Jeffrey Taylor is a staff writer/moderator at The Superman Homepage, cohost of From Crisis to Crisis: A Superman Podcast available at the Superman Homepage, iTunes and The Superman Podcast Network. You can find his new Man of Steel Countdown column here at Movies.com every other Tuesday.
“When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river.” - Exodus Chapter 2, Verse 3
Russell Crowe was recently announced as Jor-El in Man of Steel. Jor-El and his wife Lara were Superman’s biological parents from the planet Krypton. But although they gave life to the baby Kal-El and sent him to Earth to save him before the planet exploded, Jor-El’s role in Superman’s childhood and adult life has usually been relegated to the origin story, or as a ghostly computer program.
On the other side of the fatherly spectrum, Jonathan Kent and his wife Martha raised the baby Kal-El as Clark Kent until he was old enough to don his tights and cape. They instilled traditional middle-American values in the boy who would be Superman And oddly enough, both could be responsible for Superman’s decision to become a costumed superhero in Man of Steel as well as helping him create the uniform he wears.
So what should we expect from Superman’s father figures when Man of Steel is released next year?
Between the continued successes of Superman in other media, most people are familiar with his origin. He was saved by his parents when they sent him in a rocket to Earth moments before Krypton exploded. Many fans have clamored that there’s no need to retread and waste time retelling that story in its entirety. Casting someone with as much star power as Russell Crowe could mean that the origin might be a larger part of the film than fans have been expecting.
In the Christopher Reeve Superman film from 1978, Jor-El was played by Marlon Brando, who was the highest paid actor in Hollywood at the time. Not only was he featured in the first 25 minutes of the film, but a computer program that represented his consciousness, hopes and dreams also helped teenage Clark Kent to become the hero he was destined to be.
It’s also reasonable to expect that Superman’s Kryptonian origins will be discussed in the middle of the film as Superman learns about Kryton in his adulthood. There’s also a chance that Jor-El will play a very small role in this film, but might be more heavily featured in sequels.
Superman’s Earth parents have often played a larger part of young Clark Kent’s life that the adult Superman. In most versions, Pa Kent died before Clark reached adulthood, but not always. In the comics, Jonathan was a major character in the Superboy issues of the 1950’s and 60’s, but not Superman. It wasn’t until the DC Universe reboot in 1986 that both parents survived into Superman’s adulthood. Some of Superman’s problems were simply too big for him to work out on his own, and being able to fly back to Smallville and discuss issues with his parents provided a new layer to the storytelling.
Subsequent continuities like the 1990’s animated series and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman kept that concept alive until the Smallville TV series killed him off for their 100th episode, followed closely by his death (again) in the regular comics. And he seems to always die at his home on the farm from a heart attack.
So will Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent be a major part of the Man of Steel film? I believe he will. There’s a good chance his character could die at some point over the course of the film or its sequels, but I expect he will help Clark come to the decision that he needs to disguise himself as Superman to safely use his abilities without fear of anyone discovering his true identity.
There are traditionally two ways that Clark receives his Superman costume. In some versions like the Christopher Reeve movie, it was created at the Fortress of Solitude by Jor-El’s computer programs and after years of training. That’s where the iconic moment of Superman’s first flight in that film came from. Sometimes the “S” symbol from Superman’s costume was a family crest from his homeworld.
The other way is through the parental guidance of Jonathan and Martha Kent. In many other continuities the decision to become Superman came from discussions with his Earth parents. Once Clark realized that there was no way he could sit back and watch atrocities happen before his eyes and not be able to act without risking his identity, his parents suggested both the Superman costume and that he should wear glasses in his everyday life as a reporter.
Often Martha herself would sew his costumes together herself since Clark could hardly contract out for the work. It was amusing in the late 1980’s comic books when she would complain about how many capes Clark would go through. In Superman: Birthright from 2003, Clark even wore his father’s glasses and it was her mother’s idea that Superman would never be trusted if he wore a mask.
What do you think of the casting of Russell Crowe as Jor-El? And will it be a large part like Brando played, or more of a cameo?