Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Parents and Children in Comics

I was thinking while rereading JSA 81 (an issue I highly enjoyed, as I'm fond of Stargirl and there was also the Shade! Yay! And S.T.R.I.P.E!) that Pat Dugan is a great father figure.

Really, not many dads (or stepdads) would go and create a giant robot to help protect his daughter while she goes out to superhero. And he loves her like she were his biological daughter too. From bitching about her midriff (which I *loved* BTW, I'm glad to see not all adults have lost their senses) and that bit later where with the robot destroyed, he still has to help "[his] daughter." Not Step-Daughter, Daughter.

See, that's one area where DC won me where Marvel and other comics never could. In Marvel for example, the characters are primarily orphans or their parents are rarely addressed at all. Kitty Pride's parents are alive, I think, but when do we see them? Christopher Summers shows up occasionally but the Summers family tree is a weird anomaly that is both awesome and fucked-up at the same time. Cable's dad (Cyclops, as you all well know) is around but young enough to be his son, (gotta love time travel). Possibly because of the original premise of Xavier's manor as a boarding school, there are very few satisfying parent-child relationships in X-Men. (And don't get me started on Xavier's and Scott's relationship, he picked up an abused child who was forced to help rob banks by his evil foster father and had a power that pretty much cut him off from any normal interaction and turned him into his ideal soldier. You want to know why Scott's such a mess of brooding, stick-up-ass issues...Look at Xavier.)

Fantastic Four isn't any better really. I vaguely remember stories in which Sue and Johnny's dad was nuts and Reed's was lost in some dimension thing, but in general, the main four have no relationships to their own parents. Franklin and Valeria are better off of course, (I loved the issue where Franklin accidently makes the computer thing that's obsessed with his dad because he's feeling lonely, Reed has to make a computer program that is himself: "Sue, can I carry a tune?" "Not really, dear.", and at the end, they end up playing magic), but I still wish it seemed like the four's own parents were more of a presence. (Ultimate F4 is better about this).

Spiderman's got some satisfying stuff with Aunt May and Uncle Ben, though, but it's only one.

Manga rarely has parents be a presence. They're usually the ones causing the trouble somehow, and the kids are stuck in the middle of it. Or the kids are orphans. Again, there are exceptions, but it seems to be a trend.

But DC Comics...Parental Figures are very, very important to DC Comics. Whether you're looking at the Kents (it's very obvious that the amazing, down-to-earth and *human* guy that Clark Kent became is due to his adopted parents), the Waynes (or Graysons, who might be dead, but remain a tangible spectre onto their children's lives), Hippolyta (who might have done some questionable things, but it was all to protect the daughter she loved)...

There are great parents, like Pat Dugan, like Helena Sandsmark (how can you not like a woman who dated *Jason Blood*, went to hell and back to save him, got in a catfight with Bonnie King-Jones and still seeks to give her hero daughter something resembling a normal life), like the Kents.

There are flawed parents, like Jack Drake (who was fairly monstrously neglectful before his wife died and he was comatose, and later on became rather over-protective and pushy to compensate), like Maura Rayner (whose inability to let her son grow up combined with his own stubborn bullheadedness led to a long estrangement, only mended after her son became the Green Lantern). Linda Danvers's parents who never quite understood their daughter and took some time to adjust to her change in status.

There are parents like the first Ray and Black Canary and Starman, whose children inherited their legacies.

There are also absentee parents like Aaron Rayner, Oliver Queen, Alan Scott, Courtney's dad. But the difference is that their absence is very clearly felt and expressed by the children left behind. Connor came to find Ollie, Jade and Obsidian have many different issues with their dad, Kyle searched for Aaron/Gabe Vasquez for years...

There are even horrible, abusive parents/parental figures, though thankfully not that many considering.

And there are a lot more heroes with children (though weirdly, not as many heroines. And while many couplings were hero-villainess, I can't think of any villain-heroine pairing that resulted in children...though that might be for the best): Jack Knight, Roy Harper, Linda Danvers to name a few.

