Mar 13, 2014

Dead Parents and Other Tragedies

I was working on some ideas for using the Fate rpg system to run a superhero game, and I got to thinking about origins, and how characters often have tragic events that shape their lives.

Batman gets a hard time for how his entire character hinges on the death of his parents. It's often suggested that he should get over it, given the various things he's been through in comparison, or compared to Superman losing his entire planet. But I think this does his loss an injustice.

It's not what Batman lost. It's how he lost it.

Superman lost his planet. He's one of the last of his people. But consider his life and upbringing. He never knew Krypton. He had loving parents who taught him values and made him the man, the hero, he is.

Batman didn't just lose his parents. He watched, helpless, as a man shot them. He knelt in their blood as the life drained from their eyes, and had to wait until the police came to find him, which in Gotham was probably a long wait.

Imagine being 10 years old, watching the most important people in your life die, and then having to wait, alone in the cold and the dark, while and unfeeling city carried on around you. Now tell me that wouldn't change you.

That's what makes Batman who he is. That's what his loss means.

Take Locked Within (spoilers here!).

Nathan's dad dies. But consider what he takes from it. Mike Shepherd dies because he chooses to save his son, rather than get himself to a hospital. His final lesson to his son is that even when it might cost you your life, others come first. That moment shapes Nathan for the rest of the series.

It's an important thing to remember when writing. Loss doesn't exist simply for angst. It has to serve a purpose. It has to guide the hero in some way, help them grow and struggle through the pain into a stronger person.

As with all things, consider what every scene means and how it adds to the story and character development.


  1. Just to be pedantic, Bruce was eight (or six) when his parents were killed. Been doing a lot of superhero research recently and this very comparison came up on one book on the psychology of Batman and his associated villains. You can't really compare Bats and the Big Blue, prey much for the reasons you give. Inciteful dear chap.

    1. Good catch. Makes it even more traumatic, since at that age, most kids still see their parents as the ultimate source of safety and comfort.

  2. Relevant regarding superman: