Earlier this week, news broke that Syfy was moving forward with its long-in-development Superman TV prequel from executive producer — and Batman v Superman screenwriter — David Goyer, called Krypton. Given the scathing response to Goyer’s big-screen meet-up between DC superhero titans, it’s a miracle that anything involving Superman was met with any enthusiasm.
Superman has been a kind of unofficial persona non grata for the past few years. Criticism has mounted for the character’s contradictory actions at the end of Man of Steel — where he all but levels his adopted home of Metropolis — and his poor treatment in that movie’s own sequel. As if getting second billing to Batman wasn’t insulting enough, he was only allowed 43 lines of dialogue in the entire nearly three-hour debacle. Maybe a prequel is just what we need. Maybe a TV series about Superman without Superman will make the character relevant again.
DC’s focus in recent years has been the constant and almost absurd level of wringing any kind of media out of the character of Batman. Who knew the most brooding, mega-rich superhero would be America’s boy? The Dark Knight certainly sounds cool and all, but the Boy Scout go-to superhero is supposed to be good old Kal-El: the immigrant that comes to Earth and makes good by standing up for truth, justice, and the American way using his ridiculous super powers to fight evil.
Given the indication that DC is trying to jumpstart a more complete onscreen universe, it makes sense that it would want to mine the other hero they’re best known for — as a way to capitalize on both. Krypton will supposedly focus on the Man of Steel’s grandfather as he strives to bring peace and equality to the planet of the same name. We’ll actually get to see how two generations lead to the rise and fall of an entire civilization that led to Krypton’s destruction and sending baby Kal-El hurtling toward Earth.
It’s a novel idea, but it took a while to get the green light, mostly because Batman makes more money and is more popular. We had to wait for nonsensical prequels like the TV series Gotham which tells the story of Gotham City seen through the eyes of the police department, to make their mark. That show isn’t about Batman directly, it’s about the atmosphere that created some of his most iconic foes. Through two seasons It’s become a muted TV success, but it’ll always just be a side narrative that takes advantage of built-in mythology just so a TV commercial can advertise that the Penguin or the Riddler will show up in a few episodes.
While it’s also a prequel, the indirect ancestral plot of Krypton will inform the character of Superman in an even more direct way. Origins distill future characters like Kal-El down to what they need to be, maybe even more so than actual origin stories like TV’s Smallville — the teeny bopper soap that ran for a whopping ten seasons and ended in 2011. Superman will become important again now by showing how he came to be. But why?
Right now, Superman is irrelevant. There’s no need for a non-cynical, primary color-based superhero flying around telling kids to eat their vegetables and do good. That’s obvious. Zack Snyder’s big-screen version of Superman is a sad, whiny god who feels like he owes nothing to the human race. This, in short, is not Superman. By using early Kryptonian stories that will eventually build to the themes that transform Kal-El into Superman, it will gradually introduce audiences to why Superman is absolutely essential in DC’s exceedingly grim on-screen universe.
And it’s not like there isn’t a shortage of Shakespearean material to use to get there. In 2015, he told Variety, “[Krypton] involves more of the mythology than I think people realize, a lot more. Look at it this way: The best parts of Man of Steel took place on Krypton, and the connection is there even from Goyer’s own admission. He told Collider, “Part of the fun of doing Man of Steel — and I was so insistent on setting that opening on Krypton and really seeing it, was pulling back the curtain. The first draft, the first forty pages were on Krypton, so we compressed that all down to fifteen minutes and there were a lot of ideas that I wanted to use in the film that didn’t ultimately make it into the film.”
Prequels, by their very nature, are shameless, but Goyer realizes the potential of setting up Superman by traveling back to before he was born. Prequels don’t all have to be bad, whether we’re talking about the deeply shaded character study of Better Call Saul or something well-meaning like Gotham. Even though we know the titular planet will go boom in the inevitable series finale of Krypton, it’s how you get there that counts. Even though we’re hopelessly oversaturated with superheroes, Superman needs to count. And the way Krypton handles the noble themes of Superman will hopefully make no mistake about truth and justice. And all of that stuff.