While I have been awarding the Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents for 41 years now, the Jonathan and Martha Kent Fictional Parent of the Year Award is a new prize that I only introduced last year as a companion piece to the Darth Vader Parenthood Award.
As for why I felt the need to introduce a companion award, depictions of parenthood in popular culture are currently experiencing something of a paradigm shift with more positive portrayals of supportive and loving parents and fewer utterly terrible parents. Personally, I believe that this shift is a very good thing, because the reason that I started the Darth Vader Parenthood Award in the first place is because I was annoyed by all the terrible parents in pop culture. For while most real world parents may not be perfect, they at least do their best. Maybe, the conditions that gave rise to the Darth Vader Parenthood Award will eventually cease to exist and we can permanently retire the award.
Warning: Spoilers for lots of things behind the cut!
Therefore, let’s give a big hand to all the good parents in pop culture that we have seen this year. As last year, there were plenty of viable candidates, more than for the Darth Vader Parenthood Award, and selecting the winner was a difficult choice. It’s also notable that the candidates this year represent a lot of different family models. We have single parents, adoptive parents, found families, LGBTQ families, secret babies as well as the traditional nuclear family.
So let’s have a brief rundown of the candidates who did not quite make it:
Wanda Maximoff may have enslaved the entire town of Westview and forced them to reenact her personal sitcom fantasies in WandaVision, but no one can fault her and Vision’s parenting of their surprise twins Billy and Tommy. And so Wanda and Vision turn out to be loving parents to Tommy and Billy. And indeed, US style family sitcoms is where the positive portrayals of parenthood have been lurking all along, though usually delivered with a side order of moralising. However, in the end everything that happened a Westview turned out to be an illusion created by a grieving and deeply traumatised young woman, so it’s no award for Wanda and Vision this year.
While we’re on the subject of positive portrayals of parenthood in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, let’s give a shout-out to Sarah Wilson, sister of Sam Wilson a.k.a Falcon a.k.a. Captain America. As seen in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Sarah is the single Mom of A.J. and Cass and runs Wilson Seafood and manages to do a great job, even after her brother Sam, the only support she has, is snapped out of existence by 2018 Darth Vader Parenthood Award winner Thanos for five years
For even more badass single Moms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, WandaVision also gives us glimpses of another positive parent-child relationship, namely that of single Mom and flying ace Maria Rambeau and her daughter Monica. Unfortunately, Maria is no longer alive at the time of WandaVision, since actress Lashana Lynch was too busy being the new agent 007 in the James Bond franchise, but we see Monica in action and gaining superpowers.
Talking of which, James Bond is not a name I ever expected to pop up on the longlist for the Jonathan and Martha Kent Fictional Parent of the Year Award, but here he is. Now people have been expecting consequences to James Bond’s womanising in the form of little Bonds for decades now and much fanfiction has been written about this.
However, a) everybody expected Bond to be a candidate for the Darth Vader Parenthood Award rather than for the Jonathan and Martha Kent Fictional Parent of the Year Award and b) nobody expected that the Bond movies would ever actually go there.
However, the much delayed 25th Bond film No Time to Die does just that and introduces James Bond to the result of his affair with Dr. Madeleine Swann, a cute five-year-old named Mathilde. Of course, Madeleine initially denies that Bond is Mathilde’s father in the long-standing tradition of secret baby stories, but Bond doesn’t believe any of it and risks and eventually sacrifices his life to save Madeleine and Mathilde, leaving not a dry eye in the movie theatre.
Well done, Mr Bond. However, the competition was extremely stiff this year, so it’s no award for you.
Everybody’s favourite gay couple, Paul Stamets and Dr. Hugh Culber from Star Trek Discovery became parents last year, when they formed a beautiful little rainbow family with Adira, teenaged genius with a Trill symbiont, and their boyfriend Gray, who’s a disembodied ghost for much of season 3 before finally getting a body in season 4. Through it all, Stamets and Culber have done an excellent job parenting their untraditional family and would certainly be deserving winners. But as I said above, the competition was stiff this year.
Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher, who finds himself the unwilling guardian of teenaged Princess Cirilla, was a strong contender for the Jonathan and Martha Kent Fictional Parent of the Year Award last year and an even stronger contender this year, when he actually gets to do some parenting.
However, season 2 of The Witcher came out very late in the year during the busy holiday season and so I haven’t gotten around to watching it yet. Besides, I had already decided on the winner by that point.
Which brings is to another eleventh hour entrant, who is this year’s runner up. And so the 2021 Honourable Mention goes to…
Clint and Laura Barton
As portrayed by Jeremy Renner and Linda Cardellini respectively, Clint and Laura Barton have been offering us a look at their family life from Avengers: Age of Ultron all the way through the recent Hawkeye TV series.
Clint Barton is not the only Avenger who is a parent – Tony Stark, Scott Lang and Wanda and Vision (sort of) also have kids – but Clint’s family is a lot more central to his life and identity than those of the other Avengers, to the point that Clint is utterly devastated and goes to a very dark place, when he loses his family to the Blip.
However, Clint would be nothing without Laura who gave up her career as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent to became a stay-at-home Mom to Cooper, Lila and Nathaniel, while also being fully supportive of her husband’s high stress and dangerous superhero career, which often takes him away from home for long periods of time.
Together, Clint and Laura not only manage to give Cooper, Lila and Nathaniel a remarkably normal life, considering their Mom is an ex-secret agent and their Dad is a superhero, but also open their home to any stray who’s in need of a family and a place to stay, whether it’s a Russian ex-assassin, a starstruck heiress turned would-be superheroine and her dog or the entire Avengers team, after they have temporarily lost their headquarters.
This dedication to normalcy in the midst of alien invasions, AI rebellions and utter chaos deserves an award and so I name Clint and Laura Barton the runners-up for this year’s Jonathan and Martha Kent Fictional Parent of the Year Award. We still don’t have a trophy, I fear, so have one of Martha Kent’s famous apple pies instead.
There is much cheering in the auditorium, while Clint and Laura receive hugs from their three children as well as from Kate and a wet, slobbering kiss from Lucky the dog. They then take the stage, Clint dressed in a tuxedo that makes him look a little Bond-like, while Laura wears a beautiful floral print maxi dress.
Clint is the first to speak.
Thank you. I… I really don’t know what to say. I mean, I’m nothing special. I’m not superstrong like Steve, I’m not supersmart like Tony, I can’t fly like Sam or shrink like Scott, I can’t turn big and green like Bruce, I’m not a god like Thor or a wizard like Stephen or Wanda and I’m not even half as athletic as Nat. I’m just a ordinary guy with a bow and and arrows, trying his best. And I’m away from home far too much.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past five years it’s that family is what matters most. Cause without my family, I’m nothing. Worse, I’m someone you really don’t want to meet.
Laura, Cooper, Lila and Nate, I love you all so very much. Kate, you’re the best partner I’ve had since Nat. And Nat, wherever you are, I still miss you and always will. Thank you.
Laura now takes the microphone and delivers the following speech.
I know that some people don’t take me seriously, because I’m a Mom and a homemaker and not a CEO like Pepper or a brilliant astrophysicist like Jane or a kickass agent like Peggy Carter, whom I had the honour to meet, when I started working for S.H.I.E.L.D. all those years ago.
But make no mistake, I’m exactly where I want to be. I had a career as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, but when Clint and I married, we decided together that we wanted a family and as normal a life for our children as possible. No one pressured me to stay at home with the kids, this is something I chose for myself. So please respect my choice, just as I respect your choices, whatever they may be.
Clint, I support you in everything you do, always have and always will. Cooper, Lila and Nate, you’re the best thing that ever happened to me. And Kate, you’re a wonderful addition to our family, even though I’ve only known you for a week. Thank you.
