Again, sort of "Meh". I like the interesting details on the city of Kandor, but other than that, this just seems like a pretty unremarkable Superman comic cover. Sorry Superman fans. It's just me, I guess.
We pick up the story shortly after Jor-El and Lara's wedding at the end of issue #1. Jor-El and his father are attacked by an alien ice bird long thought to be extinct during a visit to Antarctic City. Jor-El's father is severely injured and falls into a coma before being able to tell Jor-El his reason for the visit.
Jor-El searches his father's papers and makes a terrifying discovery. . .his father's research indicates that Krypton's planetary core is unstable and within the next few years, the planet is doomed! Jor-El (and his trusted assistant, Kal-El. . .who is actually Superman trapped in the past on Krypton) wastes no time in trying to find a way to evacuate the planet.
Unfortunately, Kryptonian politics delay the project until Jor-El and several other scientists friendly to his cause pool their talents and own resources to at least try and save some of the doomed Kryptonians in gigantic space arks of Jor-El's design when the time comes.
Jor-El's father briefly regains consciousness and tells his son that the real reason behind their visit to the Antarctic was because he had discovered a gigantic alien ship in the ice. . .but dies before he can reveal the location.
As Jor-El searches for the alien craft, Kal-El designs a robot capable of doing the work of 100 men, and construction of the first Kryptonian evacuation ark begins.
An unidentified craft attacks the capital city of Kandor, ripping it from the ground, and then shrinking the city before departing! Along with Kandor goes the ark under construction, the super-construction robot, Jor-El's fellow scientists working with him on the project, AND the supply of rare fuel needed for the starships! All hope seems lost.
With Kandor gone, Krypton is plunged into panic. As the Kryptonians try to hold their society together without their capital city, Jor-El receives even more bad news. . .his assistant, Kal-El has gone missing (Superman discovered a way off-page to return to Earth and his own timeline). Despite the crushing hopelessness of it all, Jor-El vows to continue with his project somehow, if only to save his own recently-born son, who is named Kal-El in honor of Jor-El's faithful assistant.
With the newly-reformed science council now behind Jor-El's research, he begins investigating other dimensions as an alternative to the gigantic space arks. During his research, he discovers the Phantom Zone. It's unsuitable for general habitation, but Jor-El convinces the Science Council that it would be a better place for criminals than the expensive system of orbiting suspended animation prison satellites he created years ago (in issue #1).
AND THEN. . .
Jor-El finally discovers the location of the crashed alien ship that his father had discovered! It seems to hold all the answers needed to help the Kryptonians escape into space locked inside its strange technology. Unfortunately, during a test flight, a criminal named Jax-Ur fires a powerful rocket, causing the alien ship to crash before completely destroying Krypton's moon, Wegthor!
Jax-Ur is captured and is the first criminal sentenced to the Phantom Zone, but the loss of the alien ship's technology and the destruction of the launching facility on Wegthor together spell the end of Jor-El's rescue plans for the people of Krypton.
To be continued. . .
I THOUGHT there was a lot going on in the first issue. The second issue ups the ante at least a few notches by bombarding the reader with so much story that even a major event like the capital city of Kandor literally being ripped from the planet and stolen by Brainiac takes up ONE page.
That's it. Right there. Capital City gone.
While I admired Kupperberg's compressed storytelling in the first issue, here it just seems like too much. The story jumps from place to place so quickly that it's difficult to get invested in any one thing before it's gone and you're reading about something else. Even writing the synopsis above, I glossed over several plot points for the sake of space and readability.
Extremely compressed storytelling aside, this issue also seems strange because Superman himself plays a fairly large supporting role, with practically no explanation as to why or how beyond one single tiny editor box:
We don't need no stinkin' exposition!
Reading this comic in 2021, I was able to hit the internet for more information. . .discovering that this story (for some strange reason) ties heavily into Superman #141, from 1960, which tells the story of how Superman accidentally ended up on Krypton in the past, got to know his parents, and fell in love, before managing to escape despite not having any powers under the red Kryptonian sun.
It seems like an odd story path in tying so strongly into a single Superman issue published almost TWENTY YEARS before the story at hand. . .especially during the Bronze Age, where comics weren't generally kept and collected the way they are now. One wonders what the thinking was behind the idea, when there was really no way at the time for the average reader to go back and reference. . .well. . .just about ANYTHING not in the card catalogue at a library or in an encyclopedia (For my younger readers, they were a sort of multi-volume printed versions of Wikipedia that took up a lot of space. Just kidding. You know what an encyclopedia is, right? , I feel old).
ANYWAY. . .
It just seems really strange to tie a good chunk of this story to a single comic book issue published in 1960. Beyond the single editor note pictured above, Superman is just sort of. . .there. . .in full Superman garb for most of this issue without any further explanation. Maybe they were afraid a Superman comic without Superman wouldn't sell?
Overall, this issue suffers from some extremely compressed storytelling that causes the story to jump from place to place without any real time to dwell on any single story element. Combined with the strange decision to tie this issue in with an issue of Superman published twenty years previously, this whole second chapter of World of Krypton seems a bit confusing. It's not BAD, mind you. It's just a little hard for me to get into.
THE LAST DAYS OF KRYPTON
Now HERE'S the winner! What a glorious comic book cover! I'm not even a Superman fan and I absolutely LOVE this cover! The colors, the composition, the. . .everything! There's not a single thing I don't like about this piece of comic art. It was worth buying this set of comics for this cover alone!
