Jor-El is a fictional character that appeared in the Superman comics published by DC Comics. He is the biological father of Superman, and the husband of Lara (Lara Lor-Van).
Jor-El was a highly respected scientist on the planet Krypton before its destruction...a fate which he foresaw, but was unable to convince his colleagues of in time to save their race. Jor-El was, however, able to save his infant son Kal-El, sending him in a homemade rocket ship to the planet Earth just moments before Krypton's destruction.
After constructing his Fortress of Solitude, Superman honored his deceased biological parents with a statue of Jor-El and Lara holding up a globe of Krypton.
Golden and Silver Age
Jor-El was first referred to in Action Comics #1 in 1938, but made his first full-fledged appearance in the Superman newspaper comic strip in 1939, where his name was spelled as "Jor-L"; his name first appeared as being spelled "Jor-El" in a 1942 Superman novel. After the introduction of DC's multiverse system in the 1960s, it was established that the Golden Age version of Superman's father was named "Jor-L" and lived on the Krypton of the Earth-Two universe, while "Jor-El" was the father of the Silver Age version of Superman and lived on the Krypton of the Earth-One universe.
A 1948 retelling of Superman's origin story first delved into detail about Jor-El, though his formal and more familiar Silver Age aspects were firmly established starting in the late 1950s and over the course of the next several decades, with a definitive summarization in the 1979 miniseries The World of Krypton (not to be confused with the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths late 1980s comic special of the same name).
As it was summarized in this miniseries (and in various other Silver Age stories), Jor-El was Krypton's leading scientific genius, having been the inventor of, among things, the "Jor-El" (a hovercar) and the discoverer of the Phantom Zone (and the inventor of the Phantom Zone projector). He lived in Krypton's major city of Kryptonopolis.
Jor-El had a brother that lived in Argo City named Zor-El, who eventually became the father of Kara Zor-El, alias Supergirl.
Jor-El eventually met and married Lara Lor-Van, an astronaut in Krypton's fledgling space program (which was soon permanently grounded after Jax-Ur blew up one of Krypton's inhabited moons), and the two soon had an infant son, Kal-El.
When Krypton began experiencing a series of earthquakes, Jor-El investigated, and soon discovered that Krypton's core was greatly unstable, and would eventually explode, taking the entire planet and its populace with it. Jor-El tried to convince the members of Krypton's ruling body, the Science Council, of this impending disaster, and urged re-establishing Krypton's space program so giant spacecrafts could be built to carry the populace to another habitable world. However, the Council was dismissive of Jor-El's findings, and refused to comply with his plan.
Frustrated, Jor-El continued his work on space travel on his own, hoping to build a spacecraft to save his own family; this included launching several smaller test rockets (one of which included the El family dog, Krypto). However, as time ran short, Jor-El soon found that he would only have enough time to build a spacecraft to save his son Kal-El. Jor-El decided to aim for sending Kal to Earth, realizing he would gain superpowers under Earth's yellow sun and lower gravity. As Krypton finally went through its final destructive stages, Jor-El and Lara placed their son in a rocket, and launched him toward Earth, before perishing along with nearly the rest of the planet's population.
After the 1985-1986 miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths and John Byrne's 1986 miniseries The Man of Steel rewrote Superman's origins, details about Jor-El's background and character were changed. Under Byrne's version, Jor-El inhabited a cold, emotionally sterile Krypton where even bodily contact was forbidden. Jor-El was considered a "throwback" for actually expressing emotions toward his wife Lara, and for his favoring the less sterilized days of past Kryptonian eras. Another change in this version was Jor-El genetically altering his son's fetus (gestating in a "birthing matrix") to allow him to leave Krypton (in this version of the mythos, Kryptonians were genetically "bonded" to the planet itself, not allowing them to leave), and merely attaching a warp engine to the matrix instead of constructing a ship wholesale.
In the 1990s series Starman, it was revealed that in his youth, Jor-El met a time-travelling Jack Knight and Mikaal Tomas, two individuals who both bore at various points the "Starman" mantle. Knight and Tomas had been accidentally sent 70 years back in time and hurled across space. It was in this way Jor-El first learned of Earth's existence; in return, Jor-El helped Knight and Tomas escape from his overbearing father.
