A Note From The Comic Book Pusher:
Richard Lee Byers is a lifelong comics fan, a good friend of The Comics Club, and the author of more than thirty fantasy and horror novels, including a number set in the Forgotten Realms universe and the X-Men novel Soul Killer. His short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines
Bad Dads by Richard Lee Byers
I liked everything about the new Thor movie, including the fact that the plot was based on father-son conflict. As fans know, this has often been a crucial story element in the comic. I was bemused, though, that Thor starts out reckless, immature, and irresponsible while Odin is compassionate and wise throughout (although his wisdom doesn’t keep Loki from getting up to shenanigans.) Don’t get me wrong; in the movie, this works great. In the comics, though, it’s often been Thor who’s noble and Odin who’s a douche bag, arrogant, blind, and impossible to please, perpetually pissed off that his son loves a mortal woman and regards it as his mission to protect mankind. That’s one reason I’m enjoying the Fear Itself miniseries. In the first issue, when an Elder Evil arises, Odin commands the Asgardians to abandon Earth to the enemy. All he cares about is defending his own turf and his own kind. When Thor protests, Odin smacks him down and drags him off in chains. Then, later on in the story, we find out things are even worse than they first appeared. Odin has decided to destroy Earth and humanity with it to deny the Elder Evil the strategic advantage it would gain by seizing control. This is cowardly, callous, selfish, and, in general, dickishness on a cosmic scale, and it’s great to see the All-Father back in top form. Loathsome as Odin can be, though, he’s not my pick for the worst paternal figure in comics. That distinction goes to the Guardians of the Universe.
Let’s look at their record:
It was Krona, a Guardian, who sought forbidden knowledge by looking at the Big Hand at the moment of creation. This is the DC Universe’s version of original sin, and, essentially, the origin of evil (also of the multiverse, but let’s not get into that.) The Guardians’ first response to this unfortunate development was to create the genocidal Manhunters, who wiped out life in Sector 666 and so caused the rise of the Red Lanterns, the Guardians’ sworn enemies. When Sinestro betrayed the Green Lantern Corps, the Guardians could have executed him or imprisoned him forever in the Sciencells. Instead, they exiled him to the antimatter universe of Qward, from whence he returned to found the Sinestro Corps and become another huge ongoing problem. After the destruction of Coast City, the Guardians failed to treat the grief-stricken Hal Jordan with any trace of compassion or understanding, with the result that their greatest champion flipped out, killed all the other Green Lanterns, and temporarily became the supervillain Parallax. To this day, the Guardians make one lousy decision after another, consistently hampering the GL’s in their fight against evil. Meanwhile, the defenses and security on Oa are so inadequate that the planet gets attacked and the Corps brought to the brink of annihilation every month or so. (I keep thinking they ought to hire Wackenhut.) In the current storyline (“War of the Green Lanterns”), evil has possessed all but a handful of the GL’s and the Guardians, too. When you come right down to it, these little blue brain monkeys have never gotten anything right. Hal, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, and Guy Gardner constantly have to bail them out after they screw up. You’d think that would inspire some humility, trust, gratitude, or at least a little warmth, but you’d be wrong. The Guardians are unfailingly haughty, aloof, and dictatorial, never willing to listen to a Green Lantern and always looking for a chance to bust his balls, no matter how many times he’s saved their asses. Even when you step down from the cosmic scale, the parenting of comic- book fathers can be iffy. Green Arrow abandoned one son at birth and didn’t notice when another started shooting smack. Reed Richards frequently neglects his family to pursue his super-scientific research. He also once shot little Franklin with a ray that shut down his brain. Admittedly, this was to save the solar system from destruction, but it’s still not the kind of a thing that gives you a lock on a World’s Greatest Dad coffee cup. In fairness, comics have provided some worthy father figures as well. Jor-El, Thomas Wayne, and Uncle Ben spring immediately to mind. These characters all share one characteristic in addition to good parenting: they all died horrible, violent deaths. This phenomenon is actually pervasive enough that I’ll offer a piece of advice: If you ever find yourself a father in a superhero universe, be mean or neglectful to your kid once in a while. It’s not abuse. It’s insurance.
Comics do have one good father figure who’s very much alive and well, and that’s Batman. Although the character has sometimes been portrayed as relentlessly cold and grim, that’s obviously not the whole story, because look how well Dick Grayson and Tim Drake turned out. Jason Todd, not so much, but two out of three isn’t bad. Now, some have argued that it’s not good parenting to dress your kid in a brightly colored costume and send him out to fight adult criminals and psychopaths, but I think you have to put that in context. In a superhero universe, isn’t it basically just the equivalent of encouraging him to go out for sports?
-- Richard Lee Byers
PS: And now the shameless self-promotion . . . The Q Word and Other Stories, an ebook collection of my fantasy and horror short fiction, is available here: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/rleebyers I hope you’ll download the free sample. You can also get the Kindle version of the ebook, and all my other books, here: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_0_17?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=richard+lee+byers&sprefix=richard+lee+byers If you enjoyed what you read here, you may want to check out my blog: http://rleebyers.livejournal.com/ One of my recent posts deals with Superman renouncing his American citizenship in Action Comics #900.
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