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Jor-El circa 1948
The father of Superman and the foremost scientist of the planet Krypton prior to its destruction. A scientific genius with a fertile, wide-ranging intellect, he conducted far-reaching experiments in rocketry, invented a matter-transmitter and numerous other marvels, and discovered the Phantom Zone.
It was Jor-El who predicted to an unbelieving population that "Krypton would explode from gathering atomic pressures at the core of the planet." (1953) When the doomsday came, he dispatched the infant Superman toward Earth in an experimental rocket, remaining behind with his wife Lara to perish in the cataclysm.
Described repeatedly in the texts as "Krypton's greatest scientist," "Krypton's foremost physicist," and "the greatest scientist on Krypton," Jor-El was born into a family with a centuries-long heritage of achievement in the fields of science, statesmanship, and exploration. His ancestry teemed with such men of lasting distinction as Val-El, an explorer and discoverer who was the moving force behind Krypton's great Age of Exploration; Sul-El, the inventor of Krypton's first telescope; Tala-El, the author of Krypton's planet-wide constitution; Hatu-El, a scientist and inventor who discovered the nature of electricity and devised Krypton's first electromagnet and electric motor; and Gam-El, the father of modern Kryptonian architecture.
Little is known of Jor-El's early life, but by the time he reached college he had begun to gather about him a coterie of young intellectuals destined to make great names for themselves in the annals of Kryptonian science. His college roomate was Professor Kimda, who, years later, would befriend Superman in the bottle city of Kandor and help him thwart the schemes of the villainous Brainiac. Jor-El also befriended Ral-En, whose career as a brilliant scientist was ultimately warped and destroyed by dictatorial ambitions fostered and encouraged his father Mag-En. Other colleagues included his friend Nor-Kan and Lon-Es, who worked for a time as his assistant.
During this period, two of Jor-El's brothers—his identical twin brother Nim-El and another brother named Zor-El—also embarked upon distinguished careers in science, but they appear to have limited themselves to the fields of weapons science and climatography, respectively, and to have displayed none of their brother's capacity for brilliance and creativity in a breathtaking array of scientific disciplines. Indeed, in the course of a brilliant career that was terminated by the destruction of Krypton, Jor-El applied his great genius to virtually aspect of Kryptonian life, not only to every facet of science and invention, but also to the problems of war and peace, transportation, and the humane administration of criminal justice.
He worked to develop a serum for prolonging life, carried out an intense telescopic study of the planet Earth, and conducted archaeological research into the "marvels of a dead civilization that once existed at the bottom of the Great Krypton Sea!"
For his many inventions and discoveries, Jor-El was awarded Krypton's coveted Science Prize, in the form of a statuette molded from rare illium metal, and an honorary medal from the Kryptonian Science Society.
Indeed, although Jor-El was still a young man at the time of his marriage to Lara, the lovely dark-haired young woman who, according to at least one account, was Jor-El's assistant during the period preceeding their engagement, he was already a famed scientist engaged in top-level research at a Kryptonian missile base.
But Jor-El was concerned with humanitarian matters as well as scientific ones. Because of his strong moral opposition to capital punishment, he devised a method whereby perpetrators of serious crimes could be exiled into space in a state of suspended animation inside specially constructed space capsules, a method first employed to safeguard Kryptonians against the power-hungry ambitions of Mala and his brothers. The criminals imprisoned inside the capsules were placed in suspended animation by means of a special sleep gas, and chunks of a glowing crystalline mineral - capable of cleansing their brains of criminal tendencies in a hundred years time—were placed on their foreheads so that ultimately, once their sentence was served, they might take up constructive roles in Kryptonian society.
The practice of exiling criminals into outer space was terminated after Jor-El discovered the Phantom Zone, a twilight dimension to which criminals could be banished—by means of Jor-El's own Phantom Zone projector—to serve out their sentences as disembodied wraiths.
This brilliant and versatile scientist soon won a place for himself on Krypton's prestigious Council of Science.
At the time Lara gave birth to the infant Superman, she and Jor-El were residing in Kryptonopolis, the city that had become the capital of Krypton following the theft of Kandor by the space villain Brainiac. The dark haired youngster, named Kal-El, bore an unmistakable resemblance to his father.
It was around the time of Superman's birth, while all of Krypton was busily engaged in preparations for the planet-wide pagentry scheduled to mark the upcoming anniversary of the 10,000th year of Kryptonian civilization, that Jor-El made what was at once the most momentous and most calamatous discovery of his scientific carrer: the discovery that Krypton's uranium core, which for untold ages had been building a cycle of chain reactions, was on the verge of unleashing a planetary cataclysm, that "soon every atom on the planet would explode like one colossal atomic bomb!"
It remains unclear why Jor-El, alone among his contemporaries, was able to forecast the impending doom of his planet.
He moved coolly and decisively to confirm his suspicions, burrowing deep into the bowels of Krypton in an "atomic powered mole," performing numerous experiments and making countless intricate calculations.
Finally, although he still lacked positive scientific proof to substantiate his hypothesis, Jor-El was ready to report his findings to Krypton's prestigious scientific council. "Gentlemen," he intoned solemnly, as he addressed his scientific colleagues in Krypton's hallowed Hall of Wisdom, "Krypton is doomed! The core of Krypton is compsed of a substance called uranium, which, for untold ages, has been setting up a cycle of chain-impulses, building in power every moment! Soon, very soon, every atom of Krypton will explode in one final terrible blast! Gentlemen, Krypton is one gigantic atomic bomb!"
