Lots of orphans cherish a fantasy their father was a hero. Superman doesn’t have to fantasize — Jor-El was a hero.
It’s not just that Jor-El saved his son’s life and so created Earth’s greatest champion. Superman’s father was a genius, even by Kryptonian standards. He saved his world several times, sometimes at great personal risk. At the end he became a figure out of myth: a Cassandra prophesying doom, a Noah who failed to save his race. And like Moses’ parents, he and Lara saved their son by giving him up to another culture, another world
In Action #1, the father who sent Superman to Earth isn’t named. It wasn’t until the Silver Age, as writers began exploring Superman’s Kryptonian heritage, that Jor-El became a character and a hero in his own right. John Byrne’s 1980s reboot erased most of that, replacing it with a cold, sterile Krypton. Later that was retconned as a trick by Jor-El to keep Superman from missing his birth world.
The recent reveal that the mysterious schemer Mr. Oz is Jor-El begins a new phase in Jor’s comic-book life. Unless of course Oz is an imposter. Or a parallel-world version. Or a Durlan shapeshifter.
Only time will tell if this Father of Steel is the real deal. While you wait for the answers, here are 17 Things You Didn't Know About Jor-El.
Back in the 1970s, making a serious, big-budget, A-list superhero film seemed like an insane long shot. To secure financing for the 1978 Superman, the producers needed big-name stars. For Luthor, Gene Hackman; for a quarter-hour’s work as Jor-El, Marlon Brando. Landing Brando — a huge star after The Godfather — cost $3.7 million and a cut of the profits. According to director Richard Donner, Brando wanted to earn it without showing his face.
Brando’s theory: as Kryptonians were alien, why couldn’t Jor-El look like, say, a green bagel? Then Brando would just provide the voice-over for er, Bag-el. Donner replied that every kid in the audience knew Jor-El wasn’t a bagel; Brando conceded the point. Given how the movie influenced future comics writers, we can all be thankful for that.
On Earth, we’re still waiting for our flying cars. On Krypton, Jor-El made them an everyday reality. His all-purpose vehicle not only drove and flew, it could travel underwater and underground. After Jor gave up his patent so the cars could be widely adopted, everyone on Krypton was soon driving a “Jor-El.”
That was just one of Jor-El’s scientific accomplishments. A polymath, he worked not only in physics, rocketry, astronomy and engineering but archeology and medicine. He developed a drug for prolonging life and another for growing plants to giant size. He developed a matter transmitter that could project people across light-years, and a fabric that made wearers invisible. That isn’t close to a complete list, but Screen Rant doesn’t have the space to cover everything.
Jor-El was interested in space flight years before he launched Kal into space. Jor-El’s first job after graduating college was at Krypton’s space center, which is where he met an astronaut named Lara Lor-Van. Jor-El developed plans for an anti-gravity ship, but due to budget cuts — even then the Science Council was down on space flight — he had to make it out of Krypton’s cheapest metal, gold.
Eager to fly the “golden folly,” Lara snuck aboard the test run and took over from the automated controls. Unfortunately, this was one invention that failed, crashing on Krypton’s moon of Wegthor. By the time Jor-El arrived by conventional rocket to bring Lara home, they’d come to realize how much they loved each other.
By the time Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster sold Superman to DC, they were already established comics writers, with Slam Bradley, Bart Regan, Dr. Occult, and Federal Men to their credit. It was the latter strip, in New Adventure Comics #12, that introduced a character named Jor-L, more than a year before Kal-L (as originally spelled) first appeared.
Federal Men normally focused on two-fisted FBI agent Steve Carson. This story however, had Steve and his boss ask a scientist to speculate about the future of law enforcement. The response was more futuristic than Steve probably expected: in the scientist’s story, Interplanetary Patrol agent Jor-L defeats space bandit Nira-Q with his amazing technology. Carson went back to more conventional adventures the following issue so Jor-L was a one-hit wonder.
Jor-L was first named in 1939, in the Superman newspaper comic strip. In the comic books he didn’t put in an appearance or get a name until 1945. Three years later, he made his first big-screen appearance in the 15-part 1948 serial Superman.
Action #1 retold Krypton’s destruction in a single panel. The serial followed the expanded story from More Fun #101. As Jor-El, Nelson Leigh struggles to convince the council that their race will only survive the quakes racking the planet (due to being drawn closer to Krypton’s sun) if they escape on a fleet of space ships. The council refuses, so Jor turns the test model into a spaceship for his child to survive.
