Superman: The Unkindest Cut, Chapter 1: Superman’s Darkest Secret

by Doc Quantum

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The horror… was the only thought that flashed through Kal-El’s mind as he watched his father slowly open his green-hued eyelids, knowing that his only thoughts right now were that he could feel nothing but unending pain. He prayed to Rao that his mother would just remain sleeping, would not wake up at all and experience the tremendous pain his father must be feeling right now.

Superman had spent all but the first two and a half years of his life with the knowledge that his parents were dead — dead and gone like the rest of Krypton. But now, as he watched the reviving Jor-El, a memory flashed back into his mind. It was a memory he had been forbidden from recalling unless just such a situation like this ever arose. It was just too horrible.

It had been a fact that he was the only survivor of Krypton. But then he was reunited with his dog Krypto and learned of the existence of the Kryptonian criminals in the Phantom Zone. It had been a fact that no good Kryptonians had survived Krypton’s destruction. But then he discovered the existence of the preserved and shrunken city of Kandor. It had been a fact that he was the only member of his family to survive Krypton’s death. But then his cousin Kara Zor-El arrived on Earth. It had been a fact that his parents had died that day on Krypton when they sent him to Earth — or was it?

When Superman had been a Superboy, he had learned something that had shattered everything he believed to the core. His parents had not died on Krypton after all, but had been preserved in a state of suspended animation. It should have been a reason to celebrate. But he didn’t yet know the whole twisted truth.

Yes, Jor-El and Lara had been put into suspended animation and rocketed off on another spacecraft that had saved them from sharing Krypton’s doom. But the sting of it was that they were doomed anyway.

Fifteen years after Krypton’s destruction, Superboy was seventeen years old when he received a preprogrammed signal from Jor-El that had been caught on his space-transmission scanner. It was a simple matter to track down the precise source of the transmission, and soon enough he found the preserved unconscious bodies of his parents in a coffin-like capsule in space. Only he could not approach, because the capsule was emitting high doses of kryptonite radiation. He was suddenly attacked from behind by someone in a spacecraft who tried to push him into the deathtrap, but then he was just as suddenly saved by someone else.

His savior’s name was Dr. Krylo. He was a Kryptonian, which would have shocked Superboy had it been under any other circumstances. Not only that, but he had been a member of Krypton’s famed Science Council that had governed the planet for centuries. This same Science Council had only scoffed when Jor-El presented evidence of Krypton’s imminent destruction and had refused to enact any of Jor-El’s measures to begin evacuating the population. But not all of the councilors had turned a deaf ear to the eminent scientist’s pleas. One man among them was willing to listen.

But Krylo was also a cautious man and did not want to become a subject of scorn and ridicule. After all, Jor-El’s name had of late become a byword for foolishness and insanity in the public eye for all his warnings of doom. Instead, Krylo began work himself on a scheme of his own design meant to save the most worthy Kryptonian citizens from the planet’s destruction. He worked in secret so that the public would not panic if they began to believe Jor-El’s warnings. After all, he didn’t want his work to be destroyed by the inevitable riot of citizens demanding a way to be saved.

Krylo’s plan was simple, if controversial. As he explained it to Jor-El, he would drain the veins of a select group of Kryptonians — the flower of Krypton, if you will — and inject the patented solution he called krylogas into them to cause immediate suspended animation, then seal this select group into capsules that would be shot off into space and survive Krypton’s destruction. The only hook, as Jor-El rightly pointed out, was that these Kryptonians would be subject to the whims of fate as well as the mercy of anyone who found them. It was too risky a solution for Jor-El, who had already considered and discarded the idea of transporting the population to the Phantom Zone before the planet’s explosion. And since Jor-El had himself visited the Phantom Zone in a traumatic episode in which he had barely escaped, that proposition was just as horrible as Krylo’s solution. No, Jor-El was determined to save the life of his son, and possibly also his wife and himself, if he only had enough time to perfect his rocket ship.

Jor-El did not have that time. And when Krypton’s final destruction came, he and his wife were willing to sacrifice their lives so little Kal-El could be saved. But Dr. Krylo had joined them at the end, after they shot off Kal-El’s ship, and he had decided to take matters into his own hands. For he had decided that, if only a handful of Kryptonians could be saved, then the ones most worthy of salvation were Jor-El and Lara. He shot them down with his ray-gun and promptly set to work, even as the planet destroyed itself.

