The Krypton Chronicles is a 1981 three-issue limited series which explores the history of Superman's birth family, the House of El. E. Nelson Bridwell, expert at Pre-Crisis Superman's continuity and lore, wrote the story and Curt Swan and Frank Chiaramonte handled art duties.
Inspired by the success stories of Shogun and Roots, Morgan Edge gives Clark Kent a new assignment: writing a series of articles chronicling the story of Superman's family. It should be an easy job, since Clark Kent is Superman... except that Superman barely knows anything about his ancestors.
Determined to discover their family's secrets, Superman and Supergirl head towards Rokyn, a planet settled by Kryptonian survivors where they will run into old friends and old enemies as looking for answers. But they will need more than some few surviving ancient records to unveil a history which began ten millennia ago on a continent called Urrika...
Although Pre-Crisis Krypton's backstory, history, culture, language... were rendered non-canon by Crisis on Infinite Earths, parts and bits of it were slowly reintroduced in mainstream canon (the story of Hatu-El and the Vrang Revolt has been mentioned in both Post-Crisis and Rebirth continuities), and they have been referenced by non-comic media like Supergirl (2015).
See also the different World of Krypton series, which have a similar premise of exploring the world of Krypton and the lives of Superman's ancestors, and The Kents which explores the lives of the Kent family in the 19th century.
Tropes found in this story:
- After the End: The first great Kryptonian civilization was brought down by a great deluge that flooded the continent of Urrika. The survivors dwelled in little settlements, gathering algae as food for five generations until they started to rebuild ancient cities as Erkol.
- Alien Invasion: Over three thousand years before the birth of Superman, Krypton was invaded by an alien race known as the Vrangs, who ruled Krypton with iron fist for two decades until they were thrown out by a planetwide slave revolt.
- Alien Sky: Rokyn's humongous red sun and its red-hued skies are immediately apparent as soon as Superman's starship arrives on the planet.Putting the ship into hyper-drive, Superman takes a shortcut through sub-space, to emerge near a giant world beneath a mammoth red Sun...
- All There in the Manual: Each issue includes a little glossary that explains some facts about Kryptonian language, provides translations for some Kryptonian terms scattered all over the story, and gives a brief description of the main characters.
- The Atoner: When Kal and Kara travel to Rokyn, they learn that several reformed criminals, including some of their old enemies like Brenn-Bir and Shyla Kor-Onn, are helping in the rebuilding of Kandor to atone for their misdeeds.
- Blue Blood: Erok-El, the founder of the House of El, conquered the continent of Urrika ten millennia ago. Their descendants ruled over Urrika during twenty generations until the dispute among brothers Vad-El and Hyr-El and the Great Deluge.
- Book Ends: The first Kryptonian born with the surname El was named Kal. His great descendant and last male of his House was named after him.
- The Bus Came Back: Black Flame and Shyla Kor-Onn, two villains who had not been seen in years, having dropped off the map after Adventure Comics #400 (1970) and Strangers at the Heart's Core (1978), respectively, make their final appearance in this story.
- Cain and Abel:
- One of the ancient ancestors of Kal and Kara was Hyr-El, who was chased out of the city of Erkol by his own brother, the tyrant Vad-El, who Hyr quarreled with.
- Val-El and his brother Tro-El did not get along. Tro persuaded Val into joining the latter's sailing expedition to discover new lands, claiming he was a better person now, but later he raised a mutiny with the purpose of taking over the ships and turning pirate, a plan which included marooning his own brother.
- Cape Snag: Played for laughs. When Superman is about to take off towards planet Rokyn excitedly, Supergirl tugs on his cape◊ before reminding him that they need a spaceship to get there, what with Rokyn orbiting a red star.
- Cassandra Truth: Several millennia before the birth of Superman, Rao's prophet Jaf-El foretold that Kryptonians would have to be ready to leave Krypton eventually because their planet would be destroyed in the distant future. Unfortunately, his warnings would go unheeded.
- Chain Pain: Hatu-El and his fellow slaves lacked weapons when they revolted against the Vrangs, so they used their own chains to flail their guards to death, and then they steal their ray guns.
- Chronoscope: Zor-El whips up a device which lets anybody relive someone else's memories by holding something belonging to that person. Later, Superman designs some camera-like device which displays scenes of the past.
- Continuity Porn: Promoted Fanboy and Pre-Crisis Superman continuity expert E. Nelson Bridwell took care to blend every minutia of Superman lore in a coherent amalgam.
