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Superman: From Krypton To Earth

by Tom Nichol

[Author’s Note: This story is a text version of the first part of the premiere episode of the Adventures of Superman from 1952. While I have followed the original story line from the episode as closely as I could, I felt it necessary to “flesh out” the original story line somewhat, not only to make it more read-able, but also to make it more emotionally satisfying. I have also endeavored to make this story line consistent with that of my earlier pastiche, “Superman In Exile: Epilogue.” Finally, in view of the fact that Krypton’s exact location was never made clear in the original story, I have arbitrarily chosen to locate the Kryptonian solar system some 80 light years distant from Earth, in line with suggestions made by several other contributors. I have also chosen, again arbitrarily, to give Kal-El’s escape vessel both a chemical rocket motor for the initial takeoff and a faster-than-light drive for use once the ship cleared Krypton’s atmosphere and gravity field. I would ask the reader to bear in mind that Krypton’s inhabitants have been said, from the very beginning, to be far, far ahead of Earth in matters of science and technology. Also, the situation depicted here is that of an emergency of the most extreme nature, making some refinements that might otherwise be expected impossible to implement. I hope you enjoy my humble efforts, and I welcome your comments and suggestions!

In the vast reaches of interstellar space, some 80 light years distant from our own star system, there was once a planet referred to by its population as Krypton, one of several planets that circled a huge red giant they referred to as Rao. The people of Krypton, over a period of some ten thousand years, had built a civilization that was far, far advanced beyond anything known on Earth. This was especially true in matters of science and technology—so much so, in fact, that there were those who felt that Krypton’s people had actually gone too far in this regard. Many on Krypton had begun expressing the fear that the Kryptonian people had become too materialistic—that they had utterly abandoned and rejected the moral and spiritual values and principles that had made their civilization great in the first place. Sooner or later, these people warned, Krypton would pay a high price for the growing selfcenteredness of its populace—perhaps even the ultimate price. Tragically, they would soon find out how right they were.

Over the past two Kryptonian years or so, there had been growing evidence that all was not well with the mighty emerald planet of Krypton. Background radiation levels had been rising steadily. Freakish high tides and increasingly powerful quakes had become matters of ever-growing concern. At first, the Science Council, Krypton’s governing body, had striven to allay these fears, assuring the public that Krypton was indestructible—that nothing, but nothing, could destroy their mighty planet. Finally, however, even the Council had become concerned about the growing number of destructive phenomena. As a result, Ro-Zan, the supreme leader of the Science Council, had secretly commissioned a young scientist named Jor-El, by all accounts the finest scientist Krypton had ever produced, and a former member of the Council himself, to look into the matter.

The elderly Ro-Zan had ample reason to keep Jor-El’s investigation quiet. He was only 30 at the time, but Jor-El had accomplished more in those 30 years than all of the other Council members put together. He was happily married to a beautiful woman named Lara Van-Zee, a talented scientist in her own right, who had just recently given birth to their first child—a strikingly handsome son, whom they had named Kal-El. These accomplishments had made many of the other Council members jealous of Jor-El—some almost insanely so. Some members of the Council, in fact, even believed, despite Jor-El’s repeated and vehement denials, that what the increasingly brilliant young scientist actually wanted was to take over the government of Krypton himself, dispensing with the Council altogether. Only a few months earlier, in fact, a rogue military man named General Zod, once in charge of all of Krypton’s planetary defense systems, had sought to pull off a coup-detat. Ironically, it had been Jor-El himself who had exposed Zod’s vicious plot. The result had been Zod’s eternal confinement to an alternate dimension known as the Phantom Zone—a dimension which, ironically, Jor-El had discovered. This latter fact had only hardened the suspicions of many Council members, who felt that Jor-El had only acted as he had to rid himself of a potential rival. Jor-El, with Ro-Zan’s complete support, had there-upon resigned from the Council in disgust. Now, with the growing concern regarding the quakes, rising background radiation levels, and other disturbing phenomena, Jor-El was working feverishly to find out what was going on, and what to do about it.

