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The Untold Truth Of General Zod

General Dru-Zod of Krypton is one of the rare Superman villains who became much better known after appearing in a movie than from his original endeavors in the comics. Unlike major figures in Superman's rogues' gallery like Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Doomsday, and the Parasite, General Zod used to be a fairly obscure character who mostly popped up trying to get out of the Phantom Zone with his fellow criminals from time to time. Before his big screen debut, Zod was no more significant than fellow Phantom Zone prisoners Jax-Ur, Kru-El, or Faora-Ul. 

Then "Superman II" premiered in 1980, and Terence Stamp's exuberant and slightly campy performance as Zod became one of the highlights of the film. Leading his trio of Kryptonian super-thugs, he infamously broke into the White House and demanded that the president "Kneel before Zod." Suddenly, Zod and his fellow Phantom Zoners were major characters. But as luck would have it, they promptly spent 20 years in the wilderness of comics continuity when all Kryptonians other than Superman were banned from DC Comics following the landmark "Crisis on Infinite Earths" timeline reboot. Zod returned with a vengeance in 2006, and has since appeared in multiple movies, animated series, video games, and even Looney Tunes parodies. Let us all metaphorically kneel before Zod and learn more about everyone's favorite Kryptonian warlord.  

Zod classic

General Zod has humble origins. His first appearance wasn't even in "Action Comics" or "Superman," the two ongoing titles closely associated with the Man of Steel. Instead, it was in the pages of "Adventure Comics" #283. This was the title to feature the adventures of Superboy, and this issue marks his first encounter with the Phantom Zone. In an instance that would stretch the limits of plausibility if it wasn't occurring in a Silver Age DC story, a Phanton Zone projector falls from the sky and a fluke accident switches on its portal, causing an oblivious Superboy to stumble into the pocket dimension.  

In this story, General Zod isn't even introduced as a character Superboy meets in the present. Instead, young Clark sees a flashback to the crime that got Zod locked up in the Phantom Zone in the first place. Turns out the general made an army of robotic duplicates of himself that looked and talked a lot like Bizarro in order to conquer Krypton. Zod almost escapes in "Adventure Comics" #293, thanks to extraterrestrial Brain-Globes mind-controlling the Legion of Super-Heroes. He successfully escapes in "Action Comics" #297, which is also his first appearance in one of the main "Superman" titles. However, instead of Superman, he's defeated by Supergirl in a backup story. Zod and his cronies might have overcome the strength and cunning of Kara Zor-El if only they hadn't decided to double-cross Lex Luthor. 

From that point on, Zod frequently escapes the Phantom Zone, but his intentions aren't entirely evil ... only mostly evil. Zod helps Superman in "Action Comics" #549 with his "Zod Squad" in opposition to the murderous Kryptonian enemies the Vrangs. Zod's final appearance prior to being retconned away by "Crisis on Infinite Earths" was in "DC Comics Presents" #97. 

Temporary Zods

One of the most significant moments from the 1986 event series "Crisis on Infinite Earths" is the death of Supergirl. This was part of an editorial decision that decreed that in order to play up the significance of Superman as the Last Son of Krypton, the various Kryptonians that had popped up during the preceding 50 years needed to be wiped out of continuity. These included the citizens of the Bottle City of Kandor, Supergirl, and the Phantom Zone criminals. 

However, Zod was way too fun to simply let lie fallow, so a number of writers worked around the ban on Kryptonians not named Kal-El. In "Superman" #22 from 1988, the Phantom Zone criminals exist in a pocket dimension and a heroic Lex Luthor draws Superman into it for help. After Superman takes away their powers with gold kryptonite, the criminals taunt him with a threat of regaining their powers and ravaging his world. In response, Superman executes them with green kryptonite. This is very much a precursor to what happens at the end of the 2013 movie "Man of Steel."

Years later, Brainiac 13 created an alternate reality where Krypton still exists. In this technically uncanonical Krypton, Zod is his usual homicidal self. There was briefly a non-Kryptonian Russian version of Zod, and finally, the "For Tomorrow" arc includes another alternate reality Zod living alone in the Phantom Zone. 

Richard Donner and the return of Zod

in 2006, Zod returned to the DC Universe in the "Last Son" storyline. Written by Geoff Johns and Richard Donner, it both restored Zod to the DCU and aligned the "Superman" comics mythos with the first two "Superman" films. Donner directed the first "Superman" movie from 1978 and was infamously fired from finishing the second film. Consequently, "Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut" was also released in 2006.

Johns was Donner's assistant before getting into comics. He repaid his mentor by shifting the Superman mythos and modifying Krypton in particular into the cold, icy, majestic vision portrayed in the films. In this version of the story, Zod leads a failed insurrection against the government of Krypton alongside his wife Ursa and his follower Non. Jor-El begs the government to spare their lives and send them to the Phantom Zone. In the Phantom Zone, Zod and Ursa have a child named Lor-Zod, who is immune to the Zone's effects and helps them escape.

Lor-Zod appears on Earth first, where he is adopted by Superman and named Chris. Zod eventually comes to Earth and traps Superman in the Zone. Chris remains loyal to Superman and makes a fatal sacrifice by opposing his father.

