Hollywood/Marvel/DC, I’ve got a beef with you guys.
See, I finally got around to seeing Man of Steel, a movie I’ve been looking forward to because Superman, duh. And it was a fun movie and a worthy inclusion in the Superman films.
And I noticed something.
Kal-El’s dad, Jor-El, is really important. He’s got big dreams for his son, and is willing to sacrifice himself to make those dreams happen. And Jor-El can’t be stopped from helping his son even in death, because he magically imported his unconscious into a memory stick (or something. I wasn’t really clear on the how of that part).
And Jonathan Kent, as ever, is hugely important. He’s full of practical, hard-knock advice for this son that fell from the heavens to be his boy. And he is willing to sacrifice himself to save the family dog and to protect Clark’s secret. It’s Jonathan’s death that could be said to motivate Clark/Superman/Kal-El to greatness and noble sense of duty.
But CK’s two moms? Well, Lara-El (is that how you’d do her name?) quite nobly …pushed a button…to launch her son to Earth. And stood…nobly? …while politicians sentenced the bad guys to jail time. And then she…nobly?…died when her planet blew up.
Martha Kent is every bit as practical as her husband, but CK leaves her to go grow a beard and play on boats. And she’s very supportive, but doesn’t have a lot of advice. Her biggest moment is talking to Clark through a panic attack. And she does that from the other side of a door. She, um…knows the value of her family photo album? Has a natural mistrust for Lois Lane?
Lara’s subconscious couldn’t be imported into that memory stick? Did that not even occur to ol’ Jor-El, there? And what the hell, Martha, you didn’t even try to rescue your husband! You didn’t even seem all that upset when aliens blew up your barn! You didn’t even seem upset that your son wandered off without leaving an address for, apparently, years! I mean, running a farm alone must be hard work…couldn’t you use a strong back? Or company, at least?
In other words, Man of Steel has two moms that could potentially be really significant in Clark Kent’s life, and both, in the movie, are reduced to being complete background characters. I can’t think of a single action that either of them does that had any real effect on the movie.
And Supes has four parents, so he’s got double as many chances to have a meaningful and significant moment from his mother. Judging from the movie, though, all he gets from mom is clean laundry and cookies when he comes home after long trips.
Seriously? That’s sad. I mean, I got more from my mom than that. I learned all sorts of life lessons from my mom, and I’d guess most people have. So what is going on here?
The bad news? It’s not just Man of Steel. It’s not even just Superman.
Moms in Movies
Luckily, there have been a lot of really awesome superhero movies in the past decade. Surely we can find an awesome mom-character in one of them.
Okay, Spider-Man. Peter Parker doesn’t have a mom around, but he’s got Aunt May, arguably the nicest woman alive. But… it’s Uncle Ben who utters that incredible quote, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And it’s Uncle Ben’s death that spurs Peter to become Spider-Man. In the first movie, all Aunt May does is cook a mean Thanksgiving turkey and struggle to pay for her house. Oh, and get kidnapped.
She doesn’t even get a single genuinely important line.
She fares a little better in the next movie, Spider-Man 2, when she talks about why people need heroes, but …she doesn’t even know Peter is Spider-Man, so while this is a lovely moral statement, she doesn’t do much.
Batman: Everyone knows Batman’s parents die early on and it’s very sad and makes him want to fight crime his whole life. But do you even remember Batman’s mom in Batman Begins? I didn’t even remember her name, if that tells you anything. Martha Wayne has three lines in Batman Begins, and one of them is “Dear…”! Thomas Wayne is a doctor! He’s a philanthropist! He is a business man! He saves his son from a well and tells him not to be afraid of the bats, and that we fall to learn how to pick ourselves up!
Martha Wayne worries about nightmares and screams as she is shot by Joe Chill. *sigh*
Thor: I couldn’t even remember Freyja’s name. She doesn’t say anything, anyway.
Captain America: Sarah Rogers wasn’t in the movie. In comics, she died in Steve’s teens.
Fantastic Four: No parents.
Wolverine: No parents.
Iron Man: Maria Stark isn’t in the movie. Her husband, Howard, is very distant and yet still manages to be a major motivator for Tony.
