Dystopia or Utopia – What’s your poison?

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I wrote an article a few months ago talking about using science fiction for social change and activism, Science Fiction and Social Awareness

Since then I have been reading a number of discussions talking about writers preferring to write dystopias rather than utopias.

David Brin would like to see more positive representations of the future and thinks Utopias need to make a comeback. He is not alone. A number of other famous scientists and science fiction writers are also in agreement about the idea of writing new books where utopias, positive futures where mankind is not only still around but thriving in positive ways as a necessary force to change the future. See: Project Hieroglyph

I know they are necessary but they are difficult to write and I suspect only the most gifted and optimistic writers should try. Here’s my reasoning:

Dystopia and Utopia have the same problem. They are talking about a period where what we know has evolved into what is now the order of things. Why is one more difficult to write than the other?

Utopia: a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions

The term Utopia was invented by Thomas More as the title of his Latin book De Optimo Reipublicae Statu deque Nova Insula Utopia (circa 1516), known more commonly as Utopia. He created the word “utopia” to suggest two Greek neologisms simultaneously: outopia (no place) and eutopia (good place). More depicts a rationally organised society, through the narration of an explorer who discovers it — Raphael Hythlodaeus. Utopia is a republic where all property is held in common. In addition, it has few laws, no lawyers and rarely sends its citizens to war, but hires mercenaries from among its war-prone neighbours.

Generally speaking, utopias are generally societies whose author believes either perfect, or as perfect as can be attainable. Ernest Callenbach‘s Ecotopia is a contemporary example. This can cause some confusion, in that some works generally recognized as “utopian”, such as Plato’s Republic, can come across as much less than ideal to a modern reader. They are one of the smaller subsets of political science fiction, possibly because it is difficult to create dramatic tension in a world the author believes is perfect. –Wikipedia, Political ideas in science fiction

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My favorite eco-dystopia: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind

Dystopia: an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives

Dystopias are societies where the author illustrates the worst that can happen. Usually this encompasses extrapolating trends the author sees as dangerous. During the 20th century many examples were written in reaction to the rise of NazismCommunism and Religious Fundamentalism:

  • Double Helix Fall (1990) by Neil Ferguson portrays an America where a person’s social status is determined by their movements in the womb, an extension of the concept of original sin.

It is important to keep in mind that scenarios which some would describe as dystopic, others would describe as utopian. Norman Spinrad’s novel The Iron Dream was generally recognised to be a dystopian novel, but lauded by neo-Nazis as a utopia. –Wikipedia, Political ideas in science fiction

Janus-dimon21Janus-topia: A utopian society which is actually engaged in abusing and dehumanizing its citizens using social manipulations of one sort or another. (No, its not real, I just made it up to prove a point.) Janus was a two faced deity, looking forward and backward at the same time. I liken a Janus-topia to the idea that a society might be forward-thinking but using repressive, deviant or oppressive means to accomplish its goals rather than the forward sound ideals it may espouse in its public face.

Given these two simplified definitions, it is easy to see why Dystopias outnumber Utopias 10-to-1. Most readers (editors and agents) want stories where the conflict is easy to recognize, can be filled with intrepid adventurers who die at just the appropriate moment to tug at our heartstrings and make us believe we are experiencing a transformative event.

The problem of addressing a Utopia is by definition, it is already a perfect place, where we have to be willing to be patient, walk with the protagonists while they show you the dirty, hidden underbelly of the Utopia, where all is not what it seems. This is by far the harder row-to-hoe because writers are under fire to “show, don’t tell” or my other favorite “exposition is dead/death” so you must find a way to expose people to your Utopia without actually describing it in any detail that might bore our attention-addled readership.

Given these two conditions, there is not a question in my mind why we see Dystopias outnumbering Utopias. The curve to creation isn’t that difficult. Look at modern society, allow it to continue unabated and poof, Dystopia.

