Jonathan and Martha Kent

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Unstuck in time art by Curt Swan from Superboy No. 53

Jonathan and Martha Kent aka Ma and Pa Kent

The adoptive Earth parents, now deceased, of Clark Kent, the man who is secretly Superman.


Life before the Discovery

At the time he proposed marriage to his wife-to-be, Jonathan Kent was "a quiet spoken young farmer" and she was an attractive young brunette (S No. 141, Nov 1960: "Superman's Return to Krypton!" pts. I-III—”"Superman Meets Jor-El and Lara Again!"; "Superman's Kryptonian Romance!"; "The Surprise of Fate!"), but by the time the tiny rocket ship bearing the infant Kal-El, son of Jor-El, one day to be known to the world as Superman, soared through Earth's atmosphere and landed in an open field (Act No. 141, Feb 1950: "Luthor's Secret Weapon"), the Kents were already gray-haired, certainly into late middle-age, perhaps "elderly" (S No. 1/1, Sum 1939; and others), without children of their own (S No. 130/3, Jul 1959: "The Town That Hated Superman!"), working their own modest farm (S No. 146/1, Jul 1961: "The Story of Superman's Life!"; and others) somewhere "outside of Smallville" (S No. 152/2, Apr 1962: "Superbaby Captures the Pumpkin Gang!").

Actually, the texts are not consistent on the question of where the Kents were living at the time they found the infant Superman: Superman No. 73/2 strongly suggests that the Kents were residing in Metropolis at the time the rocket landed (Nov/Dec 1951: "The Mighty Mite!"), and Action Comics No. 106 asserts that they came upon the rocket within the Metropolis city limits (Mar 1947: "His Lordship, Clark Kent!"). Numerous other texts, however, state that the rocket landed near Smallville (WF No. 57, Mar/Apr 1952: "The Artificial Superman!"; and others), evidently within short driving distance of the Kent's farm (S No. 146/1, Jul 1961: "The Story of Superman's Life!"; and others), and this latter version is undoubtedly the correct one.

A Rocket from Krypton lands on Earth

According to Action Comics No. 1, the rocket ship bearing the infant Superman was discovered by "a passing motorist" (Jun 1938), but Superman No. 1/1 (Sum 1939) and numerous other texts assert that the infant was found by the Kents, who happened to be passing by in their car (S No. 53/1, Jul/Aug 1948: "The Origin of Superman!"; and others) moments after the rocket landed. The baby was swathed in the blue, red, and yellow blankets that the Kents later used to fashion his Superman costume ( see Superman [section C, the costume]). In his hand he clutched the jewel-like iron-destroying "projector" that had been placed inside the rocket by his father, Jor-El (Act No. 172, Sep 1952: "Lois Lane... Witch!"). Scarcely had the Kents removed the infant from the rocket, however, "when the space-ship's metal, foreign to Earth climatic and chemical makeup, burst into flame!" Within seconds, not a trace was left (S No. 53/1, Jul/Aug 1948: "The Origin of Superman!").

Later texts echo this brief explanation of the rocket's destruction, asserting that the rocket burned because the metal from which it had been fashioned was "a substance alien to our Earth" (Act No. 186, Nov 1953: "Haunted Superman!") or because "its metal [was] alien to our atmosphere!" (Act No. 189, Feb 1954: "Clark Kent's New Mother and Father!"). A more plausible explanation, however, is advanced by Superman No. 146/1, which states that "all people and things from Krypton became invulnerable on Earth" and that "only the explosion of its super-fuel had the power to wreck the rocket" (Jul 1961: "The Story of Superman's Life!").

Within a few brief seconds, "not even a trace" of the rocket was left. "If we tell what happened," mused Jonathan Kent aloud, "nobody will believe us!" "We'll say we found an abandoned baby," replied his wife, "...which is true!" (S No. 53/1, Jul/Aug 1948: "The Origin of Superman!").

The Adoption of Kal-El

It was the Kents who first came upon the infant Superman after the experimental rocket that had borne him safely away from the exploded planet Krypton had landed on the planet Earth, and it was the Kents who opened their home and their hearts to the tiny orphan from space, who legally adopted him and raised him as their own son, and who imbued him with the urgent desire to use his mighty super-powers to aid the weak, the helpless, and the oppressed. In the texts, they are referred to as "a kindly couple" (Act No. 106, Mar 1947: "His Lordship, Clark Kent!"), and as "two fine people, who gave a loving home to an orphan from space!" (Act No. 288, May 1962: "The Man Who Exposed Superman!"). In the town of [[Smallville], where they lived, they were known as good neighbors and "fine citizens" (S No. 90/2, Jul 1954: "Superman's Secret Past!"). Superman has described them as "the best foster parents who ever lived" (WF No. 69, Mar/Apr 1954: "Jor-El's Last Will!").

