What's Jor-El thinking during Man of Steel's Kryptonian Civil War?

Illustration for article titled What's Jor-El thinking during Man of Steel's Kryptonian Civil War?

Now you can find out. We've got an exclusive excerpt from the new novelization of The Man of Steel, by veteran media tie-in author Greg Cox. Get a look inside Jor-El's head as he outwits General Zod's goons and prepares to send his only son to another planet.


Man of Steel: The Official Movie Novelization is out today, and we're happy to bring you an exclusive peek inside. Also, author Greg Cox is here in comments, and if you're extra nice maybe he'll answer some of your questions about novelizing this movie.

Man of Steel: The Official Movie Novelization

By Greg Cox

Chapter Two

Tor-An carried out Zod’s orders.

He and two other soldiers grabbed Jor-El. They stripped away the scientist’s robes and cape before escorting him from the Council chamber.

Glancing back over his shoulder, Jor-El saw Zod at the center of the throne room, surveying the carnage he had wrought. Rather than rejoicing in his victory, the rebel leader appeared oddly dispirited, as if even he was wondering how things had come to this. Or perhaps he, too, knew that ultimately he was fighting to win a planet that was already lost.

Such a terrible waste, Jor-El thought ruefully. And all the more so if Zod’s insanity keeps me from doing what I must.


Tor-An led the way as his men roughly herded Jor-El down a winding corridor. The muzzle of rifle prodded him, poking him in the back. The unmistakable clamor of war penetrated the outer shell of the tower—from the sound of it, a major battle was unfolding outside.

Jor-El guessed that government forces were attempting to reclaim the structure from the rebels, and to shatter the Sword of Rao. Not that it mattered. All he cared about now was getting away from this pointless conflict and returning to his family, while there was still time to carry out his plan.


My son, he thought. Everything depends on Kal-El.

Then deafening explosions rattled the walls. Shock waves shook the ancient tower, causing the interior lights to flicker erratically. The floor rocked beneath Jor-El’s feet, making it hard for him to keep his balance. Flakes of powdered bone, shell, and nacre rained down from the ceiling.


Glancing about uncertainly, Tor-An quickened his pace—whether to join the conflict or escape it, Jor-El couldn’t be sure. A major artery curved ahead of them and the party rounded the turn.

Only to find Kelex hovering in the middle of the hallway.

“Out of the way!” Tor-An snarled.

Jor-El was suddenly very glad that the ’bot had accompanied him to the Council tower. He squeezed his eyes shut in anticipation of what was certain to occur next.


Activated by preprogrammed defensive protocols, Kelex’s central display panel emitted an intense flash of light, blinding Tor-An and his men. The rebels staggered backward, rubbing their eyes. Tor-An swore profanely, tears streaming.

Jor-El took advantage of the men’s disorientation. Acting swiftly, he drove his elbow into one rebel’s face and wrenched the rifle from his hands. At the same time, he delivered a vigorous side kick to the other man’s chest. The stunned soldier tumbled to the floor, his weapon flying from his grip.


That left only Tor-An to block Jor-El’s escape. Blinking tears from his eyes, Zod’s henchman drew his sidearm. Murder was written on his face, as clearly as the glyphs engraved on his pistol. He was about to fire when Kelex slammed into his skull. Burnished steel smacked loudly against flesh and blood, and Tor-An dropped to the floor, unconscious.

Jor-El was grateful for the robot’s solid construction. He broke into a run, clutching the captured rifle, as he dashed away from the dazed rebels. Kelex zipped through the air after him, accelerating to keep up. The ’bot had been designed for household service and assistance, not fleeing enemy soldiers.


Jor-El shouted out a command.

“Get me Lara!”

Kelex complied at once. The three-dimensional display at the robot’s core reconfigured itself, sculpting a real-time rendering of Lara’s face. Concern showed on her graceful features, while the walls of the medical suite could be glimpsed in the background. Her voice issued from the image’s moving lips.


Jor, what’s going on? They’re shelling the capital.”

Kelex hovered before Jor-El, who called out as he ran. He knew that his own face was displayed on Kelor, as well.


