, the movie opens with both a quick recap of the first movie over the opening credits and a return to Krypton to show exactly how General Zod, Ursa (Douglas), and Non (O’Halloran) got themselves banished to the mysterious “Phantom Zone”. Basically, they broke into one of the Kryptonian council’s crystal chambers and destroyed one of their fancy little crystals; since Jor-El (Marlon Brando) is entirely absent from this film, the three are sentenced and imprisoned by the nameless Kryptonian council yet, as they’re being thrust into the void of space in their mirror prison, Zod vows revenge upon Superman’s birth father regardless.

Lois begins to suspect that mild-mannered Clark Kent isn’t all that he seems…

The film then picks up shortly after the events of the last film to find the Eiffel Tower overtaken by terrorists who are holding a bunch of people hostage and threatening to detonate a hydrogen bomb if their demands aren’t met. Being the feisty, fearless reporter that she is, obviously Lois Lane is right in the middle of the story and her boldness leaves her in danger of being killed; thankfully, Superman is again on hand to save her and disposes of the bomb-filled elevator by tossing it into space and unknowingly releasing the three Kryptonian criminals form their prison. Still playing the part of the lovable, bumbling goofball, Clark stumbles his way through his assignment with Lois in Niagara Falls but, after springing into action to save a young boy from a fatal fall into the waters, Lois’ suspicions are raised to the point where she willingly puts herself in danger in order to prove that the two are one and the same.

Luthor escapes from prisons, learns Superman’s secrets, and forges a fragile alliance with Zod.

Despite being arrested and locked up at the end of the first film, Lex Luthor (Hackman), the self-proclaimed greatest criminal mind of all time, quickly breaks his way out of prison with the help of a holographic projector of his own making and the assistance of Eve Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine), thankfully leaving the bumbling Otis (Ned Beatty) behind. Not only does Luthor now largely sport his traditional bald head, he also has a far better plan than simple real estate; having deduced that Superman has a tendency to travel north, he tracks the Man of Steel and discovers his Fortress of Solitude, boning up on the three Kryptonian criminals and using this knowledge to charm his way into General Zod’s good graces. There’s something disconcerting about seeing Luthor in the Fortress of Solitude and poking around in his private archives and materials; although Luthor doesn’t learn that Clark Kent is Superman from this excursion, he learns more than enough to be able to barter with General Zod and spare him from the Kryptonian’s unending wrath in exchange for being able to rule over Australia after the three Kryptonians consolidate their control over the entire world.

Led by power-hungry Zod, the Kryptonian criminals quickly claim dominion over the world.

Still, even Luthor is fearful of his new tentative allies; Zod, a verbose egomaniac who craves power and acknowledgement, strikes fear into the hearts of those around him with not only his sadistic and cold-hearted demeanour but also his inclination to fly into an intense rage when his power is defied. The alluring and callous Ursa revels in causing destruction and acquiring new badges and trinkets for her uniform, while the imposing brute Non is as childlike as he is silent and literally follows his General’s orders without question. The three quickly discover and reveal in the superhuman powers afforded by the Earth’s yellow sun, which immediately grants them all of Superman’s powers but with none of his moral compass. They start small, toying with a group of astronauts on the Moon and terrorising a small town in the United States before identifying where the true power of the U.S. lies and laying seize on the White House in a harrowing scene where he forces the President of the United States (E.G. Marshall) to transfer all control to their General.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Of course, it’s difficult to talk about Superman II without addressing some of the film’s more ridiculous aspects; Otis might not be around but his status as the comic relief is usurped by Non’s infantile nature. While things quickly take a turn for the dramatic when Zod steps in out of boredom, it’s initially played for laughs when the three are causing trouble in Houston; similarly, when the three are terrorising Metropolis to goad Superman into a conflict, there’s an awful lot of slapstick and tomfoolery for what is meant to be an imposing scene. And let’s not forget the outrageous superpowers introduced in the film; while traditional Kryptonian powers like heat vision, super breath, and freeze breath are all on display to great effect when the three are causing destruction and fighting with Superman, there’s all kinds of crazy stuff added to the film. Zod is somehow able to levitate objects with a point of his finger, the three of them deface Mount Rushmore by simply blasting it, all four Kryptonians are all able to duplicate themselves in the finale (which I can only assume was originally supposed to be some kind of depiction of superspeed that was limited by the technology of the time), and don’t even get me started on Superman’s weird s-shield attack-thing! Yet, as mental as all of this, it’s actually nowhere near as insane as some of the stuff Superman was doing in the comic books at the time!

Superman willing gives up his powers to be with Lois.

While a romantic element was present in the first film (and gave us the God awful cringey scene of Superman and Lois flying together), it’s far more prominent here. Although Clark is able to momentarily quash Lois’s suspicions about him, his dual nature is ultimately revealed after an accidental stumble. Of course, bearing in mind that Clark is clearly besotted with Lois and was tempted to reveal himself to her in the first film, both Clark and Lois suggest that this was anything but an accident and that Clark subconsciously wanted Lois to learn the truth and made sure that it happened. Regardless, the two embark on a romantic tryst that sees Clark focus on her above all other concerns. Busy wooing her with flowers and food from the far corners of the world at his Fortress, Superman ignores the chaos caused by General Zod and his subordinates and makes the ultimate sacrifice when the consciousness/artificial intelligence of is mother, Lara (Susannah York), dictates that to live with a mortal, he must live as a mortal.

Superman immediately has to reclaim his powers to stop the Kryptonian criminals.

This wrinkle, which results in the destruction of the main control console in the Fortress, goes a long way to showing just how serious Clark is about his love for Lois; indeed, he willingly gives up all of his superpowers just to be with her despite the fact he can hear that people are pleading for his intervention. Clark’s adjustment to mortal life is a tough one; almost immediately, he feels the fatigue and pains of us normal folk and runs afoul of mouthy trucker Rocky (Pepper Martin). Humbled and humiliated, Clark is horrified to find that Zod has taken control of the world and immediately journeys back to the Fortress (from what looks like Canada…because I guess there’s a direct road from Canada to the Arctic now?) in a desperate bid to regain his powers. Although the Fortress appears dead and his father Jor-El doesn’t answer his son’s desperate plea, Clark finds the green crystal that birthed the Fortress and this, somehow, restores his powers. Although this whole sequence is a little sloppy, mainly thanks to the way the film was cut up and re-edited from Donner’s original version, I can’t say that I was ever really a fan of it; we’ve seen in the comics, and other adaptations, that Superman is fully capable of being in a relationship with Lois without having to give up his powers and it seems like this aspect was only included to give some humanity to the all-power Man of Steel. One part of it that does work for me was the emphasis on Lara; since Jor-El is entirely absent, Lara’s importance is greatly increased and makes Superman II an interesting companion piece to the first film by placing the focus on his mother rather than his father.

It’s clear the budget was stretched to its limit to depict a brawl between the four superpowered characters.

Armed with Luthor’s knowledge of Superman’s true heritage and affinity for Lois Lane, Zod, who quickly grows bored of having absolute power, relishes the opportunity to exact his revenge upon Jor-El’s progeny. To this end, the three ransack the Daily Planet and then cause destruction in downtown Metropolis in entertaining scenes of devastation that were certainly ambitious and in stark contrast to the first film’s slower, more subdued tone. It’s clear that the budget is being pushed to its limits to show all four characters flying and fighting in the skies and streets of Metropolis and, while the special effects and the quality of the fight does suffer a bit as a result (there’s a lot of awkward standing around, posturing, and slow, easily telegraphed attacks on show), it’s still a commendable effort for the time. Crucially, Superman goes out of his way to draw the fight away from the city and to save lives rather than mindlessly ploughing his opponents through buildings and causing as much damage as the film’s villains, which goes a long way to emphasising Superman’s selfless and heroic nature (something that arguably needed to be reinforced after he seemed to abandon his responsibilities in favour of getting laid).

Superman turns the tide on his foes but is forced to erased Lois’s memory of his dual nature.

Although the three have the numbers advantage, and are clearly better fighters than he, Superman manages to hold his own but, realising that continuing the fight would only endanger further lives (despite the commendable spirit of the Metropolis citizens in their willingness to stand up to the three after Superman appears to be killed), he flees from the city and lures them to his Fortress for a final showdown. The three are led their by Luthor with Lois as their hostage; when Zod declares that Luthor has outlived his usefulness, the criminal mastermind attempts to double-cross Superman in order to regain favour with the General and, in the process, unwittingly plays right into Superman’s plan. Having reversed the molecule chamber so that Krypton’s red sun rays erase the three’s powers, Superman and Lois are easily able to best their foes and send them hurtling to their deaths. However, in the aftermath, Clark and Lois split up since Superman can’t prioritise one life over the lives of the world and, to spare his love further pain from the burden of knowledge, Superman busts out another new power: the ability to erase minds with a kiss. With Luthor back in prison, the Earth saved, and the status quo restored, Superman promises the President that he’ll never abandon his responsibilities again and heads off for his victory lap.

The Summary:
When I was a kid, I absolutely loved this film; it was probably the closest and most accurate depiction of a live-action Superman I had seen and definitely set a high standard for superhero movies in general for its mixture of heart, action, and comedy. Even now, thanks to the ambitious and impressive special effects, the film holds up surprisingly well; once again, it’s the performances that help bolster the film, with Terrence Stamp putting in a scene-stealing turn as General Zod. The inclusion of three evil Kryptonians to match Superman blow-for-blow was a great way to raise the stakes from the first film and Superman II definitely builds upon the themes and standards of the first film. While I still have a lot of affection for Superman II and definitely prefer it to the first movie, it’s difficult for me to rate it much higher as there are a number of aspects of Superman II that don’t sit too well with me. The same can be said of the first film, and the rest in the series, but I’m still a little baffled by the idea of stripping Superman of his powers and then immediately restoring them and the absurd memory erasing kiss that is almost as preposterous as Superman turning back time at the finale of the first film. Still, it’s easily the best film out of the original four for me and, crazy superpowers aside, deserves to be rated as being at least on par with the influential original and is well worth a watch of only for Stamp’s iconic performance and the battle between Superman and his Kryptonian adversaries.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What are your thoughts on Superman II? Did you feel like it measured up to the first film or do you perhaps consider it to be superior, or inferior? What did you think to the introduction of more physically capable villains for Superman to fight and were you a fan of Terrence Stamp’s performance as General Zod? What did you think to Superman sacrificing his powers for Lois and then erasing her mind with a kiss? Do you prefer the theatrical cut of the film or do you think the Donner Cut is the superior version? What is your favourite Superman story, character, or piece of media? How are you planning to celebrate Superman Day today? Whatever you think, feel free to share your opinion and thoughts on Superman in the comments below.

Talking Movies [Superman Month]: Superman


In 2013, DC Comics declared the 12th of June as “Superman Day”, a day for fans of the Man of Steel the world over to celebrate Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman, the superpowered virtue of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” who is widely regarded as the first ever costumed superhero. This year, I’ll be spending every Sunday of June celebrating the Man of Steel as I expand Superman Day to “Superman Month“.


Released: 14 December 1978
Director: Richard Donner
Distributor:
Warner Bros. / Columbia–EMI–Warner Distributors
Budget:
$55 million
Stars:
Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Valerie Perrine, and Marlon Brando

The Plot:
In the dying moments of the planet Krypton, scientist Jor-El (Brando) rockets his son away to Earth. After learning of his alien origins and discovering the limits of the fantastic superhuman powers afforded him by Earth’s yellow sun, the now-adult Clark Kent (Reeve) assumes the costume identity of “Superman” while disguising himself as a mild-mannered reporter. However, he faces his greatest test when genius criminal mastermind Lex Luthor (Hackman) hatches a plot to cause devastating earthquakes west of the San Andreas Fault.

The Background:
In the years since his dramatic debut, Superman quickly became the subject of numerous adaptations and his 1940 radio drama even introduced many aspects that became synonymous with the character. The idea of a feature-length Superman film was first conceived of by producer Ilya Salkind in 1973; entering into a partnership with his father, Alexander, and Pierre Spengler, the filmmakers were able to convince Warner Bros. to produce a two-film adaptation of the character and paid screenwriter Mario Puzo (of Godfather (ibid, 1969/Coppola, 1972) fame) $600,000 to write the screenplay. Steven Spielberg was courted to direct but was unable to commit and, while Guy Hamilton was attached to the project, the producers eventually settled on Richard Donner, who immediately ditched the campy tone of Puzo’s 400-plus-page script. The first actor signed to the film was Marlon Brando (who had some pretty funny ideas about Jor-El’s appearance and characterisation and had a lackadaisical attitude towards the film) and Oscar winner Gene Hackman soon followed, with the two receiving top billing.

Superman’s early adaptations had a profound influence on the character for decades.

Many notable names were considered for the title role before relative-unknown Christopher Reeve was cast after a laborious casting process. Having bulked up for the role, Reeve’s experience as a pilot paid off when performing the film’s complex flying sequences, which were achieved through a combination of green screens, wire work, and other camera tricks while the striking Kryptonian suits were the result of a happy accident with a reflective material. Very quickly, the film’s budget ballooned and filming began to over-run, causing tensions between Donner and the producers; Richard Lester was brought on board as a mediator and work on the sequel halted to concentrate on the first film. After several delays, Superman (also marketed as Superman: The Movie) released to rave reviews and was an incredible financial success, making over $300 million. Although the producers continued production of the sequel immediately, the damage was done and Donner did not return, necessitating a series of expensive reshoots and raising the ire of many of the film’s actors. Still, the first film was an incredible achievement, massively influential on Superman’s comic books, and was eventually preserved in the United States Library of Congress National Film Registry.

The Review:
Superman begins, as most Superman origin stories do, on the far away world of Krypton (or “Krypt’n”, if you’re Marlon Brando), a technologically advanced civilisation that inhabits a largely barren, crystalline world. In a fantastic seed for the sequel, Jor-El sentences three seditious criminals – Non (Jack O’Halloran), Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and their leader, General Zod (Terence Stamp) – to the mysterious “Phantom Zone” for their treasonous and destructive efforts to usurp the Kryptonian council and subjugate the world to Zod’s will. Defiant to the last, Zod vows to avenge himself upon Jor-El and his heirs, no matter how long it takes and against all odds, before the three are cast into the strange mirror prison. Following this, Jor-El is unable to convince the council that Krypton is doomed to be destroyed by its red giant sun within thirty days; indeed, despite being a highly respected and rational member of the council, Jor-El’s claims are so adamantly refuted that he is threatened with being labelled a terrorist himself.

Unable to save his planet, Jor-El sends his infant son to Earth, where he gains awesome powers.

Apparently despondent (it’s hard to tell with Brando…), Jor-El resigns himself to ensuring the survival of his young son, Kal-El; his wife, Lara (Susannah York), laments that their son will forever be an outcast amongst the “primitives” of Earth but Jor-El remains confident that the powers bestowed upon Kal-El by Earth’s yellow sun will make him a symbol of hope and afford him physical advantages beyond all known understanding. As Krypton shatters around them, the baby is rocketed away and, guided by his father’s voice, slowly grows into an infant within his escape craft; Jor-El, who encoded all of his knowledge and wisdom into the crystalline form of the ship, stresses that his son is “forbidden” to interfere in Earth’s history and instead let his example inspire others. In time, many thousands of years after Krypton’s destruction, the ship crash lands on Earth and is stumbled upon by kindly, elderly couple Jonathan (Glenn Ford) and Martha Kent (Phyllis Thaxter) who are awestruck by the child’s super strength and, despite Jonathan’s concerns, take him in as their own.

After losing his adopted father, Clark learns the extent of his powers and reveals himself to the world.

