Crowning Moments of Fatherhood
Superhero comics are filled with daddy issues. Be it parents who have died as part of a character’s origin story, abusive stepfathers, or children who are somehow their own father, a lot of superhero comics place focus on the importance of father figures. Here’s my list of the most awesome and heartwarming father-child moments in superhero comics. All of these moments, of course, get the asterisk next to them that good parenting in comic-land is vastly different than good parenting in the real world. For example, Batman serves as a father figure to Robin, but in real life he’d be considered a monster for putting a child in harm’s way every night. So, placing on our reality-altering filters that allow spandex-clad vigilantes to be considered responsible figures, let’s dive into the list.
#10: Reed Richards Takes Time Off from Blowing up the Universe (Fantastic Four, volume 3, #64)
This is pretty much the only time that I will acknowledge that Reed Richards as a decent parent. Half the time, he’s building some bizarre gadget that collapses dimensions, and the other half he’s erasing his son’s brain with a laser gun. But every once in a while he takes time away from his insane experiments to show some love for his family. In the story “Sentient,” Reed’s son Franklin tries to get his dad’s attention by fiddling around with his dad’s PDA. For most people, this would cause a few meetings to get lost or the settings to get screwed up. Fiddling with Mr. Fantastic’s PDA, though, creates a giant creature made of sentient numbers. The Fantastic Four manage to defeat the creature, and Franklin admits that he’s the one responsible for the trouble. So what does Reed do to punish his son? Surprisingly, nothing.
In a rare case of Reed actually showing some empathy for his fellow humans, he realizes that Franklin’s mischief is reflective of his own failings as a father. As a result, we get the fun scene up above of Reed and Franklin actually bonding and playing some sort of collective trading card game. It’s a small gesture, but anything that pulls Reed away from his test tube and teleporters is a huge breakthrough.
#9: Volstagg the Fatherly (Journey Into Mystery #624)
A lot of you might not know Volstagg. In short, he’s the most awesome member of Thor’s supporting cast. One of the Warriors Three, he spends a lot of time eating, partying, and boasting of old deeds. Despite being a fat, lazy braggart, he’s actually quite capable.
Recently in Marvel continuity, Loki, the god of mischief, died and was reborn as a child. Although he’s more of a trickster and less of an evil manipulator now, most of Asgard does not trust him. Volstagg does not trust him, either, but he stands up for the little guy against even other Norse gods because among other things, Volstagg is a daddy. And, as he says above, he’s protective of even the most mischievous of children.
Aside from just being a heartwarming moment between Volstagg and the new Loki, this bit gets special mention because of Volstagg’s amazingly adept description of children: “A great prattling brood who exist to do nothing but create smells and trouble and joy.”
#8: Jim Gordon Tells Batman to Pike Off (Birds of Prey #90)
Of all the superhero comics that involve daddy issues, none quite match up to the Batman mythos. While Bruce Wayne did lose both his parents, it always seems to be Thomas Wayne that he misses the most. Batman has served as a father figure to multiple sidekicks over the years. And, of course, there is Jim Gordon, who is the ultimate good guy of the Bat-books.
Jim is actually a guy who screws up quite often, but who makes amends in the end. A good example of this would be in Batman: Year One when it was revealed that he had an affair with a fellow police officer. Rather than let it ruin his marriage and his life, he admitted the affair to his wife and set about trying to repair things. So it’s not surprising that after his daughter got physically broken in The Killing Joke, he stuck with her not matter what.
Birds of Prey #90 wraps up a story where Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara reveals that not only was she once Batgirl, but now she is the computer guru for the Justice League known as Oracle. Gordon reveals that he knew about Barbara’s activities as Batgirl, and that he didn’t intervene despite the danger to herself because he didn’t feel it was right to try to stop her from doing what she felt was necessary. Even after her paralysis (which, ironically, came when she was sitting quietly at home with her dad rather than as part of her crimefighting career), Jim stands by his daughter when she reveals that she’s still fighting crime in her own way. Part of standing by her means butting heads with his old friend Batman, who in this story is on Barbara’s case for employing Huntress, a vigilante who tends more toward the lethal side of justice. Barbara sticks to her guns on trusting Huntress, while Batman goes all condescending and self-righteous on her. And where does Jim come down? Well, let’s just say that in the page after this, Batman’s leaving and Jim is still standing by his daughter.
