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Who is General Zod?

Written by Davidde Gelmini

“Kneel before Zod!”

Those classic three words are what usually comes to mind when people hear the word Zod, and that’s General Zod to you. The DC supervillain first appeared in  Adventure Comics #283 in 1961, before going on to become one of Superman’s most formidable opponents.

With Zod appearing as the primary antagonist in Man of Steel, let’s look back at what makes him such a worthy opponent of the son of Jor-El.

During Zod’s first appearances during the Silver Age, he was introduced as being a megalomaniacal, cruel and greedy Kryptonian who attempted to take over the doomed planet by creating an army of clones of himself, Jango Fett style, and was banished to the Phantom Zone as punishment. He later escapes and tries to take over the Earth.

After the Silver Age, Zod’s appearances in comics start to become a little sketchy. This is because much of the DC Universe’s backstory was retconned during the Crisis On Infinite Earths storyline. One of the many changes made was that Superman was established as being the only survivor of the destruction of the planet Krypton.

As a result, during the years that followed different versions of Zod appeared which offered a different backstory to the character. The first version came from a different universe and attempted to conquer the Earth, before being thwarted by (you guessed it) Superman.

It was not until 2006 that a new version of Zod, who was intended to be the definitive version of the character in the DC Universe, was introduced, in the miniseries Superman: Last Son, written by Geoff Jones and Richard Donner, the director of the first Superman move and co-director of the second. This version of Zod bears a strong similarity to the movie version of the character, with his most sticking feature being that while he was imprisoned in the Phantom Zone, him and his lover Ursa had a child who they named Lor-Zod, who would later come to be known as Christopher Kent, and would assume the role of the superhero Nightwing, despite the fact that he was unaware of his true parentage. Because he was born inside the Phantom Zone, he was immune to its effects and was able to escape, unwillingly freeing Zod and Ursa as well.

Zod then tried to take over the Earth yet again, imprisoning Superman in the Phantom Zone so that he could not prevent him from achieving his goal. Superman eventually escaped and was forced to form a temporary alliance with Lex Luthor to defeat Zod, who had incapacitated most of the Earth’s other heroes.

No other DC supervillain has come so close to conquering the Earth on so many different occasions. Zod will soon become a key character in DC’s rebooted New 52 Universe, and no doubt will try to take over the world yet again.

In addition to being one of Superman’s most formidable villains, Zod has also gone on to become one of the most recognisable villains of the DC Universe, thanks in no small part to Terrence Stamp’s memorable portrayal of the character in a brief appearance in the first Superman film and as the main antagonist of Superman II. As already mentioned, the line “Kneel before Zod” became an instant sensation and to this day is referenced and parodied.

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Terrence Stamp as the iconic Zod

When Zod loses his powers and is at Superman’s mercy at the end of Superman II, you can’t help but feel sympathy for him. Sure, he’s a megalomaniacal, murderous, lunatic despot, but without his powers, he is nothing. After Superman II, Zod became a pop culture icon, being referenced in Robot Chicken, Mallrats, The Nostalgia Critic, Misfits, and more. There’s even a fansite written entirely from Zod’s point of view, and a profile for Zod to be a presidential candidate.

Callum Blue portrayed Zod in Smallville, again as a power-hungry despot desperate to rule over others. This version was a clone of a younger version of Zod, and thus was referred to as Major Zod (as opposed to General). Smallville also featured Zod’s original wife, Faora, as one of his many loyal subjects.

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Callum Blue as Major Zod

Michael Shannon will play Zod in Man of Steel, and judging by what we’ve seen so far, it will be a very interesting and unique take on the character. Shannon describes his version of Zod as not being a villain, but instead as being a soldier who wants to protect his people.  Guess that means we won’t be hearing “kneel before Zod” anytime soon. On the other hand, the fact that Zod will be portrayed as a much less villainous character means that we will hopefully be in store for him to become a tragic hero, a once great and respectable individual who falls from grace and becomes the opposite. It is possible that Shannon will offer the best portrayal of Zod to date.

On June 14th, audiences will once again kneel before Zod.

About the author

Davidde Gelmini