Krypton rises in Belfast, a land battered by the Irish Sea. Yes, the planet Superman hails from was destroyed, but the world of his ancestors is re-created in Syfy’s new series Krypton, premiering Wednesday, March 21, at 10pm ET/PT.
On a December set visit, I was the lone reporter who could not detail Zod’s lineage, yet I was instantly hooked. This show’s not just for fanboys. Set 200 years before the superhero’s birth, Krypton weaves together time-honored mythology and new characters.
The sets are spectacular, illustrating a caste system of six guilds — labor, artisan, religion, science, lawmaker and military. The rankles live in shadows, huddle in hovels and lick rocks for water — life for them is Dickensian. The richest live highest up, their homes sparkling with gold-threaded white marble.
“We want to see the society before it blew up,” explains showrunner Cameron Welsh. “We’re peeling back a lot of layers that we have not seen before. This is right before Krypton is to explode. This is the planet that birthed the greatest superhero of all time.”
This is the story of the people of Krypton.
“No one is fighting crime or slapping on a mask,” says Cameron Cuffe, who plays Superman’s grandfather Seg-El. “There’s no freak of the week, and no one sees his parents get murdered and must seek revenge. Like all great sci fi, it’s not about aliens or robots. It’s about the people.”
Plot details, however, are closely guarded as the studio worries about people pirating what they have spent a fortune creating. Reporters were only allowed moments to watch a scene. A military guild member, Daron-Vex (Elliot Cowan), puffs up, indignant. He demands to know why a bomb maker is on the lam. Equally furious is Jayna-Zod (Ann Ogbomo), resident military badass. As they rehearse this scene in the sixth episode, she hisses a few F-bombs, knowing they will not be aired.
“That was just spontaneous between Elliot and me,” Ogbomo admits afterward, laughing. “I understand the language of saying what would come before.”
Language is actually critical on set, so much so that Kryptonese is used. A neon sign in a dive bar is in Kryptonese; I suspect it probably says Schlitz.
Other noteworthy observations include an appearance of Superman’s iconic cape, shown very early on. In the pilot, Seg-El’s grandfather Val-El (Ian McElhinney) sports the “S” insignia, refusing to renounce science. (Incidentally, the costume designer spent ages finding the precise shade of red for the cape, which is far heavier than it looks.)
In other costuming, Game of Thrones’ McElhinney is quite solid with his costume’s built-in muscles. Unlike the actor playing his grandson, he’s content not knowing superhero history. “I just feel it is something I don’t need to be concerned about,” McElhinney says.
Cuffe, a Superman aficionado, knows enough for everyone. “It’s just mental,” he says. “This is the first part I ever played. I guess every kid pulls on underwear over trousers. I still don’t believe in destiny, but something crazy is going on here.”