- Convenient Eclipse: When people asked Jaf-El for a sign that Rao is the only god, Jaf announced Rao would turn the red sun yellow at once. When the Sun indeed turns yellow, his listeners become convinced. Listening to that story, Superman states that was the period when the Gold Volcano erupted, scattering yellow dust all over the atmosphere. He notes his ancestor could not have known about it, though, so maybe Jaf-El had a prophetic vision after all.
- Crazy-Prepared: Black Flame's scheme to delay Superman and Supergirl until they miss their window of time to leave Kandor fails because Zor-El fitted his daughter's belt with a clocking device which allows Kara to know the time in Earth's New York and Rokyn's Kandor simultaneously. Why Zor-El thought his daughter would need a device to measure time in two different planets is anyone's guess, but he was clearly right.
- Crystal Dragon Jesus: Krypton's worship of Rao is portrayed very similarly to Judaism and Christianity. It is revealed that the prophet Jaf-El helped usher in the age of monotheism on Krypton.
- Crystal Spires and Togas: Throughout ten thousand years of history, Kryptonian society goes from rag-wearing barbarians dwelling in stone buildings to a civilization of people clad in bright, colorful robes and skintight suits, and living in shiny cities with tall, crystalline skyscrapers.
- Death from Above: Kryptonians deployed this kind of weapons during the last pre-unification war, accurately named the Last War: the city of Kandor tried to end up the conflict by dropping mountain-sized flaming disintegrating fireballs on the city of Erkol, which retaliated by launching an robot-aircraft armed with a massive sun-powered beam which turned Kryptonopolis into a blackened hole within minutes."The robot-craft was powered by the Sun— and used sunlight as its weapon... Swiftly, its beam swept across Kryptonopolis, leaving blackened devastation in its wake... When its mission was finished, nothing was left standing in Kryptonopolis... and no one was left living!"
- Egopolis: Erkol was originally named Erok-El after Erok, the first Bethgar of Urrika, but the name changed over time.
- Falsely Reformed Villain: Zora Vi-Lar declares she regrets her past crimes so that she is released from prison; but as soon as Supergirl and her cousin visit Kandor, Zora tries to take revenge on the Maid of Might and gets captured.
- Famous Ancestor: Kal and Kara trace their lineage directly back to Erok-El, the founder of the first Kryptonian civilization.
- Founder of the Kingdom: In Ancient Krypton, Erok united the different barbarian tribes who populated the continent of Urrika through conquest, become the first King of Urrika and created the first Kryptonian legal system. He is also the founder of the House of El.
- God Is Good: Rao loves His children and did warn them that they needed to leave their homeworld because Krypton would blow up in the far future, leaving them plenty of time to develop a space program. Unfortunately, they didn't listen.
- The Good King: Erok, the first bethgar (a Kryptonese term roughly equivalent to "king" or "emperor") to unify the continent of Urrika, ten millennia before the birth of Superman. He created the first law and justice system, outlawed cannibalism and human sacrifice and institutionalized the hereditary system of last names.
- The Great Flood: A flooding event inundated the continent of Urrika several thousand years ago. Thanks to Jaf-El (a prophet who foretold the flood) and his brother Tio (a beastmaster who provided riding beasts for everyone), many people survived by fleeing to the mountains, but the flood destroyed the first great Kryptonian civilization. After learning about Jaf-El's history, Kal and Kara cannot help but compare it with Noah's history.
- Grey-and-Gray Morality: The Last War between Kryptonian warring states is presented as a conflict with no real villains, but where all sides were perfectly willing to use lethal force. The city-states of Kandor and Erkol tried to nuke each other into surrendering, until one of them deployed a mind-altering weapon to save themselves from being blasted into oblivion.
- Happiness in Slavery: Deconstructed. The Vrangs forced their Kryptonian slaves to pretend to be happy because it fed their egos and kept their slaves subdued. And the only reason Kryptonians smiled and stated they were happy to serve their masters when questioned is because they were being held at gunpoint, and they knew what would happen if they spoke their minds.Vrang Soldier: Smile, all of you— Show us how happy you are to be ruled by the Vrangs!
Kryptonian Woman: (through her teeth) We are privileged to serve you, Masters!
Vrang Soldier: Who are you, stripling? Why do you not smile like the others?
Val-Lor: Because I'm no hypocrite! My name is Val-Lor— and I despise you Vrangs! I wish you were all dead!
Vrang Soldier: (gunning him down) How dare that slave defy us? Ray-death is the penalty for such a crime!
- Heroic Lineage: In addition to brilliant scientists, reputable lawmakers, and ambitious city-builders the members of the House of El have been army generals of the kind who ends wars forever, revolutionary leaders, and in the far past, conquering warlords and chieftains.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: A Vrang guard shoots Val-Lor for speaking against his masters. Instead of squashing any thought of rebellion out of the slaves' minds, Val-Lor's execution sparks a rebellion which leads to the end of the Vrang Dominion.
