Action Comics #23.2 Zod came out last week revealing the history of the Phantom Zone villain in gruesome detail. Writer Greg Pak and artist Ken Lashley show us how Zod became the violent and unhinged person he is.
It is an interesting take on Zod, starting in his childhood and showing how an early tragedy sets him on a path of death and destruction. Prior to this, I have felt that Zod has always been shown to simply be a power-hungry fascist. Here we see the seeds that led him there.
And, unfortunately, the deconstruction of Zor-El continues here as Kara's father again is involved (albeit unknowingly) in something nefarious. With Zor-El this badly damaged, there won't be a 'kryptonite poisoning, it was all a hallucination' magic wand to save his character. Was there some Superman team meeting where all the creators said 'let's blame it all on Zor-El?'
Still, Pak does a good job of getting us into Zod's head, showing us just how scary a character he is. And Lashley's art is scratchy enough to make me feel a little out of sorts, something which worked well with the story.
The story starts out in Zod's youth.
He and his parents are in some sort of savage land, examining and dissecting the wild beasts in the land.
Initially, Zod is a bit forlorn because they are going to euthanize and examine the young animals. His father squelches that empathy pretty quickly saying scientists cannot have any sentiment.
So, at least at one point, there was some warmth in Zod's heart, some understanding of the sanctity of life.
I don't think I have ever seen Zod as a kid.
In the blink of an eye, the sterile environment of this mobile lab/ship is shattered. These beasts break in forcing the family to go on the run.
And Zod, the wide-eyed child, realizes his father cannot save them.
It is a shocking opening to the book. And a shocking opening to Zod's life. With that chaotic and tragic episode in mind, is it any wonder that Zod became a violent and angry fascist?
In one of those silly coincidences, one year later Zor-El and Jor-El are in the area for Jor-El's science class when they hear the distress beacon. Zor-El appears to be about 10 yrs older that Jor-El which I suppose makes some internal sense if Kara is around 15yrs older than Kal. In my head, I always had the brothers closer in age. In fact, I always thought Zor was the younger brother (but that would only make internal sense if Kara was born on a floating Argo as in the past). This 'Supergirl's older but younger' time warp is kooky.
Anyways, the Els come upon Zod, draped in pelts and armed with rudimentary weapons. There is a Lord Of The Flies feel to this. I can only imagine the horror of that year in the jungle. This child is a long way away from lamenting dissection.
Brought back into civilization, Zod struggles a bit.
He is sickened by the opulence and apathy around him. He is constantly training in simulation, battling an old Kryptonian planetary enemy called the Char, a race of lizard beings who bear a bit of a resemblance to the animals who killed Zod's parents.
I love this set of panels, people laughing at Zod, his glaring from the shadows at the partying citizens.
And like any fanatic, Zod gathers his minions. For the first time we hear about Faora. And he tries to get Jor-El into the fold. But the Els are scientists.
The island of Zod's youth has been 'sterilized' save for the huge beast which killed Zod's family.
That seems a bit brutal for the El boys. I don't know if they would opt for extinction protocols even for such a savage place.
Two years later, with Faora and Non as lieutenants, Zod breaks into an armory. It just so happens at that moment the Char decide to attack Krypton again.
As I said in the intro, getting into Zod's head is fascinating. We also get into Faora's head. She wants to break a soldier she finds asleep. And when he gets killed, she sarcastically wonders if he enjoyed his nap. It shows how cruel she is.
And then to hear him want to kiss her, to hear the excitement as he compares it to the disaster in the lab-ship. That is chilling. He is excited like he was when his parents died!
Armed to the teeth, Zod repels the 'Char' attack.
And, as he thought, it rallies the planet. Nothing like a disaster to bring people together.
After decades of peace and parties, Krypton needs someone willing to wield the knife. Just like that 'Hail Zod' screams ring out.
And he wastes not time, sending unmanned Kryptonian drones to the Char home world where they raze the planet, killing soldiers and civilians alike.
Now we only see one loving Char family, but this doesn't feel like a world bent on conquest.
It is Jor-El who discovers that the 'Char' troops who invaded Krypton were mutated clones grown from specimens in Zor-El's lab. That attacked led to hundreds of thousands of Char dead.
Zod and his lieutenants are sent to the Phantom Zone forever. I love how Zod appears defiant to the end, standing tall and shouting his name.
I wonder why Zod went through with the attack on the Char planet. He could have Ozymandias'd it, using a phony attack to wrest control. Why send off the ships? Unless he has some inherent hatred for the Char, equating them with the monsters who killed his parents. But he also touts that event as being what made him strong? Zod is evil ... no doubt ... but complex.
Poor poor Zor-El though. He 'believed' in Zod and was betrayed. But did Zor know the plan? Who will know. But this is another debacle for Zor and another 'save' by Jor-El. Zor-El has been dragged through the mud yet again.
And then we get the real horror.
Flashing back, we see that Zod realizes the only way he can survive is if the animals are distracted by feeding. And so to buy him some time, Zod kills his own father and escapes. Terrifying. It is a simple technique, but Lashley cloaking Zod's face in shadow shows us literally this turn to a dark side.
But that is chilling. We see just how Zod became the monster he has become. And the 'grimy' art by Lashley is perfect for this.
The book ends with Zod brooding in the Phantom Zone, watching Superman intently. Something is going to happen, and soon.
So this was another decent issue in the Villains Month stable. I wasn't blown away by this. But I was entertained. And adding the element of his wild youth makes Zod a much more complicated, much rounder and deeper character. His willingness to kill loved ones and innocents to forward his goals is scary. And Zod should be scary.