HOUSE OF EL BOOK ONE: THE SHADOW THREAT Written by Claudia Gray, illustrated by Eric Zawadkzi
DC Comics, p/b, £8.78
Reviewed by Matthew Johns
Book one of the House of El is set, unsurprisingly on Krypton. This is the Krypton before the birth of Kal-El and the destruction of the planet. Claudia Gray’s story tells of a planet that is beset by ground quakes and divided through a strict genetically-engineered caste system. Each within the society is designed and engineered for their role – whether soldier, leader or scientist. Until now, none have questioned their place in society and lived to tell the tale. The leaders of the planet, the Tribunes, rule with an iron fist, refusing to acknowledge the obvious troubles that the planet is suffering and imprisoning those trying to rebel against them in the Phantom Zone.
While titled ‘House of El’, the house of El features very minimally in this first book of the series. The lead protagonists are a soldier named Sera and a member of one of the planet’s elite families, Zahn (who happens to be the cousin of Superman’s mother, Lara). Sera is a loyal soldier but has a spark of individuality within her despite her genetic programming.
Zahn has come to question his own place in the society of Krypton and has joined the rebel group Midnight to try to bring change to the planet. Within this group, he faces prejudice as he tries to convince the rebels that he is not a spy for the elites.
Despite their minimal appearances, Lara and Jor-El have a key role in this story, though – they recognise that Krypton is suffering and realise that the source of the problems is the genetic engineering of the population. They conduct experiments to undo this engineering and allow people (starting with the soldier Sera) to unlock new feelings and thoughts and take actions they would never have thought possible before.
The artist, Eric Zawadzki, has deliberately avoided using the bright blues and reds strongly associated with the most famous son of the House of El. The majority of the backgrounds in panels depicting Krypton are different shades and hues of blue, but none seem to match that sported by Superman. The characters are all well-drawn, with realistic faces and expressions – none of the characters has the overemphasised frames and torsos that have become familiar on the superheroes that frequent the pages of our comic books, with the exception of the square-jawed General Zod. The elite class of Krypton are all lean and lithe, as are the soldier class. The panels flow well across the pages, with the occasional double-page spread to depict a big event or battle.
This is an exciting start to the House of El story, and I cannot wait to see where it takes Sera and Zahn in future instalments.