Andy’s Top 10 Mothers in Pop Culture

GhostAndy

TrainHey gang! It’s Andy Larson, world class comic book podcast host and proud son. Yes, with Mother’s Day coming up, I’d like to take a moment and give some praise to a very special lady in my life, my wonderful mom. Call it corny, but I’m not ashamed to shout from the mountain tops what a terrific person my mom is and how I’m very lucky I got such a good one.

Despite having 5 other brothers and sisters to take care of as well in my huge family, my mom never failed to provide me with encouragement and love especially when it came to my creative endeavors. In fact, you can say definitely say that Black Angus Productions, the house of ideas behind the Ghosts of the Stratosphere podcast, this website, and the countless movies, shows, comics, and other assorted bric-a-brac, wouldn’t have existed without the good humor and reassurances my Mom gave me over the years. She’s just the best!

In the same breath, I’d also like to give an equally important shout out to my wife, Nicole Larson, for the wonderful job she does with our own kids as a mom. I wouldn’t be surprised if 20 years from now one or both of my children have their own version of Black Angus with how supportive and nurturing she’s been in helping them with their projects during these formative years. If there’s a launchpad for creativity, you can definitely say that the words “MOM” are probably written on their somewhere in big bold letters.

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And with that being said, it’s time to turn my attention to this month’s “Top 10 Contest” here at the GotS offices, and in keeping with Mother’s Day, it’s all about the best mamas in popular culture. Unfortunately, this is not place that has been very kind to moms over the decades.

In fact, in a lot of famous movies and TV shows, moms are either fleeing afterthoughts or completely non existent. I mean, think of the Disney movies! These beloved childhood classics known the around the world mostly deal with the moms being killed off early or completely missing from the plot. Bambi, Little Mermaid, Finding Nemo, Pinocchio, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin just to name a few with either dead moms or kids being raised by single fathers.

Same thing goes with classic TV sitcoms like The Andy Griffith Show, My Three Sons, Diff’rent Strokes, Full House, Who’s the Boss?, The Nanny, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Beverly Hillbillies, all raised by single fathers.

Hell, even cartoons and comic books didn’t escape this with Dudley Do Right, Jonny Quest, Thunderbirds, and arguably one of the most famous superhero single dads ever: Batman.

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Yes, the years have not been kind to moms as their demise is often looked at as an easy plot device to allow for the primary male characters to mix it up with hot young ladies while at the same time continuing the patriarchal focus on family in that “Dad sets the rules”. It’s really sad…

So that’s why I think it’s even more important that we shine a spotlight on some of the great mothers there have been in popular culture. Sure, they have been definitely overlooked over the years, but still there are some truly incredible fictional ladies on this list which deserve some virtual flowers be sent their way!

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10.) Maria Von Trapp

 

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I really wanted to put Mary Poppins here, as I think we can all agree that the iteration of the character given to us in the Disney movie played by Julie Andrews, is the type of super mom we all wish we had. Creative, free thinking, overly kind yet strict in setting boundaries on proper behavior, and most of all a soothing voice at bedtime with a song as we drift off to sleep.

The only problem is Mary Poppins isn’t the mom in that story. She’s the nanny. Just like Bert would be a great “boots on the ground” fun loving dad, the Banks kids aren’t really lucky enough to have either of them as their real parents. Not to say that the Banks parents are awful, but there’s hardly a comparison when you match them against the “Chim Chimmery” duo.

So instead you get Maria Von Trapp here from the musical version of Sound of Music, again played by Julie Andrews. Sure, she is also the “nanny” at first here and it also plays heavily into the “single dad” issues with 60s pop culture I mentioned above. However, I give her a pass because she is the only “mom” we know in this movie, and in that role she does a wonderful job of helping heal the wounded psychological states of the Von Trapp kids, creating a place of love and security where music and dance balance out the personal discipline their father expects.

