“Come to me, son of Jor-El. Kneel before ZOD!” With those words in Superman II — a demand for total humiliation of his foe along with total victory — General Dru-Zod cemented his place in the top tier of villainy. It’s hard to imagine that before then, Zod was a relatively minor presence in Superman comics, and wasn’t even the leader of the Phantom Zone’s inmates in most Silver Age and Bronze Age stories. But Zod made up for it after that, racking up a number of dirty deeds and a pile of bodies to boot.
On the comics pages, in film, on live-action television and in animated TV shows and movies, Zod has vexed and challenged Superman in a way no other antagonist can, because he, like Kal-El, is a survivor of their lost planet. However, Superman doesn’t share Zod’s desire to destroy Earth’s civilization and replicate the glory that was Krypton, and Zod cannot understand why a being with superior power hasn’t and won’t subjugate lesser beings to serve his ends. Matched strength for strength, Superman’s wins over Zod come from using all of his experience and skills — and many times that hasn’t been enough. Zod is as ruthless as he is ambitious, with no qualms about maiming and murdering anyone in his path who does not obey. Here are 15 dark secrets about Dru-Zod, the general of Krypton.
15. INCINERATED CAPTAIN BOOMERANG
General Zod has been busy in the DC Universe since Rebirth. He’s rescued his wife and son from the Phantom Zone, he’s conquered a planet and set it up as New Krypton and he’s tussled with the Green Lantern Corps. But the way he emerged on the scene proved fatal for a character long associated with the Suicide Squad.
In Suicide Squad #2 (November 2016), the black-ops team of villains is sent to retrieve a mysterious item from an undersea fortress. But as soon as team leader Rick Flag sees what it is — a portal to the Phantom Zone — he immediately orders the team to abort. Captain Boomerang, who never listens, approached the giant orb and was immediately incinerated as Zod emerges, firing his heat vision.
14. INVADED EARTH
Up to the Bronze Age, Zod was a minor Superboy antagonist. But that changed with Superman II. The 1980 film made Zod a major player, thanks to the stamp that actor Terrence Stamp put on the role. Zod shows up briefly in the opening moments of Superman (1978), when he, Ursa (Sarah Douglas) and Non (Jack O’Halloran) are sentenced to the Phantom Zone. We don’t see them again until the next film, when a hydrogen bomb explodes in space and frees them.
Gaining superpowers under Earth’s yellow sun, the trio conquers Earth, demanding the surrender of the president of the United States with the now-famous demand “Kneel before Zod!” And in the Richard Donner cut of Superman II, there’s a moment in which Zod, having invaded the White House, wields a rifle seized from a guard and smilingly mows people down.
13. STABBED JOR-EL TO DEATH
Man of Steel opens with the well-trod ground of Krypton’s pending destruction. In this version, it is because repeated mining has weakened the planet’s core. Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara Lor-Van (Ayelet Zurer) have just had Krypton’s first natural-born child in centuries; all others have been genetically engineered through a codex.
Jor-El beseeches Krypton’s ruling council to let him safeguard the codex and send it off-world before the planet explodes. The council refuses. That’s when Zod (Michael Shannon) and his coterie of followers jump in; with the world ending, they try to overthrow the council. Jor-El refuses to join the coup. He steals the codex and puts it into a space pod with his baby boy. Zod demands the codex, but Lara launches the pod — and an enraged Zod stabs Jor-El to death.
12. TRIES TO FRY A FAMILY
Continuing with Man of Steel, the coup fails and Zod and cohorts are sentenced to the Phantom Zone. Years later, they escape and come to Earth. From his spacecraft, Zod makes a globally broadcast demand that Jor-El’s son surrender to him.
Zod’s intention is to remake Earth as a new Krypton, and he is bent on getting the codex to do it. Zod learns that the codex has been infused into Kal-El’s body, which concerns him not a whit. Superman fights with Zod in Smallville, but it gets harder as Zod adapts to the Earth environment, gaining strength and power. The fight also wrecks beautiful downtown Metropolis. At one point, Zod trains his heat vision on an innocent family, taunting Superman: “If you love these people so much, you can mourn for them.” To stop him, Superman breaks Zod’s neck.
