General Zod: Where Do I Start?

Superman vs ZodZod.

He’s one of Superman’s most feared and most popular rivals, and he’s the key antagonist in the upcoming Man of Steel movie. Created back in 1961 by writer Robert Bernstein and artist George Papp, Zod was commander in the Kryptonian military that turned down a dark path and attempted to rule Krypton as his own. Thwarted by Superman’s father Jor-El and others in the Kryptonian government, he and his lieutenants were banished to the Phantom Zone prison and left there to die. But with the destruction of Krypton and the orphaned Superman finding a home on Earth, the ghosts of Krypton followed Superman to haunt him anew. One part Hitler, one part Satan and one part General Patton, General Zod exists in rarefied air among Superman villains; he’s one of the few Superman openly fears, and as a one-time peer to Superman’s father and a fellow orphan from Krypton, has something few others in the universe have in common with Superman.

And yet, Zod was a throwaway character for the first twenty years of his existence. Originally introduced as a villain not for Superman, but Superboy, he was a one-off villain that was only used a dozen or so times in comics after his debut. It wasn’t until the filmmakers behind the original 1970s Superman movie picked up on him and made him a key component of the first two films that he achieved the status he has now. Since then, comics creators from John Byrne to Steve Gerber, and Jeph Loeb to Geoff Johns have enlisted him to face off against the big blue boy scout.

In this week’s Where Do I Start?, I scoured the back issue bins and picked out five essential stories that show Zod at his best — which is at his worst. There have been several versions of Zod in comics, but I stuck to the ones true to his Kryptonian roots. I avoided the Russian Zod and the doppelganger from Superman: For Tomorrow, and stayed true to the character itself.

SupermanIISuperman II: As I said earlier, Zod didn’t really become a force in the Superman mythos until these original Superman movies — but boy did he make a mark. Thanks to screenwriters like Mario Puzo and director Richard Donner, Zod is plucked from obscurity in old DC Comics and re-fashioned into the ultimate antithesis of Superman’s father Jor-El, compounded by his original origin as a military genius disgraced by his evil intent. Actor Terence Stamp is given a relatively blank slate here to work with, filling it with his own abilities and ideas without having to lean to much into being true to Zod’s comic appearances. Before Superman II Zod wouldn’t even be in the top 20 of Superman villains, but after this he skyrocketed easily into the top 5, some would say second only to Lex Luthor.

Superman Vs. Zod: The trades department at DC knows what they’re doing with the Man of Steel movie coming out this summer. Earlier this year they put together a great, simple and short collection of some of Zod’s best battles with Superman in an aptly titled book called Superman Vs. Zod. This collection pulls in an issue from the recent Superman: Last Son of Krypton arc I recommend later on in this list, but the key text in this book for me is the 1961 one-off issue Adventure Comics #283 by Robert Bernstein and Howard Sherman. Neither are real legends in the industry, but they (along with George Papp) created Zod here in this issue when he faces off against a young Superboy. Positioned as almost a Kryptonian Hitler, Zod  is shown here destroying a moon and raising a robot army in what became the chief offense for him being imprisoned in the Phantom Zone in the first place.

Superman: Last Son of Krypton: In many ways, this story is a thematic sequel to movie Superman II, and no wonder — it’s written by director Richard Donner and Geoff Johns. Joined by artists Gary Frank and Adam Kubert, it follows Superman as he attempts to find out the origins of a young Kryptonian boy who crash lands on Earth just like he did as a child. That’s compounded when Zod and two allies escape from  their Phantom Zone prison once again and look to turn Earth into a New Krypton. This sets up the later over-arching story-arc Superman: World of New Krypton, but that ended up fizzling somewhat in the end and I can’t recommend it fully. Stick with Last Son of Krypton, to see Superman versus Zod with some surprising allies for the Man of Steel.

The Supergirl Saga: The final story in John Byrne’s epic run on Superman is capped off when he (with assists in one issue by Jerry Ordway) brings Zod in to face Superman with Supergirl in the middle. This Zod from an alternate dimension killed Superboy in that dimension and most of the universe in the process, but our own Superman is brought in when a plea from a rag-tag group of survivors reaches across the dimensional barrier. Superman is dwarfed by the power of Zod and his generals, forcing him to re-think his oath to not kill anyone as it looks to be his only chance to stop them. This three issue arc hasn’t been collected, but can be found in the 1980s Superman series issues #21 and #22, and then Adventures of Superman #444.

The Phantom Zone: This long-forgotten 1982 miniseries by Steve Gerber and Gene Colan is finally getting it’s due with a collected edition coming from DC in July 2013. But whether you wait for that collection or seek it out in singles,The Phantom Zone series is a must-have for Zod fans. Imagining a Superman/Zod series written by the creator of Howard The Duck brings up some special expectations, and this lives up to that. In this, Gerber and Colan reveal that the prison dimension that is the Phantom Zone has secrets that Krypton didn’t know about; namely a secret backdoor and some beasts native to the Phantom Zone. In this miniseries, Zod and his fellow prisoners break out and trade places with Superman using the menagerie of monsters they control from the Phantom Zone. With Superman under thumb, Zod treads the JLA Satellite like a backyard baseball and throws it to the other side of the universe and even beats up Green Lantern and takes his ring.

 


Comments

  1. Good list, Chris.

    I’m curious to see how they’ll bring Zod to Earth in the new movie. Will the projector be inside Kal-El’s rocket? Zod seems to be flying a ship in the trailers, so maybe they were off planet when Krypton went up? As long as they’re not just floating out there in a pane of glass when Superman tosses a warhead into space, I can live with it.

  2. New Krypton is also a cool story heavily featuring General Zod

    • And was mentioned as not being that great by the end. It did go a little long, plus the panel layouts in some of those Action Comics issues were really hard to follow.

  3. “The Phantom Zone” collection looks like it could be interesting. It sounds like some of the ideas in there were adopted in the “Smallville” interpretation of the Phantom Zone. Plus it sounds like a great story.

  4. In the Supergirl Saga Zod does not kill the Superboy of the Pocket Universe. Superboy was killed in an earlier story by the Time Trapper.

  5. Wait I thought the Zod in “Superman For Tomorrow” was the actual Zod imprisoned on Krypton? Not important tho, I didn’t care for that story. I’m impressed about that bit with Zod becoming big after the Superman movies, never heard that before. I’d be interested in checking out that “Superman vs Zod” collection.

  6. Man that Last Son of Krypton story was my jam

  7. That whole multiyear Superman story starting w/ Last Son and ending w/ new krypton is my fav Superman. All Star included. I love All Star but I’m a sucker for an epic. In my dreams I have a multi volume new krypton omniboo on my shelf. Great Zod in all of that.

  8. You really can’t say enough about Terrance Stamp’s performance. Everybody talks about the “Kneel before Zod!” line ( and rightly so), but his calmer scenes where he is just casually disdainful of everything are brilliant.

  9. JSA: The Liberty Files, is a great non-traditional Zod story as well.

  10. OutsideFringe (@OutsideFringe) says:

    Just watched Supes2 recently; hasn’t aged well, but Zod is still cool. Did anyone play the National Guard cross-promotional game? Not bad… The bonus mission lets you blow up robots with heat vision. You’re supposed ot be playing as Superman, but I was screaming, “KNEEL BEFORE ZOD!” the whole time. http://www.soldierofsteel.com/game/#play