X-Men: Okay, we’ve got a group film here, lots of potential. Magneto’s mom is ripped away from him during the Holocaust–I guess that makes her significant, but she’s not the instigator so I don’t think it counts. We don’t see Storm’s, Professor X’s, Wolverine’s, or Cyclops’ parents, so we can’t analyze them at all.
Rogue’s mom (Mystique) is in the movie, but considering she’s evil and abandoned Rogue at birth, I think we can leave her out.
Iceman’s got a mom, but neither of his parents do much other than send him away to school. No moms to speak of in X-Men.
Green Lantern: I had to look this one up, because, like the rest of America, I didn’t see this movie. But the internet tells me Janice Jordan has zero quotes in that movie, though there is at least an actress listed and she is named (unlike Rogue’s adopted parents, who don’t even get movie names).
That covers all the superhero films since 2000, and frankly, it’s getting depressing, so any further will have to wait. Besides, I think I’ve made my point.
What Do They Do?
The moms in these movies do share some characteristics, despite being overwhelmingly background characters. They don’t serve as the moral guidance that their husbands do, and they aren’t the ones who set the hero on his journey, but they do provide emotional “care packages” along the way–a reassuring word, a cookie, a hug after they’ve nearly been blown up by the bad guy.
These “care packages” have the potential to be important and significant, but for the most part, they are just the sort of throwaway comments that sound good but have very little impact.
These moms are universally patient and kind. And supportive, loving, and loyal to their (often dead) husbands. (Actually, that’s pretty sad, too–can no super-moms date after their husbands die?)
Those are indeed characteristics often assigned culturally–we expect “good moms” to kiss our boo-boos and ask us if we’ve found a nice boy/girl to date. But I find it odd that, in super-cinema at least, moms can’t be the moral tentpole–can’t even really have enough initiative to do something themselves at all, really.
Super Comics Moms
The thing is, Hollywood/Marvel/DC, you DO have great material to pull from if you want to make some legitimately super moms. You could start with Aunt May and Martha Kent, each who in TV shows and comics have managed to be incredibly significant to their sons.
I understand Diana Prince/Wonder Woman has a pretty awesome mom–probably expected in an Amazon society where she’s queen, but still–so you could go ahead and make that Wonder Woman movie already.
And I consulted my SO, who has read a lot more comics than I have so far, and he says there are some other epic moms you could look into:
- Steve Rogers/Captain America– In canon, he has an abusive dad. It’s his mom who teaches Steve Rogers to “get back up” after a fight. (In the movie, that moral moment was erased, and Steve gets back up just because.)
- Genis-Vell/Captain Marvel-His mom’s a single parent, having impregnated herself with baby Marvel using her futuristic technology. (It’s comic canon, that stuff can be really weird, okay?)
- Kyle Rayner/Green Lantern-His dad abandoned the family when his mom was pregnant, so he’s also the son of a single mom.
We Need Strong Moms
But maybe you’ll notice the problem with all the above moms in that “good mom” section: They’re all single parents. In that sense, it can be assumed that those moms have to pull double parent-duty–they didn’t get the strong mom stuff because they are inherently strong characters, they got it because there isn’t a dad around to do it. And that’s stupid.
While positive portrayals of single moms are really important and worthy of inclusion, there is a distinct dearth of strong-mom figures in a two-parent household. Either there’s no dad around to give our hero his “hero moment,” leaving it to mom, or mom is a supportive background character only. (Even Martha Kent and Aunt May fit into that analysis, as they both only really pick up the leadership slack after their husbands die).
That is a damn shame.
It’s bad enough that we can’t get a female superhero movie made: why can’t we have a super mom?
5 responses to “Where Are The Super-Moms?”
This is a really interesting critique, and it brings up a great point that, yeah, superhero movies don’t really honor maternal relationships in a meaningful way.
Its an especially pointed observation when we’re talking about these characters’ origin stories. How did they become who they are? The basic human experience dictates that your upbringing is influential in defining your relationship to the world. So show us the supermoms!
Thanks! There’s so much potential there.
You bring up some awesome points. You could throw Daredevil in there as well since it’s pretty much Green Lantern only a few years prior. Still fits the same mold.
Your post was very interesting, and something I had not considered. It makes me consider the character of “mom” in the book I’m working on. Love your blog!
Thanks! It was like a thunderbolt when it occurred to me–poor Lara-El.