Jor-El circa 1973
It is incredible that the assembled scientists did not believe him. Already there was "a rumble of mighty forces" from deep inside Krypton that could be heard and felt by every Kryptonian. Perhaps Jor-El's explanation is the only true one: that "men often reject a truth that is too terrible to face!"
Whether the cause was jealousy, or pomposity, or the unwillingness of men to face a terrible truth, it is a simple fact of history that the venerable scientists of Krypton rejected Jor-El's warning. His prophecy of impending cataclysm was greeted with jeers and laughter. He was accused of being an alarmist and a crackpot, an irresponsible fantasizer and a cunning schemer in pursuit of planetary power. And when he carried his plea to Krypton's "highest officials," and then to the population at large, all he received for his efforts was more scorn and derision.
Jor-El set to work with intense dedication, aware that time was running out. He was determined to rescue his people from the calamity he knew was coming. His dream was an immense interplanetary migration—the transfer of the entire population of Krypton from their doomed home to another planet—in a fleet of "rocket driven space arks", "giant rocket ships" of which Jor-El himself had already constructed a scaled-down prototype.
Resettlement on the planet Earth would be the natural goal of such a transfer. Earth was Jor-El's "favorite planet." For years he had made an intensive study of that planet, as no Kryptonian ever had, peering at it through his "super-powerful telescope," carefully scrutinizing "every detail of Earth life" playing across the giant "Earth monitor screen" in his laboratory's scrupulously equipped "Earth monitor room."
Jor-El had a natural affection for Earth. His ancestor Sul-El, the inventor of Krypton's first telescope, had been the first Kryptonian to chart the location of Earth's sun.
Now, with the day of cataclysm drawing nearer by the moment, Jor-El renewed his study of Earth with a single-minded intensity, determined to establish, beyond any doubt, whether Earth would indeed be a habitable planet for his people. He studied "every aspect of Earth by tele-screen projection" and concluded that Earth's environment would by ideal for a Kryptonian settlement.
As the day of doom drew ever closer, Jor-El made one last desperate attempt to arouse the Kryptonian population from its fatal complacency. As part of Krypton's glorious "10,000-year celebration," a "super-scope" film was being shown commemorating the planet's past and expressing optimism for its future. Into this film, Jor-El inserted scenes that he had himself created, horrifying trick-photography footage of Krypton exploding into fragments, along with the image of Jor-El in the foreground, shouting, "This is Krypton's tomorrow! Our planet is doomed!"
Even this spectacularly dramatic ploy, however, failed to arouse the masses from their apathy, and before long a "great computer forecaster" recently developed by a colleague had informed the defeated Jor-El of what he already knw: that the odds were now ninety-nine in a hundred that Krypton would be destroyed before an interplanetary evacuation could be carried out.
Immediately, Jor-El turned his attentions to the completion of a more modest task, the construction of a small rocket sufficient to rescue himself and his family. When time ran out on even this modest project, he devoted his last remaining energies to the task of saving his son. Placing the last of his hopes in his recent "experiments with small rockets," Jor-El launched Kal-El's pet dog, Krypto, into outer space in a tiny rocket as a final trial run for the evacuation of his son, but the test proved inconclusive when, instead of returning to Krypton as Jor-El had planned, Krypto's rocket was struck a glancing blow by a meteor and sent careening into outer space.
With the death of Krypton now perhaps only hours away, Jor-El placed some of his greatest inventions inside a massive vault with a combination lock in the hope that they might somehow "survive to benefit other men even though our own world must die!"
Jor-El knew that the "experimental rocket-ship" which he had constructed as a miniature prototype of the giant space arks that he had hoped would be used to evacuate the entire population of Krypton, could be used to transport his infant son safely to some distant world. Feeding the available data into his colleague's great computer-forecaster confirmed the opinion he had arrived at through other means: that his son would be happiest growing to maturity on the planet Earth.
Jor-El circa 2001
Action Comics #216 asserts that the rocket in which the infant Kal-El escaped from Krypton's final holocaust was actually a small-scale model of a "gigantic space ship" which Jor-El had earlier loaded with "outlawed war weapons" and launched into outer space as part of his plan to avert the possible oubreak of war on Krypton, but numerous other texts refer to it as a "model space-ship" or "experimental model rocket" of the type which Jor-El had hoped to use for an interplanetary evacuation.
Now the hour of Krypton's doom had come. "At that fateful moment, the rumblings inside Krypton became a roar and the planet shook wildly!"
The model rocket ship was small, but it was large enough to hold both Lara and her infant son. Jor-El urged them toward the tiny rocket. Already their home was crumbling about them, and through the gaping holes in the collapsing walls they could see the lofty spires of Krypton's once-proud edifices toppling like children's blocks amid dense clouds of choking black smoke. "I will not leave you, Jor-El!" cried Lara. "But we will save our son!"
Hurriedly, "the helpless infant was placed into the space-ship", wrapped in the blue, red, and yellow blankets that would, according to numerous accounts, one day be used to fashion his famous Superman costume.
Then the tiny craft was "launched forth into the void", the flag of Krypton emblazoned proudly on its fuselage (Action Comics #246, 1958).
"Krypton is dying!" cried Jor-El, amid the dying convulsions of a shattering planet.
"But our son will live," answered Lara, "-the last survivor of a great civilization!"
Then, as husband and wife clung together in a desperate last embrace, "nature's fury gathered for one final cataclysmic eruption... And as the pitifully small space-ship hurtled through interstellar space, the once might planet Krypton exploded into stardust!"
Because he remembers his parents as having been so loving and kind—and because the anguish of losing them in childhood was so unbearably painful - Superman has memorialized his parent in numerous ways, including dedicating a room to them in his Fortress of Solitude.