In fact, the actual weirdest part of this movie are the moments after Maria actually becomes the kids step mother because it seems strangely formal. Like the scene where Liesl von Trapp has a heart to heart with Maria after she comes back from her honeymoon and calls her “mother” and says she likes that. It seems very forced, like we now have to assign this new moniker on a relationship that previously was just naturally assumed.

That’s why she comes in at Number 10 though. She might be a will of the wisp and clown, but there are better moms still yet to come.

 

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9.) Queen Marlena

 

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Ma Kent has nothing on Queen Marlena.

Mother of the Most Powerful Man in the Universe, He-man, you would think that raising her son to have the moral fiber necessary not only wield ultimate power but the compassion to do it wisely would be enough of a laurel for Queen Marlena to rest on. I mean again, that seems to be the only claim to fame Ma Kent has with her son, Superman.

But Queen Marlena also helps rule wisely and justly over a vast planet sized barbarian fiefdom helping set policy and resource allocation for any number of disasters that may befall her citizens at any time. Crop fires from Skeletor’s latest death ray? Beast Man blew up the Eternian Dam flooding the country side? Hordak kidnapping members of the Eterninan miners guild? Crisis management is Queen Marlena’s forte!

Plus did I mention she was a friggin’ ASTRONAUT!?! And not just any astronaut, a deep space pioneer! That’s how she got to Eternia in the first place! Is there anything He-man’s mom can’t do?!?

Certainly she shows up the Sorceress of Castle Grayskull in that regard as she dumped her ginger brat on Man-At-Arms the first chance she got, so she could focus on her career. OH SNAP!

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8.) Clair Huxtable

 

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As previously mentioned on one of my Top 10 lists, the Cosby Show is a program that has gone through the ringer has of late, and rightfully so given the heinous acts that have come to light about its star, Bill Cosby. However, that still doesn’t mean that the show from a strictly sitcom perspective isn’t worth praise and admiration.

And that goes triple for the show’s matriarch, Clair Huxtable. Boy, for a working mom, she definitely was the Hellenistic ideal. Perfect balance of career and home-life, she managed to be a loving and attentive mother to her 5 children while maintaining providing stability and common sense practicality in the face of some of her husband’s more hilarious antics.  She was bilingual with a law degree, she was a poised pillar of her community while maintaining that lady in the streets/freak in the sheets mentality that allowed her never to become frumpy or out of touch with her more youthful side.

In fact, her only downside was that she could be seen as “too perfect”, setting an unrealistic bar for a generation of viewers as to what to expect as the norm instead of what she was: a fictional perfect storm of everything great about modern motherhood with none of the ugly side.

Oh and yeah…Denise was a mess. Forget Theo as being the screw up in that family. Denise was the worst. Watch any of the episodes after she drops out of college if you want to see a crash course in poor parenting 101.

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7.) Morticia Addams

 

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They’re creepy and they’re cooky. But they are also an extremely tight knit family for all of their wild eccentricities. In fact, if you look at 60s television in general, a real argument could be made that the Addams Family was one of the more “successful” nuclear families on the airways, displaying a generally loving and supportive two parent household just like many conservatives would say is fundamental to our “American” way of life. Of course, that household also had a disembodied hand that lived in a box and a strange cousin covered in hair, but hey, you can’t deny how  “normal” they were from just a traditional sense of what many of us think the family unit looks like.

And at the heart of all of that was Morticia Addams, a genuinely loving mother who actively empowered her children to think for themselves and nurtured an environment of individualism. Plus, talk about a mom who supported STEM learning long before it was a thing! Chemistry, Electricity, Botany, Mechanical Engineering, Gunpower! These were all daily parts of the Addams family home schooling regimen.

And she had such style for being a stay at home mom. No yoga pants for her. No, sir. She’d feed “Karens” to her carnivorous plant before being sucked into their world.

 

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6.) Aunt May

 

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How about some Wheat cakes, Peter?

I mean it’s a no brainer that Aunt May was going to end up on this list somewhere. She’s Spider-man’s mom. Sure it wasn’t biological, but did it matter? She was the one that cared for Peter, bundled her poor frail boy up when those cold NYC winters got fierce, pawned her jewelry so they could have a place to live, was blissfully naive that he led that double life as that “horrid” Spider-man.