The thing is, as tedious as say Conner Kent/Kon-El's parent issues tend to be sometimes, I'm glad he has them. I'm glad parents are so important in the DCU. I'm glad that in general the relationships between parents and children are pretty good in the DCU. I think that it's great that they also show that blood really doesn't matter sometimes. Pat Dugan is as much Courtney's father as the guy who sired her. The Kents have had a lot more to do with the man Clark Kent became than Jor-El of Krypton (who is admittedly very cool).

I guess for me it's a matter of sentimentality. I love my parents so much. They've had everything to do with how I grew up. They've made mistakes, but they're my parents. They've always been a presence in my life, just as their parents were in theirs. And I think it's that way for most people, whether their parents are great, monstrous, in between, blood related, not blood related, not there at all. I think that is ultimately very important to people and the acknowledgement of that connection is a big part of what drew me to the DCU.


  • At January 11, 2006 12:17 AM, Blogger Heidi Meeley said…

    Wow, what a great entry, Kalinara! I hadn't thought about it this way before, but the presence of parents, and family in general really drives the emotional level we feel for characters. We might not be able to relate to their powers or perfect looks, but we all know how we feel about family.

    This was very thought provoking, and really brought out the way that DC heroes have had more of a family focus. Stargirl is a favorite character of mine, and I really think that part of it is the joy of watching her have a family, and have Pat in her life.

    Thank you for such a great post!

  • At January 11, 2006 12:17 AM, Blogger Diamondrock said…

    It seems that you loved that issue for the same reasons that I did. I nearly choked up with Pat is yell about saving 'his daughter.' Because she really is, even if she's not. You know what I mean? It was a really powerful issue all around.

    And now that you've mentioned it, I think you're right about the parents thing. I never noticed that they were so missing from Marvel until you mentioned it.

  • At January 11, 2006 12:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I can get into parent/child relationships, but I've noticed that some DC characters seem juvenile in their parental relationships; one feels that they are just in the family, not engaged in it, sort of like a young child.

    I personally prefer the type of family that the FF exemplifies. Each person in the group is clearly an adult, managing his or her relationships and engaged in a give and take with the rest of the family (see 1234, for example).

    That said, I'm a sucker for the Kents. If I wrote Superman, he'd move to Kansas.

  • At January 11, 2006 12:44 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    heidi: Thanks! I know I particularly liked her flashbacks to how he came into her life and becoming the Star-Spangled Kid to annoy him. It was cute and really emphasized how much she's grown since then. And how much she's grown to appreciate her family in her life.

    diamondrock: I get what you mean. She is his daughter now. It doesn't matter that she wasn't always. She is now and that's what counts.

    It makes since I think that parents (at least good parents) are less prevalent in Marvel, I think. Marvel's very reactionary/rebellious and mutancy in particular is a metaphor for discrimination against things like race and sexual orientation. Thus parents usually become part of the "establishment" I think, rejecting the mutant for their powers. There's a lot more emphasis in Marvel on self-made families, choosing who to call your family, which is good of course, but I think that they tend to neglect other aspects of family.

    kris: I can see why that would irritate some. :-) I think it depends on the character as to how their family relationships tend to turn out.

    F4 has some really nice moments, but I'd really like to see references to their parents sometime. Franklin and Valeria having a chance to if not meet their grandparents, at least hear stories about them/visit graves, that sort of thing. It's just something I feel gets neglected. Personal taste I guess. :-)

    And the Kents are always awesome. :-)

  • At January 11, 2006 12:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Well like I was telling Kali in AIM, Johnny Blaze sold his soul to try and protect his adoptive father. Even while that man was calling him a coward.

    For a demon he has a lot of love for people.