About fifteen years later, the boy has grown into well-meaning teenager Clark Kent (Jeff East, with Christopher Reeve dubbing his voice); though Clark is frustrated that he has to hide his physical capabilities from the world, Jonathan stresses that the boy was sent to them (and the world) for a greater reason than to simply score touchdowns or show off to the other kids. As he just wants to make his parents proud, Clark takes his father’s advice to heart but is left utterly heartbroken when Jonathan suffers a fatal heart attack. At his graveside, a devastated Clark laments that his awesome powers were ultimately useless in saving his father and thus learns a valuable lesson about the limits of his superhuman abilities. Drawn to the remains of his ship (which the Kents kept hidden in their barn), Clark discovers a glowing green crystal that leads him far north, all the way to the Arctic, where the crystal births a piece of his home planet on Earth. In this Fortress of Solitude, Clark communes with the spirit of his father, who lives on as a glorified artificial intelligence, and spends a further twelve years absorbing all of Jor-El’s knowledge and teachings of his newfound abilities. After his training is completed, Clark emerges as Christopher Reeve and garbed in a bright Kryptonian costume and ready to share his abilities with the world as Superman.

Clark poses as a mild-mannered reporter, which allows Superman to captivate Lois.

Clark sets himself up as a reporter at the Daily Planet (apparently it’s as easy as being able to type incredibly fast and being overly polite), meeting hot-tempered editor-in-chief Perry White (Jackie Cooper), enthusiastic young photographer Jimmy Olsen (Marc McClure), and feisty reporter Lois Lane (Kidder). Despite her inability to spell, Lois is a lively and fearless journalist and, consequently, she both despairs of Clark’s overly friendly nature and sees him as a bit of a dorky milksop and finds her curiosity sparked by some of his oddities. In comparison, Lois is immediately captivated by Superman when he not only catches her in mid-air as she’s plummeting to her death but also snags the helicopter she was falling from. Enamoured by his mystery, confidence, and the seemingly limitless superhuman abilities he possesses, her normally controlled and forthright demeanour is shattered and she’s left absolutely awestruck during (and following) her exclusive interview with the Man of Steel (where she names him and he also, curiously, divulges a number of secrets about himself that later come back to bite him in the ass).  

The maniacal Lex Luthor plots to destroy Superman in his quest to profit from real estate.

The villain of the piece, the enthralling Lex Luthor, has set up an impressive hideout beneath the city streets; there, protected by a series of cameras and deadly booby traps, he surrounds himself with the dim-witted Otis (Ned Beatty) and sexy but cynical Eve Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine). Egotistical and arrogant in his intellect, Luthor sees himself as the world’s greatest criminal mind and is busy planning the crime of the century, which involves the acquisition of seemingly worthless land and profiting from it by causing a cataclysmic flood, endangering and ending countless lives in the process. Luthor immediately surmises that Superman is not of this Earth and relishes the opportunity to pit himself against the Man of Steel, and to both prove his intellectual superiority over him and destroy the very virtues that Superman stands for, seeing the Man of Steel as the ultimate challenge for his self-proclaimed criminal genius.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Of course, you can’t really talk about Superman without mentioning John Williams’ bombastic and immediately iconic “Superman” theme that is rendered in full glory over the opening credits. While this theme has become so synonymous with the character that no composer or filmmaker since has come close to crafting a more suitable melody for the Man of Steel, I continue to be baffled by the absolutely cringe-worthy “Can You Read my Mind?” sequence. Like, I get it; it’s supposed to be this big romantic moment between the Lois and Superman and to showcase the film’s wirework, but it stands out like a sore thumb and is all kinds of different flavours of cheese.

While Reeve set the standard for Clark/Superman some of the other performances are a bit hit and miss.

If I’m being brutally honest, the film’s performances are a bit hit and miss; despite being a relative unknown, Reeve provides the quintessential portrayal of Superman and simply exudes confidence and sociability as Superman while masking his true nature as loveable, bumbling fool. Indeed, by simply straightening his posture and slightly altering his voice, Reeve effortlessly depicts the simple differences between his two persona and his performance so explicitly set the standard for the character that it continues to be emulated to this day. Once the story shifts to Metropolis, the film becomes a much more vivid and over-the-top production that emphasises buffoonery and comic book camp; nobody embodies this more than the bumbling Otis, who is mostly here for comic relief, but there’s also the suggestion that Luthor socialises with cretins simply to have someone to lord over. While Beatty and Cooper seem to have stepped out of a pantomime for their roles as the goofy Otis and bombastic Mr. White, respectively, Hackman brings a certain gravitas to the film that perfectly walks a fine line between camp and severe. Hackman seems to be enjoying himself in the role and commands every scene and room that he’s in; though he lacks Luthor’s bald head, he sports a variety of wigs and exudes a sadistic menace in his willingness to kill millions of innocent people in his quest for power, profit, and to have his matchless intelligence recognised by the world.

While some effects don’t hold up well, they’re all very ambitious and impressive for the time.

Obviously, you have to expect that some of the effects aren’t as impressive and haven’t aged as well as others, as ambitious as they are; the Arctic is clearly a set like something out of Star Trek (1966 to 1969) and I can only assume that Krypton is so barren and lifeless because it was cheaper and easier (though it also makes it cold and alien and a stark contrast to our lush world). The young Clark’s running effect and a number of the rear-projection and miniature shots leave a lot to be desired and almost every skyline appears to simply be a gigantic matte painting as the film is heavily reliant upon impressive sets the likes of which are akin to a James Bond film. While Clark’s super fast changes to Superman and his little spin down into Luthor’s lair aren’t that great, easily the weakest effects come in the conclusion as the San Andreas Fault is ruptured and painstakingly crafted models are washed away by water and dirt before Superman circles the globe at superspeed. To be fair, though, the film’s effects are still incredibly impressive; the helicopter sequence is an ambitious and remarkable composite of miniatures, rear-projection, and live-action wire work that makes for a suitable debut for the Man of Steel and, overall, the film has largely stood the test of time thanks to its practical effects and undeniable charm. As you might expect, Superman’s powers and abilities are the highlight of the film; Superman’s invulnerability, super strength, and superspeed are all accounted for and realised well enough and Superman’s first night on duty provides a great showcase of what he is capable of. No job is too big or too small for Superman, who does everything from rescuing a cat from a tree to apprehending jewel thieves as they clamber up the outside of buildings using sucker pads.

Superman comes up with a unique solution to save the day.

Naturally, it’s the flying sequences that are the true spectacle of the film; even now, the rear-projection holds up pretty well in these scenes but what really sells it is Reeve’s dynamic and believably movements. Reeve banks and turns with an elegant grace and really sells the illusion that we’re seeing a man fly and makes even the most ridiculous aspects of the film (from the 100% comic-accurate suit to using his own body to repair a broken train track to repairing the San Andreas Fault by ploughing through questionable-looking magma) seem entirely plausible thanks to his charming smile and undeniable charisma. Of course, when talking about Superman, you have address the ending. Thanks to acquiring a chunk of Kryptonite, Luthor is able to weaken and cause incredible agony to Superman and it is only thanks to Ms. Teschmacher’s change of heart that he’s able to recoup his strength and intercept Luthor’s missiles. However, while he’s able to stop one, he’s unable to keep the other from striking the San Andreas Fault and is so busy repairing the damage it causes that he’s unable to save Lois from being crushed to death by debris. Devastated and overcome with grief, Superman flies into the upper atmosphere and defies his birth father’s warnings of interfering in human history to favour his adopted father’s advice and is able to literally turn back time by reversing the rotation of the planet. This undoes all of the damage caused by Luthor’s missiles and prevents Lois’s death but remains the most ludicrous aspect of the entire movie and just ends up raising all kinds of questions like…wouldn’t there be two Superman? Why doesn’t he just turn back time all the time? Ultimately, it’s just one of those crazy, over-powered feats that we’ve come to expect from older versions of Superman and I guess it works to show that Superman is capable of overcoming even his limits by pushing hard enough (plus, Reeve’s anguished cry does make for an incredibly intense scene).

The Summary:
I honestly went into Superman ready to give it a lower score of two stars; it’s never really been my favourite superhero, or Superman, film as it’s just got a little too much cheese and cringe in it for my tastes. There’s an undeniable level of camp at work in the film that makes it very cartoony and over-the-top in places, to say nothing of long, oddly paced inclusions that seem decidedly at odds with the rest of the film. However, all of these elements are in perfect balance with the film’s more dramatic and spectacular sequences; this is a film that is, primarily, a showcase of ambitious and trend-setting cinematic techniques as much as it is perhaps the most influential interpretation of Superman ever seen outside of the comic books. While not every effect has aged too well, the majority have stood the test of time remarkably well and there’s just the right balance of goofy comedy, heart-warming charm, and exciting spectacle that simply scream “Superman”, a character who is often characterised as being the world’s biggest Boy Scout and embodying timeless (if slightly antiquated) ideals. There’s no denying that Superman is an absolute classic; while I cannot sanction Marlon Brando’s attitude and I may not be a fan of some of Donner’s choices (Luthor being a real estate maniac, the barren depiction of Krypton, and the time travel ending are all cons of the film for me), Superman remains a delightful and enjoyable little slice of camp goodness that is worth it for Reeve’s incredible and career-making turn in the title role if nothing else.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of Superman? What did you think to Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of the character and were you a fan of Lex Luthor’s interpretation in the film? How influential was Donner’s film on your perception of Superman and are there any aspects you would prefer to see films and media move away from? What did you think to the film’s campier elements and were you a fan of the ending? What is your favourite Superman story, character, or piece of media? How are you planning to celebrate Superman Day next week? Whatever you think, feel free to share your opinion and thoughts on Superman in the comments below.

Game Corner [Crossover Crisis]: Injustice: Gods Among Us (Xbox 360)


In April of 1985, the first issue of the ground-breaking, twelve issue Crisis on Infinite Earths (Wolfman, et al, 1986) was published. This event, which was easily the biggest in DC Comics at that point (and for many years), saw the destruction of the “Multiverse”, an infinite number of parallel worlds, and the awkward establishing of one unified DC canon. Over the years, DC have returned to this concept again and again, retconning it, expanding upon it, and milking it to the point of excess but that doesn’t change how influential this massive crossover was. To celebrate this momentous event, I’ll be taking a look at multiversal crossovers every Wednesday in April in an event I’m calling “Crossover Crisis”.


Released: 16 April 2013
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Also Available For: Arcade, Mobile, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One and Xbox Series One X/S (Backwards Compatible), Wii U

The Background:
When it was first released, Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992) was a phenomenal success for Midway because of its focus on gore and violence, and it offered some real competition for Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991) in arcades and on home consoles. For a time, the series seemed unstoppable during the 2D era of gaming but struggled to find a footing in the emerging 3D fighter arena and Mortal Kombat seemed to be in jeopardy after Midway went bankrupt in 2010. The main reason for this was the poor reception of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (Midway Games, 2008), the first collaboration between Midway’s Mortal Kombat and the DC Comics characters owned by Warner Bros. Interactive, which was hampered by age-related restrictions.

Mortal Kombat‘s 3D struggles culminated in a disastrous crossover with DC Comics.

Luckily, Warner Bros. Interactive stepped in and the team, now rebranded to NetherRealm Studios, immediately set about getting their violent franchise back on track; Mortal Kombat (NetherRealm Studios, 2011) was subsequently very well-received for its “back to basics” approach and, bolstered by the reboot’s success and eager to take advantage of the vast library of characters of their parent company, NetherRealm Studios sought to expand upon the game’s mechanics with a new, all-DC brawler. Although the game wasn’t as bloody and violent as its sister series, Injustice: Gods Among Us was a massive critical and commercial success that was followed up by not only a bunch of additional fighters and skins added as downloadable content (DLC) but also a sequel in 2017 and a critically-acclaimed comic book series.

The Plot:
In an alternate reality, Clark Kent/Superman has become a tyrant and established a new world order after the Joker tricked him into killing Lois Lane before destroying Metropolis with a nuclear bomb. In an effort to stop him, Bruce Wayne/Batman summons counterparts of the Justice League’s members from another universe to join his insurgency and end the totalitarian regime that threatens to subjugate the entire world.

Gameplay:
Just like Mortal Kombat, Injustice: Gods Among Us is a 2.5D fighting game; however, this time you’re able to select one of twenty-four characters from the DC Universe and battle it out in the game’s single-player story mode, one-on-one against another player or computer-controlled opponent (both on- and offline), tackle numerous arcade-style ladders, or take on character-specific missions in Scientific and Technological Advanced Research Laboratories (S.T.A.R. Labs) training scenarios. Just as you’d expect from a Mortal Kombat videogame, Injustice’s fights take place in a best-of-three format (although there are no longer announcements or screen text between each round) and against a time limit, though you can alter these settings (and many others, such as the game’s difficulty) to your heart’s desire in the game’s options to suit your playstyle.

Attack with strikes, grapples, and combos to pummel a number of DC’s most recognisable characters.

If you’ve played the Mortal Kombat reboot then you’ll be immediately familiar with this game’s fighting mechanics and controls, although there are subtle differences: X, Y, and A are assigned to light, medium, and heavy strikes, for example, and may be either punches, kicks, or weapon-based melee attacks depending on which character you’re playing as. You can still grapple and throw your opponent with the Left Bumper (or X and Y and a directional input), dash towards or away from the opponent with a double tap of the directional pad (D-Pad), but now you must hold back on the D-Pad while standing or crouching to block, which can make blocking a bit trickier as sometimes you’ll simply walk or dash backwards when trying to block. If your opponent is crouch-blocking, you can land an attack by pressing towards and A for an Overhead Attack, and string together light, medium, and heavy attacks with directional inputs and your various special moves to pull off quick and easy combos. As is the standard for NetherRealm Studios’ releases these days, you can practise the game’s controls and mechanics as often as you like and take part in a very user-friendly tutorial to learn the basics of the game’s simple, but increasingly complex, fighting mechanics. You can also view your character’s moves, combos, special attacks, and “Character Power” from the pause menu at any time, allowing you to also see a range of information (such as where and how to pull of certain moves, the damage they inflict, and frame data).

Utilise Character Powers and the always-annoying Clash Breakers to whittle down your foe.

Each character has a range of special attacks that are unique to them; these mostly consist of certain projectiles or grapples and strikes but can also include various buffs for your character or to slow down your opponent. Each character also has a specific Character Power that is performed by pressing B; this sees Batman summon and attack with a swarm of bats, Oliver Queen/Green Arrow fire different trick arrows at his opponent, Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn gain various random buffs, and allows characters like Diana Prince/Wonder Woman and Rachel Roth/Raven to switch between different fighting styles and thus access different special attacks. While some Character Powers have a cool-down period, others don’t, but they can also be detrimental to you; for example, Slade Wilson/Deathstroke can briefly give his shots perfect aim but, once the Character Power is expended, he’ll miss every shot until it refills. Another new addition to the game is the annoying “Wager” system; when the Super Meter is filled up by two bars, you can press towards and RT when blocking an attack to play a quick mini game where you and your opponent select how much of your Super Meter to gamble. If you win, you’ll regain some health; if you lose, the opponent regains health; and if you tie then you both lose. Personally, if find these “Clash Breakers” even more annoying than the usual “Breakers” seen in the modern Mortal Kombat games as I never win them and they generally just unnecessarily prolong a fight (and, even worse, there’s no option to turn them off).

Different characters attack and interact in different ways according to their strengths.

