Monday, October 18, 2010

All The Best Comics Have Daddy Issues #2

This week I want to dissect the title I have chosen for the column. I’ll look to explain why daddy issues and comics are so intrinsically interwoven, and they are. It’s a concept that goes back a very long time and it’s also something that connects to my youth, and my new fatherhood. Hit the jump to learn all about it.

All The Best Daddy Issues Are In Comics

If you go back to time immemorial, you will see that nearly every good hero from the four colour world has a father issue that they are working through. Let’s run through a list, because lists are always awesome!

Superman – When Krypton exploded, Kal-El was launched into space by his father, Jor-El, and saved from the destruction of his planet that wiped out an entire people and their civilisation. Kal-El, to be raised as Clark Kent when he lands in the farm of the Kent family in Kansas. Clark would have a fantastic childhood, all things considered, but he would never get to meet his father.

Batman – A young Bruce Wayne watches as his parents are gunned down by a common crook in Crime Alley. He goes on to use the anger he feels at this crime to keep the streets of his hometown, Gotham, safe forever more.

Spider-Man – Peter Parker’s parents are dead and he lives with his Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Sadly, with Uncle Ben as the father figure he doesn’t last long as his death teaches Parker the lesson that with great power comes great responsibility.

Daredevil – Matt Murdock’s father was a low rate boxer, and sometime standover man, who tried to provide more for his son than he felt he ever could. Just as he starts to become the father he wants to be he is shot for not throwing a boxing match. Young Matt cradles his father’s dead body and this moment causes him to don the, initially yellow, tights and avenge his father.

Hulk – Bruce Banner suffered for years under the abusive hand of his father, a series of abuse that stemmed down the Banner men.

Iron Man – Tony Stark inherits the family company from his father when his parents die in a car accident.

Captain America – Steve Rogers is born during the Great Depression and his immigrant father bites the bullet early in Steve’s life.

Iron Fist – Danny Rand’s father was a driven industrialist and when he took the family on a trip to locate the mystical city of K’un L’un he is betrayed by his business partner and killed. Danny makes it to the mystical city, alone, and spends the next ten years training and seething purely to go back to Earth and exact revenge for his father’s death.

Dr Doom – the young Victor Von Doom watches his father killed unjustly by the men of the Baron. From this, Doom distrusts authority greatly and learns to only rely on himself.

Mr Fantastic – Reed Richards is raised by a loving father but also an absent one. Nathaniel Richards is a smart man and he devotes much of his time to other pursuits.

Spider-Woman – Her father is a covert researcher for terrorist organisation, HYDRA. His actions lead to Jessica Drew nearly being killed and then becoming a brainwashed agent herself.

Cyclops – Scott Summers survives a plane crash, with his younger brother, but his parents die. Or do they?

Alright, I think that’s enough, you get the point. Don’t you? Lots of comic characters have father issues, usually it’s an absent father but sometimes it’s a maniacal father or a father whose death spawns the birth of the hero’s avenging ways. Any way you look at it, usually a father is the catalyst for the hero and their powers and usually their issues as well.

It’s interesting to note that Jerry Siegel, one of the creators of Superman, had his father die at an early age. Mitchell Siegel ran a store and when there was an attempted robbery he died of a heart attack. The founder of the comic superhero also had his own father issues to work through.

The father issues seem to make for effective motivation. You need to get your character in a silly costume and putting his life on the line; it’s not going to happen because they hear a really terrible thing that happens to someone else they don’t know. Bad things happen every day, we all know this, but once it happens to someone you care about then it affects your life and you feel like you have to do something about it. Killing someone’s father is always an effective way to intrinsically motivate your lead character.

The fact that comics are primarily read by young males might also have something to do with it. Not all young males have absent or dead fathers but they’ll usually go through some sort of father issue at one time or another. They want to make their fathers proud, they want to live up to the heritage of their family name. Most comics tap into that on a subliminal level.

Personally, when I was 5 years old my father died. I was actually there when we found his body and it’s an early memory and certainly one I’ll never shake. It’s the sort of thing you can’t wipe away out of your mind, and nor should you want it. It’s formative, it’s important, and it’s the last time you ever saw the face of your father.

I went into hiding for years after that, I hid in fiction. I spent my youth reading books, comics, anything that took my mind other places. I won’t say I had a terrible childhood, not at all, but I had one very terrible thing happen in my childhood and that definitely affected me. I don’t think I realised I was hiding, nor did I consciously look at the father issues on the comic page, but it was no doubt there.

I thank fiction for providing me with many aspects of a childhood that I would not get without my father. It certainly gave me something to focus on. I could understand exactly what the Parkers, Waynes, and Murdocks of the world felt. I knew their pain, and they knew mine. It was a comfort, even if not an overt and obvious one. It’s just one of those things you realise in hindsight, you escaped and you were welcomed.

I figured for many of these personal reasons, it would make for a good title for a column about being a comic reader and a nascent father. It’s also cribbed from the title of a very good episode, “All The Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues”, of the best show ever made, “LOST”. I figured it would work here.

Lately, it seems like my daddy issues aren’t with my own absent father but rather with my own journey of now being a father. I don’t have any major issues with fatherhood; I’m not planning on being an absent father, I don’t want to have to die to inspire my little man to do anything worthwhile in his life. My issues are more like wanting to know if I’m reading the right comics to make me a good father and if I can still get to the store each week between feeding, changing, burping, wiping, holding, loving, and just generally hanging with my little man. Y'know, the serious stuff, ha.

Yeah, I know, my issues aren’t as majestic as those on the four colour page. I’m kind of happy with that.


I won’t ask you to share with me your own daddy issues, that might be a bit of an over share, instead I’ll ask you to mention your favourite daddy issue from comics. My list above was good, don’t get me wrong, but I know I missed a stack so let me know the best daddy issue in comics.

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brandon said...

One of my favorite Daddy issues was in the original Star Wars movie. Luke goes from Uncle Owen to Obi-Wan to Han all in the shadow of what he's built up in his mind of what his own Dad was. He's a character that just can't stand on his own without guidance, in that particular movie. It's kind of interesting but gets lost because of what happens in the subsequent movies.

In comics, I do like how Superman wavers between his Earth father and his biological one.

Good piece, as always.

Anonymous said...

Great article Ryan. I also have in mind Hal Jordan, James Howlet, Wonder Woman (because a daddy issue should be not having an actual father wouldn't be?

Enrique G

zmarcus said...

Some non major stars- Invincible maybe? The Runaways?

Brandan said...

And now we know why Geoff Johns retconned Barry Allen...

Anonymous said...

Wow, that Spider-Woman panel is inscrutable

Dennis N said...

Dick, Jason, and Tim have this in spades. It's not always easy having Batman as a foster parent.

Booster Gold's series is getting a bit of it with him being Rip Hunter's dad.

Thor and Odin, Herc, Ares, and Zeus, big time.

Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch (and Lorna).

Iron Fist. Hank Pym and Ultron (hey why not?).

Starman, Hourman.

It would probably be easier to count the characters without daddy issues.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

I agree, comic characters without daddy issues might be easier to list.

You all make some great suggestions, thanks.

Simon McDonald said...

Lois Lane's dad was a major dick.

(Actually, he was a General, but y'know...)

I'm not sure I can recall *current* continunity, but it used to be that Sam Lane always wanted a son, got stuck with two daughters, and his dismissive opinion of Lois formulated the personality she has today...

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