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Off My Mind: The Connection Between Orphans and Superheroes

For many heroes, being an orphan seems to be a prerequisite.

There are many different origins for superheroes. Over the years, common themes have occurred. Some heroes gain their powers through freak accidents. Other heroes have a genetic quirk in them that allows powers to develop. There are also heroes that follow the footsteps of mentors or family members. Despite these different origins, there is another trait that many share, a tragic moment in their life. More importantly, many heroes become orphans before they can reach their potential.

Having a tragic moment in their lives to inspire them to ensure others do not suffer the same fate is a good driving force. Is this the reason so many superheroes are written as orphans? Do superheroes need to lose their families in order to become a great hero?

== TEASER ==

Let's consider many of the 'great' heroes. Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Daredevil and others have lost their parents before even becoming heroes. For these heroes, the suffering and loss was an inspiration. They were deeply affected and the feeling of being alone or having their parents taken away from them drove them nearly to the point of obsessing in some cases. They lost their loved ones through a tragedy and want to do whatever they can to ensure others don't have to go through the same sadness.

Some heroes become driven by the loss. Spider-Man blames himself for the death of his Uncle Ben. Everything he does goes back to the fact that he chose not to be a hero when the thief that would eventually kill his uncle ran by him. Barry Allen tried saving his mom and ended up changing the entire universe by creating the Flashpoint Universe.

For a character like Dick Grayson, losing his parents allowed Bruce Wayne to take him in as his ward and train him to become Robin. The same can be said for heroes like Roy Harper and Jubilee.

There are also characters that did have parents while being a hero only to lose them later through various means such as Kitty Pryde or Tim Drake. Tim Drake became Robin when he had a mother and a father. His mother soon died and eventually his dad found out his secret. This only lasted for a short period as he became the victim of their lifestyle and was murdered.

It's almost as if losing parents and loved ones is the price to becoming a hero. Many readers would love to have superpowers or the life of a superhero. But the price seems a little high. Pretty much most of the heroes we read about have lost their families for one reason or another.

Is there an advantage to being an orphan superhero besides motivation?

There definitely is a benefit for superheroes not to have family. This usually comes with the secret identity. One of the biggest weaknesses a hero could have is the discovery of his or her secret identity. (See the recent: When Secret Identities Get Discovered). The main purpose of having one, besides getting some time to themselves, is to protect their families and loved ones. Not having family means they don't need to worry about a villain trying to get revenge on them through their family.

Another advantage is not having to explain their whereabouts. If a hero has a curfew or even needs to call their mom, it can get in the way of their crimefighting career. There is no sense of obligation to family events. They can dedicate and commit themselves to fighting evil. Without family, they can even fight crime during the holidays.

What about training? Most heroes have to actually take time to train themselves in between missions. That means they need to find the time and place to do it. Trying to do some training in their bedroom could lead to some...awkward moments.

Many people dream of having superpowers or being a superhero. It seems that you have to lose your parents to become a true hero (at least in the eyes of past comic book writers). It's a high price to pay but has advantages for the heroes once they get over the grieving period. Being an orphan shouldn't be a prerequisite to becoming a superhero but it's something that seems to happen all the time. No one would want to give up their parents in order to become a superhero but it sure seems to make writing their adventures easier.

Thanks to BlueLanternBeast for suggesting the topic!

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Posted by Necrotic_Lycanthrope

Orphans in comics seems like a continuous trend, both creating villains and heroes (villain ex. Doc Ock's parents' death led to his distraction that made him screw up the experiment that turned him into a monster. Year One is a good look into that scenario).

But while some like Spidey uses it as motivation and a mantra, others like Batman use it as an excuse, which dulls down the impact of the event if one hears the character use it in a sentence every. single. time. he. opens. his. mouth. In that case, the orphan thing becomes a tool rather than a solid impact.

