Saturday, September 6, 2008

Episode #37: Happy Birthday, Jonathan Kent!

Jonathan Kent's traditional birthday is accepted as September 1, according to In 2008 his birthday falls on Labor Day. That seems appropriate, as Pa Kent was a farmer and storekeeper. He was the adoptive father of Kal-El, after he and his wife found the infant in the kryptonian rocket. They named the baby Clark, after Martha's maiden name.

The story of Superman's earthly parents is a long and varied story over the decades. In Superman's first appearance in Action Comics #1, in a small panel in the brief one page origin that begins his story, the human who discovers the rocket is given as simply "a passing motorist". In Superman #1, the Kents are named as the story shows them finding the rocket, but only the wife is identified as Mary.

George Lowther, in his 1942 novel The Adventures of Superman, named Clark's adoptive parents as Eben and Sarah Kent. These names were used in the first episode of The Adventures of Superman TV show in the 1950's.

Pa Kent is first named Jonathan Kent in the Adventure Comics #149 story Fake Superboy.
During the 1960's, with the development of the multiverse, the Earth-2 golden age parents of Superman are named John and Mary Kent, while the Earth 1, modern, Superman parents are given as the familiar Jonathan and Marth Kent.
In Superboy #196 (July 1972, on sale on April 19, 1973) Jonathan Kent is portrayed as having been a race car driver as a young man.
In the silver age stories of the Kents, Jonathan Kent is a farmer, but when Clark becomes of school age, the Kents sell their farm and move into Smallville and open a general store. This development is portrayed in the second story of Superboy #78 (January 1960, on sale November 19, 1959) The Origin of Superboy's Super Costume.
Ma and Pa Kent pass away shortly after Clark graduates from high school. After their funeral he moves to Metropolis to attend college and eventually become a reporter at the Daily Planet newspaper.
Post crisis, Jonathan Kent is revised by John Byrne in his 1986 mini-series Man of Steel. The biggest change is that the Kents are a lot younger when they find Kal-El's birthing matrix. Jonathan is a science fiction story fan (a nod to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's love of the same?), which is ironic when they find the rocket. John Byrne avoids the part of the traditional origin where the Kents first turn the infant in to an orphanage. He has a snow storm of the century hit the general Smallville area, where the Kents are socked in for months until the spring thaw, so that their neighbors assume Martha concieved and gave birth at the Kent farm.
In the subsequent mini-series World of Smallville, which develops the post-crisis back story of Smallville. Jonathan Kent is a returning veteran from an unnamed war, but in a one panel flashback of Jonathan as a P.O.W., t6he enemy seems to be the Japanese, and the war WWII. Later in the story, his Aunt Sara recounts how everyone thought Jonathan was dead when he was M. I. A. His love Martha Clark had married Dan Fordman, the son of the wealthy family that owned Fordman Department Store. Martha's father ran Smallville's general store (another nod to the silver age Smallville?), while Jonathan's father was a widower who was a farmer. Dan eventually dies, and in his will gives his widow Martha ten acres of land simply because she once said she liked it.
Jonathan and Martha married a year later, and suffered at least three miscarriages before they found baby Kal-El and his rocket. In the post-crisis continuity Jonathan and Martha are still alive when Clark is an adult to lend him their support and advice from the Kent farm.
After the Death of Superman story, Jonathan Kent suffered a near fatal heart attack. He meets his son in the after-life and convince him to come back. Jonathan is then resuscitated in the hospital.
In 2003's Birthright, writer Mark Waid revised Clark's origin, having Jonathan and Clark having more conflict in their relationship. The Kents are shown as younger people, and slightly resemble Annette O'Toole and John Schnieder from the TV show Smallville. Jonathan feels left out as Clark explores his Kryptonian heritage.
Since Infinite Crisis Jonahtan Kent is portrayed as a younger man than he had aged since the post-Crisis revamp. Action Comics #850 (July 2007, on sale May 30, 2007) adds some more details of Clark growing up.
During the silver age, DC Comics did publish a story about how the Kents passed away, and this is the story I end this episode with. If you would like to read this story before you listen to this part of the podcast, go to the trade paperback, Superman In The Sixties (1999). The name of the story is The Last Days of Ma and Pa Kent, originally published in Superman #161 (May 1963, on sale March 21, 1963). Clark sends Ma and Pa Kent on a pleasure cruise to the Caribbean. While digging for sea shells for his collection, Pa Kent unearths a pirate's chest. Inside are only some personal effects, including a diary where he writes that he was marooned by an evil pirate. Superboy flies by to visit, and Ma Kent convinces him to take them to the past so they can learn about this pirate. After an adventure Superboy has with these pirates he returns his parents to the present, after they have eaten some fruit he gathered for them.
Back home Ma and Pa Kent become very ill, and doctors diagnose them as having a fever plague, which has not been seen for at least a century. It was believed to come from eating a certain unnamed Caribbean fruit. Despite the efforts of Superboy and the jailed Lex Luthor, Ma, then Pa Kent pass away, but not before Pa gives his famous admonition to his son about using his powers. Clark is so overcome with grief that he decides never to be Superboy again. When he files away the family memrabilia in preperation of selling his childhood home, Clark finds the page from the pirate's diary. He takes it to a museum and finds the rest of the diary, which includes the missing part of Clark's page. It states that the reason the pirate was marooned was because he had the fever plague. The museum curator mentioned that the sailor and the curator who sealed the diary in the display died of a mysterious illness. Using his microscopic vision Clark sees that the diary is contaminated with live germs from the disease. He sterilizes the diary with a careful use of his heat vision. Clark realizes that his parents contracted the disease when they opened the pirate chest, not when they ate the fruit he had gathered for them. He is so releived he pulls his Supeboy costume and resumes his super hero identity.

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Thank you for listening to Superman Fan Podcast, and as always, thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

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