In a bridge between the differing character movesets of Mortal Kombat and the “Variation” mechanic seen in Mortal Kombat X (NetherRealm Studios, 2013), Injustice features a limited “Class” system whereby characters are split into two camps: Gadget- or Power-class characters. Gadget characters are generally smaller, faster, and rely on various tricks and weapons in fights while Power-class characters are typically bigger, often slower, and rely more on brute strength. One of the main ways you’ll notice the difference between playing as, say, Barry Allen/The Flash and Cyrus Gold/Solomon Grundy is that they interact with the game’s fighting stages in different ways. As in Mortal Kombat X, you can press the Right Bumper when indicated to use (or attack your opponent with) various environmental hazards, such as firing missiles at them or knocking them into the background. But, whereas Superman will wrench a car out of the air and slam it on his opponent, someone like Dick Grayson/Nightwing will rig the same car to explode or somersault off the environment to get behind their foe rather than try to crush them with a wall.

In addition to powerful Super moves, you can bash your foe into new areas using stage transitions.

As you might naturally expect, there are no Fatalities or gruesome finishing moves in Injustice (not even “Heroic Brutalities”). However, when your Super Meter is full, you can still press LT and RT together to pull off a devastating Super Move; while you won’t see bones breaking and organs shattering like in Mortal Kombat’s X-Ray Moves, it’s still pretty fun to see Hal Jordan/Green Lantern transport his opponent to Oa to pummel them with his constructs, Ares shower his foe with arrows and stamp on them while grown to gigantic proportions, Arthur Curry/Aquaman force his enemy into the jaws of a ferocious shark, and Bane demolish his opposition with a series of throws and grapples, culminating in his iconic backbreaker. Another way the game separates itself from Mortal Kombat is stage transitions; when near the far edge of certain stages, you can hold back and A to wallop your opponent through the wall or off into the background where they’ll be smashed up, down, or across to an entirely new area of the stage which often allows more stage interactions and new stage transitions available for your use.

The story involves multiverse shenanigans against corrupted heroes and features some QTEs.

You might wonder exactly how someone like Louise Lincoln/Killer Frost can survive being blasting through the brick walls of Wayne Manor or go toe-to-toe with the likes of Doomsday but the game’s entertaining story mode explains that, on this alternative world, the tyrant-like Superman has developed special pills that bestow superhuman strength and dexterity to his generals. As is also the standard in NetherRealm’s titles, the story mode is broken down into twelve character-specific chapters, which is again a great way to experience a wide variety of the game’s roster (though Batman does feature as a playable character in two chapters, which seems a bit lazy). You can replay any chapter and fight you’ve cleared at any time, which is great, and skip through the cutscenes after they’ve loaded a bit, and the story mode isn’t all constant fighting either as you’re asked to pull off a handful of quick-time events (QTEs) at various points, such as blasting cars with Superman’s heat vision. The story is a fairly standard multiverse tale of the main canon heroes fighting against their corrupted or misled counterparts but it’s pretty fun and easy to blast through in no time at all.

Fight to earn XP and level-up, unlock additional perks and modes, and take on a series of challenges.

Every time you win a fight, you’ll earn experience points (XP) that will eventually level-up your character profile. This, and performing a certain number of specific attacks, playing through the story mode, and tackling the game’s other modes and mechanics, unlocks icons and backgrounds for your profile card as well as additional skins in certain circumstances. You’ll also be awarded “Armour Keys” and “Access Cards” to spend in the “Archives”, which allows you to unlock concept art, music, more skins, and certain boosts that will increase how much XP you earn, to name just one example. Like in Mortal Kombat, you can also take on ten opponents in arcade ladders in the “Battle” mode; these range from the basic tournament-style ladder to specific challenges against heroes, villains, or battling while poisoned, injured, or with certain buffs (such as a constantly full Super Meter or health falling from the sky). We’d see a similar system be incorporated into the “Towers” modes in later Mortal Kombat games and similar scenarios exist here, such as a survival mode, battling two opponents, or being forced to fight against the computer set to the hardest difficulty.

Graphics and Sound:
Like its violent sister-series, Injustice looks fantastic; there’s almost no difference between the high-quality story mode cutscenes and the in-fight graphics (which, again, makes it all the more frustrating that NetherRealm Studios insist on having character’s endings represented by partially-animated artwork and voiceovers), though it has to be said that the graphics are much more palatable when in a violent fight. I say this purely because I am not a big fan of some of Injustice’s character designs: The Flash looks a bit too “busy”, for example, and Batman’s suit (and cowl, especially) look really janky to me, though I love the representation of Green Lantern and Thaal Sinestro.

In addition to various intros, outros, and Wager dialogue, characters also take on battle damage.

Each character gets a nice little fitting intro and outro for each fight and, between rounds, will perform and quip a variety of taunts to the opponent. In a nice little touch, different character skins get different intros and outros; when playing as the evil Superman, for example, he enters and exits the fight differently to his more heroic counterpart. When playing as different skins, like John Stewart or Hank Henshaw/Cyborg Superman, you’ll also be treated to slightly different dialogue and animations, which is a much-appreciated touch on the developer’s part. Although there aren’t any character-specific interactions in the intros, there are during the Wager cutscenes and, even better, both characters and the arenas will accrue battle damage as the fight progresses! This means that you’ll not only see Selina Kyle/Catwoman’s cat suit rip and her skin be blemished by bruises and blood but arenas will degenerate or change around you the more damage you dish out, which can also allow different intractable options to become available to you.

Stages include a range of recognisable DC locations and take damage as you fight.

Speaking of the stages, Injustice really goes above and beyond to make the best use of the DC license; while it’s a little disappointing to see Arkham Asylum and Wayne Manor feature twice in the game, they are made distinctive by having Joker-ised and night-time variants, respectively (and also being clearly modelled after, and featuring cameos by, the Batman: Arkham (Rocksteady Studios/Various, 2009 to 2015) videogames and villains). Additionally, the use of stage transitions really helps to add a whole new dimension to combat, with some stages featuring more than others (or even none at all), to help ensure that every fight can be a little different. Stages also feature a bevy of other little cameos and DC references, such as the Fortress of Solitude being clearly modelled after Superman (Donner, 1978) while also featuring a portal to the Phantom Zone and a cameo from Starro the Conqueror. Similarly, J’onn J’onnz/Martian Manhunter floats in the background of the Watchtower space station, Floyd Lawton/Deadshot is just hanging out at Stryker’s prison, and Amazons are preparing a boat to launch on Themyscira. Every single stage has a number of intractable elements and changes as you fight, cause damage, or smash foes around, with Gotham City being my favourite as you can battle on the roof with the Bat-Signal and then down to the grimy streets below and then blast your foe back up to the roof using a nearby truck!

Enemies and Bosses:
Injustice helpfully separates its character-selection screen into heroes (on the left) and villains (on the right) but, despite their different alignments (and that their loyalties change due to the multiverse shenanigans of the story), every single one of them will be an enemy of yours at some point as you play through the story, Battles, S.T.A.R. Labs missions, and on- or offline. Consequently, it’s worth keeping track of which character suits your playstyle as some have easier combos and special moves to pull off compared to others, or more useful Super Moves and Character Powers.

Play as, and against, the game’s characters to learn their strengths, weaknesses, and skills.

Additionally, the Class system should also be factored in; Lex Luthor, Doomsday, and Solomon Gundy may be powerful and capable of gaining armour to tank through attacks but they’re also a lot slower on their feet and with their jumps. Superman and Shiera Hall/Hawkgirl are much faster Power-class characters but can also have their own drawbacks at times depending on your playstyle (Superman’s Character Power, for example, simply powers up his attacks rather than being a more offensive move like, say, Areas being able to conjure massive magical weapons). Personally, I tend to lean more towards Gadget-based characters, like Nightwing (who can switch between using quick batons or a longer bo staff to attack) or Green Arrow (whose arrows and bow allow for both ranged attacks and blindingly fast melee attacks).

Take on the corrupted Superman and banish him to the Phantom Zone for his crimes!

Unlike Mortal Kombat, Injustice doesn’t really feature any secret or hidden fights or unplayable sub-bosses or boss characters; the story mode and basic arcade ladder culminates in a battle against the corrupted Superman that is a far fairer and more competitive fight compared to the finales of NetherRealm’s recent Mortal Kombat games. While Superman is definitely a bit more of an aggressive foe, even on the game’s easiest difficulty, he doesn’t gain inexplicable armour, can be stunned, and doesn’t deal ungodly amounts of damage or spam his attacks like a cheap bitch. Additionally, he doesn’t transform into some monstrous final form and, instead, the final battle is a far better use of the skills you’ve built up through regular gameplay rather than forcing you to resort to cheap tactics and tricks.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Because it lacks a “Test Your Luck” mode and “Kombat Kodes” for multiplayer fights, there aren’t really any in-game power-ups available to you outside of the various status effects seen in the Battle mode. As before, though, some characters can gain in-game buffs with their special attacks and Character Powers: Lex Luthor, for example, can erect a shield, Doomsday can cover himself in impenetrable armour for a brief period, and Solomon Grundy slows time down and drains his opponent’s health with his swamp gas. However, you’ll earn yourself additional XP if you mix up your fighting style and take advantage of stage interactions and transitions, which will allow you to unlock further customisation options for your profile card, and you can also earn additional skins and rewards by playing and linking up to the mobile version of the game.

Additional Features:
There are fifty Achievements up for grabs in Injustice, with three of which being directly tied to the story mode (50- and 100% completion and succeeding at all of the QTE mini games). Others are tied to the game’s online modes, levelling-up to specific levels, customising your profile card, and finishing Classic Battle with one (and every) character. There are also some character-specific Achievements on offer, including performing every character’s Super Move or a ten-hit combat and winning a fight using only arrows as Green Arrow, or landing at least twelve shots without missing as Deathstroke. Batman is the only character to have two specific Achievements tied to him, though, as you’ll get some G for winning a match using all of his special moves and his Super Moves and for defeating every villain as him.

Injustice included some surprising DLC fighters; even Scorpion showed up!

Another standard of NetherRealm Studios is their addition of further skins and characters through DLC; you can get skins to play as John Stewart, Cyborg Superman, and the Flashpoint (Johns, et al, 2011) Batman, among others, and they’re all easily applicable when selecting a character (no need for extraneous “Gear” here). While the game’s DLC characters have no additional Achievements tied to them, Injustice included some fun and interesting extra fighters; Lobo, General Dru-Zod (who also sports his Man of Steel (Snyder, 2013) look as a skin), Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, Zatanna Zatara, and the Martian Manhunter were all great choices to add to the roster and it was nice to see NetherRealm Studios exercise a little restraint and not overload the DLC with additional Batman characters. By far the most exciting DLC fighter was the inclusion of Scorpion, who sports a Jim Lee redesign and began a trend of DC and Mortal Kombat characters appearing in each other’s games.

Take your fight online or complete a series of increasingly tricky S.T.AR. Labs challenges.

When you’ve had enough of the story mode and regular battle options, you can take the fight online in a series of matches; here; you can participate in ranked and unranked fights and “King of the Hill” tournaments where you watch other players fight until it’s your turn and bet on who’s going to win. The S.T.A.R. Labs missions will also keep us offline, solo players occupied for some time; these are expanded upon when you download the DLC fighters, which is much appreciated and, similar to Mortal Kombat’s “Challenge Tower” mode, basically serve as extended tutorials for each of the game’s characters. You’ll take on ten character-specific missions, with each one getting a little bit of text and maybe a picture to set the context of the mission, and these range from performing certain combos or attacks, winning fights, or completing tricky challenges (such as guiding Catwoman’s cat through laser trip wires, avoiding damage or debris, or racing against Superman).

The Summary:
Injustice: Gods Among Us is a far better marriage of Mortal Kombat and DC Comics than Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe and a fantastic expansion of the gameplay mechanics and features NetherRealm Studios revitalised their violent fighting game series with in Mortal Kombat (2009). While Injustice is obviously not as gory or violent as its sister-series, that doesn’t make it any less fun and it’s still a very brutal fighter; the Super Moves, especially, and certain character’s outros (such as the Joker’s) are definitely in the Mortal Kombat mould. With gorgeous in-game graphics, a fantastic amount of variety thanks to all of the character’s different special attacks and gameplay mechanics and the stage transitions, and a simple to learn, easy to master fighting system, Injustice is an extremely enjoyable game for anyone who’s a fan of either franchise or fighting games in general. The story is a breeze to get through (thought it is essentially every basic multiverse story ever told in comics) and nicely varied with some QTE sequences; the S.T.A.R. Labs missions and different arcade ladders are much more enjoyable and challenging than in its sister-series and there are plenty of character options, variety, and unlockables to keep you busy. Best of all, the game isn’t bogged down by endless grinding to unlock Gear, skins, or other perks and is a much more user-friendly and accessible fighting game, and overall experience, than its sequel.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Were you a fan of Injustice: Gods Among Us? What did you think to it as a blend of Mortal Kombat and DC Comics? What were your thoughts on the game’s story and its depiction of a parallel world terrorised by a corrupted Superman? Which of the game’s fighters was your favourite and why? Did you buy the base game and all the DLC packs separately or did you pick up the Ultimate Edition when it released later? What did you think to the additional DLC characters and skins? Were there any characters or features missing from the game for you? Which DC Comics videogame, movie, comic, or other piece of media is your favourite? Are you a fan of multiverse stories and crossovers? Whatever you think about Injustice, leave a comment down below and be sure to check back in next Wednesday for more Crossover Crisis content!

Back Issues [JLA Day]: The Brave and the Bold #28


To celebrate the release of Justice League (Snyder/Whedon, 2017), DC Comics named November 18 “Justice League Day”. Sadly, this clashes with another pop culture holiday but, setting aside all the drama surrounding that movie, this still provides a perfect excuse to dedication some time to talking about DC’s premier superhero team, which set the standard for super teams in comics by bringing together DC’s most powerful heroes.


Story Title: “Starro the Conqueror!”
Published: 29 December 1959 (cover-dated March 1960)
Writer: Gardner Fox
Artist: Mike Sekowsky

The Background:
All Star Comics (1940/1941), brought together eight superheroes from a number of different publishers for the first time as the Justice Society of America (JSA). This not only heralded the birth of the first ever superhero team in comics but also allowed readers to see their favourite characters interacting all for the same price as reading any one comic. The JSA’s roster expanded and changed over the years but the team underwent their most significant change when, in the late 1950s, then-editor Julius Schwartz asked writer Gardner Fox to reintroduce and rebrand the team as the Justice League of America (JLA) to capitalise on the popularity of the American Football League and Major League Baseball’s National League.

Taking over from the JSA, the JLA became one of the most versatile and powerful super teams.

Though the team debuted in The Brave and the Bold #28, a title famous for featuring team-ups between various fictional and superheroic characters, the team’s actual origin wasn’t revealed until the ninth issue of their self-titled series, which became one of DC Comic’s best-selling titles. As with the JSA and other super teams, the JLA’s roster has changed over the years and many splinter groups and spin-offs have been introduced but perhaps there is no more iconic line-up than the JLA’s original roster that was comprised of DC’s heavy-hitters: Clark Kent/Superman, Bruce Wayne/Batman, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, Hal Jordan/Green Lantern, Arthur Curry/Aquaman, Barry Allan/The Flash, and J’onn J’onzz (referred to here as “John Jones”)/Martian Manhunter.

The Review:
“Starro the Conqueror!” begins with the odd choice to not detail the first time these superheroes joined forces and, instead, starts off with the seven heroes already having agreed to come together in times of crisis (they each have a signalling device to summon the others). I kind of like this on the one hand as it suggests that DC’s top superheroes already set aside their differences for the greater good without any real fuss and it helps speed things up but, on the other hand, it feels a bit out of place to not detail the first meeting of these heroes. Anyway, the first member of the team to become aware of an impending threat is Aquaman who, thanks to information provided to him by a puffer fish, is learns of the arrival of the gigantic extraterrestrial starfish known as Starro.

Aquaman’s summons is answered by some of DC’s greatest superheroes.

