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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Static Thoughts - 10 Things To Expect from Syfy's Krypton

Edited by Robert Beach 

One of the big trends of the 2010s has been the rise of superheroes on TV. Honestly, it’s not that surprising. Superheroes are built from the ground up for syndicated storytelling, and the episodic format of television is a much better fit for that than the limited scale and structure of a film. We’ve had fun and exciting adventures like Supergirl, weird and wonderful adaptations like Flash, thoughtful exploration of the genre like Jessica Jones, and adventurous explorations like Legends of Tomorrow. Now, David Goyer and Syfy plan to add a new name to the roster of superhero television with a Superman prequel show following the Man of Steel’s grandfather Seyg-El entitled Krypton, following the same naming and focus convention of Fox’s Gotham.

Gotham is a show with a lot of problems, but the junky prequel set-up is a big one. David Goyer has managed to write 1 genuinely good superhero movie on his own, so a lot of folks are rightfully worried. However, I’m not quite as cynical (or possibly just more delusional), so I’ve compiled a list of 10 DC comics elements that could show up in Krypton that would make it an awesome experience; let us list them. 

Admittedly, throwing together the terms “General Zod” and “David Goyer” is enough to throw even the staunchest Man of Steel apologist into fits of well-deserved anger. As much as I didn’t like Superman killing General Zod, what I did like was the General Zod stuff that came before. In such a mangled and mishandled flick as Man of Steel, General Zod was one of the genuinely bright spots as he was an interesting character driven by a motivation I actually understood and a degree of genuine conflict. He’s a man driven by genetic engineering to protect his people while simultaneously chained by the same engineering only to be able to approach the problem via force and conflict; there’s potential there for drama. 

Bringing Zod into the Krypton prequel show would be a chance to explore the less overtly evil aspects of his persona.  After all, it’s commonly established he's a military hero to the people of Krypton. So having him pop up as a hero here and setting up a slow fall to the dark side would make a lot of sense. I’m not sure it would totally fit the timescale of the show if it really is set around Superman’s grandfather, but they could still make Zod fit into the overall set-up. 

This might sound like a strange suggestion but bare with me here. Assuming the Bizarro rights are in some kind of shared custody deal between Syfy’s Krypton and CW/CBS’ Supergirl, bringing Bizarro into Krypton could be a great twist or even as a season-long arc. The knee-jerk thinking by most on Bizarro is he couldn’t appear in a Superman prequel show because he’s an imperfect duplicate of Superman, That’s not exactly true. The more common, modern origin for Bizarro is he’s a failed clone of Superman whose DNA breaks down in such a way to make him chalk white and stone-y. This means that literally any Kryptonian clone is at risk for becoming a Bizarro.

Using the clone concept to fit Bizarro into Krypton would be a clever way around expectations. What’s more, making cloning and genetic engineering a big part of the show would fit with a lot of the stories surrounding Krypton. Krypton has been through multiple reimaginings and redesigns in its extended history, but in the ‘90s, the prevailing idea was Krypton was all about clones and genetic engineering.  While I think a good Krypton show would draw from all previous incarnations of the planet, drawing from that era could work really well as a sense of tension and for a surprise reveal. 

The Phantom Zone is another element that would have to exist in a form of shared continuity with CW/CBS’ Supergirl show, yet I think it’d be easier in this case than Bizarro. On Supergirl, the Phantom Zone has characterized a portion of space, much the same way the Phantom Zone in Man of Steel was a warp drive.  Nowhere in current Superman adaptations has the zone been defined as what it is in the comics: an alternate dimension that renders inhabitants as spectral beings. 

The dimensional version of the Phantom Zone has a ton of interesting dynamics in terms of what else is hiding inside the dimension and could generate plenty of great story concepts for a series. The show could focus on the discovery of the Phantom Zone, the decision to start imprisoning people within, attempts to explore and chart the zone, or the idea that maybe other species have discovered ways to access it. The Phantom Zone is one of the most useful and unique aspects of the Superman universe, a big holding tank for all the ideas and characters authors might want to explore later or can’t keep anywhere else. It's the perfect concept for a serialized epic concerning a planet’s slow march to oblivion. 