And speaking of Spider-man, she also served more often than not as the one constant damsel in distress in his life over the many years. Whether it was needing the experimental ISO-36 to cure blood poisoning, needing Petey to take pictures to help make rent, or stopping her from becoming the wife of a super villain in marrying Doctor Octopus, Aunt May has always needed rescuing in one way or another and as a result she’s kept Spidey from getting too “big” for his britches.

The only reason she’s lower on this list is because I really feel there are two distinct characters in Spider-man continuity called “Aunt May” as a result nailing down a persona to rate is difficult. One was the frail old “classic” Aunt May which I still feel died in Amazing Spider-man #400. The other is all the various Aunt Mays that have popped up in comics and media since. These much more hearty, often times either young or young in spirit Aunt Mays that might know about Peter’s alter ego are much more interesting as characters for sure, but they lack a certain charm that the original apron wearing May had.

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5.) Sarah Connor

 

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Gun totting single moms are doing it for themselves! I mean how many of our entries on this list can single arm pump a shotgun while fighting off waves of killer androids…some of which are made of liquid metal.

Edging out Ellen Ripley for a spot on my list just because Ripley was only a “mom” for one of the movies, Sarah Connor is the quintessential over protective super mom who is willing to do a thousand pull ups if it means she can keep her son, John, alive for just one more day. Of course, her obsession with helicopter parenting away Skynet did drive her insane and caused deep resentment with her boy, but it turns out it was all well worth it as depending on which time line in the insanely convoluted continuity of the Terminator franchise you follow, she did succeed in saving the entire world from destruction.

I can say it’s difficult though to decide which “Sarah Connor” interpretation is actually the better mom. Is it the classic Linda Hamilton or the Lena Headey version from the cancelled-way-too-early TV series Sarah Connor Chronicles? 

I know this might be blasphemous, but I think my vote goes to Lena Headey. Maybe it’s because she got more screen time to flesh out her version of the character, but I think she’s overall more balanced. She’s not only trying to survive the upcoming apocalypse but thrive it in showing a much more planned proactive approach to things than the Linda Hamilton kick ass yet ultimately reactive method.

Plus if Game of Thrones showed us anything, Lena Headey knows how to play the fierce lioness, protecting her pride at all costs.

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4.) Lorelai Gilmore

 

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If this list was just about folks being good people as opposed to good moms, then I wouldn’t be sure about my feelings about good ol’ Lorelai. As my wife is a die hard fan of the show, I’ve watched the entire series several times over the course of my life, and every time it comes back to the fact that Lorelai as a person is a flighty mess. Especially in regards to the way she treats men as she had a hard time letting go of her feelings for Christopher despite the fact that he was completely wrong for her, and as such wrecked multiple relationships with decent fellas over the course of the show. Luckily, my main man, Luke, stuck it out for the long haul and managed to not be just another castaway lost in her whirlwind of volatile emotional mood swings.

But given this is a “best mom” list, I would be completely wrong not to include her, as there’s no question she broke all the rules when it came to “a parent can’t be a friend” type of thinking. Her relationship with her daughter is the type of thing most moms dream about: witty banter with shared common interests, genuine give and take, and a true esprit de corps in which she and Rory were in this thing called life together.

Also like Sarah Conner, Lorelai raised Rory completely on her own as a single mother and had to do so in one of the most inopportune ways possible starting as a 16 year old knocked up teenager. Still she provided a stable home for Rory relying on a vast network of friends, neighbors, and townsfolk to help fill in the gaps. And when it came to providing Rory an opportunity to go to a private school which would catapult her to the Ivy League, she didn’t hesitate to eat a gigantic plate of crow in asking her wealthy parents for help.

It was actually this decision that makes her a really great mom. She realized that putting her kids first was not only the greatest thing she could do as a mom, but more importantly that her parents had a lot to offer Rory in terms of love and support and that she shouldn’t let her own experience with them cloud that.

