Jonathan and Martha Kent

Jonathan and Martha Kent

Jonathan and Martha Kent as they appear in Superman: Secret Origin, with a young Clark. Cover of 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
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 fictional 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 having been killed by a drunk driver.


Golden and Silver Age versions

In an early unpublished version of Superman Jerry Siegel collaborated with artist Russell Keaton on an infant meta-human Superman is sent back in time to 1935 in a rocket-shaped time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.

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 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

The Man of Steel

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 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.


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.

After Birthright

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, gray-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. Martha and Jonathan are the ones who suggest Clark dons a superhero 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 and 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 and the destruction of New Krypton, Superman set out to walk across America to re-establish a personal connection with the human race, feeling that he needed to remember what it was to be human after his time on New Krypton and the loss of his father. When talking about Superman's recent emotional upheaval during his walk, Batman speculates that part of the problem is that Clark never really experienced personal 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. Later on, 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 his probing of his enemy's mind revealed 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]

The New 52

In "The New 52" (a reboot of the DC Comics universe), both Jonathan and Martha Kent have died following an incident with a drunk driver and Clark Kent has to grow into his role as Superman without them.

Other versions

The Kent's Earth-3 counterparts appear briefly in Forever Evil as part of Ultraman's origin. Young Jonathan and Martha Kent of Earth-Three are drug addicts in an abusive relationship. One day, while Jonathan is threatening Martha with a knife, Ultraman's space pod crash lands on their farm. Young Ultraman decides to blend into society until he is ready to conquer the planet, and forces Jonathan and Martha to act as his parents. It is revealed that sometime around the age of seven, Ultraman murders the Kents and burns down their farm, but keeps the name Clark Kent.[19]

In other media

Animated television

Live-action television

Animated films

Live-action films

Glenn Ford as Jonathan Kent with Phyllis Thaxter as Martha in Superman (1978).

Video games


  1. 1 2 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. Justice League vol. 2 #24 (October 2013)
  20. 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.
  21. Freydkin, Donna (April 28, 2015). "Diane Lane is an earth mother in 'Batman v Superman'". USA Today. Retrieved January 6, 2015.

External links

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