The Last Son of Krypton… or one of a number of survivors of the doomed planet? Should Superman be the sole survivor or is it good for the Man of Steel to have a few fellow Kryptonians with him?
So, in the fifth instalment of our “Great Debate” feature, we ask the question…
Should Superman be the sole survivor of Krypton?
The highest quality Superman stories involve Superman wrestling with himself. This is a solid truth.
The first half of Season 1 of “Superman & Lois” was so profoundly good because they understood that. Superman’s most powerful and persistent enemy is his own set of internal conflicts; juggling his human side with his Kryptonian heritage, maintaining close relationships while protecting his real self, saving humanity by doing enough, while not damaging it by taking away our agency. The best written Superman stories are always less punchy and more about how to balance strength and mercy. They’re a commentary on wielding power among those who are less powerful than you.
So, when I say that Superman should absolutely not be the sole survivor of a doomed planet, believe me when I tell you it’s not just because it’s easier to work in conflict with characters who have the same powers as him. It’s partially that, but it’s so much more.
Sometimes a good Superman story requires him to punch someone in the face. The climactic fight between Superman and Darkseid at the end of “Justice League Unlimited” was epically satisfying. Doomsday made for good entertainment in the “Death of..” arc, even though the character’s returns decreased as they tried to rationalize him. Every so often Clark needs a Mongul sized threat so we are reminded that he’s not just about saving kittens, he is also competently dangerous.
But you don’t need Kryptonians to tell those stories. You could have Mxyzptlk fling fifth dimensional, building sized poop trolls at him all day long if the point was just having Superman hit things.
No, the reason other Kryptonians are so vital to telling good Superman stories, is that Krypton is Clark’s source of angst. Krypton is his constant “what if” haunting him, and it’s the reason he can’t ever truly just enjoy being Superman. Because being Superman is only possible if billions of people on his home planet died and he had to be sent away to be saved.
It’s not about the other Kryptonians around him being evil, or violent, or bent on turning Earth into a new homeworld at the expense of all human life. It’s about the fact that in each additional Kryptonian Superman encounters there is the potential to tell a great inner conflict story. Clark WANTS, desperately, to belong to a people. Each time his hopes are dashed by a Zod who he can’t draw to love humanity, or he has conflict with a Kara who grew up on Krypton and whose human experience will never be the same as his, we wind up with a Superman story that is full of potential for real joy, reminders of his loss, rejection, and even grief when the encounters become violent. Other Kryptonians meld the opportunities for a good physical conflict piece with the constant inner tensions of the very best writing we get in Superman tales.
Other Kryptonians make the punches hurt, and in that hurt we readers are gifted amazing stories.
In the Silver Age Supergirl made her debut. Some readers were surprised that not only was Superman not the sole survivor of Krypton but he had a cousin! We also had the bottled city of Kandor and various Phantom Zone villains. Krypton was also very prevalent in the Silver Age. There were countless flashback stories and those with Superman time traveling to Krypton prior to its explosion. Let’s not forget Krypto! Then Kandor was enlarged, Supergirl’s Argo City where she grew up, and so on and so on and so on. Let’s just say everywhere you looked there were survivors of Krypton.
Now I’m not saying this was a bad thing. It was nice for Superman to have companions from his home planet and the stories were fun. But the early effectiveness of the character was that he was the one and only sole survivor of Krypton. The LAST son. Going in to the post-Crisis era that changed when John Byrne rebooted Superman’s origin. I’m not going to get into that whole story, that’s for a later time, but suffice to say, Byrne wanted to bring Superman back to basics – the one and only sole survivor.
The way I see it, Superman is more relevant as the Last Son. Superman is an icon. And while that status doesn’t change when he’s not the last survivor, it does lessen his importance. What makes him unique is that he’s one of a kind, the Champion of the Oppressed, the Man of Tomorrow. The people of Earth look up to him because they know he’s the one that’s going to save them from disasters and mad geniuses and the dumb-witted bank robber. When you bring others with the same abilities into the mix it just takes his hero status down a few pegs. In any iteration Superman is the one people call out to. He’s the one they look for to save them. Superman is supposed to have god-like powers, different from everyone else. Why would he need help from others of his kind? Looking up at Superman flying through the skies we know he’s protecting us. We know his abilities are all we need to be assured we’ll be okay. We don’t need Supergirl to swoop in and lend a hand because we know Superman can handle it.
