Some stories have been told many, many times. One of them is the tale of Kal-El, the last son of Krypton, and his journey to becoming Superman. But a new story, House of El: The Shadow Threat, from New York Times bestselling author Claudia Gray and The Dregs artist Eric Zawadzki offers a beautifully crafted hard sci-fi comic that feels like a worthy addition to Superman‘s decades long canon. Dee Cunniffe’s colors bring the interplanetary adventures to life in bright, technicolor fashion. And fixing what is one of the biggest issues with many current YA and Middle Grade comics is Deron Bennett and his engaging, clean letters. His work tells the story in the most enjoyable way possible. This standout creative team made a truly stunning comic.
Set in the days leading up to the fall of Krypton, House of El: The Shadow Threat is the first in a new trilogy from the team. Star-crossed lovers are one of Gray’s specialties, as anyone who’s read Lost Stars or Defy the Stars will know. House of El follows that tradition. It introduces us to Zahn, an elite member of Kryptonian society genetically designed and chosen for great things, and Sera, a grunt created only to die protecting the planet. With such a sprawling story dense with lore and world-building, they don’t spend much time together. But the story still establishes a bond and connection that will clearly span the trilogy. And gets the pair into a huge amount of trouble as they try to find the truth at the heart of Krypton.
Make no mistake: this is a Krypton story. This comic gives us a Krypton that lives and breathes. Zawadzki and Cunniffe craft vibrant deep space landscapes, towering glass cities, and intricate scientific labs. The planet is a main character here, one that holds deep secrets and seems to emit a throbbing, near-omnipotent power. That power makes those who inhabit it loyal to the point of self-destruction. That very Kryptionian nature is at the core of the story. Zahn and Sera represent the inhabitants of the planet just as beautifully as the planet they call home.
House of El doesn’t look like the kind of comic you’d get from DC. It doesn’t even look like what we’ve come to expect from younger reader titles. Instead it visually feels and looks more like an Image Comics book. And in moments it even feels like a cleaner, fresher version of work cooked up by Lynn Varley, Klaus Janson, and Frank Miller in their collaborative heyday. In that way it’s also an educational tool that will hopefully open both publishers’ and readers’ eyes to the breadth of stories that can be told for these demographics. That’s not to say there’s nothing here for older readers. This 32-year-old reviewer was engrossed not only by the gorgeous art but also by the dynamic and intricate storytelling adding layers upon layers to what I thought I knew about Krypton.
Zahn and Sera are the center of the story. Their fates are intrinsically intertwined with that of Krypton. As the pair go up against a nefarious fascistic government in The Tribune, we see flickers of classic YA dystopian stories. But smartly setting House of El just before the fall of Krypton offers an interesting twist on the trope. Many people thrive on the planet, so they have no interest in upending the status quo. In 2020, House of El feels scarily prescient. And it’s not just due to the political landscape. It’s also because there’s a massive public health crisis those in power are ignoring. The Tribune denies the groundquakes that so obviously hint at Krypton’s decline even when they’re killing Kryptonians and destroying lives… sound familiar?
House of El is an engrossing and exciting graphic novel that brilliantly sets up the conflict to come. It delight those who are deeply ingrained in Superman lore, and it’s also perfect for new readers who are looking for an entry point into the often overwhelming DC Universe.
House of El: The Shadow Threat comes out on January 5, 2021.