Wednesday, 24 February 2010

The World Of Krypton #4

Family History

Story: John Byrne
Pencils: Mike Mignola
Inks: Carlos Garzon
Colors: Petra Scotese
Lettering: John Workman
Editor: Michael Carlin
Cover Artists: John Byrne, Walt Simonson
Cover Date: March 1988
Release Date: 10/11/1987

A missile streaks across the Metropolis skyline. Its target: The Daily Planet. Before it can strike, Superman grabs it and throws it into space where it explodes harmlessly. Landing in a side-alley, he changes into his Clark Kent clothes and walks back to the Planet building. Lois and Jimmy come running out of the doors, looking for the story behind the missile. Lois is upset to find Clark on the scene, confronting him over his ability to scoop Superman stories, demanding to know details of his special relationship with the super-hero. Clark dismisses her accusations, pointing out that she has more bylines on Superman stories, and that Jimmy, as 'Superman's Pal', has a more public relationship. However, in order to calm her down, he tells her that Superman was planning to stop by her apartment that evening to give her an exclusive.

That night, Superman arrives to give Lois her story. She baits him, asking if the story isn't good enough for Kent. Although Superman doesn't rise to that particular bait, he does get her to confess that Kent is starting to get to her, finding him adorable at times. Superman starts to tell her his tale, the story of what happened to his homeworld Krypton.

In the aftermath of the 'clone wars', Kryptonian society became more fragmented, with each individual Kryptonian living alone, communicating by hologram, and only physically meeting at times of great importance. The warsuits were refined and enhanced until they became slim webbed garments, worn next to the skin. Eventually, they became so enhanced that they were fitted to a child at birth and grew along with the infant. Children were produced to order, only to replace a deceased adult, most of whom only died in old age.

He then describes his father, Jor-El, an untypical Kryptonian who replaced his obsession with his planet's history when he became the first Kryptonian in countless generations to fall in love, with an archivist named Lara. Following these feelings, he made the unsual choice to visit the gestation chamber where his son was growing. Whilst there, he named his son Kal-El. Upon his return, he confesses to his robots that he is completely dissatisfied with his life.

A few weeks later, a series of tremors rock Krypton, followed by a general weakening of all of Krypton's inhabitants. His father, Seyg-El, tells him that he feels that he is dying. Jor-El sets up a secret chamber staffed by his robots, and starts collecting data. He makes two significant discoveries - that over 20 million Kryptonians have died in the last day, and that their deaths are related to the tremors. Researching further, he comes across an image of Van-L, and remembers the day that his viewing of the historical tapes was interrupted. Returning to the tapes, he discoveres the Black Zero detonation, and fears the worst.

Jor-El departs the city and heads into the wilds of Krypton. After a long journey, he arrives at the former site of the Black Zero facility. There, a short scan confirms his worst fears, and he returns home. Upon arriving back, he is informed by his robots that Kal-El has been taken from the gestation chamber and placed within a birthing matrix. Lara confronts him, and Jor-El tells her everything. When Van-L detonated the nuclear device, he saved Krypton from an instant death, but condemned it to a lingering one. The energies passed into the planet's core have been slowly turning it to a new, unidentified, green material that emits a radiation that has killed countless Kryptonians and will eventually kill everyone. More importantly, the conversion is building up energy that will soon destroy the planet.

Jor-El shows Lara his plan - to send Kal-El away from Krypton in the birthing matrix to a planet called Earth, where he will live. Lara is repulsed by the image of a bare-chested farmer, calling humans savage and brutal, and despairing of the hell that her son will be sent to. Jor-El shows her the yellow sun that the Earth orbits, telling her that Kal-El will be gifted with great power by this sun and live as a God there.

More explosions rock Krypton. As the birthing matrix is finished being converted to a rocket, the crust of teh planet starts to crack. The rocket is launched and sent to Earth. As Krypton starts to fall apart, Jor-El and Lara hug for the first time, and Jor-El tells Lara of his love for her.

Back in the present, an emotional Superman tells Lois that his father's gift to him wasn't the powers which he uses, but rather the fact that he has not been raised on Krypton - he has been given the gift of humanity.

This a really dense issue, packed with multiple plot threads, that wraps up the story of Krypton's history and ties it all into the then-current Superman comics.

For the first time in the World Of Krypton, we open on Earth, with the Daily Planet taking the place of the Kryptonian city featured on the first panel of each preceding issue. It's also the first issue to take place in the release schedule present, taking place at any point in the immediate runup to the recently-concluded Millennium crossover, specifically Adventures of Superman #437 where Lois discovers that Superman and Clark Kent grew up together. The present-day scenes are lively and funny, my particular favourite moment being the suggestion that Lois dragged Jimmy out of the loo to go snap pictures of the missile aftermath. The Superman/Lois scene fits neatly into the pre-millennium story, with Lois admitting that Clark is getting to her.

The narration of the last days of Krypton feels a little stilted. The status of Krypton at the time of its death takes a lot of setting up, and there are two pages in the middle of the issue that are pure info-dump exposition. Added to this, the final six pages cover the exact same ground as the opening eight pages of The Man of Steel #1, published two years earlier. There is feeling that Jor-El's story ran out of steam between the end of the previous issue and the discovery of the doom of Krypton. But at the same time, the series is called The World of Krypton, and whilst adding little to the narrative, details like the evolution of the battlesuits into skin-tight bodysuits do provide more information about the Krypton, even if it has little to do with story itself.

It's hard to imagine what the intention was with this issue. The opening of The Man of Steel remained fundamentally unaltered by the addition of a scene where Jor-El discovers that his father is dying, or that his ancestor was closely tied to the events that have doomed his planet. The story of Jor-El as presented in MoS#1 is that of a man realising too late that his world is doomed, and choosing to save his only son, and ultimately, at the end of this issue, this story is still the same. Even the addition of a couple of panels where Superman cries and tells Lois about his father's true gift seems rushed, glib, and a pale reflection of the much stronger finish to The Man of Steel #6.

The World of Krypton was an interesting mini-series. Krypton had been shown as radically different to the Silver Age version in The Man of Steel #1, and for readers at the time, this series was a great reveal of where Kal-El had come from. The narrative tricks in the series, with each issue taking the reader away from the events within, from following first-hand in #1, to the flashbacks in #2, recordings in #3, and finally narrated memories in #4, work well and, despite the differences in each issue, work to create a strong identity for the series. The series falls down in the final issue with the lack of a strong resolution, and by not bringing anything new to the familiar 'death of Krypton' scene.

The World of Krypton has been collected several times since its first printing. The most recent printing was the Superman: The World of Krypton TPB which collected several notable Krypton stories, both pre- and post-Crisis.

The From Crisis to Crisis podcast episode covering The World of Krypton can be found at this link, and covers all four issues in just over 1.5 hours.

Next time on World of Superman: We dip our toes into the Golden Age as we take a look at the origins of several stalwarts of Superman's supporting cast - The Guardian and the Newsboy Legion.

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