[20 May 2014]
The best tools have multiple uses for multiple tasks. That’s how some people can be dropped on a remote desert island with nothing but a pocket knife and some duct tape and survive in ways that would put Gilligan’s Island to shame. But some tools are defined by their utterly singular use. A sledge hammer only has so many functions. Nobody can ever say a sledge hammer helped them craft an ice sculpture of the Virgin Mary. However, these tools are often designed with this singular use in mind. It’s fairly reasonable to conclude that the inventor of tequila didn’t call it a success because it tasted good. Like any drink only meant for getting drunk, certain characters are brewed for one desired outcome. Doomsday is basically the sledge hammer/tequila of the DC Universe, which makes an event surrounding him conceptually questionable.
Doomsday as a character has only one use: to kill Superman. It has succeeded before to an extent. This was the creature that killed Superman in the now iconic Death of Superman arc, a story that might or might not have been nullified by the New 52 reboot. It has already shown up before in Superman/Wonder Woman, albeit briefly. Now an entire event is being built around Superman battling Doomsday. The main selling point is that unlike 99 percent of Superman’s enemies, this one is as strong as him and fully capable of killing him. That means that those who complain that Superman is too powerful will have little to complain about in Superman Doomed #1, the first issue in a crossover story that will consume every Superman comic.
This story effectively builds on Doomsday’s earlier appearances. Before, this mindless creature was like Stan Lee in the Marvel movies, popping up every now and then and not having much of an impact. Now the creature has stopped biding its time and begins making its presence known, which for Doomsday involves the kind of wholesale slaughter usually found only in Rambo movie. Superman, obviously not a Rambo fan, takes it upon himself to stop Doomsday. He gets help from everyone he can, including Lex Luthor. That alone demonstrates the power of this creature. It’s dangerous enough for Superman to actually agree with Lex Luthor.
But this issue doesn’t just involve Superman looking for ways to battle Doomsday. This battle unfolds in the midst of another conflict that involves everyone in Smallville falling into a coma. This is how Lois Lane and Lana Lang get involved, adding some personal stakes to what could have otherwise just been a glorified street brawl between overpowered characters. However, the link between this story and Doomsday is poorly defined. The lack of connections make it an aside of sorts. The same thing happens with Steel, who briefly gets to have a shot at Doomsday. But he might as well be a warm-up battle because little comes of it. So while there is an effort made to make this story about more than a mindless beast capable of killing Superman, those efforts lack refinement. It’s like a computer with no WiFi in that its function is limited.
In the end, it still turns into a story that’s mostly about Superman battling Doomsday and therein lies the flaw in the concept. This is pretty much the only way for the story to go. It’s like a destination that has only one road leading to it. The story has to unfold this way. As a concept, it’s inherently predictable. As a theme, it’s exceedingly narrow. However, an effort is still made to ensure Superman Doomed #1 doesn’t become just another Death of Superman knock-off. While most of the story does involve Superman fighting Doomsday, the end result opens the door to paving a different path that helps make it at least somewhat less predictable.
There’s no question that when Superman is focused on a single task, he’s more than powerful enough to see it through. This is someone who has moved planets, traveled through time, and managed to befriend Batman. So when he takes on Doomsday, he doesn’t hold back. But in doing so, he finds out the hard way that he’s fighting something he doesn’t fully understand. This is yet another instance where Superman could learn a thing or two from Batman because by focusing on stopping Doomsday from hurting anyone else, Superman sets into motion the most menacing threat from the creature. He essentially sets the stage to become Doomsday himself. That’s something Batman would’ve figured out, albeit at the last possible moment. But in the end, it’s too late.
So even though the battle between Superman and Doomsday doesn’t turn into a ripoff of Rocky IV, it’s still somewhat predictable. Superman tries to defeat Doomsday, but by using only his fists, he incurs some unexpected damage. It might be an epic, visually stunning battle, but it’s only the first round. And few fights that don’t involve Mike Tyson or Muhammed Ali in their prime end in the first round. Future rounds promise to take on a very different form, which involves Superman fighting himself even harder than he fought Doomsday. And that’s another concept that is inherently flawed on many respects because if the only way to stop Doomsday is to become him, then that just reinforces the character’s primary purpose of challenging Superman.
Flawed concept or not, the execution of the story is still solid and the conflict it creates is set to expand into every Superman title. The connections to this story are still not in place, but the scale of the conflict has been effectively set. Superman Doomed #1 manages to set itself apart from a typical Superman-battles-a-killer-monster narrative. It creates a conflict that is both daunting and personal for Superman and one that will rely as heavily on his supporting cast as it will on his strength. While the concept may be akin to a very simple tool with a singular use, this doesn’t make that tool any less effective.