Stories of other Kryptonians on earth, or even out in the cosmos, is so unnecessary. The galaxy is too crowded with these super beings. The stories we’ve seen in the comics were a lot of fun, and Supergirl is a great character, but we don’t need them to tell a great Superman story. While the planet Krypton is very important, some people believe it was put there simply to blow up to bing Superman to earth. Krypton’s gone. Finished. We don’t need it anymore because Superman is here and he’s going to save us all! At least we have faith he will. Superman is all the Kryptonian we need. That’s what makes him so special.
Many thanks to our Great Debaters – Julian Finn and Marc Lax.
When they say “sole survivor” do they mean someone who has survived Krypton’s destruction or someone who is the last of their species? Because I don’t view General Zod as someone who survived Krypton’s destruction. I see him more as an escaped convict. And I see Superman as someone who is a survivor of his world’s ending traumatic event. Zod wasn’t there when it ended. So I don’t see how Zod could or would be a survivor in that sense. Supergirl yeah she’s a survivor, and I’m ok with her sharing the title with Superman. His half brother Tal-Roe is… Read more »
I think it’s more meant in the sense “remains after Krypton’s destruction” not necessarily “escaped the disaster directly”. I’d consider the Jews who escaped Germany before the Holocaust really got started (like my grandfather) a survivor of the Holocaust, even though he was out before they started rounding up and transporting people to the camps.
Thank you for clarifying that for me. I wasn’t sure about the definition. That does help. I have much sympathy and respect for Holocaust survivors such as your grandfather. My deepest respects.
Are the arguments currently under the wrong headings? Should Superman be the sole survivor? Yes argument is saying he shouldn’t, No argument is saying he should be. Personally I don’t mind there being other Kryptonians in small doses, over use would take away from Superman’s unique origin. They can make for interesting and challenging stories – the emotional conflict mentioned. Some of the arguments for Kryptonians, physical conflict etc., can be answered with other races such as Daxamites. The main reason for Kryptonians has to be the emotion of the story. But, Superman being the sole survivor of a doomed… Read more »
They sure are reversed I’ve messaged Steve and asked him to flip that around. I agree with you on the point that there are other races who match Superman for strength and that Kryptonians shouldn’t ever JUST be a threat. I think this is the piece that Man of Steel ultimately missed; Zod and the other Phantom Zone survivors being framed as sci-fi horror villains when they first arrive on Earth eliminates all the emotional conflict that could have been present. The same argument applies to Superman II where it’s even worse because there’s no complexity to Zod and his… Read more »
For me, Superman being a sole survivor of Krypton’s destruction is a no, because I actually like that he has a cousin also from Krypton.
I’m not a fan of derivative characters, but I do enjoy some supergirl stories when done well. So I guess I’m okay with it as long as it makes sense in the story. I like when she appears after superman has been established for years. I’m NOT on board with it when she is used as a replacement for superman or a stand in, like with what they’re doing in the flash movie.
I enjoy kryptonian villains too. Also when done well, it is awesome, but was not a fan of characters like H’el.
I say yes he should the sole survivor. However I do believe the criminals in the phantom zone should be around. Also if you want to have Kara I think they should do it like S:TAS.
My vote is No with a strong caveat. I prefer as few Kryptonian characters as possible, and whenever they’re used, they should address the inner conflict that the No writer describes. I generally don’t like the Silver Age stories for any of the DC heroes, and the writers for Superman back then seemed bent on creating as many Super-people and creatures as possible with little character substance or development. I don’t know if the Grounded installment with Superego and Supercilia was intended as an echo or a parody of that era.
My answer is that Superman should start out as the last survivor in his early years with the exception of Krypto and the Phantom Zone criminals but then after tangling with Brainiac, discovers the city of Kandor but they are permanently shrunken so Superman is still alone in the outside world (Krypto is either at the Smallville ranch or having his own space adventures at this point) until Kara arrives on Earth.
No, he shouldn’t be the only one, but the survivor list should be extremely low. I think that Kal, Kara, and Zod being the only ones (not counting AI constructs/personality backups like Jor-El) would be just about perfect.