Jonathan and Martha Kent

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Jonathan and Martha Kent
Secret Origin 1.jpg
Jonathan and Martha Kent as they appear in Superman: Secret Origin, with a young Clark. Cover to Superman: Secret Origin #1 by Gary Frank.
Publication information
Publisher DC Comics
First appearance Superman #1
(Summer 1939)
Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
In-story information
Full name Jonathan Kent and Martha Kent
Supporting character of Superman
Superboy (Kal-El)

Jonathan Kent and Martha Kent, often referred to as "Pa" and "Ma" Kent (respectively), are the adoptive parents of Superman. They live in the rural town of Smallville, Kansas. In most versions of Superman's origin story, Jonathan and Martha were the first to come across the rocket that brought the infant Kal-El, with their adopting him shortly thereafter, renaming him Clark Kent, "Clark" being Martha's maiden name.

The Kents are usually portrayed as caring parents who instill within Clark a strong sense of morals, and they encourage Clark to use his powers for the betterment of humanity. In a few continuities, Martha is also the one who creates Clark's superhero costume.

In DC Comics continuity before John Byrne's 1986 reboot of the Superman story, the Kents die shortly after Clark's high school graduation.[1] In post-Crisis continuity, they both remain alive even after Clark becomes an adult, with the Kents as supporting characters until Pa Kent's death during an attack by the supervillain Brainiac.[2] Ma Kent remains a supporting character in Superman comics until 2011's The New 52 continuity reboot, in which both she and her husband are deceased.

Biography[edit]

Golden and Silver Age versions[edit]

In an early unpublished version of Superman Jerry Siegel collaborated with artist Russell Keaton on an infant meta-human Superman is sent back in time to 1935 in rocket-shaped time machine to survive some apocalypse that has ended the human race. He's found and raised by "Sam and Molly Kent". In this version he is human or descended from humans rather than an alien.[citation needed]

Although a "passing motorist" is described as having found the infant Kal-El in the character's first appearance in 1938's Action Comics #1, 1939's Superman #1 introduces Superman's adoptive parents to the mythos, with "Mary Kent" being the only parent given a name. The Kents' first names vary in stories from the 1940s. A 1942 Superman novel, The Adventures of Superman by George Lowther,[3] gave the names "Eben and Sarah Kent", which were also used in the Adventures of Superman television series, but the first extensive retelling of Superman's origin in Superman #53 (July–August 1948, billed inaccurately as a "10th Anniversary Issue!") names them "John and Mary Kent". This issue firmly establishes that it is the Kents who discover the infant Kal-El (unlike later stories, but like the 1950s television series, the small "space-ship" is utterly destroyed, removing all traces of Kal-El's alien origin). The Kents take him to a "home for foundlings" and express an interest in adopting him, to which the home readily agrees after suffering the disruption of the infant's growing abilities. This story also establishes that "Clark" is Mary Kent's maiden name. Mary and John Kent (in that order) die of natural causes as "Clark grew to manhood", with John on his deathbed imploring Clark to become "a powerful force for good" and suggesting that Clark is a "Superman", a name adopted by Clark in the story's final panel. Oddly, no mention of "Superboy" is included, though that feature had already been established.

Pa Kent is first named Jonathan in Adventure Comics v1 #149 (Feb 1950). Ma Kent is first named Marthe in Superboy v1 #12 (Jan-Feb 1951) and Martha in subsequent appearances. Her full name is given as Martha Hudson Clark Kent in answer to a letter writer's query in Superman v1 #148 (Oct 1961). Later stories,[4] after the early 1960s introduction of DC's Multiverse system, declare that the early version of the Kents are named "John and Mary Kent" and live on the world of "Earth-Two", home of the Golden Age DC superheroes, while the more modern Jonathan and Martha Kent live on the world of "Earth-One", home of the Silver Age DC superheroes.

Martha and Jonathan Kent, as they appear in comics from the 1970s and 1980s. From New Adventures of Superboy #1 (January 1980). Art by Kurt Schaffenberger.