Draining their veins of life-giving blood and replacing it with krylogas, he placed the two bodies put into suspended animation into one of his two capsules, then had his robots perform the same operation on him and place him in the other. The two capsules containing three unconscious survivors of Krypton were shot off into space, unaware of anything. They were merely… paused.

Krylo was revived many years later, after someone else came across his capsule by chance. It was then that he learned Jor-El and Lara’s capsule had taken a different course than his own, and they were lost elsewhere in the far reaches of space. Furthermore, the surface of both capsules had been irradiated by both green kryptonite, which was fatal to super-powered Kryptonians, and anti-kryptonite, which was fatal to non-powered Kryptonians. Following the pre-recorded instructions left on the exterior of his capsule, this man who found Krylo revived him. And the Science Councilman was surprised to see that he recognized him.

Professor Khai-Zor had been the man’s name on Krypton, where he had also been a fellow member of the Science Council. But now he called himself only Xonar — a man without a world. Khai-Zor’s story was familiar. He and Professor Val-Arn had secretly believed Jor-El as well and had been at work on their own rocket ship projects based on the prototype Jor-El had created to save Kal-El. On the day of Krypton’s destruction, Khai-Zor made it onto the spacecraft, but Val-Arn did not.

Dr. Krylo was hopeful of Jor-El and Lara’s survival, and already he began to dream about a revived Kryptonian civilization that would begin with these four survivors starting anew on another world, a New Krypton.

The two soon located the capsule containing Jor-El and Lara when the preprogrammed subspace radio message was broadcast on schedule. This was the same broadcast that Superboy’s machines had picked up on Earth. But to Krylo’s horror, the man calling himself Xonar shot blasts into the sun of that star system to create solar flares to mask the conclusion of that message in order to ensure that Superboy only heard its beginning.

It was then that Krylo learned the full diabolical truth and what Khai-Zor’s true role on Krypton had been. Khai-Zor, Val-Arn, and others had indeed worked with Jor-El to create spaceships but hid their true intentions from him. For they had intended to survive Krypton’s destruction, only to become powerful supermen on Earth and conquer that world themselves, beginning a new Kryptonian Empire, enforced by their super-powers, that would spread throughout the galaxy. Horrified, Jor-El had them arrested and imprisoned, awaiting a trial that would have surely sentenced them to the Phantom Zone. But when the quakes became worse, the men were able to break free from their holding cells, and Khai-Zor was the only one of that group to escape, as he had already related. And as the man without a world called Xonar, he vowed to hunt down and destroy the last vestiges of the El family, including Jor-El and Lara, as well as young Kal-El on Earth, as part of his scheme of vengeance against Jor-El for denying him his own world-conquering plans.

Thus, when Superboy arrived to see his parents preserved in what seemed to be a kryptonite coffin, it was Xonar who attacked and tried to destroy him, and Krylo who left Xonar’s ship to save Kal-El with his own newfound super-powers.

Hearing Krylo’s story, Superboy knew that there was only one man he could trust to help him save his parents, one who would not be affected by kryptonite radiation — his Earthly father, Jonathan Kent. After Superboy quickly explained everything, “Pa” Kent agreed readily to help him. And soon enough, they returned to the same sector of space where Jor-El and Lara lay motionless in their kryptonite coffin. Jonathan Kent, equipped in a space suit, attached a strong cable to the capsule that Superboy planned to tow back to Earth, where he could safely revive his parents.

But then Xonar struck again, this time destroying the cable and leaving Jonathan Kent stranded atop the space capsule that neither Superboy nor Krylo could approach. Knowing Xonar wanted Kal-El to sacrifice his life saving both of his fathers, Dr. Krylo instead sacrificed his. He saw it as a way to atone for what he saw as the killing of his parents.

The frustrated Xonar, meanwhile, attacked Superboy anew, hoping to push him into the K-zone, that zone within the reach of kryptonite radiation that a Kryptonian could not enter without being affected. Superboy grabbed Xonar’s ship and spun it in midair, tossing it away in a fit of annoyance. Although it was not his intention to kill him, Xonar died when he struck one of the many asteroids he had seeded space with that contained powerful hyper-nuclear space-mines.

Superboy then turned and saw that Krylo was still alive and, although badly affected by the kryptonite, was able to reattach the cable before finally succumbing to the powerful radiation. Jonathan Kent was saved for the moment, and so were Jor-El and Lara — or were they?

