By djkirkbride 14 Comments
Stories of heroes turning into villains have been around almost as long as there’ve been stories of heroes… and they never cease to trouble me. Not so much now that I’m supposedly an adult, but the memories of the childhood damage still flares up whenever I think about the possibility of a hero going bad. And never was I so traumatized as when Richard Pryor’s synthetic Kryptonite made Superman stop bathing, grow a 5 O’clock shadow, and get his evil on in SUPERMAN III!
My dad took my brother and me to the mall cinema for SUPERMAN III one fatefully tragic day. At the start, my take on SUPERMAN III was similar to my take on all the SUPERMAN movies when I was a kid: awesome when Christopher Reeve was in the blue tights, boring any other time.
Still, despite the fact that I knew there’d be scenes without Superman, I was goofy excited! Superman was, and is, my favorite superhero ever. Maybe my favorite ANYTHING ever! And that love started with the movies, later getting me hooked on the comics.
At the time, I had no inkling that SUPERMN III was a drop in quality for the series. I didn’t know about the directors named Richard controversy: Donner being replaced with Lester during SUPERMAN II and SUPERMAN III being Lester’s first time 100% at the helm, resulting in a far less heartfelt movie. Whatever -- I was just excited to see Supes save the day in a bright red cape again.
But things took a turn after Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor), posing as a shouty Army general for some reason, presented Superman with his manmade Kryptonite. Odd that Superman just accepted this replica of the only thing that can kill him, yeah? Alas, instead of killing him, it made him EVIL! Well, extremely surly at the very least.
First he hits on Lana Lang in an unseemly way after normally being such a gentleman, then he blows out the Olympic torch, straightens the Leaning Tower of Pisa (is that really bad… ?), and freaking hooks up with a bad blond floozy who’s in cahoots with the Lex Luthor stand-in villain -- which leads to him becoming a pawn of the bad guys, stopping an oil tanker and causing a spill… ack!
After these shenanigans came the scene that truly disturbed me: Surlyman’s super drinking binge and super nervous breakdown. For some wacky reason, he splits into two different people: the evil Superdrunk and straight-laced Clark Kent. Once split, they violently duke it out at a junkyard. This is when six-year-old me had had enough! I couldn’t watch Superman trying to kill Clark Kent. The very concept freaked me way out, and Christopher Reeve, giving this movie way more than it deserved, really sold the evil Superman. He was mean, taunting, and cruel.I covered my eyes, turning from the screen and burying my head in the empty seat next to me, not doubt choking back tears because, well, I’ve always been a crybaby. My dad noticed and scolded me paternally: “I paid for you to watch this. If you’re not going to, we’ll leave, boy.” I panicked, not wanting to miss Superman on the big screen, no matter how much it scared me, and turned back to the movie.
Eventually, evil was defeated and Richard Pryor was let off the hook. But for a moment, I was petrified. Seeing Superman go bad was too much for me to take back then, and, honestly, I don’t think I’d be comfortable watching it again even now...
D.J. Kirkbride is a co-editor and contributing writer for the POPGUN anthologies from Image Comics as well as the owner of all four Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN movies... even though he only really likes 1 & 2.