In the 2004 Superman miniseries Superman: Birthright, Jor-El, along with Krypton and Lara, was more-or-less reverted back to his Silver Age versions, though with updated touches (such as Lara contributing equally to the effort of sending Kal-El, once again an infant while on Krypton, to Earth). In this version, Jor-El discovers Earth moments before launching his son's spacecraft to Earth; how this affects the continuity of the above-mentioned Starman tale is uncertain.
Jor-El was portrayed by Nelson Leigh in the 1948 Superman movie serial.
Marlon Brando played Jor-El in the 1978 Superman movie and the late actor reprised this role in 2006's "Superman Returns", through the harvesting of archived video footage and sound clips. In the 1978 movie, Jor-El is shown as wearing the Superman "S"-shield symbol as the family crest of the House of El (it was in fact Marlon Brando's idea to wear the symbol in this manner), while in the traditional comics, it was a creation of Ma and Pa Kent for Superman's costume (though 2004's miniseries Superman: Birthright presents the S-shield in a manner closer to the movies, as a Kryptonian symbol of hope).
In the 2013 blockbuster film "Man of Steel", the character was portrayed by veteran actor Russell Crowe.
The Superman animated series in the 1990s uses the character of Jor-El (voiced by Christopher McDonald) as the hero of its first episode. In the first part of the three-part opener, "The Last Son of Krypton", Jor-El is a scientist examining the reasons for various temblors (earthquakes) across the planet. His findings indicate Krypton's imminent destruction. Here, the animated Jor-El diverges from the comic version. While both version feature the ruling council of Krypton dismissing Jor-El's findings, Jor-El is portrayed as a far less respected member of the scientific community, and the episode also gives a specific reason to the council's dismissal: Brainiac. Brainiac, the operating system that runs the planet and chronicles its history and information, insists that Jor-El's calculations are incorrect, and the council members trust Brainiac much more than Jor-El. (Also, Jor-El's radical plan to put Krypton's entire population in the Phantom Zone while Krypton is destroyed for later transference to another planet is greeted by the council with nothing less than hatred.)
When Jor-El investigates the difference between Brainiac's findings and his own, he discovers that Brainiac has lied to the council to save himself. Brainiac counters by sending the authorities after him, leading to a protracted action sequence of Jor-El evading the police. With mere minutes before Krypton is to be destroyed, he loads Kal-El into the rocketship which had been intended for a single Kryptonian who would restore Krypton's population from the Phantom Zone, and dies with his wife as the planet explodes. Jor-El's legacy on the show is carried on by the constant battles between Superman and Brainiac (he is as much Jor-El's enemy as he is Superman's) and the Phantom Zone criminals Jax-Ur and Mala, who were foiled by Jor-El. Jor-El also appears in the Justice League Unlimited episode "For The Man Who Has Everything". In a fantasy of Superman's where Krypton had not exploded (yet), Jor-El is portrayed as an old man whose sky-is-falling theories disgraced him, but has done well enough for himself since then to have a sense of humor about it.
Jor-El was portrayed (uncredited on-screen) by Robert Rockwell in the first episode of the 1952 The Adventures of Superman television series.
Jor-El was played by George Lazenby in the late 1980s Superboy television series.
David Warner played Jor-El in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.
In the Smallville television series, Terence Stamp (who played the evil General Zod in Christopher Reeve's first two Superman movies) provided the voice of Jor-El. In the series, Clark Kent speculates that he was sent to Earth by Jor-El not to be saved from the destruction of Krypton, but instead to conquer Earth; a great divergence from any other version of Jor-El, who is usually shown as having benevolent reasons for sending Kal-El to Earth. This was proven to be wrong at the end of the fourth season, continuing into the fifth, when Jor-El's words are revealed to actually mean that he wanted to prepare Clark for the coming meteor shower and the arrival of Brainiac, which is what Jor-El meant by "your destiny."