Despite Ro-Zan’s efforts, however, several members found out about what Jor-El was doing, and did everything in their power to hinder his efforts. Only when Ro-Zan personally threatened to throw all of them off the Council permanently did they agree to back off. They little dreamed, however, that their efforts had signed Krypton’s death warrant, although even Jor-El did not realize it at the time.

Because of the efforts of his adversaries, it took far longer than Jor-El had intended for his research to be completed. When he did complete it, however, Jor-El was horrified. The results showed conclusively that his native planet was on the verge of being destroyed! Only the immediate relocation of Krypton’s population to another planet would give them any chance at all to survive. As a result, Jor-El immediately designed a small rocket ship for testing purposes. Of necessity, the ship would have two different propulsion systems. The first, using chemical fuel, would propel the ship beyond Krypton’s atmosphere and gravity field. The other, main engine would be of a faster-than-light design, and would propel the ship to Earth—the only planet Jor-El had found in the limited time he had had that had an atmosphere capable of supporting Kryptonian life.

The small ship was just reaching completion when Ro-Zan summoned Jor-El to appear before the Council to report his findings. Jor-El’s wife, Lara, remained behind to complete the final navigational programming for the test ship, while her husband, already suspecting what the Council’s answer would be, traveled to the Great Temple of Wisdom, the location of the Council chamber, to give his report.

Upon his arrival, Ro-Zan apologized for interrupting his young friend’s work. Jor-El’s adversaries, it seemed, had been demanding answers as to what Jor-El had been doing and why. Ro-Zan had finally had no choice but to summon Jor-El before the Council to explain his activities. Jor-El, already fuming at this further delay, nevertheless assured Ro-Gan that he was fully prepared to make his report.

The young scientist was not overly surprised when the Council flatly rejected his findings, and refused to go along with his recommendations. As they were discussing the matter, a thunderous boom echoed throughout the city. Jor-El explained that the source of the sound was not an approaching summer storm, but rather gas exploding in subterranean pockets. The Council roared with derisive laughter. Realizing that there was now no way to avoid disaster, Jor-El gave the Council a final warning: “The time will come—and that time may be closer than even I expect—when you will wish you had heeded the words of Jor-El—when our planet explodes into a hundred billion stars—when the glorious civilization we have built will be no more—when you and your families will be swept from the face of this planet like dust, into a maelstrom of utter destruction from which there will be no escape!” Then, as the Council laughed even louder, Jor-El, tears of anger and sorrow streaming down his face, stormed out of the Temple for what he knew would be the last time.

Upon his return home, he was relieved to learn that Lara had successfully completed the navigational programming, and that the small ship was ready to receive the chemical fuel it needed. Jor-El promptly set about concocting the potent mixture, and was just pouring it into the fuel tank when he became aware that Lara was standing beside him. He explained how the Council had laughed at him, and had marked him for a fool. He continued, “No matter—let them laugh! The model is ready to be launched. I’ll send it on its way, and watch its flight on the scanning screen. If it succeeds, I’ll immediately begin building a ship large enough to transport the three of us to Earth. My one prayer is that the Council hasn’t delayed my work for too long.”

Her face showing her concern, Lara replied, “What do you mean, Jor-El?”

Have you not noticed? The clouds are unusually dark and threatening. There are no birds singing. All day, there’s been a strange glow in the western sky—different from anything we’ve ever seen before.”

Yes, and it’s so oppressively hot today, too,” Lara responded. “Is that because Krypton is being drawn closer to the sun?”

Yes,” Jor-El replied, “the sun that will finally destroy us! By the way, where is Kal-El?”

He’s asleep,” Lara answered. “He’s been restless all day--”

Just at that moment, however, there was an exceptionally loud clap of thunder. “What was that, Jor-El?” Lara asked.

An internal explosion—a bad one!” her husband answered. “I wonder if--” He never finished the sentence, for just then, a tremor shook the house, causing several small pieces of plaster to come loose from the ceiling, almost falling on both of them.

