Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Back Issue Box: The Krypton Chronicles #1

We are just over two weeks away from the SyFy Channel television show Krypton, a show focusing on the El Family generations that lived on the doomed planet before it exploded. Supposedly the show will look mostly at Superman's grandfather and the politics of the planet during that time.

With this look back on the small screen as well as the recent time travel trip by Superman in the recent Booster Shot arc in Action Comics, I thought taking a look back at the El Family and their history on Krypton was timely. And what better comic to look at than 1981's Krypton Chronicles.

This three issue mini-series really took a deep dive into Superman's family history as well as the culture of Krypton itself. As you'll see, the El Family were really destined for greatness, in the middle of seemingly ever major event on the planet there was. No wonder Superman is of such high stock and merit. And, no wonder Supergirl is so noble as well. One thing to say about this mini-series, Supergirl definitely is an appropriately big part of it. This is her family as well.

The mini-series is written by E. Nelson Bridwell, famous for his encyclopedic mind for Krypton history and Superman minutiae so that makes sense. The art is by the legendary Curt Swan with inks by Frank Chiaramonte. While there is a plot weaving through the lessons, this really is a sort of historic text as we learn about what transpired on Krypton.

On a personal note, posts like these remind me how long I have been running this site as I have plenty of links within this site that go to prior posts.

On to the book.

The issue starts with a nice shot of Superman in the El family crypt, looking at statues of his ancestors and wondering what place in Krypton's history they hold.

If this looks familiar to you, you might be a long time reader or a fan of Supergirl. These statues were first seen in 'Father's Day on Planet Krypton', a story in Adventure Comics #313, most famous to Supergirl fans for being the first appearance of Satan Girl.

In that story, Superboy places an item in the hands of each of the statues which then says what this ancestor is famous for, science, architecture, etc. No surprise Bridwell was able to go back that far.

 But the story really commences in Metropolis.

There WGBS owner Morgan Edge tasks Clark Kent and Perry White with a challenge. Put together a look at Superman's family and Kryptonian culture for both the television and the newspapers. Edge hopes to beat out the ratings bonanzas that were Roots and Shogun.

I am old enough to remember both of those references. And I like this idea by Edge to be multimedia. He never seemed to care enough about the Planet for my tastes.

Unfortunately, Clark knows that Superman is actually a little in the dark about his family's history. He has some knowledge but not enough to put together something substantial. He flies off to the Fortress. And there, he is surprised to find Supergirl.

She is more surprised that he is surprised. After all, today is the day when Rokyn, the new Krypton, slides from its dimension back into the regular universe. That means the super-cousins can visit family and friends. And it is a double bonus for Superman. He can research his kin.

I do love how Superman is so excited he is going to fly to Rokyn, a planet in a red sun solar system. Thank goodness Kara is there to ... ahem ... tug on Superman's cape and get him into their rocket ship instead.

If you are interested in reading about Rokyn's origins, head to my review of Superman #338 , the epic 'Let My People Grow' issue and one of my first back issue reviews. Be kind!

And get used to a ton of asterisks in the text as Bridwell peppers the dialogue with Kryptonian words and phrases. This is like the Dune series where by the end I thought I could speak the language of Arrakis.

 You may recall that the end of Superman #338 has Kandor enlarged on a new planet but the buildings of the city all collapse into dust. Here we learn that only certain material couldn't survive the enlarging. So metal buildings and structures, such as computers and knowledge tapes all survived. So the planet is coming along nicely. It looks like a fully functional city.

And I love how the first people to great the cousins are Supergirl's parents Zor-El and Alura. They've been living in Kandor and on Rokyn for some time. Such a loving family! No whiff of Cyborg Superman angst here!

And there is Van-Zee, the Nightwing of Kandor and head of the Superman Emergency Squad!

And those aren't the only famous inhabitants nearby. Bridwell knew all the Kryptonians the cousins had met and deposited in Kandor. That included  Zora 'Black Flame' Vi-Lar and  Shyla Kor-Onn, two of Supergirl's classic villains and foes who thwarted her in the past. Head to the links to learn more!

