'Man of Steel' and Everything You Need to Know About the Planet Krypton

'Man of Steel' and Everything You Need to Know About the Planet Krypton

Jun 15, 2013

Superman’s home planet Krypton is always different depending on the continuity, yet certain aspects always remain the same. For instance, Jor-El is always the “Cassandra” character who knows that the planet is going to explode while the Kryptonian Council refuses to believe his findings. Nearly everything else about it -- including the reason for its destruction -- changes constantly. There was a time when the planet was in the same orbit as Earth, but on the other side of our sun, so until we had space travel it was technically possible and we wouldn’t have known any better. In some versions, the planet’s star would explode, or something that happened 100,000 years earlier was finally destroying the planet. For Man of Steel, David S. Goyer came up with yet another unique reason.

The ancient history of the planet changes just as frequently with each continuity, at least when it’s mentioned at all. But usually it had a harsh terrain with big freaky-looking animals. In 1994, Dan Jurgens suggested that Doomsday, the beast that actually killed Superman, was a product of a scientific experiment performed on ancient Krypton. Its creator would send it out to the planet’s surface where it would be torn apart by the violent creatures that lived there, then collect the DNA to clone him over and over again until he adapted and was able to defeat them.

In contrast, the Krypton shown in the 1978 film (see above) with Christopher Reeve appeared to be icy and made partly of crystals that grew in specific ways from their technology. The film also suggested for the first time that Superman’s “S” symbol was a family crest, which changed its meaning entirely. Even the comics wouldn’t adapt to that until about a decade ago. Then again, that film made a number of changes to Superman’s history, and many of them stuck or were used in later versions, such as the town of Smallville being specifically in Kansas instead of an unnamed state in Middle America.

In Man of Steel there are several animals shown on Krypton, such as the elephant-sized Rondor beast and flying creatures called h’raka. Jerry Ordway drew the art for the prequel comic and had this to say:

"I can tell you that I drew the h'raka differently inside the comic, from a production painting, where they looked somewhat aquatic, crossed with a dragonfly. Then by the time I drew the cover image, I had been given different reference that showed the creature as more batlike, with a pitbull face. I was a bit mad that I hadn't had that reference for the earlier page, but esthetically the earlier design of the creature evoked a more classic science fiction vibe, which I liked. The question is, I guess, 'If you were riding one of these creatures, as Jor-El does, would you prefer a bat or a flying dolphin?'  I'd prefer the dolphin, as it is less threatening looking, and beautiful. A bat is just scary looking."

But the most interesting thing about Krypton was something subtle in the movie. Because it is larger and denser than Earth, it has a higher gravity, so even without the powers that our yellow sun can give to a Kryptonian, like flight or vision abilities, they are already stronger and faster. In an interview with screenwriter David S. Goyer on the set of the movie in August, 2011, he explained,

"It was always just, if this kind of really happened in the real world, even in terms of how his powers work, I mean, Zack and his team did a really interesting sort of scale of power, and they did a sort of how much fire power each of the... a 40 caliber bullet, a 50—you know, these kinds of things, like a shell grenade would work on a human versus a Kryptonian. Like, you’ll get the physics on all of that, so that like, an M-4 would knock a human back this far. An M-4 would knock a Kryptonian back this far. You know, the fire power from the A-10 Warthogs would knock a human back this far. It will knock a Kryptonian back this far. So, we sort of get all the physics on it, or Zack’s team did all the physics, so that it’s that attempt. So there are rules and science rules within this movie and this universe that things have to apply to, so it’s not just like, magically do whatever. The Kryptonians can jump yea high in our gravity kind of thing. They can punch this hard, lift this much, that sort of thing."

This goes back to the first page of Action Comics #1, which was Superman’s first appearance in 1938. Instead of flying, Superman could jump approximately one eighth of a mile, which is the equivalent of leaping a tall building in a single bound. In the book “The Physics of Superheroes” by James Kakalios, the author used real physics and compared how high and far a healthy human could jump on Earth to Superman’s leap. He concluded that Krypton’s mass would have to be roughly 15 times that of Earth just to have the right kind of gravity for the explanation given in the early comics. Similar rules exist in Man of Steel.

The society of Krypton also plays an important role. When the Superman comic book story was rebooted in 1986, writer John Byrne suggested that earlier Kryptonian society relied on clones that could be used for spare parts. By Jor-El’s time, the population rate was under specific control and the people tended to live for a very long time, so someone dying or having a child were rare events. Instead of having sex and the mother carrying the fetus for nine months, their DNA would be put together in a birthing matrix until the time came to open it. It was that “egg” that was sent to Earth, allowing the baby Kal-El to be literally born in Kansas. In an imaginary future, Superman was even elected president of the United States, which was only possible because he had been born in Kansas and not Krypton.

The planet Krypton as depicted on Smallville

When Geoff Johns began heading up the comics writing team in 2008, he suggested a specific caste/guild system where certain Kryptonians were born to have specific jobs such as science, military, worker, government and so on. In the same interview with David S. Goyer, he explained,

"One of the things that we tried to do in this film was depict Krypton as a truly alien world and not something that was influenced by Flash Gordon or Alex Raymond but a truly alien world. One of the things that we decided early on with Krypton, we drilled down really deep all the various art departments in terms of figuring out the history. Some of this we pulled from comic books. Some of this, we had to fill in the gaps that didn’t exist. But, the gods, the religions, the Krypton, the different guilds and the caste systems, the language we created, a Kryptonian language. So, in all of the—when you see Krypton, there’s a lot of temples and things like that where there will be etchings in stone and all of the things that are rendered in the Kryptonian glyphs can actually be translated into things. So, we wrote each god as a sort of motto in saying each guild has a motto and saying and there’s some Easter eggs in there."

Man of Steel’s version of Krypton is not necessarily different from others, but I did notice a number of references in the scenes on the planet as well as much of the rest of the film. Be sure to come back to Movies.com on Monday for the list of all the Easter eggs and references I caught.

Krypton itself is and needs to be a very interesting and alien place, but I wouldn’t want to live there, especially when it’s about to explode.

Which version of Krypton is your favorite?

Categories: Features, Geek, In Theaters
Tags: Man of Steel
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