BY BOB MARSHALL, ART BY JASON DAVIS; DECEMBER 15, 2011
With the new Superman film coming out next year I wanted to take a look at five Superman villains I’d like to see get their big screen debut.
Be forwarned, I am not that well versed in the comic book universe and I may also omit some versions of a specific character, but it’s purely because I have no interest in certain iterations of the character (I’m talking about you Super Friends!). My favourite version of the Superman legend hands down is told in Bruce Timm’s Superman the Animated Series, and a lot of my love comes from that show. But alas, here they are in no particular order:
It would be great to see Bizarro get the big screen treatment, he’s also one of the villains I think would be easy to do on the big screen. The closest we have come to Bizarro were the evil Superman in Superman III (which was done superbly) and the awful Nuclear Man in Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (the less said about that film the better). Bizarro’s best live action treatment was done in Superboy the TV Series, this is a particular favourite of mine, they even got around having to use the same actor by using a prosthetic mask for the actor playing him. Like most versions of Bizarro he was created from a duplicating ray that created a bad copy. The way he was done on Smallville was very interesting. This version of Bizarro was created by a phantom (from the zone), stealing some of Clark’s DNA, he couldn’t be in sunlight or his skin would crack (and look much like the comics version of Bizarro). The best version of Bizarro however, was on Superman the Animated Series and I think using this interpretation would be best for a feature film. It was very reminiscent of the way he was done in the Man of Steel comic series but improved upon in my opinion. As in previous instances, Bizarro is created as a clone of Superman’s by Lex Luthor, but of course the clone goes bad. The live-action visual of Superman vs. Superman would be fantastic and having the clone Superman deteriorate (at this point the Superman actor could be replaced by a body double with prosthetics/CGI for the creation of Bizarro) would look great. It’s an interesting story to tell that lends itself well for film.
Without a doubt Brainiac is the most popular choice for a villain in a live-action Superman. We came very close to getting Brainiac in Tim Burton’s Superman Lives, but as we all know that project fell through at the last hurdle. In the screenplay he was a creation of Jor-El, which was a interesting take on the character. Superman TAS had a version where Brainiac is a super computer created on Krypton, but when Krypton is about to meet its grisly end he downloads his information onto a satellite and leaves the planet behind collecting knowledge from planet to planet and destroying them in the process. Smallville took on Brainiac aswell. In the series he was basically a T2 rip off but it worked, he could morph into liquid and make his hands into weapons, he also had the same powers as Clark. Definitely an interesting interpretation. I have to admit I’m not too familiar with the comics version but the way Geoff Johns dealt with him in the graphic novel Superman Brainiac was the best I’d seen the character done yet. Here Brainiac is an alien that lives in his ship feeding off the energys of the citys he has bottled including the bottled city of Kandor (I know Brainiac did this in pre-crisis long before Geoff Johns was even around). Ilya Salkind wanted to have Brainiac in Superman III but his idea was vetoed. He went back to the idea for Superman Reborn, a film that unfortunately never got made. In the story Brainiac is an android that downloads his mind into a human body when he becomes infatuated with Lois Lane (and after bottling the city of Metropolis). All in all I think you would have to mix elements of all the Brainiac’s to get the right one for a live-action movie.
The Corporate Lex Luthor
So far in live-action we’ve only really seen the Corporate Lex done on television. In Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman he was played very well by John Shea – unfortunately the show wasn’t very good though. So far the best live-action Lex Luthor was the one played by Michael Rosenbaum on Smallville. By season 7 he was the full on corporate Lex that I love so much. The corporate Lex I believe was done firstly in John Byrne’s Man of Steel series – before that Lex was more of a mad scientist. I do like the Gene Hackman version of Luthor from Superman the Movie but this was more a Lex Luthor of the 70s. A Lex obsessed with a get rich quick scheme by sinking California and owning the land around it. They revisited this Lex in Superman Returns played by Kevin Spacey, although unlike most people I actually liked his version. He was abit more sinister than the one played by Hackman but unfortunately he wasn’t the Lex we all wanted. Sherman Howard played Lex Luthor on the TV series The Adventures of Superboy, his Lex was a more hokey version, a lot of fun, sinister at times but much like Hackman’s version he was played for laughs. Howard is definitely one of my favourite Lex Luthor’s. Still, the best version was played by Clancy Brown in Superman the Animated Series and later in Justice League and other animated versions. The corporate Lex played at his evil conniving is the best Lex in my opinion. We don’t know if Lex is in Man of Steel (who knows he may have a cameo and has been rumoured to be played by Michael Cerveris of TV’s Fringe) but there’s no doubt he’ll be in a sequel for sure (if we get one, fingers crossed)
Metallo (John Corben)
This character has already been done justice in Smallville where he was played by Brian Austin Green. In the WB series he was a reporter that had a tragic back story with the death of his sister. He is hit by a truck and is presumed dead only to be reborn as part man part machine created by the Kandorians (best to watch the show if that’s confusing (season 9 – the best season IMO)). He was also featured on Superboy as a small time crook named Roger Corben with a heart condition. He’s involved in a car accident and a mad scientist recreates him as Metallo. Metallo kills the doctor and swears revenge on Superboy (in this version Corben hates Superboy because he captured him and took him to the hospital when he feels he was about to escape). The Superboy version was very reminiscent of the version in the Superman Man of Steel comic series. I’m not the biggest fan of this iteration but he is fun on the show. In Superman TAS he was voiced perfectly by Malcolm McDowell. Unfortunately he only had one episode where he was a real threat: Way of All Flesh. In this episode Corben ,who had previously worked for Luthor, is diagnosed with a life killing virus and Luthor offers to save his life by turning him into the machine Metallo. Corben was merely used as a pawn by Lex to kill Superman and it turns out Lex had given him the virus. To be honest almost any backstory done for Corben could work in a Superman film and I don’t really have a preference so far the character was probably done best on Smallville overall.
This for me is the ultimate challenge for Superman. If they were to do a trilogy of Superman films I don’t feel it would be complete without Darkseid. Darkseid is a new god of the planet Apokolips (basically hell) that is at war with the planet New Genesis (basically Heaven). In live action we have only seen this character once in Smallville and he wasn’t done very well but they were working within the constraints of a TV budget. In Smallville Darkseid got his powers from the darkness within people (I think this had previously been done in the comics) and posesses the dead body of Lionel Luthor. To a degree I wish Smallville hadn’t have used him - it was painfully done and you only saw Darkseid full on as a poorly done CGI creation. Ultimately the character was done best by Michael Ironside on Superman TAS and the Justice League. They built him up slowly in Superman TAS by having his minions supply Intergang and Bruno Manheim. His minions attack Earth & battle Superman in several episodes with the culmination coming in the superb two-parter Legacy where Darkseid brainwashes Superman into attacking earth. When Superman gets his mind back he goes to take down Darkseid and in a smack down completely obliterates him. Darkseid was the most evil villain I have ever seen in a superhero cartoon (in one episode he even murders detective Dan Turpin). In a film he would either have to be done all in CGI or preferably as an actor with extensive make-up.
All in all if I had to pick three of the five villains for Superman to face they would be: Corporate Lex, Brainiac and Darkseid. No Superman film series would be complete without those three. Mettallo and Bizarro would make a Superman film series even more perfect and who knows, they could work as secondary villains in a trilogy including the three big villains.
In my next article I am going to talk about the Superman film I would want to see but feel we may never get.