Written by Allison Martin
The thing about grief over losing a loved one is, that it is both a very individual experience, and also at the same time, universal. Most people are familiar with what it means to see someone pass that they cared about, particularly parents. The MCU takes several avenues to explore what losing a father can be like, with those universal themes still easy to grab onto, even among gods and super geniuses.
Perhaps one of the most often-revisited relationships is between Tony and Howard Stark. Tony’s response to losing both of his parents was to acquire a laundry list of addictions, and in doing so pushing everybody away. Specifically though, in Iron Man 2, Tony starts to take a deeper look at what he meant to his father, both personally and professionally.
Once he adopts his Iron Man persona, we see him taking more responsibility. In IM2 he has several chances to confront his relationship with his father, most importantly when Howard was “dead for almost 20 years, and still taking me to school” and collaborating on a new element. Ultimately this (and Director Fury) helped him to confront the fact that even though his dad was gone, and their relationship was not perfect, Tony had still chosen to carry on Howards legacy. Tony finally dealing with the grief of losing his father seems to be a turning point in his arc, though of course this is not the last time we are reminded of their untimely death.
Peter Quill offers another example of how to deal with losing not one but two parents. Despite growing up telling tales of Hasslehoff being his father, Quill never knew his father growing up. Then in Guardians of the Galaxy 2, he’s finally able to meet the man he never knew, only to almost immediately have to destroy him. Quill also had to watch Yondu, his daddy, sacrifice himself to save Quills life.
In spite of losing both of his father figures at basically the exact same time, Quill has come to terms with the fact that Yondu was the one to turn him into the man he became. He finds that place of acceptance and closure in the family he had, not the family he didn’t have.
The last example that sticks out to this author is Thor in Ragnarok. Thor and Odin had a comparatively good relationship in the MCU. He watched his father fade away before his eyes after a considerably long life, and then is immediately thrust into the adventure on Sakaar. Most of this movie, Thor spends his time grieving his father (sometimes through his hammer) and lamenting about the loss, in and out of trying to save the rest of his people from falling at the hands of his sister.
At the time when it matters the most, Thor reconnects with his father to truly understand his power (“Are you Thor, God of Hammers??”) and his ability to rise up against Hela. He comes to terms with the fact that the will and ability were in him this entire time. Just as he doesn’t need his father to be great, he didn’t need the hammer to become the God of Thunder. Thor accepts Odins death and becomes the greatest version of himself we had seen so far.
The universal idea surrounding the way the MCU deals with the loss of a father, is that acceptance can lead to positive growth. Every example went about it the way specific to their character, and some took longer than others, but they all landed in that final stage of grief and changed for the better. These stories about superheroes do well to highlight what is a very common, very human experience.
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