In some ways, his life reminds me of something from the pulps, if not comic books.
Except for maybe Clark Kent. And Bruce Wayne. Hal Jordan was in there, too, as was Barry Allen, Carter Hall, and Ray Palmer. Comic books were a key and consistent source of male role models for me in those early years. Later, I'd meet grandpas, too, like Ted Grant, Alan Scott and Jay Garrick, the inspirations for the 'Dad' generation of the heroes above. Maybe this is why, as modern versions of all these characters are marched out, re-imagined, re-defined, I'm a little resistant to the changes. It's like spitting on my Dad, you see.
Superman...I could really identify with the Last Son of Krypton because he had lost not one father, but two. And what great fathers. One was a leading statesman-scientist on the far-flung planet Krypton, and capable of launching his infant son in a rocket to safety on an alien world when his homeworld exploded. The other was a humble, strong and moral man capable of adopting an alien son and loving him like his own. Not since Joseph told Mary, 'I've got this.' has there been such a display of guiding, gentle and accepting fatherhood.
Batman, in the days before he became a psychopath who goes through more Robins than the Children's Crusade went through rugrats, was a hero born of the loss of his father and his mother to a ruthless criminal. He was also the Darknight Detective who helped another grieving youth named Dick Grayson avenge the death of his parents, becoming the boy's adoptive father in the process. Darwyn Cooke in his excellent 'JLA: New Frontier' got this just right. It's a shame the power and nobility of the gesture has mostly been lost in the current comics milieu.
Ben Parker may not have been Peter's biological father, but when he took on the job of raising his nephew, he was the sort of Dad we all wished for. He molded the young boy into a decent human being, and his death forged that teen into Spider-Man. And arachnophobic criminals haven't stopped looking nervously over their shoulders since.
A bit of an oddity in Dad-Son relationships came from DC with their product-tie in hero, Captain Action. Based on the Ideal action figure, the hero in comics was given a son to serve as 'Action Boy'. Clive and Carl Arno were one of the few father and son superhero teams, and -the- only father and son action figure set I'm aware of. Widowed archaeologist Clive Arno shared a cache of magic coins unearthed in an excavation with his son, Carl, and together they shared boy's nights out by dressing as fanciful Mystery Men and taking on crime cartels, alien menaces and madmen bent on world domination. Plus, he let Carl keep a black panther, faithful Khem, as a pet! Now that's my kind of Dad.
Kinder and gentler Dads weren't the only variety out there, though. Over at Marvel, Odin set the standard for displaying tough love. When his heir apparent, Thor, proved that being raised as royalty led to arrogance, willfulness and conduct considered rude, crude and mythologically unacceptable, he stripped him of his powers, his nifty Uru hammer, and his birthright, then cast him down to fend for himself on savage Midgard as a lowly, lame mortal. At least until he could learn some manners.
Outside the Big Two companies, fatherhood also found focus at times. I still remember the first time I picked up a copy of 'Lone Wolf and Cub'. Apparently, the family that slices and dices together, stays together!
'Invincible' also carries a strong sense of family in its stories. It just ain't easy having one of the most iconic heroes on the planet for a father, and when you develop powers of your own, it gets even harder. The creative team has done a great job of exploring home life behind the masks with their primary characters, while keeping the action consistent and all with a good sense of humor and something lacking in many, many titles these days: Fun!
In days gone by, DC has also had some fun with the generational theme of fathers and sons. One 'World's Finest' ongoing imaginary series (later shown to be some sort of Kryptonian computer program to determine how the offspring of the World's Finest team would drive their fathers crazy) was the Super Sons. Clark Kent, Jr. and Bruce Wayne, Jr. were more than willing to slip on their respective dad's costumes and take their more youthful crimefighting style to the streets when the old guard seemed to be taking too long to crack a mystery. Readers dug their hip lingo, and the way they would rebel and handle things their own way, sticking it to The Man! Hey, man, it was the 1970s.
There were other stories dealing with Superman and Batman parenthood, some 'imaginary' and some in the regular continuity but the result of a trick or a temporary crisis.
Maybe our real surrogate fathers, we of the generation left to find male role models due to mortality or separation from our actual fathers, aren't so two-dimensional after all. Maybe our surrogate fathers are the men behind the panels, the stories and the art. Men like Stan Lee. Joe Kubert. Jack Kirby. Julius Schwartz. Steve Ditko. Denny O'Neil. Curt Swan. Murphy Anderson. Cary Bates. Thanks, fellas. You made a world...infinite worlds...of difference in the lives of many lonely boys and girls. Happy Father's Day.