Traditionally, comic book characters suffer from a staggering amount of missing parents. Some are shot in alleys, destroyed along with the rest of their world, or abandon their children for a long-term deep cover spy mission. But when characters like Archie Andrews, Barry Allen, and Oliver Queen made their way to television, the issue of their parents became fuel for plot lines. And with Mother’s Day upon us, we thought we would take a look at some of the best and worst TV moms to emerge out of the places where television and comics collide.
Oddly enough, the list is heavily weighted toward Riverdale — the show happens to feature the largest cast of parental figures — and, thankfully, Riverdale‘s Nathalie Boltt talked with Rotten Tomatoes recently to discuss some of the best (and worst) qualities of the Riverdale matriarchs. As she put it, the ideal mother is someone who listens, respects their children as emerging adults, supports them utterly, and does not “take their own issues out on their child.” Some of the following characters excel at those metrics while others … well, what’s the right word from someone who plots their own daughter’s destruction?
Dr. Eliza Danvers (Helen Slater) easily earns a spot on the best moms list for one of the key qualities in Boltt’s ideal parent: she listens. She listened to Alex (Chyler Leigh) when she came out. She listened when Alex also admitted to feeling unsupported at times while growing up. She is also ready to listen to Kara’s (Melissa Benoist) troubles, even if Kara is less inclined to engage with her adoptive mother.
Eliza is also brilliant — aiding Alex in finding a cure to the Medusa Virus — and perceptive. She also happens to be happy to meet boyfriends, girlfriends, alien mentors, and anyone else Kara or Alex brings into the fold.
One of Eliza best mom moments came when her daughters came home to Midvale after some tough break ups. Kara was still smarting from Mon-El’s (Chris Wood) forced departure from the planet, while Alex was facing the extremely tough end of her relationship with Maggie Sawyer (Floriana Lima). Both were in bad way, but Eliza welcomed them home with a room that hadn’t changed in 20 years, a traditional breakfast, and the ever-so-slightest bit of advice. It managed to help both Kara and Alex move on, even if Kara had to face a seven-years-older version of Mon-El soon after.
Nonetheless, Eliza’s ability to genuinely listen to her daughters makes her one of the great comic book TV moms — that she is also a genuinely welcoming soul to everyone in the extended Danvers circle is just an added plus.
Meanwhile, Lillian Luthor (Brenda Strong) will never get flowers on Mother’s Day unless Lex orders them from the penitentiary. But like Lex, Lillian is wickedly smart and just plain wicked. She shares her son’s xenophobic tendencies and his facility with power suits. But Lillian’s greatest black mark is her treatment of step-daughter Lena (Katie McGrath). Forever trying to push her toward mad science, Lillian raised her with a big heaping of cold shoulder and an obvious preference for her natural born son. Lillian is someone who definitely takes her issues out on a child.
But since Lena took over L Corp, Lillian’s idea of mothering went from callous indifference to twisted sweetness. She has kidnapped Lena on a couple of occasions, threatened her constantly and attempted to kill Morgan Edge (Adrian Pasdar) as a peace gesture – although the whole endeavor was unsuccessful as Edge lived, she was captured and Lena only further saw the perversity at work in Lillian’s mind.
Perhaps the worst part of Lillian’s attempts at parentage is the shadow she leaves over Lena. Despite earning the trust of Kara, Alex, and James (Mehcad Brooks), there is always just a little doubt that Lena will adopt Lillian’s worst qualities. That doubt runs strong in Lena, who works tireless to do good in the world. That is a parental legacy many viewers will recognize even if the specifics are tangled in supervillain antics.
Despite a zealousness that often appears irrational, Alice Cooper (Mädchen Amick) means well for her children. We now know her streak of overprotectiveness was born of the pain she suffered in giving up her son when she was a teenager; in fact, a lot of Alice’s crusades may stem from the ordeal.
“She was almost reborn and is still trying to make good for all of these secrets in her past,” said Boltt of the character.
But for Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Polly (Tiera Skovbye), Alice’s concern can feel quite controlling. In the first season, it even came off as unhinged at times with Alice sending Polly to the Sisters of Quiet Mercy to have her twins, her displeasure with Betty dating Jughead (Cole Sprouse) and her constant outrage at the latest happenings in town.