The only real way a Superman prequel show would be interesting is if it was expanded to be more of a prequel to the entire DC cosmic universe rather than just Superman. There’s a reason Krypton is a well writers constantly return to and explore further while “Metropolis/Smallville before Superman” has almost never been explored on panel. In that respect, throwing in the Green Lanterns, especially Tomar-Re, the Green Lantern who would eventually fail to save Krypton, is a logical place to start. 

The great thing about a Green Lantern episode of Krypton is they wouldn’t need to be a persistent part of the show, simply a fun addition for an episode or 2.  They’re an easy way to make the universe feel much broader, richer, and more vibrant and alive.  At the same time, a vision of the Green Lanterns that can’t rely on tired crutches like the Sinestro Corps or the Red Lanterns could present them in a much more unique and imaginative light.  I mean, Sinestro could show up as a hero on the show alongside Abin Sur, the Green Lantern before Hal Jordan.  Aside from acting as great pop-in characters, the Lanterns bring a whole host of unique bad guys like the Weaponers of Qward and the Manhunters, to raise the stakes of any given season. 

The thing about Brainiac and the bottle city of Kandor is they’re easily two of the most versatile and important parts of the Superman mythos that modern authors can’t stand. Brainiac is a perfect Superman bad guy, a big, evil sentient computer that can mind control literally any technology and shrinks cities to collect them before destroying the original. He comes custom made with an army of henchmen, a ship that looks like his own skull, and a unique weapon that means he doesn’t need Kryptonite to actively fight Superman.  His city collection is a perfect entry point into plenty more civilizations and aspects of the cosmic side of the DCU.  What’s more, Brainiac is one of the only Superman threats that can easily threaten any given planet.

Krypton could craft an entire season of television around Brainiac coming to Krypton to steal Kandor before being driven off. Season-long arcs are big business now, so crafting a war story against the ultimate computer menace would be a dynamite plotline.  The bottom line here is there just aren’t that many villains you could bring into a Krypton show, and Brainiac is one of the bigger and easier bad guys to feature. Throwing him into the show and building a whole story around his attack on Krypton would be an easy way to take care of the antagonist for an entire season. 

Speaking of bizarre villains, Black Zero is one of the stranger aspects of Superman history, but one worth diving back into. In the ‘60s, Black Zero was a space saboteur who claimed he was responsible for Krypton’s destruction. That idea was later retconned into a Clone’s Rights group in the ‘90s as part of that "Krypton Does Cloning" stuff I mentioned in the Bizarro entry. That vision of Black Zero could make for a compelling antagonist group, especially given the House of El’s ties to science.  ‘90s Black Zero was still responsible for Krypton’s destruction as it seems to be one of the only truly persistent points of their characterization. Having them around could be a nice long-running build up to Krypton’s inevitable doom. 

Conversely, Goyer actually used the term "Black Zero" in his script for Man of Steel to describe the “world engine” terraforming device that was dropped on the Indian Ocean. If Goyer and Syfy want to stick with that interpretation of the Black Zero, it could work to examine Krypton’s terraforming history and the space empire they maintained prior to the isolationism that contributed to their extinction. Framing the show’s opening as Kal-El’s granddad touring the lapses colonies of Krypton would be a great engine to keep the story going. 

This one is a lot less likely than most of the other names on this list; I still think it’d be pretty great.  Doomsday has a number of origins, though his initial explanation was he was an alien organism crafted by malevolent scientists on ancient Krypton. The idea was ancient Krypton was one of the deadliest environments in the universe, so the scientists used it as a way to force the Doomsday entity through rapid evolution, constantly having it get killed and resurrected, evolving to be immune to that manner of death. 

