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Off My Mind: Superman's Ship—Why Only Room For One?

If Krypton was so advanced, how come the ship only had room for one?

Superman has a simple origin. His planet, Krypton, was doomed to blow up, his father, Jor-El, put him in a rocket and sent him to Earth where he gained superpowers under our yellow sun. Since the first telling of his origin back in Action Comics #1 in 1938, his story has been depicted numerous times.

One of the differences in each telling of his journey from Krypton to Earth is the size of the ship carrying baby Kal-El. The design of the ship in 1939's Superman #1 showed an even bigger ship. Clearly, Superman arriving alone helped shape who he was and who he would become. We've seen other stories (as recently as last year's Last Family of Krypton miniseries) where Superman was joined by his parents. Was it really necessary for him to journey to Earth alone?

Besides being a plot device, it always struck me as odd that Kal-El had to be sent alone. Some versions show a smaller ship but looking at the early interpretations, why didn't one of his parents go with him?

Superman #61, 1949
Superman #53, 1948

In Superman #6, Superman is able to break through the time barrier and witnesses his parents final moments. Jor-El clearly states that there is room for her and their baby. What's interesting about this is Lara decides to stay behind rather than ensure her infant will be safe and have a mother upon his arrival. Superman #53, from the previous year gave a little more background as well as a simple "good luck" as their helpless child is shot out into space.

It could be argued that the rocket would have a better chance of reaching Earth if it was only carrying Kal-El's weight. This is the how the story goes in later renditions. The journey was too far and the extra weight would require more fuel. But in Superman #53, Jor-El is Krypton's greatest scientist and talks to the Council of Five about building ships to leave the planet. He knew about the dangers and the ship he managed to build was able to hold his wife and son. Some versions show the Kryptonians as cold and a little unfeeling. That would explain how a mother could send out her baby into the coldness of space. But that would mean she either didn't have faith the rocket would make it to Earth or actually did care about Kal-El's safety. Lara also states her wish to give their son a chance.

Man of Steel #1, 1986

What's the deal? Why would Superman's mom give up the chance to raise him? Why did she choose to stay with her husband in death rather than live to raise her child? Over the years and with the different tellings of his origin, this decision has been taken away from Lara. In John Byrne's The Man of Steel #1 in 1986, the ship is referred to as a matrix orb. Kal-El wasn't even born and the orb would shield him from the poisonous radiation of space. Because it wasn't a normal ship, the choice of Lara accompanying her son wasn't even a question.

With the origin constantly changing, the move was made away from Lara choosing her husband over her child. Both Superman: Birthright and Superman Secret Origin

show there was no choice. Was Lara a bad mother for abandoning her child? Was the actual reason she stayed behind on a planet that was about to explode? Is this why Kal-El's departure from Krypton has been changed over the years? We may never know the actual answer.

What are your thoughts on why Lara stayed behind? Was it out of love for her husband, love for her child in giving him a stronger chance of survival or was it out of fear in traveling through space?

142 Comments Refresh
Posted by InnerVenom123

Plot device, like you said.

Posted by ComicMan24
@InnerVenom123 said:
" Plot device, like you said. "
I agree with that.
Edited by RazzaTazz

It is an interesting question. Even if she knew that her planet was doomed but that her son would live, there is no way to be assured that he would be found on earth by such good parents as the Kents. For instance what if Lex Luthor had found Superman? The planet would be a completely different place, with Lex Luthor acting as surrogate father to Superman (Clark Luthor?). I think based on that you have to assume that there was some sort of compelling reason for her to stay behind. Maybe she couldnt bear to live in a world without ridiculously large head gear which apaprently was worn on a daily basis.

Posted by tonis

I'm surprised they've never really delved into this more in the books G-Man. 
It really dives into the same types of questions an orphan might feel and the possible conflicts it could cause with them emotionally. 
What would a Superman who felt abandoned be like?

Posted by moffattbooks

Plot as well as the flaws and prejudices Lara would still have from Krypton, could she adjust to being a single mom on Earth.  Plus earlier generations still had the nuclear family of a mom and dad unlike today, perhaps they didn't to mess with that

Posted by weapon154

First and last son to get out of there.

