Val-Zod, the New Superman of Earth 2! Diversity, Representation and Role Reversals: Why Earth 2 Is the Best Series of DC’s New 52
The recent reveal of a new and exciting Kryptonian on Earth 2 has received much attention in the world of comics. The focus of many articles on Val-Zod seems to be his ethnicity, for him being a black Superman. This attention seems a little excessive as not only is he not the first black Kryptonian; he is also not the first black Superman, not even in the New 52 (see Action Comics #9). What he is, and what makes him one of the most interesting new characters in DC’s reboot, is a member of the Zod family. Again, a heroic Zod character has been seen before, in the form of Christopher Kent (pre-boot), fostered by a then married Lois and Clark, who was the Phantom Zone offspring of Zod and Ursa. Combine these two interesting dynamics and what you get is a brand new character with plenty to offer. So who is Val-Zod?
Debuting in issue 19 of Earth 2 (New 52) where he is found in the sub-basement beneath Arkham in an isolated apartment. He is discovered and released by Jimmy Olsen who believes him to be a Martian, only to be revealed through Kryptonite by Batman (Thomas Wayne Sr.) to be Kryptonian. His first act is to smile and welcome these masked vigilantes and heroes with Chamomile tea. After being locked in isolation since his arrival on Earth, this shy and agoraphobic young man may be the key to winning the war against Apokolips. This introduction is perfect to the character that evolves over the next few issues; he is a kind and caring pacifist who wishes no harm to anyone. It is later revealed (issue 22) that his parents were scientists who sent him to Earth 2 as “one of four”, along with Superman and Powergirl; but this still leaves one unaccounted Kryptonian for the series to reveal. His parents, who believed that “violence was the very stupidest way to overcome issues”, placed him inside a capsule and their voices were all Val heard on the long trip to Earth.
Earth 2 has proven to be leading the way for DC in regards to representation, both in ethnicity and sexual orientation. The brilliant way Alan Scott has been portrayed to be a strong, gay man without resorting to horrifically boring and offensive stereotypes has helped guide the forward thinking series from its first issue under James Robinson. The introduction of Val has been no different; it has been incredibly well delivered by Taylor as has the evolution of the story. The book has been fantastic throughout, both in character construction and development; but that is not the focus here. The focus here is role reversal.
For those not reading Earth 2 (but should be) our boy scout Kal-el was seemingly killed in the first issue, during the war with Darkseid. Upon his apparent return he is dressed in a black and red costume, hailing Darkseid and leading his armies of Parademons. His violent and destructive path becoming more and more volatile until his wife, Lois Lane (now Red Tornado) manages to calm him for a short spell in #23. His unstoppable rampage has torn through the world army, leaving them in tatters and hiding on Themiscyra. The brutality he is capable of now brought to a catastrophic crescendo in #21, when after using his heat vision to sever the fully engorged Atom’s arm, he then literally beats him to death with it and moves forwards to destroy the Space Arc, humanities last hope of survival which contains hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Make no mistake, this is the most evil and ruthless Superman DC have ever allowed onto the page.
Now with Superman a fully-fledged disciple of Darkseid, an equal force for good must emerge to balance the weight. It appeared for the longest time that Alan Scott, imbued with the power of the Earth would be this parallel; but it appears the constantly surprising Tom Taylor has opted for another.
The name Zod is synonymous with Superman fans everywhere, from film to comics the General of long lost Krypton has proven to be one of the Man of Steel’s most formidable foes. For all his vile acts however, Zod belongs in a very specific category of villain that consists of the likes of Sinestro and Magneto. His aim is usually to rebuild his home and keep his people alive; yet his methods are highly immoral and can be considered fascist. He would happily sacrifice every living human being to have Krypton return to its full glory as seen in pre-boot arc “New Krypton”. His message is one of survival, to which he is a true master. Dru-Zod is as much a moral conflict for the Man of Tomorrow to battle as he is a physically superior foe. To give the new Superman of Earth Two his name, and his lineage; it would appear Taylor has reversed the roles that the House of El and the House of Zod played in Krypton’s downfall; thus reversing their roles on Earth 2.
Val-Zod’s parental lineage has not yet been revealed, so it could be that he is another family member to Zod other than son, and that the parallels Taylor has played with so brilliantly will continue. This could possibly mean that the 4th capsule from Krytpon, Val told Lois about, inhabited Zod and Ursa’s son Lor-Zod, better known as Christopher Kent, or even the reincarnation of the Kryptonian myth Nightwing. The El brothers sent Kara and Kal separate, and the ease in which Zod could be given a brother; this seems more than possible. Could the fourth Kryptonian be a sibling/cousin to Val? Or is there another Kryptonian that Taylor plans to bring into the superb series? Only time will tell!
So far Val-Zod has been reluctant to fight, and has the almost patented reluctance to kill that Superman is famed for, but he is a petrified boy in need of growth. He is clearly a very strng young man morally, and has already witnessed much devastation both on his home and adopted planets. Hopefully he will be given time to evolve and become the hero Earth 2 needs, instead of being another quickly dropped character. He certainly has the scope and history to become one of the most fascinating and rich characters in the New 52 with the name Zod and the crest of El upon his chest as well as his ethnicity, that has gathered him a lot of attention.