Hey Comics! Kids!
The recent death of Robin the Boy Wonder got me thinking about superheroes and children. This Robin was the illegitimate love child of Batman/Bruce Wayne and Talia al-Ghul, the daughter of his enemy Ras Al-Ghul.
My favorite comic book eras were the Silver Age and the Bronze Age, roughly comics released from 1956 – 1985. During those eras, superheroes did not have children; with only two exceptions. The end of the Bronze Age saw the end of that – but more of that later. “World’s Finest” brought us the sons of Superman and Batman; and Superman and Lois seemed to have a super-powered kid every few issues; but these were imaginary stories (as opposed to the “real” stories), not canonical progeny.
And during those years we had the adventures of Superbaby and Wondertot (no lie), but those were our beloved heroes as toddlers, not the children of an existing superhero.
Why no kids? It was probably because of the readership – oh, yes, some comic book readers enjoyed romance comics. Also, at this time Archie was always pining over Betty or Veronica. But to actually marry? And have a baby?
No. Keep your reality out of my fantasy.
Did we want to see Superman changing a diaper? Did we want to see Flash literally racing to the store to buy more formula? Probably not.
The two exceptions signify the two extremes why such things did not happen otherwise in those eras…
In the “Fantastic Four”, Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) married Sue Storm (Invisible Girl/Woman). An entire special issue (an Annual) was made of their wedding. The birth of their first baby, Franklin, was on the blurb of their comic a few years later. It wasn’t an event on par with Lucy and Ricky’s on early television, but in comicbookdom it was big stuff. It was a superhero’s (and thus comic books) first baby. Every few issues the child was threatened; or he and his babysitter were kidnapped or disappeared. The stories always turned out well, but the easy plot devise was used again and again.
Aquaman was not so lucky.
He married Mera and had Arthur Jr. Sometimes AJ he would be called Aquababy. In the mid-1970s, some years after the cancellation of his own title, his character was revived in “Adventure Comics”. Like Franklin Richards, he was shown at the beginning and ending of most tales playing with Mommy and Daddy or their friends/partners/sidekicks. But Aquaman wasn’t the Fantastic Four. He was a secondary character in a low-selling magazine. Writers could get away with things here they couldn’t elsewhere.
Baby Arthur was kidnapped. Ho-hum. Aquaman vows vengeance. Yeah yeah.
Aquaman smacks the shit out of Black Manta and opens up the pod in which Manta put Arthur.
He was too late. Arthur was dead.
What? He’s a baby! Well, a toddler. That can’t be. This is a comic book for chrissakes!
That’s the trouble with children in comics even today. I’ll be frank: putting children in life-threatening jeopardy should be off-limits. Isn’t it bad enough I have to see talking heads blather about the children of Sandy Hook on the idiot box? I don’t want to read about this stuff in my comics.
Maybe I’m just turning into a crabby old man, but that’s my stand on that subject. Superheroes having kids can make for wonderful stories and great personal drama – but once born, leave them alone.
Was the death of Arthur Junior done for shock value or publicity or a sales boost? Probably not. It was a second-string character in a second-tier comic book. The cover gave no indication as to what would happen. It wasn’t hyped in other comics in the line or other media (such hype was non-existent then anyway…). The next issue’s cover showed Aquaman in mourning at the gravesite of his son with a furious Mera in the background.
As mentioned in a previous blog, death in a comic book is not always a bad thing. Most of the time, yes, but occasionally it can make for a great story. Arthur Junior’s death shadowed Aquaman for the next thirty years. It was even part of Aquaman’s legacy in the Batman TV cartoon “The Brave and The Bold”.
By 1980 or so – the end of the Bronze Age – a child of a superhero was not such a rare thing.
The Batman from the 1940s had a daughter. By the time we meet her she was a grown woman and fighting crime on her own as the Huntress. We saw more and more children of superheroes, but not as infants ripe for kidnapping. These were adults fighting crime on their own. Either flesh-and blood progeny, step-children or foster kids put on the cowl and became the next generation of crime-fighters.
Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Hawkman, even the Atom all had kids. They formed their own group called Infinity Inc.
This was all DC Comics. The other big comic book producer took a different tact.
Their children came from the future – alternate futures. The comic book based on the upcoming X-Men movie “Days of Future Past” featured a grown Franklin Richards. Scott Summer/Cyclops has so many children-from-alternate-futures-who-now-live-in-the-present they could form their own comic book line. He has five at last count – if you count the clone of one of his sons. And why wouldn’t you count the clone of one of your sons as your own? I managed to say that with a straight face…
In the Modern Age – the past twenty-plus years – our comic book heroes have lots of babies. Franklin Richards has a sister. “Astro City” featured a story arc with superhero Jack-in-the-Box and his pregnant wife. And more and more superheroes find their children taking up the trade – the aforementioned Robin, Green Arrow has a son in spandex, so does Plastic Man.
Yes, Plastic Man … I expect that was one satisfied woman…
Looking back at the later Bronze Age, I wonder why they didn’t tinker more with the caped ones having children? Especially so-called second-stringers? Hawkman and Hawkgirl/woman were one of the few married comic book characters around. They were married when introduced! Why didn’t they have a baby? Granted they didn’t have a regular feature of their own at the time, but it could have been done in the pages of “Justice League of America” or “Detective”.
Same with the Flash. He and his wife Iris exemplified the white-picket-fence existence. Their parents appeared frequently, as did other family members. Kid Flash was Iris’ nephew. A child would have been a perfect fit in that book. Then again, they did (temporarily) kill off Iris at the end of the Bronze Age … I wouldn’t expect a comic book editor to be merciful to their child …
I am surprised a young man didn’t walk up to the Silver-Age Green Lantern and say, “Hi, I’m your son.” It could have been from the days Hal Jordan was a truck driver or an insurance salesman when he and his original/current paramour Carol Farris were broken up.
I think they would have made for some great stories. But with “The New 52” rebooting the entire line, the Silver Age/Bronze Age characters and their characteristics are gone, perhaps for good.
A son for Hal Jordan would still make a good story though – make him a late teen or older. The power ring could check his DNA. The son could be the reader’s link to GL’s world. We could see it through his eyes.
Jordan would have to hide his identity again. The son would look for him in the months GL was away on a space mission. Jordan could start to feel … worried? Is that the phrase? Fear? Me?
The conversation with Batman would make for an iconic scene, especially with the slight animosity between the two (which is getting better – the subject of another blog):
This could take place in Justice League HQ.
“Are you sure he’s yours?”
“Yes, the ring (taps at his ring) and Clark verified it. Well, see you at the next meeting, Batman.”
“Here we go”, GL thinks. “Yeah?”
“Hal. Don’t give him a ring. Don’t let him put on a mask. Make him go to school, go to work. Make him get married, give you a grandson or granddaughter. Don’t turn him into one of us.”
Trouble is, nowadays, within three or four years someone would kill him off. Or make him yet another Green Lantern. Or a different hero altogether. But it would make for some fine issues if done well; if they respected the characters and the genre.
Aye, there’s the rub.
Copyright 2013 Michael G. Curry