Before MAN OF STEEL: The Many Faces of ZOD

With the new Superman film Man of Steel coming out this June, there’s a lot of attention focused on that film’s antagonist General Zod, a rogue from Superman’s home planet of Krypton.

Unfortunately…it’s not always easy to point to a specific Zod story from the comics, because there have been many, many, many versions of Zod, most of whom appeared in the last decade.

So who is General Zod? We took it upon ourselves to try and sort all of this out. This was a terrible, terrible mistake. We’ll try to make sense of it all for you.


Original Recipe Zod: First appearing in Adventure Comics #283, the original General Zod was introduced along with the Phantom Zone, a limbo-like dimension Superman’s father Jor-El had discovered on Krypton and used as a way to “humanely” imprison criminals. Unfortunately, this meant all the baddies survived when Krypton got exploded…and got all of Superman’s powers whenever one escaped.

Nice going, Jor-El.


Zod’s crime was attempting to conquer Krypton with an army of lookalike robots, who also bore a physical and/or verbal resemblance to Superman’s imperfect duplicate Bizarro. Sentenced to 40 years hard phantom-ing, he was freed by Superboy after discovering the Phantom Zone projector and determining Zod’s sentence was up…which of course led to Zod attempting to conquer the Earth.

Nice going, Superboy.

With a design echoing an S.S. Officer, Zod played into the fear of facism that characterized the 1950s and early 1960s, and offered an evil version of Superman with all his powers, no to mention the ability to somehow keep that hat on while in flight.


His finest hour in the comics was likely the miniseries Phantom Zone by the late, great team of Steve Geber and Gene Colan. It is one of the most messed-up Superman stories you will ever read, as the Phantom Zone Gang gets lose and Superman is phantom-ized himself. Hey, a quick look on Amazon reveals it’s being reprinted this summer!

This version of Zod was also used in several pieces of licensed media, including a role as the baddie on “The Hunter” episode of the 1988 Ruby-Spears Superman cartoon (where he and his two female assistants created an Absorbing Man-type creature to interrupt Superman’s visit with his parents), and as the lead boss in the 1988 Nintendo Entertainment System Superman video game, which few people ever found out because no one ever finished the damn thing.

God, that game was terrible.

However, these appearances alone would not ensure General Zod’s immortality…


Terence Stamp Zod: This is the one everyone remembers. While some aspects of the Richard Donner Superman films with Christopher Reeve haven’t held up that well….the “Can You Read My Mind?” song/poem, the 30+ product placements for cigarettes in Superman II, Gene Hackman’s “wigs” as Lex Luthor…but few fans will argue that they don’t get a chill from these words:

“Now, son of Jor-El…kneel before Zod!”

*mic drop*

Introduced in a prologue in 1978’s Superman: The Movie and brought to the forefront in 1980’s Superman II, Zod is shown as the leader of an insurrection on Krypton (or “Kryptun” as Marlon Brando’s Jor-El keeps pronouncing it), alongside his runnin’ crew of ice-cold Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and silent, hulking Non (Jack O’Halloran).


Though he offers Jor-El a place at his right hand, Jor-El instead casts the condemning vote on Zod, who swears vengeance before he and his crew are sucked into a big hologram-triangle thing and launched into space.

Decades later, depending on which cut of the film you watch, missiles Superman throws into space either in A) the first film or B) from criminals trying to blow up Paris frees Zod and company, who decide to take over the Earth right as Superman’s decided to give up his powers and settle down with Lois Lane.

Either way: Smooth move, Superman.

Played by Oscar-nominated actor Terence Stamp, Zod is played as a force so alien, so superior, so G-damn vicious that he’s scary even in a jumpsuit with a plunging V-neck. Observe this sequence where he utters his main catchphrase while taking down the White House.


Defeated in a duel in the Fortress of Solitude that either did or did not involve Superman briefly trapping Non in a giant cellophane version of the “S” on his costume (again, depends on which cut of the fim you watch), Zod and crew are either hurled into a pit in the Fortress of Solitude or subject to Superman reversing the Earth’s rotation so pretty much nothing in this film happened (again: director’s cut) and were never seen again.


Needless to say, though: For a generation, this was the definitive Zod…and the one the new movie will have to try to equal, if not beat.

Several toy versions were made of this Zod, including a Mego doll and this adorable “Pocket Heroes” mini-Zod. More recently, an actor-accurate 12-inch doll was made by; you can still find it on eBay.

