Martha Clark Kent and Jonathan Kent, also known as Ma and Pa Kent, are fictional characters published by DC Comics. The Kents are the adoptive parents of Superman. They live in the small town of Smallville, USA. The couple is usually portrayed age-wise as either late middle age or elderly.
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 to Earth, 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. Martha is also the one who creates Clark's superhero costume.
In DC Comics continuity before John Byrne's 1986 reboot of the Superman series, Martha and Jonathan Kent died shortly after Clark's high school graduation; in the current comics' continuity, Martha is still alive while Jonathan died from a heart attack in Action Comics #870.
Golden and Silver Age
Although a "passing motorist" is described as having found the infant Kal-L 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, 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 (though 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 #149 (1950). Ma Kent is first named Marthe in Superboy #12 (1951) and Martha in subsequent appearances. Later stories, 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.
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, 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. 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, 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 volume 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. Clark mourns his parents and moves to Metropolis to attend college.
Man of Steel
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 Superheroes/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.
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 version, the Kents remain farmers through Clark's adult years, although a storyline[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, 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 Kent's continued to play a prominent role in Clark's life, and also in the lives of his extended alien family. When the Matrix Supergirl arrived on earth, she moved in for a time with the Kents, who treated her a like a daughter. She is however retconned from history, and no mention of her has been made in the past few years. The Kents would also take in Clark's half-clone, Kon-El, also known as Superboy. They would give him the name Conner Kent and care for him in much the same was as they did Clark. Unfortunately, Conner was not Clark, and while he appreciated everything the Kent's did, he did not much like living on a farm. The couple would find themselves childless again when Conner dies during the Infinite Crisis. Afterwards, Kara Zor-El Clark's recently discovered cousin would visit, questioning the Kents as to why Clark never asked that she live with them. The Kents have also been a help to Lois and Clark in dealing with their adopted son, Chris Kent.
The Kents are again altered in 2003's Superman: Birthright limited series by Mark Waid, which again revises Superman's origins. Jonathan is portrayed as having a more strained relationship with his son, 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 Kents' appearances were altered to resemble slightly older versions of actor John Schneider and actress Annette O'Toole, who portray the Kents in the Smallville television series. 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; it has not been explained, but is thought to be one of many consequences of the events of Infinite Crisis.
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
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.
Ed Cassidy and Virginia Carroll play Eben and Martha Kent in the 1948 Superman movie serial starring Kirk Alyn.
Tom Fadden and Frances Morris play Eben and Sarah Kent in the pilot for the 1950s Adventures of Superman television series.
Jonathan appears in the Superboy segments of the 1966 New Adventures of Superman cartoon.
Glenn Ford and Phyllis Thaxter portray Jonathan and Martha in 1978's Superman. In the movie, Jonathan dies of a heart attack on the farm as young Clark approaches manhood. In 1983's Superman III, it is mentioned by Lana Lang that Martha has passed away.
Stuart Whitman and Salome Jens play Jonathan and Martha in the television series Superboy, which aired from 1988 to 1992 in syndication.
In the 1988 Ruby-Spears-produced Superman animated series, Alan Oppenheimer provides Jonathan's voice, while Tress MacNeille provided Martha's voice.
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.
Ma and Pa Kent makes occasional appearances in the animated series Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited, voiced by Shelley Fabares and Mike Farrell. Fabares and Farrell also portray the characters in the 2006 animated film Superman: Brainiac Attacks.
In the 2001 television series Smallville , Annette O'Toole and John Schneider portray Martha and Jonathan Kent respectively. In this version, Jonathan is alive in the first five seasons before he dies of a heart attack after a fight with Lionel Luthor.
In the 2006 film Superman Returns, Eva Marie Saint portrays Martha Kent. Because the film is a semi-sequel to the 1978 film, this version could be considered similar to Phyllis Thaxter's portrayal but with differences included. Photos of Jonathan Kent (as played by Glenn Ford) are briefly visible in her living room. In this film, when Superman comes back after an absence of five years, she has already been dating Ben Hubbard.
In the Legion of Super Heroes animated series, Martha is voiced by Jennifer Hale. Jonathan is unseen however, it's only speculation if he is alive or dead.
In the Superman: Doomsday animated direct-to-video film, Martha is voiced by Swoosie Kurtz. In this film, Jonathan has been dead for many years.
In the 2013 blockbuster film "Man of Steel", Jonathan Kent is portrayed by John Schneider while Martha Kent is portrayed by Diane Lane.
In the 2000s television show Smallville, Annette O'Toole and John Schneider play Martha and Jonathan Kent respectively. 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. Martha began to develop feelings for Lionel as she worked for him, leading to some tensions in their marriage. Martha and Jonathan also almost had a child when Martha was cured by Clark's spaceship, but she miscarried after one of Smallville's various apocalypses, leading Clark to run away, although he later came back.
They stayed a strong couple up until Jonathan defeated Lex Luthor in the race to become a Kansas state senator. Jonathan then met with Lionel, who told him he knew Clark's secret, and Jonathan had a heart attack and died after attacking Luthor. Martha took over his role as a senator, but grew close to Lionel. Later, Martha's role on the show slowly shrinks, until the Season 6 finale "Phantom", when she becomes the United States Junior Senator from Kansas, effectively leaving the show.
The Kents in the series are portrayed as largely moral, always reacting strongly when it appears that their son is engaged in selfish activities or uses of his powers. In the fourth season episode "Unsafe", Jonathan is heartbroken when he finds out that Clark had rushed into a marriage with his erstwhile girlfriend Alicia Baker, and Martha is particularly outraged despite Clark being under the influence of Red Kryptonite and therefore not entirely responsible for his actions. Nevertheless, they are the good, caring, loving parents in contrast to Lex Luthor's cruel, distant and manipulative father for much of the early series, although Jonathan's major personality flaw is his bad temper, which has sometimes led to severe consequences (e.g. Jonathan lashing out at Clark in the season two finale, blaming him for the accident that he and Martha were caught in, played a major part in Clark's decision to leave Smallville). Jonathan also appears to be something of a speciest, believing in strongly that such virtues like compassion are synonymous with the human race (as seen through his rhetoric of being 'human' and one's 'humanity') unlike with non-human races and is quick to conclude that Kryptonians are an 'evil' race. He thinks that his son only escaped this apparent evil nature because he was raised with human values. Martha is, in these ways, the opposite of her husband, being far more temperate and less inclined to conclude that all Kryptonians are evil just because they've seen "the actions of a few." It seems that Jonathan's beliefs about humanity had been successfully installed in his adopted son, which although gives him a positive view of humanity has also led to a self-loathing of not being human and perhaps a too quick a jump to the conclusion that his native race is evil.
As well as compassion and a sense of responsibility, the Kents have also tried to teach their son about free will, such as in the aforementioned second season finale "Exodus" when Jonathan assures Clark that he makes his own destiny.