Prequels are tough. From Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to Gotham, setting a story before the events of a well-known saga leaves a lot of fans wanting, while others embrace the unexpected choices creators make in telling the story before the story. But whenever a prequel movie or series is announced, you will hear one recurring (but fair) piece of criticism: Is this really necessary?
And for the creators of Syfy’s Krypton, it was a question forever at the heart of its long development process. Originally intended to tell the tale of the world destroyed 40 minutes into 2013’s Man of Steel, the series changed direction when that film failed to become its own franchise. Without that anchor, the question of its necessity became even more apparent. When Rotten Tomatoes talked to executive producer and showrunner Cameron Welsh last year, he asked potential viewers to keep an “open mind” and teased a key aspect of the way forward for the series by mentioning “the entire space/time continuum has actually changed.” From the pilot, though, it was unclear if Welsh had discovered that change in the show’s reality, but by the time the Voice of Rao was unmasked and Adam Strange (Shaun Sipos) jumped on a grenade to save his friends, the series had found a reason to exist in its own right. Like the World of Krypton comic book miniseries thatinspired it, it finally knew the story it wanted to tell.
Now that season 2 is in full swing, there are plenty more reasons to jump back in and see how time travel and Superman’s grandfather make for fun TV. Here are five reasons why Krypton is the most surprising prequel series on television.
Though the initial hook for the series was its introduction of Superman’s grandfather, Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe), Krypton quickly built an interesting cast of characters. Sometimes, they’re even more interesting than Seg.
In the halls of power, we met the scheming Daron-Vex (Elliot Cowan) and his daughter Nyssa (Wallis Day), whose loyalties seemed to change once she encountered Seg’s sense of justice. He also influenced the passions of Lyta-Zod (Georgina Campbell), who wanted to dutifully serve the House of Zod, succeed her mother Jayna (Ann Ogbomo) as Primus of the Kandor police force, and earn her mother’s love. Jayna, meanwhile, fought an internal battle over her fondness for Lyta and the brutal rigor of the Zod philosophy, which also led to her leaving her brother to die in the wastes when they were adolescents. All of their lives are touched by the Voice of Rao, a religious potentate who managed to turned the Kryptonia city-state of Kandor into a theocracy just before the series began. His quiet menace eventually gives way to something far more unsettling.
Seg, meanwhile, is equipped with that El sense of justice and a biting wit. Although initially pulled along by the forces around him, he eventually made a choice and turned into a heroic presence. He still has his doubtful moments, of course, but it makes him a far more interesting and rounded character than he initially seemed.
And at some point, nearly all of the characters encountered the time-lost Adam Strange, a scoundrel of some ill-repute who is nonetheless obsessed with preserving the timeline from which he came. He may eventually become the hero of the planet Rann if he learns anything from Seg, but that remains to be seen.
Throughout its first season, Brainiac (Blake Ritson) served as an inevitable menace even as Daron-Vex and Jayna-Zod tried to maintain order under the Voice of Rao’s dominance. At first, we only saw a glimpse of him before his avatar — a Kryptonian forced to do his bidding — began to appear around Kandor. Quickly, that person was identified with tragic results, setting up one of the series’ long-game ideas as Brainiac can literally be anybody.
One great side benefit, though, was the revelation that Ritson was playing the Voice of Rao in addition to Brainiac. His initial cult leader performance was unnerving enough, but it was only amplified once Brainiac’s avatar discovered the Voice was the best person to inhabit while examining Kandor for collection.
But as it happens, Brainiac was not the only villain from Superman’s rogues gallery to make his way to Krypton. While wandering the caves outside Kandor, Seg encountered members of the Black Zero terror organization and their seeming commander. Soon, he learned from Adam that the commander was none other than General Zod — yes, the Zod who wants everyone to kneel before him. Krypton slightly re-imagines him as Dru-Zod, Lyta’s son and Jor-El’s best friend.
And thanks to a wonderful performance by Colin Salmon, Dru-Zod nearly steals the show from everyone else. Instead of the would-be dictator, Salmon presents him as an orphan looking to restore his home by preventing the first of a series in cascading tragedies. It leaves the viewer wondering if, perhaps, they had Zod all wrong — well, at least for a little while. A “nature versus nurture” question still remains to be solved with Zod in season 2 as he and his mother work out a way to co-exist.
Presenting new ideas, like the Zod family dynamic, is part of Krypton‘s need to reinvent itself at a constant rate. While set some 200 years before Superman’s debut on Earth, that concept falls away as conflicts develop.
An example: when we first meet Adam, he tells Seg that he traveled through time to stop Superman’s “greatest enemy” from disrupting the timeline. Seg assumed this enemy was Brainiac, and the series operates from that directive for half of the first season. Then, with the introduction of Dru-Zod, Seg and Adam learn that this is the era in which Brainiac originally stole Kandor City from Krypton and disrupted the planet’s stability, leading to its destruction 200 years later. The series changes as Seg and Adam come into conflict over whether to stop Brainiac or to preserve history. Also, if you’re thinking General Zod is Superman’s greatest enemy, the series probably agrees with you, making Adam’s original mission moot — even more so by the first season’s finale.