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Try that with creating a Utopia, and you have to, by most reader’s perspectives alter the fabric of space-time to reach a place where Humanity, especially as we see it now, doing anything such as curing disease (do we do that anymore? Polio was the last one I can think of) getting rid of hunger worldwide, reversing our position on global climate change, reducing corporate power (is that even possible?) enhancing educational opportunities for everyone, ensuring any form of social parity, correcting enough social ills you would deign to call your world a Utopia.

As far as I can tell, no Utopia has ever survived for the same reason most Dystopias eventually get replaced by something else. Human nature is fickle. If society is actually working, we distrust it, and assume something must be rotten somewhere. If society is failing, human nature dictates at some point we fight back or get ground into the dust.

So the real question is, why aren’t we writing more books about correcting the reason we can’t have Utopias in the first place; the moral, social, mental, cultural, religious, failings of the Human race? If we could fix that, maybe people might believe Utopias, corrupted or otherwise, might be possible enough to write about and worthy enough to read through to see the underlying messages for what they are.

Messages about us and our relationships to each other and the Universe at large. This is where Janus-topias come in. So many of our works that describe utopian societies are actually Janus-topias, two faced worlds where we believe we are living well to find out we are not. Most of our works which postulate a possible Utopia are really Janus-topias.

Utopia is not a place where stories are easily written, by definition, if you made a real Utopia, where would the conflict arise? What we are really hoping for are clever Janus-topias which hide their flaws well, are interesting enough to pay attention to, and when their flaws are revealed, we learn something about ourselves in the process.

Death to Utopia! Not enough happens there.

But the route to Utopia is rife with storytelling possibilities…

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Could Superman die of old age?

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New Earth Superman: Got rid of the bloomers on the outside and now I’m too sexy to get old…

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This question cannot be definitively answered because DC Comics has never definitively answered it.

And this is still one of the greatest shames of the DC Comics franchise. Without a clear quantification of Superman’s powers, it is truly impossible to answer some of the most important questions around the character, including Could Superman die of old age? Granted, given the powers of his enemies and the danger of his lifestyle, the possibility of him living to a ripe old age is probably slim to none but should he find himself growing older and want to consider whether he should sign up for a 401K, the question does need to be asked.

To address the question effectively we have to check a few things before we dive in. The first question is WHICH Superman are we talking about? Since the character has had multiple iterations and multiple continuities, each has possessed varying levels of longevity.

See: How many canon Supermen have existed since his first appearance in Action Comics in 1938? 

The main versions of the character include the Golden Age version, the Silver Age version, the Post-Crisis version and the Modern DC New Earth version. We are going to skip the Post Crisis, John Byrne version because he no longer exists and we will skip over the DCnU version because he is still too new for DC to have revealed enough to know for certain. He has been returned to his youthful age of 25 to 30-something after their recent reboot of their universe.

We will talk about a couple of examples of Supermen who didn’t appear to age and a couple that did.

DC has published the DC One Million storylines where a Superman has retreated into the sun to live (yes, INSIDE the sun is where he places his Fortress of Solitude, and I can bet he gets NO visitors) and has gained powers far beyond any of the versions of the character that has existed to date. His powers were so fantastic, he was able to power his descendants giving them extraordinary abilities as well. Superman Prime (as he was called) appeared to be invulnerable, immortal and completely unaging. This was a Post-Crisis version of Superman.

Supermen

DC has also shown signs of Superman aging. The original Golden Age Superman (Kal-L) whose origins on Earth-2 (Pre-Crisis) seemed to age as an ordinary human would. He married his universe’s Lois Lane and the two seemed to age at comparable rates. His powers also diminished as he aged, making him only a fraction as strong as the Earth-1 Superman of the same time period.

Another aging Superman was the Kingdom Come Superman (which counts as an alternative Earth storyline, but it was a very popular version of the character). He aged far slower than humans, and grew more powerful as he aged. He lost his vulnerability to Kryptonite but was still capable of being harmed by the chaotic energies of magic (he tests this by cutting his finger on Wonder Woman’s god-forged  sword). In this iteration, his power were great (not as great as the Silver Age Superman or the Superman Prime character) but quite formidable and he hadn’t appeared to lose a step due to the aging process.

