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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 Fantasgasmic

This is one thing New52 has done right in regards to Superman: it's not that Lara didn't want to go, it's that she couldn't. Rao was so massive and exerted such a strong gravitational pull on Krypton that it was difficult to reach escape velocity. A ship needs to be able to exert a force greater than, and opposing gravity, to get off world, and to do that it needs to burn fuel. The heavier the payload, the more fuel is needed. That fuel has its own weight, and requires more power out of the engines.

As revolutionary as Jor-El's spacecraft was, its engine wasn't advanced/powerful/efficirent enough to get off world, and travel faster than light all the way to earth with Lara's extra weight.

Edited by UltimateSMfan

maybe in some situations jor-el foresaw Krypton's demise but the situation probably escalated faster than he thought or calculated,so there wasnt enough time to build a the new 52 its givin more clearly that due to krypton's immense gravity it was unsafe to attempt to launch ships into space,the only three that were ever launched completely were h'el's Kara's and Superman's that we kno of, if this topic im only guessin has come up in anyway out of watchin the movie well its pretty clearly explained there,jor-el felt it best his society needed a new beginning(or Hope) in the form of Kal.

As for Lara's choices i think it wld be SOOO much harder for her to adapt even if it was possible for hr to go with kal,but they wldve been found out and probably destroyed or under the goverments lock and key for their entire life. Since a baby wld be more comfortable with a fresh start...cld be another reason.

Posted by The_Vein

I prefer the origins when there is some reason that Lara and Jor can't go with Kal, either the ship is too small or experimental or their added weight would make it too hard for the ship to make it to Earth, remember in Birthright the ship was operating on like .5% power when it crashed into Kansas.

And the people just saying, "It's just a plot device," well no shit, everything in comics is a plot device, Batman's parents getting shot, Hal finding Abin Sur, they're all plot devices.

Posted by Dark_Vengeance_

@tonis: He would be like more like Batman.

Edited by _Xander_Slade_

Because plot device

Posted by RDClip

Whenever it is brought up that Lara could have gone with baby Kal, I'm always angry and confused. Of course she would decide to go with her baby. There's nothing more obsessed than a mother trying to protect her children. So, Lara having the choice to go with Kal and choosing not to really damages her as a character.

And why does any Superman writer even bring it up? It was the case in Superman: the Animated Series as well as a few others that I can't remember at the moment. Every writer should just have Jor-El state that it was just the 2nd prototype (after Krypto's rocket) and thus it was built for one dog in mind and thus only baby Kal could fit.

Posted by SoA

ive seen that first pic , that the ship was a prototype , and in a what-if style story , krypton didn't explode and the ship was recalled back to the planet

Posted by TheFirstLantern

I believe that the Man of Steel explanation is the best.

Edited by GR2Blackout

'Cuz the story demanded it. Kind of like in The Avengers how Hulk can now suddenly control his anger (Which might just be Marvel's way of saying "INCREDIBLE HULK 2 IS NEVER HAPPENING!")

Posted by InnerVenom123
Edited by Pokergeist

Lazy, lazy writing. Thats why.

Posted by Superguy0009e

I always felt that there was only enough time to make the ship work for Kal-El. They could've made it carry all of them (and I believe there was a story that had them all survive) but I don't think they would have made it.

Posted by EnSabahNurX

Great article. I like to think (like stated above) it's because the ship flying with Kal alone would have a better chance of reaching earth. It seemed logical that Jor-el and Lara would want Kal to have the best shot of surviving putting his safety completely ahead of their own.

Also it's a plot device XD but I like to ignore that from a story standpoint because it diminishes the sacrifice.

Posted by Darkmount1

As Double D in the "Ed, Edd n' Eddy" episode "Dawn of the Eds" once said:
"Well, I told you, this is the prototype. When this is properly tested, THEN I will build the real one."

And once frustratingly reiterated in that same episode:
"It's a PROTOTYPE!!"

Posted by Owie

Yeah, there is no good reason for this. I have always wondered what the theoretical reason was.