 Both villains look like they have atoned for their crimes. It is nice to see Kara influence people to be better.

With the welcomes over, the cousins head straight to the El Family Crypt to learn about their ancestors. As I said, each statue as a tool of some sort to be placed in their hands. Here on Rokyn, when the item is inserted, a mind-tape about the person plays telepathically. You get to hear about each person and their accomplishments.

First we learn about Gam-El the famous architect who designed and built the capitol city of Kryptonopolis on the site of the devastated city-state Lurvan. The capitol had been Kandor but once built, Kryptonopolis would hold that distinction. When terrorists try to derail the building of the city, Gam-El and Pim-El, a cousin in charge of security, chase down the criminals behind it. It was Kyy-Nath all along! He owned property in Kandor and would lose money if the city wasn't the capitol.

So some excellence in architecture and some political intrigue all in one generation!

As the group moves on from the statue, it almost tumbles on them.. We see a figure in the shadows hoping to the group from finishing their visit quickly.

Next we meet Tala-El, a scientist. In the times of peace, the planet decided to live under one government. But there were three factions all vying for control. One believed lawyers and judges should rule. Another thought choosing leaders by lot made sense. Tala-El believed science should rule in the form of a council.

The three groups let the priests of Rao decide which government would be established. The priests said the three should each planet rods  down during the next lightning storm. The last rod not struck would be 'winner'. Tala-El's rod remained unscathed and so his Science Council was formed.

We then learn that Tala-El used a nonconducting metal as his rod, not against the rules but at least a bit unsavory. In fact, given that the Science Council refused to listen to Jor-El's warnings and were the indisputable rulers, one could say Tala-El caused the planet's destruction. Maybe the lawyers would have funded Space Arks.

 And then we meet Pir-El, a brilliant General during the last war. In a great tale, we see the escalation of power in the two sides. First robot attacks. Then disintegration spheres. Then solar powered lens-shaped ships which razed Kryptonopolis, killing everyone.

Finally, Pir-El came up with an elegant stroke killing two birds with one stone. First he fired missile which covered the sun with a heavy smoke. Denied the sunlight which powered it, the lens-ship crashed. And then, the smoke fell to the ground, filling the enemy city with pacifism gas. In one brilliant maneuver, the war was over.

Before the group can let this story sink in, the statue attacks them. Something or someone is trying to kill the cousins on this field trip to Rokyn!

We then get a simple list of the greatness of the El family. Atomic scientists. Experts in agriculture. Ground-breaking surgeons. Brilliant musicians. Novelists, legislators, law-makers who created the trial system, mathematicians, and inventors.

Heck, without the Els, Krypton would be in the stone age!

 When finished with the statues, Van-Zee says there is somewhere else to go to learn about the great Els from the distant past. But before they can leave, the hooded figure sends an extinct monster into the crypt. This person will have their revenge!!!

Can you guess who it is?

I do like that we saw one female in the list of great ancestors in the family. For 1981, one might have been looked on as progressive. And I do wish we got some editors notes saying where these family members' stories were told (if they were told). I don't know how many Bridwell made up for this mini-series and how many were in prior stories like The Wonderful World of Krypton or in Silver Age adventures.

I did say that the issue was chock full of Krypton dialogue. Here, in place of a letters page or a page by about the creators, we get a Krypton Glossary, explaining characters and places and words. As a kid I loved this so much! I wanted to know it all.

While it might seem a bit dry to read history lessons, this book does give some back story to the El family tradition. I love that Supergirl is as much a presence in it as Superman. I can only imagine how ticked off I would be if she wasn't there! And I like how Bridwell puts so much existing story and character into the book. Zora and Shyla together! Those are some nice historical cuts for a Supergirl fan like me.

Anyways, as a Superman fanatic, I love this mini-series and plan to cover the other issues soon, hopefully finishing this review before the series starts.

And if affordable, and if a Supergirl fan, I advise you to pick this up. So much fun!

Overall grade: B+


Anonymous said...

Oh, yes, The "Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck" of the Superman franchise. The mini-series (first DC mini If I'm not mistaken!) that took every random reference and tidbit throughout thirty years and interwove them to make an epic.

