Action Comics #507 (May, 1980)
“The Miraculous Return of Jonathan Kent!”
Writer – Cary Bates
Penciller – Curt Swan
Inker – Frank Chiaramonte
Letterer – Milt Snapinn
Colorist – Gene D’Angelo
Editor – Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.40
Recalling back to my early days in DC fandom… I’d more or less dismissed the pre-Crisis continuity as not worth investing any time in. I knew things were different… and, being a lifelong Marvel guy, appreciated the post-Crisis “Marvelization” of the DC characters.
When I finally stopped to “do my homework” a few years later, one of the more surprising things to me was the fact that they killed off the Kents! I couldn’t imagine there being a time where Superman didn’t have a Ma and Pa to hang out with. I mean, I came up during the Death and Return… and the Lois and Clark TV show, where Jonathan and Martha were part of the cast. So, the idea that they died pre-Crisis… and as a result of… of all things, a weird tropical virus, really boggled my mind. It actually kind of disturbed me.
Further digging revealing that their original names were Eben and Sarah Kent… which bothered me a lot more than their death, so there’s that too.
Anyhoo, I said all of that so I can say this… today we’re going to take a look at the “miraculous” return of one of Superman’s folks. Ignore the cover and title for a bit, and place your bets!
We open just as the evening news is coming to a close. Co-Anchors Lana Lang and Clark Kent de-mic and head off the set. Lana invites Clark out to a very special dinner… where she has already reserved a table for… three?! The pair arrive at Marcel’s and find their third is already waiting for them… their third, by the way, is the long-dead Jonathan Kent.
Clark comments to Lana that this is more tasteless than any of Steve Lombard’s practical jokes… which confuses her. He engages his super-hearing to read her pulse, and deduces that she isn’t pulling his leg… at least not wittingly. He is terribly confused as to how and why Lana would believe this since she was standing next to him during the Kent funeral.
Outside we meet the most polite panhandler in town, the hippie Starshine. When a well-to-do couple walks passed and refuses to drop a few duckets into his upturned beret he (politely) forces them to hand over all of their valuables.
We pop back inside where Clark tests his “father” with some deep-cuts from his childhood. The kind of stuff a con-man might not have uncovered through research… surprisingly, he finds that the old man is on the ball! What’s more… in using his microscopic vision, Clark recognizes the man’s fingerprints as Jonathan Kent’s! While all of this is going on, Starshine is (politely) robbing the Metro-Bank.
In the commotion, Clark realizes he needs to come up with an excuse to take care of the robbery. Surprisingly, “Pa” produces an empty prescription bottle and asks his Son to run to the pharmacy to fill it. This was the way Jonathan would allow Clark to get away to change into Superboy when he was a child. Gobsmacked, Clark takes the bottle and runs off.
After “Suping up”, he comes across our new friend Starshine… who is standing in a pile of cash. Superman tries to reason with the boy… but it’s to no avail. When Starshine realizes that Superman isn’t there to help him, he (politely) tells him to take a slow boat to China. You’ll never guess what happens next…
So, 200 miles from China… Superman lands on a very slow boat. He uses his super-breath to hasten the voyage… and is only released from Starshine’s command when they reach port.
He checks back in at the Metro-Bank, and learns that Starshine returned all the money… that’s never what this was all about anyway. He was just teaching the uptight fat-cats a lesson, maaaaaaaan.
Next stop, the Smallville Cemetery… remember, Clark just had dinner with a dead guy! Boy is he surprised when he only finds the grave for Martha Kent. He heads to his childhood home at 321 Maple Street… and sees that since Martha’s death, Jonathan has remained there. Doing a bit of snooping, Superman finds letters written between he and Pa… letters that contain some very personal details which couldn’t have been forged.
Superman returns to Metropolis just as “Pa” is about to be mugged by a pair of street toughs. Not sure where that one guy found green dungarees, but I’ve gotta admire his guts for wearing ’em. Superman juggles the clowns for a bit before chucking them into the street right in front of a passing police cruiser.
We wrap up with Superman bringing Jonathan Kent back to his 344 Clinton Street apartment… and sorta coming to terms with the idea that this old man might actually be his father. At the very same time, our new/old friend Starshine is (politely) demanding that everybody over thirty leave Metropolis. Ya see, he fancies himself the Supreme Ruler of the Youth Generation. Man, I knew I missed my calling!
This was really good.
An interesting mystery… a sense of foreboding… a great wackadoo villain. What more could you ask for?
Now, we’ve rubbed up against the tragic (and weird) passing of the Kents a few times here… and it never really gets less weird. Seems such a strange way to cull the cast. Eh, maybe it’s just me.
That’s not what we’re here for though… we’re here to discuss the miraculous return of Jonathan Kent. Now, before we start… I have to sadly reveal that I do not have the next issue in my library… so, we won’t be solving this mystery right away. That said, let’s look at the evidence we do have. “Pa” looks just as Clark remembered. His fingerprints match… and he appears to have all of the elder Kent’s memories.
Superman notices that the prescription pill bottle he’s handed is twenty years old… the letters he discovers at 321 Maple Street are also rather old. There’s definitely something at play here… and I’m worried it’s going to wind up being some weird “get out of jail free” card that sweeps everything under the rug. That’ll be a complaint for another day though!
Let’s talk Starshine. This goofball hippie might be a commentary on children/young people being raised to think “please” or “puh-lease” a truly a magic word. I mean, I know for my whole life… if I were to ask for something without saying please, some adult would usually reply with “What’s the magic word?” Heh, maybe I’m thinking too hard… it’s just what popped into my head.
Unfortunately Starshine doesn’t have an entry on the DC Wikia, which tells me he’s likely a one-and-done. Weird, he seems the kind of “deep cut” character a contemporary writer would pull out to prove their “cred”… and mock for being a “mort”.
Overall… this was a good time, and I’d definitely recommend it. This has (surprisingly) been reprinted/collected a few times… in The Best of DC Digest #11 (April, 1981), Superman from the Thirties to the Eighties (1983) and Superman in the Eighties (2006). It does not appear to have been made available digitally.
Letters Page (and a partially filled-in crossword!):