…Kryptonian Exceptionalism?

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Well, I’m glad to announce my return after a long sabbatical imposed upon me as a result of an ongoing medical syndrome. Before diving back in however, I’d like to extend my sincerest apologies to those out there who’d been loyally following this blog, in particular Plok from the consistently excellent and engaging A Trout in the Milk who graciously prepared the exceptional fix you’re about to read below just as I dropped off the radar.

While on the subject of absence, I’d like to announce that I will need to take future convalescences. However, I can assure devotees that I’ll be making a concerted effort to invite others to submit to me their own fan-fixes, those most closely fitting the spirit behind this blog which I will be guest-posting.

But I digress. Over to Plok…

A long time ago, in the Perseid Arm…

Or, no; wait.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

When I was about nine or ten, I was home sick with the flu, and got two hardcover comics books from the library. One was a big Buck Rogers compendium, and one was “Superman From The Thirties To The Seventies”. Obviously I want to talk about the Superman book here today: what an eye-opener it was! As a good comics-reader I’d always understood, almost instinctually, the Superman was the greatest because he was the best…here was my first proof that he was the best because he was the first. So all the other superheroes were adornments on Superman’s awesome first-ness, and that’s why he could always, would always, be able to beat them all up: since he changed so as to stay better than them, as they came along one by one.

And that was what the evolution of Superman was all about, I thought.

It made sense!

So to this day I love to see even a bad Superman movie, because whatever their faults all those movies paint Superman as the first, the one and only, it’s a bird it’s a plane…and everything else doesn’t matter. However, for a few years now, it’s been different in the comics, where it seems sometimes “Superman” is just another way of saying Some Guy, and there’s nothing particularly special about him…and how this jars with the Superman I used to read, whose specialness was so extreme that there was even such a thing as Kryptonian dental work that super-hurt, there was Kryptonian aspirin that could super-cure a headache! And I’m not saying that stuff didn’t go a bit too far, but…

…Shouldn’t there be something super about Superman, after all? All the modern superheroes stand around him and go “wow”, but everytime they do I want to say: man up, Green Lantern, he’s just another Big Strong Guy, why are you so impressed? I want to say: jeez, Martian Manhunter, why be such a big moaner about this Johnny-Come-Lately with half your superpowers, when you could even LOOK like him if you wanted to? It’s like the only reason they respect Superman is because their writers and artists have a reverence for Superman based on his being First…but they themselves don’t know he’s First, they just turn to goo whenever he’s around, and it doesn’t look good on them, and it doesn’t look good on him.

And more importantly, there’s no reason for it: whether one they do know, or one they don’t know. Superman, born under a red sun, so the creatures on his planet presumably developed the ability to wring energy out of a dim star, and once he goes to a bright one he gets superpowers. Well, that’s great, except this isn’t 1938 anymore, and we know there are a kajillion red suns out there in the universe…and so why should Superman be special?

Heck, why should the Daxamites be special? See, now we have a precedent: two completely different red suns spawning two completely separate humanoid species with the same superpowers. So then why aren’t there many, many more similar species? Why isn’t the galaxy crawling with pseudo-Kryptonians like the Daxamites?

Or even: why didn’t the Kryptonians, or the Daxamites, or any of the other races similar to them, create massive star empires? Easy enough to do: stars brighter than “red” are the most common sort of stars, and one Kryptonian is worth at least a dozen Green Lanterns…aren’t they?

Or does it all fall apart, somewhere along there?

I think it does, and so I proposed a solution on my blog: that Superman is special because Krypton is of the very last generation of stars in the whole history of the universe…and so Superman comes from the future, and is special because he’s the Last, even if he no longer gets to be the First. Little did I know Jerry Siegel said the exact same thing back in 1938, or that Grant Morrison said it in the late Nineties or whatever it was! But on reflection that was something that Superman was really all about in 1938 anyway, when he wasn’t yet First because no one knew there were going to be others…so he was indeed Last, as a representative of a more advanced civilization than any of Earth’s. Located “futureward” of us in development.

A great answer!

But still, as good an answer as it is, it just doesn’t fit the facts of the case any longer, either literally or figuratively. Well, in figurative terms we know Superman isn’t special because of Kryptonian “advancement” any longer — because that this “futuristic location” of Superman’s specialness has been effectively pruned away over time is the very reason I wanted to literalize it, as both Siegel and Morrison once intended to do. However, that answer’s no better than “advancement”, now: we know Krypton didn’t blow up in the far future, because Doomsday was born on Krypton, even if I don’t like Doomsday…but even Doomsday’s not the only fly in this ointment. Hawkman, too (for example), has visited the remnants of Krypton — and even if I’d prefer to think he only helped Superman flash forward in time, “back” along his personal timeline, to its end, still NO: he was there. And in the end if there’s a space-warp around Krypton through which it can be reached, that only means Krypton might as well be considered as being in the not-too-distant here-and-now…by the authority of Jor-El’s Razor, if nothing else. Or even, you know, Einstein. And so if time can’t make the uniqueness of the Kryptonian race either this way or that way, then only something else can, whether it’s one way or another.

