Just as Jonathan Kent’s surrogate fathering of Clark made Superman much of the man he is in the comics — or the more conflicted hero he becomes in Man of Steel (pictured) and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – TV dads in the comic book realm have a special importance. While Jonathan Kent traditionally dies sometime before Clark becomes Superman, the 1990s series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman envisioned him very much alive and very much a part of his adopted son’s life. The show took its cues from the comics at the time, which also kept him around as an active, living character, and illustrated the importance of a father in a hero’s life. That notion continued into Smallville and many of the comic book–based television shows on the air today. But which of them best exemplify the gifts Jonathan offered to Clark? And which are notable for the absence of the qualities which make Jonathan Kent so exemplar? Let’s take a look at five of the best (and two of the worst) comic book fathers on television.
Though mostly an invention of The Flash’s writers’ room, Joe West is possibly the best of the comic book fathers – well, once you excuse his enthusiasm for Barry (Grant Gustin) and Iris (Candice Patton) getting together. Joe is all empathy and leads with his heart in all matters where his kids (including Barry) are concerned.
In Barry’s case, this is particularly true as Joe not only escorted the boy away from the most terrifying moment of his life, but offered him long-term sanctuary and a structure which no doubt led Barry toward a career in law enforcement as much as his desire to solve his mother’s murder. And the show often illustrates that their bond is an important element of Barry’s continued effectiveness as a hero.
Since Barry is the central character, their bond appears to be the most important among Joe’s three (now four) children, but Joe’s support of Iris during her long road to finding herself (though some would claim she still hasn’t) and the effort he made to forge a bond with Wally (Keiynan Lonsdale), despite not meeting him until he was 18, illustrates how much he cares about his natural born children. In fact, it could be said Joe, as a character, cares more about Iris and Wally than the show does.
If there’s one aspect of Fred which mirrors Jonathan Kent, it is dedication. Soft-spoken, but diligent, Fred works hard to support Archie (KJ Apa), even if his son cannot always see that and seeks out more exciting father figures.
Sure, it could be argued that Fred’s dedication to his job and his semi-regular financial difficulties leave Archie vulnerable to the manipulations of the Lodge patriarch, but Archie’s hard road this year finally put him in the direction of home and supporting Fred’s bid for mayor. Even Veronica (Camila Mendes) could see Fred’s quiet determination is a key quality passed down to Archie (even if his teen angst leads him to questionable choices) and something worth supporting.
And Archie’s going to need that support as he faces trial for murder in the upcoming season. No doubt Fred will be ready to sell his contracting business and the house to help with the legal fees.
As we’ve discussed before, Jefferson Pierce is a pretty rad dad. Like Jonathan Kent taking in an alien orphan without question, Jefferson abandoned what he thought life would be for his kids. Sure, it took some prompting, a near death experience and an absolute assurance that his nemesis was dead, but Jefferson became a very different person for Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China Anne McClain).
That level of self-sacrifice continues even as both of his daughters exhibit superpowers. Becoming Black Lightning once more was motivated by securing their safety. Staying in the role was as much about securing a better world for them as it was stopping Green Light, Tobias Whale (Marvin “Krondon” Jones III) and the ASA. That Anissa and Jennifer are willing and able to be part of creating that security made him all the more eager to share his knowledge and build a team. Well, after some initial reservations because a father is still going to be protective of his kids.
That desire to protect his children is also something Reed has in common with Jefferson and Jonathan Kent. Both found themselves suddenly raising children with remarkable abilities. And both attempted to keep their lives in some state of normalcy until, quite suddenly, the issues could no longer be ignored. Jonathan — at least in the versions of Superman in which he is alive — quickly embraces Clark’s powers as part of his truth. Reed took a little bit longer to embrace his mutant children (if only by a few hours). But considering his status as a prosecutor engaged in putting mutant agitators behind bars, the relative slowness to embrace his children’s new situation sort of makes sense.
Of course, once he made peace with the fact his world was irrevocably altered, he wasted no time trying to get his kids to safety or getting involved with the Mutant Underground’s struggle. Sure, there were a few times he tried to get back the Struckers’ old way of life; but it always came from his desire to protect Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind) and Andy (Percy Hynes White).
