Monday, June 17, 2013

Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)


I'll admit that Zod isn't a true dyed-in-the-wool comic book villain in the sense that he was an immensely popular and an iconic villain with a line of action figures made after him and all that. While Zod did appear in the comics, he really seemed to fit in best in Richard Donner's legendary Superman II (yes, you heard me- you can research the director controversy of Superman II on your own). I never really dug that the Superman movies seemed to sport their own kind of canonical approach to the Superman story and pulled out either original or lesser known villains. In retrospect, this probably made sense as they likely didn't have the special effects necessary to get Braniac in a 1980's Superman movie.

Zod never interested me that much outside of the movie. He had some great lines and it was kind of cool to see him slap Superman around, but it never seemed to me that he really belonged as an important part of Superman's rogue gallery. That being said, in recent years DC has set about proving me wrong. Zod has become a more iconic presence in Superman comics when he was re-imagined for Smallville and now Man of Steel. I'd like to think that Zod now has a lot more to teach us about Superman than I use to believe.

Mainly the following.

1. Evil Superman is scary.

A Kryptonian exposed to Earth's yellow sun is truly godlike. Superman shows so much restraint in how he exercises his power. But what if he didn't? Zod has no reservations about stepping on any pesky humans who get in his way. A small group of Kryptonian's could easily subjugate the human race in the blink of an eye. What if Superman told people what to do and ripped them in half or burned them to a crisp if he didn't like how they behaved? Superman COULD do that, if he just didn't happen to be a farmboy from Kansas.

Zod and his allies, however, who have no particular allegiance to Earth and the human race and don't see any value in catering to the whims of what are essentially ants from their perspective. It's scary to think about so much power resting in the hands of just one individual. What makes Superman Superman is not how much power he has but the judgment he exercises in using it. A Superman that just doesn't give a %$* is a scary proposition and Zod shows us just how ugly that can get.

2. Krypton is not a nice place.

One of the other things we love about Superman is how he inspires us. In theory, Superman is supposed to represent the pinnacle of what the human race can strive for and become. He is, after all, the 'Man of Tomorrow'. I may have said this before, but in fact, Superman's immigration from Krypton can be considered as much of a cautionary tale as it is an inspiring one. Krypton was an incredible civilization that stood for thousands of years.

In the end, however, they destroyed themselves. Their progress reigned unchecked. Their politicians become corrupt and no one apparently wanted to face up to the fact that their planet was going to be destroyed. (This ring any bells? If you're finding yourself nervous maybe you should be.)

Guys like Zod were part of the problem. Superman doesn't come from a race of peace loving, enlightened spirits. The Kryptonians fought war and held petty grudges just like the human race can. Zod demonstrates this. Krypton is more like Rome in its heyday--atrocities and all--than anyplace else, it seems to me. Essentially, Superman is here to save us from ourselves because he knows the kind of path we could head down.

3. The Phantom Zone is weird.

Zod is intrinsically tied into a lot of Kryptonian lore. One thing that's cool about Zod is that by having Superman fight him, we get to learn a lot about where he's from and the way Kryptonian's did things. Exiling criminals to other dimensions, for example, is a special form of Krypton justice (...maybe not EFFECTIVE, mind you, since Zod and company seem to break out now and then) that we get to learn about. There's a lot about Krypton that's just left to our imagination. When Superman fights Zod, he's actually going up against things about his own heritage, including tactics, weapons and ideas, that he hasn't even learned about. And that's intriguing.

By fighting Zod, Superman is, on the one hand, claiming his heritage. After all, Jor-El was the one to exile Zod to begin with. But on the other hand, Zod and the other 'prisoners' of the Phantom Zone are the only Kryptonians left alive in the entire universe. So maybe Superman is turning his back on the surviving members of his race too.

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