You Can’t Go Home Again, Superman: The Return of Krypton & Our Hero’s Still an Outsider

In 2009, the greatest superhero in the world was finally given his chance at true happiness.  Or almost.  Actually, it just blew up in his face more or less.  What I’m talking about is the New Krypton storyline that dominated the Superman books while Blackest Night incorporated everything else at DC.

The continuity’s a bit sketchy.  Sometime way back in the Silver Age, Superman found the Bottle City of Kandor which contained in microscopic form the denizens of one of Krypton’s cities.  Through some manner of heavy irony, Kryptonians were unable to leave the bottle, leaving old Supes as homesick as ever.  The confusing part is, after Jack Byrne relaunched Superman in the 90s, the bottle city was no longer around, vanished like a neglected heirloom.  Belatedly, Kandor returned like a message in a bottle in Geoff Johns’ awesome book Superman: Brainiac (I’d say that’s Johns’ best work).  Shortly afterwards, Supes was able to uncork the bottle and do away with the immune deficiency or whatever it was that kept Kryptonians down and all of the inhabitants emerged onto Earth, full-size, without going through any worse ordeal than bottlenecking.

The start of the series featured Superman smiling more than I’d ever seen him before.  Usually, Superman is allowed at most a fatherly smirk.  There was an excellent Gary Frank cover that featured Superman looking like a kid in a candy store in restored Krypton (to see it on Comic Art Community, click here).  Then it all came crashing down.  Kryptonians became responsible for the deaths of police officers, and our hero was put into a “Superman’s Choice” scenario: which world does he side with, his birthplace or his adopted home?

This was a series I was really excited about at the time, not just because it made Superman not the last survivor of Krypton but one among many (all put together like a city of diaspora), but because it was masterminded by James Robinson, writer of Starman.  The problem was, it was just too big.  There’s only so much I’ll spend on comic in good conscience.  Even an eight issue mini-series like Blackest Night or a seven issue one like Fear Itself is a lot to collect.  The entire Krypton story was much bigger than that.  Just the part where Superman does a meet and greet with the Kryptonians lasted 12 issues.  In the end, I collected a lot of the early issues, and since the story ended, I’ve picked up a few more in bargain bins, but to this day, I still don’t know how the storyline concluded, or what happened to the Kryptonians.  Right afterwards, at issue #700 of Action comics, control of the series switched to J.M. Straczynski who hardly mentioned Superman’s peers again.  Are they still somewhere out there, lingering and waiting like the islands of dinosaurs in Jurassic Park?  By the way, if you do know the story’s conclusion, DON’T TELL ME.  It’s still a pipe dream of mine that one day I’ll go back and collect all fo the issues I missed (it’s kind of how like how sports fans don’t want to hear the outcome of a game if they taped it).

The idea that you can’t go home again is a prominent theme in comics.  Just about every character has a sordid detail in their past that they simply can’t fix.  Superman’s time-traveled on countless occasions, and yet he can’t time travel back to save Krypton (if given the opportunity, I’m sure Supes could find a way, just as he moved the entire moon to defeat the bad guy in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace).  Even in a lot of indie comics there’s this sense that there’s things that can’t be fixed.  In the wonderful indie book Billy Corrigan: The Smartest Boy in The World, Billy can’t get over his abandonment issues even after reuniting with his long lost father.  It seems to me this is something inextricably tied to the way comics refer to childhood, even when they’re not for children.  In the Golden and Silver Ages, when comics definitely were aimed at kids, I think comics were subconsciously conveying to the readers that what they have is not going to last forever.  Your parents might not always be there for you, just ask Batman.  Sometimes the best you can do might not be enough, just ask Spiderman.

In the modern age, I’d say that comics are aimed at outsiders and misfits the way they were aimed at kids in the past.  While mainstream superhero movies have helped comics gain acceptance by the larger culture, there’s still a stigma attached to them.  It’s very likely that if you purchase a comic book anywhere outside of a comic book store you’ll get weird looks.  I think then that the return of Krypton symbolized the dream that many of us might have that there will one day be a perfect subculture where all fanboys and nerds can be accepted.  A place where everyone knows who General Zod is or that Supergirl’s real name is Kara.  The implosion of Krypton symbolizes the way in which such a dream of ours if realized would fall apart.  “Things fall apart, the center cannot hold,” to quote W.B. Yeats.  So what do we do when it comes crumbling?  Like Superman, we readjust to life on Earth.

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If you like Superman, check out my review of the 1978 movie.

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