Why do the most famous superheroes tend to be orphans? For Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man, their parents’ and surrogate parents’ deaths are integral to their origins. Daredevil too. Robin’s origin was a deliberate reflection of Batman’s own. For most others, their parents simply remained absent, originally as unexplained as the heroes’ shoe sizes until later writers accounted for those absences. I’ll never get to discuss Superman with Siegel and Shuster nor Batman with the late Bob Kane, but at Dallas Comic Con, I discussed super orphans with Stan Lee. Artist John Romita, Jr., by Stan’s side, added a few thoughts of his own.
Travis: Why do the most successful superheroes tend to be orphans?
Stan: Hey, I heard that! Why do the most successful superheroes tend to be orphans? My hearing is coming back! I want that man to ask all the questions from now on.
John: Excellent question. Why? Why are they all orphans? You wanted to protect the family. You didn’t want anybody to have that leverage against them.
Stan: No, I’m trying to think if they are all orphans.
John: Well, Peter Parker was an orphan because his parents were murdered.
Stan: We never discussed who the parents were of a lot of the other characters, now that I think of it.
John: So which ones were orphans? Peter Parker’s parents were murdered, all right.
Stan: The Fantastic Four, I don’t who their parents were, come to think of it.
Travis: The others, it’s been established along the way. Their parents were either dead or lost in another universe.
John: But you [Stan] never established it. Subsequent writers would delve into the history of the characters and create that.
Stan: Yeah, and I hated that! I would have wanted to do that, but all right. We never did know who Captain America’s parents were. Steve Rogers, you never knew. Or have they established that too?
John: Not that I remember, no.
Travis: Captain America? Yes, later writers confirmed they were dead.
John: But Peter Parker’s parents were murdered. That story was done after you were off the –
Stan: No, no. Peter Parker’s parents had to be murdered so that I could give him his aunt to live with, and I wanted him to be an orphan. I wanted Peter Parker to have a really tough life. I guess I was not in a good mood when I did that. But I never paid much attention to that. Daredevil’s father was killed. That was part of his origin. Iron Man, we never discussed his parents, but I assume his father must have been wealthy too. And who else is there? Dr. Strange, God knows.
John: Bruce Banner’s parents, we don’t know anything about them. Maybe the father was gay, we don’t know.
Stan: You see, that question that was just asked – to you, it’s an innocent, casual question that may cause this man [John] to go back to the Bullpen, rethinking all the origins. You may have started a whole new series of comic book: Heroes’ Origins! And you won’t make a penny for it! We’re that generous.
John: Super Orphanage.
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