Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The ‘Murder’ of Superman’s ‘Pa’ Jonathan Kent

“OH COME ON!”—that was our reaction when we read the New York Daily News online today while at work.

Thankfully, FanBoyWonder’s office door was closed so our exclamation and the curse words that followed were muted by the wooden door and remained out of earshot of anyone who could or would narc us to Human Resources for discharge of a potty-mouth within company limits. It’s a good thing too—just one more round of “sensitivity training” at HR “re-education” camp and we are sure to break.

Yet, we really are pissed off that DC Management has opted to kill off Jonathan Kent in the pages of this week’s Action Comics #870, on sale today.

Hey don’t blame us for spoilers, yet again the &*@&#$ NY Daily News played the spoiler by posting the story well before any comics store opened today—we don’t currently read the Superman books but it sucks for anyone who does.

Even getting beyond the annoying fact of HOW the news was released, it’s the WHAT that truly offends us.

Just last week when commenting on the DC Nation panel at Baltimore Comic-Con and the upcoming Superman/New Krypton storyline, we expressed our resentment at being force fed a wholesale return to the Silver Age—in other DC books (i.e. the return of Hal Jordan and soon the resurrection of Barry Allen) and now in the pages of Superman.

FanBoyWonder hasn’t regularly read any of the Superman books for quite a while...we jumped off during the awful Electric Blue Superman story arc of a decade ago but for a while we kept an eye on the Superman titles—occasionally picking up a Super book.

Yet in recent years, Superman has looked less and less familiar to us. We totally lost any connection for the Super books when DC retro-conned the Superman origin to make Clark Kent and Lex Luthor boyhood chums and rivals—JUST like the Smallville TV show.
TV shows/movies are supposed to take their cue from the Comic Book—not the other way around.

Which brings us back to the “murder” of Jonathan Kent. Actually, not murder so much as a sacrifice…a character sacrifice to appease the gods of the sales gimmick. The few press articles that are out as we write this have noted the similarity to Pa Kent’s comic book demise and his same fate in Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman The Movie.

This is hardly a co incidence given that writer Geoff Johns was Mr. Donner’s one-time personal assistant and protégé.

So here we go—Pa Kent’s death is one more step backward to the Silver Age—in this case via the Donner-verse.

As we previously noted, FanBoyWonder has been a long fan of John Byrne’s Superman post-CRISIS on Infinite Earths reboot The Man of Steel.

It’s not perfect and it did cause some continuity problems (i.e. no Superboy and the Legion) but Byrne and the creative Superteams that followed transformed what had been a dull, one-dimensional iconic caricature into an organic character that readers could more or less relate to, identify with and root for.

One of the best things that Byrne did in his Man of Steel re-boot was to bring the Kents—both Jonathan and Martha—back to life. This was a major shift from cannon as the Kents’ demise was one of the fundamental premises that Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster had laid out when they created the Man of Steel.

The object lesson was supposed to be that for all his powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal man, Superman couldn’t prevent his adoptive parents from passing away.

Yet Byrne’s return of the Kents was applauded roundly. And with good reason. There was NO reason to make Clark/Kal-El a double orphan. Over the years, Clark would have many great scenes looking to Pa Kent for counsel or advice or to account.

Jonathan Kent was one of the few people in the universe who could put the Man of Steel in his place and keep him grounded. These scenes were made the character Super because Pa Kent’s moral compass directed the Man who was is son.

Even Geoff Johns agrees as he told the Daily News.

If baby Kal-El had fallen in the hands of a lesser man, the world would be a lesser place," the NYDN quoted Johns.

Because it’s Geoff Johns we know Jonathan Kent’s death would be quite poignant and otherwise well done—the pages we’ve seen online confirm this—but we disagree with the decision and the direction DC is taking—backward.

It was probably the most difficult scene I've ever had to write," said Johns again to the NYDN. "That's why there's no dialogue in the scene, there's nothing left to say."

Actually there is just one more thing to say—Rao save us from Silver Age nostalgia.


Blogger Jeff Capo said...

Good grief!! how many times do we need to see the same stories redone? This goes back to my question at the Superman panel in Baltimore. "How do you continue with a character that already has 70 years of history but doesn't age a day?" So I guess in another ten years we'll see ANOTHER reboot with Ma & Pa Kent alive and happy?? Why can't comic character age , get married and die like the rest of us? The Earth-2 JSA was a perfect example of how it should have been done, until it was ruined by the original Crisis. All the big characters in comics have at least 30 years of history, but yet they never give way for their kids or successors.

7:02 AM, October 09, 2008  
Blogger FanBoyWonder said...

hey Jeff,
Well there's always going to be a bit of Deja ju with a comics character with as long a track record as Superman.

But like I said....TV and Movies should take their cue from the comics yet lately it seems the tail is wagging the dog.

Thanks for reading.

8:05 PM, October 09, 2008  
Blogger The League said...

Okay, Superman nerd stepping in here...

I am on the fence with the death of Pa Kent. I liked how he was handled under Byrne and Wolfman, not so much during the "Death of Superman" years, when he was written as some sort of hee-haw stereotype, always spouting "well, land's sake!" and whatnot... But did feel that since 2000 or so, the character has been a huge asset. (Also, see Dini/ Ross's "Peace on Earth")

But as per the paper spoiling the death of Jonathan Kent? I think the covers to Action Comics of the past few months pretty much spelled out Pa's doom. I've known this was coming at LEAST since the solicit for the issue with Clark and Pa drinking "root beer". And then the capper with the solicit with the cover featuring Clark in the black suit in some sort of turmoil.

As per one item feeding the other...

Superman owes a lot to other media.

Kryptonite was first featured on the radio show, as was Jimmy Olsen. Jor-El was in the newspaper strip and radio show years before the regular Superman comics.
Byrne's take of a cold and unfeeling Krypton is based largely on Donner's take rather than anything seen in the comics up through the 1970's.
And, of course, Superboy and Lex WERE chums in Smallville in the Silver Age until the accident which made Lex go bald.

7:16 AM, October 11, 2008  
Blogger FanBoyWonder said...

Hey Ryan,
I can't really disagree with your points.

I'll even add other television inspired Superman stuff that made it into the comics include the name of one of the 80s S-man comics--"Adventures of Superman" after the 50s show of the same name.

Also, the inclusion of "Inspector Henderson" as a supporting character. The post-Man of Steel Clark Kent also reminded me of George Reeves' rendition of Kent--not a cowardly milksop but a bit of a ballsy fellow who seemed to know the inside joke of life.

I guess I'm just annoyed because I don't share that sense of ownership with Superman that I felt with Byrne's Man of Steel and in the years after that.

MoS brought readers in on the ground floor and it was an exciting time (if confusing given the ever growing continunity contradictions) in those early years post-CRISIS.

Anyway, thanks for reading.

1:48 AM, October 13, 2008  

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