- Horse of a Different Color: Ancient Kryptonians rode winged, four-legged, beaked mammalian beasts called Tanthuo Flez, or "the Winged Ones". They also use some kind of warm-blooded, egg-laying, orange-scaled sauropod-like species called Oliphents as beasts of burden and war mounts. Their likeness to dinosaurs is noted, albeit not explained.
- Identical Grandson: The first Kal-El, who lived ten millennia ago and is Kal and Kara's distant ancestor, is all but identical to Superman.
- I Did What I Had to Do: At the dawn of the first Kryptonian civilization, Superman's ancestor Erok united the different peoples inhabiting the continent of Urrika into a single country. In order to ensure that Uved, the last chieftain opposed to his rule, surrendered peacefully, Erok has his daughter Milia kidnapped. Erok is not proud of using a hostage, but he points out that it ended the conflict without further bloodshed.Erok: I hated to use a hostage to force your surrender, but it means the saving of thousands of lives!
- I Die Free: Slave Val-Lor chooses to speak up against his oppressors and get killed rather than pretend he is happy to become their property.
- Ignored Expert:
- The naturalist Tio-El understands that the winged beasts are Not Evil, Just Misunderstood and have the intelligence and good nature to survive the upcoming deluge. No one listens to him, not even his prophetic brother who foresaw the flood in the first place, until the creatures directly act to rescue them from the flood.
- Kil-Gor is an inventor who finds a way to measure the tides and maximize the seaweed harvests that his tribe of nomads needs to survive and prosper. Everyone besides his future son-in-law Bur-El sees Kil-Gor as a tinkerer with ideas above his station, and they only accept the value of his ideas after Bur-El risks his life to prove Kil-Gor's theories.
- Sul-El, an astronomer who developed the first telescope, tried to warn the governor of Kandor that he had spotted a possibly hostile alien fleet approaching Krypton. He was mocked or despised by everyone until the Vrangs landed and began shooting people indiscriminately.
- Impoverished Patrician: Twenty-one generations of the House of El ruled over one whole continent millenia ago. One civil war and a natural disaster later, and they're wearing rags and living off harvesting seaweed.
- Lineage Comes from the Father: Kal-El and Kara Zor-El trace their ancestry through their fathers' line (Jor-El and Zor-El, respectively) back to their male forebear Erok-El, ruler of the continent of Urrika and founder of the first Kryptonian civilization.
- Made a Slave: Sul-El and his son Hatu-El were freemen until the Vrangs conquered Krypton and enslaved its inhabitants. Sul remained a slave until his death, but his son Hatu led a slave revolt that liberated Krypton.
- Man of the City: The architect Pym-El passionately rebuilds Kryptonopolis, hunts down and arrests saboteurs who want to stop the rebuilding efforts, and lobbies hard for the city to become the new planetary capital (feeling great disappointment when he fails).
- Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In ancient Krypton, Jef-El predicted Rao would turn the Sun yellow as a sign of his power. Superman guesses the sun appeared yellow because that was the time of the Gold Volcano's first eruption which spewed vast quantities of gold dust into the atmosphere; but he adds Jef-El couldn't have known about one mountain erupting on the opposite and uninhabited side of the planet, so he can't rule out some kind of divine intervention.Supergirl: That's odd... If the Sun turned yellow, why didn't the people gain super-powers, as we do under Earth's Sun?
Superman: Because it was merely an optical illusion! I've learned something about Krypton's geological history— This is the period when the Gold Volcano is believed to have been formed on the opposite side of Krypton, which was then uninhabited... And it spewed vast quantities of gold dust into the atmosphere, thus making the Sun appear yellow...
Supergirl: Then the color-change wasn't a miracle!
Superman: Wasn't it? Even on Krypton, which was rich in gold, that volcano was unique! And Jaf-El did predict the change, though he couldn't have known about the volcano!
- Meaningful Name:
- Rather than calling it "New Krypton", the surviving Kryptonians instead name their new planet "Rokyn", meaning "Gift of Rao".
- The final story reveals that Superman's Kryptonian name in its entirety translates to "star child".
- Metafictional Title: Clark Kent is commissioned to write a book about Superman's ancestors called "The Krypton Chronicles".
- Microts: According to the glossary at the end of each issue, a "thrib" is "a very short period of time, equivalent to an Earth second". 10,000 thribo (Kryptonese plurals are created by adding an O to the word) make a "wolu" (equivalent to an Earth hour), and ten woluo make one "zetyar" (one Krypton day). A "lorax" is a Kryptonian "month" of 73 days. There were six loraxo in the year of 438 days.
