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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!

59 Comments
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Posted by SpidermanWins

Yeah, being an orphan is like a mandatory thing in order to be a superhero. If you aren't already...you will be. Unless your parents are immortal.

Posted by AirDave817

My wife and I adopted last year. His name is Justin.

Geoff Johns updating of Shazam doesn't really impress me. Orphans are motivated by fear and love. Not hate. My son is afraid to be alone or by himself. One of us HAS to be with him all the time. He's 10. I've met older orphans that are not bitter like Billy Batson. They're lonely. Yeah, that can become bitterness. But, I'm not drawn to Johns' update because Billy's this bad@$$, tough loner.

He's been telling us bits and pieces about what he remembers of his birth family. It's full of angst and heartbreak.

I'm watching my son very closely to see when he starts exhibiting meta-human abilities - he really is a super kid. I'm also wearing a bullet-proof vest, 'cos you just never know...

I'm also trying to instill in him a sense of great responsibility, but not for EVERY thing, just for putting his plate in the sink and his trash in the garbage can - I think with a great meal comes great responsibility...

Posted by clemj
@KnightRise: true story
Posted by Ferro Vida

It's a classic trait in Children's Literature; before the child can undertake their adventure they need to lose that parental supervision. Jim Hawkins couldn't leave for Treasure Island while his father was still alive because there was something tangibly tying him there. Parents are one of the strongest ties a child has to a normal life in most cases. So without them to act as a tether the child is free to live a life of abnormality and adventure.

Posted by Brazen_Intellect

Being an orphan is a convenient reason (you could argue cliche) for a character to be motivated to such an extreme lifestyle and profession. Not to mention why you can always show them working as their tortured psyches and non existent social life would get in the way of them brooding or getting in a brawl

Posted by Dragonage2ftw

Well, it does seem to give these children enough free time to train 24/7, so there are some advantages.

Posted by Silver Knight75
Posted by FoxCircuit101

The urge to do the right thing is not the same urge to wanting to be a costumed hero. I'd be satisfied knowing I helped a person get off the streets or giving up drugs then crushing a terrorist plot or something. Besides we don't know how or when our loved ones will die, how it effects us will determine our fate. Nice article by the way.

Posted by MutieLover

NIghtcrawler was abandoned by Mystique and didn't meet Azreal into he was an adult. He's an orphan through abandonment, rather than parental death.