That’s a junky explanation if ever there was one, and it’s really not a concept worth keeping around, though it does link Doomsday to Krypton.  Later in continuity, Doomsday was essentially just a genetically enhanced Kryptonian, the origin David Goyer and friends chose to adapt for Dawn of Justice. That honestly seems like the better way to go with the character, which could easily fit into the Krypton setting. Making Doomsday the pinnacle of Krypton’s genetic research gone horribly wrong as they send it off-world for future generations to deal with would be a great way to lend some degree of depth and meaning to the character besides big, dumb monster.

This is a bit of a weird one, though it ties to something Krypton really needs to do if it will work as a show. Rao is the name of Krypton’s sun as well as the name of their God in post-Crisis visions of Krypton.  Given this, worshipping Rao should be at least a detail informing the overall canvas of Krypton; something to help remind the audience that, yes, this is meant to be an alien planet even if everyone there looks human. Funny thing about Rao though, it’s not just the name of Krypton’s sun. It's the identity of an actual deity. Because this is the DC universe, that means the God Rao actually exists. That’s one of the unique aspects of having mythic heroes like Thor and Wonder Woman around is it means alien Gods also exist. 

Rao’s status as a deity is a spotty subject but he was actually manifested, sort of, in the mega-series New Krypton.  In that event, Kryptonian scientist Jax-Ur discovered a way to create a stable solar plasma form that Rao incarnated into.  It’s a weird concept but it also opens the door to stuff like designer Gods, Kryptonian myth, and avatars of the Kryptonian pantheon for story points on Krypton.  Bringing in gods and myth, especially space gods, would be a really unique way to take a series as sci-fi oriented as Krypton would have to be.  What’s more, because the realm of myth is without distance you could have the Gods of Krypton interact with folks like the Gods of Mars or even Earth Gods like Zeus or Odin. 

Starro is a lot like Brainiac in that he’s one of the greatest and most fundamental comic book villains of all time that modern writers have completely rejected for exactly no reason. If you’ve never encountered the star conqueror before, Starro is a giant space starfish that threatens entire planets.  You’d think that a starfish the size of a continent would be enough of a threat, but that’s not actually Starro’s greatest ability. It's his power to asexually reproduce and spawn smaller versions of himself. The smaller Starros can range from the size of a building to about normal size and, again conversely, the normal-sized Starros are the real threat. The small Starros can latch onto the faces of sentient beings and mind control them to do whatever the Star conqueror demands. 

This essentially allows Starro to take over whole planets by raining tiny versions of himself down on the population and turning the masses into mindless thralls of the star conqueror. Much like Brainiac, Starro’s real power as a conqueror is turning the tools of the society against the people. Using Starro as an enemy of Krypton proper, or perhaps one of its colonies, could make for anything from a great 2-parter to a full season long arc, trapping our heroes against a zombified populous captured by villainous stellar starfish. 

File this last suggestion under "thing that would be amazing, but they’ll never do." If you’ve never encountered him before, Titano is one of those amazingly creative and incredibly charming Silver Age concepts that most modern fans like to pretend didn’t happen (as they try to prove comics are so mature and so forth). He was a chimp shot into space, passed through some radiation, and came back as a giant monkey with kryptonite vision. Titano’s been brought back a few times since then with a number of re-imaginings of how his Kryptonite powers and size might work. Personally, I’m a traditionalist and favor “giant space chimp” above all other explanations. 

While I’m not sure it would totally fit the timeline of Krypton, it’d be amazing if Superman’s granddad Seyg-El came upon a NASA pod with a kryptonite-powered super ape would be an amazing one-off episode. I mentioned earlier Krypton would do well to explore the Krypton’s lapsed colonies and settlements, so King Kong with green laser eyes would be totally in line with the source material that made Superman worth reading about. After all, it was Julius Schwartz, one of the men who basically invented superheroes, who once said: “apes on comics sell comics.” No reason that shouldn’t hold for TV. 
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