Why Batman v Superman's mysterious villain is critical for the DC Movie Universe

While openly promising moviegoers a surreal cinematic scuffle between two of the most iconic, globally recognizable characters in popular culture, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice also happens to be keeping its cards close to the chest when it comes to an inevitable shared villainous threat. While we have already caught glimpses of Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of a younger Lex Luthor, the predominant recurring media narrative posits that the film’s mysterious villain slot is filled by an incarnation of the powerfully destructive brute known as Doomsday.

Indeed, the unstoppable force to Superman’s immovable object could very well be the driving force that unifies the duo and triggers the appearance of the future Justice League hero coalition made up of newcomers like Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), Cyborg (Ray Fisher) and possibly the movie universe rendition of The Flash (Ezra Miller). With that in mind, this hypothetical villain needs to help set the tone for the nascent movie universe, not just mindlessly wreck the world ... which means Doomsday is not the droid we're looking for.

A critical junction arrived at too soon

A modern addition to Superman’s rogues gallery, Doomsday made his first appearance in the fall of 1992 in Superman: Man of Steel #17. DC had carefully crafted Doomsday to make an immediate impact as one of the most powerful, relentless, sadistic villains in comic-book history, and he debuted making quick work of the entire super-powered Justice League team before moving on to a monumental, multi-issue-spanning battle with the Blue Bomber himself. However, before the arrival of Doomsday, DC was telegraphing through the media that a move set to change the history of the comic-book industry was at hand: the death of Superman. In priming the incoming antagonist as the eventual instrument of one of the most highly publicized plot turns in comic-book history, he was already endowed with a special importance even before the iconic black-polybagged issue Superman Vol. 2 #75 hit the stands on Nov. 18, 1992. In the issue, the battle between Superman and Doomsday finally came to its killer coda with Superman seemingly delivering a fatal blow to Doomsday, but eventually succumbing to his wounds and “dying” in the arms of Lois Lane.

Of course, in the world of comics, death is usually written as permanently as crayon, and we would see Superman and Doomsday tangle a number of times. However, "The Death of Superman" storyline remains a critical point in Superman's evolving character arc. As the rivalry continued, we would eventually learn that Doomsday was the sadistic product of a genetic experiment on ancient Krypton to accelerate the process of evolution. This was accomplished by exposing the baby Doomsday to gruesome deaths at the hands of the planet’s vicious indigenous creatures countless times, re-cloning and modifying his genes each time to make him slightly tougher with each life. Inevitably, the creature turned on its creator and was set loose upon the galaxy until finally stopped by a powerful alien entity, imprisoned and left adrift in space until he wound up on Earth.

Does Doomsday fit?

There have been a number of modifications to Doomsday’s backstory over the years, including his live-action debut on television’s Smallville as a seemingly human male (Sam Witwer) who eventually mutates into a creature (Dario Delacio) made from a DNA cocktail of dangerous Kryptonian creatures by General Zod. Likewise, Doomsday’s debut in DC’s rebooted “New 52” comic-book universe in late 2013 unclutters much of his origin story, portraying him as a creature, still genetically modified on Krypton but carrying a virulent strain of spores that can infect hosts and turn them into creatures similar to Doomsday. Thus, the prospective usage of Doomsday in Dawn of Justice is not entirely beholden to the character’s elaborate traditional backstory. To feasibly translate the character from comic panels to film, however, he would need to be shown as an unstoppable, cunning, but unintelligible brute, lest the film walk the line of bastardizing the essence of the character. 

There lies the rub. While, from the perspective of a fan, the idea of a proper, fully-realized live-action version of the death-dealing dreadnaught is an exciting prospect, it is also a choice that is not without its own set of perils. It’s certainly understandable that Warner/DC would want to kick off this critical waypoint for their tent-pole franchises with a formidable foe who carries the recognition and gravitas the film requires. Breaking out a character as critical to Superman’s later arc as Doomsday at this early point in the larger canon just to fill a potentially generic role designed to quickly resolve the main superhero-on-superhero plot, however, could be detrimental to the long term quality of the continuity. It would almost be akin to the misguided usage of Bane in 1997’s Batman & Robin and Venom in 2007’s Spider-Man 3; each of which crammed those critical game-changing characters into an already crowded movie mix. It would be a shame to see Doomsday relegated to that same treatment.

Sticking to the theme

Unlike the villain situation, the aspects of Dawn of Justice that have been anything but ambiguous are its dark tone and poignant political themes. The trailers have made it abundantly clear that in the time since the events of 2013’s Man of Steel, Superman (Henry Cavill) has continued to provide the world with his hovering heroics to the point that the populace has become divided by his actions. One side worships him as a god descended upon the Earth in blue, bulge-exposing jammies, and the other are of the mindset that he possess too much power and, as the wanton devastation caused to Metropolis by his battle with Zod in Man of Steel has proven, tends to leave destructively fatal fallout in his wake. Apparently inspired by his own personal loss in the edifice-demolishing donnybrook, former secret vigilante Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) decides to dust off his cape and cowl and resume his work as Batman to tackle what he sees as a hubris-wielding extraterrestrial who is recklessly using our world as the perishable set to his own sweded version of Jackass.