Posted by tigerex78

Plot device. 

Posted by SupremoMaximo

I'm amazed they can stand in such close proximity to a launching rocket.. It's a wonder it made it passed their atmosphere with that puff of smoke.  And he was the smartest man on Krypton?  Phineas and Ferb have done better with a lot less. 
But wasn't the craft bigger so he can grow inside the rocket while it's travelling through space? It's not like he goes in an infant and should land an infant when. it takes about 18 months to get to Mars.  It'll be like in Smallville at the very minimal where he walks out of the corn field around 8 years old or so.

Posted by ForeignLawns

Yeah, definitely a plot device. Kal-El must be unique, or else the character is not special.

Posted by RazzaTazz
The reason there is no puff is because he is such a genius.  Remember, the hardest thing is to make things look easy.   
I think also the reasoning is that it used some sort of advanced technology to travel through space.  Its didnt just have one burst of propellant and coasted to Earth.  More like at the beginning of Superman Returns I think, going through wormholes and what not.   
Posted by DeadpoolvIronFist
@InnerVenom123 said:
" Plot device, like you said. "
Posted by thecheckeredman

For some reason I always remember reading/hearing it was "an experimental" rocket/space craft, which IMHO explains/justifies it's smaller size and scope.  Just saying...

Posted by Vitality

Superman has been out for how long now...? You really have nothing else to talk about? 
I'm sorry...but at this point in time...this is a very ridiculous question.
Posted by RYU/BATMAN

This will answer your question, this is also my response to your question. Just skip to 3:33 or just watch the video from the beginning. Actually start the video at 3:33 or little bit earlier than that 3:28 or so. 

Posted by Soldier zero

The in-story answer to this question varied depending to who told the story, but the key point is that it's plot device. The Man of Steel explanation made a bit more sense than others.
Another version I found somewhere was that the rocket wasn't meant to be a transport at all, but some sort of unmanned probe, which was hastily jury-rigged by Jor-El into a mini space-ship.

Posted by Overkill

If I remembering correctly, that was for giving Kal-El a better chance of surviving.

Posted by RazzaTazz
G-Man is constantly asking questions like this, you dont have to answer them if you dont want to.   
As for the actual story, it might make sense that his parents sent him away as a precaution and intended to follow soon after, but then the planet exploded unexpectedly or ahead of when it was supposed to.  That would be better seeing as Supergirl also escaped, sort of like lets get the children off first.  It could also be that the spacecraft was like a prototype and they put the baby in there in the faint hopes that it might work.   
As grave as it sounds when you are about to be in a plane crash, and if you have a baby the best advice is to put the baby on the floor.  If you hold the baby you will crush it agains the force of the impact, resulting in certain death, if you put it in a seat it is also equally likely to die.  In the aisle at least the baby has a small chance to hit something soft and to save its life in this fashion.  Maybe the Superbaby capsule is something more along these lines as well.  Sort of well we are all going to die, maybe Kal-El and Kara might survive in this thing I made.
Posted by Krakoa

Comic books hate science.

Posted by Vitality
Don't get me wrong...I mean no disrespect. It's just that usually these questions he has are more relevant to something new...or something that has just came about. 
Superman was the only one in his ship since 1938. It just struck me as odd that this is a question to be asked as I see it as no longer being relevant.'s obviously a plot device, as the writer could have easily had both his parents come along if he wanted them to.
Posted by RazzaTazz
It does sort of hit me as old comic book logic as well, I think G-Man is most interested in updating continuity with these questions.  Which is good, because any time you update continuity you give invariably give a chracter more depth.  And character with rich backgrounds make the most compelling.   
Posted by Icemizer

When Jor-el discoverd that Krypton was about to go boom he appealed to the science council to approve his plan to build ships to save his people. They council dismissed his explosive claims and told him Krypton would survive. Having already build the small prototype its was ready for launch when the planet started to destroy itself much earlier than Jor-el thought it would. The protoype was desinged to hold a small test package but Jor-el quickly refitted it to hold his son.
Posted by Psykhophear

I have two reactions after reading this interesting article. A part of me wants to say that yes, despite living in this highly intellectual, highly advanced planet, it is kinda silly that Superman's parents couldn't get a bigger rocket ship to fit all three of them in. But if you think about it, Superman was aging when he was in the rocket and when he landed on planet Earth, he became a few years older than before. If his parents were in the same rocket, they might die of old age. 
My other reaction to this is to say that it's only a comic book and who gives a s**t. 

