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Three Traits That Make Great Super-Parents

While some teens choose to keep their secret identities safe from the prying eyes of their families, there are those whose parents are a little more involved in the "family business."

While its a common trope to keep it extremely secret, not every teen superhero hides their secret identity from their parents. A certain few choose to include their guardians in their lives of derring-do, worrying them infinitely in the process.

But how do you, as a comics writer, pull this storyline off? How do you make the parental interaction seem realistic without smothering the hero with "real world" issues that would make the whole thing impractical?

Reality

While the whole act of superheroing is tough enough on it's own, including someone whose purpose is to keep you from harm seems a bit counterproductive.

Take Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes) for example. One of the reasons I loved his book so much was because of his rich supporting cast, which included his parents. Berto and Bianca were "typical" parents, if not a little strict; it was their discipline that gave Jaime the character that turned him into such a great hero. However, their worry at what might happen to Jaime out "on the job" is what made such a connection.

No parent would like to think that their son or daughter has little chance of coming home at the end of the night, but they were understanding of why Jaime was the only person who was able to do the things that he did. Setting up ground rules like "if your homework is done, go for it, and if it's a natural disaster where people could die, just go for it" added a layer to the story. While every parent knows that parenting doesn't come with an instruction manual, Berto and Bianca made it clear that they were willing to work with their son's new-found abilities, and not against them.

Guidance

My favourite scene of Jaime's relationship with his parents (and from the entire series as a whole) comes from Blue Beetle's 17th issue. After fighting a villain named Typhoon and saving the lives of almost all the civilians involved, Jaime returns home to reflect on what happened. He was not able to save all the stranded people, and the fact that he couldn't is weighing hard on him.

This is where Berto comes in and gives one of the best "fatherly advice" panels in comics.

Click to enlarge!

I love this panel because even though Berto has little-to-no idea about what it's like to fly around with a cape/armored bug suit, but he empathizes with what Jaime is going through and makes him feel better.

The end little bit of dialog ("We are men. We do not cry.") really struck a chord with me; it's almost like he's saying it in a joking tone, encouraging his son to show emotion and be open with his problems to himself and his mother. Ugh. Amazing stuff!

My point is that even though heroes may be at an advantage when it comes to physical power, they don't posses the wisdom that guides them to use it; that's where the reality of parenting comes in. While not all parents share that ability to shoot lasers out of their armpits, they have the ability to contextualize that power in favour of responsibility.

After all, Uncle Ben did coin that famous line...

Patience

Any parent can tell you that one of the toughest things to have in abundance when dealing with children is patience. However, it is one of the most important things, considering that they may not have it themselves.

This may be a re-tread of my last point, but I think it's important to underscore how important the foil of a parent is to a developing teen superhero. Their status as a figure of wisdom and authority allows the reader to have that role in a book whereas the main character might not be able to take on that role themselves.

When that parents/authority figure knows of the hero's secret, it adds another layer of complexity. They have to try to exert a measure of control over their charge despite sometimes not having the physical ability to. In the end, their word needs to be respected, which usually develops through good writing.

Portrait of a sane woman.

I mean, let's look at a bad example of a superhero parent who knows their child's identity, Bonnie King, a.k.a the first Arrowette. Though she knows her child's secret life and is approving of it, it's for all the wrong reasons. While Arrowette II might want to fight crime for more altruistic reasons, her mother is primarily looking for her child to have the spotlight: this has an adverse affect on Arrowette's character.

Without that beacon of guidance and patience for the superhero craft, teen heroes don't have that solid emotional rock that they might need, like Jaime does above. Imagine if he had no one to turn to when sorrow weighed heavy on his mind: I mean, do we need to remind everyone what happens when someone broods for way too long?

I mean, how many times has Alfred had to deal with Batman's pit of despair? How many times do you think Ma and Pa Kent had to listen to Clark Kent's insecurities and fears? How many times do you think they listened to what their charges had to say, patted them on the back and told them everything would be alright?

The Wrap-up

So, what does this all mean?

I've written about good parents in comics before, and their role to their hero children, but what does the addition of a known secret identity add into the mix?

In short, it's all about trust.

Trusting these characters as readers allows us to provide support to what can be a difficult story to tell: one of a hero who is just discovering his/her place in life, and how their new-found responsibility affects it. Having a parent "on their side" allows for a greater shouldering of that "growing pains" burden, and can make for compelling interactions.

Also, in certain situations, it allows for those characters to become involved as targets for their children's villains: this seems to happen without fail, and if the parent is written right, the audience feels the same emotional connection to the danger as the hero does. They feel worry, blame, guilt, anguish and helplessness all in the same moment, as we would if our parents were in the same place.

And when moments of happiness (like with Berto and Jaime above) make us feel warmth, happiness, trust and wisdom, it brings us appreciation for the moments in our lives that we've shared with our loved ones.

Powerful stuff.

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31 Comments
Posted by Comicfan47

Then there's Reed and Sue with Franklin 

Edited by blur1528

Love Superman: Brainiac. Gary Frank is great! Oh and Jaime throwing down with Typhoon was good too!

Posted by Osiris1428

Luke Cage and Jessica....

Posted by CanucksXVX

great article, i enjoyed reading this
Posted by KRYPTON

This was a great article

Posted by Eyz

Aww... Jaime's Reyes family! I loved 'em!

Posted by Talyn

Sad to say it but I dont think I could trust my parents with a secret like that.

Posted by Or35ti

I wonder if Tim Drake's dad is still alive and knows about Tim being Robin after the reboot. I forgot to ask Scott Lobdell that. I loved the two's relationship. Anyway, Jaime has such great parents! and that's such a great panel to show it 
 
@Talyn: Same here my mom would freak!

