Superman: The Many Worlds of Krypton


By E. Nelson Bridwell, Denny O’Neil, Cary Bates, Marv Wolfman, Elliot S. Maggin, Paul Kupperberg, John Byrne, Murphy Anderson, Dick Giordano, Gray Morrow, Michael Kaluta, Dave Cockrum, Dick Dillin, Marshall Rogers, Howard Chaykin, Paul Kupperberg, Mike Mignola, Rick Bryant, Carlos Garzon & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-7889-2

For fans and comics creators alike, continuity can be a harsh mistress. These days, when maintaining a faux-historical cloak of rational integrity for the made-up worlds we inhabit is paramount, the worst casualty of the semi-regular sweeping changes, rationalisations and reboots is great stories that suddenly “never happened”.

The most painful example of this – for me at least – was the wholesale loss of the entire charm-drenched mythology that had evolved around Superman’s birthworld in the wonder years between 1948 and 1985.

Silver Age readers avidly consuming Superman, Action Comics, Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane, World’s Finest Comics and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen (not forgetting Superboy and Adventure Comics) would delight every time some fascinating snippet of information leaked out.

We spent our rainy days filling in the incredible blanks about the lost world through the tantalising and thrilling tales from those halcyon publications. The Fabulous World of Krypton was a long-running back-up feature in Superman during the 1970s, revealing intriguing glimpses from the history of that lost world.

Throughout the decade and into the 1980s – and an issue of giant-sized anthology Superman Family – the feature delivered 27 “Untold Tales of Superman’s Native Planet” (and long overdue for a complete archival collection) by a host of the industry’s greatest talents which further explored that defunct wonderland.

A far-too-small selection of those are re-presented in this beguiling trade paperback and eBook commemoration, taken from Superman #233, 236, 238, 240, 248, 257, 266 and Superman Family #182, to augment a brace of miniseries World of Krypton #1-3 and World of Krypton volume 2 #1-4 (December 1987-March 1988).

These collectively span 1971-1988 and, following scene-setting introduction ‘The World (of Krypton) According to Paul (Kupperberg)’, kick off Chapter 1: Fabulous World of Krypton with E. Nelson Bridwell (who was always the go-to guy for any detail of fact or trivia concerning the company’s vast comics output) & Murphy Anderson’s trendsetting and groundbreaking yarn ‘Jor-El’s Golden Folly’.

Follow-up tales would alternate between glimpses of historical or mythological moments in the development of the Kryptonians and tales of the House of El, such as this astoundingly concise and drama-packed yarn which in seven pages introduces Superman’s father, traces his scholastic graduation and early triumphs in anti-gravity physics and rocketry and reveals how he met his bride-to-be, trainee astronaut Lara Lor-Van.

The story goes on to reveal how she stows away on a test rocket, crashes on the (luckily) habitable moon Wegthor and survives until her infatuated suitor finds a way to rescue her.

This a superb adventure yarn in its own right and, set against what we fans already knew about the doomed planet, augured well what was to follow…

The remaining tales in this section concentrate on non-Jor-El episodes – presumably in lieu of what follows – so the next fable comes from Superman #236 with Green Arrow and Black Canary hearing their Justice League recount the story of ‘The Doomsayer’ (by Denny O’Neil & Dick Giordano). This eco-terror tale reveals how scientist Mo-De detected the mounting tectonic pressures at the planet’s core but was silenced by modern day lotus eaters who didn’t want to hear any unpleasant truths…

In the guise of a Kryptonian kindergarten class story-time, Cary Bates & Gray Morrow devised a hard science creation myth for Superman #238 as ‘A Name is Born’ details how two marooned – and initially mutually antagonistic – aliens crashed on the primeval planet and joined to birth a new race together…

Bates & Michael Kaluta teamed in #240 for a cunning, irony-drenched murder mystery as ‘The Man Who Cheated Time’ details the unexpected consequences of an ambitious scientist who stole from and slaughtered his rivals only to pay for his crimes in a most unexpected manner.

Kryptonian archaeologists unearth a lost moment in planetary history as ‘All in the Mind’ (by Marv Wolfman & Dave Cockrum from #248) discloses how the ancient war between the city states of Erkol and Xan resulted in a generation of mutants. Apparently, if the parents had been more understanding and less intolerant, those super-kids might have saved their forebears from extinction…

Superman #257 (October 1972) offered a timeless instant classic wherein Elliot S. Maggin and illustrators Dick Dillin & Giordano celebrated ‘The Greatest Green Lantern of All’. Here avian GL Tomar-Re reports his tragic failure in preventing Krypton’s detonation, unaware that the Guardians of the Universe had a plan to preserve and use that world’s greatest bloodline – or at least its last son…

Maggin, Dick Dillin & Joe Giella then emphasised a long-hidden connection between Earth and Krypton in #266 as ‘The Face on the Falling Star’ reveals how in eons past two Kryptonian children are saved from doom by a strange device fallen from the sky: a machine sent from a lost civilisation on pre-historic Terra…

Wrapping up this section is ‘The Stranger’ by Paul Kupperberg, Marshall Rogers & Frank Springer and first seen in Superman Family #182: an analogue Christmas fable explaining how four millennia past a holy man named Jo-Mon sacrificed his life to liberate the people and end the depredations of the tyrannical Al-Nei

The second section here is Chapter 2: The Life of Jor-El and reprints a pioneering miniseries that referenced many of those 27 vignettes as well as the key Krypton-focussed yarns of the Superman franchise.

