After years in production, Krypton premiered this week on SyFy. The show was inspired by the incredibly positive reaction audiences had to the first 15 minutes of Man of Steel. The world that David S. Goyer crafted on the alien planet of Krypton captured audiences' imaginations. So DC and Warner Brothers were happy to capitalize on a rare cinematic win.
But here's the thing. Krypton's central conceit is a little self-defeating. Superman is exciting because of the wonderful powers he can use to thwart evil. He gets the powers from the chemical reaction between Earth's yellow sun and his alien body. Krypton offers up an entire planet of supermen but without the powers. Because of this catch, the pilot episode of Krypton offers up a lot of high-minded science fiction jargon, without very few brain-breaks in between.
The History of House El
The plot of Krypton is... a lot. Our story centers around Seg-El, Superman's grandfather. He has enemies with names like The Voice of Rao, Black Zero, and Daron-Vex. He has allies like Lyta-Zod, Adam Strange, and Kem. And he meets these people in places like the Genesis Chamber, the Lawmaker's Guild, and the Military Guild. For some reason, the pilot episode of the show really feels the need to throw a lot of sci-fi sounds at the audience in quick succession, with occasionally clunky dialogue.
But buried beneath that thick, thick layer of sci-fi sounds, which could turn some viewers off, is a really interesting show. In just the first episode, the show manages to tee up enough mystery, intrigue, and conflict to carry well beyond the end of the first season. If the next few episodes can find a more even footing, Krypton could be around for years to come.
Without diving too deep into the nitty-gritty, the plot of the show is simple. Adam Strange, a hero from DC comics, has traveled from modern day Earth to Krypton, 200 years ago. The impetus for this decision is plain enough. The villainous Brainiac is on a warpath across the universe, headed for Superman's homeworld. If he destroys Krypton in the past, then Superman will never exist in the future. Adam Strange has to warn Seg-El that Brainiac is coming, and stop him before he destroys the planet.
While the language that Goyer uses to build the world of the show can be a bit overwhelming at times, even for a die-hard science fiction fan, the world it builds is exciting. There's no one source for this excitement. Rather, the show feels lived in. It doesn't seem like all the action of the world just started when the show started. Characters like the autocratic Voice of Rao or the secretive terrorist organization Black Zero have nothing to do with Seg's story right now, but will definitely play a big part in the future. That vast scale and the possibility that comes with it is exciting.
The unfortunate side of that is that there isn't really anything that makes Krypton feel like a "Superman" show. The world Goyer built could be an alien planet in any science fiction story. Aside from the Crest of House El (Superman's "S") and great use of John Williams' classic Superman theme, nothing specifically marks the show as a superhero or comic book story.
But maybe that's the idea. It's possible that, as all our entertainment becomes ever more saturated with comic book IP, audiences are happy to let those specifics go. But if DC, Warner Bros., and SyFy want Krypton to be a Superman show, then it needs to feel like a Superman show. Even if that's just in something as simple as the way our hero lives his everyday life. Without that specificity, then it would've been better to take this exciting and complex planet, give it a different name, and make it an entirely new property.
Becoming A Hero
The pilot episode of Krypton ends with Seg-El retreating to the Fortress of Solitude. Events have transpired which have changed his entire view of the world. He needs time alone to think, to plan, and to grow.
That final scene is a good analogy for the show. There's nothing wrong with it. It's a pilot. Pilots exist to sell you on a concept. And this one sells Krypton. Now the next few episodes need to grow into something truly exceptional. The list of superhero shows on TV today is too long to run through here. If Krypton wants to stand out, it's going to need to grow into something fantastic. The pilot episode provides it with the foundation to do that. Krypton has taken its first few steps. But it can't waste any time getting off the ground if it wants to soar.
Krypton airs on Wednesday nights at 10 pm on SyFy.