I recently posted about my reread of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and talked about how that was the first time DC Comics rebooted their entire universe of comic books and super-heroes, which gave them the opportunity to do origin stories again. I mentioned that John Byrne was hired away from Marvel to reboot Superman; he did so with four mini-series: Man of Steel, The World of Krypton, The World of Smallville, and The World of Metropolis. These were all terrific, and I decided, since I was rereading Crisis, that I should also revisit those as well.
The World of Krypton was exceptional.
I always enjoyed whenever the Superman mythology, pre-Crisis, would talk about Krypton. All that was known, in the beginning, was that Superman (Kal-El), was the last survivor of a planet that had exploded; his parents had outfitted a rocket ship and sent him away to save him as a child, and the yellow sun of our earth had given him super powers. That continually evolved; fragments of the planet Krypton, irradiated by the explosion and hurtled through space, had effects on Superman were he exposed to them, and the effects depended on the color. Green Kryptonite was fatal; that is something that never changed, in any Superman mythology. Red Kryptonite always had a different and temporary effect on Superman; no two pieces of red Kryptonite affected him in the same way. It could make him crazy, change his personality, give him amnesia; whenever the writers were bored or couldn't think up a story for the comic, he'd be exposed to Red Kryptonite. There were various other colors, too, with different effects: white Kryptonite killed plant life, for example, and every color of Kryptonite had an effect, the only thing I truly remember was that gold Kryptonite was the rarest form and its effects were permanent: if exposed to it, Superman would lose his powers permanently.
Reinventing Superman's mythology also gave John Byrne the opportunity to reinvent Krypton (and, by extension, Kryptonite); and that was precisely what he did with The World of Krypton. In this series, he showed not only the destruction of Krypton, but also how it happened--which was something that was, at least to me, always kind of murky in the old mythology; it just happened, like how a volcano can erupt on our planet. The mini-series began thousands of years in Krypton's past, to a time when the planet had evolved through science, but an ethical issue divided Kryptonians: cloning. When every Kryptonian was born, cells were taken from the baby and three clones were grown, kept in stasis, for replacement parts for Kryptonians--to extend life. Some people thought this was barbarous, a form of slavery; others the natural order of things. The civil unrest was growing on Krypton, and finally erupted into a full scale civil war: the battlecry for those against the process was minds for the mindless, souls for the soulless; the question at the root of everything was really, do clones have souls?
Hmmm. Does this seem parallel to anything in our society?
The end result was a bloody and brutal civil war that was finally brought to an end with the extermination of all of the terrorists called Black Zero; but before they died, their leader set off a device that was designed to destroy Krypton, as punishment for the clones that had been sacrificed over the years by their barbarous overlords. Krypton did not explode, and everyone assumed the device had failed.
Flash forward a thousand or so years, and life in Krypton had changed. Clones were no longer used to extend life, and Kryptonians had developed technologically to the point where they no longer have physical contact with other Kryptonians or emotions, really. Jor-El, descendant of the leader of the forces that wiped out Black Zero, has been chosen to mate with Lara, as someone has died and there is room in the population for another Kryptonian. Jor-El and Lara break with tradition, and actually meet; Jor-El, a brilliant scientist, has learned through his study of history that the device set off millennia before started a very slow developing chain reaction within the core of the planet, and Krypton will be destroyed. As in the original mythology, they send their son to Earth as their planet is destroyed and they die in each other's arm with their planet.
I've never forgotten this ethical battle over cloning, and have often wondered what would be the reaction on our own planet were cloning technology to develop here. We have already seen, over and over, in our history how scientific advances and realities will be denied, ignored, and persecuted in the name of religion; and the question of whether or not clones have souls would of course be at the root of all of it; as well as the question of man playing god. It's something I've always wanted to explore, but I am not a science fiction writer, but every so often I think about it...and try to figure out a way to write about it that wouldn't require scientific knowledge.
Something to ponder.
And now back to the spice mines.