11. UNWILLING HEART DONOR
The Injustice: Gods Among Us digital comics is based on the video games of the same name. The gameplay and comic tales are set in a DC Universe in which Superman has become a global dictator, out of grief. The Joker tricked him into killing pregnant wife Lois Lane, triggering a nuclear bomb that destroyed Metropolis. Batman leads the resistance against Superman’s regime, as other power players in the DC Universe form alliances or further their own agendas.
One such player is Zod; another is Ra’s al-Ghul, who sees him as a threat. In Injustice 2 #39 (January 2018), Ra’s puts an end to the challenge by dispatching Amazo to take Zod down. To Zod’s surprise, Amazo gets him in a headlock and snaps his noggin clean off his body. Batman takes the opportunity to have Zod’s heart transplanted into Kon-El in the next issue.
10. A HERO IN HIS OWN MIND
We all believe we are the heroes of our own stories. Michael Shannon, who played Zod in 2013’s Man of Steel, certainly believes that of the renegade Kryptonian general. In an interview with Total Film ahead of the film’s release, Shannon said of Zod: “He’s not a villain. He’s not a villain any more than any other general fighting to protect his people. He doesn’t like to just hurt people and steal diamonds; he’s focused on being successful at his job.”
To get that across, Shannon also took a different tack in his portrayal: “I think the way Terence Stamp approached it — and this isn’t any kind of criticism of his performance — there was something kind of detached about it. Pure, hatred, rage, whatever … I think this is more ambiguous.”
9. A TRAITOR
Zod might think he is a patriot, but Krypton knows him as a traitor. He first appeared in Adventure Comics #283 (April 1961), in “The Phantom Superboy,” written by Robert Bernstein and drawn by George Papp. This in the story that introduced the Phantom Zone to the DC Universe. A strange metal box falls from the sky; Superboy examines it and determines it’s from Krypton and is full of artifacts.
The devices include a dissolving ray, an enlarging ray, the Phantom Zone projector and a “thought helmet” that helpfully fills Superboy in on the background of the projector. He learns that Zod was tried for creating his own army of Bizarros to take over Krypton and was sentenced to 40 years in the Zone. Even as he goes, Zod is defiant, shouting, “Down with Krypton! Someday I’ll enslave all its people!”
8. WIPED OUT EARTH
With Crisis on Infinite Earths (April 1985-March 1986), DC was insistent that Superman was the Last Son of Krypton, even killing off Supergirl in issue #7 (October 1985) and rebooting Superman in The Man of Steel (July-September 1986). But Man of Steel declared Superman was never Superboy, which messed up the Legion of Super-Heroes.
In “The Supergirl Saga” in Superman (Volume 2) #21, Adventures of Superman #444 and Superman #22 (September-October 1988), a pocket universe is revealed. That Earth’s Lex Luthor is tricked into releasing Zod, Quex-Ul and Faora (called Zaora in this story) from the Phantom Zone. They try to conquer the world, and quash the people’s resistance by destroying the atmosphere, which kills everybody. On the now-barren planet, our Superman strips Zod and the others of their powers with gold kryptonite, and then executes them with green k.
7. TRIED A COUP IN KANDOR
We saw another version of Zod in the storyline “Return to Krypton,” which ran across Superman (Volume 2) #167, Adventures of Superman #589, Man of Steel #111 and Action Comics #776 in April 2001. At the time, Brainiac 13 came from the 64th century to Metropolis at the turn of the 21st century, transforming the city with his future technology.
Superman and Lois Lane went to a Krypton that was part of an artificial reality Brainiac 13 created, although they didn’t know that at the time, and helped Jor-El and Lara protect the world. Zod, detecting their presence, sent eradicators to destroy them. This Zod was a xenophobic monster who saw Jor-El and Lara as terrorists and Superman and Lois as aliens defiling Krypton, and the El family fought a pitched battle to stop his takeover of Kandor.
6. A BAD DAD
Zod was reintroduced to the DC Universe in the “Last Son” storyline in Action Comics #844-847, #851 and Action Comics Annual #11 (December 2006-July 2008). This Zod was modeled on the Superman movie character. Superman intercepts a space pod with a young child inside. The boy is seized by the Department of Metahuman Affairs, but Superman recaptures him and he and Lois Lane become his unofficial foster parents, giving him the name Christopher.
