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HOUSE OF EL: THE SHADOW THREAT Review

The Shadow Threat is a brilliant world-building story for the opening chapter of the HOUSE OF EL trilogy from DC Comics.

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House of El (DC Comics)

Published by DC Comics, House of El: The Shadow Threat is written by Claudia Gray and illustrated by Eric Zawadzki. Colours are by Dee Cunniffe and letters by Deron Bennett. Grab your copy in and print and on digital now where all good books are sold.

Synopsis

A brand-new vision of one of comics most famous tragedies-the first of a trilogy of young adult graphic novels by New York Times bestselling writer Claudia Gray and illustrator Eric Zawadzki! 
Explore Krypton like never before: through the eyes of two teenagers on opposite sides of the same extinction-level event. Zahn is one of Krypton’s elites: wealthy, privileged, a future leader. Sera is one of Krypton’s soldiers: strong, dedicated, fearless. Their rule-bound society has ordained that their paths should never cross. But groundquakes are shaking the planet’s surface. Rebellious uprisings are shaking the populace. Krypton’s top scientists, Jor-El and Lara, conduct a secret experiment that is meant to reform their planet from the cellular level up.
Zahn and Sera must join forces to investigate the hidden dangers truly threatening Krypton. In the process, they form a bond that will endure past the end of the world…

Review

Through its very successful line of YA graphic novels DC Comics has succeeded in finding creative new angles for some of its top tier characters. What the company has, so far, shied away from is creating brand new characters who can co-exist within the wider DC Universe.

With House of El, writer Claudia Gray has not only created two likeable lead characters but also brought an amazing, diverse cast to the world fro Krypton. Of all the planets in the DCU, Krypton has by far the most famous origin story. Plenty of casual pop culture enthusiasts could recount the story of Krypton’s demise without ever needing to pick up a comic book. So how do you open up that world to a new audience of young readers? By bringing in characters like Zahn and Sera.

Zahn is one of Krypton’s elites: wealthy, privileged and a future leader. Sera, on the other hand, is one of Krypton’s soldiers: strong, dedicated and fearless. But scratch the surface and there are two flawed characters who are both searching for a place within one of the galaxy’s strictest societies. Sera puts it perfectly when she says “So I’m being punished for being exactly what I was meant to be. And you’re being punished for not being exactly what you were meant to be.”

Gray puts a brilliant spin on the classic Kryptonian culture, bringing it to a contemporary audience as an allegory for the trials and tribulations of being a young adult. Sera represents those who have the strength of character to know from an early age what they believe they want to be. She fits in to the genetic predisposition of Kryptonian life perfectly. Zahn is her antithesis. Whilst born in to the house of Re he doesn’t belong. His curiosity puts him on a path which can only end in the Phantom Zone.

House of El: The Shadow Threat is set in a prime moment of Kryptonian history. There’s conversations behind closed doors about the future of the planet. Whilst leaders search and terraform nearby planets, Krypton itself is plagued by ever-increasing quakes. It’s clear the planet is reaching a precipice which we all know it will never come back from. It’s a Superman-adjacent setting which helps steep the story in DC lore without using it as a crutch to draw in readers.

It certainly makes sense to break up the House of El story in to a trilogy. There’s so much to pack in that this book barely scratches the surface. Instead The Shadow Threat very much serves to setup the world which these characters are inhabiting. Kryptonian culture and its ideals are a fairly complex notion to comprehend. The idea of predetermined genetic structure, job roles and the class structure in to which it’s forced feel aptly draconian. Gray presents the Kryptonian leadership with a degree of superiority which feels perfectly in line with the comic book representation.

I felt particularly drawn to the socio-economic politics of their society as represented here. The dissident movement of people believing Krypton is facing an apocalyptic future is intriguing. The notion that the planets leaders are also so focussed on maintaining the status quo that they may be condemning the planet to doom is a page turner in its own right.

Even in this first chapter, Gray has been able to build the suspense. The pacing feels a little slow but begins to pick up speed as we head towards the conclusion of the chapter. As far as setting the scene goes I certainly left House of El with a great understanding of the world, its characters and the trajectory of the story.

Zawadzki’s illustrations perfectly accompany Gray’s story. His muted colour palette feels worlds away from the classic depiction of Superman. But it gives the book an aesthetic of classic sci-fi. As an overall product reading House of El feels like picking up a classic 80s sci-fi book. There are accents of the Krypton and its characters which we know and love but they’re brilliantly contemporised for a YA audience.

Verdict

The Shadow Threat is a brilliant world-building story for the opening chapter of the House of El trilogy from DC Comics.


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