Silver Age Superman

The Silver Age Superman (the second most powerful version of the character, and the version you probably grew up on before his reduction of powers after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC’s first universal reset) had vast powers under a yellow sun and did not appear to age at all. While he could be (theoretically) killed in battle, once he reached an adult age, there was no further sign of aging. This character existed Pre-Crisis as well. This character was so powerful in one of his stories he sneezes and destroys a solar system. I believe this is the real reason the Crisis on Infinite Earths had to happen…

So CAN Superman die of old age?

The question can’t be answered effectively because no one has ever written the definitive treatment on how Kryptonians acquire superpowers on Earth, (or for that matter how metahumans acquire powers in the DC Universe) and there is no ratified documents describing how the Kryptonians (Homo Sapiens Krypton), who resemble (Homo Sapiens Sapiens) in appearance, but vary so far from us in terms of biological processes.

  1. Are the Kryptonians related to Humans and happen to have a convergent evolution?
  2. Are the Kryptonians genetically-modified humans, who use technology to create superhuman abilities when powered by particular wavelengths of energy?
  3. Are the powers of Kryptonians only viable in certain environments or under certain conditions but in all other ways they resemble humans?
  4. Are Kryptonians peak engineered humans whose physiology without powers is simply better, having reduced or eliminated the threat of disease, genetic dysfunction, and slowed or erased the aging process?

These are the questions which are never definitively answered so questions about Superman’s aging (with yellow sun or without) can be answered fully.

Man of Steel

As a thought experiment, let’s look at the recent Man of Steel version of Superman to determine through inference if Superman can die of old age.

The Kryptonians had a population management program where members of the society were born through an in-vitro process of genetic recombination of traits. This may imply:

  1. Kryptonians possess superior genetic recombination science. They were able to selectively mix and match genetic capabilities to ensure genetic dispositions for abilities were passed down.
  2. The Kryptonians had already cleared away genetic imperfections or diseases which shorten lifespans. This may be the reason they were utilizing population controls. A species with very long lifespans may need to keep populations under control lest they overrun and destroy their environment with near-immortals consuming everything.
  3. Since they were mining the core of their planet, this may imply they had already HAD an ecological over-population which precipitated their regulation of their population as a potential counter.
  4. Though we have no indications of how old anyone was, we do see examples of older Kryptonians on the Council, and Jor-El is a bit grey (approximating the age of a man in his mid-fifties) though he appeared hale and hearty enough to hold his own in an unfair fight.

We can assume aging takes place among the Kryptonians while they live in their native environment, though its rate in comparison to Humans is as yet unknown. We can compare Kal-El’s growth rate from child to adult as similar enough to our own, he was able to blend into Human society without incident regarding his physiological growth rate.

Once he was fully an adult does he stop aging?

This is the question that cannot be answered effectively unless we are able to understand how he is able to fly, resist incredible amounts of physical damage and project energy from his body.

If we assume physical capabilities which require a catalyst to activate (in this case, the yellow sun) these abilities would be in addition to his normal Kryptonian genome, perhaps genetic technologies woven into their genome as a survival strategy for conquering other planets or surviving hostile environments.

With such abilities, however, a single Kryptonian could conquer any planet with an environment like Earth’s. And it would make sense for Kryptonians to do so. Unfortunately, only about ten percent of the galaxy’s stars are similar to our sun, so on most planets they would have far less durability or capability.

So if these are genetic patents designed to be a support technology increasing durability, strength and resilience, they would only be most effective on a tiny range of planets overall.

Did the Kryptonians know this? Judging from the speed some of them learned and used their abilities, I can only surmise that indeed, some of them were aware of what they were capable of.

If their genetic technology did not completely stop their aging on Krypton, but were an integral part of their biological structure, it is safe to assume, even under a yellow sun, the Man of Steel Kryptonians require sustenance, water, air and other biological necessities, which can be temporarily reduced or ignored while living under a yellow sun. For Kryptonians to be able to live and utilize energy as a biological organism, even a perfect one, experiences some level of entropy and overall decay.

