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Unearthing the World's Finest Parents

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As the Blackest Night spreads across the DC Universe, Broken Frontier unearths the histories of several of the players in the event.

SPOILER WARNING: Read no further if you’ve not had the chance to dig into your most recent Blackest Night titles…

With Blackest Night: Batman wrapping up last week, and Blackest Night: Superman concluding this week, that Batman and Superman families have been through the emotional wringer.  This week ‘Unearthing the Black Night’ takes a look at the (undead) parents of Batman, Red Robin, Superman and Supergirl.

John and Mary Grayson, two-thirds of The Flying Graysons (first appearance Detective Comics #38, April 1940) were the parents of Dick Grayson (formerly known as Robin and Nightwing, but now the current Batman).  Working for the Haly Circus, the couple, along with their twelve-year old acrobat son, eventually came to Gotham City.  It was here that Dick and his family had a chance encounter with Jack, Janet and their young son, Tim Drake (Batman #436, August 1989).  Not long after meeting his young fan Tim, Dick happened to overhear crime boss Tony Zucco threatening “Pops” Haly.  With the circus owner refusing to pay extortion money, Zucco swore vengeance.

Later that night, all three Flying Graysons completed their act, but when John and Mary went for their finale, the ropes of their trapeze gave way.  The two plummeted to the big top ground, dying before Dick’s eyes.  Under the guidance of the original Batman, Dick used this tragedy to guide his superheroic career.  Recently, in his role as the new Batman, Dick came face-to-face with his parents, recently resurrected as Black Lanterns (Blackest Night: Batman #1-3, October-December 2009).

Jack and Janet Drake (first appearance Batman #436, August 1989) were the parents of Tim Drake (the third Robin, now known as Tim Wayne, the Red Robin).  The pair were often quite absorbed in their business, resulting in Tim frequently being left home in Gotham City boarding schools.  It was during one of these business trips that Tim approached Nightwing and Batman, revealing that he had uncovered the secret of their dual identities (a fan of Dick’s work as part of the Flying Graysons, young Tim recognized an acrobatic maneuver done by Robin as one that was a trademark of the Graysons).  By the time that Jack and Janet returned, a series of events unfolded resulting in Tim becoming the latest boy to take up the mantle of Robin (Batman #442, December 1989).  The Drake’s next trip would be their last together, as the pair was kidnapped while in the Caribbean.  Jack was left comatose and Janet was killed (Detective Comics #621, September 1990).

Jack eventually recovered, although he was confined to a wheelchair for a time.  At this point, he was unaware of his son’s activities as Robin, which frequently caused a strain on their relationship.  Eventually, Jack did uncover Tim’s secret identity (and by extension, that of Nightwing and Batman).  Confronting the heroes in the Batcave, Jack got Tim to reluctantly agree to give up the dangerous role of Robin (Robin #124-125, May-June 2004).  Not long after, Gotham City was torn apart by a vicious gang war, and Tim resumed his identity of Robin (Detective Comics #798, November 2004).  Jack, although still concerned for his son’s safety, cautiously gave his blessing to Tim, seeing the good his son could do for the city. 

Jack and Tim’s final weeks together proved to be relatively peaceful, until the elder Drake became a collateral target.  In an effort to force her estranged husband (The Atom) back to her, Jean Loring began covertly targeting the loved ones of various superheroes.  Jack was confronted in his apartment by Captain Boomerang, a hired assassin.  Although Jack managed to shoot and kill Boomerang, the super-villain was able to let loose one of his deadly weapons.  Tim Drake arrived home to find both Boomerang and his father dead (Identity Crisis #5, December 2004).

Recently, both Jack and Janet were resurrected by Black Lantern rings.  Alongside Black Lanterns John and Mary Grayson, the group targeted the current Batman family of heroes (Blackest Night: Batman #1-3, October-December 2009).

  

Although there have been several interpretations of Jonathan Kent over the years, the most commonly accepted version first appeared in Man of Steel #1 (October 1986).  A farmer by trade, Jonathan’s family had deep roots (The Kents #1-12, August 1997-July 1998) in the state of Kansas, specifically the town of Smallville.  As a young man, Jonathan enlisted in the military, leaving behind his sweetheart, Martha Clark.  When Jonathan returned to Smallville, he learned that Martha had married another man.  The two remained friendly, and following her first husband’s death, Jonathan and Martha renewed their courtship.  The two were finally married, and following the death of Jonathan’s father, took over the Kent family farm (The World of Smallville #1-4, April-July 1988).

Jonathan and Martha had a happy marriage, although they were haunted by their inability to conceive a child.  Shortly before the “blizzard of the century,” the couple spotted a strange light crashing into one of their most remote fields.  Driving out, they discovered an alien craft containing a baby.  Concealing the ship, the two took in the child as their own, using the isolation caused by the blizzard and their previous miscarriages as a cover story.  When the pair returned to Smallville in the spring they introduced their friends and neighbors to their son - Clark Kent.

Jonathan and Martha not only raised Clark as a man, but helped him forge his dual identity as Superman.  As such, the Kents often became involved in the superhero community as a whole, and at times served as parental figures for the likes of  Supergirl/Matrix (Superman #22, October 1988) and Superboy/Conner Kent (Superboy #100, July 2002).  For all the good times associated with their son’s superheroic career, there were challenges too – when forced to forsake their identities and lives when Conduit uncovered their true connection to Superman (Superman #100, May 1995) or when the farm was destroyed during an alien invasion (Action Comics #780, August 2001). 