This monstrous being has travelled across the depths of space to Earth with one goal in mind: conquest. To that end, Starro…somehow…transforms three of Earth’s starfish into replicas of itself and spreads them across the world to begin its mad scheme. Aquaman’s summons are immediately picked up and answered by Wonder Woman (who is in the middle of an awkward conversation with her beau, Steve Trevor, regarding marriage), Green Lantern (who, as Hal Jordan, was in the middle of a test flight), the Flash (who quickly disperses of a potentially life-threatening tornado), and the Martian Manhunter (who was simply about to start his vacation…). Each of these introductory panels immediately gives the reader and idea of what each character is capable of: Aquaman can breath underwater and talk to fish, Wonder Woman has an invisible jet, Green Lantern’s ring allows him to perform virtually any task, the Flash is super fast, and the Martian Manhunter can shape-shift. Aquaman’s signal also reaches Superman and Batman but the two are unable to respond right away since Superman is busy taking care of a potentially dangerous meteor shower and Batman is in the middle of stopping a crime spree. You might think that Superman would have spotted Starro’s arrival from space but he was dealing with a great deal of meteors (it’s also entirely possible that Starro caused the meteor shower specifically to distract Superman) and I guess it’s in character for Batman to prioritise Gotham City’s safety over a JLA summons (though a JLA-level peril is surely more threatening for Gotham than a crime spree…)

Green Lantern is able to defeat the Starro duplicate with relative ease.

Regardless, the five heroes meet at the “modernistically outfitted cavern” that serves as the JLA’s headquarters. Having been informed of Starro’s threat and where it intends to strike, the Flash, as the JLA’s chairman, orders the team to split up and it is at this point that the story diverges from the team-based format and instead switches to cover each individual mission. The first sees Green Lantern battling one of Starro’s deputies in the skies above Rocky Mountain National Park; Hal arrives in time to see the gigantic creature but is too late to stop it from attacking a passing air force jet-bomber and relieving it of its payload: nothing less than an atom bomb! Green Lantern is able to save the aircraft when it goes into a deadly freefall but is unable to keep the Starro duplicate from detonating the atom bomb! Thankfully, Hal’s energy shield protects him from the blast and he watches in horror as the creature absorbs the energy released from the bomb. Hal pursues and is nearly blasted from the sky by a scorching beam fired from the creature’s tentacle. However, Green Lantern is easily able to avoid the creature’s thrashing limbs and attacks and reduce it down to a regular starfish by scoring a direct hit on its massive eye.

Starro’s duplicate falls before the might of Wonder Woman and the Martian Manhunter.

Next, the story switches to “Science City” where Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter (why Diana has to team up with another hero is beyond me…) find another of Starro’s deputies abducting the “Hall of Science”, where the greatest scientific minds of the United States are gathered. The creature intends to bring the scientists into the upper atmosphere so it can absorb their brainpower and knowledge; Wonder Woman attempts to use her magical lasso to prise the creature’s tentacles from the building but ends up being yanked off of her invisible jet and onto the Hall of Science thanks to the giant starfish’s incredible strength. Meanwhile, J’onn uses his super-breath to bombard the creature with fragments of the meteors Superman is destroying and uses the same technique to cause a torrential rainfall when flames from the building threaten his life. Starro’s deputy then attempts to destroy them both by firing bolts of nuclear energy their way but Wonder Woman is, of course, able to deflect them with her magical bracelets and J’onn shields himself using the building’s conveniently lead-lined roof. Diana then whips her lasso around her jet and uses the momentum to forcibly drag the building out of the sky. The effort of battling both heroes at once soon takes its toll on the creature, which plummets from the sky and begins to revert back into a regular starfish.

The Flash makes short work of the final Starro duplicate.

When then join the Flash as he confronts another of Starro’s deputies at Happy Harbour; this part of the story is easily the worst simply because it introduces one of the most annoying and aggravating characters ever conceived: the JLA’s “mascot”, Snapper Carr. Snapper is a hip, super cool teenager with the annoying habit of constantly snapping his fingers all the God-damn time who is shocking to find his family, and the entire town, enthralled by Starro’s trance. For whatever reason (possibly due to being high, judging by the way he speaks!), Snapper is immune to Starro’s influence so he needs to be saved from certain death by the Flash. Despite Starro’s best efforts to vaporise the Scarlet Speedster, the Flash (literally) runs rings around the creature and ultimately defeats it when it tries to hide in the sea. In the process, the townsfolk are freed from their trance and Snapper’s family are able to tell Flash where they were ordered by the creature to head to: Turkey Hollow.

The JLA defeat Starro with ridiculous ease and make Snapper an honorary member!

The final part of the story sees the team reunite to take on the real Starro at Turkey Hollow; despite the defeat of its deputies, Starro remains confident since it was still able to absorb the power of that atomic bomb, the knowledge of Earth’s scientists, and…whatever it is the townsfolk of Happy Harbour contributed to its mind (local Earth knowledge, I guess?) Starro plans to use all that it has learned to force humanity into destroying the world with nuclear weapons and then use the influx of nuclear energy would then allow it to conquer other worlds across the universe. When the JLA arrive, Starro immediately puts its abilities to good use by reading Hal’s mind and turning itself yellow to render itself immune to his power ring but the Flash notices that Starro’s awesome energy ray has absolutely no effect on Snapper (who he, of course, brought along for the ride!) Flash orders Wonder Woman and the Martian Manhunter to distract Starro while Hal uses his power ring as a spectroscope to discover that Snapper is covered in lime from when he was mowing the lawn earlier. Apparently, lime is deadly to starfish so Hal dumps a whole bunch of it onto Starro to weaken it. Martian Manhunter then uses his super-breath to blow a load of calcium oxide (which is, apparently, also lime) onto the creature and thus imprison it within an unbreakable shell of lime. With Starro’s threat ended, Superman and Batman return just in time to see the Flash making Snapper an honorary member of the JLA and…boy, do they look thrilled to be there!

The Summary:
I don’t mind telling you that I am a bit disappointed by “Starro the Conqueror!”; the story started pretty strong but fell off a cliff pretty quickly at the end, becoming little more than a science class rather than a big old fight between Earth’s greatest heroes and an alien menace. I suppose it speaks to the intelligence of the JLA (specifically Barry) to come up with a way to outwit, rather than outfight, the creature and the sudden introduction of lime as the might Starro’s one weakness is arguably no less lame than fire being J’onn’s weakness and yellow being Hal’s and there is a lot of action prior to the finale but still…the entire point of the comic is to see these heroes joining forces and we don’t really get that.

Aquaman is unfairly side-lined and does nothing except alert the JLA to Starro’s presence.

You might be wondering where the hell Aquaman was during this story; despite appearing to be a pivotal member of the team in the early panels, Arthur is little more than an early warning system to alert the team to Starro’s threat. Hell, when Barry is divvying out the JLA’s individual missions, Aquaman doesn’t even get to fight one of the creatures as he’s sent back to the ocean to watch out for any more of the duplicates and, when he does return to the story for the finale, he does absolutely nothing. It’s pretty sad considering the JLA were light on power with Superman out of the equation and when you consider that Arthur might have actually been really useful at Happy Harbour so could have easily teamed up with the Flash for that mission…but then we might never have gotten Snapper-fuckin’-Carr now, would we!?

Hal and J’onn are severely underutilised, with their powers reduced to the bare minimum.

Honestly, Snapper could have been dropped entirely from the story; he’s only there so the teenager readers can act like they’re fighting alongside their favourite heroes, after all, and it’s legitimately sad that he’s more important to the story than Aquaman! Seriously, drop Snapper, have Aquaman and the Flash go to Happy Harbour, and have Arthur get covered in lime while battling the creature in the water and reveal the key to Starro’s defeat. Seems like a pretty simple solution to me. Similarly, it’s pretty disappointing that Superman and Batman don’t play any part in the story at all. I can understand why as Superman’s power alone would probably be able to end Starro’s threat but it’s a bit of a let down that they don’t even join the team for the big climactic battle. Instead, we’re left with the likes of the Martian Manhunter, who is probably just as powerful as Superman if not more so and yet is reduced to simply puffing away with his super-breath. Similarly, Hal’s potential and power is also significantly reduced; his ring allows him to do virtually anything but, in the end, all he really uses it for is to fly about, rescue a falling plane, and zap at Starro with energy blasts.

Starro seems like a threatening villain but end sup being a massive disappointment.

Still, at least Wonder Woman gets a lot to do; she basically does all the work in her team-up with J’onn which, again, makes me question why she has to have a partner and no one else does. The implication may be that it’s because she’s a woman but she’s easily the most dependable and capable superheroine I’ve seen all year; she doesn’t even get bound or anything, which is refreshing. The Flash also gets far more chances to show off his abilities and competence; beyond his super speed allowing him to easily best one of Starro’s duplicates, Barry is portrayed as a decisive team leader and his intelligence is what ultimately wins the day over brute strength. Overall, Starro is just another in a long line of potentially dangerous foes that really don’t amount to a whole hell of a lot. It openly admits that its plot to conquer Earth is the first time it’s ever tried anything like that, exposing its naivety and inexperience in world conquest and battle. Its scheme seems pretty good to start with as it creates duplicates of itself and absorbs power and knowledge but it fails to really do anything with this beyond making itself yellow; it could have spewed flames at J’onn, bound Wonder Woman’s wrists, subjected Aquaman to intense heat, or slowed the Flash down with quicksand but it never does any of that. For all the power and knowledge it has, Starro ends up just being a giant alien punching bag that, arguably, the Flash alone could have defeated and, because of that, it’s simply a piss-poor excuse to see all these heroes band together and even then they spend the majority of the story working separately!

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

What did you think to the JLA’s debut appearance? Were you happy to see five out of the seven joining forces for the first time or would you have liked to see all seven of them getting in on the action? What did you think of Starro as the principal villain and the introduction of Snapper Carr? Which era or incarnation of the JLA is your favourite and what are some of your favourite JLA stories? Who would you like to see in the JLA some day? How are you celebrating Justice League Day this year? Whatever your thoughts on the JLA, feel free to leave a comment below.

Back Issues [Multiverse Madness]: Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man


In September 1961, DC Comics published a little story called “Flash of Two Worlds” (Fox, et al), a landmark story that featured in The Flash #123 and brought together two generations of the Flash: the Golden Age Jay Garrick and the Silver Age Barry Allen. In the process, DC Comics created the concept of the multiverse, the idea that DC Comics continuity was comprised of an infinite number of parallel universes that allowed any and all stories and characters to exist and, more importantly, interact and I’ve been celebrating this ground-breaking concept every Sunday of September!


Story Title: The Battle of the Century! (Includes four chapters: ‘A Dual of Titans’, ‘When Heroes Clash!’, ‘The Call of Battle!’, and ‘The Doomsday Decision’)
Published: March 1976
Writer: Gerry Conway
Artists: Ross Andru and Dick Giordano

The Background:
Despite the fact that the two companies were both producing colourful, superpowered costumed heroes in a cut-throat industry, relations between DC Comics and Marvel Comics have been surprisingly collaborative and amicable over the years (they’ve certainly been more civil with each other than many of the toxic fans” I see arguing on social media every day…) Sure, there’s been lawsuits and underhanded tactics from both companies, but not only were the legendary Stan Lee and the disreputable sham Bob Kane actually good friends but the two companies both borrowed from and inspired each other and they’ve even collaborated on numerous joint publications in the past.

DC Comics and Marvel Comics collaborated on a number of crossovers and joint ventures back in the day.

The idea of pitting Clark Kent/Superman against Peter Parker/Spider-Man was first suggested by author and literary agent David Obst, who pitched the idea to Marvel Comics publisher Stan Lee and DC Comics editorial director Carmine Infantino as a live-action feature film. Writer Gerry Conway and artist Ross Andru, two of the few who had worked on both characters in the past, were brought in to bring the concept to life, which was treated as more of a fantasy tale (despite the fact that DC had introduced the concept of the “Multiverse” over a decade previously). The comic, which generally sells for quite a high price these days, wouldn’t be the last time Superman and Spider-Man (or DC and Marvel, for that matter) crossed paths as the two would collaborate on a number of inter-company crossovers during the eighties and nineties.

The Review:
Our story begins with just another normal, boring day in Metropolis as a gigantic mechanical construct is tearing its way through the city. Even Superman laments the frequency of such events but is unable to see who is controlling the robot thanks to it being lined with lead and is equally unable to stop it thanks to its incredible strength, an “inertia ray”, and gravity beams being emitted from its mechanical feet that crush Superman with “ten times the gravity of Krypton”.

Superman is so distracted with getting his ass kicked that he misses that Luthor is behind the robot’s attack!

All of this means that Superman is smashed through the nearby buildings (which are, we later learn, conveniently empty despite the fact that the robot is rampaging through downtown Metropolis with reckless abandon and Superman even has to save innocent civilians from falling debris) and is unable to keep the robot from stealing a computer console from Scientific and Technological Advanced Research Laboratories (S.T.A.R. Labs). Indeed, Superman is so distracted with trying to retrieve this from the robot’s head that he completely misses that the mastermind directing the machine’s attack was none other than Lex Luthor himself!

Superman tracks Luthor down, gets his ass kicked again, and is forced to rescue Luthor from certain death.

Superman returns to his civilian life as Clark Kent, reporter for the Daily Planet (owned by Galaxy Communications at the time), who avoids one of Steve Lombard’s mean and unprofessional pranks thanks to his super powers, gets chewed out by his boss, Morgan Edge, for not covering the attack (quite why Edge chooses to target Clark over Lois Lane or Lombard is beyond me), and realises from watching the footage back that he can track the robot’s obvious trail of destruction and gigantic footprints to Metropolis Bay There, beneath the water, he immediately discovers (and is attacked by) a walking undersea laboratory. Inside the lab, Superman confronts Luthor and after trying, and failing, to convince him to renounce his evil ways and rekindle heir former friendship, is attacked by a series of high-intensity laser beams. Though he’s able to dart through them, one blasts him into his eyes and, thanks to essentially being red sun radiation (which weakens Superman), dazes him and causes him to wreck Luthor’s lab. Luthor manages to spirit away the programming circuit he stole from S.T.A.R. Labs but ends up being apprehended by Superman after almost drowning to death.

A mundane robbery turns out to be the scheme of Doctor Octopus and his ludicrous new toy.

The story then switches to New York City right as Spider-Man is swinging in to take care of a handful of crooks who are in the middle of robbing the Metropolitan Museum. Of course Spidey easily trounces the crooks with his spider-powers but things quickly escalate when the mastermind behind the plan, Doctor Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus, suddenly attacks with his mechanical limbs and, thanks to the element of surprise (and a good old whack to the back of the head), is able to temporarily knock Spider-Man unconscious and escape in his ridiculous looking “Flying Octopus” craft with boxes and boxes of loot.

Spider-Man almost immediately tracks Doc Ock down and puts him out for the count for the cops.

After fleeing from the police (who naturally assume Spider-Man to have been involved in the robbery), Spidey (as Peter Parker, obviously) presents the photographs of the entire event to his boss, J. Jonah Jameson, but earns the cantankerous editor’s wrath when Jameson prints the shots unseen and is left with nothing but a blurry, instinct picture on page one of his newspaper, the Daily Bugle. When his spider-sense suddenly alerts him to a passing blimp overhead, Peter ditches Mary Jane Watson and heads off to investigate as Spider-Man only to discover (after having to think on the fly thanks to his web fluid having run dry) that the blimp was disguising Doc Ock and his flying machine. The ensuing fight wrecks the blimp, causing it (and them) to crash into the Central Park reservoir and, with one swift punch to the jaw, Spidey successfully apprehends Doc Ock and heads off to try and smooth things over with Mary Jane.