Continuing from the previous issue, we follow Jor-El shortly after Jax-Ur is sentenced to the Phantom Zone for destroying Krypton's moon, Wegthor. Because of the destruction, the Science Council votes to ban all further space travel and rocket research, despite the protests of Jor-El.
Unable to convince the Science Council of the need to evacuate the planet, Jor-El continues his research on his own, knowing that he will be condemned to the Phantom Zone if caught. Suspecting Jor-El of disobeying their command, the Science Council secretly assigns an agent to follow and watch him.
Jor-El discovers a large piece of debris from the destroyed alien ship (from issue #2) orbiting Krypton and calculates it will land in the Scarlet Jungle. He suspects it is the remains of the ship's engine. As he waits for it to crash so he can retrieve the technology, Jor-El continues his rocket research, not suspecting that the Council's Agent, Par-Es is watching.
When the debris from the alien ship finally crash lands, Jor-El travels to the Scarlet Jungle. Realizing he's being followed, he subdues Par-Es using his anti-gravity belt (that he invented in issue #1) and brings the wreckage back to his lab.
As earthquakes rock Krypton, Jor-El works to the point of exhaustion trying to build at least one working rocket to evacuate his wife and son from the doomed planet. Unknown to him, he has contracted Scarlet Jungle Fever, which makes him weak and unable to resist the mental commands of a group of Krypton's worst criminals (including General Zod) plotting to escape the Phantom Zone.
Realizing something is wrong with her husband, Lara foils the escape plot and helps Jor-El recover from the fever. He wastes no time in continuing to build a rocket, and finally manages to complete his work as the earthquakes wracking the planet cause the city to crumble around him.
Jor-El puts his son into the rocket, but Lara refuses to go with him. . .preferring to die with her husband and trusting that their son will thrive on his new homeworld of Earth. As the rocket with baby Kal-El launches into space, the planet explodes behind him!
In the end, we witness baby Kal-El being found by the Kents in Kansas and we return to the present day, where Superman vows never to forget Jor-El and Lara, or the destroyed world of Krypton.
Okay then. Finally we get to the meat of the story. . .the destruction of Krypton. This issue is a little more tightly-focused than the other two. There are still some seemingly random plot threads thrown in (the attempted Phantom Zone escape comes directly to mind) that look like they're there to pad the length out and add a little action to the story, but not nearly as many as in previous issues.
Because of the tighter focus and relative lack of digressions, this issue is probably the best of the bunch, story-wise. It's a relentless countdown from the Science Council outlawing space research to the explosion of Krypton, shown to the reader in a single glorious splash page. . .
The actual ending of the story, with baby Kal-El being found and Superman reflecting on his parents' lives, seems a bit rushed. But then again, what should I expect after a dramatic countdown to a planetary explosion?
Overall, I enjoyed this issue a lot. Where the first two seemed a bit overwhelming as they piled on information and story digressions, this issue was tighter and more focused, delivering a page-turner of a story that kept me invested even though I already knew the ending.
While doing a bit of basic research to try and ease my confusion over Superman himself playing a supporting role in issue #2 of this series, I discovered that MOST of this series is actually supposed to tie together a series of 27 "Fabulous World of Krypton" back-up features that had appeared in Superman comics during the 70's. This explains why seemingly random story digressions kept appearing throughout.
I also learned that the overall story was originally supposed to appear in DC's "Showcase" series as part of the lead-in to the Superman movie in 1978. But then the movie was delayed and Showcase was cancelled before that could happen, leading to this interesting experiment by DC to build a coherent continuity to Superman's past becoming the very first comic book limited series.
Knowing that this whole affair was actually built from barely-related story elements written over the course of about twenty years gave me a new perspective on things. Where I did see it as a bit of a mess, but still a sort of fun read. I now see it as a valiant attempt to make one story out of many, with the explosion of Krypton the established ending.
Even knowing the story behind the story, I'm still not sure they entirely succeeded. I called the first issue a "Dagwood Sandwich" because of all the story points stacked inside a single comic. I'm thinking that, reading this with the benefit of 40 years' worth of hindsight, the editors might have done the writer a disservice by trying to cram EVERYTHING that had been written about Krypton up to that point into a three issue story.
The final issue sort of bears this out with its tighter focus on the inevitable end of Krypton. If the writer had maintained that focus through the whole series instead of having to diverge to things like the tale of Krypton's automated Marriage Computer somehow developing feelings for Superman's mother (from issue #1, for one example), this strange little piece of comic book history MIGHT not be relegated to the bargain bin because the story would be a lot more readable than it is.
As it stands, World of Krypton (mostly the first two issues) is just overstuffed to the point that it's bursting with things that don't move the actual story along. Don't get me wrong. . .it's not BAD. It's actually well-written and the art is interesting, but the story jumps from place to place as it tries to incorporate story elements from almost 30 different sources.
At the end of the day, not being much of a Superman fan, I found this series to be interesting more for the story behind the story than the actual story at hand. If you are a Superman fan and are interested in "Pre-Crisis" Superman continuity, you'll probably get more mileage out of the actual story itself than I did.
I'd say that just for its place in comic book history as the first limited series, World of Krypton deserves to be read at least once. If you spot it in the bargain bin, go ahead and give it a look.
Up Next. . .
It's July! I'm a bit late off the starting line, but how about some Captain America?
Be there or be square!