Jor-El!” Lara cried in alarm. As Jor-El went to the balcony to look outside, an even louder explosion occurred, followed by an even stronger tremor, which, in turn, caused a cascade of plaster fragments to fall. “JOR-EL!” his wife screamed in terror, as her husband just barely avoided being hit by the plaster.

Going to his wife and grabbing her by the shoulders, Jor-El said, “Lara, listen to me! This is the end! Krypton is breaking apart!”

Oh, Jor-El, what can we do?” Lara wailed in despair.

Nothing! I was a fool to have waited this long! I should have gone ahead and built the ship even without the Council’s permission! Now, we have only the model!”

It’s not your fault, Jor-El!” Lara answered, “Those fools on the Council--”

Just then, by some strange impulse, the two of them looked at the test rocket, which was ready for launching. “At least one of us can make it to Earth!” Jor-El cried. “You, Lara--”

His wife shook her head firmly. “No, Jor-El! If only one of us can go, let it be Kal-El!”

All right,” her husband agreed, “Get the baby! Wrap him in the family blankets, and bring him here as quick as you can!” Lara nod-ded, turned, and ran toward the nursery, while Jor-El opened the rocketship’s hatch and closed a switch, initiating the launching sequence. An alarm bell rang in response. A needle began moving around an indicator dial, signaling that the countdown was underway.

At that moment, Lara came back into the laboratory, holding little Kal-El in her arms. “Here he is, Jor-El!’ she said.

Do you have him well-wrapped?” Jor-El asked.

Yes,” his wife sadly answered. As she looked on the face of her son for what she knew would be the final time, she commented, “He’s so good—not even a whimper!” She gave the child one last kiss on the forehead, then surrendered him to her husband, who also kissed him on the forehead, then tenderly laid the infant in a special cradle he had installed inside the ship. As he did so, the alarm bell rang a second time, indicating that the count-down was now in its final phase.

Then, a thought came to him. “The model might hold both of you, Lara--”

His wife firmly cut him off with a wave of her hand. “No, Jor-El, I’m staying here!”

Lara, please,” Jor-El argued, “there isn’t time! The takeoff pressure’s building up! In a few seconds--” Again, his wife refused.

No, Jor-El—my weight would slow the rocket down too much! We can’t take that chance! Besides,” she continued plaintively, “I’d be lost in another world without you, Jor-El! If any of us is to survive,” she concluded, “let it be our son!”

Reluctantly, Jor-El agreed. He closed and sealed the hatch of the small ship, whose exhaust was now belching increasing amounts of smoke. Lara laid her hands on the ship one last time, and then Jor-El gently pulled her away, and led her over to the control panel. He made a few final adjustments to bring the engine up to maximum power. As the crescendo of destruction continued all around them, the indi-cator needle reached the maximum level on the dial. With a sense of finality, Jor-El pulled down a knob, activating the launch release mechanism. The ship’s engine responded with a loud, whistling roar, and the rocket shot upwards into the heavens.

Putting his arms around his beloved wife for the last time, he whispered, “It’s done, Lara! For better or worse, our son is on his way to Earth!” Only seconds later, as Jor-El and Lara shared one final kiss, their house mercifully collapsed on them, killing them both instantly, as the planet once known by the name of Krypton prepared to burst apart, to be followed almost instantly by the overwhelming self-destruction of the red giant star its people had named Rao, whose explosion, in turn, utterly wiped out the remainder of the Kryptonian solar system.

Meanwhile, Jor-El’s last and greatest invention had reached terminal velocity. The chemical rocket engine, its fuel now exhausted, shut down automatically, while the “hyper-drive,” as Jor-El had named it, kicked in flawlessly, boosting the ship’s speed far beyond the speed of light. The navigational computer system, which Lara had so carefully programmed, guided the ship perfectly on its way to Earth, and to a new life for its tiny occupant, Kal-El, the last son of Krypton—who would one day come to be known as “Superman!”

Posted April, 16, 2017
Updated August 2, 2017

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