Because time also didn’t make the complacency of the Guardians of Oa. Which we will get to in a minute, but first…

A long time ago, in the Perseid Arm…

(And this part happens to be true, actually)

…A massive extragalactic hydrogen cloud fell into our galaxy, causing the formation of a great many overstuffed stars — like a supergiant zoo. It may even be going on still! Very interesting from an astronomical viewpoint…

…But from the viewpoint of exobiology, not so much. Your average red giant star, you see (and in all the universe there’s hardly a thing more average), begins its life as what they call in Superman comics a yellow star (actually it’s a white star whose maximum spectral output is in the green part of the spectrum — hence explaining why the visual spectrum is centred on green), and burns like that for ten billion years or so…then expands, turning dim and red and cool, and stays that way for about ten million years this time…eventually shrinking to become a white dwarf and wiggle its ears ’til the end of the universe comes along. By contrast, a red supergiant (you might know these critters as the stars that explode in supernovae at the end of their lives) only burns for a few dozen millions of years period — not nearly enough time to realistically expect to see much in the way of planets form, and certainly not long enough to see an ecosystem like our own develop on them even if they did. And then there are hypergiants, stars even more massive than supergiants, whose total lifespan is something on the order of about five million years only, or even less…the biggest members of this class sometimes testing the limits of how much stuff a star can have in it and still be a star: stars so massive they are always threatening to toss off big chunks of themselves, as gravity strains to hold them in place against their own turbulence. Now, you really wouldn’t expect to see life around one of these, for a couple of reasons! One big reason being the incredible violence of its stellar neighbourhood, and another being that five million years is just not a lot of time for planets to accrete in the solar disc. Stars begin as unthinkably huge “cold clouds” of hydrogen, collapsing under the attraction of gravity to a point of density which causes them to ignite…and like anything else, the bigger they come, the harder they fall. This means, in the case of a soon-to-be hypergiant, a really brutal acceleration by the time it gets itself down to about the size of the solar system, and fusion switches on mighty quickly at that point. There just isn’t any time; it’s all happening so fast.

So, astronomical study: sure thing.

But looking for life?

No way. Even in a comic-book universe: forget it. It ain’t happening.

Except…

Let us say that, a long time ago in the Perseid Arm, after the infalling extragalactic hydrogen started to make REALLY REALLY VAST cold clouds…that there was one that began to fall in on itself in the normal way that, in the fullness of time, causes stars to be brought to life…

But then something unexpected happened to it.

The Silver Twist.

In the DC Universe, no one knows what the hell the Silver Twist does, and no one understands what it’s capable of, how or why it acts as it does; even the five-dimensional Imps don’t understand it, and (just pardon me as I begin the embellishment, here) they’re really the only ones that can track it. They’re fascinated by it, actually! And so they were the only ones who were watching, as this supremely unpredictable entity-or-object (but which is it, the Imps wonder?) passed rapidly through the cold cloud that would one day become that most amazingly gigantic of hypergiant stars, red Rao…

…And changed it where it touched it. One thing you should know about giant stars of any description is that the bigger they are, the less metallicity they tend to have — you could reasonably suppose from this that our star isn’t going to get very big in its red phase — and Rao was all set to have practically nothing in the way of metals in it, except that when the Twist passed through, it converted much of proto-Rao’s hydrogen into heavier elements…and heavier elements, and still heavier elements, and exotic heavy elements, and in the end one very exotic heavy element that’s never been seen before or since. Let’s call it Raotronium, since we’ll never encounter it again anywhere but here…and a very peculiar metal it was, too, even in the family of comic-book elements that can do all sorts of strange things. Full of bizarre energy-bending properties, a silver shifting metal like the Twist itself, aggressively intercommunicative sort of in the manner of a Bose-Einstein condensate, prone to jump all as one mass into different states…a “quantum metal” if you will. It had anti-gravitic tendencies…it had super-gravitic tendencies…it broke all the rules of Special Relativity within itself…it could both suddenly absorb energy and then just as suddenly release it, it was by turns superconducting and hypermagnetic, then superinsulating and hyper-whatever-the-opposite-of-magnetic is, it was slippery, fluctuating, it could be invisible, it could act as a blackbody…it was the greatest piece of ass the Periodic Table ever had, and it’s had ‘em all around the universe…!