- Multicultural Alien Planet: Kryptonians are shown to be as racially diverse as humans, and many different cultures and societies thrived on continents like Urrika, Vathlo and Lurvan.
- The Mutiny: During Val-El's sea voyage, his brother Tro-El starts a mutiny, intending to maroon his brother and start out a career as a pirate. However, his mutiny fails, and Tro-El and his followers are marooned instead in the island of Bokos, which they turn into a pirate haven.Val-El: Brother— What does this mean?
Tro-El: Mutiny! Now that we're far beyond the reach of any law, my followers and I are taking over the ships and turning pirate! We'll put you ashore on an island we've sighted, and... (Val punches Tro in the face) Ooow!
- Noble Fugitive: The House of El had ruled over the continent of Urrika until Hyr-El was chased out of the city of Erkol by his tyrannical brother Vad-El.
- Oh, My Gods!: It is revealed that the name Rao had been used for Krypton's sun god in their polytheistic past. Jaf-Em preferred to give Rao the title "Rao, who kindled the sun" (to distinguish that Rao was not the sun, but rather its creator), a phrase which continued to appear in Kryptonian marriage ceremonies up to the present day.
- One-Man Army: After drinking the Potion of Strength, Erok was strong enough to terrify an entire army into fleeing.
- Our Ancestors Are Superheroes: Erok-El, Superman and Supergirl's very distant ancestor, gained super-strength after drinking a power-granting potion.
- Our Gryphons Are Different: The Tanthuo Flez were Kryptonian hippogriffs, being winged mammals with four horse legs and the head of a raptor.
- Pay Evil unto Evil: During Val-El's ship journey, his brother Tro attempted to take over the ships to turn pirate. His mutiny failed, and Val decided to give Tro and his followers the same punishment they had in store for him and his loyal sailors: marooning them on the island of Bokos, which would become an island of thieves.
- Planetary Romance: The series delves deeply into Krypton's history, culture and even language.
- Power-Up Food: Erok, the founder of the House of El, was given the Potion of Strength by the old wise Diom, which temporarily made him powerful enough to lift and toss huge boulders.
- Prequel: Published forty-three years after the first story featuring Superman, this miniseries narrates the history of Pre-Crisis Krypton and the House of El since the dawn of Kryptonian civilization.
- Prophecies Are Always Right: Thousands of years ago, prophet Jaf-El foretold Krypton would be destroyed, and the salvation of its people lay "on the yellow star called Ariu"... which is the Kryptonian name for Earth's Sun. Supergirl guesses he foresaw she and her cousin ending up on Earth and saving Kandor.
- Punny Name: Val-Lor was the only Kryptonian who was brave and courageous enough to speak openly and loudly against the Vrangs who had enslaved his race.
- Put on a Prison Bus: Black Flame reappears after an absence of 18 years only to run afoul of the law, get arrested and disappear again.
- Recruiting the Criminal: Former criminals Shyla Kor-Onn and Black Flame are recruited to help with the recontruction of the city of Kandor.
- "Rediscovering Roots" Trip: Kal and Kara travel to Rokyn, a planet settled by the last Kryptonian survivors, to hear the history of their family and their deceased home world.
- Revenge Before Reason: Even though it had been ten years since her last defeat, and she had been pardoned and rejoined Kryptonian society, Black Flame is still clinging to her petty grudge, and she tries to get Superman and Supergirl stuck on Rokyn for several months out of spite.
- Riches to Rags: The House of El ruled Urrika for twenty generations until Hyr-El was overthrown by his tyrannical brother Vad-El. Vad-El's family branch died out one generation later during the Great Deluge, and although Hyr-El's sons survived, their descendants eked out a living by gathering algae for several generations. Some Els would later reach prominence, but their House never got to rule anything again.
- Rock Beats Laser: Subverted. The first slaves to rebel against the Vrangs use their own chains to kill the guards watching them, but they know they can't fight a large group of soldiers armed with firearms, so they escape after stealing their weapons, which Hatu-El manages to reverse-engineer and improve.
- Rubber-Forehead Aliens: The Vrangs are hairy humanoids with brownish-grey skin, pointed teeth including large upper and lower fans, and large lobed ears.
- Sacrificial Lion: Val-Lor gets executed for defying the Vrangs openly, and his bravery spurs his fellow slaves, who start a revolt.