Kal lands on Earth to become Kirk Alyn, who gives a great performance as Superman.
Before his final failure, Jor-El saved Krypton from disaster several times. For example, when the criminal scientist Ga-Zor decided Krypton would die with him, it was Jor-El who stopped him blowing up the world. Later, he prevented the alien Vergoans from stealing Krypton as fuel to reignite their dying sun.
Jor-El’s heroism wasn’t just about stopping planetary destruction. On one trip to the past, Superman watched his father and Lara go undercover to capture the would-be Kryptonian dictator Kil-Lor. In another story, the Kryptonian Ral-En became a planetary tyrant thanks to his Superman-like powers, Jor-El exposed him as a hypnotist whose invincible powers were entirely illusory.
In becoming Earth’s greatest champion, Superman is following in his father’s footsteps.
More Fun #101 revealed Jor-El wanted to save his entire world, not just Kal, but nobody believed his warnings of doom. Later stories stated his evidence, while persuasive, wasn’t conclusive; rather than face a terrible reality, Krypton’s Science Council wrote him off as a crank.
When Jor-El persisted in his warnings, the council suspected he was less crazy, and more an evil, power-hungry schemer like General Zod. Create a panic, disrupt society, seize control — it all made sense!
Some stories have the council banning space travel to block Jor-El’s evil scheme. In one retcon the councilors threaten Jor-El with exile to the Phantom Zone if he keeps up the crazy talk.
John Byrne simplified things by having Jor-El learn the truth barely 24 hours before D-Day — Jor had no time to tell people, let alone save them.
The Science Council’s disdain didn’t stop Jor-El from trying to save his people. He tried building a space ark with Superman’s help. He invented a teleporter that could reach Earth, but radiation from Krypton’s core made it unusable. The only people saved besides Kal-El were Krypton’s greatest criminals.
Prison reform was one of Jor-El’s many projects. First he proposed placing criminals in suspended animation in orbiting satellites. Then he found a way to project criminals into the Phantom Zone, where they’d serve their time as disembodied wraiths.
Needless to say, a number of criminals in those satellites survived the big bang, broke free and came to Earth to cause trouble. All the Phantom Zone convicts survived, and they caused even more trouble. It was an unintended legacy from Jor-El to his son.
Byrne’s Jor-El was winging it when he sent Kal to Earth. He had very little time, so all he knew for sure was what our yellow sun would do to Kal. The pre-Byrne Jor-El had time to do his homework.
Jor-El made several rocket tests before the final launch, one of which landed Krypto the Superdog on Earth. Jor created a duplicate of Earth’s environment on Krypton to see how it would affect Kryptonians. He also teleported an Earth scientist to Krypton to assist in his research.
Jor-El also looked at other compatible planets, and ran computer simulations of Kal’s future life on each of them. Earth lucked out: on every other world, Kal-El either died or ended up miserable, so Earth it was.
Deep in his heart, Superman has a nagging worry: if Jor-El saw him today, would he think it was worth all that work to get him to Earth? Is he worthy of the great father he left behind?
Two stories in the Bronze Age elevated that to a serious fear. In one, Jor-El’s ghost confronts Superman and tells him he should have followed in his father’s footsteps and become a scientist, not some gaudily clad policeman. It was actually a trick by a criminal hoping to put Superman out of business, but the Man of Steel saw through the charade.
Pa Kent also had some insecurity about living up to Clark’s brilliant birth father. Eventually, he came to see that his role as Clark’s teacher and moral guide made him just as important to molding Kal-El into Superman.
At least that’s one theory floating around on the Internet — that Mr. Oz is actually Roz-Em, a Kryptonian villain who impersonated Jor’s identical twin Nim only to get sentenced to one of those orbiting satellites. He survived Krypton’s destruction and in Adventure Comics #304, posed as a time-traveling Superman to get revenge on Nim’s last living relative, Kal-El.
That doesn't work, unfortunately: the story doesn’t say Nim and Jor are identical twins, and Superman and Jor-El aren’t lookalikes. However Roz-Em later tormented Supergirl by posing as Jor-El’s ghost, which would imply he looks more like Jor than Kal. So who knows?
Nim’s entire claim to fame is creating Superman lookalikes: his son Don-El lived in Kandor and occasionally doubled for the Man of Steel.
