This room full of (otherwise very organized) nerds didn't get video, and the lighting was bad anyway, otherwise I might just share the video that was taken by my lovely lady. Instead, here's the text of my speech, with some of the slides involved (along with new commentary). It was a fun night, and I wish you had been there. Hope you enjoy it!
Thanks, nerds! It’s a real pleasure to be here tonight, amongst my people. I’ve been reading and collecting Superman comics for three quarters of my life. Good to know I have 20 minutes to finally get it all out of my head.
When Nathan asked me to come here tonight and talk about Superman, I had no idea how to condense seventy-five years of history into such a short presentation. And I couldn’t decide what made Superman my favorite. It’s like being asked “why do you like chocolate ice cream?” I dunno. I just like it. So I picked just one aspect of what I love about Superman comics; and that’s the fact that he’s an alien that can never go again. His home planet, Krypton, is gone.
(Note that none of them are "current mainstream comic books")
Find these and more at your local comic book shop.
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Even the new Man of Steel movie (which I liked) felt the need to extract any fun, humor or romance out of the adventure, citing the need to be “more realistic”. But by their very nature, superhero comics aren’t realistic. That’s kind of the whole point.
I’m here to share with you how fun comics used to be, using Krypton as just one example.
Before I continue, I need to start with a couple of caveats.
First, in creating this little talk, I took it as my own personal nerd challenge to only use my own books and other reference material. I didn’t go to Wikipedia or some other internet source for information. I did, however utilize the ‘net for many of the pictures you will see tonight. We all know how laborious scanning can be, so that was just for timesaving purposes.
Second, I stopped reading and collecting new comics about a year ago. I had a couple of reasons for this. It was no longer economically viable, for one. Also DC Comics changed. Everything. In fall of 2011 they rebooted their entire universe so that all the accumulated history of their books was destroyed or modified and started over fresh. This particular reset button has left me uninterested for reasons we can cover some other time.
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In the comics world, you’re a Marvel reader, a DC Comics reader or an independent comics snob… er aficianado. I’m a DC guy. Always have been.
When I first started reading comics in the early 80’s, I fell in love with DC’s rich history. All the stories they ever told since 1938 were still part of their universe.
If this sounds confusing, the editors at DC Comics thought so too. So in 1985 they created an event called Crisis on Infinite Earths that destroyed any superfluous worlds and characters, and condensed it all into what they hoped would be one cohesive universe. It kind of worked.
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Unfortunately, one of the aspects that suffered in this transition was the planet Krypton. It went from becoming a vibrant world full of wonders like Flash Gordon jetpacks and spaceships to a cold, sterile world where things like love and bare skin were demonized. DC editor and writer Len Wein, co-creator of Swamp Thing, called the new Krypton so sterile that it “deserved to blow up” [see note at end of post]. And I agree. The version created in 1986 is quite similar to the Krypton in the movie Man of Steel, and used a similar visual aesthetic to Christopher Reeve’s Superman movies. I really wouldn’t want to live on any of these Kryptons.
But Krypton before these reboots used to be a wondrous place that Superman would actually mourn losing. There were fascinating wonders to behold on Krypton. You could visit the Fire Falls, Gold Volcano, and Jewel Mountains; vacation at the Rainbow Canyon, the Scarlet Jungle or Magnetic Mountain (don’t bring your keys up there).
Of course, that didn’t stop the writers of these stories from constantly introducing other survivors of Krypton. An easy way to do that was the discovery of the Phantom Zone. Superman’s father, Jor-El, discovered the Phantom Zone. He was Krypton’s preeminent scientist. He was the only one on the planet that saw Krypton was doomed, and tried to do something about it. He tried to convince other Kryptonians to evacuate the planet, but only got as far as building an experimental rocket. That’s why only baby Kal-El survived.
The Phantom Zone was introduced into the comics in 1961. Jor-El thought it would be a more humane way to punish prisoners. Prior to the Phantom Zone, prisoners were exiled to space in capsules while in suspended animation. While imprisoned, their criminal tendencies would be erased using a special sleep gas, so that in a hundred years, they could become useful members of society (very similar to what we see in the Man of Steel movie). In the Zone, people became ghostlike, corporeal beings who communicated with each other using telepathy, only able to observe the real world from a distance. I think I’d choose the space capsule myself.
You may have noticed in the Man of Steel movie that there is a broken moon hanging in the sky. Well, that was Jax-Ur’s fault. He accidentally destroyed the moon Wegthor, killing 500 of its colonists, while intending to destroy a passing asteroid. Jax-Ur was said to be the first person to be imprisoned in the Phantom Zone.
This accident prompted Krypton to abandon its space program, the head of which was General Dru-Zod. With nothing left to command, he created an army of robots to take over Krypton. He was defeated, and sentenced to forty years in the Phantom Zone.
Faora Hu-Ul was a stone cold killer and martial arts master. She kept men in “concentration camps” and tortured and killed them for reasons known only to her. She was another prisoner of the Phantom Zone.
Along with many others, Zod, Jax-Ur and Faora found ways to escape from the Phantom Zone many times over the years, their Kryptonian powers making them more than a match for Superman. I mention them specifically because since the Phantom Zone survived the destruction of Krypton, they would often team up in the books, and also all appear in the Man of Steel movie.
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But not just any bottle; the bottled City of Kandor.
For the sake of a good story, there was always a way to shrink and grow a few people at a time, just never enough for a whole city. And it gave writers an interesting way for Superman to regularly visit and be visited by some of his Kryptonian counterparts. For example, sometimes he would visit Kandor with his pal, Jimmy Olsen, and they would be superheroes like Batman and Robin. They called themselves Nightwing and Flamebird. Because what else is Superman gonna do on his day off, but be Batman?
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Krypto was young Kal-El’s pet on Krypton before Jor-El used the pup as a test subject for the rocket. He eventually found his way to Earth, became Superboy and later Superman’s super-powered pooch. Krypto is one my favorite characters in Superman’s universe, because everybody should have a cool dog at least once in their life, and Krypto is cool, and a great friend.
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Comics fans each have their own favorite style of story. Mine is obviously the silly ones. Superman has been through many changes in seventy-five years. If you dig though enough issues of enough books, you’ll definitely find the right version for you.
Thanks for listening tonight, nerds! It’s been real pleasure sharing these ridiculous stories with you.
NOTE: I asked Len Wein via Twitter about his Krypton quote. He had this to say about it:
To hear more of my thoughts on Superman, check out Episode 12 of the Nerdetroit podcast.
And here's some random thoughts about Superman II.
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