An unexpected meeting with Kon-El

Lots of spoilers ahead for "Young Justice: Phantoms."

In the fourth season of the HBO Max series "Young Justice," Zod makes a surprise appearance before eventually becoming a central villain. Superboy — a clone from the combined DNA of Superman and Lex Luthor — is about to get married to M'gann M'orzz on Mars before seemingly dying in a bomb blast. In the instant before his presumed death, the time-travelling Phantom Girl of the Legion of Super-Heroes phases Superboy out of the dimension. While she originally intended to phase them somewhere safe, the explosion knocks her unconscious and both wind up stuck in the Phantom Zone. 

With Phantom Girl knocked into a coma and no one else around to communicate with, Superboy slowly starts to go insane before he's discovered by General Zod. As is typical for Zod, he's trapped in the Zone for his crimes along with a number of other Kryptonians. Zod helps Superboy adjust, unaware of his true identity. Eventually, a dazed Superboy pledges his allegiance to Zod. Meanwhile, the time-travelling son of Zod, Lor-Zod, allies himself with Darkseid in order to help free his father. He eventually succeeds and brings all the criminal Kryptonians to Earth. The group of Justice League-adjacent heroes known as the Team manage to thwart Zod and snap Superboy out of his mental fog. At the end of the season, Zod is seemingly banished back to the Phantom Zone, but as luck would have it, Vandal Savage clandestinely captures all of the Kryptonians and stores them away for future use. 

Kneel before ... Daffy?

In the series finale of "The Looney Tunes Show" in 2013, Bugs Bunny reveals to Daffy Duck that he's not an Earthling. He is, in fact, a retired superhero named Super Rabbit from the planet Crypton. Bugs enjoys the superhero lifestyle and defeats a number of supervillains that threaten Metropolis including Marvin the Martian doing a Brainiac spoof and Elmer Fudd putting his own spin on Lex Luthor. However, Super Rabbit's hubris gets the best of him when he accidentally frees Zod Duck, Faora, and the robot Thunkian from the Phantom Zone.

Zod is immediately hot for vengeance and making Super Rabbit kneel. When Faora suggests skipping the kneeling and moving straight on to conquest, and an indignant Zod sputters, "Skip the kneeling? Kneeling is the most important part!" The Phantom Zone criminals defeat Super Rabbit, but of course he rallies and overcomes Zod after a pep talk from Jor-El. One thing leads to another, and Bugs manages to bury Zod under his own statue. Bugs orders his dispatched adversary to "Kneel before yourself!" Oh, the irony.

Kneel before ... Amanda Waller?

In "Suicide Squad" #2 published in 2016, Amanda Waller orders her expendable Task Force X, aka the Suicide Squad, to retrieve a cosmic item which turns out to be a Phantom Zone cell called the Black Vault. An angry Zod emerges from this vault, disintegrates Captain Boomerang, and is subdued by the Squad. As it happens, Amanda Waller has acquired some kryptonite, which she turns into a small bomb and inserts into Zod's head. Like the other members of Task Force X, Zod reluctantly has to follow Waller's orders. 

Later, Zod is instrumental to completing a mission that wipes out the Annihilation Brigade, but at that point he is already contemplating getting the bomb out of his head using a mirror and his heat vision. After a failed attempt to unleash the full fury of the Phantom Zone onto the Earth, Zod warns Waller that her irresponsibility is going to get her team and her whole world killed sometime down the line.

Not the brightest day

After Zod escapes from Earth with the Eradicator, he frees his wife Ursa and son Lor and they set up on the planet Jekuul. The natives worship them as gods and help them build a new Fortress Zod. Due to Jekuul's double yellow suns, the Zods became even more powerful. Green Lanterns Hal Jordan and Kyle Rayner investigate some mining irregularities and come across Zod. Zod isn't interested in fighting them, but he and his family beat them thoroughly when challenged. 

Jordan helps a badly beaten Rayner escape as Zod explains to his son how the Green Lantern Tomar-Re failed to save Krypton. Meanwhile, Zod has Eradicator study Rayner's ring. A detachment from the Corps led by Guy Gardner comes to rescue Jordan, and a huge fight ensues. Jordan has Zod beaten, but the Guardians of Oa arrive and tell him to stand down. As Zod points out, the Green Lanterns attacked him first on his own planet. The Guardians and the Corps leader John Stewart both decide to keep a close eye on Zod. And rightly so, as Zod's new lifestyle turns out to be a lot less benign than he wants the Green Lanterns to think...

Kneel before Stamp

There's no question that General Zod acquired much of his cultural cachet thanks to the memorable performance of British actor Terence Stamp in "Superman II." His Zod is vain, narcissistic, and arrogant. He doesn't just want to be in charge; he wants to be worshiped as a god. "Kneel before Zod" has become a bit of a punchline, but in the context of the film, it fits right in with his persona as a tin god pushing around underpowered Earthlings. 