In a memorable story in Superman #141, Superman accidentally time-jumps and ends up on Krypton after his parents wedding. Living on Krypton for the first time since childhood, he becomes Jor-El’s lab assistant, Kal-El. They became so close that Lara later named her son Kal in his honor.
Superman convinces Jor-El they can build a space ark to ferry thousands of Kryptonians to Earth. Unfortunately they build it in Kandor; when Brainiac steals the city the Els lose their ark, the fuel supply and most of their supporters. Game over.
Having fallen in love with Kandorian actress Lyla Lerrol, Superman was willing to stay on Krypton and die with her. Instead, she, Jor, and Lara died while Kal wound up back on Earth in the present, missing them like crazy.
When Lois Lane discovers a way to save Krypton in Lois Lane #59, she heads back in time to give it to Jor-El. The time machine strands Lois there, so naturally she decides to steal Jor-El from Lara — and succeeds! However the planet-saving device, like the space ark, was in Kandor, so Krypton remains doomed after all. Lois dumps Jor, fixes the time machine, and heads home.
In Superman #170, Luthor goes to Krypton posing as interstellar hero Luthor the Good. His bizarre plan is to seduce and marry Lara, become Kal’s father, then return to the present. Surely Superman won’t raise a finger to stop his own father from conquering the world! The plan fails, of course, and Lex goes home pouting about how nothing ever works out for him.
Byrne wanted his reboot Superman to be pure Earthling, rather than a Kryptonian at heart. With that in mind, he re-imagined Krypton as a cold, loveless place that made Vulcan look emo. Krypton was sterile, both physically and emotionally. Marriages were pragmatic parings based on genetics; Kryptonians were happily free of messy emotions, messy physical contact, messy dirt.
What his people saw as perfection, Jor-El saw as a world that was already dead. To launch his son into space, he exerted parental rights no Kryptonian had claimed in centuries. He told Lara that, in defiance of Krypton’s traditions, he’d fallen in love with her the first time he he saw her image. As the world exploded around them, he added that as long as they died together, he knew his life hadn’t been wasted.
The El family had been producing awesome Kryptonians for centuries, ever since the warrior king Erok took the last name “El.” Though like Genghis Khan, Erok had lots of El descendants, not just Jor-El’s line. Jor's family was still impressive in its own right:
Val-El was a famous explorer.
Sul-El built Krypton’s first telescope.
Tala-El wrote the Constitution for Krypton’s planetary government.
Hatu-El invented the first electromagnet.
Gam-El was the father of modern Kryptonian architecture.
Jor-El’s father and namesake was an inventor like his son, even making a successful space flight to Earth and back shortly after his son was born. That would explain Jor-El Jr.’s interest in space travel, and possibly his choice of Earth as Kal’s new home.
If Mr. Oz is really Superman’s father, it won’t be the first time Jor-El has arrived on Earth to see how his little boy turned out.
In Superboy #121, for example, Superboy accidentally brought young Jor-El across time. In World’s Finest #191, an adult Kal-El meets his parents on Earth, then follows them back to Krypton through a time vortex. In Action #283, red kryptonite gives Kal the power to make wishes come true, allowing him to reunite briefly with both the Kents and the Els.
The 1978 movie kept Jor-El around post-Krypton by having Brando teach Kal via a hologram. Variations of the same idea have cropped up in the comics since the Byrne reboot.
It’s not that shocking for Oz to be Jor-El. But given Superman’s met Jor lookalikes before, his not being Jor-El wouldnt be a shock either.
Although Jor-El obviously loved his son, he’s gotten him almost killed with depressing frequency.
Astonishing quantities of Kryptonian technology survived the explosion and wound up later on Earth, including lots of Jor-El’s inventions. Like the military robots he hoped would demonstrate the dangers of war; they crashed on Earth and wreaked havoc. A vault full of Jor-El’s inventions (antigravity bombs, petrifying rays, human magnets) wound up in Luthor’s hands once, which wreaked even greater havoc
There are also the Phantom Zone criminals, alive thanks to Jor-El. And then there’s the robot teacher Jor sent to Earth to train his son; in its second appearance, it tricked Superboy into having sex with a brainwashed girl.
Good thing most of these stories are now out of continuity, or Jor-El and Superman would be having one awkward reunion.
Have any trivia to add about Superman's dad, Jor-El? Leave it in the comments!