The Bartons leave the stage hand in hand, looking very much in love.
While their parents are still delivering their acceptance speeches, the three Barton kids and Kate are helping themselves to Mrs. Kent’s famous apple pie. Even Lucky the dog gets a slice, which can’t be healthy for him.
“Hmm, this pie is amazing,” Kate says, while munching on a slice, “So much better than the ugly vase my shitty Mom got in the other ceremony.”
And now we come to the grand prize. I have to admit the winner of this year’s Jonathan and Martha Kent Fictional Parent of the Year Award was not someone I expected at all.
But then what characterises both our runners-up as well as our winner is that they are solid and dependable people who somehow manage to juggle demanding careers and wonderful parenting and yet are always in the background, never really appreciated, while the flashier heroes take the spotlight.
So I’m very pleased to announce that the winner of the 2021 Jonathan and Martha Kent Fictional Parent of the Year Award is…
Duncan a.k.a. Man-at-Arms
Voiced by Alan Oppenheimer in the original Masters of the Universe cartoon and by Liam Cunningham in the recent Masters of the Universe: Revelations, Duncan a.k.a. Man-at-Arms is a man of many talents.
After his partner decided to pursue her destiny as the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull and left Duncan literally holding the baby, Duncan somehow managed to pursue a demanding career as weapons master, military commander and inventor, while raising his daughter Teela on his own. Through it all, he was always a loving and attentive father and watched Teela grow into a remarkable young woman.
But even though Duncan had his hands more than full as a single father and the man who keeps Eternia running, he still found room in his heart to take in other strays in need of a parent figure. He became a mentor, friend and surrogate father to young Prince Adam who turned to Duncan to receive the encouragement and attention his own father could not give him. And once again, Duncan’s guidance helped Adam to grow into a remarkable young man. Duncan also helped young Adam to nurse the injured tiger cub Cringer, who later became Adam’s constant companion, back to health.
Later, Duncan welcomed Orko, an impish sorcerer from another dimension, who may not be a kid, but acts much like one, into his heart and home. He also built Roboto, a robot who called him father. And just recently, Teela’s friend Andra has also become a part of his little family.
In addition to being a mentor and father figure to so many young people, Duncan also is a true hero who defends his beloved Sorceress, Castle Grayskull and all of Eternia against the evil forces of Skeletor and a brilliant inventor who comes up with a new gadget every other episode besides.
When we watched Masters of the Universe as kids, we never truly appreciated Duncan. he was just there, providing gadgets and helping out He-Man and Teela. But so much dedication and reliability deserves an award and therefore, I am pleased to present this long overdue Jonathan and Martha Kent Fictional Parent of the Year Award as well as one of Martha Kent’s famous apple pies to Duncan a.k.a. Man-at-Arms.
The auditorium explodes in cheers and applause, while Duncan receives hugs from Teela, Adam, Andra and Orko and a slobbering wet kiss from Cringer. He then ascends to the stage, attired in a splendid uniform adorned with many medals. And yes, he still has the man bun.
Duncan steps up to the microphone, looking a little uncomfortable, and delivers the following speech in his patented rumbling baritone:
Thank you. Like my predecessor, I really don’t know what to say. Cause like him, I don’t think I did anything special.
I fell in love with a woman who had a magical destiny that took her away from me, from us. Our daughter needed someone to love and protect her, so it was only natural that I would be the one to raise her, when her mother couldn’t. I’m not mad at her. She did what she had to do. And losing her – twice – was the hardest thing in my life. I will always miss her.
But my Teela is the greatest gift I could ever have asked for. I’m so proud of you, my love, and I’m sorry that I lied to you and kept the truth from you.
As for Adam, as commander of the Royal Guard and Man-at-Arms, it was my duty to protect him. And besides, King Randor is a busy man, so it only makes sense that I was there for Adam, when he couldn’t be. And it was a privilege to watch Adam grow into the wonderful man and great hero he is today. I know you don’t hear it enough, lad, but I’m proud of you.
