We Live On Krypton

There’s a lot of Krypton retcon happening these days.

Let’s start with the world of comics, since there’s big news there: Brian Michael Bendis, one of the most Marvel-associated writers of the past few decades, has jumped ship to DC. After redefining Spider-Man and inventing Jessica Jones he was tempted away by the chance to write Superman, and who can blame him?

His first issue is out this week, Man of Steel #1, the beginning of a weekly Superman saga. The issue itself is… fine? In true Bendis fashion the whole issue feels like a prologue, or like the first five pages of a more complete comic book, but he loves that decompressed storytelling, so we get three pages of Superman meeting a new fire chief. It also introduces a new villain to the Superman mythos, one who seems to have a connection to the destruction of Krypton.

Rogol Zaar looks kind of like a reboot of Blastaar, but the important thing we learn about him in Man of Steel #1 is that long ago he appealed to a council of DC’s elder beings, asking for permission to destroy Krypton. The Kryptonians, he said, were using up all their resources and threatened to encroach upon the rest of the galaxy, and he wanted to wipe them out before they had a chance to do so. The council denied his request, and we don’t yet know what happened next, but we do know Krypton blew up so I think we can make some educated guesses – including that Rogol Zaar probably blew up Krypton himself.

Meanwhile Krypton lives on TV, on the show Krypton. And that show, set a few hundred years before the destruction of Superman’s homeworld, also offers a new explanation for what happened to Krypton. It seems that when Brainiac took the city of Kandor away in a bottle it created instability in the planet, and eventually that instability led to the whole world exploding.

Both these retcons (or maybe they’re better called retadds – retroactive additions to the canon) try to answer, on some level, the big question that many of us have had for years about the destruction of Krypton – why didn’t anybody take Krypton’s imminent demise seriously? Both position the destruction of the planet as a non-natural occurence, one that might be harder for the mainstream Kryptonian scientists to see coming. And both retadds do something very subtle to the legacy of the Kryptonians – it takes them off the hook for the loss of their own planet. Both of these retadds bring in outside elements who are responsible for the destruction of Krypton, easing Kryptonian responsibility.

For decades I thought the destruction of Krypton was stupid. As a comic reading kid I could never fathom how this smart people could absolutely ignore their planet falling apart; that Jor-El was the only Kryptonian who paid any attention to the science that was screaming in everyone’s faces. But in recent years it’s become clear that Superman’s origin story was terrifyingly prophetic – we live on Krypton in its final days.

Sure, there are more Jor-Els in our world, but the reality is the same. We are experiencing the increasingly catastrophic side effects of global warming and nobody seems willing to take steps to address it. How could Krypton’s leaders ignore the evidence that their planet was doomed? We only have to look at every GOP politician who smugly notes snow as proof climate change isn’t real to see the answer.

But it isn’t just our leadership who allows the coming doom to happen, it’s all of us. As the true toll of Hurricane Maria becomes clear – deaths that are seventy times what the government claims – we find ourselves embroiled in a multi-day controversy about a TV star being racist. As the terrifying damage of climate change is shown to us we focus on Kim Kardashian visiting the White House. How did the people of Krypton let their planet get to the place it did? Perhaps because they were also deluded and distracted by pop culture, materialism and self-seeking.

I understand the narrative desire to add to the destruction of Krypton, but in doing so Krypton and DC Comics are defanging a perfect, pre-made metaphor for our times. What was essentially half-assed writing 80 years ago has become our reality, and the bullheaded leaders and disinterested populace of Krypton are us. Having that metaphor is vital – it reminds us that this is our fault, and that it’s our responsibility to take action on it. Anything that takes responsibility off the Kryptonians takes responsibility off of us.