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SUMMARY

My verdict would indicate the Man of Steel’s Kryptonians were masters of genetic and engineering technologies which give their underlying Humanoid physiology fantastic capabilities under a tiny window of conditions. Given the right solar energy levels, the right gravitational fields, they are prodigious engines of destruction but even they had limits. Note that Faora Ul (who was wiping up Smallville with Big Blue and the US Army) was taken down by a cruise missile which evidently delivered sufficient force to knock her down and out.

That means we still had technology strong enough to kill a Kryptonian, if you didn’t mind the collateral damage required to do the job.

Having 100,000 years of technological evolution to work with makes any Kryptonian advance technology appear as magic to us. They mastered space travel, dimension-crossing, wormhole generation, genetic engineering, recombinant DNA mastery, and energy manipulation abilities we don’t even have names for.

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But their greatest limitation is their desire to maintain a human form.

  1. Is it vanity? Or is there some other societal issue?
  2. Is it an inability to alter their physical capabilities further without a change in their psychology?
  3. Why did they give their bodies such capabilities and then limit them to a tiny subset of environments?

Something in this limitation makes me believe there is an underlying limitation in their genome we are not aware of.

It is this unknown limitation which makes me believe they have mastered their genome sufficiently enough to REDUCE aging but not completely STOP it.

Man of Steel Review (spoiler-free)

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Guest blog by Kenneth Alexander Wright Vazquez

“His name is Kal, Son of El”

For the last 35 years director Richard Donner’s ‘Superman The Movie‘ has been the cinematic representation of the beloved hero for a generation and considered by many to be the best movie of the super hero sub-genre (despite needless camp and holes in its plot). Now, visionary director Zack Snyder and writers David S. Goyer and Chris Nolan have delivered what could very well be the Superman of a new generation with ‘MAN OF STEEL’; in fact it is.

Zack Snyder has achieved, along with Goyer’s and Nolan’s sharp and deeply layered script, nothing short of greatness. This is the Superman film all of us, not just fans of the character, but movie goers in general have been clamoring for since the closing of the last one. Disregard, yet never forget, the Christopher Reeve films, for ‘MAN OF STEEL’ is a spectacular re-imagining and re-telling of the Superman mythos in modern day brought to us by the genius of Zack Snyder.

Every scene of ‘MAN OF STEEL’ belonged to Snyder and that’s evident in everything from the editing and photography to the signature kinetic use of the camera. Goyer and Nolan have written the definitive cinematic Superman with a script that explores the inception and growth of a hero on multiple levels. A smoothly-flowing narrative that moves eloquently from memories to present day beautifully depicting the creation of an icon.

No aspect of Superman is left untouched thanks to Goyer’s respect for the comic book source material and yet, Nolan’s technical and thematic approach is complementary to the mythos. Some were afraid of Nolan’s well known ultra-realism seen in his Dark Knight Trilogy with its unique and gritty vision of Batman, however in ‘MAN OF STEEL’ his sensibilities are faint in the grandeur of it all. It might be Goyer’s and Nolan’s words, and rightfully so, but it is Zack Snyder’s world.

There’s a delicately woven balance of drama, humor (yes there’s humor) and non-stop action in this seriously epic sci-fi experience. Snyder has evolved as a director and ‘MAN OF STEEL’ is the apex of his illustrious career. It’s as if Snyder used comic book panels from 75 years worth of Superman adventures to lay out the course of this film. Trust me, this is virtually ANY Superman comic brought to cinematic life.

Special effects are quite extensive and a sight to behold especially when it comes to the depiction of Superman’s many powers chief among them, flight. Damn, can this Superman fly, and well enough to make the wire pullers from the Chris Reeve films proud. In Snyder I continue to trust.

Superman needs to soar musically and the score, that grandiose music score, was beautiful. Somber, serene, harmonious, thunderous and downright magnificent (it surely reminded me of Vangelis musical renditions for Blade Runner). It lacked that “Superman music” sound that a hero like him invokes but it makes up for it in so many ways. Hans Zimmer re-invented himself as a composer just as ‘MAN OF STEEL’ re-invented Superman as a hero.