 

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3.) Elastigirl

 

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In the Incredibles family, Mr. Incredible might bring the raw strength and power, but it’s Elastigirl who brings the flexibility…in more ways than one.

Everything about this super mom says an innate ability to change and adapt to whatever challenges her family is handed. Whether that was having to shelve her superhero career and become a stay at home mom when supers were outlawed, jumping back into the fray when with kids in tow when her husband got mixed up with the wrong employer, to becoming the poster woman for the push to bring supers back full time as dependable keepers of the peace, Elastigirl wore all of those hats and then some.

Even more importantly though in Incredibles 2, she is seen to have even more respect from the super hero community at large for the way she handles crime fighting than her magnet for collateral damage husband. That duality of being in some ways the better care giver and the better super hero means she really is the most important member of that family and arguably as a result the entire superhero world of the Incredibles universe.

The only reason she’s not higher on this list is because she’s actually a spiritual copy of another super heroine that already existed in….

 

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2.) Susan Storm Richards (Invisible Woman)

 

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The First Lady of the Marvel Universe.

Of course given the Ghosts of the Stratosphere is a comic book centric place at its core, I couldn’t leave off arguably the most important super hero mom out there. The one that has been a mom for the longest continuity wise and most consistently given her role as mother of the Fantastic Four, makes her pretty much the mother of the entire 616.

I might take some grief for this pick given that her original casting as a mom in Marvel’s first family came from a pretty patriarchal place. She was the woman on the super hero team. It was the 60s. She was going to be cast in a role of housewife and mom. And for years, that was the way it was, providing very little substance other than making Reed and Ben toast and protecting young Franklin with her invisible shield while the men folk punched Galactus.

But since the 80s and John Byrne’s reexamination of the character, Sue has blossomed into not only an independent free thinker but also to be shown to be the most powerful member of the Fantastic Four as her invisible energy manipulation powers have no upper limit. In fact, now it’s often her husband who has the most laughable power with the stretchiness and it could be said that the only reason he’s kept around is because of his mega genius intellect.

Plus as Reed Richards has been portrayed more often as a somewhat amoral scientist who doesn’t think of the human cost of his progress, Sue has stepped in as the real voice of reason and compassion, providing much more balanced solutions and applications to Reed’s R&D which can benefit the entire world. That again puts her in the role of caregiver and protector of the entire Earth, a role she relishes with the all the ferocity of a mama bear.

 

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1.) Marge Simpson

 

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Yeah…no surprise here.

When you play  a character on television for so long that multiple generations have grown up seeing you week after week delivering the goods when it comes to motherhood, you deserve to have the top spot.

Sure, Marge might not always be the coolest mom. She’s a worry wart, a kill joy, a overprotective fuddy duddy. But season after season, the Simpsons has shown us that if there’s on thing she does the best, it’s that she loves her kids. Unconditionally. Even when Bart’s destructive antics cause massive property damage, she always calls him “her special little guy”. Sure that might make her the a poor parent in that she enables the bad behavior, but more often than not her approach of “killing them with kindness” does make even her hellion of a son see the the error of his ways eventually.

I remember vividly the episode where Bart is caught shoplifting and rather than being angry, Marge’s genuine disappointment did more to get Bart back on the straight and narrow than any strangling that Homer could dish out. More than just your standard “mom guilt”, Marge has carved out a place through her actions that allow her to be the moral high ground naturally, and that has had an immense impact on her kids…at least for the life of a particular episode. After all, nothing can last in sitcoms. Character growth has to be capped somewhere for the sake of more episodes.

Still though, unlike copy cat characters that would come later like Lois from Family Guy or Linda from Bob’s Burgers, Marge was never portrayed as mockery of motherhood for cheap laughs. She was given the love and respect by her creators and writers over the years to be the epitome of what we all hope from our own moms. A calming presence amidst all the chaos. A place of safety and sanity wrapped up in a big blue hairdo.

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