…And in this particular instance it sped up the infall of part of the mass of Rao’s cold cloud, while simultaneously seeping out into the rest of what would be the body of the star, and speeding its collapse to a slightly lesser extent. Until: yes, a planet. A planet where no planet could possibly or even theoretically form, a unique solar system lost in the obscuring maze of the supergiant zoo of the Perseid Arm. It would’ve been very hard to see anyway! But in this case, even to the immense cosmic powers of the 3D and even 4D world, it was all but too fuzzy to make out at all.

And besides, it was just one more star among millions. Nothing special about it, that would warrant a special investigation.

And thus it was that the Guardians dropped the ball, but then how could they imagine it had ever been in their hands to start with? If the Silver Twist was mysterious even to the Imps, how much more mysterious was it to the Oans? On the hidden planet Krypton, under the influence of the mysterious intercommunicating metal that not only formed its core and permeated its mantle, but also infected every rock and stone of its crust, eventually every tree and leaf of its biosphere, ultimately every animal and hominid that wandered its surface, not just planetary formation but also biological evolution sprang into extremely high gear. Accelerated in a way that begs comparison with relativistic effects; and in just one million years, Krypton did everything our own Earth took five billion years to achieve. The precursors of the Kryptonian race, the race that would eventually generate a Superman, woke like the elves of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, in forested darkness — to behold, as no intelligent creatures before them, the very turning-on of their Sun.

And that’s some hard shit to shake, lemme tellya!

We’re told the Kryptonian civilization was 500,000 years old by the time of Jor-El…in itself that probably beats the average lifespan of a star Rao’s size, but possibly could add up to as little as 10% of its lifespan…if it was a normal star, which it isn’t since it is shot through with raotronium. Not that anyone could’ve been expected to be aware of such a thing. So, the stellar-lifespan clock is already no good to us, if we’re trying to set timescales for Superman’s planet, biosphere, species…but if Rao itself can’t be our clock, the Guardians can! Because once a hypergiant star like Rao starts to exceed its mathematically-determined lifespan, that’s when the Guardians would get interested, and once they did they’d send a Green Lantern to investigate, and once the nature of the Kryptonians had been unveiled that is the day the Guardians would’ve slapped ONE BIG CORDON around that world, to make sure none of them got out and bred. Of course the Kryptonians would never have been starfarers anyway, given the ridiculous violence of any hypergiant sun…but we know from at least two stories — the Doomsday story and the story of Kryp and Tonn — that Rao must have experienced rare quiescent periods, and so at least in these the Kryptonians might have gotten out and potentially formed a crushing Galactic Empire. The circulation of raotronium caused by convection within the star for which it’s named will (we will say) eventually prolong its life as a humongous hypergiant well past its usual span…and just as in my blog-post about the far-future Krypton, what prolongs the star’s life will also ironically doom the planet. So that means Krypton must die before the Guardians are prepared to wall it off…but after Krypton dies, the Guardians no longer would have any reason to barricade that system, because it would have nothing alarming about it except a star that is beginning to seem freakishly long-lived for its size.

So okay. Here’s how it breaks down, in that case:

1. The presence of “raotronium” in the star Rao is what causes it to last longer than 100,000 years or so. However since the Guardians can’t see it clearly perhaps they conclude it’s got some wiggle room in the lifespan. Maybe a few million years? At least a few million before it starts to seem noteworthy.