- Saying Too Much: In Gam-El's story, a gang of crooks attempt to sabotage the rebuilding of Kryptonopolis. When caught, the saboteurs claim they had nothing to do with it, but Gam's brother Pym-El states he knows who their rich backer is, and his bluff has them to blurt their boss' name out.Saboteur: We do not admit a thing! Why would we want to destroy your city?
Security Enforcer: We can always go to Kandor and ask your well-to-do [leader]
Saboteur: Eh? How could you know about Kly-Anth?
Security Enforcer: I did not— until now! But it stood to reason that you had been hired by someone rich— with much to lose from this project! And Kandor is the largest city in this area— and stands to suffer losses— the deduction was simple!
- Sea Monster: Pryligu, a green-scaled reptilian monster whose jaws are large enough to snap a ship into half.
- Secret Legacy: Kal and Kara learn about the long and storied legacy of the House of El. Rulers, prophets, scientists, explorers, leaders of La Resistance, soldiers, builders, lawmakers... the Els got things done over the course of one hundred centuries until their planet exploded.
- Settling the Frontier: Val-El sets sail to explore Krypton's uncharted seas. After a long and eventful voyage, Val and his crew find a large landmass (subsequently named Lurvan), and decide to settle in that place and build their own city-state, Argo City, instead of returning home.Val-El's ship's log: The betrayal of my brother stings— but I sail on. At last we sight a wild continent— the one called Lurvan... But we do not take possession in the name of Erkol. We like the new land and decide to settle— to build our own city-state... We find outcroppings of stone slab, which we trim to build the first stone houses of Argo City...
- Shout-Out: Erok's story has a long-bearded, robed-wearing wise old man giving an ancient warrior a Potion of Strength. Does it sound familiar?
- Shut Up, Hannibal!: Many millennia ago, Val-El led a marine expedition which nearly ended in disaster when his brother Tro-El started a mutiny with the goal of seizing the ships and becoming a pirate. Tro-El's plot fails and he gets marooned as a punishment, but as he and his followers are shipped to a deserted island, Tro tries to diss his brother for the last time. Instead, Val gets in one final parting shot.Tro-El: I hope the next large wave sinks you, Val!
Val-El: And I hope you live— to understand your own folly!
- Single Language Planet: Everyone on Krypton spoke the same language, called Kryptonese, and used the same writing system during millennia.
- Slave Liberation: The Vrang Revolt. Three thousand years before the birth of Kal-El, the Vrangs conquered Krypton and enslaved its inhabitants. Two decades later, a slave's execution triggers an uprising that drives the Vrangs off of Krypton.
- Slave Race: In the far past, Krypton was conquered by the Vrangs, who forced the Kryptonian race into servitude.
- Stealth Hi/Bye: In the last scene, Clark Kent quietly sneaks out while Morgan Edge is ranting over assigning him to research Hawkman's lineage.Morgan Edge: "I can see it now: The Thanagar Saga! Get that, Kent, and— Kent! Where the blazes did he disappear to this time?"
- Subspace or Hyperspace: Superman's starship takes a shortcut through subspace to reach planet Rokyn quickly.
- The "The" Title Confusion: "Krypton Chronicles" or "The Krypton Chronicles".
- Too Dumb to Live: Krypton's destruction was foretold by prophets and scientists several times through several thousands of years, and still Kryptonians were fully unprepared for it.
- Translation Convention: It's assumed Kryptonians and Rokynians are speaking in Kryptonese but their speech is translated into English, except for some few Kryptonian terms peppering the story.
- Uncertain Doom: After reaching the continent of Lurvan and founding Argo City, Val-El and his men went to explore the interior. Eventually, they reached the Valley of Juru... and they disappeared from the face of the planet. They were never seen or heard of again, and no one who ever entered Juru afterwards returned.
- The Un-Smile: During the Vrang dominion, the Kryptonian slaves forced themselves to curve their mouths upward, but their eyes remain haggard and tired.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Tala-El lobbies for the first international government of Krypton to be governed by scientists rather than judges or leaders selected by lot, and cheats to win a contest to determine which form of government to use. While the Science Council accomplishes many good things, it also ignores Jor-El's warnings of a cataclysm that will require a Homeworld Evacuation when a government of laymen might have listened to Jor-El. This causes most of Krypton's people to die with their homeward.
- You Just Told Me: As interrogating a gang of saboteurs, Pym-El states if they refuse to talk, he will get answers from their rich backer. When they ask how he knows about their boss, Pym answer he did not... until now.Saboteur: We do not admit a thing! Why would we want to destroy your city?
Security Enforcer: We can always go to Kandor and ask your well-to-do [leader]
Saboteur: Eh? How could you know about Kly-Anth?
Security Enforcer: I did not— until now!