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?
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.
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.
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...
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.
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?
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.