2. The presence of “raotronium” accelerates planetary formation.

3. The presence of “raotronium” accelerates evolution on Krypton. Let’s take a bit of a look at this: how can evolutionary processes be hastened? Well, one way is if they are not confined to “vertical” lines of genetic descent, but can proceed “horizontally” from individual to individual, family to family, species to species, genus to genus, and perhaps even all the way up to Kingdom to Kingdom. Indeed even Earthly evolution boasts some processes such as these — so we can imagine what would happen if their effects were to be amplified. Doubtless it would be an extremely wild world that resulted; as species would not be able to keep their adaptations to themselves for long before meeting a counter-adaptation. But this horizontal communication would also affect family groups and their lineages…beyond a chain of physical birth, what would make kinship or (may I say) para-kinship on Krypton would probably get complicated in a hurry. Among intelligent beings, this could make the idea of “belonging” extraordinarily vexed. So I propose that since Krypton had its Dark Ages just as we Terrans did, that this multiplicitous nature of social belonging was the cause of it — how am I to know to what group I owe faithfulness? And isn’t Krypton an exceedingly competitive environment? We Earth-people are lucky: we get our allegiances handed to us on a silver platter, and only ever have to ask ourselves when to betray them or leave them. But on Krypton the allegiances themselves would have been what the Kryptonians had to figure out in the first place, and it wasn’t that their choices would damage society but that their choices might damage the making of a society. But we know that eventually among the hominids of Krypton the great Houses formed, and it isn’t too hard to speculate this was because the environment they lived in demanded some form of corporatism would arise among them just as it did among us, purely as an evolutionary advantage: an association not built on the sharing of genetic adaptations, but cultural ones. Because even if increases in intelligence might be shared out “horizontally” among creatures by biological mechanisms, a history of intellectual discovery obviously could not be…so just as on our own Earth, “society” was an advantage. Only, let us again amplify this by saying that things were bloodier and more fraught on this notional Krypton of mine — in an environment as competitive as that one, the first successful “society” must have spent a lot of its energy trying to forestall the forming of society in other intelligent species, at the risk of perishing once their one special advantage was gone. Thus: we can imagine a whole lot of hunting, but it was hunting that would’ve been more like interspecies warfare…and just as loaded with moral difficulties, since it contained the sure knowledge that everything you killed might have grown, and in short order, to be what you yourself were. Well, on Earth we sort of have this too, in the relation of pre-industrial societies to their game-animal and crop deities, that grants the individual organisms a “spirit” that must be attended to! But on Krypton, again: amplification, as societal Kryptonian life would have in a sense played Deer-God and Corn-God to themselves — their own affiliational identity becoming directly related to their survival, if traits began to pass more fluidly within social groupings than they did outside them. Not an unfair assumption if we are to assume the presence of separate species in the first place, on this wacky “horizontal” world! But then social and political organization might have been expressed physically on Krypton by a more basic agency than cultural instruments — culture, on Krypton, might almost have become a kind of biology itself! And so if we imagine that any social being might have been in danger of being peeled away from one affiliational identity into another without their own choice or consent, we can see how social groupings might have hated and feared one another, and made war on one another or shunned one another.

But let’s stipulate that in the time of the origins of the House Of El, this was all solved by “higher” or “metastable” social and political belonging: if one could only find an effective Great Attractor of Kryptonian society capable of mediating affiliational anxieties, socially-driven evolution could be balanced and tamed. Thus the first Science Council was formed — a stabilizing political body that gave Kryptonians the chance to dominate their world as we’ve dominated ours, by uniting previously-fragmented cultural dispositions…although it didn’t take them anything like a mere 50,000 years or so to do it! So…literalization, eh? The youngest world…but the difficulty of coping with its environment gives us, in relative terms, one of the oldest civilizations.

4. But it couldn’t last: convection might have kept raotronium circulating in Krypton’s star, compensating both for its most suicidal convulsions, and the brick wall of the end of the fusion process called Element 26…but in Krypton itself the stuff was much more concentrated, and it underwent different changes. In Rao’s tremendously violent heliosphere, extreme solar radiation, brutal tidal stresses, and massive coronal ejecta all combined to make Krypton a world in constant peril…I am just talking about it as though it “really happened”, now…but fortunately the mystery metal that permeated it was so tremendously reactive that when the going got tough, Krypton got more resilent. In the core, gravitational waves were absorbed and then converted gradually into kinetic energy — thus Kryptonians had not much to fear from earthquakes, as they were a sign of how their planet kept itself, and them, alive. But more critically for my little theory, the raotronium also expressed its energy-transforming power in a different way from inside the Kryptonian organisms. What happens when a flare from Rao threatens to boil the planet’s seas, turn its plants and animals to flame? The answer is that where such excessive radiation strikes, it’s converted into something other than heat — absorbed by the flora and the fauna and used to drive both their biological processes, and the “horizontal” evolutionary communication that raotronium mediates. Which takes energy, naturally: as when cells speak to cells at superluminal speed across (one presumes) innumerable, infinitesimal hyperspace links it takes energy to receive their information as well as to translate it into physical adaptation.

