Why 'Krypton' is a super-irritating Superman origin story

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Cameron Cuffe as Seg-El, Ian McElhinney as Val-El in Krypton (Photo: Gavin Bond/Syfy)

Superman as created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in the 1930s was an infant alien sent from “a distant planet.” That planet was eventually given a name, Krypton, and the infant Kryptonian, Kal-El, gained superpowers when placed in Earth’s atmosphere: thus the name Superman. Over the years, subsequent DC Comics writers elaborated on this origin story. Needing more plots to continue the adventures of Superman, a backstory was crafted, beginning with the establishment of Jor-El as Superman’s Kryptonian scientist-father.

As these things are prone to do, the backstory became an elaborate mythology. But unlike proper literature, comic books aren’t unified wholes — they’re piecework, crafted by diverse hands working under monthly deadlines. When commercial needs demand it, the origin story of Superman is scrapped and rewritten in new, different, and sometimes contradictory ways.

The result of this messy way of building a Superman universe is on full display in Krypton, the new, laughable costume drama premiering tonight on Syfy. Every generation gets the version of Krypton that fits its pop-cultural moment, and so this one is as heavily influenced by the look and tone of HBO’s Game of Thrones and the recent iterations of Star Wars as it is by anything to do with DC comic books.

The hero of Krypton is Superman’s grandfather, Seg-El, as embodied by young-hunk actor Cameron Cuffe. The show is set on the planet Krypton, and the predominant color palette is … dark. Everyone strides purposefully down long, dark corridors that resemble the interior of a chic Manhattan hotel. Quite a few scenes are set in a low-lit bar where drinks are poured and fistfights occur and jokes are made by a jokey bartender who’s also a pal of Seg-El’s. As for Seg himself, his parentage may be noble, but the show is careful to make him a young man of action — that’s him throwing punches during a number of those bar fights.

Everyone talks in brittle British accents, even Seg’s mom, played by Paula Malcomson, last seen negotiating a Boston accent in Ray Donovan. Here, she’s forced to utter lines like, “This is bigger than me — it’s about our entire civilization!” I’m not sure I should tell you what the “this” is that she’s referring to — maybe if you’ve never read a Superman comic, you’ll think that’s a spoiler. In any case, it’s not spoiling anything to say that Adam Strange (Shaun Sipos) arrives in Krypton from our time era to tell him that our Superman, Kal-El, will be in big trouble — perhaps dead — unless Seg-El does something now to protect Superman and the House of El’s legacy. Adam Strange, it should be said, is a particularly irritating character — a stubble-faced, hoodie-wearing wiseguy who yelps things like “Get your revenge on!” Call me conservative, but I prefer my Adam Strange to look like this, as God and artist Murphy Anderson intended.

There are lots of strong women around on Krypton, including cadet-warrior Lyta Zod (Georgina Campbell). There is a lot of clunky, melodramatic dialogue, like, “You have to find the Fortress; you have to save Superman!” There is a glowering supervillain in the form of veteran DC Comics bad guy Brainiac. Last month, I ventured a guess that, sight unseen, Krypton would be lousy. Now, sight seen, I confirm this is so.

Krypton airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on Syfy.

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