What's Wrong with Being a Parent, Anyway?
While looking at the calendar, I noticed Father’s Day was coming soon. Since I happened to be reading an old run of Spider-Man at the time, it suddenly struck me that the vast majority of male comic book characters just… aren’t allowed to be fathers. Or women being allowed to be mothers, for that reason. Why? What have editors or writers done to prevent, or encourage, the family unit?
Since I was reading Spider-Man at the time, my thoughts drifted to the fact that Peter Parker has actually lost children multiple times. His stillborn child, May Parker, was lost during the whole Clone Saga debacle. He had a child with Gwen Stacy during the reality-altering House of M named Richard, who was lost during the reset of the timeline… and then forgotten about. Annie would have been him and MJ’s second attempted child, had Mephisto not retconned away their marriage during the detestable One More Day debacle and wiped her from existence. That’s not to say that Spider-Man has never been a father, though.
House of M, of course, had Peter being a dad for a brief time. However, the Marvel “MC2” universe known as Earth-982 featured an entire second generation of heroes, as the sliding timescale of Marvel was moved 15 years back. May Parker had survived and became the new Spider-Girl while her father had retired due to an amputated leg. The stories mostly focused on Mayday becoming her own hero in a weird world of future-90s society with Tom DeFalco “teenage lingo,” but still had the time for an older Peter to try and be a father to May without removing her from the spotlight.
Annie May Parker also got to share the spotlight in the seminal “Renew Your Vows” comic line, Earth-18119. Under the hero name of Spiderling, Annie took a combined sidekick and daughter role to Spidey. Combine that with MJ herself donning webs as Spinnerette, and you had an entire spider-family. The chemistry was wonderful, in part thanks to some excellent writing by Gerry Conway, and honestly felt like the next evolution of Spider-Man’s catchphrase “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.” Again, Annie would take most of the focus of the book as it evolved, but Peter and MJ as parents would become the biggest selling feature of the book for fans who had wanted it for so long.
The Flash is another bizarre example. Until 2011, the Wally West incarnation of the Flash actually was a father. Despite his children being killed by his foe Zoom before they were born, a second story by Geoff Johns wound up restoring them and having them born in the same issue. Jai and Iris West would become fast-forwarded into grade school age due to plot convenience, but it worked because the Flash books had become about the legacy of the name, and the family it had created. Wally’s wife Linda Park was also no frail damsel in distress, getting more than her fair share of action in the comics. There weren’t that many tales with Wally’s nuclear family, however, as Wally would be sucked away into the Speed Force for several years with his family, and then shoved off to the side when Barry Allen returned to the world of comics in 2009. And then, when DC rebooted the universe in 2011, Wally West was no longer a canonical character, wiped from existence along with Linda Park and his kids.
Of course, comics being comics, Wally is back again. With no girlfriend, much less a wife, and absolutely no children. And even 10 years younger, if that wasn’t strange enough.
The Scarlet Witch and Vision had kids, thanks to literal magic. Then they turned out to not be real at all, and later got reincarnated into a pair of the Young Avengers. Not that Wanda or the Vision have ever really been parental to them, from what I’ve been able to read.
Captain Marvel (as in, Carol Danvers) was a mother once. Of course, it turned out that she gave birth to a clone of the man who took her without consent in the realm of Limbo. This clone was so he could exist outside of Limbo, only for the world to be ripped asunder if he remained outside. So he returned, and Carol chose to return with her aaaaaaaaand the less said about this story, the better. Oi.
Hank Pym also has a daughter with his first (dead) wife, Nadia Pym. Of course, since Hank Pym is currently Ultron, he doesn’t get to be a father.
Deadpool has a daughter. Or maybe had, as the recent relaunch of Deadpool ensured he wiped his memory of nearly everything, and his daughter hasn’t shown up since. To be fair, he was also convinced that he would be nothing but horrible for her as well.
And, of course, we can’t forget Frank Castle. The Punisher once had a family, but they are literally a plot device that was used to make him angry and shoot people for a living, not actual characters to be explored.
That isn’t to say that we don’t have fathers and mothers as heroes. It just seems like editorial and writers just… don’t know what to do with them once superheroes marry or become parents.
