On Deck for Supes

by J. Caleb Mozzocco & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he Bryan Singer-directed Superman Returns has just opened -- is it too early to start speculating about the next Superman movie? Of course not -- Warner Brothers has already announced a 2009, Singer-directed Untitled Superman Returns Sequel.

The most exciting thing about a sequel for Superman fans (and movie tie-in toymakers) is the potential to see big-screen adaptations of more Superman villains. The last cycle of Superman films, the four starring Christopher Reeve, didn't stray far from Gene Hackman's Luthor, the only additional villains being Terence Stamp's General Zod in Superman II, Robert Vaughn's pseudo-Luthor from Superman III and lame Luthor lackey Nuclear Man in Superman IV.

The Man of Steel's extensive comic book rogue's gallery is virtual virgin territory for Singer and company to explore in 2009 and beyond. So let's take a look at who might be next to challenge Brandon Routh and throw Kate Bosworth off of a rooftop.

Bizarro & r & Lex Luthor once tried to clone Superman, but the closest he could come was a flawed, "imperfect duplicate" that took the name Bizarro. The character was the opposite of Superman in every way: He flew backwards, shot cold vision beams from his eyes and grew stronger when exposed to Kryptonite.

Most notably, he spoke in a weird, half-backwards pidgin language, with caveman grammar. (Typical greeting: "Goodbye Superman, me am not back.") He's usually played for laughs in the comics, but can be quite scary on occasion. & r & History: He was a member of the Legion of Doom on Superfriends, and was played as a tragic, Frankenstein-like monster on Superman: The Animated Series. His only live action appearance was in the 1988 Superboy TV series, unless you count the evil Superman Christopher Reeves fought in the junkyard in Superman III. & r & Benefits: Everybody knows Bizarro, thanks to the term's wide usage in pop culture, particularly on Seinfeld. & R & Downside: He may be too goofy for a live action movie. & r & Odds: 7 to 1

Brainiac & r & Brainiac was an alien scientist with a computer-like brain who traveled the universe shrinking and stealing alien cities for collection and study. His consciousness has been transferred repeatedly into constantly upgraded robot bodies, usually in his favorite colors -- purple and green. & r & History: There's never been a Superman cartoon without some form of Brainiac in it -- Superfriends, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League. He's also appeared on Smallville, and was written into Kevin Smith's original (and ultimately rejected) script for Superman Returns, back in the late '90s when it was called Superman Lives! and Tim Burton was still attached. & r & Benefits: Though he's yet to be featured in a film like Luthor and Zod, Brainiac is one of the most well-known Superman villains. His name has even become a slang synonym for smart people. & r & Downside: You try reading a line of dialogue out loud with the word "Brainiac" in it with a straight face. & r & Odds: 2 to 1

Doomsday & r & This mindless monster was bred by mad alien geneticists to be the ultimate killing machine, and he proved to be exactly that when he escaped to Earth and fought Superman in an epic battle. Superman K.O.'d Doomsday, but "died" in the process during the obscenely well-publicized "Death of Superman" stories of 1992. (Don't worry kids, Supes got better). & r & History: Doomsday appeared briefly in the Justice League cartoon, and was originally supposed to appear in Smith's Superman Lives! script, repeating his Superman-slaying shtick at the behest of Brainiac and Luthor. & r & Benefits: He's more than a physical match for Superman, and would make a good deputy villain. & r & Downside: Doomsday is a thinly-veiled analogue of Marvel's Incredible Hulk; in fact, he looks just like a gray Hulk with boney projections all over him, and he even traveled in the same peculiar way as the Hulk -- leaping. And as the spongy-looking, bouncing CGI star of Ang Lee's Hulk movie proved, computer animation still has a looong way to go before giant man-monsters in shorts can be made to look realistic. & r & Odds: 20 to 1

Mr. Mxyzptlk & r & A mischievous little imp in a purple bowler hat from the fifth dimension, Mr. Mxyzptlk (usually pronounced somewhere in the neighborhood of "Mix-yez-spit-lick") has near-omnipotent powers when visiting Superman's third-dimensional world.

Mxy, as his friends call him, uses his powers to mess with Superman, and appears every 90 days to turn Supes' world upside down until he could be tricked into saying his name backwards, which sends him back home for another 90 days. & r & History: Michael J. Pollard played him on Superboy and Howie Mandell on Lois & amp; Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and he sort of appeared on Smallville, in the form of foreign exchange student "Mikail Mxyzptlk." He's better suited for cartoons of course, and in Superman: The Animated Series, Gilbert Gottfried supplied his voice. & r & Benefits: His powers make him more than a match for Superman, and lend themselves perfectly to special effects-laden film. & r & Downside: Some characters just look better drawn into a comic book than they do in live action (see the trailer for Ghost Rider), and bringing a tiny magical pixie to 3-D life while not making it look ridiculous presents a challenge Warner Brothers may simply wish to avoid altogether. There's also the difficulty of saying his name, forward or backwards, which isn't a problem when it's being read in a comic book. & r & Odds: 25 to 1

The Phantom Zone Criminals & r & Superman's father Jor-El discovered a ghostly, extradimensional zone called the Phantom Zone, which would become the cornerstone of the Kryptonian criminal justice system. The worst offenders would be exiled into the P.Z., where they'd spend eternity as disembodied wraiths, able to watch the goings-on of the material world, without touching or communicating with it.

There have been dozens of criminals sent into the Zone either by Jor-El or Superman over the years, the most notorious having been General Zod. & r & History: After a brief appearance in the original, 1978 Superman movie, the Terence Stamp-led trio of villains took center stage in 1980's Superman II. Other P.Z. escapees appeared in Superman: The Animated Series and on Smallville. Singer had considered casting Jude Law as Zod in the film, but when Law turned the role down, the character was written out of the script. & r & Benefits: Unlike Luthor, Zod and company are a match for Supes physically, and who wouldn't want to hear someone yell "Kneel before Zod!" in Surround Sound? & r & Downside: Been there, done that. But then, in Hollywood, who says that's a downside? & r & Odds: 5 to 1