Superman was the first comic book superhero. Without him, the entire industry doesn’t exist. He is the start, the root, of all the comics, novels, games, tv shows, and movies. So now, we go back not to his roots, but before then, as the show Krypton looks at the Man of Steel’s family going back several decades before the destruction of Superman’s home. Personally, I kind of wonder how much of this was inspired by Gotham, as both shows are prequels about one of the best known heroes in the world where the actual hero doesn’t show up.
After a voiceover, we see the El family in Kandor (does Krypton have any other named cities? I feel like it must but I can’t think of any of them). Some 200 years before Kal-El, the eventual Superman, his great-great-grandfather Val-El finds himself in a lot of trouble. Trivia note: the Superman in the parallel Earth “Earth 2,” a sort of re-imagining of the Justice Society, is named Val, but it’s definitely not the same character. Anyway, Val takes a stand on principle against an out of control religious figure, and things go badly for him and the entire El family. Val meets his fate bravely, and, interestingly, is dressed a lot like Superman.
Skipping ahead 14 years, Seg-El, the hero of the show, has aged somewhere in his 20’s, the generally preferred age for the lead in the current crop of hero shows. He’s probably not living up to the family ideal, since we find him in the midst of a bar fight. Even that isn’t what it seems, as we see that Seg is in some kind scam with Kem of no family name, the bartender of the establishment. Even when it seems like he lost, Seg and Kem have the angles covered and we see the pair of them are pretty damn clever. Observing the fight is a man very much out of place in Earth clothes.
Seg gets home for some drama with his parents. His mother and father are clearly worried about what he’s getting up to, and Seg is equally clearly still holding a grudge over his grandfather’s death. The family is having money problems, and Dad goes off to work. Mom shows she’s not exactly a typical mom, and they realize Dad forgot his meds, which Seg will go deliver.
As Seg walks the really unpleasant looking streets (I guess the rankless don’t live in the good parts of town), we see some military fight training in progress. The woman in charge, Jayna-Zod (Superman fans should recognize that family name) shows she is amazingly skilled and just about as ruthless as she fights, beats, and skewers her daughter, Lyta. Tough love in the House of Zod. It also sounds like Krypton is in a state of war with city-states fighting each other.
The Lawmakers’ Guild is wrapping up a trial for members of a terrorist group called Black Zero. Here, they seem to be a group of villains; in the comics, that was the name of a minor Superman foe. Seg gets there just in time to both have a run in with an obnoxious guard and then derail a terrorist plot.
Seg ends up in the difficult position of being praised by Magistrate Daron-Vex, the same man that killed his grandfather. Daron offers various rewards to Seg, including a very unexpected one involving his daughter Nyssa. Since a character of that name is a recurring part of Arrow, I kind of wish they’d chosen a different one for her. We also learn that Krypton has a really screwed up society with draconian, if not medieval, customs. Seg and Kem compare notes on the eventful day, only to get caught up in another mess involving abusive guards. We also find out who Seg’s love interest is. The boy has some good connections and more than his share of luck.
On his way home once again, Seg has a run-in with the only established DC Comics character so far: Adam Strange. The space-faring hero of the comics is now a time traveler for reasons we don’t know yet, and has come to warn Seg of a future calamity. He manages an obscure warning: Find the Fortress and save Superman, then doubles over in pain. Seg gets distrated for a moment, and Adam vanishes in some hazy blue light.
Before he went, Adam gave Seg a crystal with a familiar symbol on it. For once, a character on a hero show doesn’t randomly decide to keep secrets for no apparent reason, and Seg and his parents try and puzzle out what this means. The elder Els clearly know something they’re not sharing. Seg also finds out some of the limits on the offer that was made to him earlier.
In the Genesis Chamber, we learn more about the “advances” on Krypton. Seg and Nyssa-Vex (the antagonists are named Vex? Really?) also spar some about their future relationship. I really can’t see how this world makes this culture work. It seems impractical at best, unless most people ignore it, much like unpopular laws such as Prohibition. The Vexes seem to be a really unpleasant bunch of people.
Seg and Lyta talk about their futures. Lyta is going to be bound (married, kind of) to Dev-Em. That is the name of a Kryptonian hero in the Legion of Super Heroes’ time in the far future, and another nice nod to the comics. Going home, Seg runs afoul of more of the guard-bullies (I swear, they screen out almost anyone that has a sense of compassion or fair play) and gets a surprise rescue after a foot chase.
The rescue was Mom in a stolen ship. She’s acting on her own, and takes Seg to his grandfather’s Fortress. Somehow, the crystal (they’re calling it a sunstone) from the future opens the Fortress and the two of them get to see some of Val’s scientific achievements, hidden away from the Kryptonian theocracy. Val, as we learn more about what he was working on, starts to sound like Galileo in his confrontation with the Catholic Church. Seg and Mother Charys get back home, but they weren’t undetected, and Charys makes a huge sacrifice for her son. After that, we see more of the weird entwining relationships between all these families.
In a very public confrontation, the Els follow in Val’s footsteps, shouting his truths before the gathered crowds. Things get ugly, and Seg ends up with a hell of a motivation to take up his family’s cause. Away from the public eye, we see more plotting from the Vex/Zod alliance.
Seg returns to the site of his grandfather’s death and has an emotionally charged scene with Lyta (another name from DC’s history). That doesn’t go too well, and Seg visits Kem to get another ship and return to the Fortress. Here, he runs into Adam again, who sets up more of what the show is going to be about. There is danger from a major DC villain, a warning device to show how bad things are getting, and a desperate plea to Seg to not let the future of Superman, the greatest hero in the universe according to Adam, get wiped out before it starts.
What I liked: There hasn’t been a lot written about Krypton, considering how important the place is to the DC Universe, and heroes in general. This is an interesting fleshing out of the planet. They lay out some interesting world building in how their society works (not well) and the major players for the next nine episodes. I liked the nods to various DC names, and I’m curious to see how they link some of this up.
What I didn’t: Using the name Nyssa was probably not a great choice. The Vex name also bothers me. I don’t see how Krypton’s society hasn’t been swept by revolution yet. As with a lot of hero shows out now, there aren’t a lot of sympathetic older characters. All the heroes and/or interesting ones are younger. The only good older ones, Seg’s parents, suffer a classic comic trope. I’m not sure why Adam Strange is now a time traveler, considering DC has several established characters that already do that, like Booster Gold or the Legion of Super Heroes.
It was an interesting start to the series. I’m hoping we see some of the powers that be fall along the way as this goes on. I’ll give it a solid 3 out of 5.