Andrew A. Smith
Tribune Content Agency
Syfy’s Krypton, which debuted March 12, varies considerably from the comics. But that’s OK, because the comics themselves have never been consistent about Superman’s home world.
Krypton has always been unstable, and that applies to its comics history as well. The only real constants in the last 80 years of stories have been A) Krypton always goes blooey, and B) baby Kal-El always takes a ride on a rocket.
The planet’s now-confusing back story began with Superman’s first appearance in 1938, where we learned Krypton died of “old age.” After that, Krypton disappeared from the comics for a few years, with most of our information coming from the “Superman” newspaper comic strip.
“Far from Earth rotated the planet Krypton,” read the intro from the first strip in 1939, “whose highly-evolved inhabitants were capable of incredible feats of strength: Leaping great heights and distances … lifting and smashing mighty weights … possessing impenetrable skins …”
This served to explain Superman’s powers in a single sentence. But that explanation didn’t last long –Superman’s powers kept increasing, to the point where he could shrug off atomic bombs, which means Kryptonians could, too. So why would they be inconvenienced by something as minor as an exploding planet? And if they had X-ray vision, wouldn’t they literally see the problem coming?
So this version of Krypton, with super-people leaping about like crazed grasshoppers, disappeared. It was replaced within a few years by a version that resembled The Jetsons, a 1950s-style super-scientific future of non-super people with flying cars, robot police and houses that made dinner for you.
These stories established that Superman’s powers came from Earth’s lighter gravity, and later still, from the radiation of our yellow sun. Also, Krypton blew up because of internal stresses. “Old age,” indeed.
This version of Krypton lasted for decades, with tons of stories adding to its lengthening lore. But then Superman: The Movie came along and kicked all that to the Kryptonian curb.
The Many Worlds of Krypton collects a number of now-moot Krypton stories, but is a fun read anyway.
The film established Krypton as a cold, emotionless place where people lived in houses carved from ice and stored information on crystals. The comics picked up on that concept in 1987, carrying it to a horrific extreme, where Kryptonians shuddered at the idea of even seeing each other face to face, and made babies in genetic laboratories.
Then a 2011 reboot erased all of that, too! Today’s version of Krypton is a sort of mash-up of all the previous versions, selectively using bits and bobs from Krypton’s various histories. I expect that over time it will end up looking like the TV version.
That’s not entirely a bad thing, because of lot of those old stories were just plain silly. For one thing, the idea of going back in time (and space) to the last days of Krypton used to be really popular one among DC writers.
Superman got the ball rolling in 1949, back when he was still ignorant of his origins. While chasing a meteor through time (just go with it), he landed on a planet where he “sees an advanced civilization, and people of great intelligence and physical perfection.” (Guess which one!) Due to the pseudo-science of the time, Supes became a phantom, unable to do anything but observe. And what he observed was a scientist, one who seemed vaguely familiar, warning about the planet exploding. It doesn’t dawn on Super-boob until the end, when a baby is launched into space, that he is watching his own origin story.
“Now I understand why I'm different from earthmen!” he exclaims, finally twigging to what we readers had known for years. “I'm not really from Earth at all – I'm from another planet – the planet Jor-El called Krypton!!”
It’s funny that Superman didn’t bump into himself on that trip, though, because he time-traveled there three more times in stories published in the next couple of decades. In at least one he attended his parents’ wedding – where he should have seen Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane and Lex Luthor at the reception.
Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen #101 featured the intrepid cub reporter going back in time to prevent the destruction of Krypton. Predictably, he failed.
The Daily Planet’s cub reporter made two trips to Krypton, both to the same time and place. In the first (1959), Olsen befriends a young scientist and his wife, becoming a babysitter to their infant, Kal-El. (You knew that was coming.) In his second go-round (1967), he once again visits Jor-El and Lara, who mysteriously do not recognize him. “This mad youth broke into my lab, babbling about being from the future,” says Papa Jor, throwing Jimmy out on his ear. “He’s a lunatic!”
Shouldn’t Jimmy have already been inside, babysitting? Let’s call it “alternate timelines” and move on.
In 1964, Luthor built a time machine and romanced Lara, trying to become Superman’s father. In 1965, Lois Lane went back in time to save Krypton, failed, but ended up trying to marry Jor-El to become Superman’s mother. Honestly, there is something not right about these people.
And they were not the only ones to hobnob on Krypton in its final days. Add Supergirl to the list, not one but two teleporting Earth scientists, and even Batman got into the act. It’s pretty obvious the real reason Jor-El didn’t save Krypton is because he was too busy entertaining time-traveling tourists.
Fortunately, none of those stories still “count.” They were erased as early as 1979, when a miniseries titled World of Krypton told Jor-El’s life story, and omitted his many time-traveling visitors entirely.
Then a later miniseries also titled World of Krypton superseded the first one. (I told you it was confusing.) Published in 1987, while Krypton was in its Superman: The Movie phase, the second World spent two issues on Jor-El’s ancestor Van-L, who played a prominent role in Krypton’s Clone Wars. (Not be confused with the “Star Wars” Clone Wars.)
The third issue featured Jor-El demanding to physically meet Lara, the woman whose genetic material had been selected to mix with his and produce test-tube offspring. And then he had the temerity to fall in love with her! Oh, that rascal Jor-El – whatever the story, he’s always the rebel.
Speaking of Jor-El’s family tree, a pre-movie miniseries titled The Krypton Chronicles explored the history of the House of El. That 1981 series confirmed – as if we had any doubt – that Superman’s ancestors invented virtually everything of importance on Krypton. All of them were awesome, except for the inevitably named Kru-El, who was, of course, a terrible person.
Superman: New Krypton is one of the stories featuring the post-2011 version of Krypton, its history and survivors, which is a mish-mash of what’s come before.
And before that, DC published a series of backup stories titled “The Fabulous World of Krypton,” in which we learned the following, which may or may not still be true:
* A Green Lantern named Tomar-Re (the bird guy from the movie) failed to stop Krypton’s destruction, but the Guardians of Oa decided it was all for the best, since we got Superman out of the deal.
* The Adam and Eve of Krypton were two space travelers stranded on a lush, unpopulated world, whose names were (wait for it) Kryp and Tonn.
* In case you don’t speak Kryptonese, “Kal-El” translates into “Star Child.” Because of course.
And for the finale, we present The Worst Krypton Story Of All Time. No lie. “Don’t Call Me Superboy!” came out in 1977, and is so ethically challenged one wonders how it ever made it past the Comics Code.
It involved the “Super-Teacher of Krypton,” a robot that had appeared in a 1959 story of the same name – a robot created by Jor-El (of course), who came to Earth to test Superboy’s mastery of his super-powers. Which was a harmless little story, if a bit hokey.
But then Super-Teacher returned in 1977 to test the now-older Teen of Steel’s moral paradigm. To do so, it kidnaps an Earth girl, brainwashes her to be the exact kind of girl Superboy can’t help but fall in love with, and sends her out to take his virginity. Afterward, he arranges a scenario where she appears to be killed by a Bigfoot. (I am not making this up.) An enraged Superboy restrains himself from killing the monster, thereby passing the Super-Teacher’s morality test. Afterward the girl is set free with no memory of her, um, experience.
Now, things may be different on Krypton, but here on Mama Earth we call that “rape.” Let’s hope that “Don’t Call Me Superboy!” is one of the many Krypton stories that have fallen down the memory hole, like Luthor dating Superman’s moms. I mean, some things are just too icky, even for comics.
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