Posted by johnny_spam

I think you are thinking about it too much bad things happen and sometimes you can't prepare an above post says that krypton might have been years from Earth it would be a disservice and hazard if one of his parents were with him.
Why didn't Thomas and Martha have a bodyguard? Or why didn't they hail a taxi? When things go bad people can only react to the situation as best they can and sometimes in hindsight they figure they could have had a better idea. Sh!t happens.

Posted by Video_Martian
@tigerex78 said:
" Plot device.  "
Edited by sora_thekey
@ForeignLawns said:

"Yeah, definitely a plot device. Kal-El must be unique, or else the character is not special. "

Supergirl, Krypto, Superboy, Power Girl... Yep, special! 
jk! Seriously, it would seem like the outcome of having a parent along for the ride might've changed everything too much. I mean just read Superman: The Last Family of Krypton's Elseworld story
Posted by JonesDeini
@InnerVenom123 said:
" Plot device, like you said. "
Yeah, some things in comics shouldn't be over thought...or thought about at all for that matter lol
Posted by RedheadedAtrocitus

    I have a few theories myself for why the official story is put out as this.  First of all, with regard to the  size of the ship I think, at least with how normal continuity tries to explain, Jor-El was working in secret to keep that ship from the council and somehow I think had he made a larger ship that the powers that be would have uncovered his plan, and therefore the whole House of El would have been doomed.  In addition, even if this was not an issue there would be, as others have claimed in posts here, that the ship was obviously not only an interstellar traveller but an intergalactic ship.  And if memory serves, Krypton was not even part of the Milky Way galaxy and therefore this ship would have had to traverse several galaxies of the universal cosmos before even arriving to Earth.  Scientifically then the pre-Crisis Superman, in my opinion, should have not only have reached adulthood in that travel to Earth but its quite possible he should have perished on the ship before even reaching the Solar System, that is unless the ship was equipped with a hyperdrive/warpdrive system more advanced than even the Star Trek Expanded Universe could make!  Not even travel on singularities (i.e. wormholes) could make the travel that fast.  Therefore I think from a practical standpoint maybe Jor-El and Lara knew that even if a bigger ship could have been made, its very likely they would have died on it.  Still, if theoretically Kal should have died from longevity of the trip, why didn't they stick together rather than die separated?  Who knows!
Posted by AskaniSon295

Lara doesn't go because she can't imagine life without Jor-El. He is her one and only love and without him she would wither away and die. Her Love for he husband is much stronger than her love for her son. The real question is if Lara knew krypton was gonna explode before superman was born would she have had an abortion.

Posted by Billy Batson

because they we're too lazy.

Posted by Jake Fury

Obviously Lara hadn't lost the baby weight and that was a very tough issue for women on Krypton at that time.
Posted by Norusdog

are you really that hard up for something to post that you can only come up with this? it's explained why there was only room for 1 in just about every version of the story.
whether it's because of lack of time to build a full size rocket to failure to get a full size rocket to work to Kryptonians being "bound" to their planet and Jor-El curing his son of it (therefore being unable to leave)
And I'm not even an every day superman fan.
but seriously..what's next? why did Batman turn to fighting crime?