Cringer sort of came part and parcel with Adam. Randor, Marlena and I agreed that being responsible for a pet would do Adam good and it did. As for Orko, he arrived in Eternia, saved Adam’s and Cringer’s life and the kids just loved him. He’s also a good friend, even if he can be exasperating at times.
Roboto started out as a machine, but he became so much more than that. He became the son I never had and I still mourn him, though I know he gave his life to save all of Eternia.
At the mention of the late Roboto, Teela and Andra get misty-eyed. Adam takes Teela’s hand.
And Andra has been a friend to Teela when she was lonely and confused and besides, she’s the only one who actually listens, when I’m technobabbling, so how could I not accept her into my family.
Because family is what you make of it. It’s…
At this point, Cringer decides to make off with a slice of Martha Kent’s apple pie, while Orko performs some magical tricks to the delight of the Barton children.
Cringer, put that pie down. That’s the award, not your dinner. And Orko, this really isn’t the time and place for your magic tricks.
“But the kids love them,” Orko pouts, “And besides, my magic tricks actually work now. Well, most of the time, at any rate.”
Stop it anyway. And Cringer, put down that pie.
Since Cringer has no intention of puttting down the pie, Duncan scans the auditorium, looking for backup, and chances to spot Adam and Teela, who are much too busy with each other to notice what’s going on around them.
Adam, would you please stop canoodling with my daughter and keep your pet from eating the pie.
Adam and Teela come apart, both blushing furiously.
“We were not…” Teela begins.
“…canoodling,” Adam finishes.
Andra just grins. “Oh yes, you absolutely were.” Teela elbows her in the side.
Well, that’s a talk we need to have later. Anyway, family…
Andra still grins. “He’s going to give you the birds and the bees lecture, just wait.”
Meanwhile, one row over, Kate Bishop can barely suppress her laughter.
Where was I. Oh yes, family. Family is what you make of it. It’s… – Andra, there’s a time and a place for testing our new micro-surveillance drone and this is not it.
Andra still grins. “I was just capturing video evidence of the canoodling.”
“We were not…”
“…canoodling,” Adam and Teela insist, while Orko is doing magic tricks for the Barton children again and Cringer is eating the pie.
“Hmm, this pie is wonderful,” Cringer says, which attracts the attention of Nathaniel Barton. “Your tiger can talk?” he says to Adam.
“Yes, Cringer can talk. Though I understand that this is not normal here on Earth.”
“Cool. Are you from Asgard? And can I ride your tiger maybe?”
Adam smiles. “No, I’m not from Asgard, wherever that may be. I’m from a planet called Eternia, but my Mom is from Earth. As for the rest, well, Cringer, what do you say?”
“This pie is really delicious. And yes, I’ll give him a ride.”
Up on the stage, Duncan emits a sigh of pure exasperation.
Family is… well, it’s an unholy mess and will drive you crazy, but you love them anyway. Thank you very much.
Duncan comes to stand next to the Bartons and together they watch their respective families munch away two of Martha Kent’s famous apple pies.
“We’re not going to get a single slice of that pie, are we?” Clint says to Duncan.
Duncan shakes his head. “No, we’re not.”
“Your children seem lovely, if rather… unconventional,” Laura says.
“Thank you. Yours seem lovely as well.”
“My kids really enjoyed that little floating fellow’s magical tricks. Also my condolences for the loss of your partner. That must be terrible.”
“It was. She died in my arms, murdered by my archenemy.”
Clint, who knows a thing or two about loss, flinches.
“Dad…” Teela, who has finally stopped canoodling with Adam, exclaims, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but Castle Grayskull is under attack and we have to go now.” She turns to Adam. “You’d best find a quiet place to transform without all these people around.”
