Kevin J. Anderson,
The Last Days of Krypton
(Harper, 2007)

Everyone knows the story of Superman, right? Baby sent in a rocket to Earth; raised by farmers in Smallville; mild-mannered reporter secret identity; red cape and the S-symbol? Superman is a staple in pop culture and contemporary mythology, similar to Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Batman, James Bond, etc. The details may vary (and if you ask some Superman fans -- oh, boy, do they ever vary), but every story of Superman's origin contains Krypton, Smallville, the Kents, The Daily Planet, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Lex Luthor. Superman's mythos is firmly established and understood, starting with the moment he was placed in the rocket on Krypton ... but what about the time just before that? In the obviously titled The Last Days of Krypton, Kevin J. Anderson gets to tell the "just before" part of Superman's folklore.

Just as the characters and locations define the Superman mythos, it makes sense that Anderson uses characters and locations to define the world of Superman's birth. Anderson is well-known for his Star Wars sequels and Dune prequels, so it should come as no surprise that he can juggle a voluminous cast of characters with ease. Moving from a galaxy of myriad species to a single world must be relatively easier; Anderson easily handles 60 Kryptonians (well, most of them are Kryptonian...).

It's a no-brainer that Superman's parents are the main characters, but other characters share the spotlight -- especially Dru-Zod (yes, the villain Terrence Stamp played in Superman II) and Zor-El (Supergirl's father). We are shown Dru-Zod's rise in power from bureaucrat to despot, and his depiction isn't as a black-or-white villain but an over-ambitious power-corrupted individual. As for Zor-El, he is finally given more definition beyond "Jor-El's brother." Zor-El is a politically-savvy geologist (or geologically-savvy politician?) who shares Jor-El's role as harbinger of doom for Krypton. In fact, Anderson writes such an interesting Zor-El that one could argue that Zor-El was better for Krypton than Jor-El.

In The Last Days of Krypton, Anderson has cherry-picked bits of Superman's heritage from various media in the character's seven-plus decades of existence. Of course, the comic-book source material is prevalent, but there are aspects worked in from the movies, cartoons and radio shows. While it's not necessary to have prior knowledge that Jor-El's white hair or the crystalline architecture is a reference to Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie, those are pleasant Easter eggs for those in-the-know.

Sure, this is yet another prequel (they've been all the rage for years). Sure, some may think this story has been told before, especially in the comics. To fans of science fiction that haven't read the comics, this is a tale you're sure to enjoy. And to any fellow comic geek thinking you've read this story before -- don't be so sure. Just because you know Krypton is going to explode, don't think you know the whole story. Between the Phantom Zone, civil war, Brainiac, governmental bureaucracy, doomsday weapons, Krypton's red sun and earthquakes ... it's a toss-up as to what really destroys Krypton.

review by
C. Nathan Coyle

2 May 2009

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