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Snyder is known not just for that bold eyeball of his when it comes to capturing amazing imagery but for spotting talent in a cast. And what a solid cast this is. Let me be blunt and straight to the point, Henry Cavill IS Superman. His portrayal of the greatest hero in pulp fiction is on point from shy and humble beginning to stoic, generous and powerful end. His is a Clark Kent on a journey, a life affirming quest of self discovery that will take him from the relative safety of Smallville, Kansas (a Norman Rockwell and homely Plano, Illinois), a re-rendered Krypton, a perilous ocean, a mysterious and cold tundra to a gleaming Metropolis. When Cavill dons the legendary suit (and what a gorgeous suit it is) he becomes heroism incarnate complete with a smile. Yes, this Superman freakin’ smiles!!! Please, don’t even bother to compare Cavill’s Clark Kent/Superman to the amazing late Christopher Reeve, this is a very distinct version of the character.

What’s Superman without his Lois Lane? Incomplete, that’s what he would be. As powerful as he is, Superman needs support and “protection” and that’s what Amy Adams’ Lois Lane provides in threes. She’s ambitious, tenacious, clever, persistent and above all caring. Snyder chose wisely.

Perry White, in MY opinion, is as vital a part of the mythos as Superman’s cape and Laurence Fishburne stepped up to the bullpen portraying a man dedicated to the truth and integrity of his newspaper and that of his reporters. I could not be happier with Mr. Fishburne’s skill.

The foundation of Superman’s heroism is his parental units. Both his Kryptonian and Earth-based parents do a brilliant job at shaping a savior. Russell Crowe embodied Jor-El with plenty of fatherly presence as well as surprising physical ferocity. This is a Jor-El with brawn as well as smarts. Giving birth to Superman requires a heck of a mother and Israeli actress Ayelet Zurher (Angels and Demons, Vantage Point) portrays Lara Lor-Van as a heartfelt matriarch and supportive wife.

He was born in a neo-medieval Krypton but raised in a rural and idyllic Smallville by Mr and Mrs Kent. Kevin Costner was so loving and protective that as a viewer I felt as though he was my father. Jor-El was the father, of course, but Jonathan Kent was the dad. A still attractive Diane Lane (The Outsiders, Streets of Fire) was the sweetest mom, an anchor for Clark to hold on to and quite the tough lady.

A hero is only as good as the villain and in ‘MAN OF STEEL’ our hero has quite a few to face off in order to save the day. The most interesting villains are those who do not think of themselves as such and Michael Shannon (Premium Rush, The Iceman) is exactly that. As General Zod, Shannon portrays, with his notorious intensity, a relentless former war hero that will go to great lengths to save his people’s legacy even if it means genocide. Again, do not make comparisons to past versions of Zod, specially that of the brilliant Terence Stamp for his was a highly operatic and comic book flamboyant Zod, while Shannon is just a complex force of nature.

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Exotic and petite German actress, Antje Traue (Pandorum), plays the fierce and psychotic Kryptonian warrior Faora Ul while the enigmatic Mackenzie Gray (Shooter, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnasus, Smallville) portrays Jax-Ur with cold and calculating finesse. He even reminded me of Superman villain, Brainiac.

Making memorable appearances were Christopher Meloni (12 Monkeys, 42, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit), Richard Schiff (The Lost World: Jurassic Park), Harry Lennix (The Matrix Reloaded) and Dylan Sprayberry.

The only thing that bothered me about the film was the absence of a supporting character to the saga of Superman. In the end it did not keep me from enjoying the overall presentation.

Phenomenal action, stunning visuals, powerful performances and subtle nods to both the comic books and previous films in the franchise make Zack Snyder’s ‘MAN OF STEEL’ quite the film to behold. This is the true return of a superhero who will forever reminds us of the greatness that lies within us all. We may stumble as we follow him but in time, we will join Superman in the sun.