By far, the most trying time came following the death of their son at the hands of Doomsday (Superman #75, January 1993).  Jonathan in particular had difficulty accepting Clark’s death, the stress of the situation leading to a near fatal heart attack (Superman: The Man of Steel #21, March 1993).  During this near-death experience, Jonathan believed he saw his son in the afterlife (The Adventures of Superman #500, June 1993), an encounter that may have in part, lead to Superman’s resurrection 

Jonathan’s heart troubles again surfaced during Brainiac’s attack on Earth.  Following his defeat at the hands of Superman, Brainiac lashed out with a missile aimed at the Kent family home.  Jonathan was able to safely throw both himself and Martha clear of the blast, but the strain was too much.  Jonathan suffered another heart attack, this one fatal (Action Comics #870, December 2008).

With the recent attacks of the Black Lanterns Psycho-Pirate, Earth-2 Lois Lane and Kal-L on Smallville, Jonathan’s grave has been unearthed.  Although not yet raised as a Black Lantern (as of this writing), Black Lantern Kal-L has promised that Martha Kent will die, so both Kents can be raised as Black Lanterns (Blackest Night: Superman #1&2, October-November 2009).

  

Although the character of Zor-El first appeared in Action Comics #252 (May 1959), the current continuity version (since the 1986 Man of Steel reboot of the Superman franchise) didn’t begin having a significant role until 2004.  In Superman/Batman #8 (May 2004), a Supergirl from Krypton arrived on Earth following a massive increase in Kryptonite meteors.  As the arc proceeded, it was confirmed that this young woman was Superman’s cousin (Kara Zor-El), sent by her parents (Zor-El and Alura) to look after their nephew (Kara’s arrival, delayed by the Kryptonite storm and suspended animation meant that her younger cousin was now actually significantly older than her).  An additional side-effect of the Kryptonite was that Kara’s memories were nearly wiped out.

As Kara became more engrained in life on Earth, her memories began surfacing, leading her to believe Zor-El had sent her to Earth to kill Superman, rather than protect him (Supergirl #3, December 2005).  As she uncovered more details, Kara learned that back on Krypton, Zor-El and Jor-El (Superman’s father) had feuded over Jor’s discovery of the Phantom Zone (a limbo dimension where Kryptonians began exiling their criminals).  Each time the Phantom Zone was opened, Zor-El believed a wraith-like being escaped, possessing one of the living.  In the dying days of Krypton, Zor-El learned the wraiths intended to follow the infant Kal-El to Earth.  Realizing that ending the lineage of the House of El was the only way to stop the wraiths, Zor-El sent Kara after baby Superman’s rocket, with the intent to kill him (Supergirl #16, June 2007).  As time passed however, even this information was called into question by Supergirl’s conflicting memories (Supergirl #24, February 2008).

In Action Comics #869 (November 2008), Superman discovered Zor-El and Alura alive, although imprisoned within the bottled city of Kandor (Kandor was shrunken and stolen from Krypton years before the planet’s destruction by Brainiac).  Zor-El related that he had utilized technology left behind by Brainiac’s attack to protect his own city, Argo, when Krypton exploded.  When the technology was activated, it drew the attention of Brainiac, who attacked Argo City, killing any “redundant” citizens, and imprisoning the rest within Kandor.  It was during this time that Zor-El managed to send Kara to Earth.  Eventually, Superman and Supergirl were able to defeat Brainiac, rescuing Kandor and restoring it to its proper size at Earth’s North Pole.  Reunited with Kara, Zor-El and Alura were then nominated by their fellow Kryptonians to lead them in this strange new world (Superman: New Krypton Special #1, December 2008).

Despite concerns about mixing with an “inferior” Earth culture, Zor-El led a contingent of Kryptonian delegates to meet with the President of the United States.  At that meeting, the group was attacked by Doomsday, a product of flawed Kryptonian science (Action Comics #871, January 2009).  Although the Kryptonians were easily able to overcome and kill Doomsday, Zor-El and Alura were horrified by the vast array of “super-villains” targeting their nephew and daughter.  As Zor-El pondered this, he spent time with Kara, discovering that her conflicting memories were due Kryptonite poisoning, due to her time spent traveling to Earth in the meteor swarm (Supergirl #35, January 2009).

Ultimately, Zor-El and Alura authorized their Kryptonian forces to launch pre-emptive strikes against Superman and Supergirl’s enemies.  Unbeknownst to Zor-El however, Alura allowed the forces to utilize lethal force, resulting in the deaths of several humans (Superman #682, January 2009).  As Superman and Supergirl confronted Zor-El and Alura regarding this, the amoral government operative, Reactron, attacked.  A cyborg powered by a gold kryptonite heart (a form of kryptonite that temporarily blocked a Kryptonian’s powers), Reactron was able to fatally wound Zor-El, an action that incited a heightened state of hostilities between “New Krypton” and Earth (Action Comics #872 & Supergirl #36, February 2009). 

Kandor, along with the tomb of Zor-El, have since been relocated to a new planet, orbiting the far side of the sun.  It is there that a Black Lantern ring arrived, raising Zor-El to attack both Alura and Supergirl (Blackest Night: Superman #1, October 2009).

  

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