By the way: You must listen to this “How Did This Get Made?” podcast with Jack O’Halloran, who played Non, where he talks about making the films. The guy is a certified BAD ASS, and you’ll want to get a copy of his autobiography right away after hearing this.

Pocket Zod: After the big crossover Crisis on Infinite Earths effectively reset all the DC Comics heroes back to square one, there were still a few contradictory elements that had to be explained. They never did figure out Hawkman.

In short: Superman was now established as having never been Superboy, and also the only-only survivor of Krypton, for real this time. But how to explain away all those stories of Superboy journeying to the future to be a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, who still had their own, very popular book?

Things got freaky real fast.


In short: It was explained that “Superboy” was actually the product of a “pocket universe” created by the Legion’s foe the Time Trapper, and Zod and a couple friends (not Ursa and Non), were released by that world’s Lex Luthor and promptly killed everyone on Earth, with the Silver Age Superboy dying in the conflict.

…the Silver Age of Comics was officially over, my friends.

Superman was summoned to that Earth by an artificial “Supergirl” created by Luthor and beat back Zod and friends, but after taking away their powers with Gold Kryptonite and sending ‘em back to the Zone, he thought better upon hearing Zod’s boasts that he would get his powers back and return for more genocide.

So Superman killed ‘em all with Green Kryptonite.

This was not his finest moment.

It all led to a mental breakdown and Superman developing a split personality and going off into space to think about what he’d done for a while and finally decided while battling the alien conqueror Mongul that he was Superman and he didn’t kill…any more.

Meanwhile, the artificial Supergirl was brought back to the DC Universe, where she eventually had a thing with Lex Luthor’s long-lost Australian son, who was actually Luthor-I in a cloned body, and then she merged with a slain member of a demon cult and briefly became an “Earth Angel” with flaming wings, until DC just gave up, shunted her off into comics limbo, and made a new Supergirl who was just Superman’s cousin again, and was just like the Silver Age one except for sometimes walking around naked and having crystals growing out of her back, and then the New 52 happened and all that got rebooted again,.


Anyway: Now the DC Universe was without a Zod. Some replacements were needed.


Alterna-Zod: Short verison is: There was a story that brought back the more 1960s version of Krypton and had Superman and Jor-El fight Zod, but it turned out to be a sneaky Matrix-type deal by Braniac 13, an evil CGI version of Superman’s foe who was in a bunch of stories for a couple of years that may or may not have happened. Moving on.

Russian Zod: By the 1990s, nostalgia for “Kneel Before Zod!” had crept into the public consciousness (it was even hommaged in Kevin Smith’s Mallrats), so a few different versions of the character popped up in rapid succession. This is perhaps the second-strangest of them (the strangest was the second one on Smallville, see below).


In short, Russian Zod was the son of two cosmonauts who were in space when the rocket carrying Superman to Earth went by, which resulted in their child having super-powers in red sunlight…and incredibly weak in yellow sunlight.

This was not a great power. It’s less Superman II than Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, where Nuclear Man was paralyzed without sunlight. Damn y’all behind those stories for making me remember that film.

Brainwashed by the Russian government and apparently guided by the ghost of Pocket Zod, Russian Zod used a big red suit of armor to filter sunlight into red-quality (we’re not sure how that works) and threw down on the Man of Steel a few times. He tried to turn the sun red, but Lex Luthor stopped that plan and Russian Zod whammed into Superman with his fading super-speed…and crushed himself as a result.

Russian Zod died as he lived: Pointlessly.


For Tomorrow Zod: Another armored, albeit older version of Zod was seen in the Phantom Zone city of “Metropia” in this very, very confusing story that also involves a giant living Mount Rushmore, mass vanishings, and a dying priest turned into a giant cyborg. It makes a bit more sense if you sit down and read it all the way through, but the short version is that most of this was treated as out-of-continuity afterwards.

Smallville Zod (1) : Terence Stamp appeared off-camera as the voice of Jor-El in this hit WB/CW series about young Clark Kent, though the character of Zod played a couple of different roles in the show.


The first was as a disembodied presence in the Phantom Zone that his disciples tried to free by possessing the show’s version of Lex Luthor. Phantom-Zod, unsurprisingly, looked a bit like Stamp in spirit-form, and Stamp provided the scream as he was exorcised from Lex.

(DIGRESSION: Watch Stamp in The Limey if you haven’t already for a role that is possibly scarier than Zod. “YOU TELL HIM! YOU TELL HIM I’M COMING!”)

