House of El Book One: The Shadow Threat, the first DC Young Adult graphic novel in a trilogy by bestselling author Claudia Gray and artist Eric Zawardski, introduces new characters Zahn and Sera—Kryptonians from different castes whose paths are forbidden to cross. Zahn is part of the wealthy Kryptonian elite, destined for a life of power and influence. Sera is a Kryptonian soldier, courageous and loyal.
Yet as Krypton faces existential threats—as tends to happen—Superman’s biological parents, Jor-El and Lara, conduct clandestine experiences in an attempt to save their planet and Zahn and Sara must join forces to investigate these hidden dangers.
DC Nation spoke with Gray about House of El Book One: The Shadow Threat, her graphic novel debut, and the experience of adding new layers to Superman’s familial origins.
What’s it like to add new dimensions to the Superman mythology? What familiar elements did you retain?
I wish I could go back in time and high-five my little eight-year-old self, who was so in love with Superman: The Movie. Getting to actually tell a story set on Krypton? It can't even be called a "dream come true" because I didn't even dare to dream it.
Even though House of El is about original characters, some familiar names (Jor-El, Lara, Zod) play significant parts in the story.
How did you develop the Kryptonian world and caste system?
Well, the number one question I wanted the story to answer is, "Why does this incredibly technologically advanced civilization not know their planet is doomed?" Jor-El had the information—why wasn't Krypton ready to hear it? That made me think, maybe they can't hear it. What if they've overused genetic technology, to the point where people are "designed" for certain kinds of lives? It could lead to a situation where most people are physically/mentally incapable of dealing with a genuinely unprecedented threat.
Will readers see characters from different castes across Krypton?
Mostly we stay focused on Sera and Zahn's peer groups, but we do get a better look at the lives within those castes—as we do with Voss, who's from another group altogether.
Does House of El explore the Phantom Zone?
...let's just say, you'll definitely be hearing about it.
This is your first graphic novel. How have you enjoyed the experience?
It's been a learning experience, certainly. I always heard, and on one level understood, that the images can carry the story in graphic novels. But it's one thing to have that information and another thing to retrain your author's instincts. It took a while before I was able to really trust the images enough to lean on them. DC has been incredibly supportive and helpful throughout. Hopefully I'm getting the knack of it!
How has it been collaborating with Eric Zawadski?
Eric is a miracle worker! I had such a definite idea of Krypton in my head but wasn't certain at all if it was coming across. But Eric got it instantly. He's so great at finding the most dynamic angle to present every moment. I've learned so much just from seeing how he interprets scenes.
House of El Book One: The Shadow Threat by Claudia Gray and Eric Zawadski is now available in print and as a digital graphic novel.