It’s almost the end of the year, so it’s time to announce the winner of the coveted (not) 2021 Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents.
Let’s have a bit of background: I have been informally awarding the Darth Vader Parenthood Award since sometime in the 1980s with the earliest awards being retroactive. Over the years, the list of winners migrated from a handwritten page to various computer file formats, updated every year. Eventually, I decided to make the winners public on the Internet, because what’s an award without some publicity and a ceremony? The list of previous winners (in PDF format) up to 2017 may be found here, BTW, and the 2018 winner, the 2019 winner and 2020 winner were announced right here on this blog.
Warning: Spoilers for several things behind the cut!
Like last year, it took several months for a likely candidate for the 2021 Darth Vader Parenthood Award to emerge, while once again we had plenty of candidates for the Jonathan and Martha Kent Fictional Parent of the Year Award, which will be awarded tomorrow. We seem to be in the middle of a paradigm shift in how parents are portrayed in popular culture, because we are seeing far more positive portrayals of parenthood and fewer negative ones.
This summer, an unexpected candidate in the form of King Randor of Eternia threw his hat or rather his crown in the ring. Now Randor has never been a stellar parents by any means, as chronicled in more than 100 episodes of the original Masters of the Universe cartoon. He not only completely fails to notice that his son Prince Adam is also the superhero He-Man despite the fact that in the original cartoon, He-Man is basically Adam with a tan and his clothes off, but also constantly berates Adam for not being whatever Randor expects from his son.
In Masters of the Universe: Revelations, Randor turns out to be an even shittier father than in the original cartoon. Not only does he still fail to notice that Adam is He-Man and still berates his son for not being what Randor wants him to be, no, literally the last thing he says to Adam before Adam goes to off to get himself killed to save all of Eternia is that he has never ever had any occasion to be proud of Adam. And once he finally learns the truth – after Adam got himself killed (don’t worry, he gets better) – Randor takes his anger out on the people in whom Adam did confide. Duncan a.k.a. Man-at-Arms, the person who was actually there for Adam, when his own father wasn’t, gets the brunt of it and is not only stripped off his rank and banished, but also threatened with execution. However, inept wizard Orko and Adam’s beloved tiger companion Cringer are banished as well.
Darth Vader Parenthood Awards have certainly been won for less (a lot of the soap opera winners from the early years like Hans Beimer from Lindenstraße were objectively not all that awful compared to genuine supervillains, but won anyway because I intensely disliked them) and the main reason Randor does not win this year is because he actually learns better and apologises to Adam and finally does tell his son he’s proud of him. So it’s no award for King Randor of Eternia.
Masters of the Universe: Revelations also yielded another unexpected candidate in the form of Evil-Lyn’s (or just Lyn at the point) terrible parents, who wanted to eat their own daughter, because they were poor and starving. However, while Lyn’s parents were undoubtedly awful, we also only see them on screen for less than a minute.
In the end, it came down to a close race between two candidates. So let’s start with the 2021 Honourable Mention, which goes to…
As portrayed by Tony Leung in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Xu Wenwu is the despotic leader of the Ten Rings criminal organisation as well as wielder of the titular rings, which bestow superpowers.
When his wife Ying Li is murdered by a rival organisation called the Iron Gang, Wenwu decides to take bloody vengeance on the murderer, which is understandable. However, Wenwu drags his children Shang-Chi and Xialing into his quest for vengeance. He subjects Shang-Chi to a brutal martial arts training and sends the boy out to kill the leader of the Iron Gang, when he is only fourteen years old. Meanwhile, Xialing actually does want to learn martial arts, but is forbidden to do so by her father, because women are not supposed to fight. Wenwu’s terrible parenting causes both his kids to run away from him while still teenagers.
When both his children are adults, Wenwu sends Ten Rings operatives after them to capture them and retrieve a pendant they inherited from their mother. As for why Wenwu needs the pendant, he believes that his wife Ying Li is still alive and calling to him and that she has been imprisoned in the mythical village of Ta Lo. Wenwu wants to free her, which again is understandable. However, in order to do so, Wenwu is willing to go through everything and everybody who stands in his way, including his own children. Worse, the voice he’s been hearing is not that of Li at all, but of a monster called the Dweller in Darkness…
Wenwu was the clear frontrunner until very shortly before the end of the year, when another favourite emerged. And in the end, the reason why Wenwu receives only an honourable mention is that while he is certainly a bad father, most of his actions are motivated by love for his wife and grief over her death. Wenwu may be a villain, but he is also misguided.
Since Xu Wenwu died in the final battle with the Dweller in Darkness, his daughter Xu Xialing, clad in a striking gown of burgundy silk, accepted the award (which is really just an ugly vase found at a flea market, since we can’t afford a proper trophy) on his behalf and delivered the following acceptance speech:
Thank you. I know this award is not an honour for my father. However, it is well deserved. For much as it pains me to say so, my father was not a good parent. He held my brother and me prisoner for years. Worse, he refused to see us for who we were and tried to form my brother into the fighter he never wanted to be, while completely ignoring me and forbidding me to learn, even though I would have been a better fighter and better leader than my brother.
