Mature Content: Nerd Parenthood
We were sitting in the car when my wife handed me the test. She did this silently while staring forward. The two pink lines were unmistakable. I could feel the blood drain from my face and my stomach turned cold. My first thought was, “We’re going to be parents.” My second thought was, “I am holding something that has been peed on.” This was a week before my 32nd birthday.
I have always searched the world of comics for secret truths, or at the very least sympathy for my current human condition. When I was in middle school, fighting hormones and social cliques, the X-Men were an oasis that reminded me it was okay to be different. When I entered high school, balancing my home life with school and all of the social obligations of a teenager, I turned to the full schedule of Peter Parker and could read about a hero that was as conflicted as I was. In the world of comic book heroes, a great amount of time is spent covering their adventures in battle. As fans of the genre, we like the nuts and bolts of spandex clad titans, righting wrongs and kicking ass, but somehow these stories of super science and daring-do couldn’t guide me through the new adult experience of parenthood.
In a narrow sense, comics have become more “adult”, it’s become big business to do so. The children that once read these stories from cover to cover have grown up, they have taken philosophy courses…and they now have money. Audiences for these big screen adaptations are no longer content to hear simplified morality tales, they want summer blockbusters and the darker the better. This could be because of post 9-11 ennui, or it could be because we so often conflate the grim with the deep. Granted, these characters are meant as vehicles for entertainment and allegory, and there is nothing wrong with Steve Rogers coming face to face with an America he no longer recognizes, it’s interesting. We adults demand more subtext, subtlety and meaning from our media. However, for all of the mature themes ingrained in superheroes these days, I see very little of my own situation. I mean, where are all the parent-heroes?
The room that used to be my “Fortress of Solitude” or my “Batcave”, is now filled with a crib, stacks of diapers, and mounds of baby clothes. I suppose it ruins the escapism a bit if we suddenly see millionaire playboy Tony Stark changing diapers. But if superhero comics were a guiding light for me as a young person, why can’t they also reflect my adult existence?* I know I sound like I’m adding another item to the very long and deserving list of underrepresented figures in comics, and I honestly have little to complain over. As far as demographic representation goes, I’m a middle-class caucasoid and let’s face it, we’re everywhere in media. However, I can’t shake the reality that in less than a month, I am going to hold in my arms a pink and wriggling human larva that my wife and I will be responsible for. This is the image I keep thinking about as I scour my comic book knowledge for father-heroes. Unfortunately, until recently, I kept coming up dry. Well not “dry” necessarily. There are plenty of fathers in superhero comics. There’s the absent scientist father Reed Richards, the despotic task master of Erik Lehnsherr, and don’t even get me started on the many parental shortcomings of Bruce Wayne. Other than that, the father figure usually serves only to die, thus spurring the “real hero” toward greatness.
The thing is, I don’t want to die. At least, I don’t want my premature death to spur my future child toward a career in vigilantism. I’m no longer a sixteen year old struggling with school, and I’m certainly not a millionaire industrialist like Wayne or Stark. I’m…something else. I’m going to be a dad and there is a very short list of comic book heroes that are A) Fathers and B) Aren’t damaging their brood in some psychological way.*
In this modern age, comics and their big screen counter parts are able to use courser language, sexual themes, graphic violence as well as explore deep-seeded political and social alienation. These themes are described as “mature”, and rightly so. But as comic books are trying to appeal to more adult audiences by featuring mature content, there’s one mature theme that they often leave out, parenthood.**
*”All Star Batman” is the most grievous of the anti-parental Batman. Although…it is an interesting take…just not for me.
**Though I’m speaking more of Superhero comics, I have to point to “SAGA”. It is a brilliant multi-faceted story from the perspective of two badass parents. Kudos to Vaughn and Staples.