Friday, October 8, 2010

Dear Messrs Goyer and Snyder,

So it seems there is a new Superman movie in the works, to be written by David Goyer. Goyer is the writer of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and err, Nick Fury: Agent of Shield (the Hasselhof version)

Also, it was just recently announced that Zack Snyder, director of 300 and Watchmen, will be donning the baseball-cap.

I've been toying with the idea for a Superman movie for the past few years. It's mainly a thought exercise as I read the books ("how would this work on the big screen?" and so on) but I have the bare bones of a plot in my head.

Seeing as how the makers of the new movie haven't called me yet, I've decided to stop keeping my ideas to myself.

If the Warner Brothers are reading this (I mean, why wouldn't they be?) feel free to take notes. I give these suggestions to you free, gratis, and without condition. I do this for two reasons:
  1. I'd really like to see a good Superman movie
  2. Most of them are stolen from inspired by the books which you already own.
Bringing Superman down to Earth

First of all, Superman desperately needs to be de-powered. He can still be the strongest man in the world, but no more moving the moon into a different orbit, or lifting kryptonite mountains into space. Like the John Byrne revamp of the '80s, but without the terrible hairstyles.

No origin story, please. We all know Superman's origin. We're born knowing Superman's origin. Yet every single Superman story ever told feels the need to tell it all over again. Take a leaf from All Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. They put the origin on the first page, in four panels. "Doomed Planet. Desperate Scientists. Last Hope. Kindly Couple." Turn the page, and he's superman.

One of the big problems that people say exists in telling a Superman story is how to make him "relatable", whatever the hell that means. Recent efforts have involved silly plot developments and massive deviation from the lore. That's really not necessary. The question of "How do you make him more human" is answered by "Have him act more human". People will relate to a toaster if it has a sense of humour. Make him funny. Let us see that he enjoys his job, and that he's not constantly weighed down by a Marlon Brando inner monologue. Have him make mistakes. Brandon Routh accidentally ripping the wing off the plane in the last movie was a good touch, but if he'd had said "Crap!" or (as he did in the '90s animation) "Nice one, Clark" afterwards, it would connect him to the audience. Remember, he was raised on Earth. It's OK if he acts like a human being.

So, without further ado...

...I give you the opening five minutes of "Superman: The Paul O'Neill Cut"

We start with a shot of Krypton (not an Ice planet). It cuts to people scared in the streets as Earthquakes rumble. Then a shot of Jor-el standing, looking dejected, in front of the Science Council. Jor-el and Lara placing their baby in a space-ship. The space-ship rocketing away from an exploding planet. We're now about 30 seconds in, with no dialogue so far. The images are getting faster and faster. Kansas wheat field. The Kents. Toddler Clark knocking over a tractor. Teen Clark running real fast. Jumping over the barn. Shot of a red-haired Lana Lang. Clark travelling the world saving people. Metropolis and glasses. Lois Lane. Superman costume. Fighting monsters. Fighting giant robots. Fighting Aliens. Was that brainiac? Can't tell, the images are too quick now, like the start of The Fast Show. Superman in a ton of situations in quick succession, showing his career to date (hardcore fans will get the blu-ray, just to freeze frame and try to identify the images) and then "BOOM" we're out of the flashing images, and he's gliding over Metropolis.

It's a good day, the sun is shining, there's a slight breeze, and he clearly enjoys flying. He does a barrel roll, and some loops, and at one point weaves in and out of the girders of a building under construction, to show off for the construction workers. They wave and smile, he smiles back.

Suddenly he hears an explosion, and streaks off to catch a tower crane (one of those big skyscraper jobs) that is falling over. This scene is purely to set the bar for his strength levels. He catches it, but through gritted teeth says something like "Holy crap, this is heavy". It's a difficult balancing job, but he manages to lower the crane onto an empty street (crushes a few empty cars, but hey, he saved lives) He checks to make sure the crane operator is alright, but then hears an alarm ringing from across town.

One again, he's off like a shot (picture the new Enterprise going into warp for a speed comparison) and arrives at a diamond exchange with a big hole in the wall. He stands in the hole, but leans casually on the rubble, waiting for the figure ransacking the display cases to turn around and notice him.

When they do, we see it's Metallo. He seems human, but the skin on his knuckles is gone from punching through the wall. We see metallic fingers gleaming underneath.

"Morning, John" says Superman in greeting.
"Morning, Supes. I suppose you dealt with the crane?"
"I probably shoulda come up with a better diversion"
"Probably shoulda, yeah."
Metallo suddenly points over Superman's shoulder. "What the hell is that!?"
Superman raises an eyebrow in a you're-really-going-to-try-that-one look. "Really?"
"Really!" He's dead serious.
Superman turns and sees a flaming meteorite racing in through the atmosphere, heading right for Metropolis. He turns back to Metallo. "Wait here?" he asks, knowing the answer.
Metallo pretends to consider it for a second. "Ehmmmm.... No."

And Supes is off again to deal with the newest threat.

What can threaten The Man of Steel?

This movie should have none, or next-to-none, of the following:
  1. Lex Luthor
  2. Kryptonite
  3. Superman's death
  4. Lois Lane in peril
1. and 2., I covered an earlier article. Superman's death was a seminal moment in comic book history. But even a twelve-year old me knew that he wasn't dead. Superman is never going to be killed permanently, so basing the movie's tension on that just rings hollow.