  • At January 11, 2006 5:39 AM, Blogger Doc Nebula said…

    Parents are important at Marvel, it's just that they are only generally important as backstory, and nowadays, since Marvel has never had a Crisis, the backstory is all forty years old, so it seems very distant and unimportant.

    Daredevil's father is extremely important to him; at least, at one time, DD managed to mention Battlin' Jack about once an issue. Peter Parker also has extremely important parent figures, although one of them is dead. The Fantastic Four ARE a family, when they are written correctly (as they hardly ever have been, in the last thirty years). And Thor, of all people, also has a very important father figure, although I gather Odin is now actually dead, or something.

    I grant you, there are more Marvel characters that don't have visible parents anywhere than that do, but I suspect the proportions (and reasons for them) are the same at both universes. Batman, for example, has the same sort of parent figures as Daredevil and Spider-Man... dead ones who primarily serve as heroic motivation.

  • At January 11, 2006 7:47 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    mallet: Can't deny that, nope.

    You're probably right, Highlander, about time being a big issue in it. Personally though, I do tend to feel the lack, even with the examples you've mentioned.

    Batman might have the same dead parents background as Daredevil and Spiderman, but it feels like more of a presence in his storylines. If that makes sense. Regardless, I tend to get a heavier feeling of kin-ship, family, legacy, and so on from DC than I do from Marvel, personally.

  • At January 11, 2006 12:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    An excellent and thought-provoking post. I need to ponder it somer more, but here are some thoughts off the top of my head:
    1) I think much of it depends on the writers. For instance, Johns writes family well. Wolfman , on the other hand, does not. Look at his New Teen Titans. They don't have parents as much as they have "issues" with their parents, much like the X-Men of the same era.
    2) For an interesting Marvel look at parents, make sure to read the Dr. Doom/Dr. Strange: Triumph and Torment OGN by Stern and Mignola. Doom and Strange literally go to Hell to rescue Doom;s mother from Mephisto. Well done.
    3) Kitty Pryde's father is dead. I'm not sure what ever happened to her mother.

  • At January 11, 2006 6:22 PM, Blogger Captain Infinity said…

    I love the use of families in DC. My only complaint is that they all to frequently become plot devices by either being evil (like Wally West's dad) or being murdered.

    It's so bad that when Hal Jordan's brother showed up in Green Lantern #1 my first thought was "He hasn't been killed off?"

    I've always though the Jordans were interesting simply because Hal's brothers were so normal. They're not heroes or villains, nor do they want to be. They're just regular guys who happen to have a superhero for a brother. And that's cool.

  • At January 11, 2006 7:09 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    scott: I'll remember your suggestions. They sound interesting. Especially the Doom one.

    Captain: Yeah, that is the downside. Sometimes evil/dead family members can work, other times...not so much.

    But Hal's brothers are great. For much the same reason, so's Maura Rayner. Though Airwave annoys me a little, probably because everytime I've seen him, he's been in a coma or something. I don't think I've ever read a comic where that boy had a speaking part.

  • At July 13, 2011 11:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I might be a little late to the game, but I decided to comment anyways. Your perspective is very interesting and the lack of parents in Marvel is actually something that I had never noticed. Personally though, the emphasis on parents in DC actually bothers me sometimes(just when they go to the extremes). I completely understand why Bruce is always remembering his parents and that night and I love Clark's relationship with his parents, but for some characters I sometimes think they take it a bit too far. Tim Drake as you mentioned has horrible parents, but he still quit being Robin for his father who had ignored him for the majority of his life. A specific scene in "Blackest Night" where both Tim and Dick who have endured so much training completely lost their cool when facing the zombified murderers of their parents. Dick had previously faced Zucko(His parents killer) and he didn't lose his composure then and Tim has been shown to be very cool headed, so them going into berserk killing sprees seemed to be just the writers once again emphasizing the relationship between parents and their children. For me it was just too much and too unrealistic. I love my parents and I do like the way that DC has more parent-child relationships, but sometimes I think that they take it too far.


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