Although I've traveled to Krypton previously, thanks to the TV series that centered on a certain Man of Steel's ancestors, I've always wanted to learn even more about Kryptonian society pre-Big Bang—and maybe spend some time with people who weren't directly related to Kal-El. The latest DC YA graphic novel, House of El Book One: The Shadow Threat, gives just that opportunity.
Written by bestselling author Claudia Gray with art by stellar comic artist Eric Zawadzki, The Shadow Threat—the first book in a new trilogy—is set on a Krypton just starting to (literally) fall apart. The book focuses on two completely new characters, Zahn-Re and Sera, and their involvement with a pair of scientists working on fixing all that's wrong with Krypton. (Okay, yes, that's Jor-El and Lara. The House of El's gotta be involved in everything.)
If you, too, can't get enough of Superman's home planet and the society that was, keep reading for a breakdown of the book!
This cover drops a few hints as to what's to come in both this book and future sequels. The two characters are looking both up to no good and fairly frightened that someone's going to catch them holding hands. One might assume that the person on the left is from the House of El, given the name of the series and his luscious locks, but it's not clear who's who (yet). What is clear, however, is that Zawadzki has a deft hand at creating complex, detailed imagery that doesn't become overly busy. And that the person on the right is not someone to mess with. (Her fierce face! Her clenched fist! Sign me up to be on her team, whatever that might entail.)
Tell Me a Story:
Even the most casual of Superman fans are likely familiar with the reason he grew up on Earth: his home planet, Krypton, blew up right after his parents were able to ship him off into space in a fabulously tricked-out evacuation pod/ship. But The Shadow Threat takes place a while before that happened, and focuses less on the House of El (the title's deceptive!) and more on the previously unknown Zahn-Re and Sera, a member of the elite House of Re and a soldier in the Kryptonian Ur military ranks, respectively.
When we first meet them, Zahn's struggling with thoughts and actions that go against the norm for a person like himself—he sees the inaction of Krypton's leaders as dangerous for their entire society, and strongly believes that the earthquakes continuing to shake their planet aren't nearly as "nonserious" as they're being told. He's gotten involved with the underground rebels in an attempt to figure out what's really going on and open the eyes of all Kryptonians to the truth. Sera, on the other hand, is happy to follow her set role and keep the people safe...but even an Ur can see that not everything on Krypton is as glorious as the tribunes say it is, and when she's offered the opportunity to work with Jor-El and Lara, two of Krypton's most famous scientists, she's hesitantly willing to go along with their decidedly bananas plan.
Let’s Talk Art:
This is my first experience with Zawadzki's art, but his attention to detail is absolutely *chef's kiss*. Krypton's a technologically advanced planet and the complexity of the panel backgrounds drives this point home. But the complexity never detracts from the true focus of the action, which is done through great use of color and shading. Although plenty is going on in nearly every panel, it's clear what readers are supposed to be paying attention to.
Full disclosure: Gray is one of my favorite authors, in part because of how gifted she is at taking known universes/characters and making them her own. Given this previous experience, I think she was the perfect choice to write The Shadow Threat. And she didn't disappoint! Although we know—unfortunately—where all the action is ultimately heading (considering Superman's backstory), it's easy to overlook that huge, orphaned, tight-wearing elephant in the room because of the quality of Zahn and Sera's story.
Zahn's dialog is a little more complex than Sera's, mostly because he's farther along in his questioning than she is. And yet, he comes across as the more nervous of the two, even going so far as to have conversations with himself in particularly tense moments. Sera's much more the soldier, with brusque, clipped statements that showcase her nature nicely. Where Zahn is the exposition, Sera's all-action—even near the end of the book after she's pulled into Jor-El and Lara's plan. (There are some things about people that will never change!)
Voted Most Likely:
In the DC Comics yearbook, The Shadow Threat would definitely earn the "most likely to save the planet...or die trying" superlative. (Too soon?)
The book is about more than just environmentalism, of course—the topics of classism, politics, science vs. people in power, conspiracies and more are dealt with, too—but that tight-clad elephant is always there and the heart of the story is about saving a planet and thusly, saving a people.
Most Crushworthy Character:
Thanks to Zahn and Sera both being killer characters, there's a tie for the person who was most worthy of my attention. They're total opposites—Zahn's thoughtful where Sera's action-oriented, cautious where Sera's death-defying—but equally delightful in their own ways. Dates with Zahn would be quiet, romantic dinners and art-house films, while dates with Sera would involve base-jumping and trying that one type of fish that can kill you unless it's cooked in that one super specific way.
That said, I'm not sure I'm the right fit for either of them. But the chemistry I was sensing while reading—that delicious, enemies to possibly something more kind of swoon—has me thinking that neither would be too concerned if we didn't work out as a couple.
The Final Word:
The Shadow Threat is a book about a fictional planet with real-life problems. And although the book is just the first in a planned trilogy and is mostly setting the stage for what's to come, it immediately introduces important themes and makes significant points that apply not only to the planet of Krypton but also to our modern, non-Kryptonian society. If we can't learn from history—even the fictional stuff—we'll never change!
House of El Book One: The Shadow Threat by Claudia Gray and Eric Zawadski is now available in bookstores, comic shops, libraries and as a digital graphic novel.
When Mandy Curtis isn’t reading books by Leigh Bardugo or Sarah J. Maas, she’s dreaming of busting bad guys with Wonder Woman—if Steve Trevor’s there, too, she won’t complain—and writing about YA fiction and pop culture at Forever Young Adult. Follow her on Twitter at @mandyannecurtis.
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