Although, it remains to be seen how that attempt to protect his kids will play out with Andy joining the Hellfire Club. Maybe he will need to trade in his protective zeal for a willingness to listen in order to pull Andy back from the brink.
In the comics of the 1990s, Lois & Clark, and Superman: The Animated Series, Jonathan was one of Clark’s most important sounding boards. Always connected via corded telephone, he was seemingly always ready to listen to his son’s latest problem: be they minor or Crisis-level events. And though expressly not their father, J’onn fills this role for Alex (Chyler Leigh) and Kara (Melissa Benoist) as the family on Supergirl becomes a mishmash of displaced people often sitting in a bar full of aliens.
Nonetheless, J’onn is the person both Danvers sisters go to because they know he will listen. Granted, he did not start as the listening type — maintaining a cover identity as gruff DEO director Hank Henshaw — but once he revealed himself as a Green Martian who saw his only family imprisoned and killed during a war of attrition, the familial bond began to form with the Danverses. He listened as Kara told him about her conflicted feelings about confronting her aunt Astra (Laura Benanti) and as Alex worked up her courage to come out to everyone around her. In recent episodes, his ability to listen has been tested by an unlikely person: his own father M’yrrn (Carl Lumbly), whose desire to pass on his knowledge before his eventual death was seemingly unheard by J’onn.
Which, of course, only makes sense as fathers – be they human, mutant or Martian – are still fallible creatures trying to find their own way. And maybe the ability to see that in themselves sets them apart from the worst of comic book TV fathers.
While Malcolm Merlyn saw himself as protective, approachable and dedicated, those qualities were always filtered through what was best for Malcolm Merlyn and his plans to control the Undertaking and, later, the League of Assassins itself. In his vision of himself, he was only ever doing the best for Tommy (Colin Donnell) and later Thea (Willa Holland) when she asked him to train her. Yet, all that really mattered was that is children acknowledged how well he built his legacy.
But to dismiss him as a one-note bad guy — like his Legion of Doom compatriot Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough) — is to miss the occasional selflessness he was capable of exhibiting. Granted, those seemingly selfless acts often had an angle which would ultimately serve his own goals. An example: his apparent choice to die in order to save Thea came off as a final selfless act until she discovered he had set her up as an heir apparent to his own ersatz League and hid the location of the remaining Lazarus Pits behind a lock requiring her blood. His hope: she would be ready to lead the new organization in his name and bolster his legacy. Even in death, Malcolm Merlyn found a way to be a terrible father and make it all about himself.
But no TV father could be further from the Jonathan Kent ideal than Riverdale’s resident land baron and crime lord Hiram Lodge. Throughout the first season, both Veronica and her mother Hermione (Marisol Nichols) considered him a threat from behind bars. Their feelings changed following his release, but Veronica never completely trusted him again. She could see that his self-interest was the only thing that mattered and that he would sell her and her mother out if it proved advantageous. Unlike Malcolm Merlyn, who genuinely believed he was creating a legacy for his children, Hiram’s stated belief in family is just a lot of buzzwords he uses to justify his manipulations of those supposedly closest to him.
And, as it happens, Veronica has declared war on him. Without his unique form of protection, it will be interesting to see how the two relate to one another in the program’s third season. Will he be able to reel her back in? Offer Archie’s freedom as a carrot to get her back under his control? That these are the questions one asks about Hiram really illustrates what a cruel, vain, and selfish father he is; whether you compare him to Jonathan Kent or not.
Of course, your own list of the best comic book TV dads can vary based on the qualities you find most important. The Flash’s Henry Allen (John Wesley Shipp) could be considered one of the greats for his self-sacrifice and ever-caring appreciation of his son. Or for as strained as their relationship can get, Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Pertwee, pictured) on Gotham may prove to be a better father than Thomas Wayne ever could have been. Like Jonathan Kent, they are inspirational in ways both obvious and sublime. And like all the best fathers, they point to way for the next generation to be exceptional people.
Who is your favorite comic book dad? Is he on TV? Tell us in the comments.