The details of the adoption of infant Kal differ, some accounts tell of a waiting period at Smallville orphanage, and Action No. 1 (1938) tells of the baby being found by a "passing motorist" (also, see Smallville Orphanage). Most texts agree that the Kents are farmers who later move to Smallville so that Jonathan can run a small store.

All accounts agree that the Kents turned the infant from space over to an orphan asylum (S No. 1/1, Sum 1939) or foundling home (S No. 53/1, Jul/Aug 1948: "The Origin of Superman!") immediately after having found him. Action Comics No. 288 refers to the orphan asylum as the Smallville Orphanage (May 1962: "The Man Who Exposed Superman!"), while Superman No. 161/1 calls it the Smallville Orphan's Home (May 1963: "The Last Days of Ma and Pa Kent!").

Accounts differ, however, on the question of whether the Kents decided to adopt the infant Superman immediately or whether they formulated these plans later. According to Superman No. 1/1, the Kents delivered the baby to the orphanage and then returned sometime later to adopt him only after discovering that they were unable to get the "sweet child" out of their minds (Sum 1939), but Superman No. 53/1 asserts that the Kents applied for adoption immediately and left the infant Superman at the orphanage only temporarily, long enough for their application to be properly investigated. The baby caused such pandemonium at the home, continues this text, with the unrestrained use of his super-powers, that the authorities rushed through the Kent's adoption in record time just so they could be rid of the problem infant (Jul/Aug 1948: "The Origin of Superman!").

Most texts agree that the Kents decided to adopt the infant Superman the moment they found him (Act No. 158, Jul 1951: "The Kid from Krypton!"; and others). Indeed, the more recent texts state that the Kents, knowing they would be asked to explain the origins of the child if they merely kept him or if they delivered him to the foundling home in person, actually left the baby in a basket at the orphanage doorstep, as though he had been abandoned there, so that they could appear at the following day (S No. 130/3, Jul 1959; "The Town That Hated Superman!")—”or several days later (S No. 146/1, Jul 1961: "The Story of Superman's Life!")—”to adopt him for their own.

Once having adopted the youngster, the Kents realized they needed to give him a name. "At last, we've a son of our very own!" exclaimed Jonathan Kent, as he and his wife drove their newly adopted son home from the orphanage. "What shall we call him?"

"We'll name him after your family..." replied his wife. And then she turned to her new son and said, "Hello, son! You have a new name! From now on you'll be Clark...Clark Kent!" (S No. 53/1, Jul/Aug 1948: "The Origin of Superman!").

This dialogue exchange is confusing, for it is not at all clear how the name Clark could possibly be the name of Jonathan Kent's family. In all probability, however, this confusion stems from an incorrect placement of word balloons in the original text, thus placing Jonathan Kent's dialogue in the mouth of his wife, and vice versa. This interpretation is strongly supported by Superman No. 146/1, which recounts the orphaning of the infant Superman and his adoption by the Kents. In this text, Jonathan Kent asks his wife to select a name for their newly adopted son, to which Martha Kent replies, "I'll use my former last name before our marriage...Clark! Our son will be Clark Kent! (Jul 1961: "The Story of Superman's Life!").

A fairly large number of texts, in recounting the story of Superman's early life, have stated that the Kents decided to adopt the infant Superman immediately upon having removed him from the rocket, and that they selected the name Clark for him even before delivering him to the orphanage and instituting formal adoption proceedings (S No. 61/3, Nov/Dec 1949: "Superman Returns to Krypton!"; and others), but these accounts are probably best viewed as attempts to recapitulate the events surrounding the infant Superman's adoption in a briefer, more condensed, form rather than as an alternative version of these same events.

Growing up Kent

Clark Kent's early childhood years following his adoption were spend on his foster parents' farm outside of Smallville (S No. 152/2, Apr 1962: "Superbaby Captures the Pumpkin Gang!"; and others). It did not take long for the Kents to discover that their newly adopted orphan from outer space was endowed with extraordinary super-powers, including invulnerability, X-ray vision, and strength far beyond that of any ordinary mortal (S No. 53/1, Jul/Aug 1948: "The Origin of Superman!"; Act No. 158, Jul 1951: "The Kid from Krypton!"; and others). Indeed, it was because the infant Superman kept unintentionally demolishing his conventional baby clothing during energetic bouts of super-powered play that the Kents unraveled the colored blankets which they had found wrapped around him in the rocket and used them to fashion the colorful super play-suit that became the forerunner of his now world-famous costume (S No. 73/2, Nov/Dec 1951: "The Mighty Mite!"; S No. 146/1, Jul 1961: "The Story of Superman's Life!"; and others).

