Monday, September 24, 2007

Mothers in Green Lantern

This started as a comment over on Sally's blog and went a bit long and tangential so I decided to post it over here. The post of Sally's is from Thursday anyway, but in case you haven't read Tales of the Sinestro Corps: Parallax consider this one your spoiler warning.

While I enjoyed the issue, I can see why this Anonymous commenter was unimpressed. The stuff in the comment is subjective, but I wanted to address this part:
There was the bit about how his mom painted the painting, but of course, since we're talking about a simulacrum of the painting in Kyle's mind and not the actual painting itself, as far as "dramatic revelations" go that one falls flat.
As I read it the revelation that Moira painted the picture was very important because this was in Kyle's mind. It wasn't the painting that was her gift to Kyle, but his imagination and his artistic talent was her gift. he inherited those traits from his mother, and those are the traits that make him an exceptional Lantern. They all have the will. They all have the guts. They all have a sense of honor. Only Kyle has the strength of vision, the flexibility and the unpredictability that come with his creative outlook. From the creation of this character, that's what's been used to make him stand out. And he got that from his mother.

Even if they end this crossover with him getting the picture and finding another name (which I doubt), it was his mother who sat down with him as a kid and made up stories about the boy in the picture. That was the gift. The story, the creative exercises themselves. The most important parts of Kyle's personality are through his mother.

What really interests me with this discovery is the old plotline where Kyle searches for his long-lost father. His early teamups with Connor Hawke were dedicated to this plot, and Marz implied Kyle's father was alive and findable throughout his entire run. It was a major enough thing when Winick wrote an actual meeting with the man to put it in the 150th issue, and even since that issue the absence of Kyle's father keeps being brought up in Kyle stories. Kyle dedicated a lot of time and energy to finding his father, and when parental issues were brought up, with the exception of the first appearance of Kyle's mother, the parental issues were skewed towards his father.

Even though Kyle was raised by his mother and logically that's where all of the influence would be from, Kyle's father, like Hal's father, was the important parent for story purposes. Most of the time (with few exceptions such as Kyle having to settle his feud with her, Kyle addressing his narration to her in one of the 80-Page giants), the mother was just there so villains could threaten her and Kyle could take his girlfriends home to meet her.

This goes back to a tendency in our society to place this kind of importance on fathers. Heroic qualities tend to be portrayed as coming through the father because boys are traditionally consider more active while girls are traditionally considered more passive. Most legacy stories lead back to a father because its only recently mainstream society has come to accept women can be active and heroic. Heroes, especially male heroes, still tend to have fathers that they take after (Both Batgirls focused on father-daughter relationships, the difference in Thomas and Martha Wayne's memory is clear to anyone who's read two Batman stories). Beyond that, much of the attention of modern pop culture is directed towards characters working out father issues (I suspect this is because many writers have these issues, but that is little more than speculation and generalization that I have no way of backing up).

Well, with this story we find out that the traits that make Kyle a hero definitely do come through his mother, and Kyle finds out as well. So, even though we lose the character to the fridge (for the fourth time), its a dramatic change in how she's portrayed and remembered. She is the important parent when it comes to understanding Kyle Rayner now.

This isn't to say that the father's absence is less important to understanding the character, just the mother's absence (and her presence up until recently) is now mroe important than it used to be.

And seeing that name on the portrait was Kyle realizing that.

This is even more interesting when you look at how Hal's parents have developed. Everyone knows that since Emerald Dawn Hal's father's death was the defining moment in his life. Hal's father was so all-encompassing when it came to understanding his past that his mother didn't even have a name until recently. Since the fourth volume was relaunched, not only does Hal's mother have a name (Jessica) but we also know that there was a very strained relationship. A relationship Hal tried unsuccessfully to mend before her death. (He was just a little bit too late.) We have an idea of what she was like as a person (prior to that we could just picture Donna Reed), we know she was overprotective and there's an implication Hal inherited his stubbornness from her and that's why the relationship was strained.

Hal's father still takes up 95% of the picture when we go back to Hal's early homelife (there's also his brothers, but I can't remember a story that showed how they related as children. Only as adults). We have a brief picture of his mother now, but that's a lot more than there has been for forty years.

Its just a little bit, and it hardly makes things all right with Green Lantern and women (this is sad, because if you read the Showcase collections and the archives it could be argued that Green Lantern started out ahead of the rest of the Silver Age with the portrayal of female characters, but moved backwards when it was supposed to be ironing out the sexist parts), but it is a nice trend to see.


  1. This is interesting. All too often the Moms do seem to be getting short least in comparison to the Dads. Really, the only Mother that I can think of to pass on a legacy is Black Canary...and even there, Dinah had issues.

    Maura was a darned good character, and I'm really sorry that they had to go and kill her off, although I understand the plot points behind it. And I'm glad, GLAD, that it may be due to his Mother that Kyle's going to eventually break free of Parallax.

    Hal's mom annoys me. Boy, could SHE hold a grudge. John's mother was nice enough, but Guy's mom is a real piece of work. I like to think that Alan had a good mother.

  2. Mommy and daddy issues don't make for very good superheroing, in my estimation. One of the characteristics of superheroes is that they routinely encounter challenges and ethical issues that nothing in their upbringing could really prepare them for, and unless you're doing a Batman / Punisher thing where tragedy has completely messed up the hero's life, there's little to be gained by "Ma wouldn't be proud of me" or "Pa always told me not to trust circus folk". This isn't to say that relationships with family shouldn't be explored, only that the hero's difficult existence has far more to do with shaping the character than, say, dad's plane exploding decades ago.

    The one exception to this I will make is Sonny / Sonja, whose heroic efforts were constantly defined by trying to save his/her dad. But that's the exception.

  3. Have you ever seen "Rookie of the Year"? It's the movie where the boy breaks his arm, and then all of a sudden he can pitch fast and plays for the Cubs.

    All through the movie, his single mother tells him about his baseball player absentee father, and at the end of the movie at the big game he finds out that in reality the baseball player was really his mother!

    The ending of this issue reminded me of that, that's all.

  4. I guess in order to be a writer you have to...

    1. Have issues with your parents

    2. Still carry the pain of not being popular in High School.

  5. I know that this thread is kind of dead, but I just wanted everyone to know that He-Man's mom was an astronaut from Earth!

    She got stranded on Eternia when her spaceship crashed there.

  6. Oh by the way, He-Man's mothers real name is Marlena Glen.

  7. Whoops, forgot to sign my name to that last post.