Zod’s presence was later felt on the show with the explanation that Doomsday was Zod’s genetically-engineered son in the body of a paramedic and…you know, Smallville kinda ran out of ideas as it went on. I’m just going to say it.

Donner Zod: The director of the first two Superman films (or all of the first and part of the second, again depending on which cut you watch), Richard Donner, teamed with his longtime assistant-turned-DC Comics mega-writer Geoff Johns to re-re-re-introduce General Zod into the DC Universe with the delay-fraught “Last Son” storyline.

This tale saw Lois and Clark adopt an adorable Kryptonian kid…who turned out to be the son of Zod and Ursa, conceived in a non-phantom-y place of the Phantom Zone, and sent to Earth to act as an anchor of sorts for Zod, Ursa and Non to escape with their allies and throw down on Metropolis, complete with matching white jumpsuits and vortex goggles.

Naturally, they got sucked back into the Phantom Zone at story’s end along with “Chris Kent,” despite several stories being published with him that were set after Zod’s attack. The perils of storyline delays!

This particular iteration of Zod was given a more elaborate backstory – he was an ally of Jor-El’s on Krypton, allied in trying to save the planet, and helped create a separatist movement against the Science Council to get people on Jor-El’s side.

Unfortunately, the Council lobotomized his ally Non, turning him into the mute hulk now known, and a PO’d Zod tried to overtake the Council by force. Jor-El managed to get his sentence mitigated from execution to Phantom Zone exile, but Zod still held Jor-El responsible for Krypton’s destruction.

He kinda had a point. Jor-El’s sort of a wuss in this story.

The story also inspired General Zod and Ursa’s first official DC Universe in the DC Direct line, which like the comic counterparts, had vortex goggles. I don’t know why this bothers me so much, but if you have heat/X-ray vision and such, or are already a phantom, why do you need vortex goggles? It’s sort of a Calvin and Hobbes logic.

Zod returned in the follow-up “New Krypton” mega-story, when he was put in charge of the forces of the newly-enlarged Kandor. Humans’ distrust of New Krypton (in no small part due to Zod’s last attack), led to their employing Lex Luthor to work on Brainiac, against whom Zod held a grudge for stealing the city of Kandor and its efforts to help more Kryptonians flee the doomed planet. In this new battle, Brainiac estroyed New Krypton; Zod in turn declared war on Earth again, but got sucked back into the Phantom Zone.

Superman, again, was pretty ineffectual in all this. Like father, like last son.

Then the Flash went back in time and altered history so everyone’s costumes had more seams or something, and we wound up with the New 52 DC Universe. Zod was briefly seen in the Phantom Zone in Action Comics #5, though the main menace from that shadowy realm so far has been Dr. Xa-Du, the Phantom King, who is creepy as mess.

With that new movie coming out, we think Zod will be back in the comics soon enough, though...preferably without vortex goggles.


Smallville Zod (2) : Zod was the major enemy of Season 9 of Smallville and…okay, we had trouble recalling the full details of the plot, so we checked a few episode guides, and found they made even less sense than we remembered.

Uhhhh…so this Zod was played by Callum Blue from Dead Like Me, and he was a clone of the previous Zod, who was still in the Phantom Zone, but he had no memories or powers because of some Jor-El tampering, and then he gradually became a cult leader to a bunch of other Kandorians, and then got powers and got evil, then…he wound up merging with Phantom Zone Zod for some sort of Ultra-Zod who tried to attack Clark with help from Darkseid, but got Zone’d again.

Okay, that sort of made sense. Don’t ask us to explain how Lex Luthor came back in the Smallville finale, though. It involves clones, alternate universes, long-lost siblings, toxins AND Darkseid.

Man of Steel Zod: Not much is known about the Zod in the upcoming film, except:

He’s played by Oscar nominee Michael Shannon from TV’s Boardwalk Empire and many, many films where he plays the creepy, intense guy. He does this very well. Superman’s in for a whuppin’.

He apparently has a suit of armor, a Superman-type black outfit without the cape, and some Kryptonian ships. Again: Superman is in trouble.


There’ll be some scenes with Russell Crowe as Jor-El on Krypton, and most likely that troubled relationship will be fleshed out in a new way.

Whatever the case, there’s sure to be lots and lots of hitting, and possibly even a “kneel” joke. We’d bet even money on it.

So, what’s your favorite Zod, and what do you think will happen when the new one fights Superman? You’ll have to wait until June 14, 2013 with the rest of us!

…there damn well better be a “kneel” line…

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