Mere hours after being locked in an escape proof prison, Luthor escapes and takes Doc Ock with him.

As luck (or fate, or simple plot convenience) would have it, both Lex Luthor and Doc Ock end up being shipped off to “Federal Maximum-X Security Penitentiary Number One, the most “escape proof” prison in the world” out in New Mexico and the two immediately bond over their respective losses and enemies and agree to join forces upon escape. Though Doc Ock is sceptical of their chances, Luthor quickly uses a number of small, high-tech devices hidden under a layer of fake skin to disrupt the prison’s security cameras and guards and allow Doc Ock to regain control of his mechanical limbs and literally carry them both to safety within just a few hours of Luthor’s arrival,

Peter and Lois are brought together by their personal dramas before Superman suddenly vaporises her!

The story proper begins with Clark, Lois, and other members of the Daily Planet staff attending the world news conference in New York; as you might expect, Peter is also there and, after being berated by Jameson, snaps at his boss and quits his job, shocking (but also impressing) Mary Jane with his sudden outburst. Meanwhile, Clark is stunned to hear that Edge doesn’t want him covering the news conference and, again, alludes to his temptation to replace Clark with a more well-known newscaster. Frustrated that Clark is happy to roll over and allow himself to be forced out of the “biggest story of his career”, Lois storms off in anger at his cowardice and her inability to truly hate him since he’s so charming and likeable. In true Lois Lane fashion, she risks her life climbing up a scaffold to get some better pictures (because Jimmy Olsen couldn’t make the trip, apparently) and nearly falls to her death when she’s saved by Peter. They bond over their respective professional accomplishments, much to Mary Jane’s displeasure, but Peter is left flabbergasted when Superman suddenly swoops in and seemingly vaporises them both right before his eyes!

Lex Luthor zaps Spider-Man with red sun radiation to allow him to take on Superman in a fist fight.

Clark also witnesses this event and is equally stunned and changes to Superman to investigate while Peter frantically switches to Spider-Man using the staircase (because, in a cute moment, the convention doesn’t have traditional phone booths). The two superheroes instantly run into each other in the skies above the building and come to blows (Superman having assumed, as many often do, that Spidey is connected to his doppelgänger). Although Superman immediately begins to be the voice of reason, Luthor and Doc Ock (who were behind the fake Superman; Luthor’s even still wearing the costume and has the lifelike mask nearby!) decide to escalate their conflict by surreptitiously blasting Spider-Man with red sun radiation to power him up for the fight.

When reason doesn’t work, Superman nearly kills Spider-Man before the web-slinger calms down.

Thanks to the red sun radiation, his anger at being pushed around, and believing the Superman has captured or killed the woman he loves, Spider-Man attacks relentlessly; his strength knocks Superman off balance and his fury causes him to stubbornly refuse to listen to reason, all of which makes Superman mad enough to throw a killing blow at Spidey’s head. At the very last second, Superman is able to pull his punch but the resulting “wind-blast” sends Spider-Man flying through buildings and across the city. Disgusted at having nearly killed a man, Superman tries one more time to get Spidey to listen to reason and, when the red sun radiation wears off and amusingly leads to Spidey simply hurting his fists on Superman’s steel-hard body, Spider-Man finally relents. After comparing notes, they quickly bury their issues and agree to work together to uncover the truth about what happened but the proof of the pudding is clear: Spider-Man dominated the fight between the two and had Superman reeling throughout.

It wouldn’t be classic Superman if he wasn’t acting like a complete asshole.

Following the “energy residue” of the imposter to the Penn Central railroad yard, Superman shows that he hasn’t quite shaken off the dickish ways of his sixties incarnation by allowing Spider-Man to go in first and run a gauntlet of traps and hazards before he (as in Superman) just ploughs right in there and they both confront the combined might and intelligence of Luthor and Doc Ock. Revealing that Lois and Mary Jane have simply been taken captive to lure the two heroes into a trap, the villains quickly vanish, having been mere projections all along (which you’d think Superman and Spider-Man would be able to register with their enhanced sense but apparently not…), and nearly manage to kill Spidey with a booby trapped computer console before Superman intervenes.

Lex Luthor and Doc Ock appropriate the Injustice Gang’s satellite to hold the world to ransom.

Superman then rebuilds the wrecked computer at super speed and down to the smallest detail, apparently somehow managing to repair and restore the destroyed files that would have been on it in the process, which leads the two to Mount Kilimanjaro. There, a local nomadic Masai tribe lead them to another of Luthor’s secret bases. After battling and defeating a superpowered tribesman (who also wields a sword charged with red sun radiation), the two discover that Luthor and Doc Ock have headed to the upper atmosphere and the abandoned satellite headquarters of the Injustice Gang. There, Lois and Mary Jane are held hostage and are privy to the supervillains’ mad scheme: using the programming circuit he stole from S.T.A.R. Labs, Luthor is able to disrupt and hijack Comlab (a massive, missile-like communications tower in orbit) and cause it to fire a “high-intensity laser probe” into the Earth’s atmosphere and hold the world to ransom or face untold death and destruction from the violent storms the laser causes.

Luthor and Doc Ock are initially able to use the satellite to their advantage to fell their foes.

Superman and Spider-Man (piloting a shuttle of his own with surprising efficiency) head up to stop them but are immediately overwhelmed by Luthor’s lasers and captured. Although they catch their foes off-guard by feigning helplessness, Superman and Spider-Man are thrown off balance when Luthor suddenly shuts off the satellite’s artificial gravity (quite how this would affect Superman is beyond me…), which allows the villains to topple the costumed heroes with a humiliating ease.

Thanks to Spidey, Otto turns on Luthor, Superman stops a deadly tidal wave, and the heroes return to their lives.

Quickly recovering, the two turn the tide when Superman is able to get close enough to Doc Ock to…remove his glasses! Distracted by recovering his comrade’s glasses, Luthor is unable to defend himself against Spider-Man, and Spidey is able to turn Doc Ock against Luthor by appealing to his greed because, after all, what use is money if Luthor plans to decimate the world? Although this is enough to disable to destructive laser and cause the two villains to come to blows, Superman must still take care of a gigantic tidal wave that threatens to engulf the entire United States! Of course, Superman is able to dispel the wave by flying at it at super speed and, with the villains subdued and the threat ended, Superman and Spider-Man part as allies and return to their respective lives, with both men able to win over (and back) their employers with their exclusive insight into this one of a kind team up.

The Summary:
I grew up reading Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man stories from the 1970s so, for me, Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man feels like a very familiar and nostalgic little tale. The artwork and characterisations are representative of this era; both the main characters and their villains pop out nicely, with Luthor being more of the scheming supervillain rather than a manipulative businessman. While Spider-Man is just as troubled by his angst and anxieties and spouts the usual quips and puns that were “hip” at the time, Superman is far from an unstoppable demigod while still having one foot in the ridiculously overpowered nature of his Golden Age counterpart.

Sadly, the story has little time for side plots for Superman and Spider-Man’s supporting characters.

If you’re a fan of Lois and Mary Jane then this isn’t the comic for you; the two barely factor into the plot at all and, arguably, could have been excised completely and the villains’ scheme would have carried on largely unchanged. Similarly, characters like Jameson, Morgan, and Lombard are mainly just there for comic relief or to flesh out and contrast the normal, everyday lives of our two heroes. This is a bit of a missed opportunity, in many ways, as we’re denied a meeting between Jameson and Clark’s usual boss, Perry White, or even a sub-plot where Lois and Mary Jane have to work together to either escape or help stop the villains. Maybe if the story hadn’t suddenly veered off to waste time on the Marais tribe or wasted pages recapping the origins and powers of the heroes and villains we could have seen more of these interactions or had Spider-Man visit Metropolis.

The fight between Superman and Spider-Man, brief as it is, is the main appeal of the comic.

Still, the comic is called Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man and we definitely do get that; the two fight for about twelve pages and it’s a fairly evenly matched affair thanks to Spidey being supped-up by Luthor’s special red sun ray. Superman, ever the Boy Scout, spends most of the fight reeling from Spidey’s surprising strength and trying to calm the web-slinger down and, every time he tries to fight back, Spider-Man is right there to shut him down and press the attack. In fact, Superman only throws one punch in the entire fight but it’s enough to send Spidey flying with “the force of a compact hurricane”. Interestingly, there’s a lot of subtext that can be gleaned from this bout; Spidey, representing Marvel Comics, is the young, hot-tempered upstart who hits first and asks questions later and Superman, representing DC Comics, is the older, more level-headed veteran who seeks to resolve conflict peacefully but will strike back if pushed too far.

After resolving their differences, Superman and Spider-Man’s methods and egos never clash again.

Naturally, the two pool their respective talents far more than they clash and, after resolving their issues, never come to blows or conflict again. I suppose it’s nice that there wasn’t a lame excuse for them to fight again, like hypnotism or whatever, but the actual inciting incident is pretty paper thin (even though he saw “Superman” vaporise Mary Jane and Lois, Peter knows Superman by reputation so you’d think he’d hesitate to suddenly think he’d gone rogue) and I would have liked to see a bit more of how their different approaches to situations clash. We only really got to see this once when they reached the rail yard and it seemed petty and mean on Superman’s part to send Spidey in alone when he (again, as in Superman) could just burst in there without issue.

Sadly, the potential of this team is never realised as Doc Ock is reduced to being Luthor’s henchman.

It’s a good job that the clash and interactions between the two heroes pays off as the supervillain team up is a bit lacklustre; Doc Ock is reduced to a mere common criminal and a henchman here, having no real agency and playing very little role in the story other than giving Luthor someone to talk and boast to and acting as Luthor’s muscle. It’s a shame as Doc Ock is one of Spidey’s most devious, intelligent, and imposing villains but he may as well not be in the story at all since everything (from the prison escape, to framing Superman, to the red sun ray, and the orbiting satellite/laser plot) is Luthor’s plan and Lex may as well have teamed up with Flint Marko/The Sandman for all the use Octavius’s arms and demented genius were. As a result, Luthor comes out of this looking like a scheming, diabolical madman who is happy to threaten and kill millions for a measly ten billion dollars; his genius allows him to create all kinds of fantastic technology and even duplicate red sun radiation to weaken Superman but, in the end, he’s undone because Spidey was able to manipulate Octavius to turn against him.

The comic delivers on its core premise but doesn’t completely capitalise on its potential..

Overall, it’s a decent enough story; well drawn and full of big, action-packed panels when the two heroes clash and take on their foes but the main appeal of Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man is, unsurprisingly, in seeing two of Marvel’s premier superheroes butting heads and joining forces. In that regard, the story works but just barely; it reads like a typical, run of the mill Superman story from the time just with a guest appearance by Spider-Man and some of his supporting characters. When the Marvel characters do appear, they’re written exactly as you’d expect from that era as well and no one side really looks better or dominates the other…unless you look at the subtext at work. Superman and Spider-Man appear to be evenly matched in their fight but Spider-Man is clearly the aggressor; Luthor outshines Doc Ock at every turn, relegating him to being a mere henchman, so I guess everything just about evens out on both sides but I can’t help but feel like the story was lacking a little. It would have been nice to see Spidey in Metropolis, more interactions between the two in and out of costume, and the two having to deal with their counterpart’s villains in a more interesting way than flailing around on a space station but there’s an appeal to Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man, if only because of the comic’s rarity and the chance to see these two heroes, and worlds, collide for a change so it’s probably worth seeking out for the sheer spectacle of it if nothing else.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever read Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man? If so, what did you think to it? Do you own a copy of the original comic or do you remember reading it when it was first published? Were you also disappointed that the comic didn’t make better use of its concept, supporting characters, and villains or were you happy with the story we got? Which of the two heroes, and publishers, was/is your preference? Do you enjoy all comic books and superheroes equally or are you one of those toxic fans who actively hates other characters and companies? Would you like to see DC and Marvel collaborate again in the future and, if so, what stories would you like to see? Whatever your thoughts on Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man, and comic book crossovers of this kind, drop a comment down below and check back next Sunday for the final instalment of Multiverse Madness.

Talking Movies [Multiverse Madness]: Superman: Red Son


In September 1961, DC Comics published a little story called “Flash of Two Worlds” (Fox, et al), a landmark story that featured in The Flash #123 and brought together two generations of the Flash: the Golden Age Jay Garrick and the Silver Age Barry Allen. In the process, DC Comics created the concept of the multiverse, the idea that DC Comics continuity was comprised of an infinite number of parallel universes that allowed any and all stories and characters to exist and, more importantly, interact and I’ve been celebrating this ground-breaking concept every Sunday of this month!


Released: 25 February 2020
Director: Sam Liu
Distributor: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Budget: Unknown
Stars: Jason Isaacs, Amy Acker, Diedrich Bader, Vanessa Marshall, Roger Craig Smith, and Paul Williams

The Plot:
In an alternate timeline, Krypton’s last son crash-lands in Cold War-era Russia and Superman (Isaacs) is raised to be the figurehead of Joseph Stalin’s (William Salyers) Communist campaign. In response, Lex Luthor (Bader) devises a plan to neutralise and destroy the Soviet Superman while a renegade terrorist known as Batman (Smith) and the alien cyborg Brainiac (Williams) both plot to overthrow the superpowered tyrant.

The Background:
Having met with considerable success with their animated ventures, such as Batman: The Animated Series (1992 to 1999), Warner Bros. Animation began producing a number of direct-to-video animated features based upon existing and popular comic book storylines but Superman: Red Son was a bit of a change of pace as the last few animated features had been part of a shared universe. Red Son was based on the three-issue miniseries of the same name written by Mark Millar in 2003, a story that was part of DC’s “Elseworlds” imprint. A surprisingly dense text, it was a popular and poignant “What If” scenario published by DC Comics for its deconstruction of Superman’s ideals. Similarly, the adaptation received generally positive reviews and sold quite well on home media. Having never gotten around to reading the original comic and, although I’ve been aware of it and the premise for some time, this was actually my first time properly experiencing this alternate take on Superman.

The Review:
These days, the “Evil Superman” story has been pretty much done to death; it was a big part of the Injustice franchise (NetherRealm Studios/Various, 2013 to 2017), movies like Brightburn (Yarovesky, 2019) have explored the concept further, and even Henry Cavill’s version of the character has walked the line more than once, particularly in the questionable “Knightmare” scenario present in the DC Extended Universe films. Interestingly, Red Son takes Superman’s core values of “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” and simply transposes them into Soviet Russia; as a boy, Superman fears hurting others with his powers and hides them from the world as a result but, after showing them to Svetlana (Winter Ave Zoli), is encouraged to “give them to the State” in order to put them to the best use (i.e. for the betterment of their Communist superiors).

Superman pledges his powers and abilities to the betterment of the Soviet state.

As a result, the Soviet Superman isn’t initially evil in the way a lot of alternate versions of Superman are; he begins as a humble Communist patriot who is simply acting in the best interests of his country, which is basically what the mainstream Superman does more often than not. At first, the Soviet Superman basically acts as a nuclear deterrent to the rest of the world, ensuring the strength, superiority, and prosperity of Soviet Russia in a similar way to how Jon Osterman/Doctor Manhattan acted for the United States in Watchmen (Moore, et al, 1986 to 1987). This Superman is uncomfortable in the spotlight and sees himself as a “servant of the State”, a man simply doing his part in ensuring Russia’s success, and is quick to attribute his feats to the betterment of the country rather than simply his actions.

Lois confronts Superman’s ideologies and inspires him to usurp Stalin’s authority.

