Although they’ve spent the last few years playing catch-up with Marvel, DC Comics and their associated affiliates have finally stepped up to the plate with a smorgasbord of comic-related programming on televison. From Arrow, to The Flash, and the just-debuted Supergirl, DC’s pantheon of television stars continues to grow ever larger – not to mention Batman-prequel series Gotham, taking place while Bruce Wayne is still a young boy, as well as Constantine, based on the Vertigo comic line of the same name – and the train shows no sign of slowing down. Not only that, but an in-production slate of films that offer plenty of large-scale action and some truly epic showdowns; Man of Steel kicked off the DCEU (DC Extended Universe), which will continue with 2016’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, followed by David Ayers’ Suicide Squad and then some Justice League and Aquaman and Wonder Woman and Batman films down the line. Yeah, DC’s ball is rolling, and there’s plenty of anticipation for success.
One chink in this armour, however, is mooted 2016 series Krypton. Creative overlord of most things DC, David Goyer, has indicated this new television series will follow Gotham’s lead and explore the history of Superman’s birthplace before Kal El was even born – yeah, Krypton doesn’t have “superheroes”, in the sense we know them – because Kryptonians only become superhuman when they come to Earth. What it does have is a fairly large-canvas segment of antagonists and side-characters which have been retroactively written into Superman’s history over decades of comic publications. General Zod, Non, Ursa, Braniac – the list goes on if you include relatively new creations in Doomsday.
So how would a pre-Superman Krypton series look? Well, kinda like a cross between Smallville and Star Trek, I think, given Goyer’s secondary stipulation that the series would exist within the continuity of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel film. Krypton’s look was established with Russell Crowe’s Jor El leaping onto Avatar-like creatures to escape Michael Shannon’s General Zod, just prior to the planet going bang bang. And if we’re honest, the sequences on Krypton were possibly the most redundant stuff in the film; which makes the idea of taking that premise and extending it into a television series a little worrying. What was once a MacGuffin piece of two-panel exposition to get Kal El to Earth has since become an “need to explain and explore” backstory mined heavily to somehow make Superman more fallible with his steadfast sense of duty around him.
Comparisons with Gotham are not only evident, but expected. But consider the prime reason anybody at all watches a show about Batman’s home city: the villains. The Joker, Penguin, Scarecrow et al, all have wormed their way into the general public’s conciousness in a way I’d imagine Superman’s have not. Ask any Joe on the street who Braniac is, you’d probably get a blank stare and a query as to whether you’d taken your medication. Ask that same question about Lex Luthor? Bang: people know who you’re talking about. It stands to reason that many of Superman’s historical foes, outside of perhaps Zod and Luthor, aren’t as well known, and would make people scratch their heads as to why all this stuff needed to be told if most of it was going to explode in the end anyway.
At least Gotham makes some kind of relatable sense – Bruce Wayne is a human being (unlike Superman) and so we can empathise with his plight, and so too is his rogues gallery, as established by Gotham’s canny casting as well as two decades of films depicting everything from the Joker, Two Face, Riddler, Catwoman and Penguin. And Mr Freeze. I’ll pay that. Superman’s rogues gallery – Luthor aside – tends to be hyper-powered aliens or Kryptonian refugees seeking some claim to revenge against Kal El’s continued existence. Superman’s history before he came to Earth isn’t well known beyond the established story of Jor El sending his baby boy to Earth, the last of his kind, as far as the casual viewer would know. Again, average Joe will just blink stupidly at you if you ask who Braniac is. Or even Doomsday, for that matter. None of Superman’s villains or pre-Earth history is even relevant to us, is it? Throw in the fact that whatever happens on Krypton is moot considering the planet’s inevitable destruction, and you have a series doomed before it even begins. Who wants to sit through a show where most of the characters are going to die anyway?
Goyer’s assertion that the show will take place some 200 years ago (which is even more bizarre, because that excludes the idea of Jor El and his family even being alive) begs even more questions. Who will be the main character? Why would I invest in a character whose outcome is known and whose impact on Superman some 2 centuries later seems minimal at best? This whole series doesn’t make sense, at least from a storytelling perspective beyond simply attaching a drama to a marketable name like Krypton and going from there. Will the series explore the Kandor aspects of Superman’s mythos? Will Doomsday’s creation become a factor? Braniac? Krypton’s past-based narrative prevents even Zod, Non and Ursa from showing up, not to mention Superman staples such as Lex Luthor.
Look, I’m as big a Superman fan as you’ll find (although seeing what they’ve done to the character in the current “New 52” universe is, frankly, appalling, and is not Superman as far as I’m concerned) but Krypton’s foundational status as a pre-pre-prequel to Man of Steel worries me greatly. The question of what this show is going to bring to the table to enhance a backstory best left to “rocketed to Earth from an exploding planet” is the biggest challenge Krypton faces. For me, it’s well down on the list of fantasy DC projects I’d like to see, and I can see it quickly sinking if it doesn’t even feature Superman – hell, Superman’s the main selling point, and you’re not gonna be able to show him? Why bother at all, then?
Ugh. The idea of Krypton stinks. Please, I hope the concept goes nova and never sees the light of day.
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