The Role of DoomsDay and the Death of Superman in BvS By M.Schinke
The use of DoomsDay in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice controversial among people who claim to be fans of the character. For many, the use of the character was either ill-timed or, “poorly executed” either in concept, design, etc. In my previous article, The DoomsDay Imperative – Part 1, I wanted to look at the character and the Death of Superman story from a, “historical” point of view; examining it’s place in the history of the character, it’s publishing timeline and the general pop culture, to a lesser degree. What I’m interested in exploring here is the specific use of the character within the Dawn of Justice film itself. Now this is not something that I can source historical documents from since the film stands on its own, so this article is full of speculation based on my point of view. It doesn’t reflect the point of view or possibly even the intention of the film makers but since I haven’t seen anyone else talking about it and, again, this is my blog and not yours; I’m going to inject my own thoughts into the conversation.
What I find the most interesting aspect of the use of DoomsDay in the film is the way the it serves the stories of Superman, Batman and Lex Luthor. In each case, DoomsDay is representative of some aspect of the movies larger thesis on how the world of the film reacts to Superman’s existence. Each one of them has a unique relationship with the ideas that both Superman and DoomsDay represent; Lex and Batman being as outside observers and Superman’s being introspective on how the world might come to view him. It speaks to something within each of the characters and reflects their individual stories in the film.
I suppose it’s appropriate to start with the creature’s creation and how it differs from the comic books. In the comics, the creature to be known as DoomsDay was created in Krypton’s pre-historic past by a scientist called Bertron. The being, then referred to as The Ultimate, was created as an experiment to create the perfect living being. The being was subjected to the harsh environment of Krypton to be killed again and again. Each time the creature was killed it’s remains were harvested and used to create a new version, one that would incorporate forced evolutionary traits that would render it unable to be killed in the same manner it had been previously. Eventually the creature became impervious to the harsh environments of Krypton and turned on its creator, who it viewed as an enemy. It went on a rampage of mindless destruction across until it was killed on the planet Calaton by gestalt lifeform called The Radient. The creature was enrobed, shackled, entombed and shot into space. Eventually it landed on Earth and… you know the rest.
In BvS, the creature we call DoomsDay was created by Lex Luthor from the remains of General Zod, who was killed by Superman during the Kryptonian invasion in Man of Steel. Luthor had swindled access to the Kryptonian scout ship from a US senator and began mining it’s massive computer archives for; anything I suppose. We never do get a clear picture of what he wants other than to know everything. According to the movies timeline; after Lex loses the Kryptonite to Batman he uses knowledge he gained from the ship to begin creating his weapon against Superman. Using science long banned by the extinct Council of Krypton he combines his own genetic material with Zod’s corpse in the Kryptonian birthing matrices to create this creature. The creature’s physiology seems to be an amped up version of Superman’s. Where Superman get his powers from absorbing solar radiation and discharging it through his physiology, this creature that Lex calls Superman’s, “doomsday” absorbs all energy, even kinetic energy, and discharges it as both physical powers and energy blasts depending on how much energy it absorbs, as well as advanced regenerative capabilities.
In the broad strokes the creation of DoomsDay is not all that dissimilar between these versions; a mad scientist uses alien knowledge to manipulate genetic material to create the ultimate killing machine. It’s a classic story of science gone wrong, or destructively right depending on your point of view. So how does this creature reflect in the characters in the film? Understanding this means understanding what is going on with the characters emotionally in the movie.
Lex Luthor has been psychologically damaged by the abuse inflicted on him by his father as a boy. These, “fists and abominations” (which some regard as possible sexual abuse) twisted young Lex’s outlook on the world. Because no being stepped in the protect him he comes to believe, as he states,
“I learned way back that if god is all good, then he cannot be all powerful. And if he is all powerful, he cannot be all good”.
What he sees with Superman is that people view him as the thing which failed him in his life, an omni-benevolent, omnipotent being, and he wants to divorce them of that belief. Doomsday is a kind of physical encapsulation of his view on god; a dark, twisted and ugly creature of devoid of divine origin. Powerful and cruel with no purpose other than to destroy. In line with his stance as a self-described philanthropist, which he defined as a lover of humanity but can also mean a person who advocates for the betterment of humanity, he sees himself as a sort of guardian at the gate helping to enrich humanity by removing the notions of false deities from their minds. By creating a creature capable of killing Superman he makes the ultimate statement to the world that his world view is correct.
There has been criticism of this by many asking the question, “if Lex hates beings with god like power then why would he create one?” Again, this is a matter of listening to the words that are being spoken. It isn’t the power that Lex hates, its the idea,
“I don’t hate the sinner. I hate the sin. And yours, my friend, is existing.”
It’s the philosophy or the idea that Lex abhors, not the power and not even necessarily Superman as an individual.
