Saturday, May 23, 2015

Assemble & Unite: Defending Fathers


      As I said in my first A&U post, The Voice of The Father, the role of the father figure is a key component in the molding of future superheroes. For the most part, MARVEL has portrayed father figures in a moral and positive light, but there is always that character or two that just loves to cause controversy amongst the fans and I’m primarily talking about Howard Stark and Odin Allfather.

     Speaking from former bad-dad hate for both men, I overtime began to have a different view of who these men were as fathers, leaders and legends. Odin especially has been the source of major debate in the superhero fandom due to his (supposed) abhorrent treatment of Loki. After quite a few years of resentment, but thanks to the success of the Captain America film and ABC’s Agent Carter, Howard Stark has really found a place among the MARVEL fandom. No father is perfect, whether in fantasy or real life, but sometimes it’s the father’s imperfections that are the best lessons for the heroes to learn from.

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Howard Stark

     The original genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, whose brilliant mind in physics, engineering, weapon design and business literally helped America win WWII and believed help bring down HYDRA. To the world, Howard Stark is a legacy, but to his own son, Tony, Howard is a shadow from his past.

     In Iron Man 2, Tony described his father as cold and calculating who never said he loved or even liked him; a man who was a hero to everyone, but his son. For years, Tony has resented his father for his distant behavior and even after Howard’s death nothing changed Tony’s opinion of him. Then Tony watches a lost film reel where Howard relays a message to his son, telling him that his dreams for a better future were held back because of the technology of the time (the 1960s), but that Tony would find a way to finish what he had started.

     All nice and sweet, but the real heartbreak comes when his father tells him that of all of his creations, his son was his greatest. Now, I remember watching this movie for the first time and thinking, “How does one simpering statement make up for almost twenty years of cold and distant behavior?” There were many other fans that thought this way as well. They blamed Howard for being the primary cause of Tony’s loneliness. Then I realized I was looking at this from a female’s POV.

     Most of the time, woman want the deep and emotional heartbreaking speeches that would be the stuff of the Bronte’s writing. For men though, they simply want honesty and respect. No tears (even though Tony was about to cry), no drama, just the truth. All Tony wanted was to know that his father spared at least a thought for him, that his father believed in him and trusted him to carry on his legacy.

     In the Iron Man trilogy, Howard Stark was an admired and revered inventor, but really wasn’t looked into that deeply; so it was understandable why Howard wasn’t liked that much. Captain America and ABC’s Agent Carter (as well as brilliantly casting Dominic Cooper) have thankfully redeemed the character of Howard Stark in the past couple of years. In Captain America: The First Avenger, we are given the great opportunity to see a young and handsome Howard Stark who is always looking to the future with his weapon designs and never ending drive to bring down both Hitler and HYDRA.

     In ABC’s Agent Carter, Howard reveals his childhood in the lower east side in New York. He was born into a poor Jewish family where his father sold fruit and his mother sewed waistcoats. Howard was the ultimate rags to riches story, but he worked to get to where he was and believed that he had every right to be there regardless of his social background and bloodline.
 

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Odin Allfather

     If there was anyone meant to be king, then it would have to be Odin. Shrewd, benevolent, wise and fearless, Odin Allfather has protected, guided and loved the realm of Asgard ever since he ascended to the throne. Odin’s whole life has revolved around the safekeeping of Asgard and he would sacrifice himself on the altar of his enemies than ever see his beloved realm destroyed. Although, he is also a husband and father, Odin is above all a king. That is who he was born to be, brought up to be and will ultimately die that way. Like in all history, great and powerful leaders that ruled successful kingdoms and empires, tended to be terrible fathers. It was either the throne or your children and normally that former was the preferred choice (and at times it wasn’t even a choice; think Czar Nicholas).

     Odin has been on the ultimate bad-dad radar because of his treatment of his adopted son Loki. The only reason that Odin took Loki in was to establish peace between Asgard and Jotunheim. Ok, fair enough. Odin could have simply raised Loki as a ward and told him about whom and what he was, and risk Loki always being seen as different and never fitting in. Instead, he took this baby into his home, made him a prince and gave him all the advantages that his biological son, Thor, had.

     In the beginning of Thor we see Odin as a genuinely loving father who adores his sons and sees great potential in both of them. Yet, Odin still thinks as a king. In royal history, kings did not have children; they had lines of succession (primarily sons) and peace negotiations (usually daughters). That was the way royal families were seen. This was how Odin thought, as a king. One son would rule Asgard and hopefully the other would rule Jotenheim and finally there would be peace between the two realms.

     After Odin finally reveals to Loki his true history, then proceeds to tell him that everything he hoped for would never happen, Loki (naturally) flies into a rage. What’s not revealed in the story, however, is the fact that Loki has always been a troublemaker and Odin, by that time, was assured that he could never rule Asgard or any realm for that matter. While Odin is in his Odinsleep, Loki has the opportunity to become king, to prove to his father that he has that right. When he well and truly blows it and almost destroys everything in anger and rage, Odin knows that Loki could never be a king. He had the chance to be the king his brother might have been, but was so focused on revenge that he missed the mark of true worth. All that Odin taught him was gone.

     Yes, Odin lied to his son, but so did Frigga and Heimdall, why don’t they get called into questioning? Odin may come off as cold and uncaring, but there is so much that one man (let alone a dying man) can carry. Asgard is Odin’s birthright and he will see that birthright is placed in the right hands. Odin has no sentiment about him; he doesn’t waste time with tears and sadness. He has a realm to rule and people to protect. That is what made Odin a true king; duty first, self second and self normally meant family. Of course, he loved Frigga dearly, but she had also been raised in the same manner of royal duty; she knew the duties and expectations of a king.

     If Thor and Loki wanted to be successful kings, they would have to know the price of sacrifice. If a mortal woman (Jane Foster) was a threat to the throne, then Thor would either leave her or give up the throne. If an adopted son who had a chance and wastes that chance because he is to ungrateful for the life that was mercifully given him, then he should probably belong in jail.

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