The Mystery of the Black Kryptonian
Fun fact: the first African-American character to ever appear in a Superman comic was in the 1970s. Yes, you read that correctly. The first African American character didn’t appear until nearly 33 years AFTER Superman debuted. As a childhood Superman fan, the older I got the more I started to notice something: where were the Kryptonians of color? If Superman was supposed to look like a human and he looked like a white man, then wouldn’t it also be logical to believe that there were Kryptonian’s who looked like me?
It wasn’t until my adulthood that I got my question answered in the form of Vathlo Island. Created in 1971 in the pages of Superman #239 Vathlo Island is an island on Superman’s home planet of Krypton where Black Kryptonian’s resided. Vathlo Island is the DC comics equivalent of Black Panther’s Wakanda. The island is a highly technologically advanced society populated by a highly developed and advanced race of black Kryptonians. Just like Wakanda, Vathlo Island maintained its independence throughout history having never been conquered or invaded. Unfortunately not much else is known about Vathlo Island other than the small amount of information provided within the few issues of the book. In Superman: World of New Krypton #4, it’s revealed that before the destruction of Krypton, the Vathlo natives settled in the infamous city of Kandor. Many of you may recognize Kandor as the famed bottled city of Kandor which was stolen by Brainiac from Krypton some time before the planet’s destruction. This offers the possibility that the advanced city of afrofuturism could very well have eluded the destruction that befell Krypton. One of the few other references to Vathlo Island comes in the pages of Superman: Man of Steel #111 in the form of a Vathlonian named Iph-Ro of Vathlo.
The first Vathlonian of note is Earth 23’s Superman and President of the United States Calvin Ellis who debuted March of 2009 in the pages of Final Crisis #7. Ellis was modeled after then President of the United States Barrack Obama. Ellis is the first, but he is not the last with the creation of Val Zod in March of 2014 in the pages of Earth 2 #19. Val Zod is the son of Earth 2’s General Zod. He was hidden away in a cell beneath the Arkham Asylum by Terry Sloan. Val’s seclusion for the majority of his life caused him to develop a gentle giant pacifist nature. Val’s generally pacifist nature means he is against the use of violence and force so he prefers to solve issues in other ways.
It’s very telling that in the 75 years since the creation of Krypton and Superman that there have been very few prominent Kryptonians of color. I understand that Superman is supposed to be the famed “Last Son of Krypton”, but time and time again comic book canon has shifted to adjust and rearrange for the introduction of new Kryptonians. The mythos of Krypton could vastly benefit from exploring the enormous possibilities and potential of Vathlo Island and the experiences of Kryptonians of color. I for one would personally love a Rebirth comic book series focusing on Vathlo Island written and drawn by Black artists.