A new perspective on the last days of Krypton unfolds with a bit of Romeo & Juliet mixed in. Two teenagers rebel against their genetically engineered destiny as the planet begins to crumble around them.
We all know the story of the last days of Krypton. A scientist, Jor-El, and his wife, Lara see how the planet is about to destroy itself and plead with the government to do something about it. No one listens so they send their infant son off into space as the planet explodes, destroying most of their race in moments. That’s not the full story though. House of El takes us back a bit, showing another side of this story through the eyes of two teenagers from very different parts of Krypton.
There are shades of Romeo & Juliet in House of El: Book One – The Shadow Threat. On one side you have Sera, a strong Kryptonian soldier with no regard for her life or others. The mission is the priority. On the other side is Zahn (Lara’s cousin), a Kryptonian elite destined to be a leader. The two are not meant to be together according to society and the class system at play, yet they’re drawn to one another time and time again, teasing a romance.
Where House of El really shines is with the idea of rebelling against your destiny. Everyone in Krypton is genetically engineered. You are born with certain predispositions and seen as strange if you don’t fit into those molds. Writer Claudia Gray explores this concept well through these two characters. Their eyes are opened to the willful ignorance around them.
The romantic angle takes a backseat for much of this graphic novel. Gray focuses on building up Sera and Zahn separately before pushing them together. If we jumped right to a relationship, it wouldn’t feel earned. This way we can see how they will butt heads, but also how they can really help each other and the rest of Krypton. We’re invested with these characters because of that time.
Artist Eric Zawadzki showcases the futuristic and alien wonders of Krypton well. There’s plenty of space for the story to breath, especially in some gorgeous double page spreads that highlight the peaceful and tranquil nature of this world. It’s what makes the earthquakes signaling the planet’s impending doom all the more shocking and powerful.
Krypton is definitely segregated though. The elites live up high in gleaming towers while the worker bees are down below. Zawadzki shifts the style a bit between them, with cleaner, crisper lines with the former and grittier lines for the latter.
Colorist Dee Cunniffe helps tremendously to set the tone for each scene, especially the differences between the classes. After seeing the bright skyscrapers with blues and golds, it’s jarring to go beneath the surface and see all the dreary browns and greys. These are two completely different worlds on the same planet.
Throughout the course of House of El, Sera and Zahn’s paths continue to cross. It’s not that they’re bumping into each other at the laundromat or something. It’s more that they’re slowly pushing into the other’s space. A nice example of this is when Zahn starts to talk with the resistance. He’s so out of his element, but he means well. Letterer Deron Bennett shows this dialogue in hushed tones with word balloons framed in dotted lines, adding to the clandestine operation.
Although Superman’s parents and General Zod do show up in House of El, they are supporting characters at most. The focus is squarely on Sera and Zahn, showing a very welcomed new perspective on the last days of Krypton. This is a compelling drama about fighting your destiny to carve out your own path in life. It just so happens to be set among the backdrop of a world ending.