By the time Clark Kent was old enough to attend school, the Kents sold their farm and moved to Smallville, where Jonathan Kent opened up a general store (S No. 146/1, Jul 1961: "The Story of Superman's Life!"; and others). According to Superman No. 1/1, "the love and guidance of [Clark Kent's] kindly foster-parents important factor in the shaping of the boy's future." It was the Kents, in fact, who urged upon their adopted son the importance of keeping his powers secret and of using them to aid humanity.

"Now listen to me, Clark!" cautioned Jonathan Kent, while Clark was still a youngster. "This great strength of yours--you've got to hide it from people or they'll be scared of you!"

"But when the proper time comes," added Martha Kent, "you must use it to assist humanity" (Sum 1939).

There ware also other reasons for keeping Clark's super-powers secret: Jonathan Kent feared that unscrupulous individuals would try "to exploit his super-powers for evil purposes" (WF No. 57, Mar/Apr 1952: "The Artificial Superman!"), and Clark himself soon realized that if he used his super-powers openly against the underworld, his foster parents would inevitably become the helpless targets of gangland retribution (S No. 146/1, Jul 1961: "The Story of Superman's Life!"; and others). It was the combined impact of all these concerns that led Clark Kent to embark upon his dual life and to use his super-powers openly only as Superman (see Superman [the secret identity]).

The Death of the Kents

Sometime prior to Clark Kent's leaving Smallville to embark on his career as a newspaper reporter in Metropolis, Jonathan and Martha Kent passed away. The chronicles are vague—”and somewhat inconsistent—”regarding the time and circumstances of their death, but all are generally agreed that Martha Kent died first and Jonathan Kent soon afterward, and that, on his deathbed, Jonathan Kent once again urged his foster son to use his super-powers to fight evil and serve humanity. In general, such inconsistencies as do exist can be attributed to the fact that the early texts portray Clark Kent as having embarked on his super-heroic career as Superman only after he had reached adulthood, while later texts portray him as having battled crime and injustice as Superboy prior to embarking on his adult crime-fighting career as Superman.

Superman No. 1/1, the first text to mention the death of the Kents, contains only a scant reference to their passing, although it does portray Clark Kent as having reached adulthood by the time the sad event occurred:

  The passing away of his foster-parents greatly
grieved Clark Kent. But it strengthened a determination
that had been growing in his mind.
  Clark decided that he must turn his titanic strength
into channels that would benefit mankind. And so was
  SUPERMAN, champion of the oppressed, the physical
marvel who had sworn to devote his existence to
helping those in need! (Sum 1939).

Superman No. 53/1, also portrays Clark Kent as having already attained manhood by the time of the Kent's death. And, while it is vague concerning the exact chronology of the event, it does establish for the first time that Martha Kent died first as well as chronicling the deathbed conversation between Jonathan Kent and his foster son that would ultimately serve as the model for all future recapitulations of the event.

"No man on Earth has the amazing powers you have," whispered Jonathan Kent, his last strength fast fading. "You can use them to become a powerful force for good!"

"How, Dad?" asked Clark.

"There are evil men in this world," replied Jonathan Kent, "...criminals and outlaws who prey on decent folk! You must fight cooperation with the law!

"To fight criminals best, you must hide your true identity! They must never know Clark Kent is a ... a super-man! Remember, because that's what you are...a superman! (Jul/Aug 1948: "The Origin of Superman!").

Action Comics No. 158 recapitulates the deathbed scene, still portraying Clark Kent as "a grown man" at the time of his foster parents' passing but now incorporating the element, inconsistant in the chronicles, of Clark's having already passed his boyhood and adolescence performing super-heroics as Superboy.

"Clark," intoned the dying Jonathan Kent, "your super-powers made you a champion of right as Superboy! Now you must continue your role as Superman--but always keep your true identity hidden!"

"I will!" replied Clark. "I'll keep on wearing these glasses and appear timid, so no one will guess my secret!" (Jul 1951: "The Kid from Krypton!").