#7: Bane Goes off the Wagon (Secret Six #6)
In real life, abusing drugs under any circumstances is something that a father figure should never, ever encourage. In comic books, when your group of mercenaries is cornered by a bunch of supervillains out to kill you and you’re unable to move due to most of your internal organs getting repeatedly crushed, you can bend the rules a bit and still be considered an okay guy.
Secret Six is the story of a group of anti-heroes and former villains who team up as a band of mercenaries. Among this group is Scandal Savage, the unbalanced daughter of immortal supervillain Vandal Savage, and Bane, the guy who broke Batman’s back. Early on in the series, Bane decides that Scandal needs a father figure and takes that job himself. His social skills are lacking, but his heart does seem pure when it comes to caring for his surrogate daughter. Later in the series’ inaugural story, Bane is captured and tortured in an attempt to track down the rest of the Six. Spurred on almost entirely by his desire to see Scandal safe, Bane endures the torture, which involves someone with superstrength throwing bricks against his body over and over again, without cracking. He is later rescued by the Six, who make a getaway but are eventually tracked down again. Then we come to this scene.
Although other media depict him as a guy who is nothing without his super-steroids, Bane has actually been without the superdrug known as venom for most of his history. When he was first introduced, he used it to gain an advantage against Batman, but soon weaned himself of its terrible effects and built himself up as a guy who didn’t need drugs as a crutch. So it is only in the most extreme of circumstances that he would go back to the incredibly addictive substance. With Scandal in danger, Bane does use venom to boost himself up and fight despite his wounds that would cripple a normal person. The result is the delightful bit of berserker rage above, where the drug-addled Bane sees everybody as Batman and proceeds to start breaking spines left and right…all to save Scandal.
In the stories that followed, Bane would work to get himself off of venom again, and grew into a semi-responsible father figure to Scandal (again, by superhero standards). Not bad for a guy who grew up in a prison and used to beat people to death with their own severed limbs.
#6: Wolverine at the Fair (X-23 #2)
No, I’m not talking about Wolverine’s relationship with his son Daken, as those two tend to get stabby whenever they’re around each other. Rather, I’m referring to Wolverine’s other quasi-child, X-23. X-23 is actually a modified clone of Wolverine (or something like that…the X-Men are confusing) who is a teenage girl. Basically, she’s Summer Glau with Wolverine claws. Genetically engineered to be an assassin, she hasn’t really had much of a childhood or a family.
This scene lands on the list because I’m a bit of a sucker for dyed in the wool killers being taught how to have fun and live a semi-normal life. It’s a niche trope, but it happens more often than not. I also give Wolverine credit for pointing out that he’s not going to be a good father, but that he can be family. Little moments like this day at the fair are what make the alien invasions and time travel mumbo-jumbo in comics worth reading. Prior to reading this, I didn’t like Wolverine and didn’t care about X-23. Now I’ve got a bit of respect for both of them.
(We’ll ignore the part later on when Wolverine recruits X-23 into his secret mutant death squad. I’m going to pretend that never happened.)
#5: Don’t Mess with the Kents (Superman: The Animated Series, “New Kids in Town”)
Superman gains his powers from the Earth’s yellow sun and his Kryptonian biology. But it took a pair of farmers in the American midwest to actually make him Superman and not just Kal-El. Pa Kent has had a lot of influence on Clark, forming his morals and the man he became. He was partially responsible for pulling Superman out of the afterlife that time when he died, and he’s had his share of awesome moments in the comics. For his moment of awesome, though, we’re turning to Superman: The Animated Series, because one moment there encompasses how badass both the Kent parents are. The episode is “New Kids in Town,” which involves Brainiac attempting to go back in the past to kill Superman before he got his full array of powers. So what do the Kents do when their son is attacked by a nigh invulnerable alien robot? They grab their shotguns, of course.
Not only is Pa Kent badass, but he’s got a perfect companion in the gun-toting Ma Kent as they defend their son.
#4: A Hulk and His Boy (The Incredible Hulk #611)
Few characters in comics have had father issues like Bruce Banner, who witnessed his abusive father beat his mother to death and who has been haunted by his father’s ghost for years. When the Hulk wound up with his own half-alien son thanks to the events of the classic Planet Hulk, Banner set out to try to be the man his father never could. This was complicated by the fact that at the time he was cured of transforming into the Hulk, but that it was only a matter of time until the Hulk returned and started smashing again. So Banner also started training his boy to kill the Hulk if needed.