“It’s Zod,” he said breathlessly. “He’s finally done it.”

Understanding dawned on Lara’s projected image. She was well aware of Zod’s bitter disputes with the Council—and of his capacity for violence. Jor-El cursed the man for choosing today of all days to stage his senseless coup. Lara had deserved at least one blissful day with the baby—they both had—but Zod had stained this sacred occasion with blood.


That alone was a crime beyond forgiveness.

On Kelex’s chest, Lara’s eyes widened in alarm. “Behind you!” she shouted.

He spun around to see more of Zod’s troops rounding the corner behind him. As they entered the corridor, he fired on the rebels, momentarily driving them back, and then continued running for cover. Kelex kept pace with him, and Jor-El spoke urgently to his wife.


“Listen to me, Lara. You have to ready the launch.” He gulped air. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Flawlessly rendered lips opened to protest, but before she could speak, he signaled Kelex to terminate the transmission. He hated cutting her off like that, but they couldn’t waste precious time discussing the issue. Plus, he was going to need all his wits about him if he was to make it safely back to her and Kal.


Forgive me, my love, he thought. And be ready when I return.

Illustration for article titled What's Jor-El thinking during Man of Steel's Kryptonian Civil War?

The hallway ahead was littered with the lifeless bodies of guards and functionaries the Sword of Rao had cut down on their way to the Council chamber. Scorch marks scarred the walls. Glimpsing daylight ahead, Jor- El raced out of the curving corridor onto a wide terrace overlooking the embattled city below. Kelex was close beside him.

The sun had not yet set, and was casting crimson shadows over a sprawling expanse of ancient temples, palaces, arenas, and towers. Opalescent domes and spires gleamed in the twilight—biology itself had been harnessed to create Kandor, which was now under attack by men and women who literally had been born to defend it.


Civil war raged beneath the dimming red sky. The Sapphire Guard, Krypton’s elite defense force, had responded to Zod’s provocation in full force. Guards firing from the maws of flying gunships directed particle beam rifles at the insurgents, who fired back with their own weapons. The bio-engineered aircraft resembled huge mutant invertebrates whose segmented exoskeletons were dense enough to withstand heavy punishment. Globular thrusters, sprouting from the underside of the ships, propelled them through the twilight sky.

Blazing gouts of plasma and charged neutrons streaked through the air, spreading death and destruction. A concentrated barrage of plasma from the rebels holding the tower got past the Guard’s defenses, splattering gelatinous fire over an unlucky scarab-class cruiser. Screaming soldiers, their bodies engulfed in flame, leapt to their deaths even as the crippled scarab spiraled downward toward the very terrace upon which Jor-El now stood.


No! he thought. I can’t die yet. There’s too much to be done...

His muscles tensed beneath his skinsuit. He braced himself to jump out of the way of the falling aircraft, but at the last minute an explosion blew out one side of the scarab, sending it veering off to the right. It plummeted past the terrace, narrowly missing Jor-El and Kelex, then slammed into a domed temple several stories below.


Flames and smoke erupted from the crash site, adding to the chaos. The ill-fated temple became nothing but a gaping crater, surrounded by rubble. Jor-El counted his blessings. A short distance closer, and he might have been crushed beneath that debris.

It’s not safe here, he thought to himself. Now that he had a child—a son—he was more determined than ever to live until he had accomplished what was necessary. The sooner we are gone, the better our chances.


Looking out over the edge of the terrace, he peered many stories down to the streets and plazas below. No mortal being could survive such a jump, at least not on Krypton, so the only way out was up. Jor-El turned his face toward the sky and shouted at the top of his lungs.


He briefly feared that the furious fighting had chased the war-kite away, but then H’Raka descended onto the terrace, her gossamer wings buzzing. Like all domesticated lifeforms—which were the only sort left on Krypton—the hybrid creature was both genetically engineered and cybernetically enhanced. Large enough to carry one or more adult Kryptonians, H’Raka set down in front of her master.