Superman No. 146/1 confirms, by and large, all the previous accounts, adding only that the Kents died shortly following Clark Kent's return home to Smallville following his graduation from college, and that Martha Kent's death preceded her husband's by several months (Jul 1961: "The Story of Superman's Life!").

The account of the Kents' death contained in Superman No. 161/1 (May 1963: "The Last Days of Ma and Pa Kent!") represents a significant break with the earlier chronicles, the Kents are portrayed as having passed away within hours of one another, while Clark Kent was still an adolescent—”shortly after unearthing an early eighteenth-century pirate chest contaminated with the germs of a rare "fever plague" while vacationing on an island somewhere in the Caribbean. Fatally stricken by this "strange malady," a disease for which there is no known cure, the Kents lapse into a coma and die within less than twenty-four hours, although Jonathan Kent does regain consciousness long enough to urge his foster so to "always use your super-powers to do good... uphold law and order, " and then whisper, "Good luck, my son ... and goodbye!" The Kents here show none of the youth bestowed on them in a later story (SB No. 145, Mar 1968: "The Fantastic Faces!").

The Will of the Kents

The will left behind by the Kents bequeathed their home and general store to Clark Kent, and their savings to the Smallville Orphan's Home, where Clark Kent had lived prior to his legal adoption (May 1963: "The Last Days of Ma and Pa Kent!").

Martha Kent had always urged her foster son to retain ownership of the Kent home, and, according to Action Comics No. 288, Clark Kent has scrupulously carried out her final wishes. Today, according to this text, it still stands in Smallville, unoccupied since the day Clark Kent moved away to Metropolis following the death of his foster parents, "a shrine to the memory of two fine people, who gave a loving home to an orphan from space!" (May 1962: "The Man Who Exposed Superman!"). This account is contradicted, however, by Superman No. 90/2, which describes the Kent home in Smallville as having been purchased by Professor Snelling (Jul 1954: "Superman's Secret Past!").

The texts are also inconsistent regarding the final disposition of Jonathan Kent's general store. According to World Finest Comics No. 69, a garage now occupies the site of the general store (Mar/Apr 1954: "Jor-El's Last Will!"), but Superman No. 90/2 asserts that a supermarket now occupies the site (Jul 1954: "Superman's Secret Past!"). The accuracy of these discrepant assertions becomes irrelevant in September 1957, however, when, as a tribute to Superman, the people of Smallville restore all of the landmarks of Superman' youth—”including the Kent's general store—”to the condition that characterized them Superman's boyhood (S No. 116/2: "Disaster Strikes Twice").

In addition to the preservation of their home and general store, the Kents have been memorialized—”by both Superman and the people of Smallville—”in other ways: Smallville has paid tribute to Jonathan and Martha Kent by hanging their portrait in the Smallville City Hall (S No. 90/2, Jul 1954: "Superman's Secret Past!"), and Superman has dedicated a room to them in his Fortress of Solitude (Act No. 247, Dec 1958: "Superman's Lost Parents!"; and others). A "hidden vault deep beneath the fortress" contains, among other "super-secret" possessions and memorabilia, photographs that the Kents took of their foster son and notebooks containing their personal account of how they found him (Act No. 330, Nov 1965: "The Strange —˜S' Spell on Superman!"). While he was still a teen-ager, Superman carved a "spectacular space monument"—”in the form of a gigantic statue of the Kents with himself standing between them—”into the side of a distant asteroid (S No. 161/1, May 1963: "The Last Days of Ma and Pa Kent!").

The Naming of the Kents

The early text are inconsistent regarding the first names of Superman's foster parents: referred to only as the Kents (but Ma Kent is called —˜Mary') in Superman No. 1/1 (Sum 1939), they are referred to as John and Mary Kent in Superman No. 53/1 (Jul/Aug 1948: "The Origin of Superman!"). Superman's foster father is called Silas Kent in Action Comics No. 132 (May 1949: "The Secret of the Kents!")—”where Superman meets him during an adventure in the past—”but he is consistently referred to as Jonathan Kent from July 1951 onward (Act No. 158: "The Kid from Krypton!"; and others). Superman's foster mother is first called Martha in January-February 1952, a name she retains from that time onward (S No. 74/1: "The Lost Secrets of Krypton!"; and others), with the sole, insignificant exception of Action Comics No. 189, in which her first name is misspelled Marthe (Feb 1954: "Clark Kent's New Mother and Father!").

