The trope of costumed crusaders having dead parents is so well-trodden that it’s surprising anytime one encounters a superhero whose parents still happen to be alive. As it turns out, not every would-be crimefighter needs to have their mother and father gunned down in an alley to give their career a head start.
But a superhero having living parents isn’t necessarily a positive thing. Comic books are, after all, famous for their never-ending cycles of horrific revelations about the past, and that means that it’s generally only a matter of time before any given hero learns something weird about their dear old mom or dad - whether they’re still around or not.
- Photo: Marvel Comics
For most of his existence, whether in the pages of Marvel Comics or on the big screen, Tony Stark has been defined by his relationship with his parents, and in particular his domineering father Howard Stark. That’s what made the revelation that Tony was adopted such a shocker when it happened, with the reasons behind the adoption only adding to the extreme sense of dissonance experienced by readers.
As it turns out, Howard and Maria Stark had made a deal with an alien intelligence to save the life of their unborn son, but when Arno was born severely immunocompromised, they decided to renege on the deal. In order to trick the alien entity, they put Arno into hiding and adopted another child, Tony, to serve as a “decoy” - raising him without any knowledge of their biological son’s existence.
As Iron Man, Tony would eventually discover the truth, reuniting with Arno and then tracking down his own biological parents. His mother was rockstar turned S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Amanda Armstrong, who had to give Tony up for adoption when it turned out that his father, Jude, was secretly working for Hydra.Surprising?
- Photo: Marvel Comics
Unlike most superheroes with deceased parents, Richard and Mary Parker don’t play an enormous role in the superheroic backstory of their son Peter, save for the fact that their demise led to his being raised by Aunt May and Uncle Ben, the latter of whom did inspire his origin. It wouldn’t be until well into his career as Spider-Man that Peter would discover his mom and dad’s deep connections to the world of caped crusaders.
Peter had grown up believing his parents had perished in a plane crash, and that much is true. Beyond that, however, Richard and Mary had met and married while serving as CIA agents, and a few years after the birth of their son - and a secret daughter, Teresa - they were sent on a mission to infiltrate an Algerian spy ring. It turned out to be run by the Red Skull, who discovered that the two were undercover and then orchestrated their demise as revenge. He also attempted to frame them for treason, though Spidey was later able to conclusively clear their names.Surprising?
- Photo: DC Comics
When Batman uncovered the existence of the Court of Owls in Gotham City, it led to a series of other unpleasant revelations - including one that had some serious implications for his ward, Dick Grayson.
Records kept by the court made it clear that they had long been using Haly’s Circus as a training ground for future Talon assassins, and that they had marked Dick as their next candidate while he was a child. Though this would seem to indicate that John and Marie Grayson, or at the very least their employers, were raising their son to be an assassin, they perished in a trapeze accident before the truth could come out, leaving young Dick to be adopted by Bruce Wayne and saved from a life as an immortal enforcer.Surprising?
- Photo: DC Comics
Most would consider Pa and Ma Kent to be Superman’s parents, with his biological mother and father having famously perished alongside the rest of their people when the planet Krypton exploded. More recently, however, the Man of Steel made a disturbing discovery - not only did Jor-El survive Krypton, but he also went on to manipulate the DC Universe from behind the scenes for decades.
Crossing over from the Watchmen universe, Doctor Manhattan apparently plucked Jor-El from the moment of Krypton’s demise - an act designed specifically to mess with Superman - and brought him to Earth, where Jor-El took up the name “Mister Oz.” From there, he attempted to police the various timelines of DC continuity in a way that would ultimately benefit Kal-El and his family, though the two have come into conflict as often as they’ve worked together since the revelation.Surprising?