“Man Of Steel,” the latest entry in the Superman film franchise, will hit theaters in June 2013, and while not everything is known about the film just yet, we do have one important piece of information: the primary antagonist of the piece is General Zod, an iconic Superman villain.
But who is Zod, really? For the answer to that question, we’re going to take a look back at his previous incarnations, both in comics and film.
General Zod debuted 1961’s “Adventure Comics” #283, by writer Robert Bernstein and artist George Papp. “Adventure Comics” told the adventures of Superman when he was a boy, and so he first learned of Zod’s existence as Superboy, when a Kryptonian information helmet filled him in on the general’s background. Zod was a military man with designs to overthrow Krypton’s peaceful government and declare himself dictator. To that end, he created an army of duplicates of himself, similar to Superman’s foe Bizarro, but he was caught and stopped before his plans could progress any further. A Kryptonian jury sentenced him to 40 years in the Phantom Zone, a dimension which reduced its inhabitants to insubstantial ghosts, unable to harm anyone so long as they remained imprisoned.
Zod harbored a particular hatred for Superman’s father Jor-El for creating the device which allowed for his banishment. But it was not until 1963’s “Action Comics” #297, by Leo Dorfman and Jim Mooney, that Zod would escape the Phantom Zone alongside his fellow Kryptonian criminals Jax-Ur and Kru-El. Their combined threat necessitated an adult Superman to team up with his cousin Supergirl and archfoe Lex Luthor in order to defeat the trio and send them back to the Phantom Zone.
When “Superman” hit theaters for the first time in 1978, director Richard Donner and writer Mario Puzo decided to incorporate Zod (as portrayed by Terence Stamp) into the film’s mythos, by showing how he and two other Kryptonian ne’er-do-wells, Ursa and Non, were banished to the Phantom Zone by Jor-El. The Kryptonian criminals played a much bigger role in the sequel, 1980’s “Superman II,” when they escaped from the Phantom Zone and wreaked havoc on Earth. Zod proves to be a ruthless tyrant who demands total obeisance, even commanding the President of the United States to “Kneel before Zod.” He and his cohorts also possess zero regard for human life, and the criminals exploit that advantage against Superman, bringing him to the edge of defeat, before Superman bests them, using the light of a red sun to strip them of their powers.
Proving that influences work both ways, in 2006 writer Geoff Johns collaborated with Richard Donner, his mentor and former boss (Johns once worked as Donner’s production assistant) on “Last Son,” a Superman storyline running through “Action Comics” #844-846, 851, and Annual #11. The story, illustrated by Adam Kubert, brought many elements of the Superman films into comic book continuity, bringing Zod much closer to his film incarnation, and providing Non and Ursa with their comic book debuts. It also introduced Christopher Kent, a Kryptonian boy who is adopted by Clark and Lois, but turns out to be the biological son of Zod and Ursa. Despite his origins, he assists Superman in repelling an invasion of Earth by an army of Phantom Zone criminals led by Zod, and sacrifices his freedom to make sure the criminals cannot escape the Phantom Zone again.
With “Man Of Steel” on the way next year, audiences have more Zod in store for them, this time portrayed by actor Michael Shannon known for his work on the film “Revolutionary Road” and HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”. Not much is known about this incarnation of Zod, although Shannon has said he won’t reprise his most famous line. Zod may be equipped with some form of armor, as Shannon implied in comments last year.
It also appears that Zod will have some assistance in the form of Faora (portrayed by Antje Traue), another Kryptonian villain from the comics who first appeared in 1977’s “Action Comics” #471, and inspired the creation of Ursa in the earlier films. And a leaked toy commercial has suggested that Zod’s plans may involve a robotic army, and perhaps the involvement of Black Zero, who was originally portrayed in 1968’s “Superman” #205 as an interplanetary assassin who played a role in Krypton’s destruction, but here appears to be something of a more vehicular nature. But ultimately, whether any of these characters will have more in common with their comic book counterparts than simply a name is a question that will have to be resolved in the months to come, as more information trickles out closer to the film’s release.
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