The Kents made few appearances in Superman stories until the introduction of the Superboy comic book series in 1949. In this series, they are regular supporting characters of the teenage superhero. The Superboy stories establish the Kents' backstory. Jonathan, a former race car driver,[5] is a farmer on a farm just outside of Smallville. After he and Martha find the toddler Kal-El in his rocket, they take him to the Smallville Orphanage and later formally adopt him, naming him "Clark". They soon discover that Clark possesses a fantastic array of superpowers. Around the time Clark starts school, the Kents sell their farm, and the family moves into Smallville, where they open a general store.[6] During Clark's early grade school years, Jonathan trains young Clark in the use of his superpowers to the best of his knowledge while urging him to keep the use of his powers a secret. At the age of eight,[7] Clark begins a superhero career as Superboy. Martha creates Superboy's costume out of the blankets inside the rocket that brought him to Earth, and Jonathan helps him to create a means of making Superboy and Clark appear to be different people by developing Clark's secret identity as a mild-mannered, reserved individual. The Kents assist their adopted son on many adventures as Superboy.

In Superboy vol. 1 #145 (March 1968), Jonathan and Martha are rejuvenated physically and appear younger due to the influence of an alien serum. After this, Jonathan and Martha were drawn by artists as late middle-aged — as opposed to elderly — in appearance until Superman's 1986 reboot. After Clark graduates from high school, Jonathan and Martha take a vacation to the Caribbean Islands, where they contract a fatal and rare tropical disease after handling materials from a pirate's treasure chest they had exhumed; despite Superboy's best efforts, Martha dies, with Jonathan dying soon thereafter. Before dying, Jonathan reminds Clark that he must always use his powers for the benefit of humanity.[1] Clark mourns his parents and moves to Metropolis to attend college.

In Superman and Superboy stories prior to 1986, both the Kents die before the beginning of Clark's adult career as Superman. However, Jonathan did receive one opportunity to see his adopted son as the Man of Steel. After Superboy assists a group of interplanetary farmers from an alien world,[8] they repay him by granting Jonathan's subconscious desire to see Clark in the future as Superman. Using their advanced technology, they place an artificially-aged Jonathan years into the future, warping reality to make it appear that he had never died, and had maintained contact with his son all along. After spending 30 hours in the future with his adult son, Jonathan is returned by the aliens to his proper time period. The incident is removed from everyone's conscious memory, and the timeline is restored to normal.[9]

Modern Age versions[edit]

The Man of Steel[edit]

Jonathan and Martha Kent in The Man of Steel (1986). Art by John Byrne.

After comics writer John Byrne rewrote Superman's origin in the 1986 The Man of Steel limited series, one of the changes he made was keeping Jonathan and Martha Kent alive into Clark's adulthood. The Kents have the same role as in the earlier stories, instilling within Clark the morals needed to become a strong and heroic figure. A Legion of Super-Heroes/Superman team-up that was written to explain why the Legion still exists even without Superboy confirms that post-Crisis Jonathan and Martha Kent are younger than their pre-Crisis counterparts, explaining in part why they live on in Clark's adult life.[10]

In this version of events, after a Kryptonian "birthing matrix" lands on Earth, Jonathan and Martha find a newborn infant inside. Taking the infant in just before a major snowstorm strikes (that buried Smallville in snow for a number of months and cut off outsiders' access to the Kent family farm), the couple decides to pass the infant off as their own natural child, naming him "Clark". Clark's powers slowly develop, with his powers fully emerging once he reaches his late teens. After Clark's high school graduation, the Kents tell Clark about his extraterrestrial origins, and Clark leaves Smallville to explore the outside world. After Clark moves to Metropolis, Jonathan and Martha help Clark to create a superhero identity.

In the Man of Steel mini-series and afterwards, the Kents remain farmers through Clark's adult years, although a storyline[volume & issue needed] features them having opened a general store in Smallville. Although Jonathan is still alive in the comics, he suffers a heart attack after The Death of Superman storyline,[11] and he meets Clark in the afterlife and encourages him to return to life with him. The Kents' post-Crisis history is more fully fleshed out in the late 1980s limited series The World of Smallville, with Jonathan's ancestors' history more fully explored in the 1990s limited series The Kents.