But, what about the energy it takes to send such impulses? To mediate the incoming evolutionary information does require a large energy-surplus to be built up in Kryptonian organisms, but sending takes a large amount of energy too, and it has to come from somewhere…as well, the theoretical maximum speed of this evolutionary communication must fall under some fairly strict limit or other, or Krypton would be even weirder than it already is: just a boiling sea of continuous re-adaptation, with no stability possible at all, Great Houses or no Great Houses. Fortunately it seems such a limit does exist in the balance between evolution even being at all necessary, and the energy-absorbing power that makes it even possible. Beyond “yellow” sunlight, microwaves, gamma rays, or even massive neutrino fluxes, one type of radiation that fell on Krypton during Rao’s more violent convulsions would have represented a much more catastrophic charge of energy than any other: that being the emissions in the band of Rao’s spectral peak, the rising radiative tide that would have lifted all boats. Raotronium being a marvellous substance, nevertheless it could not have been a magical one, with an actually infinite storage capacity, or infinitely fast ability to convert energy into changed physical structure…so when Rao’s total radiative emissions jumped way up, they both went past the Kryptonians’ ability to convert it into useful work, and past their ability to store it…and there would have been only one mechanism by which it could’ve been gotten rid of before it destroyed the organism. Thus when Rao’s red light spiked, Kryptonian creatures rapidly shed (a better word might be dumped) their stored energy surpluses into the hyperspatial band, radiating it away at superluminal speed, storing it not just in the bodies of plants and animals and phytoplankton, but in the rocks of their planet’s crust, its mantle, and its core. So again, earthquakes on Krypton save the planet, instead of threatening it…

…And just as importantly, this means horizontal evolution is subject to continual braking, as it takes time for organisms to recover the energy they need to carry on with it after each large flare event with a strong red-band component.

Therefore when Superman is on Earth, his body stores and stores the energy it does not have to use to receive evolutionary information from his natural ecosystem (because, of course, that ecosystem no longer exists — though we might expect he is also slowly but constantly bleeding off the highest range of that energy into hyperspatial nowhere anyway), and his biological development is slowed because of it…but when he’s exposed to the light of a red sun his yellow-accustomed body registers that change as a massive flare from Rao, and dumps his entire energetic surplus into hyperspace as a protective measure. Naturally, he recovers the charge pretty rapidly — so did the Kryptonian flora and fauna, after all, and Superman doesn’t even have anything in particular to spend all that energy on! — because Kryptonian organisms are quite efficient at wringing power from all kinds of different radiative sources. Visible sunlight’s still best, though, because ionizing radiation is still ionizing radiation, and still causes damage to the cells that absorb it that translates as an energy-cost — it’s a “hard use” of the Kryptonian bio-machine! Hence Superman is less invulnerable under a blue sun, you see…even if he is just as strong.

But let’s get back to that core. Because it blows up, eventually, but the Kryptonians don’t see it coming…and we can speculate that they don’t see it coming because eventually they, because of their privileged astronomical position, realize that there’s something special about their star. And something similarly special about their planet! Well, sure, you would too if every time there was a solar flare there was a rash of earthquakes to follow it up! In fact that might freak you out a little, and you’d want to know more about that…and if you were ever so lucky as to find a provable theory that told you it all meant you had nothing to worry about, and were bound to go on and on as the extremely special people you knew you were, if you ever had the chance to reconstruct warnings as reassurances, you’d probably drink that up like champagne. One assumes that even if mathematics is still the Queen of Sciences on Krypton, then Geology must be her King — so much to learn about the magic core, the various miracle metals lying about the place! Then Zoology and Biology, the Princes…and only poor old whacko Jor-El messing around with extrasolar astronomy in his off-hours, when he’s not studying hyperspace and discovering the Phantom Zone and things like that…

…And yet if you knew as much about the Phantom Zone as Jor-El, you’d probably be studying astronomy too, since although the PZ is simply (let us suppose) a vast stretch of hyperspace with special properties that exists in no particular “time” and no particular “place”, it does (let us again suppose) have something like a shape, and mathematically the shape is somewhat comparable to an ellipse, and the ellipse has something we might as well call semi-foci in it…and one of these is sitting back several billion years ago at a certain set of spatial coordinates, and the other is sitting at exactly those same coordinates just a few years in the future…when Krypton will be occupying them. And, that’s a little bit of a suspicious coincidence! So Jor-El looks into it further, it and a lot of other sciences as well, where he usually proceeds to do some very groundbreaking work, and from it all he eventually concludes that the constant fluxing between states that Krypton’s core is doing is not simply a matter of it changing from State A to State B and back again over and over, but rather from State A to State B to State C…and somewhere among all the possible states the core can occupy, somewhere along the way there is a State Z in which the entire core will simply become ultra-antigravitic and blow the planet to bits in a giant surge of powerful radiation that would transform its crust into the deadliest substance in the universe…”anti-raotronium”?…with the core itself imploding until it “pops” through space and time to the other semi-focus, giving up all its energy into the hyperspatial field to create the elliptical bubble of nothing called the Phantom Zone. So what that all means, is that every time the core shifts states, there’s a certain probability it’s going to shift to State Z, and the probability is very low, vanishingly small in fact…it can be proven to be vanishingly small…

…If, that is, you happen to reject the notion that you’re dealing with something very like a great big Bose-Einstein condensate (one presumes running on bosonic “odds” and not baryonic ones), and that your greatest scientist seems to be able to calculate exactly when it will happen. But the Science Council proves to be rather good at rejecting these things…!