Similarly, he doesn’t hesitate to act to intervene when Metropolis is threatened by a falling satellite, expressing that the citizens of the United States aren’t his enemy or those of his government, and yet he is sceptical and distrustful of the press, such as Lois Lane-Luthor (Acker). In this version of the DC Universe, Lois is still a reporter but is married to Luthor; Lois’s ideals clash with those of Superman’s, with each of them disapproving of the actions and methods of each other’s governments. Clearly intrigued by Superman, it is Lois who opens his eyes to the horrendous actions of Stalin, which have left his beloved Svetlana dead after being imprisoned in a hellish gulag for knowing his true identity.

Superman embarks on his own totalitarian regime predicated on peace through force.

Disgusted at the torture and treatment of the prisoners, and enraged at Svetlana’s death, Superman frees the inmates and brutally kills Stalin, usurping his authority in the process and beginning his own totalitarian regime. Just as she encouraged him to give his powers to the country, Svetlana’s dying words motivate Superman to be the strongest of the strong and to ensure that the Russian people are never again oppressed. Just as Luthor hoped, this causes Superman to become a significant threat as he easily ends the Korean War and demolishes the Berlin Wall, accepting collateral damage and loss of life to safeguard the majority and spreading a message of peace through aggressive intervention. Luthor’s machinations speed up his vendetta against Superman, which sees his him cloning a bizarre version of Superman using genetic material from this landing craft.

Luthor creates a clone of Superman that he purposely overloads to the point of death just to rattle Superman.

This “Superior Man” (Travis Willingham) resembles the traditional Superman in many ways, save for a “US” symbol on his chest, and has been programmed with complete subservience to his country (and to Luthor), however he’s little more than a blank slate. Luthor unveils Superior Man in a very public display and wastes no time in sending him to confront Superman, leading to a massive brawl between the two through the streets of Moscow. Horrified at the devastation and loss of life their conflict causes, Superman quickly diverts the battle away from innocent lives (interesting that the Soviet version of Superman is more concerned with safeguarding innocent lives than Snyder’s Superman in his debut film…), but the clone soon degenerates into a monstrosity and, finally, painfully dissolves when Luthor purposely overloads him with more power to test Superman’s limits and psychologically unnerve his superpowered opponent.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Superman: Red Son isn’t anything massively new when it comes to animation since it appears very similar to other DC animated movies and draws heavy aesthetic influence from Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s animated works. The story continuously jumps through time, showing characters aging and noticeably changing (Luthor starts off quite athletic and with a full head of hair but soon grows pudgy and balding while Superman’s costume becomes darker and more adorned with military insignias and accessories as his campaign escalates), which covers a lot of ground very quickly in order to establish that these events take place over a long period of time and slowly shows the expansion of Superman’s Communist strength.

Superman and Wonder Woman forge an alliance in a world where Batman is a violent terrorist.

As with many alternate world stories and animated features, Red Son includes several cameos and additional characters, recast and changed by their place in this parallel world. This Superman forges a powerful alliance with Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Marshall), who admires his accomplishments and his commitment to his ideals of unity through strength; their relationship is built out of a mutual desire to change the world for the better with their powers and resources rather than a romantic liaison since Diana is a lesbian in this world. In time, however, Diana comes to question Superman’s methods when he turns insurgents into little more than zombies. Similarly, Superman faces opposition from the Soviet Batman, here little more than a terrorist who openly opposes Superman’s regime after suffering in the same gulag as Svetlana and losing all faith the superpowered Premier. As with many alternate versions of Batman, the Soviet Batman is perfectly happy to kill, blowing up a museum dedicated to Superman’s accomplishments and killing numerous innocents in the process. Batman has also inspired several followers, who all wear his symbol and willingly follow his orders, which causes them to be subjected to brainwashing by Superman’s reprogrammed Brainiac technology. After many years of striking against Superman, Batman eventually overwhelms Wonder Woman and subdues her with her own Lasso of Truth in order to lure Superman into a trap. Using artificial red sunlight supplied by Luthor, Batman weakens Superman and mercilessly beats him into submission as payback for his part in the death of his parents and to liberate Russia from his oppressive rule. Ultimately, though, Wonder Woman breaks free from her binds and restores Superman’s powers, though Batman choose suicide over being subjected to Superman’s brainwashing and the whole ordeal causes Diana to walk away from man’s world.

Superman and Luthor team up to defeat Brainiac and Superman uses the opportunity to fake his death.

Finally, Luthor’s ongoing efforts to bring down Superman lead to him not only becoming President of the United States and repositioning the United States as a prosperous democracy, but also discovering Abin Sur’s crashed spaceship and bequeathing the power ring on his finger to Captain Hal Jordan (Sasha Roiz) to create an alternative version of the Green Lantern Corps. Although not wishing to go to war with the United States, or to simply remove Luthor from power, Superman is forced into action when the Green Lantern Corps attack; although saved by Diana, he refuses to listen to her pleas for peace and loses her trust and friendship forever when Themyscira closes its borders to the rest of the world. Although Brainiac’s invasion of the world is limited to a brief montage, its influence on the story is significant; defeated and reprogrammed by Superman, Brainiac not only subtly influences Superman’s methods and gives him the technology necessary to better enforce his rule, but has also been secretly plotting to take over the world through Superman’s increasingly aggressive methods. This comes to a head in the finale, where Brainiac’s machinations lead Superman to the White House and the world to the brink of all-out war. Thanks to Lois, Superman realises the error of his ways and even works alongside Luthor (in a version of his signature mech suit) to battle Brainiac on the White House lawn; Luthor’s technology even ends up playing a pivotal role in disabling Brainiac’s forcefields and allowing Superman to destroy the machine, faking his death in the process and retreating to a simple, unassuming life to allow humanity to make their own destiny…and their own mistakes.

The Summary:
Superman: Red Son is an entertaining glimpse into an alternate version of Superman, one whose ideals of patriotism and justice are skewed by his Communist beliefs and upbringing. Initially a propaganda tool used to showcase the might of the Soviets, Superman evolves into a surprisingly layered dictator, one who laments and avoids the taking of innocent lives but is willing to aggressively expand his empire through force, if necessary. In time, his regime enforces a notable peace through the expansion of Communist ideals, which makes him colder and more inhumane in his efforts as he subjects those who defy him to lobotomies and yet still believes that his methods are more humane than those of Stalin. Superman is positioned as the enemy of the free world, particularly Democratic nations such as the United States, which seeks to liberate the Soviet nations from his oppressive rule but, as with Superman’s methods, Luthor’s aren’t exactly benevolent. One thing I found particularly interesting was that Superman doesn’t have another name; renouncing whatever name he had as a boy and becoming a symbol of Communist power and ideology, he’s also far more separated from humanity because of the emphasis on his alien nature, which is skewed by Communist beliefs. It’s an interesting take on the character and helps to make the story stand out and showcase the surprising amount of depth to Superman, who retains his trademark desire to only do good and help others but this desire is distorted by his totalitarian ways.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

What did you think to Superman: Red Son? How would you rank it against the other DC animated features and how do you think it holds up against its source material? Are you a fan of the Soviet Superman concept? What other alternate scenario would you like to see Superman thrust into some day? What is your favourite alternative take on Superman and what are your thoughts on the “Evil Superman” trope in comic books and other media? Whatever your thoughts on Superman: Red Son and other parallel versions of iconic characters, go ahead and leave them down below.

Back Issues [Watchmen Wednesday]: Doomsday Clock


To celebrate the fact that I finally got around to reading Doomsday Clock (Johns, et al, 2017 to 2019), DC Comic’s official sequel to the seminal Watchmen (Moore, et al, 1986 to 1987), I’ve dedicated every Wednesday of this month to Alan Moore’s influential maxiseries.


Published: 22 November 2017 to 18 December 2019
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Gary Frank

The Background:
Ever since Watchmen proved to be a critical and commercial hit, DC Comics have attempted to milk the property to capitalise on its popularity. A film adaptation had been in the works for decades and, when it was finally produced, spawned a videogame tie-in; finally, after years of trying to convince Moore and Gibbons to return to the franchise, DC drafted in a crop of the industry’s most talented creators (against Moore’s wishes, of course) to produce a prequel series.

After rebooting their canon (…again) , DC set about bringing Watchmen into the DC Universe.

After years of subjecting readers to the largely-awful “New 52” era, DC finally decided to relaunch and reboot their continuity with another of their trademark Crises; “DC Rebirth” not only returned a lot of characters and concepts to their pre-New 52 portrayals but also concluded with Bruce Wayne/Batman discovering Edward Blake/The Comedian’s iconic, bloodstained button in the Batcave and the first hints that Doctor Jon Osterman/Doctor Manhattan was observing the DC Universe. Doomsday Clock finally saw the worlds of Watchman and the DC Universe come together and, despite a questionable release schedule and wonky canonicity (the story took years to be told and its placement in the timeline is confusing, at best), was met with critical acclaim and even led to a solo book for the series’ popular vigilante, Rorschach.

The Plot:
So, like Watchmen, Doomsday Clock is quite a dense text with a lot of things happening all at once and a lot of lore to dissect so I’m going to expand upon my breakdown of the story as I did with that graphic novel. The story’s plot is split between different characters and complex concepts like the multiverse, perceptions of time, and public’s opinion of superheroes in the DC Universe.

With Veidt’s lies exposed, the world is mere moments away from nuclear destruction.

One of the central concerns of Doomsday Clock is the state of Watchmen’s alternate world, now firmly established as one of the many parallel worlds in the DC multiverse. Seven years after Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias dropped his genetically-engineered squid into Times Square and killed millions of people, his dreams of world peace have been dashed after Walter Kovacs/Rorschach’s journal exposing his actions was published. As a result, the United States is once again on the bring of nuclear war with Russia and, desperate to save the world once more, Veidt allies with the new Rorschach, Reggie Long (son of Malcolm Long, Kovacs’ psychiatrist from Watchmen), and two of Dr. Manhattan’s former enemies, Erika Manson/Marionette and her husband, Marcos Maez/Mime. The group uses a refitted version of Daniel Dreiberg/Nite Owl’s (sadly, once again, entirely absent from the tale) Owlship to then follow Dr. Manhattan’s unique energy signature to the mainstream DC Universe just as their world is destroyed by nuclear war.

Tensions between the public, the government, and superheroes are fragile on Earth-0.

However, life on Earth-0 isn’t exactly much better; riots and violent protests against Batman’s presence run rampant in Gotham City and the public’s perception of superheroes has soured thanks to the publication of the “Supermen Theory”, which uncomfortably pointed out that the vast majority of the world’s superheroes are white American men and suggested quite explicitly that the American government (clearly led by President Donald Trump) have manufactured their superheroes through a series of clandestine experiments and operations. The only superhero that the public and the world’s governments has any faith in is Clark Kent/Superman, who is still regarded as a worldwide icon and allowed to freely cross borders. The linchpin of the animosity towards superheroes is the outspoken and volatile Ronnie Raymond/Professor Martin Stein/Firestorm and, to compound matters, the Russian government (led by Vladimir Putin) forms their own team of metahumans to protect their borders, while Teth-Adam/Black Adam offers sanctuary to all metahumans, good and bad, in the sovereign nation of Kahndaq.

Dr. Manhattan has been manipulating and altering the DC Universe for some time.

Amidst all of this is the mystery of Dr. Manhattan himself; at the end of Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan left to create some life of his own but, instead, was drawn to the DC Universe and discovers what is referred to as the “Metaverse”. The tumultuous nature of the DC Universe, which is not only populated by a wide variety of metahumans and magic but also subject to near-annual cosmic events and reality-shifting Crises, intrigues Dr. Manhattan, who begins to experiment with altering Earth-0’s history by subtly changing events in the past. This leads to the creation of multiple, widely different timelines and realities but, no matter what Dr. Manhattan does, Superman continues to emerge as the premier superhero of this world. Haunted by a vision of Superman flying at him in a rage and once again curious at his inability to see beyond this point, Dr. Manhattan observes the turbulent events unfolding around him with a morbid interest as he awaits to see if he destroys all reality or is himself destroyed by Superman.

The Review:
In the unfortunate absence of Nite Owl and Laurie Juspeczyk/Silk Spectre, and with Kovacs dead, there’s not a lot of opportunities for the iconic characters of Watchmen to interact with the mainstream DC Universe. Indeed, Doomsday Clock is less “DC Universe Meets Watchmen” and more “Some of the Watchmen characters pop over to Earth-0 alongside characters you’ve never heard of and a new Rorschach”, which is honestly a little disappointing. Like the television show, Doomsday Clock is a sequel to Watchmen but, because of its very nature as a comic book and its integration into the larger DC canon, is actually considered to be the true follow-up to the original graphic novel. Similar to the show, though, the future is depressingly bleak for Alan Moore’s characters; Veidt’s attempt at world peace was almost immediately undone and that world is quickly destroyed early into the story, making you question what the point of all that death and drama even was.

In a bid to save his world, Veidt once again lies and manipulates others to satisfy his ego.

Veidt, however, is largely undeterred by the state of his world; though he sees a macabre irony in his elaborate plan falling apart and despairs at the world’s insistence on destroying itself, he immediately concocts another desperate plot to save the world by tracking Dr. Manhattan down and convincing him to intervene. As is his way, Veidt’s scheme involves deceit, lies, subterfuge, and his unmatched intelligence; smug as ever, Veidt easily manipulates Reggie Long into assisting him by faking that he (as in Veidt) has a tumour on his brain (and feigning remorse for his actions, which led to the death of Reggie’s parents) and has him recruit Marionette and Mime to their cause specifically because he knows that Dr. Manhattan once spared Marionette’s life in a past encounter.

Veidt’s actions are openly mocked and criticised by the likes of Lex Luthor and Batman.

Upon arriving on Earth-0, Veidt attempts to recruit Lex Luthor and is met only with scorn and a surprise attack by the Comedian, whom Dr. Manhattan transported to Earth-0 moments before his death. Having read Kovacs’ journal, Batman is also less than impressed with Veidt’s actions and megalomania; Veidt, however, maintains that he did what he did in an attempt to save and unite a world on the brink of destruction and attacks his new scheme with just as much blind obsession. Thanks to a cute little clone of his lynx, Bubastis, the green lantern of Alan Scott, and the presence of another temporal anomaly, Imra Ardeen/Saturn Girl, Veidt is able to forcibly summon Dr. Manhattan, who not only refuses to help but also exposes Veidt’s lies. Veidt orchestrates a massive conflict between Superman and other metahumans in order to inspire Jon to finally intervene and, though this does result in the restoration of Earth-0, the Watchmen world, and the entire multi/metaverse, he ends up imprisoned at the conclusion of the story.

Traumatised by Veidt’s squid, Reggie comes to assume the mask and identity of Rorschach.

One of the things that disappointed me about the television show was the absence of Rorschach; I know we’re not supposed to like Rorschach but I don’t give a shit, he’s still the most interesting and compelling character in Watchmen. Although Kovacs is dead, his spirit and influence lives on in Doomsday Clock; not only was his tell-all journal instrumental in revealing Veidt’s deception, his crusade is taken up by Reggie Long, a confused and volatile young man traumatised by the effects of Veidt’s destructive squid. Like many exposed to the squid’s nightmarish psychic field, Reggie was driven to near insanity and spent a great deal of time confined to a mental hospital. There, he befriended former Minuteman Byron Lewis/Mothman, who becomes a friend and mentor to Reggie but ultimate contributes to Reggie assuming Rorschach’s mantle by purposely hiding the truth of Kovacs’ relationship with Reggie’s father.

Reggie’s crusade briefly falters, sadly removing him from the story until the finale.

