80s icons: General Zod

Is Superman II's General Zod the finest superhero villain to be portrayed on screen in the last 30 years? He's certainly an 80s icon...

The Superman villains that have made it to celluloid have, thus far, hardly been the most threatening bunch. Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor was terrific, but you were never really intimidated or scared by him. Likewise Kevin Spacey’s baldness hardly had you thinking you were facing a modern day uber-villain. Although we do have a soft spot for that woman who turned into a prototype Robocop at the end of Superman III.

However, there a rip-roaring exception to the rule, and that’s Superman II. It’s up for debate whether it’s better or worse than the first film – although it’s great either way – but there’s no doubt whatsoever that it had the best villains. And accompanied by Sarah Douglas’ Ursu and Jack O’Halloran’s Non, it was Terence Stamp as General Zod who stood out. By some distance.

Because General Zod had menace. He had power. And he had some great lines. Plus, let’s face it, Terence Stamp utterly nailed the guy.

Who can forget “Come to me, Superman! I defy you! Come and kneel before Zod! Zod!”. And “This Superman is nothing of the kind. You see, I’ve discovered his weakness. He cares. He actually cares for these Earth people”. And “Why do you say this to me, when you know that I will kill you for it?”

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In any other hands, lines that could just fall apart. But not only does Stamp make them work, he then pulls out the daddy of them all, delivered with authority and sneer: “Come to me, son of Jor-El, kneel before Zod!”. It was even funny when they did it in Mallrats.

There’s talk, given Bryan Singer’s reverence of the original Superman films, that General Zod may yet return to the franchise, which would surely be its Joker moment? After all, Heath Ledger has more pressure on his shoulders to deliver a great Batman villain, given the fact that Jack Nicholson’s performance back in 1989 ate up the screen. Superman may, of course, just get Stamp back. Which would be just fine in our book.

We’re not alone in our admiration for the great General, as we found a host of websites dedicated to this awe-inspiring man. Try GeneralZod.net, whose trick is to write all its content in the voice of the General himself (“General Zod is well aware that Superman has returned, but he has nothing to fear”), and who also sell stickers with the immortal line printed on them. Surely what petty cash tins were made for?

And he’s on MySpace! Really! You can find the page here. He has a surprising amount of friends too, with Batman top of his list, and, er, Barefoot Batgirl in the top 50 next to Conan the Barbarian. And! You know how annoying it is when music starts bleating out at you on MySpace? How about Joan Osborne’s One Of Us?, only with someone having gone through the track and cut in the word ‘Zod’ instead? It’s genius, this Internet stuff.

But if we had to pick a favourite – and this, boys, girls and grown-ups – is nothing short of outright brilliance – then how about the campaign to have General Zod elected as American President in 2008? Just imagine the debates! You’d watch them, no question. Hilary Clinton vs General Zod? Marvellous.

Yet – amazingly – it gets better. The campaign site has stories of General Zod out on the campaign trail, meeting farmers, addressing people via television and answering questions. It’s almost enough to get this writer to emigrate. Apart from the fact that Americans have lots of scary guns.

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We’re proud to induct General Zod into our 80s Hall of Fame. A true 80s icon, and one of the finest depictions of a superhero villain on the big screen. Ever. We’d kneel.