Edited by cameron83

LOL WHAT WAS THAT KID DOING !??!?!!?!?!?!?!?!!?!?!?

but in all honesty i think batman had the most traumatizing experience because he lost both his parents at 8 years old,and the only time you see him grieve about it is when he goes to place flowers on their caskets,but even so,he doesn't cry

damn batman is awesome

Posted by doordoor123

@cameron83 said:

LOL WHAT WAS THAT KID DOING !??!?!!?!?!?!?!?!!?!?!?

but in all honesty i think batman had the most traumatizing experience because he lost both his parents at 8 years old,and the only time you see him grieve about it is when he goes to place flowers on their caskets,but even so,he doesn't cry

damn batman is awesome

It was an issue of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man and I'm pretty sure he just got back from doing Spider-Man stuff. He was putting his costume away in this scene.

Posted by GothamRed

If comics have taught us anything it's that parents just hold you back from a lucrative career as a superhero vigilante.

Posted by Blood1991

Batman, Storm, The Human Torch, Invisible Woman Spiderman, Superman, Daredevil and countless others are orphaned heroes. I think being an orphan and rising up to be a superhero is a symbol of the human will to succeed over unbeatable odds and add a depth to a heroes character.

Posted by doomsilver

What about Wolverine? He lost both his parents in front of him. I know he lost his memory but wouldn't that count?

Posted by UnosInfinitos

Ahaha New Ulti Spidey looks like he was fapping!

Posted by frochez

Let's not forget the Summer's family, where parents seem to come and go at the drop of the hat. First Cyclops and Havok were orphans, then they weren't when Corsair showed up alive. Then there are characters like Rachel, Nathan and Nathaniel, who have... interesting relationships with their parents, at best. Finally, there's Hope, who lost her biological parent(s) at birth and was then adopted by Nathan, who was later killed right in front of her, an event which in turn led to the activation of her powers for the first time.

Posted by krspaceT

As the Greeks wrote, heroes are tragic

Posted by NightFang

@krspaceT said:

As the Greeks wrote, heroes are tragic

That's why their called tragic heroes.

Posted by aussiebushwacker

so basically all the x-men

Posted by JonSmith

Should Superman really be included in this article? Yeah, he lost his parents (and planet), but he never knew either of them. In fact, he was raised by a loving couple. Not really sure how him being a biological orphan effects him.

Edited by The Black Hood

Much like when Disney has every protagonist only have a single parent; comic book orphans are simply a trend of lazy writing. When it was done with Batman and Superman it was something new(ish). Now it has become a crutch for writers who don't want the complexity of having to deal with their character hiding their identity from their guardians. Spider-man's relationship and continual lies to Aunt May were a major part of his story and made it better reading overall. The same could be said for Tim Drake who had to deal with the consequences of being discovered by his father. It is too easy to write orphans as it usually means that the hero has no one who really watches his/her actions so the hero can come and go as he/she pleases.

Posted by FanofUltraman

@JonSmith: Because just the thought of being the last of his kind is truly a weight to bear. What I like about Superman though, is no matter what has happened to him, he always keeps his head up. Batman gets pissy and hides in the dark, Superman lets everyone see his true self.

Posted by InnerVenom123

That USM scan will never stop being hilarious out of context.

Edited by MrGutts

Writers just use that old story idea in hopes it will relate to the reader. Nothing more, nothing less.

Today's writers have gotten lazy. Some comics have barely a full paragraph of writing in it.

Posted by ltbrd

I question whether its right to put Superman in this article. Yes, technically he's an orphan from his biological parents, but all he's ever known for parents are the Kents and while his origin has changed a bit (whether both Kents, only Pa, or none are dead) in none of those scenarios did he lose the Kents tragically but from natural causes. Therefore I wouldn't label Superman as a tragic hero or one that's motivated by loss. His motivation for being a hero has more to do with what they taught him than pushing himself following their loss (technically one could make the same argument for Peter Parker but Uncle Ben's death was tragic).