Believing that Rorschach and his father were friends and that Malcolm was able to reach and help Kovacs, Reggie is initially focused on killing Veidt for his actions but is convinced to aid him when Veidt claims to be dying and remorseful for his actions. Having read truncated versions of his father’s notes and Kovacs’ journal, Reggie assumes Rorschach’s costume and mannerisms and initially goes to Batman for help and finds himself imprisoned in Arkham Asylum for his trouble. Like in Watchmen, an entire issue is dedicated into delving into Reggie’s past and psychosis but he quickly gets lost in the shuffle as more and more characters and conflicts bog down the tale, even abandoning the mask and his crusade after Veidt’s lies are exposed. Ultimately, Alfred Pennyworth and Batman are able to convince Reggie to mask up and join the fight and Reggie even chooses to spare Veidt to see him brought to justice, claiming “Rorschach is me” but, while I appreciate the presence of a Rorschach, Reggie fails to be as compelling and instrumental as the real Rorschach and I think I would have preferred it if Dr. Manhattan had undone his actions or brought Kovacs forward in time as he did with the Comedian.

Dr. Manhattan screws with the DC timeline, creating different realities and outcomes as a result.

Speaking of Dr. Manhattan, he, too, gets another entire issue dedicated to him and his journey throughout the DC Universe. It’s basically exactly the same as issue four of Watchmen, with Jon spending a lot of time on Mars, ruminating about his origins and past with Janey Slater, and recapping the events of Watchmen. Although Jon appeared to have somewhat rediscovered his humanity at the end of Watchmen, to the point where he willingly went along with Veidt’s plan and even killed Rorschach to protect it, and his desire to reconnect with humanity was a big aspect of the TV show, in Doomsday Clock he’s basically exactly the same disconnected and emotionless demigod he was in the original graphic novel. He is despondent to discover that he feels just as out of place in a world of metahumans and magic as he did amongst mortals and takes to exploring and experimenting with the DC Universe’s fragile reality to keep himself from growing bored.

Dr. Manhattan is intrigued by his inability to see past a confrontation with Superman.

Dr. Manhattan’s perception of time is both the same as in Watchmen (he can see the past, present, and future simultaneously but cannot see anything past his vision of Superman rushing at him) but different. I always assumed from Watchmen that Jon could only perceive time from his lifetime since he never visits the past beyond his lifetime in Watchmen but, in Doomsday Clock, he can freely walk between the past, present, and future of the entire DC canon, including a multitude of parallel worlds. Fascinated by the metaverse and the role Superman plays in this world, he purposely messes with time, killing Clark’s parents before their time and causing Alan Scott/Green Lantern to die, thus removing the Justice Society of America (JSA) from continuity, intervening in Flashpoint (Johns, et al, 2011), and basically creating the New 52 and Rebirth continuities through his actions.

Even with the world falling into anarchy, Superman is able to inspire Dr. Manhattan to intervene.

Accordingly, Superman is a central figure in Doomsday Clock; Dr. Manhattan is curious to see whether the Man of Steel kills him for his actions or whether he (as in Jon) destroys all reality and, still vehemently refusing to even try and go against the inevitability of fate, he refuses to intervene or to help Superman when he ends up battling against a horde of metahumans. As the only superhero who maintains the trust and respect of the public and world’s governments, Superman desperately tries to keep the peace, repair relations, and to help Firestorm after he accidentally turns a bunch of people to glass. However, he ends up making things worse and escalates the tensions between the world’s governments and metahumans, leading to an all-out war. Though disgusted at Dr. Manhattan’s refusal to get involved, and his part in causing not only the events of Doomsday Clock but also the tragedies of his life, Superman is ultimately able to inspire Jon into restoring the worlds and multi/metaverse to normal through his selfless nature.

Doomsday Clock is stuffed full of characters and and cameos, more of whom derail the plot.

I mentioned before that Doomsday Clock is swamped with characters and it really is; a handful of the Watchmen characters obviously feature, including a brief appearance by the Comedian, who mainly features to try and kill Veidt for his attack on him at the beginning of Watchmen and to be a pain in the ass. Marionette and Mime, two completely original characters, feature extensively as Dr. Manhattan imbues their child with his powers in the finale to, presumably, become the Watchmen version of Superman. Additionally, a whole host of DC characters play a role in the story: Batman finally solves the puzzle of the mysterious bloodstained button but uncharacteristically chooses not to believe Reggie’s claims and has him locked up in Arkham, leaving him underequipped to intercede in the events of the story; Firestorm, here a volatile and immature character, escalates much of the tension regarding the perception of metahumans and the Supermen Theory when he is unable to control his powers; and, of course, the Joker makes an appearance but does little more than derail the main plot with an ultimately pointless side story.

Allegorical and metaphysical ruminations and canon fixes largely supplant big fight scenes.

Like Watchmen, Doomsday Clock contains an allegorical story-within-a-story, in this case the films of Carver Coleman, with whom Jon forms a strange kind of bond and how becomes his “anchor” in this new world. Carver’s hit film, The Adjournment, parallels the mystery that permeates Doomsday Clock and Jon’s own struggle against his true identity. Doomsday Clock also goes out of its way to closely emulate the art style and presentation of Watchmen but greatly overdoes its commitment to this by slavishly sticking to a rigid 3×3 panel structure. Like Watchmen, Doomsday Clock is also rather light on action and packs a whole bunch of symbolism, imagery, and references into each panel, mainly to Watchmen but also to the long and convoluted history of the DC Universe. The conclusion of the book sees the JSA returned to continuity, Clark’s parents and Alan Scott returned to life, and the restoration of the multi/metaverse but also leaves the story open ended for further continuations down the line exploring the restored Watchmen universe.

The Summary:
It seems that DC’s attempts at recapturing and revisiting Alan Moore’s seminal work are doomed to fail; just as I was unimpressed by the TV show, I can’t help but feel let down by Doomsday Clock, which is a quagmire of convoluted plot threads, self-indulgent allusions to Watchmen, and is a largely confusing and uninteresting mess. I feel like the book focuses too much on being sequel to Watchmen but it doesn’t really work since seven years have passed since the end of that book and we only spend about an issue and a half really reconnecting to Moore’s world before it’s destroyed. After that, it’s just another elaborate “Crisis” event as the few surviving Watchmen characters mingle about in the DC Universe and spend far too much time interacting with obscure characters like Johnny Thunder and Saturn Girl rather than the big guns like Batman and Diana Prince/Wonder Woman.

Dr. Manhattan’s God-like powers make him largely immune to conventional attack.

The story is framed around this epic, potentially cataclysmic battle between Superman and Dr. Manhattan, a concept that feels like a betrayal of Jon’s character as he’s largely a pacifist because of his stubborn refusal and disinterest in getting involved in the affairs of mortals. Yes, he fought crime and waged war against the Vietnamese but that was a long time ago by the present day events of Watchmen, where he was simply content to just let life play out as is preordained so, while the idea of these two titans clashing sounds good on paper, it seems like the sort of thing a child would think up while bashing action figures together. To me, Dr. Manhattan has always seemed more like Jim Corrigan/The Spectre, a being of incredible power who shapes events but only really gets involved in them when the cosmic shit is about the hit the fan, which is kind of how he ends up being in the end since we don’t really get to see him fight with Superman because the entire promise of their conflict was a big fake out. There is, however, a pretty good scene where a whole gaggle of DC’s superheroes and Green Lanterns confront Dr. Manhattan on Mars only to be easily subdued by his near-limitless powers

Sadly, there just aren’t enough interactions between the DC and Watchmen characters.

Similarly, the idea of Rorschach meeting Batman and Ozymandias meeting Lex Luthor sounds great…on paper but this isn’t the same Rorschach and, no matter how hard Reggie tries, he will never be that same character so it wouldn’t really work even if Batman didn’t just disregard him and lock him up in Arkham. Luthor is scornful towards Ozymandias and a potential team up between these two is also immediately cast aside, with Luthor mocking Veidt’s intelligence and plan as though Johns is poking fun at the very work he is so blatantly trying to homage and leech off of. The absence of Nite Owl and Silk Spectre equally hurts not just the story’s plot but also Doomsday Clock’s legitimacy as a Watchmen sequel; again, it feels less like the characters of Watchmen meeting the DC Universe and more like a handful of them dropped into the unexplainably chaotic DC Universe and struggling to make sense of it.

The attempts to recapture Watchmen‘s bleak political undertones largely fall flat.

Basically, Doomsday Clock tries and fails to emulate the unique narrative and approach that Watchmen took; Watchmen’s bleak, uncompromising and, dare I say it, adult themes don’t mesh well at all with the mainstream DC Universe and I can’t help but feel like it would have been better to supplant the Watchmen characters mid-way through the events of Moore’s book so that we could see all their recognisable and flawed heroes actually butting heads with DC’s big guns in a clash of both ideals and fists. Dr. Manhattan could have been responsible for this, manipulating events from behind the scenes to cause the two worlds to emerge, and we could have seen interesting team ups and interactions between these characters (Batman and Nite Owl and Wonder Woman and Silk Spectre spring instantly to mind) but, instead, we get this weird mess of a story that’s more concerned with turning superheroes into hated figures, destroying or leeching off of DC’s Golden Age and Watchmen’s legacy, and desperately attempting to address some of the issues with the Rebirth universe.

In the end, Doomsday Clock was just another convoluted “Crisis” event.

Ultimately, I feel like I have to recommend Doomsday Clock, though, if only to see the botch job DC makes of officially canonising Watchmen into the DC Universe. As a love letter to Watchmen, it’s not so bad; the way it evokes the imagery and atmosphere of Moore’s work is pretty astounding and the artwork is quite appealing but the problem is that, while reading it, I just felt like I’d rather be reading Watchmen or any other “Crisis” event. It’s better than the TV show, I’ll give it that, if only because it actually includes a number of recognisable Watchmen characters but it similarly fails to properly recapture the magic of Moore’s story because the characters haven’t really changed and they don’t really fit in the mainstream DC Universe. This is brought up a few times but not often enough as the story has to make way for the escalating conflict between Superman and other metahumans and its confusing ending, and I can’t help but feel like Johns dropped the ball and that Doomsday Clock failed to really live up to all the hype and potential it had.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Did you enjoy Doomsday Clock? Did you suffer through the comic’s long publication or did you pick up the collected edition, like I did? Were you excited to see the Watchmen characters interact and be integrated into the DC Universe and were you disappointed with how the story turned out? What did you think to the new Rorschach and Dr. Manhattan’s role in the DC Universe? Were you a fan of the interactions, characterisations, and references included in the story or do you agree that it failed to live up to its potential as a concept? Would you like to see the Watchmen characters interact with the DC Universe again in the future or do you think it’s best that it stays separate from mainstream canon? Whatever your thoughts on Doomsday Clock and Watchmen in general, drop a comment below and thanks for joining me for Watchmen Wednesday.

Talking Movies: Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Talking Movies

Released: 18 March 2021
Director: Zack Snyder
Distributor: HBO Max/Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Budget: $70 million (on top of the original $300 million production costs)
Stars: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ciarán Hinds, Amy Adams, and Henry Cavill

The Plot:
Following the death of Clark Kent/Superman (Cavill), Bruce Wayne/Batman (Affleck) scrambles to bring together a team of super-powered heroes when the disgraced New God Steppenwolf (Hinds) arrives on Earth and begins violently searching for the mysterious “Mother Boxes”.

The Background:
Oh God, where to start with this? Okay, so, after the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) became this super successful juggernaut, Warner Bros. scrambled to try and catch up and craft their own cinematic universe. The first step was Man of Steel (ibid, 2013); Zack Snyder was picked to helm the project and steer the direction of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) and, initially, the results were promising. Despite some mixed reviews, Man of Steel was a financial success but the cracks in Snyder’s vision started to form with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (ibid, 2016). Despite the presence of acclaimed superstar Ben Affleck and reaping a hefty box office, the film divided many due to its pace and bleak tone and Warner Bros. started to get cold feet regarding Snyder’s vision for the DCEU. As a result, they brought in Joss Whedon to lighten the follow-up’s tone and ultimately replace Snyder after the tragic death of his daughter. Despite a similar box office gross to its predecessors, Justice League (Whedon/Snyder, 2017) released to scathing criticism and the film was disowned by even DCEU collaborators.

After years of speculation, Snyder returned to complete and enhance his original cut.

The DCEU chugged along regardless but, very quickly, reports of Whedon’s reprehensible behaviour surfaced alongside rumours that a “Snyder Cut” was all but completed in Warner’s vaults and fans all over the world began campaigning hard for the release Snyder’s original version. While this did lead to a toxic community that I cannot condone, the movement gained serious traction when members of the cast voiced their support and Snyder finally returned to complete the film and was even afforded additional money and resources to film new scenes for his four-hour epic for the HBO Max streaming service. To the delight of Snyder’s fans, Zack Snyder’s Justice League finally released and drew a lot of attention to HBO Max. The general critical consensus, however, was mixed; though reviews praised the film as a coherent story and the culmination of Snyder’s vision, its length and excess were criticised. After the film’s release, Warner Bros. made the decision not to capitalise on its success and fans immediately campaigned to complete Snyder’s vision for the DCEU, despite his lack of interest in returning to the property, proving that some fans are just never satisfied.

The Review:
When I reviewed the original, theatrical cut of Justice League (no, I will not call it “Josstice League”), I gave it a ten out of ten. This was primarily because I am a massive DC Comics fan and, after years (literally decades) of DC’s live-action characters always existing in their own self-contained bubbles, I was just happy to see them all onscreen together and co-existing and felt that this was the most positive thing to take away from Snyder’s rushed attempt to build DC’s cinematic universe. Time, however, has changed this perspective; Justice League is by no means perfect but it was honestly never going to be. Warner Bros. scrambled about trying to play catch up to the MCU and, in focusing on cramming everyone together as quickly as possible and sucking the fun out of many of their most popular characters, they lost me a little along the way.

Snyder jumped into Multiversal shenanigans way too fast and put everything into his cut of Justice League.

So to say I was excited for the Snyder Cut is to lie, honestly. As much as I enjoyed Man of Steel, Snyder really dropped the ball with Batman v Superman, which was more a collection of ideas and themes than a coherent movie, and I took massive issue with his grandiose vision of the DCEU which jumped from Superman’s origin all the way to Multiversal shenanigans in, like, two films. Still, as a rule, I generally do enjoy a longer director’s cut as you get more bang for your buck and, in that regard, Snyder certainly goes above and beyond to present the closest version of his vision for Justice League as possible, even going so far as to present the film in a 4:3 aspect ratio.

Superman’s death cry activates the Mother Boxes and calls Steppenwolf to Earth.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League begins with an egregiously slow-motion recap of Superman’s dramatic (and, in my view, unnecessary) death in battle against Doomsday. His death rattle (which seriously goes on for about six minutes), echoes all around the world, activating the Mother Boxes stored in Atlantis and Themyscira and sending a beacon out into the void of space with a simple message: Earth is vulnerable. Steppenwolf (now dramatically redesigned into a hulking creature wearing razor-sharp armour that honestly looks just as ugly as his original design but for different reasons) once again arrives to reclaim the Boxes; this time, however, his slaughter of the Amazons is much more brutal, featuring far more Parademons and presenting Steppenwolf as a formidable and imposing force.

Steppenwolf not only looks more fearsome but is a far more interesting character now.

Indeed, compared to his theatrical counterpart, Steppenwolf is a much more well-rounded and interesting character; in the original cut, he was little more than a means to an end, an obscure and generic bad guy for the titular heroes to unite against in order to save the world but, here, he’s a driven, focused, and aggressive foe who is motivated not just by loyalty to his master and devotion to bringing about “the great darkness” but also desperate to regain his place among the New Gods after losing favour centuries before. Owing Darkseid (Ray Porter) a debt of fifty thousand worlds for his failures, Steppenwolf has been ostracised and forced to toil in endless conquest to regain his place at his master’s side; this desperation and motivation transforms Steppenwolf from a mere disposable hulk and into a surprisingly complex villain who seeks redemption and validation in the eyes of his master and will do anything to appease the will of Darkseid.