Posted by Ultimate_MiracleMan

Makes me think about Strikers mother from Avengers Academy. She's pretty much using her son in order to get the spotlight on her. Not very good parenting material.

Posted by kfhrfdu_89_76k

I think that the Jaime/Berto page spread was good, but it`s a little bit too fast a seguence. 
 
Could you make one article like this centering around villains? Maybe you`ll just ignore me, for some reason. But, oh well, doesn`t matter. 
 
Good piece.
Posted by SleepyDrug

The reactions of Speedball's parents on discovering his identity was very well handled in New Warriors
Posted by keithmoon316

so where does this place Invincible's parents? I mean one tried to kill him and the other sunk herself into drinking...I know it's kinda fixed now but that's a messed up family haha

Posted by Gambit1024

I love that image of Clark and Pa Kent :)

Posted by Rixec

I've always loved the relationship between Jaime and his family too! Jaime is my favorite superhero and I want to see all the great stuff from his last book in the new one.

Posted by Zur_En_Arrh

I agree its a cool scene with his father, but he says "bah, we are men we do not cry" that in no way sounds to me likes he's being sarcastic, or "encouraging his son to be open and show emotion" it just sounds like he's telling his son he won't tell his mom about him being "wussy."  

I doubt he thinks his son is being anything of the sort, but...just dont think thats a sentence that needs to be read into that much...^^
Posted by RedheadedAtrocitus

Very thought provoking article! The part about reality probably struck the most serious chord with me considering its something I never really considered up until now.  After all, it makes one wonder just how difficult the superhero job would be to a superhero (teen or otherwise) if the parents were not cooperative.  The guidance part as well as the patience could only make me smile though, for its all part and parcel of not only the parenting game but even more so if that game involves a child who's a meta, super or mutant.   Great stuff!

Posted by Fantasgasmic

Just to get nitpicky, if you haven't been in the same situation you can't empathize, you sympathize. That's the difference between those 2 words. 
 
The number one trait a superhero parent needs, the name Martha. Martha Wayne, Martha Kent, 'nuff said.

Posted by Kairan1979
Noble Family is the example of bad superhero parenting. Doc Noble is too busy with his inventions, he paid more attention to the robot he made than to his sons; Gaya Noble is too busy mantaining her family image; she allows to deny the existence of her illegitimate son Frost (it's a wonder that he didn't turn into the archenemy of Nobles).
Posted by wdchefdave

Weren't Peter Parker's parents "secret agents" or something?
Did they work for S.H.I.E.L.D.? Did Nick or Wolvie know them? Or, Cap?
Originally, Aunt May had a weak heart, and that is why Peter never told her he was Spider-man.  And, J.J. was painting him out as a villain all the time.  I love my parents, and trust them... but, I would never tell them if I had super powers.
It seems that these powers never happen to any pre-teens. (Except for Superman)... thus, no teenager would show their parents where they hide the "Playboy" magazines or their spider-styled costume.

Posted by Elpizo

Nice article. It got me thinking of a number of things like what goes through the mind of the hero for telling/ not telling their parents about their uperheroing, and what would the parents think and go through if they were targeted by villains.
Posted by difficlus
@Eyz said:
Aww... Jaime's Reyes family! I loved 'em!
same here
Posted by InnerVenom123

There are three kinds of parents in comic books. 
 

  1. A dead one.
  2. A dead one.
  3. A dead one.
And a rare fourth. 
 
  1. A dead one.
  2. A dead one.
  3. A dead one.
  4. One that's gonna die sooner or later and we all know it. 
Posted by spaceboy
@wdchefdave said:
Weren't Peter Parker's parents "secret agents" or something? Did they work for S.H.I.E.L.D.? Did Nick or Wolvie know them? Or, Cap? Originally, Aunt May had a weak heart, and that is why Peter never told her he was Spider-man.  And, J.J. was painting him out as a villain all the time.  I love my parents, and trust them... but, I would never tell them if I had super powers. It seems that these powers never happen to any pre-teens. (Except for Superman)... thus, no teenager would show their parents where they hide the "Playboy" magazines or their spider-styled costume.
Yup, Richard and Mary were secret agents. They met Logan once.  
Ben Parker saw Captain America back in WW 2 but there were no real interaction between the two.
Regarding the pre-teen heroes; Wally was ten years old when he gained super speed. Although I have no idea if that is still canon.
Posted by Maki_P

I'm thinking Ultimate Aunt May; I mean she freaked out when she found out about Peter, but that's only natural, after that she became a great guide not only for Peter but for Bobby and Johnny as well.

Posted by labarith

LOL Cage and Jessica, who leave their child with Squirrel Girl...

Posted by Grimoire

Makes very good points in my opinion. lol

Posted by xander_cole

Dick Grayson would be a super daddy!!! 

Posted by fbdarkangel
@InnerVenom123 said:
There are three kinds of parents in comic books. 
 
  1. A dead one.
  2. A dead one.
  3. A dead one.
And a rare fourth. 
 
  1. A dead one.
  2. A dead one.
  3. A dead one.
  4. One that's gonna die sooner or later and we all know it. 
wow! harsh but true!
Posted by Kairan1979
@labarith
well, they made a good choice. I'd hate to be the supervillain who tries to kidnap the kid if Squirrel Girl is a nanny.
Posted by DoomDoomDoom

Anybody else think it looks like Superman is about to backhand Pa Kent.

Posted by Rixec
@InnerVenom123: I don't think all parents have to die. Some can fight without losing anyone. Jaime always held onto his family and they survived the Reach, Black Beetle, etc... and the new Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales, will have both of his parents living. Some characters like Batman need to have their parents die to bring about their new "birth," but others like Blue Beetle need their parents and that's what really gives them emphasis.