Who Am I?

Musings by an Elder Statesman of Geekery, including such topics as, but not limited to: Comic Books, Captain Action, Toys of the 1960's and 1970's, Vintage Action Figures, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Fantasy and Sci-Fi TV, Horror Films, Universal Monsters, Classic Movies, Film Noir, B-Movies, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Public Libraries, RPGs, Superheroes, Saturday Morning Cartoons, Dr. Who, and the History of Southern Illinois.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Daddy Issues


My father was born in 1899. When I shared that with a co-worker recently, he found that unbelievable. But he was. And 62 years later, he and his 3rd wife (he outlived the first 2), had a 'whoooops' moment and I was the result. Thus, two generations spanning the 19th and 21st Centuries.

My father lived a colorful life, given his rural roots. Inducted for service in WWI, he shipped east for training and before he could be deployed, the war ended. He contracted the Spanish flu that went global in the aftermath of the war and nearly died anyway before making it back home. He worked as a coal miner when the most advanced equipment deployed besides manpower was mule power. The 20's were a roaring time for him, from the tales told, and an alcohol-enhanced wild automobile ride in that era resulted in the loss of all digits on his right hand except for the index finger and thumb. He spoke of local gangsters and of the Herrin Massacre (Union miners v.s. strikebreakers, death toll 20+) from what sounds, in aftermath, first-hand perspectives. He made moonshine and likely supplied one of the local gangs, led by Charlie Birger. He also got pinched for the 'shine when a neighbor sneaking into his corn crib to steal some roasting ears uncovered his still.



In some ways, his life reminds me of something from the pulps, if  not comic books.
He was 4F for WWII, but worked in an ordinance plant making ammunition for the war effort. The post-war years were spent farming and mining simultaneously. A life lived so large takes a toll, however, as does black lung disease & diabetes. Despite siring a final offspring (for a grand total of 6) at age 62, his health was in sharp decline. By the time I was old enough to know him as 'Dad', he wasn't able to do the usual father and son things. He was barely able to walk, and not unassisted. He was elderly, feeble, and very unhappy with the sedentary and limited life style he was saddled with.
The Hong Kong flu was the second pandemic he'd experienced, and it proved too much for him. But he left my mother and myself with a steady income thanks to his hard work and the resulting Miner's Widow Benefit she received...so long as she never, ever, ever re-married. In those olden times, a widow who got a new husband was no longer eligible for a pension. My mother, both practical and faithful, did not intend to take the pension my father had worked so hard for and throw it away on a marriage that might or might not succeed. So I was raised without what I would call any sort of consistent male role model.

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.

As I've met other comics fans and read musings of still more, I find I'm not alone. There were lots of young boys in my generation who, in part or whole, felt their upbringing was impacted positively by male role models in comics. So, in honor of Father's Day, let's take a look at some of those mensch from the 4-color pages, as well as some series that incorporated Daddy Issues.

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.

Professor Charles Xavier may not have had kids of his own, but his School for Gifted Youngsters was home for any mutant youths who needed one. And in many instances, he became their surrogate father and protector. While most of the examples herein have been lost in the shuffle of modern comic storytelling except as a flashback, Professor X's impact in the lives of his 'children' has remained a focal point of the series. And he wasn't above a little tough love himself. When the other mutants threatened to leave if he took in the former villainess, Rogue, he was ready to help 'em pack.

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.



  1. Thank you for sharing information on your father. While I read this I realized my father can also boast a "three century" link between his father and him ... but you and my father have a thirty-year difference. That is pretty rare nowadays regardless.
    Have you seen the meme of the new Superman movie? "Not everyone can claim that their birthfather and adoptive father was also Robin Hood"! heehee.
    Fathers in comic books were pretty rare until the modern age. Thank you for pointing out that father figures are not. Particularly in the case of Batman, Superman and Spider-Man - the influence and particularly the loss of their father figure was essential to their character.
    Happy Father's Day!

  2. Thanks, Mike. LOL, have not seen the 'Both my Dads were Robin Hood' meme yet, but did realize the quirkiness of that notion thanks to IMDB. I hope this posting didn't come off as too maudlin. But one reason I became so hooked on the details of comic heroes, I think, is because the details of my father's life remain pretty cloudy. Except for the facts above, told by my Mother and the extent of her insights as given by Dad, it's an enigma. And a very intriguing one...would love to be able to meet with Dad, both of us my current age, and ask him all about those instances mentioned, especially the pre-WWII years.


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