The planet Krypton, jewel of civilization throughout the cosmos. Homeworld of our greatest hero. And doomed, from the very first panel of the very first Superman story in Action Comics #1. Beginning this week, Robert Venditti and Michael Avon Oeming will be exploring this cardinal tragedy to the DC Universe in World of Krypton—a story which promises the true account of the planet’s demise. But how much do we really know about Krypton’s destruction? And more importantly, who can we hold accountable? Ahead of Venditti and Oeming’s latest account, we have a few culprits in mind.
The Kryptonian Science Council
The first time we see Krypton in the comics, it’s in the process of exploding as baby Kal-El’s rocket hurtles through space to the relative safety of Earth. Yet, the well-known tale of the Kryptonian Science Council refuting Jor-El’s ominous tidings of Krypton’s fate wouldn’t be part of Superman’s story until 1945, seven years after the planet’s demise in Action Comics #1. Perhaps even more surprising is that this essential component of Superman’s story was crafted not by Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, but by Batman’s co-creator, Bill Finger, with artist Wayne Boring.
Essentially Krypton’s governing body, the Science Council was perhaps not directly responsible for the planet’s destruction, as Jor-El attested it to the planet’s own increasingly unstable core. But in their reluctance to accept a difficult truth and adapt to changing circumstance, the Council denied Jor-El’s warnings of the planet’s fate and doomed its people without creating or even approving a lifesaving escape plan. It’s a good thing nothing like that will ever happen here on Earth!
Quick, name the four figures who took up the role of Superman after the original perished in his fight with Doomsday. There was Superboy, allegedly a clone of Superman. That one’s easy. Steel, an engineer in a power suit with a big hammer. Okay. Cyborg Superman, who was really Hank Henshaw, a Superman-hating villain who destroys Coast City. Sure. And then there was The Eradicator, who was…Superman in a yellow visor? Of all Superman’s would-be successors, Eradicator remains the most enigmatic, but he’s one with a history going far into Krypton’s past.
We are first introduced to the Eradicator in 1989’s “Memories of Krypton’s Past” from Action Comics Annual #2. In this story, we learn that 200,000 years in the past, the xenophobic scientist Kem-L developed the Eradicator to prevent dilution of Krypton’s culture by altering Kryptonian physiology so that they would die if they strayed too far from the planet. Prior to his son’s birth, Jor-El treated himself so that his son would not inherit this defect. But with this in mind, it is perhaps understandable that the Science Council was not willing to consider a planetary evacuation, as their people would be doomed either way.
A strong contender for Superman’s second-best known villain, Brainiac has always been closely associated with Krypton. From his first appearance in 1958’s Action Comics #242, Brainiac has been held responsible for the miniaturization and abduction of the Kryptonian city of Kandor. But in adaptations of Krypton’s past, the legend of Brainiac has grown, as the idea to put an enemy Superman could fight who was responsible for his own tragic origin took hold. And with his pre-existing relationship with ravishing Krypton, it was Brainiac who best fit that bill from Superman’s rogues gallery.
In Superman: The Animated Series, Brainiac was reimagined as Jor-El’s own computer, who had gained sentience and discredited his escape plans for Krypton so that it could pursue its own ends. In the Smallville TV series, Brainiac is ultimately responsible for Krypton’s destruction as well—although the war efforts of General Zod and the mining operations of Jor-El’s brother, Zor-El, may be equally to blame. On Krypton, it’s revealed that the act of taking Kandor from Krypton 200 years prior to the world’s end was what destabilized the planet’s core to begin with. And in the video game Injustice 2 and the animated movie Superman: Unbound, Brainiac destroys Krypton outright himself after abducting Kandor—just as he’s attempted to do in his many incursions on Earth.
Green Lantern Corps
So, let’s take a look at the entire premise of the Green Lantern Corps for a moment. Billions of years ago, a collective of Maltusians appointed themselves the Guardians of the Universe and created the Green Lanterns in order to save all life in the universe from peril. Wouldn’t something like the destruction of one of the universe’s most civilized planets qualify for something like that? Who was on duty exactly when this went down? In 1972’s Superman #257, the answer appears to be Tomar-Re, the birdlike, Xudarian protector of Sector 2813, our own cosmic neighbor.
As it happens, on the day of Krypton’s destruction, Tomar-Re was in route to save the planet with a shipment of Stellarium which would stabilize the planet’s core. But before he could get there, he was incapacitated by a solar flare, and missed his window to save the planet—a failure which would haunt him for the rest of his career. But can we really blame Tomar, or are the Guardians themselves at fault? In Injustice: Year Two, we learn that Jor-El didn’t just appeal to the Science Council, but appealed to the Guardians of the Universe as well. The Guardians revealed to Jor-El that they already knew of Krypton’s impending doom and had chosen not to intervene. In their view, Krypton’s destruction was a matter of fate, and not to be circumvented.
When Brian Michael Bendis took over the Superman line in 2018, he began by borrowing a concept that television and games had already been placing on Brainiac: giving the destruction of Krypton a face. But instead of drawing on an established villain, Bendis created a new one for this purpose in the form of Rogol Zaar, a planet-killing juggernaut hellbent on exterminating all Kryptonians. After arriving on Earth to destroy Kandor, Superman and Supergirl investigate the truth behind Rogol Zaar’s origin, finding him to be an agent of the Circle: an intergalactic Illuminati comprised from the most powerful and influential figures in the cosmos to dictate the political landscape of the universe. Rogol Zaar was a bioengineered creation employed by the Circle to eliminate aggressive, warlike planets from causing massive destruction to the universe before they got the chance to do so.
If that sounds problematic to you, good, it’s supposed to. To Superman’s horror, he learns that Rogol Zaar’s creator was none other than Krypton’s own representative on the Circle, his father Jor-El. Of course, it wasn’t long before the members of the Circle started turning Rogol Zaar on each other to increase their own influence, as the crystalline Empress Gandelo was discovered by Supergirl to have done in Supergirl #29.
Despair of the Endless
Perhaps the most interesting case can be leveled against one of the oldest cosmic entities in the universe, billions of years before Kryptonians even existed. Readers of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman are well-acquainted with the Endless, an ancient family of siblings each representing some of life’s essential, universal components; the gods beyond even gods: Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair and Delirium (formerly Delight). Chronologically, one of the earliest stories in The Sandman cycle is a tale in 2003’s Endless Nights, in a grand cosmic ball attended by the family and a collective of young stars, and the spiritual entities which represent them. At the party, Despair of the Endless can be spotted striking up a conversation with Rao, the sun god who will one day reign spiritually and photonically over Krypton. It’s there that Despair makes her pitch to Rao to conspire with her over the most exquisite experiment in sorrow.
“Think about it, Rao,” she proposes. “Wouldn’t bringing life onto a planet that is inherently unstable add to the beauty of the life? If at any moment it could explode… truly, it would only be perfectly beautiful, a perfect piece of art, if one single life-form escaped. To remember, to mourn, to despair.”
And in so speaking, the ancient gods conspired to damn Krypton in its own creation, all to serve the birth of the most miserable creature ever devised. And yet, in Despair’s spite, that creature would become the greatest hope the universe would ever know.
Whatever the case, new facts are sure to surface in this latest exploration of Krypton’s final days. World of Krypton #1 is on shelves now, with new evidence to present. Let the 83-year long trial proceed!
World of Krypton #1 by Robert Venditti, Michael Avon Oeming and Nick Filardi is now available in print and as a digital comic book.
Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly “Ask the Question” column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.