Sunday, May 27, 2018

Too Much TV: KRYPTON (2018 - ?)

Inspired at least in part on the Gotham show's premise that the breeding ground of a hero is of inherent interest even before the hero himself appears, Krypton is the latest variation on an increasingly dystopian myth. Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster saw Superman's home world as a sort of utopia of ultimate human development, yet there was a seed of dystopia in Jor-El's failure to convince his rulers of the crisis facing their planet. You could argue that the Jor-El myth is the starting point for the modern Cassandra trope in which an expert correctly identifies or predicts disaster but goes unheeded for any number of petty reasons. As Krypton's history has undergone multiple revisions since the mid-1980s, many writers have stressed the negative aspects of Krypton, which in earlier times had been an object of wistful nostalgia for Superman. There is little lovable about the planet as it's portrayed on the current series, developed by Man of Steel co-writer David S. Goyer. Krypton is politically fragmented and, at least in the city of Kandor, burdened by a caste system that privileges the Guilded (I like the pun on "gilded") and oppresses the Rankless. Among the latter we find Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe), whose once prestigious family was relegated after his grandfather Val-El (Ian McElhinney, who persists as a sentient hologram) was executed for subversive scientific research. Despite his disreputable status, people are interested in Seg. The de facto ruler of Kandor, Daron-Vex (Elliot Cowan) thinks the young man will make a good genetic mate for his daughter Nyssa (Wallis Day), while a stranger who calls himself Adam and claims to be from another world (Shaun Sipos) claims that Seg has a destiny of literally universal import.

Adam claims to be from a future time in which Seg's grandson is the greatest of all heroes. He's come to the past after learning that "Superman's greatest enemy" was plotting to eliminate the hero from history, presumably by killing Seg-El. Adam can monitor the success of his and the enemy's efforts by the rate of decay of a Superman cape, which serves as this show's equivalent of the leaves on The Shannara Chronicles' Ellcrys tree. Somehow I don't think the effects of time travel can be measured so gradually, but let's move on. Val-El's clandestine research appears to confirm Adam's suspicion that the enemy is Brainiac, the cyborg collector of worlds who in comics history captured the city of Kandor and kept it in a bottle for years before Superman rescued it. In fact, the green-skinned villain has already infiltrated the planet, taking over the body and mind of Kandor's spiritual leader, the Face of Rao (toad-voiced Blake Ritson, like Cowan an alumnus of Goyer's Da Vinci's Demons series). In the meantime, Kandor has problems of its own creation, including a nihilistic terrorist movement known as Black Zero and the ambition of Daron-Vex, who conspires with the military Zod family to assassinate the Face. And for what it's worth, the youngest of the Zods, Lyta (Georgina Campbell) is in love with Seg-El, who has already conceived an heir, in Krypton's sexless fashion, with Nyssa-Vex. This raises the tantalizing idea that Jor-El and the comics' General Zod are half-brothers, and this is at least half-confirmed when the General himself, Dru-Zod (Colin Salmon) turns up in the Black Zero camp, having come back in time to change history by thwarting Brainiac, whose seizure of Kandor will destabilize the planet and ensure its destruction. The General's appearance throws Adam's calculations of ultimate enmity into question, but portraying the man who plans to save Krypton as the anyone's greatest enemy is a hard sell, even if saving Krypton means no Superman for the greater universe. As we learn, saving Kandor and Krypton could have even worse consequences for the universe, given the increasing resemblance in the current collective imagination of Kryptonians to the conquering superhuman Saiyans of the Dragon Ball Z mythos, with Superman as the benevolent Goku who won't be in the way if General Zod gets his way.

Like other prequel shows, Krypton succumbs to the temptation to do more than foreshadow the hero's career by having familiar antagonists show up in his past. We have not only Brainiac and General Zod but a dormant Doomsday as well, which leaves you wondering when Lex "Superman's Greatest Enemy" Luthor will make his grand entrance. Since time travel is a big part of superhero mythology, however, the presence of canonical Superman villains doesn't seem like as much of a cop-out as it was when the Enterprise show had to have virtually every famous alien race from Star Trek generations before humans presumably met them. Comics fans thrive on time paradoxes anyway so these interventions actually do more than the scheming of the main characters to keep the show stimulating. Leave the time travel element out and Krypton is little more than standard backstabbing fantasy intrigue stuff on a sometimes shockingly limited budget (cramped indoor sets for public spaces; few extras, etc.). Seg-El himself isn't much of a personality, or else Cameron Cuffe isn't, and you could believe that the show could do without him after the season-ending cliffhanger so long as Nyssa and Lyta are both with child. Adam Strange, a DC Comics character going back to the 1950s, is a generic zero-to-hero type who hasn't quite gotten to hero yet as the first season ends, and few other characters have much more meat or depth to them, while Brainiac does little more than croak commercial-break climactic threats like "Your world is mine!" when he's only after one city. Despite all this, as a comics fan Krypton held my interest more for the way its potential paradoxes stimulated my imagination than for what was going on on screen at any given moment. The idea of Krypton is often more entertaining than its actuality, but for me its ideas are the real essence of the show, and entertaining enough that I'm willing to keep watching for what it tries to throw at me next.