'Krypton' just dropped some scandalous news about Superman's granddad

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the premiere episode of Krypton.

For obvious reasons, the Last Son of Krypton isn’t a character in Krypton, the new Syfy prequel series set two centuries before baby Kal-El rocketed away from his exploding homeworld, bound for Earth and his future as Superman. But the Man of Steel’s presence is very much felt in the series premiere, which explicitly ties the events of Krypton’s past to his future existence. In a Back to the Future-style plot twist that’s dropped at the end of the pilot, Kal-El’s grandfather, Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe), learns that he has to thwart a plot overseen by frequent Superman nemesis Brainiac to change history, thus erasing Earth’s mightiest hero from the timestream. The importance of this mission is driven home via a cameo by Superman’s iconic red cape, which slowly dissolves as Brainiac’s plan inches closer to success.

The cape is Krypton‘s most recognizable nod in the direction of Superman lore, but references to the Man of Steel’s various comic book and cinematic incarnations abound throughout the episode. Here are some of the biggest Easter eggs we spotted in the pilot.

Seg-El and Lyta Zod (Georgina Campbell) carry on a secret affair in Krypton. (Photo: Gavin Bond/Syfy)

Zod and El, sitting in a tree

General Zod and Superman have been enemies going back to the ’60s comic books, a rivalry that’s carried over into filmdom as well. For example, one of the main reasons that Superman II soars higher than the first Superman movie is the fact that it pits Superman against a returned and revitalized Zod, as opposed to a Lex Luthor-caused earthquake. It’s a battle so epic that Zack Snyder felt compelled to restage it for his 2013 reboot, Man of Steel — swapping in Henry Cavill and Michael Shannon for Christopher Reeve and Terence Stamp, respectively — to considerably lesser effect. Krypton reveals that Zod and Kal-El’s ancestors were, in fact, lovers rather than fighters. As disclosed early on in the pilot, Seg-El and Lyta Zod (Georgina Campbell) are carrying on a torrid affair that would totally gross out their combative grandkids if they learned about it.

Back to Brando

The first voice we hear in Krypton is Seg-El informing his grandson about the story we’re all about to see unfold. Superman is no stranger to hearing his ancestors lecture him on the subject of Kryptonian history, of course. Throughout his journey to Earth in Richard Donner’s groundbreaking, trendsetting 1978 comic book blockbuster, Superman: The Movie, baby Kal-El is filled in on his heritage via voice-over provided by his father, Jor-El, played by Hollywood icon Marlon Brando. And Seg-El’s narration definitely strains to echo Brando’s distinctive cadence. In fact, the entire first sequence in Krypton mirrors the first sequence in the earlier film, with a trial in which the planet’s governing body decides the fate of a perceived criminal. In the movie, the Council exiles General Zod and his sidekicks to the Phantom Zone. In the series, Seg-El’s granddad, Val-El (Ian McElhinney), is found guilty of treason by the Voice of Rao and plunges to his death.

The many-faced Voice of Rao claims to be the link between Krypton’s people and its deity. (Photo: Syfy)

Oh, merciful Rao!

In the 80-year-and-counting history of the Superman comics, “Rao” has been a star, an emphatic exclamation — when surprised, Superman defaults to “Great Rao!” instead of “Holy crap!” — and a deity. Krypton runs with the latter option, introducing us to the Voice of Rao, who functions as the physical intermediary between the people of Krypton and their god. Thanks to that golden mask he wears, he’s also got the most memorable face(s) on the show.

Less than zero

While the Council and the Voice of Rao are the dominant forces in Kryptonian life, not everyone is satisfied with the status quo. Under the noses of the powers that be, an underground movement known as Black Zero is coalescing, billing themselves as freedom fighters even as the ruling class tries to paint them as terrorists. Black Zero has had several identities in the comic book pages. In the ’60s and ’70s, it was the name of a planet-destroying supervillain with his eyes on Earth. In the ’80s, John Byrne penned the World of Krypton series that reconfigured Black Zero as an entire group rather than a single entity. Since then, it’s also been a self-aware computer virus, a spaceship, and an alternate version of Superboy.

Shaun Sipos as time and space traveler Adam Strange in Krypton. (Photo: Gavin Bond/Syfy)

Strange, Adam Strange

If you’re not up to speed on your DC Comics history, you’ll be as surprised as Seg-El when he’s approached by a strange time traveler with an equally strange name spinning a strange yarn about Seg-El’s yet-to-be born superheroic grandson. Meet Adam Strange (Shaun Sipos), a character who made his first comic book appearance exactly six decades ago this year in the pages of Showcase #17. Born on Earth, Adam was zapped to the stars via Zeta-Beam and has been bouncing back and forth ever since. His travels through time and space have brought him into contact with all manner of DC heroes, from Green Lantern to Swamp Thing. No wonder Superman trusted him with this vital “save the past, save the future” mission.

Making babies, Kryptonian style

The other problem with Seg-El and Lyta’s romance is that they’ve technically been paired off with other people. Lyta is promised to a fellow cadet in Krypton’s military force, while Seg-El procreates with Nyssa-Vex (Wallis Day), the daughter of duplicitous Council member Daron-Vex (Elliot Cowan). We should note that Kryptonian procreation happens in the least sexy way possible: Seg and Daron pay a visit to the birthing matrix — a concept first introduced in John Byrne’s Man of Steel miniseries in the 1980s, and brought to the screen in Snyder’s film of the same name — where their blood mingles to create a child. A computerized Oracle then fills them in on their baby’s entire existence, from his gender (male) and name (Car-Vex) to his profession (lawyer) and lifespan (173 cycles). It’s also worth noting that, in this case anyway, the oracle isn’t the most accurate predictor. In the comic books, Car-Vex is a female Kryptonian who works to further General Zod’s cause on New Earth in the disguise of an officer in the Science Police. For Man of Steel, Zack Snyder put Car-Vex (played by Apollonia Vanova) in Kryptonian armor and had her square off against a novice Superman in the climactic (and cataclysmic) Battle of Metropolis.

These statues inside the Fortress of Solitude on Krypton have their roots in the Superman comic books. (Photo: Syfy)

Enter the Fortress

A refuge from the world and his Kryptonian home away from home, the Fortress of Solitude has been a key part of every Superman incarnation going back to the 1950s. To this day, the most memorable incarnation remains the ice palace that rose from beneath the Arctic tundra in the 1978 movie when Clark Kent flings a glowing green rock into the frozen landscape. Turns out that the Man of Steel can credit his great-great-great-grandfather, Val-El, as the architect. In Krypton, Sag-El discovers that his granddad built the Fortress in secret in an icy part of the planet and, once again, uses a green stone key to open the front door. (Just to drive home the connection between Val-El and Kal-El, John Williams’s classic Superman theme is heard as Seg-El approaches the Fortress.) Inside, there’s at least one decorative element that has its roots in comic books rather than cinema: statues of two Kryptonians holding aloft a planet. When Superman takes ownership of the Fortress, those statues are of his parents, Jor-El and Lara. It’s unclear, as of yet, who Val-El chose to memorialize in stone.

Krypton airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Syfy.

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