Following Clark reaching adulthood and moving to Metropolis, the Kents continue to play a prominent role in Clark's life, and also in the lives of his extended alien family. When the Matrix Supergirl arrives on earth, she moves in for a time with the Kents, who treat her a like a daughter. The Kents later take in Clark's half-clone, Kon-El, also known as Superboy. They give him the name Conner Kent and care for him in much the same was as they did Clark. However, Conner is not Clark, and while he appreciates everything the Kents did, he does not much like living on a farm. The couple find themselves childless again when Conner dies during the Infinite Crisis. Afterwards, Kara Zor-El, (Clark's recently discovered cousin) visits, questioning the Kents as to why Clark never asked that she live with them.[12] The Kents also help Lois and Clark in dealing with their adopted son, Chris Kent.

Birthright[edit]

The Kents were again altered in 2003's Superman: Birthright limited series by Mark Waid, which again revised Superman's origins.[13] Jonathan is portrayed as having a more strained relationship with his son, mainly due to Jonathan's childhood experiences with his overbearing father, and he and Martha are depicted as far younger at the time of Clark adopting his Superman identity than in past portrayals, appearing here to be scarcely middle-aged.

The younger version of the Kents as depicted in Superman: Birthright. Art by Leinil Francis Yu.

The Kents' appearances were altered to resemble the younger versions of actor John Schneider and actress Annette O'Toole, who portray the Kents in the Smallville television series.[14] Although now shown wearing glasses, Jonathan has a full head of blond hair, and Martha has long red tresses. This younger portrayal of the Kents has persisted in the regular DC Universe since Birthright was published.

One of the major subplots of Birthright is a rift between Jonathan and Clark. Although not unprecedented (the post-Crisis Jonathan was critical of Clark for "showing off" by playing football with his human peers, and the Smallville Jonathan is often in disagreement with Clark over the protection of his son's secret), the strain in their relationship is such that the father and son are barely speaking to each other at the opening of the series. Jonathan has conflicting feelings regarding Clark's powers and his decision to use it for the benefit of humanity; he seems to feel that he has lost the affections of his newly-adult son, partly due to Clark's fascination with his Kryptonian origins. Unlike most previous incarnations of Jonathan Kent, the Birthright Jonathan is not particularly encouraging or instrumental in the formation of Clark's Superman identity or mission, although over the course of the series, father and son are eventually reconciled.

In Birthright, Martha is sassier and more at odds with her husband over how Clark should live than in previous comic incarnations. Because Jonathan has little to do with the creation of the Superman identity, Martha plays a more prominent role in this regard. She is also far more technologically savvy than ever before, communicating with Clark via encrypted e-mail as he travels around the world. In contrast, Jonathan is more withdrawn, struggling with insecurities and anger issues that stem from his treatment by his verbally abusive father, Matthew Kent.

Post-Birthright[edit]

Since the events of Infinite Crisis, Superman's continuity has been revised yet again from the Birthright origin, as briefly summarized in Action Comics #850. Although various aspects of his past are clearly retconned from the Birthright version, there is little to specifically indicate that the Kents themselves have been substantially changed. They are initially still depicted with younger appearances and the Schneider and O'Toole likenesses, however this eventually gives way to older, more traditionally generic, grey-haired representations.

A new origin story for Superman was revealed in Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's Superman: Secret Origin. This origin for the most part follows closely with the Silver Age history. For example, Clark's Superboy storyline is re-introduced, as is his history with the Legion of Super-Heroes. Also, unlike Birthright, Jonathan is shown to have an equal standing as Martha in helping Clark create his heroic identity. In fact, Martha and Jonathan are the ones who suggest Clark dons a super-hero costume, which initially Clark is not fond of. In this version, the Kents are both shown to already have graying hair when they find the baby Kal-El, but are still drawn to be considerably younger, more in-tune to their Birthright counterparts; as the miniseries progresses into Clark's adulthood and debut as Superman, they visibly age and their appearances come to match those in The Man of Steel. This version also had Kal-El's spaceship not sensitive to Kryptonian DNA; anyone who got within proximity of the ship was shown the prerecorded message left by Jor-El and Lara, as well as scene of Kryptonian life. Jonathan and Martha are shown images of Krypton, although it is Martha who appears more fascinated with the scientifically advanced and beautiful race of Kryptonians.

