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In the original comics, Pete was the childhood best friend of Clark Kent in Smallville. One night when they were camping together, Pete secretly saw Clark changing into Superboy to attend to an emergency. Pete kept his knowledge of the superhero's secret identity to himself, not even telling Clark. Furthermore, Pete resolved to use this knowledge to help his friend, such as creating distractions to allow Clark to slip away without raising suspicion.
The Legion of Super-Heroes were aware of Pete's assistance to Clark and made him an honorary member during his teenage years (as shown in Superboy #98). During the Legion's battle with Mordru in Adventure Comics #370 ("The Devil's Jury"), it was stated that Pete Ross's knowledge of Superboy's secret identity would one day end up saving Superman's life (explaining why the Legion allowed Pete to retain that knowledge); however, no Superman story ever followed up on this detail until the very end of this continuity.
As an adult, Pete was established as a widower who had a son named Jonathan, who also learned the secret of Superman's dual identity (as shown in Action Comics #457). When Pete's son was kidnapped by an alien race, Pete revealed to Clark his knowledge of his friend's dual identity, imploring Superman's help. When Clark was unable to provide this help, Pete suffered a nervous breakdown and attempted to discredit his former friend. Pete resided in a mental institution until his son was eventually saved, at which point the Ross family faded into anonymity. The breach in the childhood friendship apparently never fully recovered.
Right before the Multiverse partially collapsed after Crisis on Infinite Earths and history was rebooted, Pete was captured by the Toyman and the Prankster and tortured into revealing Superman's true identity before being killed and stuffed in a toychest for Superman to find. Eventually, Superman discovered they were being manipulated by Mister Mxyzptlk. These events were covered in Alan Moore's Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, but is a non-canon story.
The modern version of Pete is a far more minor character in the Superman comics, who eventually married Lana Lang, with the two having a son, Clark Ross. The two are presently divorced, even after briefly reuniting following the Ruin storyline (see below). Pete was Vice President of the United States under Lex Luthor and briefly served as President following Luthor's impeachment but quickly resigned.
In the modern comic book continuity, Pete was not initially aware of Clark's secret. However, the secret was known by the villainous Manchester Black, who informed then-President Luthor of the secret, only later to wipe his memory of it. Prior to losing the knowledge of Clark's secret, Lex informed Pete that his close friend Clark Kent is in fact Superman. While Pete initially refrained from telling Clark about his knowledge he did eventually tell him in Superman #641.
Recently it appeared that Ross had become a villain named "Ruin", but it was later revealed that he had instead been kidnapped by the real Ruin, Professor Emil Hamilton. Hamilton also kidnapped Pete's wife and child. Superman defeated the insane Professor Hamilton, rescued Pete, Lana, and their child, and exonerated Pete of the charges against him.
Pete has returned to Smallville without Lana to raise their son.
In other media
Pete Ross was shown in a brief, non-speaking cameo in part two of the three-part opening episode of the 1990's television cartoon Superman: The Animated Series, titled "The Last Son of Krypton, Part III".
Pete Ross, played by Sam Jones III, appears in the first three seasons of the 2000s television series Smallville. Along with Chloe Sullivan, he is one of Clark Kent's best friends. Pete hates the Luthors for what he sees as their thievery of his family's creamed corn business, and resents Clark's friendship with Lex Luthor.
Pete is the first person outside of the Kent family with whom Clark shares the secret of his powers. Although Pete is usually supportive of Clark and keeps this secret, their friendship is challenged when he occasionally gets into trouble and relies on Clark to resolve his difficulties. The character was written out of the series at the end of the third season, when Pete is brutally interrogated about Clark by an FBI agent. To protect the both of them, he moves to Wichita, Kansas to live with his mother.
Pete returns in the Seventh Season episode "Hero" with Elastic Lad like powers, and he saves Jimmy and Kara.
In the comics, Pete Ross is Caucasian, while Jones is black.