At the end of the “World War Hulks” storyline, the Hulk finally did return and was attacked by his son Skaar, who blamed the Hulk for abandoning him on the planet Sakaar (in actuality, the Hulk didn’t even know he had a son when he left). The fight spanned several states, as the two knocked each other for hundreds of miles with some of their punches. Just as Skaar started to gain the upper hand, the fight began endagering a hotel full of people. The Hulk, taking a beating from his son, intervened and saved the day. This act caused Skaar to realize that, despite what Banner believed, the Hulk was a hero, not a monster. Skaar transformed into the form of a young alien boy, and the Hulk turned into Banner. Then Bruce Banner did what his own father never could: he hugged his son, allowing father and child to each forgive the other for his mistakes. The story ended with the scene above, with both Banner and the Hulk having a son to care for. The moment itself came just shy of landing on my Crowning Moments of Awesome list for the Hulk, but thankfully it earns a spot on this list.
#3: The Wayne Family (Batman and Robin #20)
Not long ago, Batman wouldn’t have made it within 100 yards of this list. Despite the fact that he’s served as a father figure to about 90% of Gotham City’s vigilantes, the Bat-dick that existed in the 80s and 90s was so emotionally stunted that he was effectively socially disabled. Fortunately, recent creators have worked to make Batman a bit more human again, not going as far as the off the wall campiness of the Adam West era, but showing that he really does care about the people around him – and good thing, too, since otherwise he’s just putting children in danger without even considering their well-being.
The scene here comes from the end of Batman & Robin #20. It follows the return of Bruce Wayne after he had seemingly been killed by Darkseid in “Final Crisis.” In his absence, Dick Grayson, the first Robin, took over the role of Batman, with Bruce Wayne’s biological son Damian becoming the newest Robin. The previous Robin, Tim Drake, had been trekking around the world trying to find proof that Bruce wasn’t really dead. This scene serves as Bruce’s welcome home, showing how far he’s come by playing the movie that he went to see the day his parents died. With his own surrogate father Alfred and three boys who are all sons to him in a way, we get a rare scene of the goddamn Batman sitting back, eating popcorn, and watching a movie with his family. Whatever waits in the years to come, it’s nice to know that Bruce Wayne can still be something other than the dark embodiment of vengeance once in a while.
#2: The Batman’s Batman (Batman and the Outsiders Special #1)
If Batman is finally becoming a better-rounded human being, one can pretty much guarantee that it’s because of Batman’s Batman, Alfred Pennyworth. A surgeon, a butler, and a surrogate father, Alfred has done it all for Bruce Wayne. In almost any adaptation of the comics, Alfred has remained unflappable, loyal, and the one guy who can shake the mighty Batman down if need be. Unfortunately, Bruce could never say how much Alfred meant to him to the old man’s face. Thus we have this scene, which took place while Bruce was supposedly dead following “Final Crisis.” Batman finally acknowledges Alfred as a father figure, and Alfred for his part continues doing his surrogate son’s work even after the war on crime has seemingly taken Bruce’s life.
Me? I wanna see a comic book about the Goddamn Alfred.
#1: Aquaman?! (Justice League, “The Enemy Below”)
I’ve bullied and ridiculed Aquaman for years. But in the right circumstances, the dud is badass. His appearance in the Justice League cartoon of the early 2000s got me religiously watching that show despite some early misgivings I had regarding it. If you can make Aquaman so awesome that he tops one of these lists, you’ve accomplished something truly great.
The Aquaman of Justice League takes inspiration from Peter David’s run on the character in the 1990s, presenting a guy who is more warrior-king and less emperor of useless douches like the Superfriends version was. In the episode “The Enemy Below,” Aquaman’s brother Orm betrays him and leaves him to die by sliding into a volcanic vent in the sea. That might have worked, but Orm makes the mistake of putting Aquaman’s son in the same deathtrap, which pushes the king of the seas to his limits. Unable to break his shackles, he finds something that is easier to cut through:
You’d think that after cutting off his own hand, Aquaman would take some time with his family and recuperate. Not so. Instead, he grafts a blade to the stump on his arm and immediately sets out to deliver bloody vengeance against his brother. By the end of the episode, Aquaman’s wife and child are safe, and Orm is pushing up daisies. You do not mess with this guy’s family.
And so, while everyone else on this list has had some truly heartwarming moments, the kid in me that loves to jump up and say, “Dude! That was totally badass!” has to give the top spot to Aquaman. Yeah…I’m kinda surprised, too.