And so off little Kal-El goes in his rocket ship, the only rocket-ship on Krypton…that only the hyperspatial genius/astronomical hobbyist Jor-El could have built — the Kryptonians don’t even have satellites, Rao just knocks ‘em out of the sky — but that doesn’t quite explain everything.

It doesn’t explain the Daxamites, for example. Surely a key point in any discussion of Kryptonian Exceptionalism! So let’s go back to the two times we positively know that this version of Rao — the hypergiant version — must have had a period of quiescence that made space travel possible within Krypton’s solar system. On the first of these occasions, a space-traveller got shipwrecked on the planet — this is the origin of the story of Kryp and Tonn that later on would be taught to some Kryptonian schoolchildren in an installment of “The Amazing World Of Krypton”, except I am going to propose that the teacher was a substitute teacher, and that she got the story wrong because she told it in its folk-wisdom version, and the ending wasn’t historically factual, and besides she wasn’t even supposed to be telling those children that story at all because it was proscribed in that school curriculum. Because Krypton doesn’t just have rationalists, but religionists too…and in older days the most prevalent and socially destructive of these were called, oh let’s say…

The Cult of Dax-Am.

Hey, why not?

Especially when in this formulation of the story of Rao there was no way someone who was not from Krypton could ever hope to survive Krypton when Rao was in its active phase, and as we happen to know there was a mysterious scientist who eventually came there sometime later, and how in the world could he have known about the planet’s existence, if even the Guardians did not? So the space-traveller traditionally named “Kryp” does indeed meet the girl traditionally named “Tonn”, in my supposition, and they carry on a brief affair while he hurries to get his ship repaired before Rao moves out of its solar minimum…and she gets pregnant by him but then he takes off in the middle of the night, and is never heard from again. In the story he stays, and she’s an offworlder too, and between them they create the Kryptonian race…which is utter nonsense on another couple of fronts too, because even on Krypton you’d need more than a single breeding-pair to make a viable species, and plus the idea that two random space-travellers would be reproductively compatible is kind of nuts too, even though this is still a land of comic-book science. Plus, the hypergiant factor. Radiation. Death.

So we’re ruling this out.

As a possibility; but not as a story. Because if this were the creation myth of the cult of Dax-Am I’m proposing, it would mean that their central belief is that the Kryptonians originated offworld…and from that it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to consider that they believe one day they will “escape” from Krypton and go back to their homes in the stars. Perhaps they view Krypton as a Hell or a Purgatory…perhaps they never heard, or never believed (or even saw as a threat), the news that all these solar-flare earthquakes are perfectly harmless and even good. Maybe they think the world is headed for destruction, and that they have to get off it while they still can. Maybe, even, their lingering influence is what leads the Science Council to decide their greatest member has flipped his lid when he says the planet’s going to blow up. It would go against everything his House has ever stood for, but…could Jor-El be dabbling in the Daxamite heresy?

Has he cracked?

I mean no one denies he was a brilliant young researcher, but let’s face it that Phantom Zone thing was a long time ago…!

Many years after, the space-traveller’s wild story about his crash-landing and subsequent escape from this insanely strange world has come to the ears of a nameless scientist interested in “adaptive evolution”, and certain details (like the native girl’s impossible pregnancy) convince him it would be a perfect natural laboratory for him. During Rao’s next period of quiescence he makes his way there and enlists a bunch of Daxamites to help him conduct his experiment. He wants to know how their peculiar biology works, but he can’t figure it out: no microscope, no test, can ever reveal the raotronium hiding in their cells, it’s just too slippery. He does decide there’s an environmental factor in play, but also concludes something must be inhibiting “pure” adaptive evolution in these dim-witted people who seem to attach to him some sort of religious significance. For one thing, they all look a lot too much the same! So he determines to find some way of enlisting the environmental factor in the creation of a new, non-Kryptonian being who will possess their adaptive power without any limitation. And if things go wrong, it’ll be perfectly safe, he won’t have created an unstoppable monster…the “door” to Rao closes very soon, and there’s no way off the planet, and this is a hypergiant — so it can’t last long!