Superman’s loss affects each of the characters in different ways.

While the Man of Steel’s loss was felt in the theatrical cut, Superman’s death is a much bigger aspect of the Snyder Cut; carrying the guilt of Superman’s death on his shoulders, Bruce Wayne sets out to build an alliance of metahumans to combat this threat. While Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gadot) is reluctantly onboard with the plan and Barry Allen/The Flash (Miller) signs up immediately and enthusiastically, Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Momoa) basically laughs in his face and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Fisher) is busy struggling to reconcile his humanity after a horrific accident leaves him part machine. Furthermore, Superman’s loss is embodied here not just in Bruce’s guilt and desire to honour Superman’s legacy with a team of superheroes but in both Lois Lane (Adams) and Martha Kent (Diane Lane), both of whom struggle to adjust to life without Clark. Since Bruce has already been told that “Lois [is] the key” to reaching Superman, it makes sense to give Lois and Martha a little more prominence in the film, especially as her death is what causes Superman’s corruption in the dark future that looms over Snyder’s films.

Batman is now absolutely focused on bringing together a team to honour Superman’s memory.

Bruce Wayne is, of course, extremely different compared to his characterisation in Batman v Superman. Now driven by an obsessive desire to make good on his promise to unite Earth’s heroes in Superman’s name, he works himself tirelessly to track down the metahumans from Lex Luthor’s (Jesse Eisenberg) file, much to the continued chagrin of his faithful butler and father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth (Jeremy Irons). Since he works closely with Diana to find and appeal to these metahumans, there’s even a little (microscopic, even) bit of romantic chemistry between the two and there’s now a nice little scene of Alfred making tea with Diana and showing her Batman’s new Parademon-absorbent gauntlet (which replaces the original cut’s side plot regarding Batman luring the Parademons out with “fear”). Mostly, though, Bruce remains the same character as in the theatrical cut; he’s still blinkered in his focus on bringing the team together, resurrecting Superman, and preparing the world to face escalating threats but all of his weird little attempts at humour are thankfully gone (sadly, that God-awful “I’m rich” line remains but, thankfully, we get the return of his “I’m real when it’s useful” line).

Wonder Woman now warns the team of Darkseid’s intentions for Earth.

Wonder Woman, however, is noticeably different this time around; more time is spent showing her as a willing ally of Bruce’s and she is also part of a pivotal extended scene that explores Steppenwolf’s previous campaign against the Earth. This sequence, which expands upon the prologue seen in the theatrical cut, shows the forces of man, Gods, Atlantis, Themyscira, and beyond uniting not just against Steppenwolf and his Parademons but also their exalted and imposing leader, Darkseid. Darkseid received only a passing mention in the original cut but, here, Diana’s obvious fear of the New God helps to establish early on that an even greater threat looms behind Steppenwolf’s actions. Furthermore, when out in the field with the team, Wonder Woman directs the fledging Justice League in the best way to attack Steppenwolf and his Parademons, which places greater emphasis on her capabilities as a warrior and leader.

The Snyder Cut retains Aquaman’s characterisation but explores a little more of his world.

Aquaman is largely the same as in the theatrical cut except, unsurprisingly, more haggard and bleak rather than being an obnoxious jock. Though he claims to have no interest in Bruce’s crusade or working with others and has turned his back on Atlantis, he continues to do good and help those in need in his own way to get his hands on more whiskey. Bruce’s warning, though, compels him to return to the ocean and converse with Nuidis Vulko (Willem Dafoe), his former mentor, and ultimately to arrive all too late to help Mera (Amber Heard) defend the Mother Box from Steppenwolf. A couple of odd continuity issues are raised with all this, however, that fly in the face of DC’s directors wanting to align their movies with the Snyder Cut; first there’s Mera’s accent, which jumps from British to American to whatever the hell she likes, and second is the Atlantean’s ability to communicate using dolphin squeaks rather than just talking underwater as they do in Aquaman (Wan, 2018). Regardless, this version of Justice League does a far better job of setting up Aquaman’s solo film by showing more hints towards his world and Aquaman remains the film’s breakout character for me for me thanks to Momoa’s charismatic portrayal of the character.

Though still very neurotic, Barry plays a pivotal role in the film’s events and finale.

Barry Allen also gets a bit more time to shine this time around; this includes the restoration of his encounter with Iris West (Kiersey Clemons) and just more time to explore his awkward, energetic, and socially inept character traits. Barry was very much the comic relief of the theatrical cut and those who disliked many of his annoying character traits will be disappointed to find most of them intact and given more prominence in his increased screen time but I can’t fault Snyder’s attention to detail in showcasing Barry’s superspeed: his shoes and clothes disintegrate, the street is wrecked by his footfalls, and he experiences time in extreme slow motion when utilising the Speed Force. While the Flash loses one of my favourite scenes from the original cut (the “Just save one” moment), he plays a far greater role in not just the rescue of scientists from Steppenwolf’s clutches but also the film’s finale where, faced with defeat at the hands of Steppenwolf’s forces, he summons all of his super speed to travel back in time using the Speed Force and ensure that the invasion is halted.

Cyborg’s role is greatly expanded, making him the heart of the film and fleshing out his character.

Of course, the character who benefits the most from the Snyder Cut is Cyborg; in the theatrical cut, Cyborg is a stoic, confused young man who resents his father, Doctor Silas Stone (Joe Morton), for transforming him into a machine-monster in order to save his life. While this remains at the start of Cyborg’s character arc in the Snyder Cut, Snyder restores not just Cyborg’s importance to the film as the “heart” of the Justice League but also his eventual reconciliation with his father and showcases excised scenes of his promising career as a college football player, his natural aptitude for hacking (which he used to help those in need), and the horrific accident which left him near death. While I’m personally not a fan of Cyborg being on the Justice League, it was clear that there was originally more to his inclusion and importance to the film’s plot; since he’s literally comprised on a Mother Box and Apokoliptian technology, he is afforded numerous abilities and insights into the invading New Box forces and, here, Silas actually guides and mentors him in exploring these abilities (which includes his ability to access every technological device and network and essentially makes him the most powerful man on Earth).

Superman returns, now in a black suit, and galvanises the team.

Finally, there’s Superman; as you might expect, Superman is absent for a massive amount of the film on a small account of being dead. Like Darkseid, Superman looms over the film but as a hero lost and much needed as a symbol for the world’s heroes to properly rally behind. Bruce’s plan to resurrect Superman with the Mother Box is discussed (and edited) far more competently this time around; although there’s doubt about the moral and ethical implications of the plan (mainly from Alfred this time around), Bruce and Diana don’t come to blows like in the original film but the outcome remains the same. Like before, Superman is disorientated upon returning to life and attacks the fledgling Justice League in his confusion; his confrontation with Batman is a little different (and not as good as in the original cut, in my opinion) and there’s more to his return to the Kent farm but, upon regaining his senses, he returns to action as the team’s ace in the hole for the finale. Cavill is an absolutely fantastic Superman and Justice League finally got the character to a place where he is the charming symbol of hope and strength that the world needs and, despite his new black suit, Zack Snyder’s Justice League only expands upon that (of course, Cavill’s natural charisma and the absence of a horrible CGI face play a huge part in that).

The Nitty-Gritty:
One word to describe Zack Snyder’s Justice League (apart from “long”) would certainly be “epic”; Snyder pads the film’s runtime out with not only an abundance of never-before-seen footage, alternate takes, and new content but also an overuse of slow-motion and long establishing shots. To help make the film more accessible to viewers, the film is also split into six chapters, which was probably a great way to view it on HBO Max, and the DVD version of the film is split across two discs but, either way you slice it, this is a slog to get through and I have to believe that Snyder simply milked the extra time and money he was afforded just to capitalise on all the hype surrounding his version of the film. The closest comparison I can make is with his director’s cut of Watchmen (Snyder, 2009), which was similarly epic and ambitious in its scope, presentation, use of music, and its presentation of its costumed adventurers.

Some shots effects, and inconsistencies negatively affect the Snyder Cut.

It has to be said, though, that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has quite a few faults; some of the new special effects shots understandably look worse than others (and Cyborg still looks like dog shit), it’s pretty crazy that Darkseid and his forces just forgot where Earth was for hundreds of years (especially considering how badly he wants the secret of the Anti-Life Equation), the score has been completely reworked to remove Danny Elfman’s contributions (though, thankfully, Wonder Woman’s kick-ass musical theme remains), and many of the new scenes shot exclusively for the film suffer from poor lighting, inconsistent editing, and stand out like a sore thumb to the point where I’d much rather Snyder hadn’t bothered including the likes of the Joker (Jared Leto) when it makes little sense narratively (you’re telling me that in a grim, apocalyptic future where Superman has gone bad the Joker is alive but Aquaman isn’t?) Personally, I have never been a fan of Snyder’s “Knightmare” timeline; it made no sense in Batman v Superman and, thanks to Warner Bros. having no interest in allowing Snyder to fully explore this alternate timeline in Justice League sequels, it makes even less sense to me that he chose to continue pushing this dark vision of a future ruled by Darkseid and a corrupted version of Superman in the Snyder Cut (but, at least, it’s mainly confined to the film’s final moments rather than being awkwardly wedged in the middle of the film like in Batman v Superman).

Snyder’s cut expands and recontextualises many of the film’s existing scenes and characters.

Although many scenes and sequences may be familiar to anyone who has seen the theatrical cut of the film, the Snyder Cut expands upon every single one of these and, in many cases, recontextualises them into this larger narrative. This includes a longer scene of Bruce Wayne meeting and attempting to recruit Aquaman (accompanied by a lengthy song of reverence for the Atlantean), an expanded version of Wonder Woman’s introduction (including the first of a handful of pointless f-bombs), a longer version of Steppenwolf’s attack on Themyscira and the recap of Darkseid’s defeat centuries ago, more scenes of Steppenwolf and his Parademons’ search for the Mother Boxes (including torturing Atlanteans for information and a far better sequence where he acquires the final Box), and even recontextualising the interactions between Lois and Martha with the reveal that General Calvin Swanwick (Harry Lennix) has been J’onn J’onnz/Martian Manhunter all along.

The Snyder Cut restores and dramatically changes excised characters.

One of the main selling points of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, however, is the restoration of scenes and plot threads excised from the theatrical version. This includes characters removed from the original film, like Doctor Ryan Choi (Ryan Zheng), Vulko, Iris, DeSaad (Peter Guinness), Cybrog’s mother, Elinor Stone (Karen Bryson), and more time devoted to side characters like Silas (who now gives his life to mark the final Mother Box) and the origins of the Mother Boxes. One of the benefits of this is that we actually get to see an in-depth look into Cyborg’s expansive abilities (which includes a deep dive into the way he now perceives reality). Much of the Snyder Cut’s hype was also built around the inclusion of Darkseid but, in truth, the character is little more than a cameo; he simply takes Steppenwolf’s place in the flashback of the war between the allied forces of Earth and Apokolips and looms over the film like an ominous shadow as the ultimate threat for the united Justice League. Sadly, despite Snyder choosing to push his Knightmare future throughout the film and concluding it with a tease of Darkseid’s impending retaliation against the Justice League, it seems like we won’t be seeing Darkseid (or any of the New Gods for that matter) in the DCEU again any time soon.

Snyder’s muted colour palette and bleak presentation makes an epic return.

Snyder’s vision of the DCEU remains extremely bleak in its presentation; for all the characters’ talk of “hope” and the better nature of men, Snyder continues to suck all the life and colour out of these vivid characters. One thing I liked about Justice League was that it did a fantastic job of bringing some life and colour to this world, allowing the costumes to pop out on screen but, here, everything retains the same muted look and sombre tones of Batman v Superman. This is best exampled in Snyder’s instance on garbing the resurrected Superman in his black suit; Superman wore this in the comics after returning to life for about three issues and it was later stated to have helped aid his recovery but, here, no real reason is given for his choice of attire and it honestly would have made more sense for the evil Knightmare Superman to have worn the suit instead. Additionally, Snyder removes the red tint and tumultuous skies from the finale of the film, which admittedly does make the climatic battle against Steppenwolf’s forces easier to see but I feel the original colouring worked a lot better as a reference to the red skies that were are of DC’s various Crises.

Thanks to the team, and time travel shenanigans, Darkseid is left humiliated.

Speaking of the finale, Zack Snyder’s Justice League slightly recontextualises the ending. Although there’s still an implication that Batman is heading into battle with the intention of dying, it’s not as explicit as in the theatrical cut; what is much more explicit, though, is the feeling of team work between the Justice League as they each play their part in breeching Steppenwolf’s defences (Flash, again, gets way more to do in using his Speed Force charge to help Cyborg interact with the Mother Boxes) before Superman dramatically shows up to again completely lay waste to Steppenwolf. I’m glad that this beatdown is maintained as it was always a glorious showcase of Superman’s return and of the team coming together against a common enemy but, here, things go slightly differently as the heroes fail to stop the unity between the Mother Boxes and prevent Darkseid’s arrival. With no other choice, the Flash enters the Speed Force and reverses time in a beautifully surreal sequence, allowing Cyborg to reject the Apokolips’ influence and Wonder Woman to decapitate Steppenwolf right before Darkseid’s eyes.

The Summary:
I went into Zack Snyder’s Justice League with low expectations. Toxic fans and a rabid, almost cult-like online community had beaten any sort of excitement and wonder out of me. I quite enjoyed the theatrical cut; it wasn’t perfect but, news flash: none of the DCEU has been perfect and few films really are. Knowing that Snyder got so screwed over by Warner Bros. stung and it definitely frustrated me that we didn’t get a concise and more accurate version of Justice League years ago so that maybe the DCEU would be in a slightly better place but it was hard for me to feel invested in the film when it was so self-indulgent and so clouded by negativity and entitlement.

Bigger and more epic, Snyder’s cut is the definitive version of Justice League.

In this case, though, I am glad to be wrong; there are many benefits to Zack Snyder’s Justice League. For one thing, it actually feels like a coherent story (even more so than Batman v Superman) and each member of the team is given so much more time to shine and showcase their powers and personality. Thus, when the Justice League unite for the finale, it means that much more as we actually get to know them all a little better and see them grow as a team through their interactions; it’s still a rush job as so much had to be crammed into so few films but, as a big fan I am of DC Comics and these characters, it remains a real thrill to actually get to see Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg all in a big budget, live-action film rather than constantly existing in self-contained bubbles (which seems where the DCEU will be heading again going forward). I’m not a massive fan of Snyder’s vision for the DCEU or many of the decisions he made but it’s better than nothing and not seeing an interconnected series of DC films so, while I was initially hesitant to enjoy Zack Snyder’s Justice League, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised in the end. Had Warner Bros. not interfered and screwed things up, we probably would’ve gotten a two-and-a-half-hour long film that would have satisfied everyone enough to justify at least one more team effort but it is what it as and at least we got to see the closest approximation of Zack Snyder’s true vision of the film in the end and that’s something to be celebrated rather than simply, selfishly, demanding more.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What did you think to Zack Snyder’s Justice League? Do you think it lived up to all the hype or was it all style and no substance? What did you think to the additional, extended and recontextualised scenes from Justice League and how do you feel the Snyder Cut compares to the theatrical version? Which of the characters was your favourite and what did you think to their extended screen time? How did you watch the film; in sections or as one long movie? Would you like to see more from Snyder’s DCEU or are you happy with the direction Warner Bros. is taking? What did you think to the whole Knightmare timeline Snyder tried to push and were you a fan of Superman donning the black suit? Whatever you thought about Zack Snyder’s Justice League, good or bad feel free to leave a comment below (even if it is super toxic).