Superman Without Krypton?

One of my more popular blog entries was about Smallville's cape-less Superman costume.  Now, forget the cape -- Superman without planet Krypton?  That seems to be the direction for DC Comics (now DC Entertainment) and parent company Warner Bros. according to MTV's Splash Page blog.

The legal battle that gave the rights to Superman's origin story to the estate of co-creator Joel Siegel has stirred up rumblings that the current owners of Superman will try to reboot the franchise to avoid any mention of the character's home planet Krypton.  The argument is that so many people already know the Man of Steel's backstory, there is no need to retell it or even mention it, and therefore avoid any legal ramifications over rights.

DC Comics apparently might already be preparing for such storytelling possibilities which can translate into any new film versions.  The comic book company announced graphic novels called Superman: Earth One by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis and Batman: Earth One by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank that will retell the beginnings of those iconic superheroes.  In the case of Superman, no mention of his alien origins will allegedly be made.

It might work fine for that project, and maybe even for the next Superman film (whenever that might happen).  But can they really tell Superman's story without any mention that he's a "strange visitor from another planet?"  There are many aspects of the Superman mythos that would be lost without planet Krypton:

1.  How do you explain Superman's superpowers without Krypton?  It's a simple science fiction plot device but it is the root of the attempt at an explanation for why the greatest superhero of them all has all those near-god-like powers in the first place.  The differences between Earth and Krypton, between a yellow sun and a red giant star, are the basis for Superman's invulnerability, his superstrength, super-senses, power of flight, etc.  The writers can avoid mentioning it, but that's the foundation of it all.  Without that, will they make up something new and less interesting?

2.  How do you explain Superman's greatest weakness, kryptonite, if there is no Krypton?  Another iconic element of the  Superman myth is his single most identifiable vulnerability -- the green rocks known as kryptonite, which are remnants of his exploded home world.  I once wrote an essay about the profound psychological role kryptonite plays, not only as one of the only physical things that could hurt the seemingly invincible hero, but also as an emotional weakness, reminders of his lost heritage, the lost civilization of his people, and the fact that he is in fact an alien in his adopted new world.  Without kryptonite, what will be the replacement Achilles heel for the most powerful character ever invented?

3.  Without Krypton, can they use other Kryptonian characters?  No Supergirl?  No General Zod?  No Jor-El and Lara?  No shrunken city of Kandor?  Decades of great characters and story ideas, gone forever?  The Last Son of Krypton finally will be all alone.

4.  Without Krypton, Kal-El is no more.  I always thought an alien origin gave the character some humanity, as strange as that sounds.  Both the Superman persona and the Clark Kent persona were just facades for the real person: Kal-El, the lost boy from a doomed planet.  The new storytelling wants to focus on Clark (without the glasses) as the real personality, and Smallville as the point of origin, and forget all that came before. 

My advice -- find a way to save Krypton and keep it as a plot device.  Superman loses too much otherwise.


MediumRob said…
The "Clark is real, Superman is the alias" switch was part of the 80s reboot and is also part of Lois and Clark and Smallville, so I don't think that's such a worry.

As for how they're going to adapt, it's a good question, but Marvel have tried to rationalise heroes in line with their other titles: Spiderman for example no longer got his powers from a radioactive spider - that was a coincidence since he always had animal mutant powers. And at DC, Swamp Thing famously became better in Alan Moore's hands when it was revealed he wasn't really a research scientist who had become a vegetable, but a vegetable that had merely picked up the consciousness of a research scientist.

So maybe he'll become a male mirror-image to Wonder Woman, who has similar powers thanks to the Greek gods. It'll probably be horrible, but I'm sure they can do it.

PS Kryptonite - lots of colours now. Red, blue, green, gold – whatever you want! Plus it only originated in the radio series when the actor wanted a week off, IIRC.
Nick said…
Great points as usual, Rob.

My only nitpick is that most of those examples you gave didn't really negate the facts in the origin stories, they just "reinterpretted" them and built upon them. Even the 1980s rebooting of Superman (which had multiple flaws from my point of view)still kept Krypton as a key story element.

My problem with making Clark Kent the dominant personality is that it really negates the point of Superman having a secret identity. But that's a discussion for another day.
MediumRob said…
I guess, but Superman was a character who really evolved over time. He was a bit of an arse at first, without the goodie-goodie morality, taking pleasure in duffing up crims using his super-strength. Krypton wasn't mentioned, only that he was from another planet. His super-powers, which only involved having a tough skin, being able to run fast, and leap tall buildings (but then come down again because he couldn't fly), were originally explained by higher gravity on his home world, rather than different sun rays. Krypton has been populated by benevolent, wise scientists who only wanted to help – or cold, remote gods who consider humans beneath them.

Just about everything we 'know' about Superman has changed, from who the love of his life is (Lois, Lana, etc), through whether his adopted parents are alive or dead (alive in the 80s reboot, dead in the earliest version), through what kind of person he is has changed. There have been numerous alternate versions (eg Red Son - what if he'd landed in the USSR instead of Russia), so losing Krypton isn't as radical move as it seems. And it isn't necessarily intrinsic to the myth.

I can understand why DC would want to ditch too much constraining mythology, even Krypton, but essentially we've reached a tricky question: what makes a character what he or she is? At what point does Superman stop being Superman? What are the bits of Superman mythology that are considered definitive?

It might just be whatever version of Superman most people are familiar with determines that, and I suspect most people only know the character through the movies, more through Smallville now. Look at how DC was even considering introducing Chloe to the comics at one stage, because she was starting to be considered part of the overall mythology, not just a TV variant. Kryptonite, Lex Luther - it's largely the movie series that defines the idea of Superman, not the comics, which is why Zod was never a big villain in the Superman universe until Superman 2 popularised him.

I think you're right that ditching Krypton might be a step too far unless they come up with something better. But unless the reboot lasts as long as the past history of Superman, the memories of the movies, Smallville, et al, it'll probably be just another interpretation, rather than the definite version.
Nick said…
Excellent points, again, Rob.

I guess nothing is too radically, even changing his costume.
Steve said…
This is why I find it's best to avoid MTV's blog...they like to rattle the cages of the geek-set and see what comes loose. In this case what's come loose is my tolerance for blasphemies. Warner might not be aware of it, but they have few characters at their disposal more iconic and enduring than Superman. While this stupid legal battle might not wear on forver, the tarnishing of his legacy through some kind of weird end-run around the law will last forever - retconning or no retconning.

One of my philosophy profs once told me that when an axe can no longer cut, it's no longer an axe - it's lost its axe-ness. If you take away Superman's heritage, lieneage and weakness, he's no longer Superman - he's lost his Superman-ness. They might as well just make that Shazam movie they've got on deck and wait for the rest of the Seigel clan to get what they want.