The inevitable supernova (so he thinks) will take care of his mistakes!

Not that he intends to make any.

Well, as it turns out he can’t isolate, nor even identify, the “adaptive factor”, but he does determine that the Daxamites are constantly picking up ambient elements from their environment, out of the air and the soil, the food, etc…and theorizes that there is a “mystery element” in play that he still might enlist even if he can’t isolate it. After all, it’s all around him! And so through his experiments with the Daxamites he figures out some of the processes involved, finds he is able to make them variously more or less sensitive to any of the elements they’re taking in, able to cause different elements to concentrate differently in the body. And thus he eventually discovers how to increase the effect of the adaptive evolutionary element even though he cannot see it. Now, you can’t really do this to Kryptonians, because it involves disconnecting both the energy-dumping and the ” horizontal sending” adaptations, and these are things that are deeply built into them, built up from the evolutionary history of all the life on their planet…but he does build in the “pure” adaptive factor into his test subject. And something else, too: because he doesn’t want the monster just going off forever and never coming back, he doesn’t want it alerting anybody by its mere existence to what’s going on at his remote experimental facility — he wants it to have a programmable limit. So he sizes up how much of all the elements is floating around out there for the creature to absorb as tissue-building material (it is not going to be doing much eating and drinking, necessarily!), and he figures out various lethal concentrations of them and builds into his creation’s genetic code an allowable “roaming distance”, after which it will succumb to the poison…and he plans to switch what the poison is each time (since whenever the creature is killed by one poison, its next generation will be immune to it), and he starts with lead. Just to make sure it works, he tests it on the Daxamites — sure enough, he’s done a good job, and it’s a nice long leash but it’s a very strong leash, so he puts it in Doomsday and he sends him out.

But then as it turns out, the young Doomsday never lives long enough to succumb to the lead poisoning, so he never has to change it! And then the one time Doomsday lasted long enough that he might’ve been on the verge of succumbing, he came back and killed the scientist!

Whereupon the Daxamites, in terror for their lives, seize the scientist’s ship and blast off into space, away from the creature out of their worst religious nightmares…realizing too late it’s found a way to stow away or cling along. A desperate battle in space ensues, and in the end the monster is flung off the hull into the vastness of space…but the ship is terribly damaged, and has to make an emergency planetfall around (surprise!) an ordinary red giant star, one that has most of its ten million years still ahead of it. The star is slightly brighter than Rao in spectral terms (naturally: because it’s smaller), triggering the hyperspatial energy-dumping pretty much continuously in the Kryptonian refugees. Like “Tonn” they are able to mate with the native humanoids of the world they christen Daxam, even though they’re of a different species, because the overall Kryptonian adaptability (possibly with a little helping hand from the alien scientist’s experiments on them — he was interested in “Tonn”‘s pregnancy, after all) is still working in them…and every once in a while Daxam goes through a solar minimum, which briefly frees their evolutionary powers. So the energy-adaptations spread through Daxam’s native population, but so does the energy-dumping and the genetic sensitivity to lead…and who knows if on Krypton, as native Kryptonian life-forms, they would have evolved themselves out of it? But here the only raotronium around is in their own bodies, and it diminishes to a much lower concentration now that it is indeed no longer in the air and the soil — although of course we must assume a little goes a long way, but still, one of these days those people are going to have no superpowers — and besides, as it happens Daxam is an extraordinarlly metal-poor place, so there’s no evolutionary pressure exerted by the lead-sensitivity anyway. So in a way the refugees are far, far luckier than they have any right to be, but could you tell them that? They’ve gone through a truly terrifying ordeal, shocking to their sensibilities in a way only possible among true believers…and so they become the most timid of people, shunning exploration and adventure. And ultimately this is what saves them from the Guardians’ attentions, because there aren’t even that many of them — this is a long time ago, and Daxam’s native population is tiny! — and no one ever even knows where or who they really are, until Mon-El goes out into space one day to fight…oh I don’t know, invading Khunds or something, and is ironically named “Valor” by them before the fight strays into the precincts of a yellow sun and he tears them to shreds.

And then he goes to Earth.

And thence to the future, where Brainiac-5 is able to cure his lead problem by adding a bit of Kryptonite to a magic anti-lead potion that the Legion brews up…which would probably have killed Superman, but then again Superman is a first-generation Kryptonian from like a hundred thousand years ago, and Mon-El is anything but that! There’s not enough inherited raotronium in his body for “anti-raotronium” to tear his organs apart by interacting with it, and of course as we’ve seen Kryptonite doesn’t cause the sudden “dumping” of superpowers that the light of a red sun does, but instead debilitates Kryptonians by causing very rapid cell damage. Which is not to say that Kryptonite doesn’t do SOMETHING to Mon-El on account of his Kryptonian heritage, because obviously it does…but just what that effect actually is must probably remain mysterious to us…

…At least for another thousand years.

