For There Is No Future For The Fabulous World of Krypton
I’m excited for DC’s Future State event. There are a lot of reasons to be, but two things that I find particularly interesting. It’s a whole new landscape of forward-looking stories in a time when there doesn’t seem to be much to look forward too between perpetual pandemic and climate catastrophe. Also, a lot of it is built around a comics-packaging format that fell out of favor years ago, including backup stories in addition to the title feature.
In the 1970s, Superman had an occasional backup series called The Fabulous World of Krypton, which I first encountered decades later finding a random back issue as a teenager: Superman #282. The story in it, “The Loneliest Man in the Universe” written by Marty Pasko and drawn by Ernie Chan (here credited as Ernie Chua), is one I think about a lot.
Nam-Ek is a Kryptonian scientist who discovers that the key to immortality lies in a beast called a Rondor, but an unfortunate side-effect of his serum is that it turns him into something as much monster as man. Rejected by society, he goes mad, even hallucinates companions in an empty city, until 500 years later when Krypton explodes. The last page haunted me then, and those last three panels of the story proper—the framing device is something else—have remained perfectly etched in the walls of my brain ever since.
For a series with “Fabulous” in the title, it had a lot of downer stories. It couldn’t have been any other way, really. The story of Krypton is characterized by it’s ending. All its history is an inexorable march into the void, that maybe could have been avoided if the structure of its society was capable of reckoning with bad news.
“Doomsayer” by Denny O’Neil and Dick Giordano from Superman #236 takes on the paradox of man’s propensity to positivity. Framed by Superman stepping in on an argument between Green Arrow and Black Canary about corporate-driven climate change, he tells Dinah about a man on Krypton—not Jor-El—who also figured out its impending demise. For sounding the alarm, the willfully ignorant sentence him to a greenhouse of musical flowers that intoxicate him and numb him to all thoughts other than that of the happy sounds.
That was the Bronze Age. Here we are, all these decades later, with a world on fire and a society driven by men who refuse to rectify it, aided by a culture of toxic positivity, platitudes about the strength and resilience of mankind. How many times have you heard someone complain that the news on TV is only ever bad news? That we’re all too negative and we should all go back to brunch because things will turn out okay even if nothing will fundamentally change.
Elliot S! Maggin penned a few of these stories, with a more mythic quality to them than the rest, like “The Headband Warriors” (with Cockrum) like the story of Biblical Exodus, or “The Warriors of Lightning Valley” like a creation myth for the planet’s rotation. One deals more directly with the Superman myth, “The Greatest Green Lantern of All” (from an idea by Neal Adams, drawn by Dick Dillin and Dick Giordano) in which the Guardians send Tomar-Re to delay the inevitable in secret, just long enough for Kryptonians to realize for itself the need to evacuate. “Strange ethics,” remarks the Lantern upon seeing the men of Krypton who prefer individualism and self-determination to the point of endangering the entire population. “These humans who value freedom over life.” It is also revealed in this story that Kal-El means “star child” much in the way the etymology of Moses suggests the meaning “child drawn out” as in the way he was drawn from the Nile in the Jewish scripture. In tying the history of Krypton to the legends of Earth, Maggin writes perhaps the strongest parallels to late Krypton as present Earth.
Sometimes, like the aforementioned “Loneliest Man” story, the haunting vibe itself was the point. “The Man Who Cheated Time” by Cary Bates and Michael Kaluta depicts a man trying to become a warrior king of the past and accidentally time-traveling the wrong way into the empty space where Krypton used to be. “All in the Mind” by Marv Wolfman and Dave Cockrum shows Kryptonians sending children with what seem to be birth defects into exile.
Future State looks like a great opportunity for change to the status quo of cape comics, and with possibly the most diverse creative lineup DC’s ever had I really am looking forward to it. I can only hope the change it brings will reflect the change we need in the real world. Maybe it’s cliché now to compare our world to Krypton, refusing to listen to scientists to maintain a complacent ruling class, but it became cliché because it really was apt. A real future state will take work, but it’s worth fighting for, lest our history like that of the once fabulous world of Krypton become permanently characterized by its few survivors.