By Darryl Ayo
Madelyn Pryor was a comic character associated with the X-Men comic books. She appeared after Jean Grey’s death and looked a lot like her. Cyclops married her and they had a son together. A bunch of other stuff happened. But the important thing to me is that they got married and had a son.
Mainstream adventure stories are not usually places where one can read about cohesive family units. In fact, the Joseph Campbell classical adventure arc specifically places adventure stories in opposition to nuclear families. My general read of Campbell is that many adventure stories (well, fuck it–he’s talking about stories in general) are about adolescence and coming into adulthood. In his read, these stories are about breaking free of one’s upbringing and finding one’s own way in the world only to return home, mature. “Kill the father, marry the mother,” and stuff like that. Destroy the hand the controls you, but ultimately embrace your heritage, in new ways.
But getting away from the oedipal/hero’s journey way of looking at things, we have other, more nuanced points of view that can be considered. We have more experiences to draw on than that of the rebellious male youth (ie, hero’s journey). For example: the life story of a great many women includes becoming (ascending to?) motherhood.
I’m no expert or scholar in matriarchal theory. I have no experience with parenting except for that I have parents of my own. When I do have is a sense of bitter distaste when it comes to how parents, and mothers in particular come out in these adventure stories. In superhero comics, you have some mothers like Madelyn Pryor, pictured above, Susan Storm (the Invisible Woman), Catwoman, and eventually Wolfsbane of X-Factor.
Of this list: Madelyn Pryor had her son taken from her and was later possessed by demons and died horribly, written out of being a useful character forever. Catwoman’s daughter was written out of the series and I’m not sure if the child is even referred to after. Invisible Woman enjoys a successful life as a scientist-superhero and mother. Wolfsbane is still pregnant, so who really knows where it’ll go. But these are my examples.
When I read the few stories that involve mothers, I get the sense that writers think that motherhood is boring. There is a sense that bringing a child into a story holds that story back. that children are a burden and parenting is a drag on adventure. Never mind that the two greatest action heroines in cinema are mothers, either literally or figuratively (that’s Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley)
Here’s something that ALIENS and TERMINATOR 2 do that most mainstream comic books (aw heck: most alternative comics as well) do not do: these films depict motherhood as a responsibility, but not a burden. Sure, Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley put themselves in extra-danger to protect their children (John Connor and “Newt”) but the stories both strive to indicate that the rewards exceed the risks. In other words, Connor and Ripley risk life and limb because the love they have for their children is vital to their overall emotional wellbeing. As it should be. I think that most of us agree that it is important for parents to love and protect their children.
So why do so many comic books shy away from parents in general (mothers in particular)?
When I read back issues of Catwoman from the mid-aughts, I find them very interesting because Catwoman feels like she’s got so much more at stake, so much more to lose if her identity is ever compromised. She hops around rooftops, beating up supervillains like any other hero (yes, Catwoman is a good guy now), but if her cover is blown, she’s got an infant daughter whose life would be in danger. Even when Spider-Man or Superman are worried about their identities, their domestic partners are adults and have some ability to defend themselves. So for a genre that hinges on raising the stakes of danger, it’s a little strange that eventually Catwoman’s daughter was written out of the series.
Of course, I would suppose that removing the child was more a concern with not having Catwoman seem “old.” Because older, mature women characters are generally looked upon as problematic for mainstream companies, since dominant culture favors youth in women, even past the point of normality. It might just be that having a daughter made Catwoman seem “too old” to be marketable. So the devoted mother suddenly puts her child up for adoption and…I don’t know, gets her memory erased or something. I don’t know, I haven’t read that far, I saw it on the message boards.
So now Catwoman is back to starring in her own series, with her zipper that zips way down low and all her sexy sex appeal (ie, sex), and the only thing that kind of connects the character to some semblance of relatable human existence is written away and possibly fully erased out of existence.
SO GOOD JOB.
THE INCAL by Jodorowsky and Moebius
On that note, I’m currently halfway through Humanoids’ new edition of The Incal and there’s some interesting peeks into one kind of motherhood. It’s not the driving force of the narrative, but it’s fun that it fell into my lap right as I was in the midst of writing this.
The role of motherhood in this segment (the Incal book “What Lies Beneath”) still revolves around ideas of absenteeism. The panel above is the first time that the boy Solune meets his mother, Animah. She shows him no special affection and he quickly is taught to get over her, more or less.
It’s a cold, cerebral world that Jodorowski and Moebius have dreamed up. Utility outweighs fragile human emotion every time. Even so, I feel that this fantasy scenario is stronger conceptually than the Catwoman and X-Men scenarios referenced above because the reason for denying the maternal link isn’t tied to the immature idea that parents are inherently boring; the mother in Incal distances herself from her son for practical reasons consistent with the tone of the narrative as a whole.
But still, poor kid.
Paul Smith for Marvel Comics
Terminator 2 is from the Terminator people
Aliens is from the Aliens people
Incal is from Jodo and Mobo.