At the conclusion of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's Brainiac story arc, Pa Kent suffers a fatal heart attack during Brainiac's attack on Earth's sun. His funeral, attended by all his family friends from Smallville, is shown in the Superman: New Krypton Special in which Martha, refusing to be a hindrance for their son, asks Clark to leave her alone at the farm and go attend the more pressing matter of Kandor's restoration and transformation in New Krypton. Despite her reassurances to Clark that she will be okay, Martha begins to suffer from loneliness at being alone on the Kent Farm. Sensing that Martha needed a friend, and also feeling lonely without Clark, Krypto arrives on the front porch, offering Martha much needed companionship.

Following the Final Crisis storyline, Clark returns from the 31st Century along with a newly resurrected Conner Kent. Conner moves back in with Martha, finding a new appreciation for Smallville and the farm, following his death. This further helps to assuage Martha's loneliness, as she states that she disliked living in a "quiet" house.

During the Blackest Night storyline, the body of the deceased Earth-Two Superman is turned into a Black Lantern, and goes on a killing spree through Smallville, culminating with the abduction of Pa's coffin from his grave, and the kidnapping of Ma by the Black Lantern Lois Lane of Earth-Two. The Earth-Two Superman declares that Ma and Pa will soon be back in each other's arms.[15] While Conner and Clark deal with Earth-Two Superman, Martha is left to deal with the Black Lantern Lois, who chases Martha into the cornfield.[16] However, Martha fights back against Black Lantern Lois, with the help of Krypto. Together, the two of them light the cornfield on fire, and Krypto temporarily severs Lois' connection to the Black Lantern Ring, allowing for Martha to survive.[17]

After Blackest Night, Lex Luthor briefly acquires near-omnipotent power and attempts to drive Superman mad by forcing him to experience the human emotions he believed the alien merely faked in order to blend in with humanity, only to become outraged when he learned that Superman's defining moment of tragedy was Jonathan's death as he could not accept that his enemy was raised by humans or had such a good upbringing compared to his own anguished relationship with his father.[18] When talking about Superman's recent emotional upheaval, Batman speculates that part of the problem is the fact that Clark never really experienced loss prior to Jonathan's death (Krypton's destruction having occurred when he was too young to have any emotional investment in it), although he is confident that his friend will come through recent events.

The New 52[edit]

In September 2011, the entire DC Comics line was rebooted with a new continuity called The New 52. In this new timeline, both Jonathan and Martha Kent have passed away and Clark Kent has to grow into his role as Superman without them.

In other media[edit]

Animated television[edit]

  • In the Legion of Super Heroes animated series, Martha is voiced by Jennifer Hale. Jonathan is only seen at the end of the episode "Fear Factory" in a picture with him, Martha, and a baby Clark Kent in a Superman blanket. Also, Lightning Lad sarcastically refers to K3NT, the computer that raised Superman X, also known as Kell-El, as "a regular Ma and Pa Kent".
  • Jonathan and Martha Kent appear in the Young Justice: Invasion episode "True Colors" with Jonathan Kent voiced by Mark Rolston and Martha Kent having no dialogue. Jonathan first appears at a Lexcorp farming facility, taking a tour. He expresses his concern that these farms could put farmers out of business but the tour guide reassures him that the Reach are going to share their farming techniques to the agricultural community. He later allows Superboy, Nightwing, Robin, Impulse, Blue Beetle, and Arsenal to hide out in the Kent family's barn after a disastrous mission at a Lexcorp farming facility, saying that he's happy to have a reason for one of his boys to drop by, referring to Superboy.
  • Martha Kent appears in the "Super Best Friends Forever" episode "Grounded" (as part of DC Nation Shorts), Martha Kent breaks up a fight between Clark and his cousin Kara Zor-El in their superhero identities with a word and effortlessly sends the young Kryptonian girl to her room.