Similar confusion exists regarding Martha's Kent's maiden name: given as Martha Hudson in Superman No. 141 (Nov 1960: "Superman's Return to Krypton!" pts. I-III—”"Superman Meets Jor-El and Lara Again!"; "Superman's Kryptonian Romance!"; "The Surprise of Fate!") and as Martha Clark in Superman No. 146/1 (Jul 1961: "The Story of Superman's Life!"), it has, in later texts, been given as Martha Hudson Clark as a means of rectifying the discrepancy.

The Kent Family Tree

Clark Kent's Kent-family ancestors include Ely Kent, a Colonial-era blacksmith; Captain Joshua Kent, the owner-operator of a barge on the Erie Canal; and inventor Hiram Kent, the father of Jonathan Kent. Clark Kent's living Kent-family relatives include his cousin "Digger" Kent, a gold prospector; his cousin Louis Pasteur Kent, a country doctor; his cousin Titus Kent, a wheelchair-ridden recluse who lost his entire fortune during the great Depression; his first cousin Carol Kent, an actress (Act No. 132, May 1949: "The Secret of the Kents!"); and his aunt Minerva Kent, Jonathan Kent's younger sister (Act No. 160, Sep 1951: "Superman's Aunt Minerva!"). Clark Kent's uncle, merchant seaman George Kent, the brother of Jonathan Kent, died while Clark was still a youngster when the freighter Starbuck, on which George Kent was second mate, sand in the North Atlantic with all hands on board (S No. 111/2, Feb 1957: "Clark Kent's Crooked Cousin"). Clark Kent's first cousin Arthur Kent, a broker, is murdered by Titus Kent's butler, Hubert, in May 1949 (Act No. 132: "The Secret of the Kents!").

The Adventures of the Kents

In May 1949 Superman journeys through the time barrier to the year 1878, where he makes the acquaintance of the youngster who will one day grow up to be his own foster father (Act No. 132: "The Secret of the Kents!").

By May 1956 Clark Kent has received an anonymous letter from a person claiming to have unraveled the secret of his dual identity. Desperate to uncover the identity of the mysterious letter writer and to undo whatever past blunder has been responsible for the betrayal of his secret identity, Superman revisits the site of virtually every super-feat he has ever performed and painstakingly re-examines every detail of his live, only to discover, finally, that the letter was written by Jonathan Kent, who had arranged for the letter to be mailed to his foster son years after his death as his means of inspiring Clark Kent to remain ever vigilant in safeguarding the secret of his double identity (S No. 105/1: "Superman's 3 Mistakes!").

In December 1958 Jonathan and Martha Kent are impersonated by Cedric and Millicent Carson, a pair of "scheming actors" who dupe Superman into believing that they are visiting him from out of his past through the miracle of time travel, all as part of an elaborate scheme to bilk the Man of Steel out of $5,000,000 (Act No. 247: "Superman's Lost Parents!").

In December 1961 Superman enjoys a brief reunion with Jonathan and Martha Kent—”as well with his real parents, Jor-El and Lara—”after exposure to Red Kryptonite has temporarily endowed him with the power to make his wishes come true and he has wished aloud that his parents were on the scene to advise him how best to use his marvelous new power. Moments later, however, the effects of the red kryptonite wear off, Superman loses his wish-fulfilling power, and his magically materialized parents and foster parents fade and vanish like wraiths (Act No. 283: "The Red Kryptonite Menace!").

In March 1965, during a visit to an extra dimensional "parallel world... a world that's almost like Earth in every way, but in which history had a different course than on Earth," Superman encounters a gray-haired couple—”also named Jonathan and Martha Kent—”who are perfect look-alikes for his foster parents and much like the Kents in other ways. These parallel-world Kents, however, are criminals and have raised their foster son Superman to be a master villain (WF No. 148: "Superman and Batman--Outlaw!" pts. I-II—”"The Evil Superman and Batman"; "The Incredible New Super-Team!").

Later stories document a serum from another dimensional world that restores many years of youth to Jonathan and Martha Kent (SB No. 145, Mar 1968: "The Fantastic Faces!").

Both Jonathan and Martha Kent have, on several occasions, assumed costumed identities to aid Superboy in the course of his super-adventures, including Strongman (Adv No. 236, May 1957: "Clark Kent's Super-Dad"), the Rainbow Raider (SB No. 84/1, Oct 1960: "The Rainbow Raider!"; SB No. 164/2, Apr 1970: "The Revolt of Ma Kent"), and the Mental Emperor (SB No. 111/3, Jan 1964: "The Mental Emperor!").

(See also John and Mary Kent of Earth-2)

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