However, it should also be noted that each of these heroes had a parental figure. Bruce had Alfred. Peter has Aunt May. Each Robin had Bruce. Murdock had Sticks. Roy had Oliver, Hal, and Dinah. Jubilee had Logan. So in a way these characters were rarely alone to deal with their pain. That's actually one of the points I hate dealing with "Batman is God" fanboys. The guy had Alfred his entire life, a second father there to care and support him through everything. Alfred is as much a part of Bruce's success and life as Batman as any of his teachers were and yet I feel Alfred gets the cold shoulder a bit from die-hard Batfans because Alfred also represents the vulnerable, human side to Batman and that's not something that creates the mystery and awesomeness of Batman. Just saying.

Posted by G-Man

@cameron83: Here's the previous page:

Posted by Enemybird

L was also an orphan.

Posted by iamafatmermaid

Wow. Just realizing how hard it is to actually think of a superhero with a family. O.O

Posted by Duo_forbidden

That Ultimate Spider-man page with Miles and his Mom makes me laugh all the time lol.

Posted by SolthesunGod

I think the writer of Harry Potter said she made Harry an orphan because she thought it was the most horrific thing a child could imagine.

Posted by pspin

They either end up like batman with nothing to lose or like spider-man and are driven by guilt

Posted by fables87

Ever wonder what Little Orphan Annie would be like as a superhero?

Online
Posted by fodigg

Literary heroes (of the classic archetype) follow a "coming of age" story, at least in their origins. They are often driven by a personal loss or tragedy and need to exemplify independence. Making them orphans kind of solves these problems in one stroke, and puts a clear line between the end of their childhood and the beginning of their adulthood (and the story). It makes them sympathetic but implies strength in that they can overcome the loss and continue on their own, or with a designated mentor, who is then also removed from the story before the third act.

Another alternative is exile, self-imposed or as a result of some infraction, that forces them out into the world. Sometimes they are orphans and exiles. Batman for example was an orphan, then an exile, then returned as a hero, but his story could have easily consisted of him out in the world, making a difference. Superman was an orphan/exile of Krypton, but then also left Smallville to go to the dangerous big city, Metropolis, a form of exile and personal growth as he entered adulthood. Wonder Woman is probably the truest "non-orphan exile" in that her original origin had her leaving Paradise Island simply because she wanted to go out and face the world, not because of its destruction or the death of a parent even though both have happened at times in shifting continuity.

Posted by The Stegman

Parents get in the way, it's hard fighting crime when you have a curfew.

Posted by NyxEquitis

@G-Man:Heh, that does help add alot of context, lol.

Edited by Zeeguy91

@ltbrd: Well, as someone already stated in an earlier comment, for Superman, being one of the last of his kind (an orphan of an entire planet) does take a significant toll on him. There have been several times where Clark feels isolated and disjointed from regular people because of it. He's a character whose greatest wish is to assimilate. At the same time though, I've seen the fact that he's the last of his kind be a motivation for his heroics. In some versions of the character, Clark is motivated into being a hero because he believes that is why his father chose to send him to Earth instead of any other planet. That is a major plot point in Smallville, for example. I've also seen several cases where Superman tries to honor his parents and his planet by observing certain aspects of Kryptonian culture that he's been able to decipher from his studying what remnants of Kryptonian civilization still exist. So, basically for Superman, his orphanage can serve as a motivation for his being a hero, but more importantly, it serves as a source of identity for him to cling to when he feels separated from the rest of society.

Posted by Zeeguy91

@iamafatmermaid: Animal Man, Cyborg (although he doesn't talk to his dad), Wonder Woman (who until recently still had her mother. I suspect that the Amazons will return eventually though), Thor, and some others.

Posted by cbishop

I think the last line sums it up - it makes writing their adventures easier. Dealing with the explanations and consequences would take up way too much of the story, so when you start thinking about it, it's way easier to not have to do that. It's way easier when your main character can do whatever they want.