In 1979 – when the Superman movie had made the hero a global sensation once more – scripter Paul Kupperberg and artist Howard Chaykin (assisted and ghost-pencilled by Alan Kupperberg) and inkers Murphy Anderson & Frank Chiaramonte synthesised the scattered back-story details into DC’s first limited series World of Krypton.

Although never collected into a graphic novel, this glorious indulgence was resized into a monochrome pocket paperback book in 1982, supervised by and with an introduction from the much-missed, multi-talented official DC memory E. Nelson Bridwell. That magical celebration of life on the best of all fictional worlds is a grand old slice of comics fun and forms the spine of this new composite compilation.

The story opens on ‘The Jor-El Story’ with Superman reviewing a tape-diary found on Earth’s moon: a record from his long-deceased father which details the scientist’s life, career and struggle with the nay-saying political authorities whose inaction doomed the Kryptonian race to near-extinction.

As the Man of Steel listens, he hears how Jor-El wooed and won his mother Lara Lor-Van despite all the sinister and aberrant efforts of the planetary marriage computer to frustrate them, how his sire discovered anti-gravity and invented the Phantom Zone ray, uncovered the lost technology of a dead race which provided the clues to Kal-El’s escape rocket, and learns his father’s take on Superman’s many time-twisting trips to Krypton…

In ‘This Planet is Doomed’ the troubled orphan feels his father’s pain when android marauder Brainiac steals the city of Kandor, reels as rogue scientist Jax-Ur blows up the inhabited moon of Wegthor, and is revolted as civil war almost crushes civilisation thanks to the deranged militarist General Zod and when his own cousin Kru-El forever disgraces the noble House of El…

The countdown to disaster continues until ‘The Last Days of Krypton’ as political intrigue and exhaustion overwhelm the distraught scientist and, all avenues closed to him, Jor-El takes drastic action…

Heavily referencing immortal classics such as ‘Superman’s Return to Krypton’ (Superman volume 1 #141, November 1960), Fabulous World of Krypton mini-epics ‘Jor-El’s Golden Folly’, ‘Moon-Crossed Love’, ‘Marriage, Kryptonian Style’ and a host of others, this epochal saga from simpler and more wondrous times is a sheer delight for any fan tired of unremitting angst and non-stop crises…

The final section – Chapter 3: The World of Krypton – is a dark reworking by John Byrne, Mike Mignola, Rick Bryant & Carlos Garzon depicting a radically different planet.

In 1985 when DC Comics decided to rationalise, reconstruct and reinvigorate their continuity with Crisis on Infinite Earths, they used the event to simultaneously regenerate their key properties at the same time. The biggest gun they had was Superman and it’s hard to argue that the change was not before time.

The big guy was in a bit of a slump, but he’d weathered those before. So how could a root and branch retooling be anything but a pathetic marketing ploy that would alienate the real fans for a few fly-by-night Johnny-come-latelies who would jump ship as soon as the next fad surfaced?

This new Superman repurposed the hero into a harsher, more uncompromising hero who might be alien in physicality but completely human in terms of feelings and attitudes. As seen in Man of Steel #1 (not included here), ‘From Out of the Green Dawn’ traced the child’s voyage in a self-propelled birthing matrix to a primitive but vital and vibrant world.

He had escaped from a cold, sterile, soulless and emotionally barren planet barely glimpsed before it was gone in a cosmic flash…

As the hero’s new adventures became a sensational success, his creators felt compelled to revisit the hero’s bleakly dystopian birthworld. It was however, now conceived of as a far darker and more forbidding place and 1987’s 4-issue miniseries opted to reveal how that transformation came about.

Scripted by Byrne, it all begins in ‘Pieces’ (art by Mignola & Rick Bryant) as an indolent hedonistic scientific paradise comes crashing into ruin after the age’s greatest moral dilemma boils over into global civil war.

For 10 thousand generations Kryptonians have enjoyed virtual immortality thanks to the constant cultivation of clones to use for medical spare parts. The rights of the clones had been debated for centuries but has recently resulted in sporadic violence. The situation changes after ultra-privileged Nyra is exposed as having stolen one of her supposedly brain-dead clones for an act of social abomination. Exposure leads to murder, suicide and a rapidly escalating collapse of social cohesion…

Centuries ‘After the Fall’, Van-L wanders a planet shattered by devastating war technologies, surviving only because of the nurturing war suit. The grand planetary society is gone, replaced by constantly warring pockets of humanity, but Van is in need of allies, even if they were once lovers or despised foes. He has learned that the original instigator of the collapse still lives and plans to assuage his shame and guilt by blowing up the planet…

For the third issue the scene shifts to millennia later as young scholar Jor-El immerses himself in a traumatic ‘History Lesson’.

The distant descendant of Van-L obsessively probes the last days of the conflict and the nuclear annihilation scheme of terrorist cell Black Zero, but his compulsion causes him to almost miss a crucial social obligation: meeting his father and the grandparent of Lara, selected by The Masters of the Gestation Chamber as his ideal DNA co-contributor to the first Kryptonian allowed to be born in centuries…

Carlos Garzon steps in to finish Mignola’s pencils for concluding chapter ‘Family History’ as, in contemporary times, Superman agrees to an interview with Daily Plant reporter Lois Lane. The subject is how Krypton died, and why…

Precising the intervening millennia of history and stagnation, the Last Son of Krypton reveals how his own birth-father uncovered a shocking secret, rebelled against his moribund, repressed culture and found brief comfort with perhaps the last kindred spirit on his world. Kal-El then tells of how they ensured his survival at the cost of their own…

Celebrating the many and varied Worlds of Krypton, this is a magnificent tribute to the imagination of man creators and the power of a modern mythology: the ever-changing evolution of a world we all wanted to live on back in the heady days of yore…
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