Stamp had not acted for eight years prior to being called in for the role. He was living in an ashram in India practicing tantric yoga. He was resigned to the notion of his acting career being over before being reached by telegram. Once he arrived on the "Superman II" set, he was ready to go with an energy that only Marlon Brando matched. "He totally understood where I was coming from," Stamp told The Playlist.  

Stamp expressed reluctance about seeing Michael Shannon as Zod in "Man of Steel." Part of this was due to what he described as "tender feelings about working with Richard Donner, Christopher Reeve, and Margot Kidder" in an interview with Slant Magazine. He also said that "There was rarely a day in the last 10 years when I don't see someone eyeing me, and they ask, 'Were you in Superman II?,' and I say, 'Kneel before Zod, you bastard!'"

Since "Superman II," Stamp has stayed attached to the "Superman" franchise in different ways. He appeared as the voice of Jor-El in "Smallville," and introduced a BBC radio special called "Superman on Trial." 

Superman: an unlikely ally

When the Bottle City of Kandor finally returns to full size, it's placed on an artificial satellite named New Krypton. Superman decides to become part of this world, though he is not happy to see Zod has been freed and named head of New Krypton's military. However, Zod makes it clear that he has no interest in fighting Superman and only wants to protect his new planet. They maintain a tense relationship, but never let it get in the way of their duties. Superman even steps in to help when someone tries to assassinate Zod. 

Eventually, Brainiac attacks New Krypton. Superman, Zod, and the Legion of Super-Heroes oppose him, but ultimately this is part of a long con orchestrated by Lex Luthor and Sam Lane to gin up a conflict between Earth and New Krypton. The ensuing fight between a New Kryptonian army and Superman and his allies ends with Zod sent back to the Phantom Zone. The whole ordeal was a terrible waste on all sides.

Clark Kent is ... Zod?

In the Elseworlds alternate timeline story "JSA: The Liberty Files," Batman is part of a U.S. spy group called the Unholy Three in 1942, working under the codename the Bat. During their fight against Nazi Germany, they discover a so-called "Übermensch Project" involving this reality's version of the Martian Manhunter. The "Übermensch Project" ceases to be an issue once the Axis is defeated ... or so it seems. 

After the war, the Bat fights crime on his own, but he returns to working for the U.S. government to combat KGB agents who are killing heroes. The Bat ends up under the command of Clark Kent, codenamed Superman. Initially, the Bat is skeptical of this sloppy, green rookie who accidentally kills the Parasite in combat. The Bat's skepticism is correctly placed, but not for the reasons he initially assumes.

 When Clark visits Shiera Sanders, this reality's version of Hawkgirl, he tells her his real story. He was born on a planet called Krypton but sent to the Phantom Zone at the age of 11 after developing a plague that killed millions. The U.S. government plucked him from the Zone in an effort to compete with the Übermensch Project, and he pretended to have amnesia to avoid answering any uncomfortable questions. Before murdering Shiera, he asks her to call him by his real name: Zod. 

Special appearances in the Injustice games

Zod plays small roles in the video games "Injustice: Gods Among Us" and "Injustice 2." He's a playable character in the first game and appears as a Phantom Zone escapee in one of the latter game's alternate ending scenarios. 

The game famously takes place in an alternate Earth where Superman turns evil and takes over the Earth, instituting a brutal dictatorship in the process. He's opposed by Batman, and the other DC characters all end up joining one side or the other. Zod is a downloadable character in the first game, escaping his imprisonment in the Phantom Zone and immediately getting up to his usual tricks of trying to recreate Krypton on Earth. The "Injustice" version of Zod appears to be modeled after Michael Shannon's take on the character from "Man of Steel." Zod pops up again in "Injustice 2," but only in the ending that involves the "Mortal Kombat" character Sub-Zero.

Superman's grim decision

The 2013 movie "Man of Steel" puts Superman through a slightly different version of his origin story. This time around, young Kal-El is the first child born naturally on Krypton for centuries. His father, Jor-El, infuses the infant with the entire genetic code of Krypton and sends him to Earth. Kal-El is raised by the Kents, who name him Clark and tell him to hide his powers. Eventually, Kal-El learns his father wanted him to guide the people of Earth. 

Of course, Jor-El is murdered by the sadistic General Zod who is consequently thrown into the Phantom Zone as punishment. When Zod and company escape, they seek out Earth, determined to transform it into New Krypton and kill everyone in their way. Using their terraforming technology, they nearly destroy Metropolis before Superman stops them. He manages to banish Zod's army to the Phantom Zone with the help of the military, but Zod remains. After they battle across Metropolis. Superman subdues Zod and gets him in a choke hold, but Zod reacts by aiming his heat vision at some innocent people. Superman begs him to stop, but Zod replies, "Never." Seeing no other option in the moment, Superman kills Zod by snapping his neck. Then he unleashes a scream of anguish, knowing he just killed one of his few remaining fellow Kryptonians.  

The merits of Superman's decision to do a murder are certainly among the most passionately debated of director Zack Snyder's many controversial choices in his string of DC movies. But as far as Zod is concerned, the ending of "Man of Steel" demonstrates his ability to push Superman to a limit that almost no other villain can match.