Meanwhile, back in the past, Doomsday eventually lands on a world just positively loaded with lead, and dies…and comes back free of lead-sensitivity, and tromps off to wreak his usual havoc. Until, that is, he has his showdown with the last Kryptonian, the one who escaped Krypton’s destruction and would therefore have the power to destroy him…or at least so says the prophecy cooked up millenia ago around the campfires of the Kryptonian refugees on Daxam, who of course could never have imagined a Superman, but isn’t it funny how things turn out?

And now we’re almost at the end of the story, that began with that library book of mine so long ago. Just another couple of things to say, and characters to revisit. The five-dimensional Imps, for example. Who after thrilling to the whole warp and woof of the Krypton Saga — all caused by nothing more than the transmutation of some elemental hydrogen in the right place and time, why who would’ve imagined! — decided to play around a little with this “evolution” and “adaptation” idea. So down they went to a world and made its main humanoid species extremely evolutionarily significant to the rest of their ecosphere.

These, in my little tale here, were the Czarnians. And the power they got was the power to multiply.

Disaster soon followed. Sure, they had to eat and drink, but their ridiculous superpower being fed from the Fifth Dimension, it never ended until they did. The Czarnian population fluctuated wildly, from several billions to several hundred and back again, just like a yo-yo. Sometimes they had to spill their own blood just to get something to eat: every day another installment of Tales of the Black Freighter! As time went on, and there grew to be times between Cazarnian eco-spasms, each generation of Czarnians found they knew less and less about their world, as grandmothers reminisced about the days when Czarnian children had small mammals they called “pets” and could pick things called “flowers”…and relating the tales of their grandmothers, whose world had been populated by larger mammals, things called “reptiles”, things called “fish”, things called “animals weighing over thirty pounds”…and eventually two things happened. One was that the Czarnians grew very, very physically tough — the better not to spill blood on the ground. The other was that the Czarnians’ society became extremely rigid and extremely pacifistic and extremely environmentally-conscious, just out of pure horror at how they could so effortlessly dominate, so effortlessly destroy, everything around them including their own morality. So then, the young sometimes rebel, and Lobo rebelled, and they stuck him in isolation and tried to rehabilitate him. But then something happened outside his little isolation tank, his prison cell — really, given the nature of the Czarnian curse, it could’ve been anything — and by the time he nerved himself up to make some copies of himself to smash out of there, all the rest of his people were dead, destroyed by themselves…and the ground smoked, and nothing lived anywhere on the planet’s surface or in its seas or in its sky, except for Lobo — who was the very last one left.

Though he says he killed them all. But then he would say that, wouldn’t he? Because he was just a child, and he was the only one who survived.

See? It’s just like Superman! Uh…to the Imps, at any rate. But then again that’s the whole problem with the Imps in a nutshell, isn’t it?

Well, in fact wherever you’ve got these alien races, you’re going to have an interesting background texture to their superpowers that you can throw on there. I only chose Lobo because that infinite duplication-power just has to have some sort of extradimensional power-source, and it is just like Superman only all screwed up…but that’s not to say you couldn’t do it with Martians, for example. Martians, who have so many stealth-based superpowers, clearly you’ve got to think they were in the mammalian niche on their world, when it was dominated by horrific megafauna. Martian super-dinosaurs? So the Kryptonians competed…the Czarnians dominated…but the Martians hid. And then eventually, they inherited.

Uh…until they all died, too, of course. Say, quite a lot of that going around, in the comic-book world…!

Or, you could do the same thing with the Thanagarians. Now here are some people who in a way must’ve been just like the Kryptonians: in that for the longest time they didn’t know what they had. You can’t find Nth-metal anywhere else in the universe, but they didn’t know it. To them it was just another ore. I mean, they used to make maces out of the stuff, now how crazy is that? And Hawkman’s mace alone would probably be enough Nth-metal to power a thousand spaceships…so whaddaya think, is peak Nth-metal past?

Eventually it’s got to be. There was only so much of it made in the beginning, after all…

…There, at the other semi-focal point of the Phantom Zone, where the spent waste-product of the core of Krypton emerged.

At least, that’s my theory. Well, it’s easy enough to test!

Just have Hawkman wallop Superman with that billion-dollar mace of his. And if it gives him a black eye, I’m right!

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