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Everyone knows the story. A doomed planet that refused to acknowledge its time was drawing to an end. Two desperate parents — believers amongst that deniers — had only time enough to build one rocket, rocket designed to carry their infant son to a far-off world. They did so without a moment to spare. The planet explodes.

The boy flies across the galaxy and grows to become Earth’s greatest hero. The planet, of course, is Krypton. The parents? Jor-El and Lara. And that incredible boy? Kal-El aka Clark Kent aka Superman.

A story so simple, such a single perfect unit, it need never be enhanced, expanded, or altered.

You know how it can be with people though. Just because something does not need it does not mean we can help ourselves. No Prius, for instance, needs a spoiler. And yet, I promise you, out there on the roads of America there drive scores of spoiler-adorned Priuses. So too it is with the story of Krypton. Writers just cannot seem to help themselves. They know Krypton does not need sweet ground effects but gosh darn, they sure want to put them on that hopeless planet.

Krypton: Return to Krypton
Lois Lane and Superman strike a pose during the “Return to Krypton” storyline (Courtesy of DC Comics)

The Types of Krypton Stories: The Pilgrimage

To understand my objections to going back to Krypton — be it literally or metaphorically — we first have to look at what motivates creators to meddle in this affairs, to begin with.

I call the first of these “The Pilgrimage.” The reasoning here is fairly straightforward. While Superman has no direct conscious memories of his native land, he nonetheless feels a call to return to it. You could compare this to, say, my desire to return to England at some point and visit Stoneleigh Abbey, my family’s ancestral home, and lands.

Or to make it less about me — perish the thought — here are some other reasons that might be universally easy to connect to. An individual who was born in a different place from where he or she grew up and has never returned might hunger to see where they nearly lived.

Along the same lines is a religious pilgrimage. While a person may have never been anywhere near Mecca or Israel, as a, for instance, their lives in the faith have created a deep connection to a place. Therefore, while it is not a literal homeland for them, it feels that way. Again, this manifests in a desire to visit to connect with something bigger and more ancient than themselves.

In practice for Superman, this can lead to him returning to find that, well, Krypton did explode and there is nothing left to visit. We don’t see it in SUPERMAN RETURNS but this is more or less what we are led to believe occurred. Other times, he somehow ends up visiting an alternate Krypton or one in the past as in the “Return to Krypton” storyline in 2001 or SUPERMAN #141.

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Why I Object

Of the five kinds of “let’s talk about Krypton, baby,” approaches this one bothers me the least. As noted above, I understand the desire to revisit a place of ancestral significance. Even in my case where I feel little emotional investment in Ireland or England, I’d still love to go back. So, I bear Mr. Kent no ill will if he feels the same siren song.

However, for him, it is less a trip back to a castle now owned by the British government and used to court tourists. It would be more like returning to Iraq to revisit the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Sweet idea, but they’re gone gone gone. I honestly do not dislike the idea that Superman might want to check out the biological home planet. Despite his DNA, he is human like us in all the ways that matter. However, Krypton is not there.

It is not even like revisiting your house after a fire. This is an entire planet, light years away, that exploded some 20-30 years ago — depending on what DC has to say about Superman’s age at any given moment. They are not even ruins to revisit, just an empty place like any other in the void of space.

Superman wanting to make a pilgrimage back is fine. However, he is also smart enough to realize that there is nothing to return to and instead, I don’t know, spend some time with his son.

Krypton: Lois, Clark, and Jor-El have a rap session
Margot Kidder looks on as Christopher Reeve and hologram Marlon Brando have a chat about this and that in SUPERMAN II. (Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures)

The Types of Krypton Stories: He Just Wants to Know, You Know?

In this example, Superman has a scholarly interest in Krypton. Stories like this feature him palling around with holograms, spirits, scrolls, stone tablets, computers…whatever. Essentially anything that you can record information on, Kal-El has encountered and used to gain information about the planet of his birth.

Some of these stories take the form of Superman needing to unearth some secret from Krypton’s past to save the future. Others — the more common ones, I feel — concern Superman just looking into it for the sake of knowing more. Last — and most rarely — the Man of Tomorrow is sometimes compelled to hear about Krypton by some sort of system that he has no choice but submit to.

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Why I Object

Again, I kind of don’t. Nothing wrong with a little curiosity, I say. Especially when it is curiosity about your place of birth. It is a perfectly reasonable thing. Moreover, when Clark needs to dive into the past to find solutions to present day problems it can create a pretty compelling narrative.

However, the most common kind of stories are also deadly boring. Unless you are a wizard of a storyteller, watching Superman wander around the Fortress of Solitude listening to a hologram of his dad explain why Kryptonians love the sweet sounds of experimental jazz does not a compelling story make.

Additionally, while Superman does like to take a rest every now and then, that is not his natural state. Even when he’s not out saving the world, he likes people and he likes being around people. The idea that Superman, upon finding some time on his hands, would spend it amongst the past alone rather than as Clark Kent in the newsroom or with Lois and Jonathan or his mom feels wrong to me. Heck, I think he’d even pick hanging out with the Justice League and shooting the breeze for a bit.

Krypton: Rogol Zaar
A face only a mother could love, a claim that I simply cannot. Folks, I give you Rogol Zaar. (Courtesy of DC Comics)

The Types of Krypton Stories: The Secret Architect of Doom

This subset of Krypton invasion is what we see going on with the current run in MAN OF STEEL or, previously, the first SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE OGN.

A new villain shows up on Earth with a grudge towards Superman. Either immediately or later on — to give it more of a dramatic shock — the villain reveals he has a connection to Krypton. Not any random connection either. No. This villain…is the reason Krypton exploded! Cue music sting!