Live-action television[edit]

  • In the 1990s television series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Eddie Jones and K Callan play Jonathan and Martha Kent. Consistent with the post-Crisis comics' version of his story, Jonathan is alive and active in the grown Clark's life, and remains dedicated to running his farm. The series portrayed Martha as a lively sixty-something, interested in creative and self-improving pursuits. The activities this version of Martha pursues include taking classes at the local university extension, trying yoga, and posing for a nude study by an artist friend, leading Jonathan to think she is having an affair. It is Martha who designs the Superman costume after a number of rejected prototypes (including ones that resemble the costumes of Captain America, Daredevil, and Green Lantern). When Superman is teased by the villain Tempus, who asks what would possess him to wear a "fruity" costume of red, yellow and blue tights, Superman (after tying up Tempus) sternly tells him "Because my mother made it for me!"
  • In the 2000s television show Smallville, Annette O'Toole (who previously played Lana Lang in the film Superman III) and John Schneider play Martha and Jonathan Kent respectively. Unlike most adaptations, where they are depicted as elderly, this version of the Kents are in their early 40s upon the series' premiere.[19] They were, at first, depicted as just Clark's parents, raising him and helping him cope with his powers, but soon became more fleshed out as they share a history with Lionel Luthor, whom Jonathan greatly despised since he had to convince Pete Ross' uncles to "sell" their cream corn factory in exchange for having Luthor forge Clark's adoption paperwork. Although Jonathan despises Lionel Luthor, the feelings did not appear to be mutually vindictive as Lionel had once told a Kryptonite-addled Clark that he considered the Kents to be "hardworking, salt of the earth people" who could not possibly have a son trying to attack him, but this may also have been a way of Lionel trying to talk Clark out of attacking him, so as not to shame his adoptive parents. Martha began to develop feelings for Lionel as she worked for him, leading to some tensions in their marriage, but this attraction was always tempered by her knowledge of Lionel's past. Martha and Jonathan also almost had a child when Martha was cured by Clark's spaceship. However, she miscarried after Clark's attempt to destroy the ship, to stop Jor-El's consciousness forcing him to leave Smallville, triggered an explosion that struck the car where Martha was in. Clark briefly ran away to Metropolis under the influence of a red kryptonite ring to escape his guilt. They stayed a strong couple up until the show's 100th episode, "Reckoning" in which Jonathan defeats Lex Luthor in the race to become a Kansas state senator. Jonathan later meets with Lionel, who tells him he knows Clark's secret. Jonathan attacks Lionel and subsequently suffers a heart attack and dies. Martha then takes over his role as senator, and grows closer to Lionel, although she never explores a romantic relationship with him. O'Toole's role on the show gradually shrinks, until she is written out in the sixth season finale "Phantom", in which Martha becomes the junior United States Senator from Kansas. Martha returned to Smallville in the season nine episode "Hostage", as the Red Queen, having used this new identity to protect Clark from those who conspire against him, and later in the season nine finale "Salvation", although not seen, she leaves Clark a box containing his trademark suit which is supposedly designed by Martha herself. Jonathan's spirit appears in the season ten premiere "Lazarus" to counsel his son on how he must confront the approaching darkness, and Clark encounters an alternate version of Jonathan in "Kent," when he returned to a parallel world where Clark was found by Lionel rather than the Kents. O'Toole and Schneider reprise their roles for the last time in the series finale, in which Jonathan is seen sat beside his wife at Clark's wedding to Lois Lane. Jonathan's spirit later appears to Clark at the Fortress where he and Jor-El reminded Clark that the hero he will become has been shaped by his life in Smallville.

Animated films[edit]

  • In the Superman theatrical cartoons from the '40s, the Kents are not mentioned as the finders of baby Kal-El's rocket. Instead, the unseen "passing motorist" of the origin story in Action Comics #1 is referred to as the person who finds the rocket and takes the baby to an orphanage.
  • In the Superman/Batman: Apocalypse animated direct-to-video film, both Jonathan and Martha appear devastated as they come home and see that their farm has been destroyed. I an attempt to calm them, Superman and Supergirl reassure them that they will build them another one.
  • Martha Kent appears in the All-Star Superman 2011 direct-to-DVD animated film voiced by Frances Conroy. Jonathan Kent's name appears in the tombstone when Superman lays a flower on his grave.
  • Frances Conroy later reprises her role of Martha in the 2013 direct-to-DVD animated feature Superman: Unbound.
  • Jonathan and Martha Kent appear in the 2012 animated film Superman vs The Elite with Jonathan voiced by Paul Eiding while Martha appears briefly with no dialogue.