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Man of Steel Publicity Special

 

World War Z trailers 1 & 2

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World War Z poster

World War Z, trailer 1

World War Z, trailer 2

“Every human being we save, is one less we have to fight.” These are the wisest words coming out of the next, terrifying zombie apocalypse movie, World War Z. Unlike zombie apocalypses of the past, these zombies can’t be stopped with a liberal application of brain power (see my previous articles on Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse: http://wp.me/p1UgIB-6y).

This is not your grandfather’s zombie apocalypse with shambling zombies who catch you because you fall asleep while you wait for them to corner you somewhere. These aren’t you dad’s zombies, the track stars of 28 Days Later who never get tired and run you down like a gazelle running from a lion. Nor are they the idiot zombies of Zombieland, The Walking Dead or Sean of the Dead, mostly slow, but incredibly numerous and deadly in bunches.

These zombies move like a force of nature, in a manner similar to a tidal wave or a comet smashing into the Earth. The military spends its time in the trailers running for its collective lives against an absolutely inhuman enemy. Fast, merciless, completely willing to commit everything to your consumption and absorption. My advice for previous zombie apocalypses cannot be applied here.

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See that? That is how these new zombies roll, right over each other to get to YOU.

My advice? Have a helicopter, commandeer a Navy ship. Stay at sea as long as possible. Anybody look sick? Throw them overboard with speed and alacrity. All it takes is one and you are all dead. Feel bad, be alive, run faster…

World War Z is coming… Like nothing you’ve ever seen!

RELEASE DATE: June 21, 2013 in the United States

Personally, I think the book is better than the movie will be, but that is just my opinion.

Here’s the book by Max Brooks with its newest cover (support the artist, click the book to go to Amazon). Here’s an NPR interview with Max and what he thinks college kids could learn from World War Z (besides how to wet themselves when they see a crazed horde of super-zombies running their way!)

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75th Anniversary of the Man of Steel – A Villain’s Salute

 

 

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In honor of the Last Son of Krypton’s 75 birthday, I have decided to give a nod to the beings who helped make him the worldwide icon he is today. They are often overlooked in the overall scheme of things, but without them to shape and define his character, would we even remember Superman the way we do today? In their own inimical styles each has contributed to the legend just as well as the Kents who raised him and Jor-El and Lara who gave him life. I present to you my top ten rogues gallery of Superman’s Greatest Villains. A group so scary, even seeing them together on a page is enough to give a Superman fan pause. Names to conjure by: Lex Luthor, Darkseid, Zod, Brainiac, Doomsday, Mxyzptlk, Metallo, Parasite, Imperiex, Mongul. You’ll remember why the Man of Steel sleeps with one eye open…

Superman’s Greatest Villains

1. Lex Luthor – He is the quintessential Superman villain. As intelligent as Superman is strong, as immoral as Superman is moral, a man with god-like aspirations versus a god with a desire for a kinship with humanity. There is no greater rivalry, no greater challenger, no more monsterous enemy than Lex Luthor, a man who carries within him the best that humanity has to offer, and fails to use it to further the goals of anyone but himself. A genius, arguably the smartest human being alive, his schemes defeat Superman because he uses strategems which rely on Superman’s innate goodness and chivalry turning them against him. Luthor has been known to employ technology, flunkies and even the occasional super-suit when he wants to get personal. Mostly he prefers to leave the heavy lifting to others and out-think his opponents. If you think a man in a business suit isn’t dangerous, it’s only because that’s what he wants you to think.

Birthday wishes from Lex Luthor: “I would wish you a happy birthday Superman, but what’s the point? Until I kill you, you are liable to be immortal so what does one more year mean to you? I considered a gift but what do you get the man who has no use for anything? So I leave you this pleasant thought. I will find a way to destroy you. I have dedicated more than one life to this task, my commitment should not be in doubt. Get that microphone out of my face…”

2. Darkseid – One of the most powerful foes Superman has ever faced. In terms of raw physical power, Darkseid has, in certain incarnations of the Man of Steel, been far more powerful than Superman. Nearly completely invulnerable to all forms of harm, strength equal to or even greater than Superman’s, and armed with the Omega Force, a weapon capable of hitting a target across dimensional barriers, Darkseid is the complete ruler of his world, Apokalips. Hailing from a higher and older segment of reality, Darkseid’s people have millenia more experience, technology and ability than most sentients from our Universe. Only Superman’s efforts, again and again, against Darkseid, prevented a lasting incursion from the Fourth World. Truth be told, I would say Superman has never actually defeated Darkseid in a fair fight. But I did enjoy watching Kal-el lay the smackdown in the last episode of the Justice League Unlimited against Darkseid. It’s rare you see Supes going all out, and totally worth it too.