It is revealed that the boy, Lor-Zod, is the son of General Zod and Ursa. He was conceived and raised in the Fort Rozz prison inside the Phantom Zone, an area that allows time to pass. Christopher’s abilities give Zod the means to escape the Zone, and he sends an army to invade Earth. During the effort to beat back the invaders, Superman learns from Mon-El that Christopher is a battered child.
5. POSSESSED LEX LUTHOR
Zod also was on Smallville, which appeared on the WB and CW from 2001-2011. He first showed up in “Vessel,” the fifth-season finale. Brainiac (James Marsters), as Milton Fine, kidnaps Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) to prepare him to be possessed by Zod, who is trapped in the Phantom Zone. Luthor is the “vessel” that would provide Zod’s way out. Clark Kent (Tom Welling) learns from Jor-El that Zod’s body was destroyed to keep him in the Zone. Kent, seeking Luthor, encounters Brainiac, who says he initially meant for Kent to be the vessel.
Brainiac demands that Kent take Luthor’s place; when Kent refuses, Brainiac launches a computer virus that causes a statewide shutdown of systems. Later, Kent is pressured to kill Luthor, but refuses, and Brainiac engineers a transfer of Zod’s consciousness into Luthor — and traps Kent in the Phantom Zone.
4. KILLED HIS PREGNANT WIFE
Smallville’s ninth season introduced Major Zod (Callum Blue), a clone created by a Kryptonian orb that stored the memories and DNA of Krypton’s soldiers. Jor-El exposed the orb to blue kryptonite, ensuring any clones would not develop superpowers under a yellow sun. This Zod was married to the clone of Faora (Sharon Taylor).
They and the clones of Kandor’s army were released, and Zod attempted to build solar towers to generate red sun radiation to give them powers. Clark Kent destroyed the towers, but saved Zod when he got shot with a drop of his blood. This gave Zod full powers, and he gave power to the other Kandorians the same way and enticed them to conquer Earth. Kent revealed to Faora that Zod had a hand in Krypton’s destruction, and she turned against him. Angry, Zod strangled Faora to death — and learned that she was pregnant.
3. A KID PSYCHO
The Elseworlds story JSA: The Liberty File (February-March 2000) gave us a Zod at his most warped. His Krypton was the perfect society, and Zod its greatest aberration — a remorseless sociopath who concocted a killer synthetic plague. This earned him banishment to the Phantom Zone at age 11. Zod was inadvertently released in the 1940s by Allied scientists who were experimenting with teleportation.
Feigning amnesia, Zod was placed with a Midwestern family — the Kents — and raised in secret to become a covert agent. However, he did not reveal the extent of his superpowers, and worked his own agenda. As Super-Man, Zod was assigned with that world’s versions of Batman and Hourman, seeking intel on a Russian nuclear device. Zod went rogue, killing agents in pursuit of the device, and the Bat called in all agents to take him out.
2. KAL-EL’S FATHER
The 2015 film Justice League: Gods and Monsters shook the DC Animated Universe every which way but loose. In this Elseworlds-like tale, Batman is Kirk Langstrom, who is Man-Bat in the DC Universe. Wonder Woman is Bekka of the New Gods. And Superman is not Clark Kent, but Hernan Guerra; he grew up with Mexican farmers who are undocumented immigrants to the United States.
That’s not the only thing that changed with Superman. Yes, he’s still from Krypton, which still blows up. But the calamity is Zod’s fault, thanks to his mining operations to run his war machine. Before the end, Zod busts in on Jor-El and Lara and commandeers their Kryptonian Birthing Matrix. He touches the egg within, implanting his genetic code on the baby who will be sent to Earth. And he kills Jor-El to boot.
1. SUPERMAN OF EARTH-15
At least one incarnation of Zod has him as truly the hero he believes himself to be. He’s the Zod of Earth-15, whom we first met in Countdown #30 (October 3, 2007), the maxiseries that followed 52 and led into Final Crisis. On Earth-15, Zod is Superman, although he is semiretired as the other heroes have taken care of many of the world’s threats.
Unfortunately, Zod and his pregnant wife, who is not given a name, are both murdered by Superman Prime in Countdown to Final Crisis #20 (November 14, 2007). Superman Prime is in full-on crazy mode, seeking the “perfect Earth,” and breaks in on Zod as he listens to the unborn child’s heart. Caught off-guard, Zod gets punctured in the chest by a jewel shard thrown by Superman Prime, who then incinerates the wife with heat vision.
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