Live-action films[edit]

Glenn Ford as Jonathan Kent with Phyllis Thaxter as Martha in Superman (1978).
  • In the 2006 film Superman Returns, Academy Award winner Eva Marie Saint portrays Martha Kent. Because the film is a semi-sequel to the 1978 film and 1980's Superman II, this version could be considered similar to Phyllis Thaxter's portrayal but with differences included: in the 1978 film, Martha Kent appeared physically frail and nearly-homebound, in Superman Returns she is much more active, driving a stick-shift truck and helping to lift her 200-pound son out of the smoking wreckage of his space ship. Photos of Jonathan Kent (as played by Glenn Ford) are briefly visible in Martha's living room. In this film, when Clark comes back after an absence of five years, she may have already been dating Ben Hubbard but the storyline was cut from the final film.
  • Jonathan and Martha Kent appear in Man of Steel, with Jonathan Kent portrayed by Kevin Costner and Martha Kent portrayed by Diane Lane. In this version, Jonathan is concerned with ensuring Clark's powers remain a secret until the world was ready to accept him for who he really is. To that end, Jonathan was deeply ambivalent upon learning that Clark used his powers to save his classmates and driver during a school bus crash into the river. Jonathan even assisted Pete Ross in protecting Clark when Kenny Braverman and his friends were picking on him. Jonathan Kent dies in a tornado that strikes Smallville where refusing to allow Clark to help rescue the Kent family's dog Hank to protect the secret. For her part, Martha helped Clark to control his super-senses when they were overwhelming him as a child, and refused to give up anything concerning her son to General Zod. Martha is saved only by the timely arrival of Superman, enraged at his adoptive mother being threatened. Lane will reprise her role in the confirmed sequel.[20]

Video games[edit]

  • Jonathan and Martha Kent appear in DC Universe Online voiced by Brandon Young and Diane Perella. They appear as supporting characters for the heroes. In the "Smallville Alert," Jonathan Kent is among the Smallville citizens who get turned into clones of Doomsday and the players have to regress him back to normal.

Parodies[edit]

  • Jonathan and Martha Kent are parodied in the Robot Chicken episode "Catch Me If You Kangaroo Jack" with Jonathan Kent voiced by Mark Hamill and Martha Kent voiced by Diablo Cody. Jonathan tells a child Clark Kent about how he had slain two aliens that "previously crashed into Smallville" as a warning to Clark if he does not remember his P's and Q's. After the young Clark Kent runs off, Martha tells Jonathan that he scared Clark with Jonathan replying that he "cannot successfully spank him."

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Superman #161 (May 1963)
  2. ^ Action Comics #870 (December 2008)
  3. ^ Lowther, George (1942). The Adventures of Superman. Random House. ISBN 1-55709-228-1. 
  4. ^ Bates, Cary (w), Swan, Curt (a). "Superman Takes a Wife!" Action Comics 484 (June 1978), DC Comics
  5. ^ Superboy #196 (Sep. 1973)
  6. ^ Superboy #78 (Jan. 1960)
  7. ^ New Adventures of Superboy #1 (Jan. 1980)
  8. ^ New Adventures of Superboy #5 (May 1980)
  9. ^ Action Comics #507-508 (May–June 1980)
  10. ^ Action Comics #591 (August 1987)
  11. ^ Simonson, Louise (w), Bogdanove, Jon (p), Janke, Dennis (i). Superman: The Man of Steel 21: 22 (March 1993), DC Comics
  12. ^ Supergirl vol. 5, #9 (October 2006)
  13. ^ "Birthright #1 - A Review". Superman Through the Ages!. 2003-07-03. Retrieved 2010-12-25. 
  14. ^ Singh, Arune, Comic Book Resources - Super-Stars (Part 1): Mark Waid's "Birthright", The Official Origin, retrieved 2007-12-25 
  15. ^ Blackest Night: Superman #1 (October 2009)
  16. ^ Blackest Night: Superman #2 (November 2009)
  17. ^ Blackest Night: Superman #3 (December 2009)
  18. ^ Action Comics #900
  19. ^ The second season episode "Suspect" reveals that Jonathan graduated from Smallville High School in 1976, fixing his date of birth around 1958 and making him approximately 43 years old when the series debuts in 2001.
  20. ^ "SDCC '13: Zack Snyder Announces BATMAN/SUPERMAN; Check Out The Official Logo". July 20, 2013. Retrieved 21 July 2013. 

External links[edit]