Season One, Episodes One & Two — “Pilot”, “House of El”
By Jarrod Jones. I might have groaned a bit less at the concept of a “Superman show without Superman” were it not for Fox’s Gotham. After a couple of seasons mentally digesting Bruno Heller’s garish nightmare parade of DC-adjacent tomfoolery, the idea of somebody else exploring a recognizable world without its central super-hero character felt like an exercise in futility. (So, is that Jerome kid officially the Joker now, guys? I tapped out on Gotham years ago.)
But then it occurred to me — this is Krypton. Krypton. DC Comics has been slowly rolling back the veil on Superman’s long-since destroyed home world for generations. We know so much about that doomed planet that entire books have been written about it. There’s enough history and lore built around Krypton that, hell yeah, there could be a show about it! And a pretty damn good one, to boot!
That’s what I’ve been chewing on for the last two weeks. It’s been flying around the internet that Krypton might be “the best Superman show ever made”. Is it? While it’s certainly the most ambitious show about Superman ever made, will it capture a sense of wonder, nobility and excitement — traits the Man of Steel has come to personify? What will Krypton add to the Superman mythos that wasn’t already there?
Superficially, its scale befits that of a grand Superman epic. It introduces Brainiac as a horrifying adversary, something that’s never really been committed to live action before. (Crazy, I know, though god knows Tim Burton tried.) It’s set 200 years before a certain spit-curled baby came wailing into the rays of Krypton’s red sun. And it throws you head-long into the various houses, sigils, and guilds that made up the society of ancient Krypton, and all the tumult that comes with them. It’s a lot to take in, but for those willing to play along, Krypton has more than a few surprises in store.
The story of Krypton, developed by David S. Goyer and Damian Kindler, begins 14 years before even all that, where Superman’s great-great-grandfather Val-El (Ser Barristan himself, Ian McElhinney) has defied Krypton’s laws by traversing the Phantom Zone and accidentally stumbling across hostile extraterrestrial life. Convinced an alien threat is headed Krypton’s way (albeit very slowly), Val goes before Daron-Vex (Elliot Cowan, just as slimy as his surname implies) who quickly accuses him of treason. Val is summarily executed in front of his family, and his house is stripped of its honor.
Flash-forward 14 years, and Val’s grandson Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe) is a Kandor City scrapper, staging fights at the local watering hole to earn money for his disgraced family. Seg is handsome in a generic, premium cable sort of way, and the show frames him (in the pilot episode anyway) as a smart-assy, Abrams–era Captain Kirk type. He has a funny bartender friend (Kem, played by Rasmus Hardiker) and a forbidden romance with a member of the Military Guild, Lyta-Zod (Georgina Campbell). This is Superman’s grandfather and the hero of the series. As such, Krypton has quite an arc built for him.
This being a DC Comics adaptation, and one that skews more towards the grittier trappings found in Man of Steel than it does the shining optimism in Superman: The Animated Series, Seg-El needs even more of a tragic backstory in order to begin his quest towards destiny. In that regard, the show hastily kills off Seg’s parents, who have been quietly nurturing Val’s heretical findings at great risk. Seg’s folks are killed by Jayna-Zod (Ann Ogbomo, who is great), which makes his relationship with her daughter Lyta even more problematic. (As a “rankless” member of society, Seg can’t smooch on people with a higher station than himself.)
Krypton isn’t shy about how it frames its society’s ills. The Science Council has acquiesced to the religious teachings of the Voice of Rao (who hides behind six golden faces and likes to creep up on people). The city of Kandor is governed by status, and chief amongst them is Daron-Vex, who later tries to get Seg to join his house by marrying him to his daughter Nyssa (Wallis Day, who is very dreamy, and who I can easily see usurping the villainous role from her father in time). Daron is ready to employ authoritarian rule to hold Kandor in place if needs be (he even has a few monologues ready to rock just in case it wasn’t clear), and the Military Guild is quickly becoming more fanatical as the series’ other existential threat, Black Zero, looms in the background. The rankless, depicted as kind people who look out for each other, live in hovels, while the elite, shown here as shifty-eyed ambitious types, live in spires which scrape Krypton’s bronzed skies.
