Yesterday, my friends Wes and Andrea welcomed into the world their beautiful new daughter, Annabelle Fay. I was there along with members of their family to accompany them on their big day, and even though I was just there as a friend and it wasn’t my child being born, the birth of Wes’s baby girl still had a huge impact on me. I’ve seen a fair amount of old age, sickness and death over the last year or so, and it has left me concentrating heavily on the degradation of life and the heaviness that comes with it. Seeing Annabelle come into the world cleared away all of those thoughts.
It was astounding to think about all the creativity and energy and information that it took to bring her into the world. In a sense she is the most advanced form of life on the planet, a gift from the future of the human race. I also had the gut feeling, upon seeing life come into the world, that whatever it is that a person returns to after they pass away also puts life back into the world, cleaner and healthier than it was before it left. As Joseph Campbell once said, “only birth can conquer death – the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new.” When I first saw Wes’ daughter, she had a look in her eyes not of being displaced and not knowing where she was, but of knowing that she had been here the whole time.
If I’m feeling this elated after seeing this new life emerge, I can only imagine how Wes is feeling. He and I have always kind of refused to grow up, looking to comic books, mythology and science fiction as being of greater educational value than most of the things that were impressed upon us in college. Now that he’s a dad, he’s starting not just a new chapter in the life he’s always had, but a new life altogether. Even in this new stage of his life, there are things that he can learn from superheroes. Although superheroes aren’t prone to reproduction, since it would age the characters too much and superheroes are meant to reflect boyish wish fulfillment, there are still a few prime examples of superhero dads in contemporary comic book lore.
Probably the most prominent superhero father that I can think of is Superman. While he has never actually had a child within the pages of his ongoing series, he was given a son in the 2006 film, Superman Returns. While many people were frustrated with the film and unsure if it was a remake of the 1978 Richard Donner film, Superman, a sequel to the Superman franchise or just a reboot of the franchise altogether, in retrospect it’s probably best to view this movie as a standalone film that uses the trappings of the Donner films (the first two movies, although Donner was fired during the production of the second film) to tell a story about the character of Superman, how he has been absent from the public’s consciousness in the years since the original films were released and how the world has moved on without him.
One of the main points of the film sees Lois Lane’s son, Jason, who we understood up until this point to be the son of Lois and Richard White, develop super powers akin to Superman’s, meaning that he is actually the son of the Man of Steel. Eventually this truth is revealed to Superman, although poor Richard is left in the dark by the end of the film. Although Superman elects not to interfere in the lives of Lois and Jason at the end of the film, and therefore we don’t get to see him act like much of a dad on screen, the impact of his having a child is still there.
In the beginning of the film, Superman returns to Earth after spending a decade searching for Krypton, his former home, the world of his father, which he finds for himself to be completely destroyed. When he returns to Earth he does so with a heavy heart, knowing that he has seen with his own eyes that the home of his family and his ancestors is completely gone. He has felt this death, and he is alone. By the end of the film, he has gained a son. He is no longer the last son of Krypton, but father to the last son of Krypton. Where there once was death, now there is life. The life of his son reinvigorates him and fills him with a renewed sense of purpose.
Superman was also depicted as a father in the 12-issue maxi-series, All-Star Superman. In the tenth issue of the series we see Superman creating a parallel universe, one which fosters a parallel Earth, Earth-Q. This is an experiment to see if a world without superheroes can actually work on its own. At the end of the issue we look into this parallel world and see Superman co-creator Joe Shuster drawing his first sketch of the Man of Steel, revealing that Earth-Q is actually the Earth that the reader is living in. This gives us Superman as God, the creator of the Universe, and in creating us we have created him. The superhero is within all of us, he is our past and our future. The father becomes the child, and so on.
The other prominent Super Dad in comic books right now is Batman. Beginning with the 2006 story arc “Batman & Son” in the pages of his self-titled series, Batman has been the proud father of an appropriately troubled yet entertaining young boy named Damian Wayne. Damian was the product of a previously out-of-continuity coupling between Bruce Wayne and Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter, Talia. Writer Grant Morrison retconned the original story by moving it into mainstream continuity and saying that the event had produced a son, Damian, who was raised by his mother and the League of Assassins to be a snotty, murderous brat.
When Bruce finally encounters Damian, he finds the boy to be a bit hard to handle. Damian is impetuous and lacks all the discipline and compassion that Bruce has attained from his many years as Batman. At one point Damian even attacks Tim Drake, who was acting Robin at the time, believing him to be an unworthy heir to his father’s legacy. It isn’t until Batman “dies,” leaving Dick to take his place and Damian to be brought in as his Robin while Tim graduated to his own superhero identity, that Damian started to grow into his role as the son of a superhero. At first Damian would often butt heads with Dick, thinking he knew better than anyone else how Batman should be fighting crime in his father’s absence. He even walks out on Dick at one point. Eventually, though, the two develop a strong bond with one another. In Batman #666, we even see that years down the line Damian will take up the mantle of Batman. By the time Bruce returns from the “dead” and is ready to step back in as Gotham’s Caped Crusader, Damian is ready to be at his side as a full-fledged sidekick. He still has a few behavioral kinks to work out, but his loyalty to his father and to his father’s code is unshakable.
Batman has always taken it upon himself to mentor young people, to be a role model for young boys that were in the same traumatic position that he found himself in as a child. It seems right that after all these years of being a “big brother” and taking in and training one youthful ward after another, he is finally fighting crime alongside his own flesh and blood. Batman’s mission has always been a proactive one. He doesn’t merely stop crime, he breaks the cycle that causes crime by coming into the lives of young people who have been the victims of violent crimes and teaching them how to reclaim their lives using martial arts, meditation and public service. His mission is not only to be Batman, but to create Robins, who grow into future superheroes. In Damian Wayne, he has now created the greatest Robin of all, his own son.
Just as there are a few really great examples of Dads in comics, there are a few poignant examples of daughters in comics as well, although that will have to wait until a future column. In the meantime, I hope that Wes is able to take from these goofy comic book stories a new perspective on superheroes and maybe a new way to relate to them now that he himself is a Super Dad. Most importantly, I hope that he has fun in his new life. He’s going to have a lot more responsibilities now, and I hope that having these superhero tales to fall back on will give him something to keep his youthful energy intact, and maybe something he can share with his newborn daughter as well.