Supergirl: Who is Mon-El?

Who is Mon-El on Supergirl? We have a relatively simple history of one of the most confusing characters in the DC Universe.

Warning: This article contains potential Supergirl season 3 spoilers.

You know what my first thought was when that mysterious rocket crashed in the Supergirl season 1 finale? I’m not joking. “Wouldn’t it be cool if Mon-El was in this rocket?” Well, guess, what? Mon-El was in that pod, and played by Chris Wood, he has been dividing the Supergirl fandom for over a year now! 

You know what this isn’t? A comprehensive history of Mon-El. Why? Because that would be really long, confusing, and potentially tedious. I’m just going to hit a few high points, specifically ones that I think might be relevant for Supergirl fans.

For one thing, keep in mind that Mon-El was originally introduced via the Superboy comics (there was a kind of “test” Mon-El story that ran in Superman a little earlier, but I’d rather not confuse things further), in 1961’s Superboy #89 by Robert Bernstein and George Papp. Essentially, Superboy finds a rocket with a boy who looks a bit like him, speaks Kryptonese, and who apparently came here from Krypton.

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Since he has no memory, they go with the name Mon-El, as he landed on a Monday. Simple, right? Of course not.

See, it turns out Mon-El wasn’t Kryptonian at all, but from a planet called Daxam, and his actual name was Lar Gand (you know, the name his father used on the TV show). In the comics, the common Earth element of lead is as deadly to Daxamites as Kryptonite is to Kryptonians, and it doesn’t take long for Lar Gand to get sick. But unlike Kryptonite, which only has adverse effects when in close proximity, once a Daxamite has been exposed to lead, that’s it, they’re done for. The solution was for Superboy to stick poor Mon-El in the Phantom Zone, where he’d have no physical form, and therefore couldn’t die of lead poisoning. Or age. Or anything else.

Look, I’m not sure I get it, either, but that’s the explanation they gave us, and it was good enough for readers in 1961, so don’t yell at me, OK? 

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The cure for fatal Daxamite lead poisoning was eventually discovered one thousand years later, and Mon-El was freed from the Phantom Zone by the Legion of Super-Heroes, the team of teenaged heroes from the future that Superboy used to have adventures with. Mon-El became the resident Kryptonian-level powerhouse on the team when environmental complications (Earth ended up with faint traces of Kryptonite in the atmosphere) meant that Superboy couldn’t travel to the future to hang out with his pals anymore. The Legion still had a dark-haired, caped badass of their own, though, and Mon-El was a prominent member of nearly every incarnation of the team through the years.

Those in-story/environmental complications eventually gave way to editorial ones, which made Mon-El’s story trickier. In 1986, DC Comics rebooted the Superman mythology completely, and with that, they eliminated his entire history as Superboy. Among other implications, this meant that Superboy never spent any time in the future as a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, which screwed royally with that team’s continuity. But it also meant that young Clark never encountered his “big brother” and named him Mon-El, sent him to the Phantom Zone, where he would be freed by the aforementioned Legion.

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So what’s a guy from Daxam to do?

This was an enormous headache, and one that took years to resolve…and really never was to anybody’s satisfaction. It would take entirely too long to get into here, but the poor writers, artists, and editors in charge of the Legion and Mon-El had to do all kinds of gymnastics to explain things, which resulted in something like three different versions of Mon-El appearing over the course of a the next 15 years or so.

I’ll get back to one of these down below, but stick with me.

Eventually, because DC Comics continuity is a fluid thing, they allowed young Superman to have something of a history with the Legion again, and offered an updated version of Mon-El’s first appearance, one that involved a non-costumed teenage Clark Kent. It’s actually a wonderful little short story, written by Geoff Johns with art by Eric Wright. This played nicely with the elements already implied in the original Mon-El story, such as the loneliness of a young Clark Kent (who would desperately want to meet someone like him) and the inherent tragedy of Mon-El (who immediately loses the only friend he has). It’s like a deleted sequence from Superman: The Movie or a lost episode of Smallville. In fact, come to think of it, how the heck did Smallville never play around with Mon-El considering how much of the rest of Superman’s mythology it got to?

The reintroduction of Mon-El as part of Superman’s history set the stage for him to (temporarily) take over in Metropolis while Supes was busy dealing with some other stuff during the ongoing New Krypton storyline. There are several characters and concepts from New Krypton that have made their way onto the Supergirl TV series in various forms, but this Mon-El storyline prominently featured such season 2 characters and concepts as Guardian (who isn’t Jimmy Olsen in the comics), Cadmus, and the Science Police. I wish I could recommend these stories more highly, but I found them a little talky and bland. Your mileage may vary, of course.

Now, remember what I said about that period where DC Comics editorial mandated that Mon-El and the Legion weren’t allowed to have connections to Superman’s history? 

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One solution was to change the very inspiration for the Legion in the first place. They had previously been inspired by the legend of how a young Superman took up the mantle of earth’s protector long before he was old enough to drink or vote. Once that was off the table, it was revealed that they were inspired by the legend of someone called Valor.

Who is Valor? That would be Mon-El…ermm…Lar Gand!

The villains of last year’s CW DC TV crossover were the creepy looking aliens known as The Dominators. The Dominators were the villains of a DC Comics story called Invasion, and continued to bedevil the Legion for a number of years, as well. One of the points of Invasion was that the Dominators were experimenting on humans in order to determine why Earth has so many metahumans running around stopping their plans all the time…and they wanted to find out if they could create their own.

So, Lar Gand’s Mon-El identity had been retconned out of existence, and he was going by the nom-de-superhero “Valor” while fighting alien menaces in our time. Valor played a major part in stopping the Dominators during Invasion, and liberated one of their superhuman farms. He then helped them colonize other worlds, and those worlds eventually became the home planets that gave birth to many of the members of the Legion, and thus “the Legend of Valor” was born as the inspiration for the Legion a thousand years in the future. It’s kinda neat, right?

Now, with the introduction of the Dominators, imagine if the CW decided to play with a varition on this story as the basis to seed a Legion of Super-Heroes TV series of their own, down the line. After all, we know that the Legion exists in Supergirl TV continuity, and the Legion are about to make their debut this year. I mean, it’s pretty far-fetched, but then again, so was the idea we’d ever get to see a character like Mon-El on TV in the first place! 

Supergirl has its own distinctive take on the Mon-El story, one that has very little in common with his comic book roots, which is fine. But considering that season two ended with him sent to a mysterious place, well…who knows who he could bring back with him, right?

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Mike Cecchini would trade every single superhero movie coming for the next five years for one awesome Legion of Super-Heroes TV series. Hire him to executive produce one on Twitter.