A robotic journey toward the American Dream: MADE in USA.
This is a curious thing--not just with Superman but with many other DC characters. You have one continuity--Superboy--which develops several concepts (Smallville, fleshing out Ma and Pa Kent, Lana Lang, Krypto, Mon-El, the Legion of Super-Heroes, and so on) that didn't exist in the grown up Superman story originally. You then take out the central element from all that--Superboy--but everything else remains.
Heck the whole Smallville TV series was made possible by all those classic Superboy stories--but the one thing that is Superboy is removed.
DC's comic book continuity is weird. Characters come into being spawn hundreds of concepts and then those same characters are extracted from continuity, but the concepts they spawned remain. I think if I was a kid discovering comics now, it would leave me shaking my head. Because anyone who looks into the history of a character (whether it's Sinestro, Supergirl, or Hawkman) will soon encounter all these walls of continuity corruption.
There's not nearly enough Tom Grummett in this thread. One of my favorite covers ever.
Another funny thing is that Lex Luthor got his name thanks to Superboy. Up until Adventure Comics 271 (April 1960), Luthor was just known as Luthor. But in "How Luthor Met Superboy," by Jerry Siegel and Al Plastino, it was shown for the first time how young Lex Luthor met young Clark Kent and Superboy (which, of course, served as a major plot point in the Smallville TV show).
The death of the Kent's completed the transformation of Superboy to Superman. It was a watershed moment and moved the character forward.
The Kent's alive serves no purpose... Their purpose was to raise Superboy and instill their value system, quietly in a place of anonymity. Keeping them alive seemed to retard his growth - he was seen as needing them to make his big decisions - and having Superman do it 8 times a year for 20 years led to the perception that Superman was basically ineffectual and unable to lead, needing to consult with everyone he knew before making any decisions as if he had no core values...
It also contributed to the Big Blue Boy Scout moniker thats still a stink on that version of Superman.
I live in America. It's not a country, it's a business.
It is true, as others have pointed out, that the primairy purpose for the Kents is to give Clark a moral base from which Superman springs forth from. In the older version with Superboy, then you get to have your cake and eat it too. You can have them around in Clark's SUPERBOY past and write them as characters, while having them gone when Clark is SUPERMAN, that way, they exist while not existing, if that makes any sense. When Byrne got rid of SUPERBOY, that presented a problem. So, Byrne just kept them alive into Superman's adulthood so they could be present and be written about. Now that SUPERBOY is once again a part of the equation , (to some extent, even if he just wears a t-shirt and jeans at that time, if ACTION #6 is to be believed) then the Kents are not really required to be around, and can be used as before 1986. However, I still miss them being present , and I do think, when used properly, they add a lot to the stories.
Yet the Smallville TV show proved you can do a whole series about Clark's becoming Superman. This is the failure of imagination among the Superman rebooters in 1986. Even if you don't have "Superboy" that doesn't mean you can't still do a series about young Clark, as Legends of the Dark Knight told stories about Batman's early days. Of course, just as John Byrne was getting Superman off the ground, there was the Superboy TV show and the resulting comic book spin-off (that had to hurt).