It’s no secret that DC are struggling to move out of Marvel’s shadow, but their latest television series Krypton does not seem set to narrow the gap between the two heavyweights in the world of superheroes. The recent spate of DC movies has attempted to recreate the ambition and expanse of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but by skipping the groundwork, the results have been messy films with an over-reliance on disconcerting visual effects and an overbearing darkness in tonality. DC’s recent screen successes have come in the guise of the more light-hearted yet sufficiently complex television shows Arrow and The Flash, but have hamstrung their achievements by divorcing their events from the cinematic universe.
A Lack of Cohesion
That lack of cohesion and a clear plan has permeated Krypton. Although prequels can be a worthwhile endeavour, they have to be offering something truly new to justify their existence. Arrow used flashbacks juxtaposed with its forward narrative, with the flashbacks often conveniently tied to Oliver Queen’s current state of character development. However, the forays into the past made for the least compelling elements of Arrow, as their air of inevitability felt hollow compared to the weightiness of present-day Arrow. Krypton is essentially a whole series of flashbacks, with a focus on Superman’s grandfather Seg-El around 200 years prior to the birth of Krypton’s most famous child. While the trailer excited fans with its visual appeal, it has failed to live up to that early promise.
Its temporal context places Krypton in a peculiar position in which its existence is justified by Superman’s heritage, but at the same time, it is so far removed from Superman’s existence that it almost becomes inconsequential. Gotham, DC’s attempt to create a compelling world before Batman, often felt fatigued and meandering because it lacked the Dark Knight to tie all the disparate threads together. Krypton looks set to suffer from the same disadvantage of having a famous character forever hanging over its narratives. The Guardian observes that Krypton only exists because of its billing as a Superman prequel and because it features links to famous characters. However, that reason alone is not sufficient to justify its continued existence.
In an era in which superhero movies and TV series are being released with remarkable frequency, there is increasing pressure to create something as extraordinary as the characters featured on the screen. Superman is perhaps less in vogue than the character has ever been, a consequence of the hero’s recent cinematic outings being dull and/or frustrating – while previously lesser-known characters such as Iron Man and Black Panther have propelled their way into public consciousness. Unfortunately, Krypton does not appear to be the extraordinary show needed to revitalise the DC and Superman brand. That is not to say it is without redeeming features. Some critics have praised the show for evoking an atmosphere similar to that of Game of Thrones but acknowledge that the weaker aspects of Krypton come from the inextricable tie to Superman lore. That is something difficult to shake with time, as its links to Superman obviously define the show’s very existence.
The pilot episode introduces human time traveller Adam Strange, who arrives to warn Seg-El of the villainous intentions of Brainiac as well as to inform him of the fortunes of his famous grandson, Kal-El. Similarly to the superheroes themselves, some symbols, such as the planet Krypton and the famous pair of Superman sunglasses, have entered pop culture, which undoubtedly means audience expectations are even higher. The substance known as kryptonite has even transcended Superman lore by becoming a popular term for someone’s weakness, with the substance notable for its ability to inhibit the world’s most powerful being. The only instance in which kryptonite is beneficial is in its role that we could find is in a Superman online game, in which the correct alignment of kryptonite symbols provides passage into the bonus round. Licensed superhero video games, from Warner Bros. International’s Batman v Superman Who Will Win to DC Legends: Battle of Justice are not only available on consoles and PCs nowadays but also for iOS and Android, allowing for wider audience engagement.
In Smallville’s Company
Krypton is not the first Superman-related outing into the world of television. Smallville ran for ten seasons and focused on the life of Clark Kent before he developed into Superman, and featured an array of references to future friends and antagonists of the man in the cape. Kent’s arrival in Smallville was masked by a meteor shower that transported vast quantities of kryptonite from Superman’s home planet to the American town. Various forms of kryptonite were featured in Smallville, and they had a range of negative influences on Clark Kent. It will be interesting to see the depth that Krypton explores the history of Superman’s weakness, with the naturally-occurring substance an understandably prevalent aspect of Superman’s appearances on screen and in comics. It will be interesting to see how kryptonite is depicted throughout the series of Krypton, with one benefit of the prequel series being the alternative perspective it can provide on Superman legend.
However, the series will have to find its feet quickly if it is to have longevity. It will either need to develop its characters sufficiently so that they can stand alone from Superman, or commit to gratifying the needs of Superman aficionados who are looking for tons of references and Easter eggs. While the pilot is not without its positives, in an age of superhero shows across almost every channel it takes something truly super to stand out from the crowd.