By Richard Nathan
Comics can be a twisting soap opera of related characters turning against each other, changing sides, and trying to destroy the world. So, for our “March To Krypton” campaign, we have decided to implement a new series called, “Keeping Up with the Kryptonians” to inform readers where each member of the El family currently stands in comics today. Starting off with the most famous daddy from Krypton, Jor-El.
***SPOILERS FOR “THE OZ EFFECT” STORY LINE FROM ACTION COMICS 987 AND ON***
Since the arrival of the well-orchestrated and entertaining “Rebirth” line, there has been a shadowy watcher observing the actions of several DC Comics heroes and villains. This “Mr. Oz” would get a couple panels or page in a story, say something cryptic, and then disappear. But his behind-the-scene machinations were still a mystery to readers, as well as the heroes & villains he had revealed himself to (Tim Drake, Mr. Mxyzptlk, Superman). And it was thought that Mr. Oz would somehow fit into the overall crossover between the DC Universe and Alan Moore’s Watchmen, which we are getting in the excellently engaging and enigmatic Doomsday Clock. It was even anticipated that Mr. Oz would be exposed as the manipulative Ozymandias, Adrian Viedt, a cold and calculating former hero-turned-villain who’s “ends justifies the means” actions in Watchmen would have certainly fit in with the mysterious figure’s comings and goings-on.
Readers, and Superman himself, were in for quite a shock as the identity of this mysterious observer was divulged in Action Comics’ The Oz Effect storyline (issues 987-991). Inside the safe confines of the Fortress of Solitude, Mr. Oz reveals himself, to his disbelieving and surprised son, as an aged Jor-El that had survived the destruction of Krypton.
As this revelation completely flies in the face of everything Superman has ever known, Kal-El can only find it in himself to move from flat out calling his biological father a “liar” to telling him that although he would like to trust Jor-El, he’s been manipulated before and is not so easily trusting. Jor-El further attempts to prove his identity by having Kelex (Superman’s robotic version of an “Alfred”) confirm that by all DNA and biological standards he truly is Superman’s father.
Jor-El follows up with what is quite a horrifying tale of his “rescue” from Krypton’s doom. In it, Jor-El recounts the classic origin that his original plan was to save his people from certain death by taking to the stars. His idea authoritatively spurned, Jor-El and Lara-El send their only child into space; an infant Kal-El rocketing not only towards Earth but a future as it’s greatest and most inspiring superhero. As Krypton begins destroying itself around them, Jor-El and Lara accept their fate to die in each other’s arms. But that is not to be, as Jor-El, covered in a weird blue light, is forced to watch his beloved wife disintegrate before his very eyes. The mysterious blue light not only slightly saves him from destruction (shards of what would become known as Kryptonite shatter his eye and begin poisoning him), but also whisks him away to the very same planet he sought as a refuge for his son.
Jor-El’s destination is not the safety of a Kansas farm, but a war-torn third world country. He is found, and saved, by a small family in a village run by a ruthless warlord. They are able to remove most of the Kryptonite from his eye and gain his trust. They keep him hidden, and he is not able to see the sun…and is not able to learn he has extraordinary powers. Somewhat healed, Jor-El steals some food from the warlord to feed the ravaged and hungry family as a thank you. But that small act of kindness is soon overshadowed by a larger evil one as Aazim (the male child from the family) sells him and the family out to the Warlord. Jor-El watches as the warlord makes Aazim slaughter his own family in a hail of a bullets, and in a rage lashes out at the warlord with his heat vision (bestowed to him by finally being out in the sun for an extended period of time). After killing the Warlord and his men, Jor-El is shocked when Aazim turns the gun on him and fires.
Before he is able to respond, Jor-El is then taken away by the blue light again, only to end up in a bizarre location, shackled and forced to watch the act after act of the horror and inhumanity of man “Clockwork Orange style” for an undisclosed, but certainly lengthy, period of time. It is inferred that he ended up escaping the shackles at some point and made a “home base” out his previous prison.
From there he has been able to observe the goings on of the DC Universe, and has come to the conclusion that the safe haven he thought he was sending Kal-El to is anything but. And now he has come to gather Kal-El, Lois, and their son Jon and bring them to another, safer home as he has put together plans to let the humans destroy themselves in several acts of war and other atrocities. Superman, still unable to come to terms with this Jor-El truly being his biological father, denies his request and, and instead, does his best to stop as many of the atrocities as possible. The story ends with a somewhat repentant Jor-El letting Superman know that he hadn’t meant to hurt anyone and warns him that an even worse, and unstoppable force is coming for Earth (Dr. Manhattan possibly?). And he begs Kal-El to save himself and his own family at the expense of Earth.
It is truly at this moment that we see the sheer insidiousness of whoever put Jor-El through this torture. Superman’s father has been put through a living hell and been robbed of the very hope he had for his son, the very hope that Superman still carries, and the very hope that the House of El’s symbol represents. The strain at the end of the storyline is almost enough to crack Kal-El himself, as he realizes the world is running out of hope too. And, after a self-reflective moment, Superman does what makes him the greatest hero of them all, he accepts the current world around him and then pushes himself back into action to strive to make it better.
Action Comics followed up this well written storyline with the very fun “Booster Shot”, in which the wonderful Dan Jurgens returns to write a tale of Superman using Flash’s cosmic treadmill to head into the past (moments before Krypton’s destruction) and verify if Jor-El’s story checks out. He’s followed back by DC’s resident “Time Guardian” Booster Gold in an effort to stop Superman from doing damage to the past by either saving his home planet or dying along with it. It is a somewhat futile effort as time itself has been cracked and reshaped by an unknown force in many spots throughout history, once of which being the end of Krypton. Both heroes do end up on Superman’s birth world, but an acknowledged alternate pocket history version where Jor-El works alongside infamous House of El enemy General Zod and an army of Eradicator robots. Jor-El and Zod have been planning a worldwide evacuation of their people. Booster and a de-powered Superman (Red sun, people!) are misidentified as potential spies against them and are hunted down. Barely escaping back into the time-stream before they are caught, or before time itself solidifies to make this a permanent past, the two heroes end up at the correct moment of Krypton’s destruction (by way of a trip to both a futuristic Gotham and another fight with an elderly Zod and family). It is here that Superman finally learns the truth…that moments after he was spared Krypton’s fate, his father was as well. The elder Jor-El is real and has had his sanity, hope, and spirit thoroughly tested, and ultimately broken, at the whims of a great and unknown power; a power that Superman (and his fellow heroes) will assuredly come into contact with.
DC has never been shy about its ability to reshape its universe and history on a cosmic scale. Between Crises, Zero Hours, New 52’s, and now Rebirth, DC has been able to keep their characters fresh with the times, reboot past misses and near hits, and rehash some older storylines in new and more exciting ways. One of the best things about DC Comics has always been their ability to do cosmic, grandiose stories in which their heroes are (for the most part) able to navigate through universal changes while staying true to themselves and what they represent. In shattering the past of the House of El…and rewriting history, DC has now sent Superman on a path to a new and darker truth, a seemingly unstoppable and sinister force, and a future where nothing is guaranteed. One thing is for certain though, no matter the obstacles in his way, Superman will not stop fighting to make sure it’s a better one.