Thursday, June 20, 2013

Superman 141: "Return to Krypton"

This review is dedicated with love, kindness, and respect to Maria Kaplun, Svyatoslav Burik, Vitaly Taratut, and all my friends who have a second home somewhere.

What would you do to go back home again? What would you do when you got there?

Those are the questions asked by Superman 141, and while it contains many contrivances and short cuts to wrap it up, it's central concerns are so poignant and brave that it's hard for me to dissect it, for fear that in doing so I'll somehow destroy the magic which inhabits the pages. This is, for all its silliness, a sombre story by Silver Age standards, and in it Superman confronts all the most pressing problems of human beings: love death, meaning, free will within the context of this sci-fi fairy tale. It's a classic, and it's a real shame that no one makes comics like this any more.

We draw inspiration and strength from our heritage whether it be personal, familial, or cultural. Part of the American experience is the myth of the immigrant. Chances are your family is like mine and you've been told how you ended up in America. Even if you weren't, a common ritual in America is the listing of your ethnicities (Irish, German, English, and Portuguese for me) that make up your background. For many of us, these stories rest comfortably in the past, generations ago. For many others, and for Superman, they are very immediate concerns which powerfully shape the personal identity of a person. For all of us, there is the fantasy of seeing the ancestral home; a pilgrimage to discover a lost birthright. In our minds, there is a sneaking suspicion that  if we can return upstream we will find ourselves in the mists of the past. It's a common myth.

Of course we can never return to those places-- they're lost to time. Just as Krypton, that doomed and perfect world, is lost forever to Superman. Krypton is one of those rarities: a no fooling Greek tragedy in pop culture form. A utopia, but for the vanity of its inhabitants, and a place that for Superman is both irrevocably lost and omnipresent. We always harbor a suspicion that in those Superman stories of the 1960's, that our world so frustrates him at times that he longs to return to that forgotten cradle. Small wonder, when one considers how many writers and editors of the Superman line were displaced from their own homes and longed to return to a Europe that no longer existed.

This story then is the ultimate wish fulfillment: Superman returns to his native planet and, without the aid of his powers, shows himself to be every bit the hero we know him to be. He is intelligent, conscientious, brave, loving, and awed. He tries to prevent the destruction and when fate will not allow it, he resigns himself to death on Krypton with a new (and old) family he has created for himself. He has gone across space and time, only to discover his own pure, nobie, human, soul. It is a mark of the excellence of this comic that when he is taken from Krypton we grieve with him, even though we know it prevented his death.

The love story is the most tragic aspect, for Superman is finally confronted by pure love and respect from a woman who understands the "real" him. Lois may love Superman, Lana may love Superboy, but Lyla Lerrol loves Kal-El, and we soon understand that the possibility of that had never even occurred to Superman. He, a man who can do anything, is swept into a romance beyond even his imagination. Superman of course meets his parents, to whom he never reveals his true identity, but that doesn't stop them from loving him as family all the same. Jor El and Lara never consciously realize that they have brought their son into their lives, but their care and compassion astound even Superman.

This is a story for anyone who ever wanted to go home again, even if that home was gone. It is a story for human beings, flawed things that we are, who may draw sustenance from our hero's validation and imagine, in turn, our own.

Read this comic.


  1. Thank you, my friend. As surface a fan as I am, the poignancy of Superman's emigre' status hasn't escaped me. Counting the hours until going home is a common emigre' experience. Getting there and realizing it's gone is another. Leaving it behind for the second time, this time for good, is what makes you, really, an expatriate. As painful as it is, it's almost a permission to love another, so to speak. I wonder how this experience on Krypton, besides whatever inner changes, affected Superman's relationship with Earth. Have you observed that at all?

  2. It's difficult to say. The final panel seems to indicate that it's helped him to adjust more completely to his outsider status. The title continued to walk the delicate balance between his longing to truly belong, and his responsibility to Earth until the soft reboot in 1971. The Silver Age superman essentially considered himself a displaced Kryptonian. The concept of Superman's dual consciousness is going to be explored in depth I'm this very site soon.