Posted by Decept-O

I've often been accused of thinking too much into something.  Perhaps the same can be said here for you, G-Man.  Ha Ha!    
I just think of the whole issue in this way:  Kal-El's parents demonstrated the ultimate sacrifice for the life of their son.   
Even if they weren't certain if the rocket was going to make it and if his mom decided not to board the rocket, the main thing is that Superman survived.  'Nuff said.
Posted by Joe Venom

A single parent in this economy! not a chance

Posted by ld12278

Why did only Kal-El go alone? Because think about it, would you want to travel the stars jam-packed in a spaceship with your mom? Didn't think so... Plus, that would take away from the Kents embedding him with their morals and values. With Lara Lor-Van on Earth, Kal-El would probably rule Earth with his mother. Finally, since Lara Lor-Van would have powers too, would she herself turn evil? Hm.....

Posted by karrob
@ComicMan24 said:
" @InnerVenom123 said:
" Plot device, like you said. "
I agree with that. "
Same here
Posted by G-Man
@norusdog: Did you look at the images? I included images from a couple issues that clearly stated there was more than enough room for both Lara and Kal-El. Look at some of the different versions of the rocket. They actually started getting bigger over time until the late 70s/early 80s. I don't get why you and some others are so upset over something that was on my mind.
Posted by joshmightbe
@RedheadedAtrocitus: The baby spent most of the travel time in suspended animation it was actually a really long time between leaving krypton and arriving on Earth and if he hadn't been in some kind of stasis he would've died of old age a long time before he got here
Posted by RazzaTazz
Agreed, why do people come on a forum to talk about comics, then complain about talking about comics?
Posted by leokearon

Wasn't space travel banned around the time Kal was launched, so Jor-El building a ship for three, even two might end up with him and Lara being arrested and therfefore unable to send their son. 
Even if the ship was big for two, would Lara even survive the journey?  Also Lara wasn't a bad mother, she was just devoted to the man she loved and didn't want her to die alone. Still how could neither of them packed any supplies for Kal=El barring Crystals, I bet the Kents would have loved some super-nappies.

Posted by G-Man
@RazzaTazz: Also I know I often bring up slightly absurd topics but that's kind of the point. These are things that have been on my mind. I am aware we're just talking about comic book characters and *shudder* they're not real. I don't think we should just blindly accept everything we're suppose to believe or overlook. 
Posted by neillius

maybe it was for the moses parallel. Why didn't Moses mother hop in the basket with him as it was going down the river?
Edited by Vitality

It's not that we're upset. Not even really complaining. 
It's just that the answer to this question is so obvious that asking the question borderlines the absurd. 
Give us something we can actually discuss.
Posted by drphilter

Maybe its the romantic in me but i think its particularly sweet that the couple would wanna be together in their last moments. Of course when you are a family of three you should be looking at family sized spacecrafts. sure the smaller ones are sportier but so impractical for grocery getting and soccer practice.

Posted by RazzaTazz
@G-Man: Well I for one like your topics, in fact discussing how to make comics more realistic accounts for about half my blogs on CV.  Movies have gone the way of Jason Bourne, why can't comics follow the lead?  Especially when they are a lot more avant garde than movies usually are. 
Posted by neillius
Its comics G-Man, we all take it pretty seriously. Especially something that changes who the character is.  

I think even in the Superman movie Jor-El agrees that him and his wife will not leave Krypton.

Posted by kore

Superman's parents sent that Kryptonian crystal with him that contained all of Krypton's knowledge and imprinted with Jor-El to answer Kal's questions, so they were in a sense with him.

Edited by perry_411

Can someone tell(PM) me what the S stands for?

Posted by queenfrost_

Speaking of Superman origins...The co-creater of superman's wife, the woman who lois lane was based on, died today :(
and back to the story i think just watch smallville abounded

Posted by kore
Kryptonians don't use the same alphabet as we do, it's just a "coincidence" that it's an "s". It's "really" just the family crest. I believe a full figure "8" denotes royalty.
Posted by RazzaTazz
I take it you mean this? 
"Joanne Siegel, who as a Cleveland teenager during the Depression hired herself out as a model to an aspiring comic book artist, Joe Shuster, and thus became the first physical incarnation of Lois Lane, Superman’s love interest, died on Saturday in Santa Monica, Calif. She was 93." 
Not creator I guess, but her role in comic book history is appreciated.