Wide gray eyes gazed out from above her rounded muzzle. Two pairs of veined, membranous wings sprouted from her sleek grey form, which she owed to chromosomes extracted from an extinct aquatic mammal. Computerized implants, melded to her nervous systems, augmented her natural reflexes and navigational abilities. A saddle, equipped with a rear robotic docking cradle, was strapped to the war-kite’s back.

H’Raka yipped in greeting.

Good girl, Jor-El thought. Thanks for waiting.

He hastily climbed into the saddle, even as Kelex secured himself to the docking cradle. As soon as the robot clicked into place, Jor-El urged H’Raka to take flight.


Wings buzzing, the war-kite soared into the sky, carrying her passengers away from the Council tower. They glided over the besieged city, zig-zagging through a firestorm of flying plasma bursts. Repeated salvoes sprayed across the sky like torrents of liquid fire. H’Raka took evasive action, hoping to avoid being caught in a crossfire, but there was little safety to be found anywhere.

Panicked civilians ran for cover in the avenues and arteries below even as crashing aircraft and falling debris rained havoc on the capital. Emergency sirens keened loudly, competing with the gunfire, explosions, and screams. The air reeked of smoke and burning organics. It was as though the barbaric wars of ages past had returned with a vengeance.


Despite his own desperate situation, Jor-El couldn’t help viewing the widespread carnage with dismay. This was no way for Krypton to end her days...

A salvo of blazing plasma burned through the acrid fumes directly ahead, close enough that he could feel the scorching heat against his face. H’Raka banked sharply to one side to avoid the blast, and only a safety strap kept Jor-El from being spilled from the saddle. He held onto the gilded pommel with both hands, trusting in the creature’s speed and agility to get them through intact. A hot wind blew against his face, assaulting him with the stink of war. The smoke stung his eyes.


The screams of the dying assailed his ears.

Damn you, Zod! This wasn’t necessary!

The tumultuous ride seemed likely to end abruptly at any moment, but at last they left behind the administrative district—and the bulk of the fighting. Jor-El let out a sigh of relief as the heart-rending tumult receded into the distance. He could still hear it, like the thunder of a nearby storm, but, for the moment at least, Krypton was tearing itself apart without him.


Perhaps all was not yet lost.

He longed to fly straight back to Lara and their newborn, but he had one vital errand to which he had to attend. So he steered H’Raka toward the outskirts of the city—where the Genesis Chambers awaited.


The immense complex, which had birthed every living Kryptonian for countless generations, rose up from the earth like the gnarled trunk of a colossal tree, hundreds of lengths in diameter. Sturdy black branches, each one the size of a palace watchtower, extended out from the central hub. Pools of rippling iridescent fluid glistened atop each hollow spire, reflecting the fading sunlight.

H’Raka circled above the Genesis Chambers while Jor- El cautiously scanned the awesome vista from above. To his relief, the automated complex appeared unguarded. He guessed that all of the government’s defense forces were currently engaged in combat with the insurgents.


He smiled wryly.

Maybe Zod’s deranged insurrection was well-timed after all.

Not that any sane Kryptonian ever would have dreamed of trespassing here—at least not before today. The Genesis Chambers provided life and continuity to their entire civilization. Every single Kryptonian, whether rebel or loyalist, owed their very existence to this place. Who but a madman would dare to tamper with it?


Who indeed?

He took one last aerial survey of the scene before guiding H’Raka down to the nearest spire. The war-kite alighted on the basin’s outer lip, which was wide enough to support her. Dismounting, Jor-El peered down into the bottomless depths of the pool. Kelex detached himself from the saddle and joined Jor-El at the water’s edge. The robot probed the shimmering liquid with his sensors.


“Can you see the Codex?” Jor-El asked.

Hours earlier he had attempted to access the schematics of the Genesis Chambers, but that information had been restricted. There was a time when his status as Krypton’s leading scientist might have opened doors, but that was before he staked his reputation on a “controversial” theory that few on Krypton were willing to accept. Nowadays he was regarded as far too radical to be trusted.


It’s just below the central hub, sir,” the ’bot replied. “But I am compelled to warn you. Breaching the Genesis Chambers is a Class-B crime, punishable by—”

“No one cares any more, Kelex,” Jor-El said. “The world is ending.” He turned toward his mount and gently stroked the beast’s muzzle. “Stay, H’Raka.”