Birthday wishes from Darkseid: “Kal-El, our last skirmish over your young cousin was the most satisfying confrontation we have ever had. I trust the bruises were slow to heal. You almost released yourself against me. Stop holding back, Kryptonian. I will be back for your world, Kal-El. And unless you release your true power, collateral damage be damned, there will be nothing you can do to stop me.”

3. General Zod and the Phantom Zone villains – Fearsome and ruthless enemies from a Krypton long dead. Their ambitions thwarted, they were imprisoned in realm of reality where they could neither be seen or heard, forever immaterial but able to see and hunger for a world they were no longer a part of; a cruel prison, indeed. Once released and bathed in the light of a yellow sun, their powers could finally match their ambitions. They were the physical equal of Superman with a cruel streak he could never match. Recent iterations have painted them of a different, less monsterous cloth, but the older versions of these characters earned their place in Superman’s most villainous rogues gallery.

Birthday wishes from General Zod: “Kneel before Zod.”

4. Brainiac – No matter what iteration of the being, Brainiac should be counted among the most dangerous of Superman’s enemies because of his complete dispassion with which he seeks his goals. Logical, cold, calculating and easily the most intelligent by far of all of Superman’s enemies, Brainiac’s resources are nearly infinite, his technology almost beyond belief, his relentlessness unending. Brainiac has nearly achieved his goal of the destruction of Superman but a flaw in his logic or his arrogance has always led to his defeat. But if I were betting on a villain who could achieve the goal of destroying Superman permanently, I would bet on Brainac.

Birthday wishes from Brainiac: “Enjoy your last birthday Kryptonian. When next we meet, it will be no logic puzzle that defeats my intellect. There will be no random confluence of events which will come down in your favor. I have been gathering the resources of a world while I have been away. I calculate our next meeting will be your last with a 100% chance of my success. Savor your remaining days. I am coming.”

5. Doomsday – One of the few beings who can say (if he was big on conversation) he killed Superman in a straight up physical confrontation using brute force. He literally beat Superman to death, with his fists. Nuff said. Created by mad scientists, on a planet of Kryptonian mad scientists, this creature was developed and produced with one intent, to create an unstoppable superweapon, even by Krytonian standards. Equipped with an adaptable genetic structure, the creature evolves with every confrontation, so however you killed it last time will mean nothing the next time you meet. This creature beat the entire Justice League to a pulp and fought Superman to a match which ended in both of their apparent deaths. Yes, they both eventually got better. If you aren’t Superman, you never want to meet Doomsday, anywhere. And even if you are, you better have a new trick up your sleeve, that last one won’t work here.

Birthday greetings from Doomsday: “Die.”

6. Mr. Mxyztptlk – A being so powerful it could erase Superman from reality; with the proverbial snap of its fingers. A creature from a higher reality of existence, Mr. Mxyztptlk comes to Earth to slum it in the third dimension. Superman is little more than an interactive entertainment for the creature. It handicaps the game by telling Superman if he can trick him into saying his name backward, Mr. Mxyztptlk will then retire to the Fifth dimension for 90 days. He is not, technically, dangerous, but since he does not understand how fragile our reality is, he can damage us without even realizing it. During the Silver Age, a visit from Mr. Mxyztptlk was generally a light-hearted romp with Superman proving he could be quite the trickster himself. Never confuse the lightness of the character with the idea he isn’t dangerous. He is as dangerous as any enemy of the Man of Steel. Pray he never decides to forget to play fair…

