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Jonathan and Martha Kent are the adoptive parents, now deceased, of
Clark Kent, the man who is secretly Superman. 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 and as "two fine people, who gave a loving home to an orphan
In the town of Smallville, where they lived, they were known as good neighbors and fine citizens. Superman has described them as the best foster parents who ever lived.
The early texts are inconsistent regarding the first names of Superman's foster parents: referred to only as the Kents in Superman #1 (Summer 1939), they are referred to as John and Mary Kent in Superman #53. Superman's foster father is called Silas Kent in Action Comics #132 (May 1949), but he is consistently referred to as Jonathan Kent from July 1951 onward. Superman's foster mother is first called Martha in January 1952, a name she retains from that issue onward, with the sole exception of Action Comics #189, in which her first name is misspelled Marthe.
Similar confusion exists regarding Martha Kent's maiden name: given as Martha Hudson in Superman #141 and as Martha Clark in Superman #146, it has, in recent texts, been given as Martha Hudson Clark as a means of rectifying the discrepancy.
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, 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 the Earth's atmosphere and landed in an open field, the Kents were already gray-haired, certainly into late middle-age, perhaps "elderly," without children of their own, working their own modest farm somewhere outside of Smallville.
The texts are not entirely consistent on the question of where the Kents were living at the time they found the infant Superman: Superman #73 strongly suggests that the Kents were residing in Metropolis at the time the rocket landed, and Action Comics #106 asserts that they came upon the rocket within the Metropolis city limits. Numerous other texts, however, state that the rocket landed near Smallville, evidently within short driving distance of the Kents' farm.
According to Action Comics #1, the rocket ship bearing the infant Superman was discovered by a passing motorist, but Superman #1 and numerous other texts assert that the infant was found by the Kents, who happened to be passing by in their car 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. In his hand he clutched the jewel-like iron-destroying projector that had been placed inside the rocket by his father, Jor-El, (Action Comics #172, 1952). Scarcely had the Kents removed the infant from the rocket, however, when the space-ship's metal, foreign to Earth's climatic and chemical makeup, burst into flame. Within seconds, not a trace was left.
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 or because its metal was alien to our atmosphere. A more plausible explanation, however, is advanced by Superman #146, which states that all people and things from Krypton become invulnerable on Earth and that only the explosion of its super-fuel had the power to wreck the rocket.
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!"
All accounts agree that the Kents turned the infant from space over to an orphan asylum immediately after having found him. Action Comics #288 refers to the orphan asylum as the Smallville Orphanage, while Superman #161 calls it the Smallville Orphan's Home.
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 #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, but Superman #53 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 a pandemonium at the home, continues the 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.
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 Martha Kent as they drove their newly adopted son home from the orphanage. "What shall we call him?"
"We'll name him after your family..." replied Jonathan Kent. Then he turned to their new son and said, "Hello, son! You have a new name! From now on you'll be Clark... Clark Kent!"
According to a later version (July 1961), it is Mrs. Kent who names the youngster. 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!"
Clark Kent's early childhood years following his adoption were spent on his foster parents' farm outside of Smallville. 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. 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-playsuit that became the forerunner of his now world-famous costume.
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. According to Superman #1, the love and guidance of Clark Kent's kindly foster-parents was an 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."
There were 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, 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. 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.
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 his as having battled crime and injustice as Superboy prior to embarking on his adult crime-fighting career as Superman.
Superman #53 chronicles 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 them... in 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!"
Action Comics #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 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!"
Superman #146 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 preceeded her husband's by several months.
The account of the Kents' death contained in Superman #161 represents a significant break with the past, however, in that here, for the first time in the 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 lapsed into a coma and died within less than twenty-four hours, although Jonathan Kent did regain consciousness long enough to urge his foster son to "always use your super-powers to do good... uphold law and order," and then to whisper, "Good luck, my son... and goodbye!"
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.
Martha Kent had always urged her foster son to retain ownership of the Kent home, and according to Action Comics #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.
Smallville has paid tribute to Jonathan and Martha Kent by hanging their portrait in the Smallville City Hall, and Superman has dedicated a room to them in his Fortress of Solitude. 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. While he was still a teenager, 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.
Clark Kent's 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; and his aunt Minerva Kent, Jonathan's younger sister. 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, sank in the North Atlantic with all hands on board.
Text on this page taken from The Great Superman Book © 1978 by Michael L. Fleisher.
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