This weekend sees the release of "Thor: The Dark World," which, on the surface, is just another superhero film. But, in fact, it also works as a crystallization as to what makes superheroes tick: family issues. Thor's got to save the universe, but he's also got an obnoxious brother gumming up the works, and he can never agree with his father, who is also a King. To rub it in, the sequel also seems to suggest that Mom likes Loki better. Things just aren't going Thor's way!
But Thor's not the only one in costume with several trust and abandonment issues. Peel back the psyche of any cape-and-tights type, and you'll find they all have an assortment of Daddy issues, struggles with siblings, and/or a real attachment to mommy. Seems like you can't even wear a mask until you fulfill certain criteria of dysfunction: ditch the spandex, and family dinners would still be awkward and uncomfortable. Almost everything is a trigger-warning with these guys. Don't talk about your folks around Batman. Wolverine absolutely does not care about your unruly brother.
It doesn't take much to find a hero who has his own problems with troublesome family members, so we put together ten who just can't seem to get over their blood ties, and how they've contaminated their precious, desperate psyches.
What’s The Issue? “I really only have my job because of my father. I’m not sure if I want to take over for him when he’s gone, because I like being out in the field too much. I just found out my pain-in-the-ass brother, who I guess has his own issues, isn’t actually related to me by blood. Also, he’s pretty genocidal, but I don’t know … we’re still brothers.”
How Does He Cope? Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) differences with father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) are classic generational divides, with Thor’s actions in “Thor” disrupting a considerable peace between the Nine Realms. Brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) manipulated this with his usual cunning, making a bad situation worse, though Odin was grateful that Thor resolved the conflict, even if he did so less by diplomacy and more by brute force. That conflict continues in the second film, as Thor’s romance with Earth’s Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) registers as an annoyance to Odin, giving a distinct lack of approval for his new companion.
Thor also has to cope with the machinations of Loki, who, in threatening Earth in “The Avengers,” indirectly placed Jane in harm’s way. The brotherly love in the first “Thor” mutates into betrayal, though it has shifted to contempt by the time Thor whisks Loki back home to face Asgardian law. The majority of 'The Dark World' is spent with Thor constantly second-guessing his brother when they are forced into making an alliance once again: Loki, it seems, still has one ally in the family in their mother, Frigga (Rene Russo).
Prognosis: Like most of the characters in the onscreen Marvel universe, Loki seems pretty invincible, so Thor’s going to have to live with his traitorous half-brother constantly causing trouble. At some point he’ll have to choose between family and retribution. Odin’s also going to need a firm answer on whether Thor wants that throne or not: it can’t be fun at the family dinner table when you reject Dad’s promotion.
What’s The Issue? “My mother and father basically abandoned me as an infant, and I’ve never known anyone from my race, so I’m an orphan in the extreme sense. My adoptive parents on Earth tried their best to raise me, but my new Dad passed at a young age after imparting wisdom, and my mother still can’t see the world through my foreign eyes. Also, nothing my original father left behind comes with a manual of any kind.”
How Does He Cope? As Clark Kent, Superman’s at least attempting to set down some roots on Earth. But unlike the comics, Superman’s courtship of Lois Lane hasn’t resulted in marriage: by “Superman IV” and “Superman Returns,” she doesn’t even know that Clark is Superman, and in “Man of Steel” they’re really still getting to know each other. The original films at least had a connection to his home world, as he could communicate with his parents thanks to Kryptonian crystals utilized in his Fortress of Solitude. But those, like the zip-drive ghost played by Russell Crowe in “Man of Steel,” are basically specters of a past life, not people whom which to build a relationship with.
In “Superman Returns,” his explicit encounters with his past (a visit to shards of his home planet in deep space) only prove painful, and when he does plant roots, it’s by cuckolding Lois’ new beau, poor Richard White (James Marsden). “Man of Steel” features more of an outward rejection of his origins, as the hopes of a reborn Krypton are destroyed by the hero. He tells last living Kryptonian Zod (Michael Shannon) that “Krypton had its chance” before snapping his neck. Yeah, that’s not bringing your father back, man.
Prognosis: The recent Superman seems to be trying to get past his own absent parentage by assuming a patriarchal role towards humanity, give or take a few thousand corpses. Perhaps a finally trustworthy, welcoming relationship with Lois as lovers and co-workers is the first step towards mellowing what is a very angry young man. Superman is a nomad in “Man of Steel,” and a 9-to-5 job at the Daily Planet will allow him to settle into a real identity, not a hormonal punching blur.