Birthday greetings from Mxyztptlk: “You know Supes, we haven’t gotten together in quite some time. I know you’ve been missing our antics together. Love the new look by the way, it really was time to put your underwear on the right way. Remember Blue Boy, next time we hang out, the stakes will be a whole lot higher than me going home for three months for R&R. Next time is going to be killer…”

7. Metallo – Imagine Superman’s worst fear, Kryptonite. Give it legs, a rabid hatred of Superman and the physical power to match him blow for blow and you have Metallo. No genius, no incredible technology, just the one thing that saps Superman’s powers and makes him susceptible to being beaten to death as a human in a brightly-colored costume. Once an ordinary con-man, John Corbin was nearly killed in a accident. A morally-challenged robotics scientist places Corbin’s brain into a metallic frame, essentially creating a cyborg. Needing a power source, the body uses the radiation of Kryptonite to give it greater than human strength and durability. Historically, Metallo has killed other Kryptonians and with the help of Lex Luthor was tailored to use various forms of Kryptonite against Superman as well. Personally, I despise Metallo and while I admire Superman’s restraint, I recommend using heat vision to turn him into an immobile glowing brain in a jar. I think the people of Metropolis would understand.

Birthday wishes from Metallo: “I know you don’t consider me a threat these days, but I promise you I have been working on getting a new tailor. My next body is being made by a master of the robotic flesh. Perhaps you remember his name. A Professor Ivo… of Amazo fame. He tells me my new body will not only be powered by Kryptonite, but will be able to emulate it, at will. You won’t even be able to lay a hand on me…”

8. Parasite – A villain you love to hate, the Parasite’s power allowed him to absorb Superman’s superhuman abilities just by touching the Last Son of Krypton. The longer the fight, the more likely the Parasite was to come out on top. There were four Parasites over the years, but the most well known was Rudy Jones. Rudy also starred in Superman, the Animated Series during the 90s. The Parasite, despite his fearsome power was handicapped by his lack of ambition and fairly ordinary intelligence. He was more often a tool than a leader, used and disposed of as soon as possible.

Birthday wishes from the Parasite: “So hungry.” <lost my second sound man this week>

9. Imperiex – A force of nature more than an entity, this creature was set on destroying the entire galaxy. A threat so great the entire planet Earth was enlisted to fight against it. Superman’s power was no match for even an Imperiex Probe until he trained himself to use his powers at their highest output. A robot whose strength, superhuman speed and near-invulnerability equaled Superman’s, Imperiex Probes were the most powerful threat to ever face the human race. Led by Superman, Lex Luthor and a host of heroes, Imperiex was deterred from its plan of galactic conquest. These battles against this unstoppable foe was one of the Man of Steel’s finest hours in the previous Post-Crisis DCU continuum.

Birthday wishes from Imperiex: Imperiex refused to be interviewed on camera, saying something about ruining his brand…

10. Mongul – A physical titan, a potentially powerful intellect, but linked to a shriveled petty soul would adequately describe Mongul. He has the power to destroy Superman, the capability to match him in combat and the ruthlessness to win a conflict between them, and has done so numerous times. This is what makes him a great villain. But Mongul is both lazy and overconfident, he reads his own press releases and believes them. He was the undisputed ruler of Warworld and had long crushed anyone capable of defeating him. Though he never grew physically fat, his metaphoric fat was his undoing. He underestimated Superman and has done so in nearly every encounter.

Birthday wishes from Mongul: “Overconfident, under-developed, under-ambitious? Did you think when I was training you, I did not learn the true limits of your power? I have been training now, Kryptonian. I have acquired new technologies from a half a dozen galaxies far and wide. When next you and I meet, you will learn the limits of your powers, first hand. I won’t even have to warm up the Warworld. I’ll have it taking pictures…”

Yes, there are many others. These were the ones I think cause Superman to consider changing careers more than once and I am certain remind him why he needs to keep a fresh cape handy, just in case. Happy birthday, Superman, you are still the greatest superhero of all time. (And your next movie better have you punching someone in the face. No, seriously. Don’t do that airplane thing again, either.)

Thaddeus Howze

superman-unchained

JLA