The illusion of change is one of the big things that keeps comic books going for 800, 900 issues, decades after they started. Pretty much every character in comics has died and come back at least three or four times, so excuse me if I yawn when they say Spider-Man/Batman/Wolverine is going to die, again. Show me something new. Like a superhero being a parent.
They might die a lot, but one thing superheroes never did for the longest time was grow up, get married and have children of their own.
That started to change in the 1990s, when they let Spider-Man get married for a while (since wiped away in one of those cosmic hand-wavings) and Superman get hitched to Lois Lane (surprisingly, still going strong years later). With wedding bells ringing, surely children aren’t far behind?
For a while there, when most superheroes had a kid, it meant they would die horribly or be revealed as imaginary or what-if stories or something. Most egregiously, Spider-Man actually had a daughter who vanished mysteriously years ago because Marvel didn’t like the idea of Spider-Man actually having a kid.
Yet that’s changed. One of the most popular – and genuinely enjoyable – comics of 2021 turned out to be Superman: Son Of Kal-El, starring Jon Kent, the teenage son of Clark Kent, a hip, bisexual millennial who could’ve been an awful “woke” cartoon but has turned out to be a refreshing and empathetic take on the Man of Steel. A slightly different version of this story with Superman and Lois having two sons has become one of my favourite superhero TV shows in recent years.
And a while back, Batman had a son, Damian Wayne, with his enemy’s daughter Talia al Ghul. This kid was a brutal, dark mirror to Batman, raised by his criminal foes, trained as an assassin and grown into a grim and efficient new Robin. Damian has endured since his introduction in 2006, maturing to become less violent and conceited and an actual hero of sorts. The new Superman and Robin have been an enjoyable double-act in comics too, Jon Kent’s sincerity playing well off Damian’s cynicism.
The idea of Batman and Superman having sons was a bit of a fantastic what-if for years when they were imagined as rebellious 1970s hipsters, so it’s been surprising to see the idea emerge and stick around in canon. Jon Kent’s been around for 7 years, Damian pushing 16 years. It gives these 80-year-old superheroes a fresh direction to move in, and yet the original Batman and Superman are still allowed to exist too, mentoring and off having their own adventures. I actually find Superman more enjoyable as a character now that he’s a father.
I’m not saying they won’t decide to up and kill Jon Kent sometime soon, but comics creators seem generally content to let a hero’s kids live for now. Some, like Wolverine or Hulk, have ‘evil’ estranged children, or some like the Flash and Green Arrow have children they end up separated from for years. (Being a good parent is far less common than just being a parent in comics.) The Fantastic Four were one of the few characters allowed to have a child back in the old days, although little Franklin Richards was always under threat of death or cosmic disintegration or something. But the FF has a second kid now too, and a whole little blended “family” of assorted young folk that they’re mentoring – a sensible evolution for a comic that’s always been about the idea of family.
As the print comics fan base ages up and more and more young people are TikTokking or whatever, comics readers maybe are a little less turned off by the idea of Batman having a Bat-spawn. They identify with a Bat-Dad a bit more than they once might have.
One thing you’ll rarely see in comics, though, are superheroes parenting babies or toddlers, or doing the boring hard yards of diapers, late nights and play-dates. In a surprisingly common comics trope, both Jon Kent and Damian Wayne were “accelerated in age” in various oddball comic-book ways so they could run around with their dads, because honestly, super-teenagers are far more interesting than super-babies would be.
Which is probably the right call. I mean, nobody is really clamouring for the return of Super-Baby, are they?