With its achingly conventional dystopic worldview Krypton looks and sounds like a YA film in places, particularly that of the Divergent series, right down to some dubious looking tattoos. Revolution is coming, Seg says in voice-over, presumably to his far more famous grandson. And House El led the way. *sexy jaw clench*
Speaking of Superman, you’re probably wondering where he fits in all this. Clearly Krypton has plenty of plot to burn through in this 10-episode season, so it should come as little surprise that what should be its most exciting wrinkle is also its most extraneous. Spaceman Adam Strange (Shaun Sipos) travels back through time at the behest of the Man of Steel (offscreen) to aid Seg in saving Krypton from obliteration at the hands of Brainiac. He convinces him of this by bringing a cape straight from Superman’s broad shoulders, withering away slowly as time runs out for the future. (Think Marty McFly’s family snapshot from Back to the Future. Same diff.) It’s not enough that Seg must save Krypton from itself, but he also has to save it from Brainiac, and by extension of that he has to save the universe.
Big stakes. Fittingly portentous execution. Yet Krypton has a sense of humor, kind of — it’s tucked away in these two episodes, provided by Adam Strange, and Seg, who has a hilarious awkward brush-up with The Voice of Rao in the second episode. (Check the BEST LINES section below.)
There’s romance, too, with Seg and Lyta and Nyssa forming the show’s love triangle. Seg shares chemistry with both — more so with Nyssa than with Lyta, though her mom’s hand in his parents’ death seems to have made things awkward. That’s all well and good, because Lyta’s storyarc is enough for a series unto itself, and maybe it’d be the more exciting one: in “House of El”, Lyta simultaneously earns her mother’s hard-won respect and stops a Military Guild attack on the rankless by beating her commanding officer to death with her bare hands in a death match. When she sees her mother again, there’s a bit of pride glinting in her eyes. In a show like Krypton, it’s the Zod’s who do the neck-breakin’ around here.
“Ah, your reverence. I didn’t see you there.” – Daron-Vex, to the Voice of Rao. I love how Krypton’s god-like figure slinks around behind people’s backs.
“…” – The Voice of Rao.
“I don’t care what a big deal you might be on the planet Detroit.” – Sig-El, to Adam.
“May Rao’s grace be your shield.” – Jayna-Zod, to Lyta-Zod.
Voice of Rao: “May Rao’s light forever guide your way.” Seg-El: “You, too.”
BEST MOMENT: Seg-El takes his grandson’s cape in his hands, the camera pulls up to reveal the El house sigil, and the score pipes in a few notes from John Williams’ legendary Superman score.
EPISODE’S MVP: Ann Ogbomo’s Jayna-Zod is the character I’m most excited to watch develop. How she interacts with Georgina Campbell will likely set the show’s emotional trajectory, and reveal how rapidly Kandor goes to seed even before Brainiac shows up.
– The Military Guild’s uniforms look just like those in Superman: World of New Krypton, created by James Robinson, Greg Rucka and Pete Woods back in 2009.
– Stick a pin in Black Zero for now; the second episode, “House of El”, doesn’t offer much more in terms of clues behind how the fanatical group will be depicted on the show, but it does go further into how its actions are weaving xenophobia into the Military Guild. I’m guessing they’re gonna turn out like Denis Leary’s group in Demolition Man.
– Adam Strange wears a Tigers cap and Seg thinks Earth is called ‘Detroit’. Likely Michigan shout from Michi-fellas, David S. Goyer and Geoff Johns
– Looks like Adam Strange smokes Luthorello cigarettes. Now, who workshopped that name.
– Kryptonians breed as they do in Post-Crisis DC continuity — in birthing matrices. Eww.
– Krypton is really into smearing blood all over people’s faces.
– Ann Ogbomo was featured in Wonder Woman and Justice League as the Amazonian warrior, Philippus.
– (Adam, concerning the lucky new owner of his beloved Tigers cap) “He’s not even a fan!” Keep that gatekeeping mess out of our Superman show, Adam.
– The episode expedites Seg’s ascension into the science council just for him to gain access to the Krypton’s memory banks, all for him to call Adam’s bluff, if he is in fact bluffing. (Spoiler: He ain’t bluffing.)
– “‘The blood of House El…’ I know, I’ll rip my hand open and bleed all over this console!”
– House El cured the Green Death years and years ago. So there’s been a cure for kryptonite poisoning in the El databanks all along? Man, Superman is gonna be pissed.
– So it seems the Phantom Zone was discovered by Grampa Supes, which alters canon a bit — Jor-El, Val’s great-grandson, is the scientist who originally discovered the Zone in the comics (and, it should be mentioned, all of the movies).
– What do you think, kids? Does Krypton fly high for you? Is the Vex family name a bit too on-the-nose for the fussy family? How do you like Braniac’s look? Sound off in the comments below.
7 out of 10