And since we're examining the History of the House of El, of course Supergirl is here. Back then anybody would think it's stupid and absurd leaving Kara Zor-El out. Good times.

I love this mini-series and it's part of my personal headcanon. This is my favorite version of Krypton's past, and I like better than the Post-Crisis "World of Krypton" story arc. I never took to a liking to Byrne's cold alien world. He was determined to make it as dull and boring as possible, and he definitely succeeded.

I hope the "Krypton" series at the very least remembers Jor-El has a brother named Zor-El. But I'm afraid Supergirl will be snubbed out. Again.

Looking forward to your next reviews.

Anonymous said...

I'm gonna leave off my usual rant about Curt Swan's scratchy unappealing inkers in the late seventies / early eighties....:) And just note that not only was Supergirl killed off and expunged from continuity in COIE #7 but an entire notion of Planet Krypton as a Technocratic Utopia, free of strife and physical want. The loss of said planet is all the more tragic, since a high minded utopian civilization had been loost ne'er to return. These days Krypton is at best depicted as a borderline Dystopia, Supergirl & Superman are both lucky to have escaped the clutches of this nasty messed up planet....
E. Nelson Bridwell wrote some Supergirl scripts back in the Adventure Comics run and he had some affinity for the character when he wasn't displaying a spetrumy obsession with continuity details...so its no surprise she figures prominently in the storyline. The "Tugging on Superman's Cape" panel is LOL funny and proof that the Bronze Age Supergirl (as unliberated as she was depicted at times) was on a far more equal footing with her Cousin than the modern incarnation of Kousin Kara....:)


Anonymous said...

"And just note that not only was Supergirl killed off and expunged from continuity in COIE #7 but an entire notion of Planet Krypton as a Technocratic Utopia, free of strife and physical want. The loss of said planet is all the more tragic, since a high minded utopian civilization had been loost ne'er to return. These days Krypton is at best depicted as a borderline Dystopia, Supergirl & Superman are both lucky to have escaped the clutches of this nasty messed up planet...."

I agree. It bothers me as well, and I blame Byrne and his "I'm an immigrant myself and don't care for my birthplace so Superman mustn't to either" obsession.

"The "Tugging on Superman's Cape" panel is LOL funny and proof that the Bronze Age Supergirl (as unliberated as she was depicted at times) was on a far more equal footing with her Cousin than the modern incarnation of Kousin Kara....:)"

Again, I agree. It drives me crazy whenever I hear someone claiming Kara was subservient to Superman. It's like if they didn't read past AC #252.

I remember Supergirl tugging from Superboy's cape also happened in Adventure Comics #368. A very funny scene which highlighted how differently Kal-El treated his cousin when both of them were teen Legionnaires heroing in the 31st century.

Anj said...

I've always been of two minds about Krypton. Even in the Silver and Bronze Age, there was always a whiff that they were collectively a bit too haughty for their own good. When the Science Council laughs off Jor-El, you have to wonder if they were just listening to #FakeNews.

That said, at times it did feel like a Utopia. And certainly Kandor, when in the bottle, seemed idyllic ... which is crazy given they were living in a bottle.

Still, I loved these history lessons and as everyone says, Supergirl tugging Kal's cape is brilliant.

Anonymous said...

I want a balanced portrayal. I don't need it to be a Utopia, but I don't want it to be a terrible place which Kal and Kara are lucky to have escaped from.

Moreover, even back in the Pre-Crisis period, it was obvious Krypton wasn't perfect. Kryptonians dumped their worst criminals into a pocket hell dimension and were led by a Science Council comprised of prideful idiots. People like Mala, Kizo, U-Ban, Klax-Ar, Quex-Ul, Lor-Zod, Faora Hu-Ul, Lesla-Lar, Zora Vil-Lar, Kru-El... also showed not all Kryptonians were friendly or willing to play the benevolent god. There was no need to taint the whole civilization or Clark and Linda's parents.

H said...

I don't think he made up any of those ancestors- at least not in the first issue. They were all in back-up features or quick references. If there was anyone with an encyclopedic knowledge of Superman lore, it was E. Nelson Bridwell.