Duncan emits another heartfelt sigh. “Well, it seems duty calls. It was wonderful meeting you.”
“Need a hand?” Clint asks.
Duncan nods. “Always. Though I must warn you. You may find Eternia rather strange.”
“Trust me, I’m used to strange places. My life got very weird since I joined the Avengers.”
Clint takes off his tuxedo jacket and shirt, revealing his new black and purple suit underneath, which attracts the attention of Kate.
“Oh, are we going with them? Just let me get my bow and my quiver.”
“Kate, we’re going to another planet.”
“Another planet. Oh my God, that’s so cool. I always wanted to see another planet.”
Kate peels out of her evening dress and she, too, is wearing her suit underneath. Lila hands her her bow and quiver.
“Can I come, too, Dad?” Nathaniel asks, “They have talking tigers and people who can fly and…”
Clint sighs and hugs his son. “No, buddy, it’s too dangerous.”
At this moment, Adam returns, transformed into He-Man.
“Wow, you filled out nicely,” Kate exclaims, while Lila whistles in appreciation,”Thor’s got nothing on you, dude.”
He-Man clearly has no idea what she’s talking about, so he decides to introduce himself. “I am He-Man, champion and defender of Castle Grayskull.”
“He-Man?” Kate exclaims, “You really need to work on your branding. And you must meet my LARPer friends. They’ll make you a great costume, cause that shirtless Conan look is so 80s…”
She turns to Teela. “And can I just say that I love your outfit? That headpiece is amazing. My LARPer friends would be so jealous. Though that Game of Thrones thing with your brother is a little creepy.”
“He’s not my brother,” Teela insists, “And we’re not…”
“Oh, they absolutely are,” Andra whispers to Kate, “The whole palace knows, we’re just pretending we don’t notice. Just as we’re pretending we don’t notice when they sneak off to Castle Grayskull for some alone time.” She winks and holds out her hand. “I’m Andra, by the way.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Kate.”
By now, Teela has opened a magical portal that will take everybody straight to Castle Grayskull.
“Can…can I stay here and give Nat…Nathaniel a ride?” Cringer asks hopefully.
He-Man shakes his head. “Sorry, Cat, but you’re needed.”
Cringer shudders. “Oh, I hate that part.”
“Uhm, whom are we fighting anyway?” Kate wants to know.
“The evil forces of Skeletor,” He-Man replies quite seriously.
“Skeletor, honestly?” Kate bursts out laughing. “That guy needs to work on his branding as well.”
Andra grins. “Just wait till you meet Tri-Clops. Or Stinkor.”
“Be careful,” Laura calls after Clint and Kate, just before the portal closes.
Martha Kent, dressed in her Sunday best, comes up to Laura, bearing a slice of apple pie. “Here, dear. Have some pie.”
Laura smiles at her. “Thank you.”
“Oh, it’s nothing. I always make some extra. After all, I know how much young people can eat. My Clark can eat five pies in one sitting and he’s still hungry.”
Martha Kent looks at the spot where the portal just closed. “That blonde lad reminds me of my Clark, you know. He also believes that no one will recognise him, when he takes his clothes off and suits up.”
“Oh, you mean we were not supposed to notice that it’s the same young man,” Laura says, “Just as we were apparently not supposed to notice the way he looks at the red-haired young woman.”
Martha sighs. “Heroes and their secret identities, you know. You just have to indulge them. And now have some pie, dear. I’ve saved a slice for your husband and that nice widower as well.”
ETA: Andra kindly sent us this drone footage from the latest battle at Castle Grayskull with the words “Told you so.”
Sorry, Teela/Andra shippers, but I’ve been shipping Teela and Adam since I was ten and in the show it could go either way at this point.
And that’s it for the 2021 Jonathan and Martha Kent Fictional Parent of the Year Award. Who’ll 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 acceptance speeches for them, which then devolved into utter chaos. All characters and properties are copyright their respective owners.