Edited by Durakken

The ship was a prototype in all versions I've read where there was an explanation. It was never meant to be used to go to Earth, but rather it was meant to figure things out.

The reason why Lara doesn't go changes from story to story though. Older versions it's about staying with Jor-El. In the Post-Crisis timeline the reason was that Jor-El had broken the eradicator genes in Kal-El, but either couldn't or didn't have time to attempt to break them in anyone else which means Kal-El was literally the only one who could have left the planet. Which then means you have to explain Zod (Phantom Zone) and Supergirl (I don't know, but probably Jor-El's brother broke the code or something like that)

If I remember right, in the current canon of DCnU Lara stays behind, not because it's a choice but to protect the ship from being destroyed or whatever by Kryptonian forces...

Posted by PCN24454

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.

Smallville Season 10 Episode 10 is what happens if Kal-El was raised by someone evil. In the Smallville continuity, his ship was looking for someone with Hiram Kent's DNA, but how would Jor-El know that Jonathan would live up to the task. I think a lot about destiny is pure luck.

Posted by Mucklefluga

She would feel bad leaving her other family to die so remained on the planet.

Posted by 9999G1O1D1S0000

1 Kryptonian CAN NOT LEAVE Krypton

2 HERE WAY But as Kryptonian civilization flourished, t he planet turned towards isolationism. Space exploration was abandoned as Krypton quarantined itself from the surrounding galaxy. All Kryptonians were unable to leave their planet or they would die instantly. This was the result of the Eradicator altering their genetic codes of Kryptonians to keep them planet-bound after a group of them left Krypton to explore and colonize other planets. The Eradicator punished these Kryptonians by altering their genetic codes to be vulnerable to lead, which resulted in the Daxamites. 3

  • General Zod's ability to function on Earth owes largely to material established in the 2003 limited series Superman: Birthright. Birthright provided what is now considered the definitive origin of Superman, as well as that of his Kryptonian upbringing. Originally, Pre-Crisis canon established that during Krypton's fifth historical epoch, a scientist named Kem-L (an ancestor of Superman), created a device known as the Eradicator. On a historic day, the Eradicator was activated and produced a wave of energy, which genetically bound all Kryptonians not only to each other, but to the planet as well. Because of this, if a Kryptonian ever attempted to leave Krypton, they would die.[6] All Kryptonians born after the time of Kem-L inherited this same genetic defect (which helped to explain why there were never any Kryptonian Green Lanterns). In Krypton's final days,Jor-El managed to find a cure for the defect, and administered it to his son Kal-El before sending away from the planet.[7] When Mark Waid wrote Superman: Birthright, this aspect of Kryptonian biology was excised from the new history. As Kryptonians no longer suffer this genetic defect, characters such as General Zod are able to leave their home environment and travel to new worlds 4 THE IS WAY THE TAC KILLD

Posted by The_Titan_Lord
Posted by kalorama

Of course it was a plot device,. But it's a plot device with a pretty simple (and obvious) in-story justification.

In most versions of the origin, they build/prep the ship in secret in order to hide it and their plan from the Kryptonian military and/or High Council (because in most versions of the origin, their plan is in direct violation with Kryptonian law and/or Council decree). The bigger something is the harder it is to hide/keep secret. They could probably build and hide a ship small enough to carry an infant inside their home. A ship big enough to carry an infant and two adults? Probably not.

Posted by Necrotic_Lycanthrope

I chalk it up to being the birthing matrix conundrum that was introduced in the not-death of Superman in the 90's.

Edited by Phaedrusgr

@razzatazz: Now, I want to read a what if story with Clark Luthor...

Posted by DonFelipe
Edited by redhood21

in the book (good read) last days of krypton i think they became an isolationist race and banned space travel. Leaving was heresy or something... i should read that again...

Posted by Highball792

@razzatazz: Lex is around the same age as Superman (in modern depictions), so that couldn't have happened. Also, I believe Superman would be good and fight for truth and justice, though maybe to a lesser degree, regardless of where he landed... (Apart from the antimatter universe) I mean, I've never seen a bad superman, even in Flashpoint, where he was found by the government, though General Lane was pretty fatherly to him.

