From Screen to Page: Superman ’78 by Jerry Whitworth
Recently it was announced DC Comics will be publishing Batman ’89 and Superman ’78, comic book miniseries based on the Tim Burton Batman and Richard Donner Superman film series, respectively. The latter will feature the work of Robert Venditti and Wilfredo Torres but few details have thus far been released about the plot. Torres has a long history of producing fan art of the Christopher Reeve Superman and scenes from Donner’s films of the character. An intriguing aspect regarding the Donner Superman movies is that the first two motion pictures of the series were filmed simultaneously with a reported 75% of the sequel completed before the first entry was finished. Donner, however, wouldn’t have the opportunity to finish the follow-up when disagreements led to his removal from the project. The world finally gained a better semblance of Donner’s vision for Superman II (1980) in 2006 with the release of the Donner Cut which tried to set a more serious tone with a greater focus on action. Donner had plans for a third and fourth Superman film before his removal which may inform what Superman ’78 could entail.
In 2006, Richard Donner’s former assistant turned one of the biggest comic creators in history in Geoff Johns convinced his mentor to come back to Superman. With the storyline “Last Son,” the post-Infinite Crisis Superman was explored by Donner and Johns. During press for the run, Donner revealed in an interview to Wizard magazine that Brainiac was planned for the proposed third movie. Donner and Johns tackled the post-Infinite Crisis Brainiac in 2008 where they returned to the idea of the villain capturing cities that are miniaturized and bottled, among them Krypton’s Kandor. This Brainiac was a distinctly more physically imposing presence, using the DNA from the many worlds it visited to created a superpowered host body. During a 2018 interview to RetroFan, Donner revealed elements of that story were inspired by ideas for the proposed third film. Ilya Salkind, producer for Donner’s Superman films, revealed he conceived a story for the third motion picture that would have saw Supergirl crash land on Brainiac’s world. The villain took on a fatherly role until Supergirl emerged on Earth and started to develop a romantic relationship with Superman (therein, she would have not been his cousin). This lead to Brainiac using a device to turn Superman evil forcing Supergirl to rescue him from the mind control. Salkind also wanted to introduce Mr. Mxyzptlk into the story with an eye to Dudley Moore for the part. Instead, Moore went on to star in Salkind’s Santa Claus: The Movie (1985). With a smaller budget allotted for the third entry, Brainiac instead gave way to a nameless supercomputer and Supergirl her own film in 1984 starring Helen Slater (following the source material as Superman’s cousin).