Ah, Kryptonians, one of the major pillars of DC Comics. Long before names like Captain Marvel or Black Adam entered the zeitgeist, even non-comic book readers knew about Superman. Kryptonite has been part of the lexicon, referring to someone’s weakness, longer than I’ve been alive. We all know the phrase, “It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No! It’s Superman!”
It all began in 1938 when Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster created a superhero to stand as an exemplar of morals and immigrants: Superman. We all know this story of the child from a distant and dying world, cast into the stars to crash-land in Kansas. There, he’s raised by an upright but childless couple to become the paragon of heroism.
Over the course of 85 years of storytelling, though, the “Last Son of Krypton” is far from the only Kryptonian in DC Comics. By this point, there are dozens when you factor in Elseworlds stories, multiversal dimensions, and alternate timelines. For the sake of this primer, however, I’m going to focus on the Kryptonians who are major players in DC Comics. Give it a minute, though. This is comics. A new Kryptonian hero or menace is likely right around the corner.
Clark Kent. Kal-El. The original. You know him and love him, even if screenwriters can’t figure out how to make him work in a movie. He still keeps Metropolis safe and most of the universe. When big trouble comes calling, he’s the first of the Kryptonians to get the call. Nowadays, he’s also raising a son with Kryptonian superpowers. Speaking of which…
Named after his paternal grandfather, Jon Kent is the son of Superman and Lois Lane. Even being half-Kryptonian, he’s displaying the full alien power set. He’s still learning how to use his vast abilities and getting more powerful all the time as he keeps absorbing yellow solar energy. He’s also going by Superman and has come out as bisexual.
Kara Zor-El is Superman’s cousin. Even though she arrived on Earth after he did, she’s actually older. Basically, her spaceship got stuck in a kryptonite-encrusted meteor, delaying her arrival on Earth. Taken under the wing of Wonder Woman, she struggled to find her place in Earth’s pantheon of heroes but now patrols the skies of Metropolis with the rest of the family.
This version of Superboy is Conner Kent. Originally, he thought he was fully Kryptonian and tried to call himself Superman, but nobody bought it. Eventually, he discovered that he’s a genetic clone of half Superman and half Lex Luthor. Despite the half-villainous genetics, he’s a hero through and through, relying on tactile telekinesis to replicate Kryptonian powers, and still struggles with his origins.
Power Girl is ALSO Kara Zor-L, albeit from a different dimension. Same great powers, same blonde hair, totally unnecessary boob window as part of her costume. Basically, she has the same origin story as Supergirl, though she became stranded in the prime universe. She is older and more mature than Supergirl, however, and has her own identity as well.
Not all of the Kryptonians are good. Some are as bad as you can get. General Zod has been portrayed in movies and TV alike as the warlike Kryptonian who believes that his great power entitles him to subjugate weaker species. Species like humans. Given Superman’s incredible power, Zod has always been a great villain, leveling the power playing field and making the battle more about ethics and morals.
Jor-El and Lara
Jor-El and Lara were Superman’s parents. They made the difficult decision to jettison their only son into space, hoping that he would find a new home in which to flourish. Even though they died long ago, their influence is very much a part of Superman’s life due to technology from his first spaceship and the Fortress of Solitude.
Yep. Another villain. Created on prehistoric Krypton as an experiment in forced evolution, Doomsday has the unique ability to come back to life with resistance to whatever killed him before. After more than 250,000 years, that’s a lot of death and a lot of resistances. He eventually landed on Earth, rampaging through its heroes before coming toe-to-toe with Superman. In an epic clash, the two killed each other. It’s comics, though, so they both got better eventually.
There’s an entire menagerie of Kryptonian animals that have made appearances in DC Comics, but Krypto the Wonder-Dog is the one who has stuck around. This white canine is Superman’s best friend, frequent guard dog for the Fortress of Solitude, and brings all of the Kryptonian powers in a floofy package. Weird how all these Kryptonian animals look just like Earth ones, though.
First appearing shortly after the death of Superman at the hands of Doomsday, Cyborg Superman tried to pass himself off as the genuine article. Again, nobody bought it. That was Hank Henshaw, a human cyborg scientist. There’s also a Cyborg Superman who is Zor-El, the younger brother of Jor-El, rebuilt by Brainiac as a cyborg to search the universe for strong species. Either way, both of these faux supermen are powerful villains.
So bad that he was the villain of two major crises, Superboy-Prime is an alternate-universe Clark Kent gone very wrong. On his Earth, there were no superheroes at all before Clark’s powers emerged as a teenager. When his Earth and universe were erased, this Clark was trapped in a pocket universe, alone and distraught. He grew more powerful over time until he was released. Seeing his own lost Earth as the only true Earth and himself as the only true superhero, he became bent on eradicating all others.
There are others, of course. Some make appearances on occasion, while others only appear for specific stories. These are the core Kryptonians, though, the ones who’ve made the biggest impact and are likely to see again and again. Who is your favorite Kryptonian?