And then, when my father died, he bequeathed his rings of power to Shang-Chi and not to me, even though I would have been much more worthy.
Anyway, I shall rebuild the Ten Rings organisation and restore it to its former glory and also abolish the sexist policies that kept women warriors out of our organisation for centuries. Also, I wish to let the world know that the Ten Rings were in no way responsible for the wave of terrorist attacks committed by a man who called himself the Mandarin in 2013. This man was an imposter named Trevor Slattery and…
Thank you, Miss Xu, but I think this is quite enough, since this is not the moment to restore the honour of the Ten Rings. So please return to your headquarters for some more plotting.
And now, with the Honourable Mention out of the way, let’s get the the grand prize.
The winner of the 2021 Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents is…
As portrayed by Vera Farmiga in Hawkeye, Eleanor Bishop is a New York socialite, head of Bishop Security and mother of Kate.
In 2012, tragedy struck and Eleanor lost her husband and young Kate her father during the event known as the Battle of New York. Unfortunately, the late Mr. Bishop not only left Eleanor a spectacular Beaux Arts building in Midtown Manhattan, but also a mountain of debt with crime boss Wilson Fisk a.k.a. the Kingpin of Crime. The body of the late Mr. Bishop was barely cold, when Fisk came to collect
Wilson Fisk is a very intimidating man and so it is perhaps understandable that Eleanor did not go to the police, but agreed to work for Fisk to pay off her husband’s debts.
However, Eleanor did not just use the resources of her security firm to keep Fisk one step ahead of the law and to create shell companies for his various criminal enterprises. she also actively engaged in murder, mayhem and deceit.
Eleanor personally murdered Armand DuQuesne III, when he got wind of her dealings with Fisk, and then framed her fiancé, Armand’s nephew Jack DuQuesne, for the dastardly deed. She also hired an assassin to murder Clint Barton a.k.a. the Avenger Hawkeye, who had become a mentor to her daughter Kate.
What gave Eleanor the edge over Xu Wenwu in the end was that while Xu Wenwu is misguided and motivated by love and grief, Eleanor may be motivated by love for her daughter as well, but she absolutely knows what she’s doing.
That sort of villainy deserves an award and so Eleanor Bishop is the winner of the 2021 Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fiction Parents.
Even though she was arrested for murdering Armand DuQuesne III, the justice system works differently for rich people and so Eleanor was out on bail and could accept her award in person.
She took the stage in a gorgeous bias-cut red silk evening gown, side-eyed the ugly vase she was given and delivered the following speech:
Thank you. Thank you very much.
I think everybody here who has children knows how difficult parenting can be. We do everything in our power to keep our children safe and to make sure they have the life they deserve and all the funds they need. And how do they thank us?
Well, I can tell you how my daughter Kate thanked me, namely by having me arrested on suspicion of murder on Christmas Day. Her own mother, can you imagine that?
But then, Kate was always impulsive and ungrateful. Rather than doing something sensible like going into finance, the silly girl decided she wanted to be a superhero and help people and not by donating to charitable causes either. A superhero, can you imagine it?
At this point, Xialing yells from the front row, “Women can be heroes, too, you know.”
Oh, of course, I did not mean to imply that women were physically incapable of being superheroes. What I meant to say is that superhero is such a silly career choice, because it just doesn’t pay. But then, my Kate has always been a spoiled brat, literally born with a silver spoon in her mouth.
But otherwise, I agree with Ms. Xu. Men are trash. Take my husband, for example. He, too, was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth and what did he do with it? He squandered his wealth on bad investments and gambling. And when he ran out of money, he didn’t go to a bank or – heavens beware – cut down on expenses, but went straight to the worst crime lord in town for a loan.
Really, what should I have done? I had to repay Fisk somehow, so I went to work for his organisation. And I was good at it. Does anybody think that Wilson Fisk would have been so successful, if not for my hard work behind the scenes?
As for the charges against me, they’re all false, of course.
Eleanor theatrically dabs on her eyes with a silk handkerchief.
Wilson Fisk blackmailed me into aiding him. He threatened my daughter, my one and only. As for Armand DuQuesne, I did not murder that old toad. His nephew Jack, the man I was going to marry, murdered him and then framed me. Honestly, I am the victim here. You must arrest Jack. And Wilson Fisk, of course.
Finally, I absolutely did not attempt to kill Clint Barton. Yes, that cad stole my daughter from me and seduced her with his talk of heroism, but I did not try to murder him. Is it my fault that some Russian assassin with a grudge decided to off Barton just before Christmas…?
Thank you, Ms. Bishop, that’s quite enough out of you. This is not your trial, this is an awards ceremony and you have overrun the time limit for your acceptance speech, so please return to your penthouse or your summer house in the Hamptons and leave us alone.
And that’s it for the 2021 Darth Vader Parenthood Award. The companion prize, the Jonathan and Martha Kent Award for the Fictional Parent of the Year will be handed out tomorrow.
Who will win next year? You’ll find out in this space.
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters, I just gave them an award and wrote an acceptance speech for them. All characters and properties are copyright their respective owners.