With a great deal of satisfaction, Superboy successfully brought the space capsule containing his parents’ suspended bodies back to Earth, taking them to a private location in the Arctic that he called his Cave of Silence, which was later to become the location of the Fortress of Solitude after rediscovering it as an adult. After Superboy secured the kryptonite capsule behind a radiation-proof lead chamber, Jonathan Kent attempted to open the capsule, a task made more difficult because the lock had been fused shut. Instead, he succeeded only in activating an amplified sound version of the prerecorded message that Kal-El had only heard the beginning of. Now he was to learn the full truth.

Jor-El’s message mentioned Dr. Krylo’s plan of suspended animation, and he went on to explain why it would not work for him or Lara. For when Jor-El had been investigating the causes of Krypton’s quakes, he had traveled to the very core of Krypton itself using an atomic-powered mole machine. There, he had unwittingly exposed himself to a type of radiation very similar to that of kryptonite radiation — something that would inevitably poison him and cause his death — but he would not learn this until later, when it was too late to do anything about it. Worse, he had passed on this type of kryptonite poisoning to his wife Lara when she embraced him upon his return. Fortunately for their son, the aura of contamination rapidly wore off, so that when they both saw their son Kal-El some hours later (Jor-El’s parents had been watching him that day), he was unaffected. But Jor-El soon learned that both he and Lara were doomed to die of this rare type of kryptonite radiation poisoning, even if they survived Krypton’s destruction.

Kal-El would later learn of the existence of a type of kryptonite that could poison non-powered Kryptonians. It was a fact that ordinary green kryptonite could not affect non-super-powered Kryptonians, so the particular isotope of kryptonite that had poisoned Jor-El had been something different. It was, as he learned years later, a type of kryptonite called anti-kryptonite. It was, in fact, anti-kryptonite that had killed the citizens of Argo City, Kara Zor-El’s original home, which had turned into a mixture of kryptonite and anti-kryptonite when it had survived Krypton’s destruction. And in an ironic twist of fate, Argo City would later be dropped on Metropolis to wreak havoc on Superman’s life not too long after Kara Zor-El’s death.

Jor-El’s message went on to make one final request of Kal-El. Should by some unknown circumstance Dr. Krylo actually succeed in completing his plan to put Jor-El and Lara in suspended animation, Kal-El was under no circumstances to revive them, for to revive them would only spell their certain doom. To revive them would only leave them with a few lingering years of crippling pain and utter anguish. They had been willing to sacrifice their lives to save Kal-El’s, and they had made their peace with that decision. He could not revive them.

It was Superboy’s darkest secret. (*) But only for a time.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Superboy’s Darkest Secret,” Superboy #158 (July, 1969).]

Jonathan Kent knew that his son could not carry the burden of their decision to set the capsule back into deep space once again. And so, after watching his adopted son suffer for a full week without being able to do anything to comfort him, he decided upon a drastic course of action. Using Superboy’s own Kryptonian equipment, he hypnotized his son into forgetting that this episode had ever occurred at all. And soon Jonathan was the only one alive who knew the truth. And when he and Martha Kent died a few years later, the truth died with him.

But there was a clause. If his son were ever to come across the space capsule containing the suspended bodies of Jor-El and Lara, he would regain the full memory of what had happened, as well as Jor-El’s warning never to revive him. It was the only way he could ensure that history did not repeat itself. But he could not have foreseen what happened now.

Superman knew that, upon breaching the craft’s glass seal, Brainiac had set into motion the process that would revive Jor-El and Lara. First, the krylogas in their veins would be automatically replaced by their own plasma, kept cryogenically preserved within the ship. Then the two would be given a shot of something very similar to adrenaline, prompting the heart to beat again. But with the anti-kryptonite poisoning they were suffering from, their revival would be anything but pleasant for them.

The grin on Brainiac’s face was hideous, giving him a grotesque Satanic look that was aided by his goatee. “Like what you see, Superman?” he asked. “I assume, by the look on your face, you know more about this than even I do. But I’m being rude. Aren’t you going to introduce me to your dear old mom and dad?”

“Y-you…” Superman struggled to find the words. A life spent avoiding foul language wasn’t helping him right now. “You monster!

Brainiac’s grin grew only wider.

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