Scott Summers, the X-Man known as Cyclops was written off the book twice. Once when he married Madelyne Pryor, and the other when he had his son, Nathan Christopher Charles Summers. While NCCS would have a fair amount of screen time before being forcibly ejected into the future to become Cable, it was almost always with Jean Grey or as a background prop, and Maddie actually had more screen time without Scott than she ever did with him. These days, while Cyclops is actually a grandfather now thanks to time travel antics, few comics bother to touch upon it outside of exposition.
Wolverine has also had multiple children (some adopted), but took the stance of leaving them behind rather than staying around to be a parent. This being comics, it has exploded in his face multiple times while he somehow had little issues becoming a mentor to multiple young women during that same timeframe. This includes his own (female) clone.
Quicksilver, Pieter Maximoff of the Avengers, also has a daughter Luna with his ex-wife Crystal. However, Luna is little more than a plot point and footnote, as she spent most of her time on the moon with mom and rarely showed up outside of being kidnapped.
Jack Knight, star of wonderful 90s comic Starman by James Robinson, unknowingly helped conceive a child during the course of his tenure on the book. Jack felt that being a father was more important than super heroics, and stepped aside to become one. This actually did make sense for the character, but also feels like a magnified example of the belief that parenting and super heroics don’t mix.
Which is, frankly, bullshit. Both DC and Marvel (to keep with the Big Two) have multiple examples of fathers and mothers who are also superheroes.
Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four has been a father since the 1970s, albeit not the most shining example of fatherhood. Batman has been a parent to each of his Robins, with mixed results, until Grant Morrison’s legendary stories for the Dark Knight gave him a literal son who would become Robin.
Superman also attempted to be a dad a few times in the comics, with DC often “forgetting” about the child or some other drama happening. It wasn’t until DC’s Rebirth un-reboot that gave us Jonathan Kent, son of Lois and Clark. Taking the mantle of Superboy, Jon wound up turning Superman into Super-Dad, something approved of by nearly every fan I’ve spoken with since it works incredibly well with the established character of Clark without taking anything away from either him or Lois.
Of course, Brian Michael Bendis immediately chose to send Jon and Lois off to figurative limbo the second he began writing for Superman, but they are back now.
While I am admittedly not as well versed with his heroics, Animal Man has been married since at least the 1980s with a healthy family. In fact, Buddy Baker’s wife and kids knowing he’s Animal Man is pretty much baked into a character by this point and has carried into multiple reboots of the DC universe.
And, of course, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones have their own little bouncing bundle of joy in Danni Cage. I confess to not being up to the minute on what has happened recently, but the two of them juggling parenting with heroics has always been a joy.
It’s not like I want life to go perfectly for all heroes. After all, then there would be no drama at all. Nor am I saying that every superhero of the “next generation” has to be a kind of a superhero. That way lies weird “Original Character Do Not Steal” creations and unwanted repetition. Not every hero needs to be a parent either. I don’t see guys like Blade or Punisher becoming parents in the main books (again, in Frank’s case). However, these heroes need to grow and change, not just with the illusion of growth.
I grew up with a married Spider-Man. With a Flash who had a girlfriend whom he eventually married and had kids with. With a Superman who eventually married the love of his life. While being able to return to the same old characters year after year is a level of comfort that few products can provide reliably, it makes me feel old now to see Flash de-aged with his family never existing. Or Spider-Man’s entire marriage nuked because an editor didn’t like the idea of divorce.
Being able to look up at a superhero who struggles not just with heroics, but with making time for his family, actually makes me feel better about my own struggles. I identify more with that hero, in this case, Superman. I’ll never stop loving Flash or Spider-Man, but seeing Superman take a road trip with his wife and son is charming and warms my heart in ways a single hero can’t.
I admit, I may be a niche market in an already shrinking marketplace, but there’s something else to consider. What kind of kid wouldn’t want to read about a superhero they could imagine was their father or mother? Going on adventures with Spider-Dad or Super-Dad is something my own son would go crazy over since he’s still young enough to not be embarrassed by his old man.
And for those who want the good old days? There’s always reprints and the ability to write another imaginary tale where they don’t have a kid, or before the child was born. After all, aren’t all comic stories imaginary?
*With apologies to Alan Moore