Forget what you know about Superman’s home planet of Krypton. Syfy’s new DC-based TV series, appropriately titled Krypton, puts a new spin on the Man of Steel’s home planet and the origins of his grandfather, Seg-El.
Set 200 years before Superman was born, the show explores Seg-El’s struggles, Krypton’s class system, its political climate and a hero’s journey. However, to further complicate matters, time traveler Adam Strange ventures from present day to Krypton’s past to warn Seg of a plot to alter the timeline and prevent Superman from ever existing.
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Ahead of tonight’s premiere, showrunner Cameron Welsh spoke with CBR about mining new aspects of the Superman legacy, Seg-El’s journey from rankless scrapper to hero, Krypton’s complex society, the threat of Braniac and the coming of Doomsday.
CBR: Krypton is a totally new take on the Superman mythology. What makes this corner of the DC Universe ripe to explore?
Cameron Welsh: I think mostly because it’s largely unexplored in comparison to other areas of the DC Universe. This is one that I don’t think has been explored that heavily, particularly going back a couple of generations the way we have. It’s something we haven’t seen before. What’s really fun about this show is we get to play in a completely alien space, something unlike that we’ve seen before. Unlike any of the DC shows, it truly is a science-fiction show. We get to do a lot of world-building and get to create this particular world. Like all good science fiction, there’s an opportunity there to make some kind of social commentary and talk about what’s happening in our world through the lens of this very alien world.
Viewers and comic book readers may believe they have the whole series and ending figured out. How challenging has it been to defy those expectations?
It’s certainly something we’ve been very aware of right from the start. I think we are all hyper-conscious of the potential that an audience might look at the premise and think this is something that they know. In the story of Krypton, we know it is ultimately going to explode. Superman is going to be sent off in a rocket ship bound for Earth. In a crowded television landscape, we are aware the viewer has a lot of choices these days, so there needs to be something really engaging about this that will have the viewers stick around. In looking at that, right from the start, one of the things that I think we do successfully is introduce this element of time travel. The stakes become about the here and now through this time-travel element, through this character Adam Strange. We set in motion a plot that results with the birth of Superman being in jeopardy.
The timeline has changed by virtue of the fact that there’s this threat on Superman’s existence, and Adam has come back in time to Krypton to try and stop it. Adam has made our hero, Seg, aware of it. As soon as they set off in action, the timeline has changed. Everything that was canon as far as Krypton and how that story plays out is now up for grabs. Everything has changed. We all got pretty excited about that, the idea that we can begin by going back to this ancient world and peel back a few layers and hopefully deepen and enrich the mythology that was already there.
Introduce us to Seg and what stage he is at in his life.
Seg is Superman’s grandfather. When we first meet Seg, he is just a boy. His own grandfather is about to be executed for treason. At the time, they are members of the Science Guild. They are respected members of the community on Krypton. When our story starts, they are stripped of all their rights and their rank and privileges. Seg is cast down into the bottom rung of society. He becomes what is known in our show as rankless. Seg has grown up on the streets. He’s a scrapper. Seg has had to use his wits, and sometimes his fists, and sometimes both to eke out a living.
He’s pretty rough around the edges. He’s not the polished boy scout we sometimes associate with Superman. He’s a kid with no real sense of identity, no real sense of purpose. He’s very much at the beginning of his journey, with ultimately the destination being the grandfather of Superman. He needs to learn about the legacy of House El and all that is contained with that in order to be able to pass that onto Superman eventually.
Seg is rankless — can you talk about developing the different class systems and guild divisions? How does it cause conflict in the show?
Classism was one of the issues we wanted to look at in the series. The best science fiction does that, so we’re striving to do that as well, to take issues from society we are dealing with in the present day and view them through this lens of a science-fiction show. We get to explore that, and what that means. For our character, it makes Seg more relatable. The class structure and the guild division are an important part of our show. It speaks to the way this society is organized and the oppressive nature of this society where freewill is a luxury.
In Krypton, everyone has a role to play in the society. When times are tough and there are dwindling resources, everybody needs to pull their weight. That’s the way this society is being structured. It’s a little cold and clinical in that way. People have lost the ability to express themselves, to have their own sense of individuality. It’s one of the issues we delve into.
How do the House of El and House of Zod view each other?
There’s a lot of respect, certainly from the House of El towards the House of Zod. Early on, that was the case. Following the events of the pilot, where Seg is outcast, from that point on and the House of El become rankless, they don’t register with the House of Zod at all. To the House of Zod, the House of El is synonymous with treason and with being agitators and rebels. They are the polar opposite of what the House of Zod stands for, which is honor, loyalty and protecting the state. When we pick up our story, they are very much at odds.
What kind of conversations did you have over your interpretation of Braniac?
We had lots of conversations. In fact, we are still having the conversation. We were all really excited about doing Braniac, about bringing that character to life. Braniac has been a big part of the Superman lore for so long. He’s a great character to explore. We’re interested in seeing how Braniac works, the ideas of what Braniac does in terms of collecting cities and putting them in these bottles and observing them. The psychology behind that became something we were fascinated in unpacking and figuring out what Braniac gets out of this. There’s the idea that knowledge being power, but what does it actually mean? Trying to explore that a little bit was interesting.
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Adam Strange and Braniac are familiar to many comic-book readers. What other DC Universe faces may be dropping by?
There’s plenty of other characters on my bucket list. We’ll see Doomsday. That will be pretty exciting. With Doomsday and Braniac, that’s two of the great villains that Superman faced off against. We’re very excited to have those guys.
Krypton debuts at 10 tonight on Syfy.