When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman, they initiated the very difficult task of developing villains that could pose an actual threat to a god-like hero. Sixty years ago, creator Robert Bernstein and designer George Papp, rose to the task by creating Zod. The supervillain was introduced in Adventure Comics #283 (April 1961) as a Kryptonian with the same powers and abilities as Superman. The big difference being that Zod is a megalomaniac who wants to rule, willing to kill or destroy any who get in his way.
Dru-Zod was a power hungry man in charge of the military forces on Krypton who tried to take over the planet by creating an army of robots. Once he was stopped, his punishment was exile to the Phantom Zone for 40 years. Superman released him after his sentence was completed and Zod came to Earth. Realizing that he had gained superpowers from the yellow sun, Zod attempted to conquer Earth. Seeing that Zod would always be a threat, Superman sent him back to the Phantom Zone. Later he, Jax-Ur, and Faora Hu-Ul escaped during Crisis on Infinite Earths.
After Crisis DC decided to reenforce that Superman was the last Kryptonian, so variations on Zod were acknowledged as being from other universes. The first post-Crisis Zod was from a Kryptonian pocket universe that was created by the Time Trapper. Zod, Quex-Ul and Zaora destroyed that world after that version’s Superboy died. Superman was contacted and he was able to use that world’s gold kryptonite to depower the trio. Despite their now-depowered state, Zod and his team vowed to regain their powers and kill Superman. Seeing that he couldn’t leave them on the dying pocket world or safely imprison them on his world, Superman used green kryptonite to execute them.
In the “Return to Krypton” storyline Zod was an alternate reality version created by Brainiac 13. He was in charge of the Kryptonian military, imprisoned aliens in the bottle city of Kandor, and attempted to overthrow the government. Once again, he was stopped by Superman, though this time the Man of Steel was aided by the alternate reality version of Jor-El too.
There was a Russian Zod who was actually human. His parents were cosmonauts whose ship came too close to Kal-El’s and the Kryptonite radiation changed him. As an opposite to Superman, this Zod (named Avruiskin) was powerful under a red sun and weak under the yellow. His parents died from the radiation and he created a red suit of armor to become the ruler of Pokolistan. Zod’s next goal was to turn the sun red and take Superman’s place. Improbably, Lex Luthor helped Superman, Zod’s strength was sapped, and he died in a weakened state while still trying to kill Superman.
General Zod was reintroduced as a Kryptonian from the same universe as Superman in Superman: Last Son, which was co-authored by Superman: The Movie director Richard Donner. The story was similar to the plot of Superman II with Zod, Ursa, and Non escaping the Phantom Zone bound for Earth and a goal of turning it into New Krypton. His origin story revealed that Zod, his wife Ursa, and their cohort Non rebelled against Krypton’s government. After a failed attempt to overthrow the leaders, the trio were sentenced to death until Jor-El suggested that instead they be marooned in the Phantom Zone. There, Zod and Ursa had their son Lor-Zod who was immune to the Phantom Zone’s effects and helped them escape. The boy was found on Earth by Clark and Lois who adopt him as Chris Kent.
Zod, Ursa, and 25 other Kryptonians imprisoned in the Phantom Zone came to Earth and wreaked havoc. He targeted Superman to seek revenge for what Jor-El did, sending the hero to the Phantom Zone. Mon-El helped Superman escape and then he joined forces with some of his nemeses like Lex Luthor, Bizarro, and Metallo to defeat Zod’s army. Once again Zod was sent to the Phantom Zone.
In New Krypton, Kandor had been transformed into a Kryptonian planet and Zod was chosen as the leader of the army. Superman visited New Krypton and joined the military under Zod. The two established an uneasy peace, though it was predictably short-lived. Once Brainiac attacked, Zod’s rage in the heat of battle overwhelmed him and the planet was destroyed. Zod declared war on Earth but was beaten and this time his son Chris Kent was the one to banish him to the Phantom Zone.
When the New 52 remade much of the DC universe, Zod’s parents were scientists who explored the wilderness of Krypton, but they were killed by animals. Zod survived alone for a year before being found by Jor-El and Zor-El. As an adult he joined the military and rose to become a general. He came to hate a race called the Char and created a Char-like creature to attack Krypton to engineer a war. Jor-El uncovered the treacherous move and sent him back to the Phantom Zone.
He escaped when the Phantom Zone was weakened and landed on Earth. When his powers under the yellow sun kicked in he began attacking people until the Justice League stopped him. This time Superman decided to put him in the Fortress of Solitude’s alien zoo.
In DC Rebirth Zod was trapped at a location called the Black Vault, nestled in the Arctic Ocean. Amanda Waller sent the Suicide Squad to retrieve the contents of the Black Vault but didn’t tell them what they would find. Miraculously the team survived when Zod was uncovered and Waller made her most ambitious recruiting move by implanting a kryptonite bomb in Zod’s neck. But he was too violent and powerful to be controlled and he escaped, traveled to another planet, and became its leader.
Odds are he’ll end up back in the Phantom Zone several more times, always plotting to break out and demand that people “kneel before Zod.”