Yet, based on what little footage has been shown from the movie, its recurring focus seems to be on the dangers of uninhibited, unchecked powers; exemplified not just by Superman’s property-demolishing throwdowns, but also by Batman’s law-eschewing, criminal-battering nighttime excursions in the streets and alleyways of Gotham City. Seeing as the movie is unlikely to take sides in its headlining hubbub, one might be inclined to expect that a mysterious antagonist will surface who will surely be responsible for the film’s destructive denouement. In keeping with the film’s theme, that hypothetical antagonist should also poetically reflect this central theme centering on unchecked power. That is NOT Doomsday.

The die may already be cast

Michael Shannon, who in some mysterious capacity reprises his Man of Steel role as the neck-snapped General Zod, can actually be seen in the latest Dawn of Justice trailer as an unblemished Kryptonian corpse on a slab. The actor recently made provocative comments about having to wear “wax flippers” on his fingers for his work on the film; presumably used for imposing post-production CGI elements such as Doomsday’s sharp bony protrusions. The comments (which he later played off as a joke/trolling of a detail-hungry public,) corroborates the report from a few weeks back of a prospective battle between Wonder Woman and Doomsday in which Wonder Woman slices off the creature's hand, after which a bone blade grows in its place.

Shannon’s comment has further fueled the notion that, perhaps, some version of Doomsday will surface in the film; either as an infected Zod corpse, or a creature cloned by a resourceful Lex Luthor from modified DNA, set loose to kill the Man of Steel amidst the prevalent political anti-Superman fervor.

It’s difficult, however, to see how the prospective inclusion in Batman v Superman of the belligerent brute, regardless of any contextual alterations to his origin or presentation, would do anything to complement the established theme of the film. Throughout his various portrayals over the years, Doomsday has always been a game-changer for Superman; a frightening threat that’s exponentially more powerful than anything that he’s ever faced, which requires him to make a tremendous sacrifice. In that regard, Doomsday is best used a waypoint of a character; a test for a more seasoned Superman that not only proves to be his greatest physical challenge, but creates some existential dilemma that elevates him to a completely new level. This being only the second film in DC/Warner’s attempted movie universe, it's far too early in the continuity for such a test.

So, WHO, then?

With all that said, the impetus is on me to provide an alternative choice for a villainous force. If not Doomsday, then who? Well, in wanting a villain that is iconic enough, intelligent and broadly powerful, my choice would be Brainiac. Perhaps the ultimate Superman antagonist save for Lex Luthor, Brainiac has had a number of radically different portrayals over the years. Most renditions, however, portray him as a malevolent, green-skinned alien android whose very essence is integrated with advanced robotic technology.

From the standpoint of both what we know of the Dawn of Justice plot and what I’d like to see out of the film, Brainiac fits the mold perfectly. His addition could help differentiate the film from the similarly themed upcoming Marvel effort Captain America: Civil War by shifting focus towards the modern dilemma of how society continues to sacrifice its privacy in the electronic ether, both voluntarily on social media and involuntarily by secretive means from authorities. The emergence of Brainiac, whose physical representation is also mirrored by a non-corporeal digital existence, could create a refreshingly different type of grandiose global threat than the unmitigated over-the-top urban destruction we saw in Man of Steel.

Perhaps also treading safely away from specific elements of Marvel’s recent tech-related terror in Avengers: Age of Ultron, a selfishly motivated Lex Luthor could open the proverbial Pandora’s Box by unleashing Brainiac into the world, who, unbeknownst to the late Zod, hid his own source code in the Kryptonian warlord’s DNA before the planet’s destruction. In much the same way the Kryptonian codex was hidden in Superman’s DNA in Man of Steel, Brainiac could emerge from Luthor's meddling and infiltrate mankind’s own brand of superheroic prerogative in the defense networks, creating some global, potentially nuclear chaos that causes the other superheroes to come out from hiding. This dynamic would make the most sense and set the stage for Brainiac to become a memorably loquacious, template-setting recurring villain in much the same way that Loki has established himself in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Lending some credence to that (admittedly highly unlikely to materialize) theory is that the storyline for Dawn of Justice is loosely based on Frank Miller’s watershed 1986 The Dark Knight Returns series. This is noteworthy because its 2001 sequel series The Dark Knight Strikes Again portrayed a sinister collusion between Lex Luthor and Brainiac that resulted in some serious, globe-threatening implications that change the series’ depicted government-sanctioned superhero system. Thus, it is still possible that these events, or something similar, could manifest in Dawn of Justice and that the reports about Doomsday being the secret villain may very well be an elaborate, lead-lined red herring to throw the fan community off its collective game...maybe?

Well, that’s just my humble, likely inconsequential opinion on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. What do you think should occur in the film? Does it need an uber-powerful secret villain? Or should it just have Supes and Bats fight it out? Head down to the comments section and let us know!

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