Kandor: A Short History

Kandor: A Short History

Come on . . . you know that there are fewer phrases in comics that are more fun to intone than “The bottle city of KANDOR!” Even Howard Stern occasionally does it just for the heck of it. Kandor is immediately emblematic of the wonky fun of the Silver Age. An entire city, captured in toto and functional, preserved yet living, in a bottle like the sailboats your grandpa used to build. For years, Kandor has been part of the cultural wallpaper of the Superman mythos. Now, it moves front and center for New Krypton. Let’s take a look back at some of the, no pun intended, big moments for the miniature city.

We Prefer “Vertically Challenged”: Kandor makes its debut in Action Comics #242 in 1958. It should be noted that this comes one year after the film version of Richard Matheson’s The Incredible Shrinking Man, yet three years before the first appearance of the Ray Palmer Atom. We are told that Kandor was the capital of Krypton, and that it fell victim to the machinations of Brainiac. The villain shrunk the city and absconded with it long before the planet exploded. Years later, Superman fought the villain and took the city to his Fortress of Solitude. It should be noted that the environment inside the city replicated the environment of Krypton; therefore, the artificial red sun kept the residents depowered.

Favorite Trips: In the ensuing years, Kandor would appear repeatedly in Superman tales. On one memorable trip, Superman and Jimmy Olsen had to disguise themselves and crime-fighters Nightwing and Flamebird. In an episode of the Super Friends, “Terror at 20,000 Fathoms”, several Kandorians emerge to help the titular team in an emergency while Superman is spacebound.

In the late ‘70s, an Elliot S. Maggin and Cary Bates Kandor story was featured in a Power Records book-and-record combo. “The Best Cop in the World” showcased Kandorian lawman Ron-Za’s trip outside the bottle. He tries to do a better job cleaning up Earth than Superman, but returns to the bottle as a more humble public servant. Showcase #97 introduced us to the Earth-2 Kandor, at that point identified as Power Girl’s home city. By 1979’s Superman #338, Superman actually found a way to re-enlarge Kandor, relocating it to the red-sun world of Rokyn.

After that, Superman made a replica Kandor for the Fortress. In Superman #371 from 1982, the Man of Steel found himself a landlord as a fugitive race of tiny aliens moved into the model city. There they remained, apparently, until the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985. Many elements of the Superman mythos were swept away, including Kandor. After Crisis, Superman was, for a time, the only surviving Kryptonian on Earth. Of any size.

Crisis and Beyond: The initial Post-Crisis conception of Kandor is that it was a city stolen not by Brainiac (who, at that point, had a rather convoluted Post-Crisis existence), but by the wizard Tolos. The city was said to not be shrunken, per se, but to exist in extra-dimensional space, somewhat like The Tardis. Frankly, this drains the fun from the notion of a City In A Bottle.

Others must have thought so too. The twelve issue Superman: Birthright wrought some changes to the then-current continuity. Writer Mark Waid introduced a hybridization of elements from Pre-Crisis and Post-Crisis concepts, as well as some texturing from the Smallville TV series. Much of the original origin’s elements (Brainiac, actually shrunken, etc.) were returned to the storyline.

Kandor appears prominently again in the pages of 52, wherein it is revealed that Rip Hunter and Supernova (who was, in fact, time-traveling hero Booster Gold) were hiding out in the bottle city while conducting their campaign to save the universe from a corrupt Skeets and his master, Mister Mind. At roughly the same time (in the real world), the pages of Supergirl depicted a lengthy Kandorian adventure for Supergirl and Powergirl; during this period, the two were operating in the city as armored, distaff versions of Nightwing and Flamebird. It would seem, though, that elements of that story have been stripped away by more recent events.

Other Kandors: There have been a few memorable versions of Kandor in non-canonical DCU tales. Superman: Red Son plays on the idea by having Brainiac shrink Stalingrad instead. The Dark Knight Strikes Again uses Kandor in a surprising series of plot points; first, a monstrous Brainiac uses it to blackmail Superman, but this goes poorly for him when the Atom helps liberate the city and its people destroy the alien conqueror. Also, in the Silver Age-loving All-Star Superman, issue #10 covers moving Kandor to Mars, but leaving it small. This allows the citizens to have Superman-like powers, but keeps them at a geographic remove to prevent the kinds of problems that we’ll presumably see in New Krypton.

New Kry . . . er, New Kandor: Since Geoff Johns took over the writing duties on Action Comics, he has slowly been pulling together threads that slide new and revised continuity pieces into the Superman mythos. It seems that he’s pulling for an “iconic” iteration of the Superman universe, one in which the most famous versions of each bit hold sway. This approach means the slow supplanting of previous bits, a so-called “soft retcon”.

Among the items affected is Kandor. It seems unlikely now that portions of Kara Zor-El (Supergirl’s) origins can be reconciled with stories from even just a couple of years ago. Part of this seems attributable to the Supergirl reclamation project that Johns, Superman writer James Robinson, and Supergirl scribe Sterling Gates appear to be conducting. That notion plays with the structure of the New Krypton tale itself, as the Supergirl title has been given equal importance and footing with the other books in the event.

Back to Kandor. We find that in current continuity (typically called “New Earth”), Kandor was a lunar colony of Krypton. Phantom Zone villain Jax-Ur destroyed that moon, and Kandor was believed to have been destroyed as well. Thusly, the Kandor in the Fortress is proven out to NOT be Kandor, but another extra dimensional city. This city (a link of sorts) was destroyed, sealing off that thread (though that city is directly referenced by Supergirl as not being the real Kandor).

By Action Comics #866 thru 870, Johns is fully committed to revitalizing Kandor and Brainiac at the same time. Story moments indicate that the true Brainiac (unseen until this arc, attributing all other appearances to simulacrums and imitators) did steal Kandor and bottle it, Jax-Ur did destroy the moon of Krypton, and that Zor-El apparently did not send Kara on a killing mission. We think.

Well there you go, kids. A brief look at some of the little city’s big moments. Have you a favorite Kandor story? What are your expectations for New Krytpon? Would 100,000 Kryptonians prevent Luthor from ever having dry pants again? Who’s this new Superwoman? Discuss at your leisure.

Good catch dept: Kandor in All Star Superman was not enlarged as we originally stated.

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