Batman is much like Lex Luthor in this film, in many ways. Bruce was also famously twisted by childhood trauma, the murder of his parents. When BvS begins we are again shown this murder to remind us of the root of all that is Batman, but it has a special resonance when followed directly by the attack on Metropolis. Bruce is once again placed in a position of powerlessness, force to stand by and watch others die as he did when his parents were murdered. All this anger and fear he places on Superman, putting a face and a body to everything that he has been both drive by and running from his entire life. When he has Superman at his mercy and sees him powerless and weak, this fear of Superman gives way to a realization of his true fear is of his own powerlessness. This context is important to understanding the resonance of DoomsDay in his story. DoomsDay inhabits all the negative qualities that Bruce had foisted upon Superman; an alien monster capable of destroying a humanity incapable of defending itself against it. More than this, DoomsDay is the monster that has haunted Bruce his whole life; an unstoppable force of death, chaos and destruction. It comes to represent all his surface fears about Superman as well as the inherent demon that drives him. After rescuing Martha and symbolically closing his emotional arc, his next challenge will be to face that great, faceless engine of chaos that drove the action which destroyed his life and set him on his path. While possibility unintentional it’s appropriate that he begins his battle against DoomsDay alone but perhaps even more appropriate is that, if left to his own, DoomsDay would have killed him. It’s symbolic of his life as Batman and a lesson he must ultimately learn going into Justice League; that one man cannot stand alone against the darkness.
Of course, in the end, BvS is all about Superman. Throughout the film Clark is being pushed into an increasingly marginalized position. Between Luthors machinations bringing the worlds fears and doubts about him to the surface and his own inability to get people to care about Batman’s increasingly violent actions he is beginning to question whether he is accomplishing any good. The Capitol building bombing is a signal that maybe what some people (Luthor) are saying is true; that death follows him wherever he goes. As he tells Lois,
“All this time I’ve been living my life the way my father saw it. Righting wrongs for a ghost. Thinking I’m here to do good.”
It should be easy to see where the lines are drawn between Superman and DoomsDay. DoomsDay is Superman’s fear of how the world sees him; a dark reflection of himself. Alien. Menacing. Unstoppable. Devoid of any humanity. The culmination of Lex’s hate and Batman’s fears. DoomsDay is the final failure of Krypton that they could create such a creature. It is the fulfillment of Zod’s promise to kill the son of Jor-El. It is also the embodiment of Superman’s dark impulses; the part of him that want’s to lash out at the world, to scream and rage and unleash the great power within him. It is everything that the world fears about him and everything he fears about himself. But he chooses to fight these things; even putting himself between the monster and his enemy by saving Luthor, proving him wrong by providing the service that was denied him as a child. At one point the US government refuses to draw a distinction between Superman and DoomSday when ordering a nuclear missile strike and Superman goes with it; choosing to do what is necessary to protect humanity rather than worry about his own life.
Additional to all of this is the idea that fighting DoomsDay lays the foundation for the creation of the Justice League. Up to this point all three of our heroes had been operating as singular entities; specifically, Superman and Batman. Fighting DoomsDay as a unit will show or re-introduce Batman to the idea of working with others for a common cause. Whereas he would be lost while trying to shoulder the burden alone he sees the value in allowing others to carry the weight with him. It’s a simple message that one would think would be introduced in Justice League. In introducing the idea in this film, it gives Justice League an idea to build upon with a Batman already adapting to what it means as opposed to spending the movie having to be convinced to work with others as one would expect. Zack Snyder; ever the subversive.
In my viewing of the film, the use of DoomsDay doesn’t seem haphazard or sloppy. The foundation for its eventual creation is laid with the introduction of Zod’s corpse early in the film. Narratively it fits snugly into the three main characters’ stories. I could very well be drawing wild conclusions from the film but given the layering of storytelling that the film makers employ in the rest of the film, I would be hesitant to say that I’m just pulling ideas out of my ass. Other than a desire to hold DoomsDay off for a different, more Death of Superman centric story where some audience members get to see their favorite moments re-created on screen (I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen people complain that using DoomsDay this early denies them the chance to see a live action version of Funeral For A Friend) I’ve not heard any compelling reasons why the characters inclusion is problematic. The idea that it’s inclusion isn’t creatively valid is, in my opinion, a fallacy for all the reasons that I have stated in this and the previous article. And though I can’t fathom why people would care, the business reasons for doing it just means that instead of putting the character into one movie that was already getting made you’re sticking it in another movie that is already getting made; DoomsDay is not a character that will ever be a reason for a movie by itself.
I don’t know if the movie, “needed” to have DoomsDay in it; but I’m also not sure I know what that means. Given the story they told I don’t see another, equally or more satisfying way to end the film. Ending it with the Batman/ Superman fight seems like a dramatic let down. Having any other villain including Lex in a battle suit or Metallo is just shifting the question onto another character; how does this character relate to the themes and ideas in this story? In my Villainous Relations entry I spoke about how a story can benefit from having a villain that has a resonance with the hero in the narrative, so you have to ask the question; which villain would fit the best in this story given it’s themes? I don’t know if there is a better fit than the version of DoomsDay they created. Using it as a device to kill Superman and help movie the greater story of the DCEU forward was something that only DoomsDay could do; if you have anyone else kill Superman you can’t use DoomsDay to do it again later without being redundant and dull.
Maybe this essay will help some people look at the character and it’s use in the film beyond the existence of the Death of Superman story and see that there was a realized, creative use of the character. I don’t know if I was the right guy to write it, but no one else seemed like they wanted to do it.
Clever endings aren’t my bag.
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