MARTHA THOMASES: Mom’s the word
Tomorrow is Mothers Day. To some, it’s the most important day of the year. To others, it’s a crass exploitation, using real feelings to sell flowers, brunch, and long-distance calls.
In superhero comics, it’s pretty much a non-event. Good mothers are almost non-existent, if not dead. The good moms send their children away (see Lara) or die in a rain of pearls (Martha Wayne). Living moms are over-bearing control fiends (Phantom Girl’s mom in the 31st Century) or distracted career women (Queen Hippolyta). Recently, the mother in Blue Beetle looks like she has the most realistic relationship with her kids.
Except for Sue Storm, there aren’t any premiere super-hero moms.
The best moms in comics are those who adopt. Martha Kent, Aunt May, even Alfred Pennyworth did fabulously maternal jobs raising children who would grow up to make the world a better place.
Why is this? Some of it may be a remnant from folk tales, where heroes are orphaned so they may have adventures without familial responsibilities or ties to complicate the quest. More to the point, superhero comics are power fantasies, often aimed at adolescents (of all ages) who are extremely frustrated with their bodies. Imagining super-strength, flight, and other extraordinary abilities is comforting and satisfying to someone experiencing growth spurts, hormonal fluctuations and acne.
This is not compatible with feeling like somebody’s baby. And you will always be your mom’s sweet baby.
A mother is an even more uncomfortable reminder of sexuality. Until recently, one couldn’t be a mother without having sex. Children don’t like to think about their parents having sex. (Parents also don’t like thinking about their children having sex, even when their children are grown.) An adoptive mother can be pure and untouched, at least in the mind of her child.
And yet, being a mother is an astonishingly sensual experience. It’s more complicated and more pure than could be easily conveyed in a 22-page story, even by an expert, and almost certainly not by a man. The smell of your child’s head, the smoothness of a baby’s skin, the music of a toddler’s laugh – these are glorious sensations. Beyond this kind of intimate contact, having a child permits a mother to experience the wonders of life all over again. As an adult, you expect to see snow or rain or flowers in the spring, but these are new and awe-inspiring to a child. You know why a fire fighter wears red suspenders, but it’s all new to your kid.
I was very lucky. I had a great Mom. She drove me crazy, but that’s sometimes what happens when both a parent and child have strong opinions. My mother made me dresses, and sewed Barbie outfits to match. She took me to the library for treats, and let me borrow books from the adult stacks. She got involved with the anti-war movement, and backed me up when my school wanted me expelled for my own activism. An avid reader of the New York Times (no easy feat in Youngstown, Ohio, at the time), she would buy records because the reviews sounded interesting, so that I was the first of my friends to hear The Mothers of Invention, Bob Dylan, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Who’s Tommy.
My mother died two weeks after I got married. A year later, I had a step-mother and three new step-sisters. This could have been awkward, but again, I was lucky. My step-mother doesn’t try to be my mom, but she’s smart and opinionated, a lover of the arts and a fantastic grandmother. She is generous, fun, and takes fabulous care of my father.
These women show me not only how to be a mother, but how to be a hero. They deserve more than a day.
Martha Thomases is ComicMix’s media queen. That’s one of our regular contributors with her in the photo up there.