The reasoning follows that this cannot be any old fight for Superman. This monster who has been laying waste to Earth in the name of running down the Man of Tomorrow? He is so much worse than that. The worst of the worst, in fact, because he destroyed Superman’s world. Surely the Man of Steel will be more motivated than ever to take this villain down. Additionally, he must be more distracted by his emotions than we have witnessed to date.

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Why I Object

I don’t buy. I just don’t.

As covered before, Kal-El’s connection to Krypton is a distant one. He never knew anyone who lived there, he was wholly unaware of the brief time she drew breath while in its atmosphere. I’d argue, as a result, he would not experience a visceral all-consuming sense of loss at encountering the baddie that ended life on it.

He would, however, have a tremendous response to a villain who destroyed ANY planet. Heck, the bad guy need only threaten to a planet to get a rise out of Supes. The Smallville Wonder has a great belief in the sanctity of sentient life anywhere. The second reason I dislike this one is that I hate the idea of someone causing Krypton’s downfall as opposed to the citizens’ refusal to take the science seriously.

There are good stories about villains destroying planets. Lots of them. There are less good stories about a combination of hubris and denial taking down a planet. And even less good ones about that combination dooming a planet that is the home of a highly advanced society that well could have saved themselves. Instead, they denied the evidence, rejected attempts to help, and all but one lost their lives as a result. Or a few if you allow for Supergirl, the dog, and so on.

That’s an interesting, unusual story. Why generic it up by blaming the planetwide destruction on a mustache twirler? I love a good planet destroying villain as much as the next person, but I love even more a story that does something different.

Krypton: Black Mercy
Batman and Wonder Woman look on as Superman goes to his happy place in the “For the Man Who Has Everything.” (Courtesy of DC Comics)

The Types of Krypton Stories: A Deep Longing

Have you ever read “For the Man Who Has Everything?” For those who have not, it is this excellent Alan Moore penned, Dave Gibbons story that sees Superman inviting Wonder Woman, Batman, and Robin to the Fortress of Solitude to help him celebrate his birthday. However, when they arrive, they find a villain has attached spore to Kal’s chest that puts him into a kind of coma where he believes he is living his dream life.

It is excellent, but one thing sticks out rather glaringly. Clark Kent’s perfect life does not include Lois. It doesn’t include the Kents. Earth is not even in the picture. Instead, his dream is a life on an undestroyed Krypton, hanging out with his biological parents, about to marry a Kryptonian girl, and so on.

There is a bit of this in the above mentioned SUPERMAN #141. When Supes ends up back in time on his birth planet, he seems rather non-plussed and quickly gets to courting a young woman and spending time with his parents. The bottom line on these stories is Superman feels like an outsider and actually longs for a life where Krypton never exploded and he lived his life there.

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Why I Object

Because it is nonsense.

Superman grew up as Clark Kent on Earth. The family he has truly felt love for is on Earth. His friends are largely on Earth (they do sometimes go into space). Even before he married had a child with Lois, nearly every woman he loved at any given time was on Earth.

None of them were on Krypton. Krypton was a thing that exists in drawings and holograms. He might sometimes think, “Wouldn’t be neat if…” but Kal-El is a human being in all but genetic makeup. His dream life is on Earth. Always has been, always will be.

Krypton: KRYPTON
Krypton evidently had cows given the amount of leather on this planet as observed in the TV series KRYPTON. (Courtesy of SyFy)

The Types of Krypton Stories: But Wait! There’s More!

Sometimes Krypton pushes itself in so significantly it shoves Superman right out of the picture. The current SyFy TV series is perhaps the most dedicated example of this storytelling, but we also saw it in the interminable 25-minute sequence in Zach Snyder’s MAN OF STEEL.

The reasoning for these stories is fairly straightforward. Surely Krypton was a cool place with lots of exciting events to chronicle even years before it exploded.

As with any place — be it planet, continent, country to city — there will always be interesting stories to tell. So, yeah, I bet Krypton might.

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Why I Object

I object to the kind of “let’s watch Krypton just before it exploded” choice that the MAN OF STEEL movie made because it is rarely particularly interesting. For five minutes, you can tell a hell of an emotional short story about a planet facing their demise any minute and a couple firing their son into space to survive. Longer than five minutes? That lily is plenty gilded thank you.

The second kind, the one we are seeing in the KRYPTON tv series is that age-old “do something new” canard. Like it or not what makes Krypton interesting is that it is a world that explodes and gives us Superman. Go back far in the past and you lose that element. Lose that element and you could be telling a story about nearly any alien world with human-looking aliens living on it. So call it something else and make its own thing. Build us some new legends.

I know in the case of KRYPTON in specific there is a conspiracy element that ties into ensuring Superman’s future is not erased. However, this is an ongoing TV show, not a limited series. That means the story will be drawn out to last the length of several seasons. Or, alternatively, they’ll wrap it up in a single season. If they go that route, they have to come up with new plots. That brings us right back to the objection I started this section out with.

Krypton: Jor-El and Lara
Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer get ready to send that baby out into the universe in a scene from MAN OF STEEL. (Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures)

Get On the Rocket

If Krypton was real, I am sure its history would be resplendent with important art, incredible discoveries, and wondrous inventions. Krypton, however, is not real.

Instead, it is a storytelling device. A thing that existed to act as a catalyst for one of the most remarkable creative creations of the 20th Century. In fact, it was so impressive a creation, I can write about it today not as an artifact but as living breathing aspect of our current pop culture.

In that context, the greatest thing Krypton ever did was explode. After all these years, after so many attempts to go back to it, that remains its most impressive accomplishment. I cannot say that someday someone won’t find a way to do a truly interesting, breathtaking story about Krypton that does right by Superman, too. What I can say, though, is until that day arrives, let’s all leave Krypton in the past. Focus on Superman’s present and future instead.

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