The war-kite purred her assent.

Jor-El approached the edge of the pool. He took a deep breath, as much to steady his nerves as to fill his lungs, and dived headfirst into the hollow shaft at the center of the spire. Amniotic fluid, heated to body temperature, enveloped him as he swam down the length of the spire into a sprawling, liquid-filled complex. An eerie phosphorescence lit the shaft, suffusing the briny fluid with a faint green glow. He kept his eyes open as he swam, taking in sights few Kryptonians had ever been privileged to see.


Gestating embryos grew inside transparent globular sacs that sprouted like buds along branching stems that combined elements of both plant and animal life. Pink and translucent, their tiny hearts already pulsing with life, the infants slept within a clear protective gel. The drifting stems, bearing their fetal fruit, extended for as far as the eye could see, growing an entire generation of future Kryptonians according to the precise and exacting specifications of the Codex.

Krypton had long ago abandoned the unpredictability of sexual reproduction—with its reckless pairings and random mixing of chromosomes—in favor of a more orderly and scientific system that allowed for complete control over each child’s genetic makeup and destiny. Nothing was left to chance. Each developing embryo was expressly designed to fulfill his or her preordained role in society—as a worker, warrior, thinker, administrator, or whatever best served the greater good.


The Genesis Chambers were the ultimate expression of Krypton’s rigid caste system, applying advanced genetic engineering to an inviolate tradition that stretched back to antiquity. Jor-El had sprouted from one such stem, many cycles ago, as had Lara, and Zod, and every Kryptonian who currently breathed upon the planet.

Save for one.

Crab-like robotic gardeners, equipped with sharp metallic pincers, tended to the growing stems and buds, trimming away excess shoots, nodes, and even the occasional defective fetus. Designed to function in a liquid environment, the ’bots were smaller and less sturdily built than Kelex.


Other robots scoured the inner walls of the spire, keeping them free of unwanted mosses and fungal growths. Jor-El eyed the busy mechanisms apprehensively, but they appeared programmed to ignore him as long as he did not disturb the babies growing on the vines. It pained his heart to realize that none of the gestating embryos would live long enough to be harvested.

He kicked his way downward, trying to stay clear of the endless stems and sacs, yet the shaft grew more densely fertile as he descended, slowing his progress. Despite his efforts, he swam too close to a cluster of fetuses, which retracted back into their stems like the polyps on an undersea anemone. A nearby ’bot, busy pruning a stray branch, turned its sensors toward him, but did not take action.


Jor-El hurried away before it changed its cybernetic mind.

He was running out of breath. His cheeks bulged and tiny bubbles escaped his lips. Despite his clenched jaws, briny fluid invaded his mouth and nostrils. His lungs cried out for air. Self-preservation urged him to turn back, but he kept on swimming, hoping that he was nearing the end of the shaft—and that the central hub was not much farther.


The shaft slowly widened. Swaying stems obscured his view, but he spotted an opening ahead. Holding on tightly to his last breath, he kicked toward the large circular portal which led to an immense spherical chamber at the center of the complex. Artificial light filtered down from above.

Jor-El prayed it wasn’t just a mirage caused by a lack of air.

Light-headed, lungs aching, he swam up toward the light. His head broke the surface of the water and he gasped, then sucked in air hungrily. Amniotic fluid dripping from his hair and beard, he found himself bobbing in the center of a wide reservoir surrounded by pulsing organic walls. Taking a moment to recover, he glanced around at the cavernous hub of the Genesis Chambers, from which the entire gargantuan complex was controlled.


Soon his questing eyes located what he was looking for.

The Codex.

An ancient Kryptonian skull, inscribed with glowing green glyphs, hung just above the basin, suspended by numerous neural fibers. The glyphs pulsed continuously while the Codex dictated the genetic code of millions of Kryptonians as yet unborn. In the past, such directions would have determined their futures as well—but that was when Krypton had a future.