And as for number 4? I just think the pattern needs to be broken. Give the audience something they're not expecting.

In my movie, the meteorite isn't a meteorite. It's a ship, containing The Last Niece of Krypton herself, Kara Zor-El. Essentially, I'm taking the theme from her Jeph Loeb origin story for the majority of the movie. Clark opens the ship, finds his long-lost cousin, and spends the first two-thirds of the movie trying to teach her the ways of the force being a super-hero. She meets Lois, has trouble fitting into human life, she foils crimes, and even catches Metallo (she eye-beam-heat-welds his chest shut, so the No Kryptonite rule is preserved) But Clark does have to stop her from killing him, and that's the first sign that something is not quite right.

Then I switch to Geoff Johns and Richard Donner's Last Son for the remainder of the film. In that book, Clark and Lois find a boy who they think is another refugee from Krypton, only to find he is the child of General Zod, conceived and raised in the Phantom Zone, and sent out as a trojan horse to open the way for an invasion.

While Clark and Lois would be married in my movie (they spend so much time in the comics married, and yet we never see that on-screen) I don't want to lumber them with a kid. I'd have the girl who claims to be Superman's cousin turn out to be an imposter. When Krypton went up, a Phantom Zone projector overloaded, and sent a big chunk of planet into the zone. The inhabitants have spent a long time assembling a ship from the debris that found its way into the zone, and working out a way to send someone into the real world. When they figure out that the projector they have can only send one person, they send one of their youngest recruits, who pretends to be Clark's cousin in order to access his fortress, get her hands on a working projector, and free her comrades.

Eventually, she succeeds. She frees all of the Phantom Zone's inhabitants, including Jax-Ur, the main villain of the movie. Before Superman II promoted General Zod into the mainstream, Jax-ur was Superman's main Phantom Zone nemesis. He was a Krptonian scientist who accidentally blew up a moon, and got himself a life sentence in the Phantom Zone.

I'd reboot him as a scientist who was as frustrated with the inaction of the science council as Jor-El, but more willing to do something about it. Decades ago, he came up with a new system of government, where the the best scientists lead by absolute rule, rather than by consensus. After all, the smartest people know better. Their edicts would be enforced by General Zod and the planetary defence forces in a new role as law enforcing militia-types. He attempted to take over, and got himself and his followers exiled. Now, after decades in the Phantom Zone, he has seen Earth, and believes this planet is ideal for a new home. One that he will rule.

The hook is that he is sort of correct. Had the science council been replaced by a science directorate, Jor-El would not have been ignored, and perhaps the planet could have been saved. It's a nice theme for Superman's and Jax-Ur's inevitable "let's talk before we fight" scene. Superman, of course, would not be in favour of a dictatorship. People have to be free to make their own decisions. And just because Krypton ended badly, he has to believe that human beings won't follow the same road.

So, the criminals have all emerged from the Phantom Zone in - or over - Metropolis. But it's night-time and they have never been exposed to yellow sunlight, so they have no powers. Kara takes Jax-Ur north to Superman's fortress, which is in daylight (because that's how the North Pole usually is during the summer) The big fight between Superman and Kara and Jax-Ur takes place in the Fortress at first, but would inevitably head outside after a few punches. Big drama, "Kara how could you betray me" blah blah blah punch. "You're a naïve fool, Kal-El" etcetera facekick.

I hate villains who turn good just because they have a good influence for 90 minutes, so Kara would be completely unrepentant. Yes, Superman punches a woman. She has super-powers, she can take it.

The fight is big and loud. Sonic booms and thunderclaps each time one of them connects a fist to a face.

Eventually, after he manages to get those two back into the zone, he races off towards Metropolis, where there are two hundred more Kryptonians just waiting the the sun to come up. I have a wonderful image in my head of them lining the rooftops of skyscrapers all over the city, facing east as the sky begins to lighten. Supes gets there just in time to zap them all back to the phantom zone.

Zod and some of his hand-picked lieutenants evade capture. The last we see of them, they are disguised as humans, and are blending into a crowd.

That's all, folks.

So, that's it. My Superman movie. It's got action, it's got emotion, it's loyal(ish) to the comics. You get the right girl to play Kara, and you have a whole new phenomenon on your hands.


  1. Excellent read, as always. Mr Oneill.

  2. Apparently, I just coined the term "The last niece of Krypton". This is the only google hit for that phrase.


  3. Optional scene - Supes brings Kara to Lex Luthor's prison cell. After introductions, Lex gets down to his manipulations of the young kryptonian? "New arrival, eh? Ultimate power obeying laws? Poppycock! Wouldn't the world be better under your shapely stilletto jack-boot?" etceterta...
    When Lex is finally out of breathe, Supes turns to Kara and says...
    "And this is?"
    "The machinations of a deranged madman?" she replies sheepishly.
    "Correct. Let's go to Ihop for Lunch!"

    -- or --

    Clark beings Kara shopping. At the till of the first store, as hundreds of dollars of clothes are being rung up, Kara asks Clark...
    "How can you afford all this on a reporter's salary?"
    "Oh don't worry", Clark replies,"A friend loaned me his American Express."
    As the total is rung up, the Assistant asks clark, "Will there be anything else Mr. Wayne?"