Posted by Squalleon

because they we're too lazy.

Why not bold letters?

Edited by RazzaTazz

I think to put a modern spin on this is kind of unnecessary. One of the things that makes Superman distinctive is that his character is derived from the Golden Age. If you think of the modern amenities available now - microwave ovens, interstate highways, cell phones - none of those existed back then and so the character is inherently rooted in the pulpy science fiction novels of the 1930s, or to go back even further to Verne or Burroughs. Just like we don't try to rationalize how the Nautilus might have been possible in the 1800s, we sort of need to take the inexplicable parts of Superman's origin as a legacy of the development of the medium. That considered though, such oversights like why there is only room for one does not detract very much away from the character in terms of origin. In the wide realm of explanations it still is a lot tighter than "can shoot lasers out of his eyes because of genetic evolution."

In both literature and human culture there is also the concept of the savior, but the solitary savior. Jesus acted alone, as did Mohammed, but so then too did characters from a lot of stories, for instance I Am Legend. If Superman had come with his whole family, it would have taken away from this concept, and made him less of a hero.

Posted by BATMAN9797

because that's how the story goes

Posted by nrgb2814

Because Batman always wins!!! Oh wait...

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Posted by Herokiller12344

The answer is simple: Jor El clearly knew that a baby had a better chance of adapting to an alien world that he and his middle age bombshell of a wife.

Posted by RedHood13

Doesn't Clark ask that to Jor-El in Man of Steel? I think he says it's something about Jor-El and Lara-El being tied to Krypton (the whole pre-determined what the baby is gonna do before birth thing)

Edited by ScreamingGhost

STAS had some decent logic behind as to why but yeah its just a plot device.

Edited by bigtewell

i thought back during the war world arc they said kryptonians couldnt survive off planet due to someones genetic tampering and kal was the only one able to survive. this was when he got the eradicator. now this was in the 90s so its probly retconned and i havent read it in over 10 years

Posted by Nekratos

its a plot device but i also thought the ship couldn't hold more than 50 lbs or something like that

Edited by andy_117
@vitality said:

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.

The release of the movie surely makes it more or less timely.

Edited by doccomic

According to legend, John Byrne's original plan was that a pregnant Lara would have been sent off in the ship. When she was found by the Kents, she was in labor and died due to complications from the birth. This was also to hammer home Byrne's "HE WAS BORN IN AMERICA" schtick. Apparently it was vetoed and he came up with the birthing matrix workaround.

Posted by GeekOfKrypton

It was an experimental ship, Jor_El probably never knew he had to use it like that. just a thought...

Posted by Arkhamc1tizen

it was just a prototype rocket so it was designed for more but made for one.

or another theory was Jor-El wanted to make it faster, so smaller, so he had to compact as much food and water and air into one place.

Posted by Crazypanda_85

I thought it was more than well known but the story of Superman is loosely based on the story of Moses. While Pharaoh was slaying the first born boys, baby Moses was placed in a raft and put in the Nile River to flow upstream in hopes of an Egyptian to find and take in their son. Eventually Pharaoh's wife found him and took him in as her own. He grew up and ended up being a savior to his people. Instead of being the savior of Krytonians, Superman became a savior of the people of Earth and continues to help deliver them from the hands of evil doers. That's why there was only room for one, like everyone else said, for the purpose of the plot.

Edited by 9999G1O1D1S0000

1. Jor-El had created a serum that he invented that would allow a Kryptonian to leave the planet safely way did he not mass produced for a Krypton so much for most advanced race universe 2 dozens of probes that can transportation human beings so way not sand the serum that he invented that would allow a Kryptonian to leave the planet safely on the probes 3. Kryptonian ask or call a Green Lantern Corps space sector? for help move the Kryptonian on planet Krypton to planet Colu home of Coluans 2 advanced race universe from Kryptonian. ps Green Lantern who not Tomar-Re for help he try to save Krypton by himself