Beyond Brainiac, the first season of Krypton features a Game of Thrones–style plot of political coups and would-be kingmakers. Daron-Vex, from almost his first scene, hopes to topple the Voice of Rao and his theocracy. Down in the lowest parts of the city, the rankless masses toil in despair with Black Zero as one of their few options for hope. The tensions would have eventually shattered Kandor if Brainiac had passed Krypton by. And, surprisingly, Nyssa emerges as the viewpoint character of this struggle — well, at least until it all falls apart during Brainiac’s attack. In the fallout, Dru-Zod assumes control of Kandor, unties the planet’s other city states, and gives the rankless a position in his new order. The political intrigue that could’ve fueled two or more seasons of a different show was satisfyingly swept away.
Those upheavals reverberate back into the timestream, with Superman’s cape losing its S-shaped House of El shield in favor of the more intricate House of Zod emblem. Presumably, “Kal-Zod” grows up continuing Dru-Zod’s vision for a galaxy under Krypton’s boot, a reality Adam sees firsthand when that grenade explosion sends him back to a Detroit conquered both by Zod and, later, Brainiac.
Even as the second season begins, it has a new of premise. Seg and Adam must make their way back to Krypton while escaping a notorious bounty hunter. And back on Krypton, Dru-Zod faces a rebellion led by Seg’s grandfather, Val-El (Ian McElhinney). Considering the speed at which the series eats story — Seg and Adam made it back to the Kryptonian wastes in episode 3 — we expect to the series to be in a very different place a few weeks from now.
That bounty hunter we mentioned above? It’s Lobo, a.k.a. The Last Czarnian, a.k.a. “Da Main Man,” one of DC Comics’ most popular characters in the 1990s. Created by Keith Giffen in a 1980s issue of Omega Men (a team of alien dissidents we fully expect to show up on Krypton at some point), the character was re-imagined by writer Alan Grant and artist Simon Bisley as a parody of the decade’s “grim-n-gritty” characters in 1991. The parody was such a success, though, that fans soon embraced Lobo for his outrageous antics. And thanks to actor Emmett J. Scanlan, the character is proving popular enough for Syfy to develop a spin-off centered on the meanest Bastich in the galaxy. He also gives the show a more humorous edge it desperately wants to embrace.
But he is only one of the characters Krypton pulls from deep in the library of DC Comics. Characters like Dev-Em (Aaron Pierre) and even Seg-El appeared in comics like Legion of Superheroes, World of Krypton, and Starman. The latter titled even featured time-lost main character Jack Knight meeting Seg’s son Jor-El during a time when their relationship was rocky at best. Meanwhile, Val-El’s fellow resistance leader Jax-Ur (Hannah Waddingham) is another name steeped in DC lore as one of the Kryptonian criminals imprisoned in the Phantom Zone.
The city states of Kandor, Argo, and even Kryptonopolis all derive from Krypton maps seen in comics over the years, while details like the Jewel Mountains and Krypton’s moon Wegthor point to obscure stories published in 1960s issues of Action Comics and Superman.
Even Doomsday, a character who is anything but obscure, hearkens to the lesser-known 1997 miniseries Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey, in which Superman learns the creature is of Kryptonian origin. Although, on Krypton, the blame for the unstoppable menaces is shared by the Houses of El and Zod, who joined forces to create the killer. His full role in the program’s tale has yet to be revealed, but looks remarkable.
Unlike some of the other shows based on DC Comics characters, Krypton is uniquely suited to feature stranger, space-faring characters like Lobo. At one point in its development, Hawkwoman was meant to be featured before she proved to be one element too many. Perhaps with its wider scope in the second season, the characters will find their way to Thanagar and meet Shayera Hol at last.
Perhaps the most surprising element of the series is the way it escaped Superman’s shadow. Sure, the series used his cape as a countdown timer and the primary icon of the first season, but in altering the timeline to favor Zod, it also allowed the series to become its own thing. Instead of a tale of Superman’s grandpappy growing up on the mean streets of Kandor, it is a complex epic of competing philosophies for the soul of a planet. It is also the story of two buds trying to get home. We’re also going to assume from developments in Nyssa’s story that it is also about how Jor-El’s mother influenced her iconoclastic son — yeah, we think Kor-Vex is really Jor-El. And now that we’re talking about families, it is also the most deeply realized depiction of the House of Zod to ever grace the screen with three generations facing off and trying to define what they really stand for.
All of it adds up to a series that is far more interesting than a mere Superman prequel. In order to get there, it had to let Superman go (at least a little bit) and, to be honest, the show is better for focusing on the characters and stories it can put on the screen. Now, we are invested in the characters and their immediate plights. Re-establishing the original timeline is nowhere near as interesting as watching Seg and Adam get one over on Lobo or Jayna’s journey back to Kandor.
It all reflects a certain confidence as Krypton evolves away from a Superman prequel into a genuinely interesting science fiction tale that happens to feature DC Comics characters. The fact that it works is the best surprise of all.
Krypton airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on Syfy.