Reaching upward, Jor-El hastily disconnected the skull from the fibers that held it in place. The pulsing glyphs dimmed and went dark. A high-pitched alarm echoed off the walls around him—like the screeching of a frightened jewel-bird.

The alarms sent a jolt of adrenaline through him, spurring him on. War or no war, his unthinkable violation was bound to trigger defensive measures—and attract the Sapphire Guard. He needed to be away from here, with his prize, before it was too late.


He unhooked the last of the ganglia and seized the Codex. Clutching it to his chest, he dived back beneath the water. Numerous openings led to the complex’s myriad spires. Unable to determine which passage he’d used before, he chose an opening at random and swam into the waiting shaft, which was identical to all the others.

Kicking upward, he rose past drifting stems laden with doomed fetuses and embryos. His lungs were tested once more, but this time he knew where he was going.


If he could just reach the open pool at the top of shaft...

But the robots had other ideas. Abandoning their gardening, they chased after Jor-El, converging on him from all directions. Metal pincers, designed for pruning, tugged on his legs and ankles. The layered fabric of his skinsuit shielded him from immediate injury, but the ’bots kept coming, determined to retrieve the stolen Codex.


Sharpened pincers dove at his face, but he batted the ’bot away with his free hand, while kicking and shaking more ’bots off his legs and torso. Shattered bits of metal and circuitry sank out of sight, yet the aquatic robots were not deterred. Whoever had programmed them had clearly impressed upon them the paramount importance of the Codex.

They were not going to surrender it without a fight.

Crimson sunlight, seeping down from above, called out to him. Breaking free from the clinging ’bots, he breached the surface of a pool at the top of a towering spire. H’Raka and Kelex were nowhere to be seen, which implied that this was a different shaft than the one into which he’d dived before.


Still holding on to the Codex, he started to haul himself out of the pool onto the sturdy, solid lip of the spire. He was halfway out when unseen pincers bit down on his ankle, squeezing hard enough to bruise him beneath his skinsuit, and yanked him back down into the fluid. Startled, he lost his grip on the skull, which rolled across the top of the spire toward the outer edge of the lip.

No! Jor-El thought.

Nightmarish visions—of the Codex tumbling over the edge and plunging to certain destruction—flashed through his brain, giving him the strength to shake loose the relentless ’bot and lunge from the water. He dove for the skull, his hands stretched out before him. His fingers closed on the runaway Codex only a heartbeat before it rolled over the brink.


Rao be praised!

Gasping in relief, he scrambled to feet, only to hear a metallic scraping behind him. He turned to see a pair of ’bots clambering out of the shaft after him. He backed away from the pool, toward the edge of the precipice. Glancing back over his shoulder, he spied a vertiginous drop. Again, no Kryptonian could survive such a fall— not unless he knew how to fly.


The robots, clumsy once they were out of the water, advanced toward him. Their pincers clacked viciously. Given a chance, they would surely snip his fingers off to rescue the skull from his grasp.

He couldn’t let them do that. The Codex had to survive.

And it must be kept away from Zod and his renegades, he resolved.

Suddenly a familiar buzzing reached his ears, drawing nearer by the instant. Jor-El smiled. Trusting fate, he turned and leapt from the spire.


He plummeted toward the ground below, accelerating according to a mathematical constant he had memorized as a child. For a few heart-stopping seconds he found himself wishing that Krypton’s natural gravity wasn’t quite so formidable. Terminal velocity approached at an alarming pace.

He prayed that Lara would be able to carry out their work without him.

You must save the child, Lara. No matter what!

Then H’Raka swooped in beneath him, with Kelor docked at her rear. Working together, they timed the catch perfectly so that Jor-El landed heavily in the saddle rather than crashing to his death many lengths below.


He settled into the seat, checking to make sure the Codex had not been damaged by the fall. To his relief, the sacred skull was still intact, which meant there was still hope for the future.

“Home,” he instructed H’Raka.



Charlie Jane Anders

Hey Greg, one more question. When you were dealing with the crucial part where...


...Superman kills General Zod, were you concerned about trying to capture his state of mind and the decision-making process that goes into taking a life? How do you see Superman reaching that kind of decision?