Posted by whitelantern64

Superman should not be included in this list. He had a clear parents in Martha and Jonathon Kent. In fact they were the reasons for his development as one of the most upstanding citizens. He is the Anti-batman/spiderman in a sense, in that he is the example of what happens when you have a normal childhood with great parents who are always there for you. His inclusion on this list is really kinda ridiculous when you really look at the facts.

Posted by BlueLanternBeast

I just thought it was interesting in how many superheroes that are orphans. Thanks for covering the topic!

Posted by SUPER-MAN 23

Great topic, really makes me think of how most of the superhero population are orphans.

Posted by MikeyHramiak

BATMAN IS AN ORPHAN?!

Posted by KnightRise

Deathstroke: Spent his career trying to kill teenagers.

Batman: Collects them.

Posted by superstay

It's kind of like how mutants feel, just the mutants are lucky that they can be among there own kind. Wolverine can feel comfortable in the X-Men because they are like him. Superman can't truly feel comfortable anywhere, because wherever he goes he will always be the last of his kind, only of his kind, that's kind of lonely.

Posted by Primmaster64

The big 3 are orphans.

Posted by primepower53

Stan Lee did seem to like the concept...

Posted by Spidey_Guy1

Good article. Whether you're orphaned or not, it's all about how you brought up that makes you a hero.

Posted by AgeofHurricane

@Blood1991 said:

Batman, Storm, The Human Torch, Invisible Woman, Spiderman, Superman, Daredevil and countless others are orphaned heroes. I think being an orphan and rising up to be a superhero is a symbol of the human will to succeed over unbeatable odds and add a depth to a heroes character.

This.

Posted by CrimsonCake

I once tried to get my parents killed by telling them to walk into a dark alley so I could be like batman and spider man.But unfortunately no one even tried to mug us.

Posted by hunter5024

Sometimes writers just make characters orphans because they're too lazy to make parent characters, and it's an easy way out to make their character "Complex" that requires less work than actually making the parents.

Posted by ThexX

Bucky Barnes (Winter Soldier) & Black Widow were orphans too.

Posted by batshrine

Heroes have always suffered loss, and superheroes just being the modern version is no surprise. I mean let me just give a couple of examples.

Moses: sent away by mother to save his life (kinda like superman)

Jesus: Raised by single mother, father is divine (wonderwoman?) And you can add many greek heroes to this list like Herakles, or Perseus.

Muhammed: Orphan raised by caring uncle (wasn't Batman raised by his uncle at one point)

Buddha: Lost his mother at child birth

Krishna: Parents were imprisoned, and siblings murdered.

Edited by AqwaGaurdian

@iamafatmermaid: Maximoff Family XD

They're loaded with superheros and villains

Posted by Miss_Garrick

I think Thor and Wonder Woman were the only big time heroes that weren't orphans. At least for more than a decade.

It's not just comics, having a main character in comics/tv/books etc. be an orphan seems to be almost a requirement. I think it's because it's more convienent for the writer to have the main character go out and do his/her thing and not have a parent show to worry and maybe forbid the main character to go do his/her thing. I dunno.

Edited by Kiltro95

In Italy they have a superhero called Radar, that has no emotional trauma and is still considered a good hero.

Posted by mewmdude77

Both of Nightcrawler's parents are alive (Mystique, and Azarel) so he's an exception, and I'm pretty sure Jean Grey's parent's are alive. Namor's parent's were both alive when he was a hero until he got reintroduced in the 60's.

Posted by Apis

Superman's adoption does Not make him any less an orphan. If that were the case Spiderman being raised his aunt & uncle (in a stable home well into his teens ) would also be disqualified.

Posted by RedheadedAtrocitus

Many examples abound for great superheroes that weren't orphans but I think some of comic book history's greatest ones like you say were orphans at one time or another. I don't think being an orphan is a prerequisite for greatness, but it certainly doesn't hurt the chances for that hero finding success later on.

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