That overzealous streak continued into the second season, particularly when Chic (Hart Denton) arrived and Alice could not stop feeding him. Also, believing him to be her son, she shot a drug deal and enlisted the help of Betty, Jughead, and F.P (Skeet Ulrich) to cover the whole thing up.
“[She] has the best intentions, but it keeps going wrong for her,” added Boltt. If that isn’t a mother’s love for a child — even though Chic was abusing it — nothing is.
“There’s a real humanness to Alice Cooper,” Boltt said.
Her past as a Southside Serpent and her crusade against them early in the second season offered her a new complexity which will continue to make her a compelling force on Riverdale. But considering her issues, one wonders if she will remain on the Best Mothers list next year.
Surprising as it may seem, Hermione Lodge (Marisol Nichols) is only the second-worst mother in Riverdale (we’ll get to the worst in a bit). Despite a genuine concern for her daughter Veronica’s (Camila Mendes) well-being, Hermione routinely puts her second to the business interests of Lodge Industries. She forged Veronica’s signature on a contract during the earliest days of the SoDale project, encouraged her to entertain mobbed-up children like Nick St. Clair (Graham Phillips) and pushed Veronica into a school election despite the increased bullying she was experiencing for simply being Hermione’s daughter.
“She’s like a gang boss,” said Boltt of the character, who presents a challenge her own character, Penelope Blossom, would rather avoid.
Then there was the recent encounter with Papa Poutine’s son Small Fries, which may have finally opened Hermione’s eyes, but her moments of clarity never last long. Her newfound strength always seems to whither.
Nonetheless, she has also taught Veronica a great deal about how women hold power in Riverdale’s concept of mafia families.
“In a funny way,” Boltt explained, “Hermione has become a role model to Veronica.”
Like Lillian Luther, it is sweet in a twisted sort of way. Luckily, Veronica senses the nuance and knows how to protect herself from Hermione’s schemes – unless, of course, the plot needs them to bond again.
Meanwhile, Boltt is convinced “Hermione’s probably going to run everything.” Believing her to be a great strategist, the actor said, “she’s gonna come to the fore, at some point, where she blows everyone’s mind — including her husband.” That drive may eventually see whatever bond remains with her daughter completely broken.
She may have initially seemed an absentee mom, but Black Lightning’s Lynn Pierce (Christine Adams) quickly established how present a mom she is, despite her divorce from the series’ titular superhero; consider all of the family meals seen throughout the first season and how quickly she arrives as the house whenever there is trouble with the kids. Smart, loving, and dedicated to her daughters, Lynn brought both humor and confidence to her relationships with Anissa (Nafessa Williams) and Jennifer (China Anne McClain). She also knows when they need to be reminded of reality, like her constant insistence that Jennifer find a new extracurricular activity once she quit track.
But Anissa presented a new problem for Lynn once her older daughter’s powers manifested in the middle of the season. Suddenly, she was forced to deal with two superheroes in her family and, for the first time, addressing why the powers scared her in the first place. Going back to Boltt’s ideal mother, she respected Anissa as an adult enough to truthfully answer her when she asked if Jefferson’s (Cress Williams) activities as Black Lightning were the reason they broke up. In listening to Anissa, she made a startling realization that actually healed the strained bonds in the Jefferson family — a good thing now that Jefferson, Anissa, and Jennifer all have powers. Thankfully, she is also a gifted neurologist and researcher with a key part to play in the emerging Lightning family thanks to her abilities as a doctor and a mother.
By far the worst mom in all of comic book–inspired television, Penelope Blossom (Boltt) emerges as, perhaps, the most watchable mother of them all. She treats Cheryl (Madelaine Petsch) abysmally, works with Clifford’s twin brother Claudius (both Barclay Hope) to abscond with the Blossom fortune, and she is just nasty to Nana Rose (Barbara Wallace), But as Boltt told us, she does it all out of a twisted sense of love.
“She just has no idea how to show it,” she said. “And Cheryl is so desperate for her love that all she does is like, rail against it, you know?” She added that Penelope will eventually express some sort of compassion toward her daughter.
Of course, the actor told us this just before Penelope had Cheryl committed to the Sisters of Quiet Mercy’s gay conversion program. While partially motivated by how close Cheryl was getting to the truth of her plot with Claudius, Penelope’s views on Cheryl’s homosexual tendencies were outlined when she came out to Toni Topaz (Vanessa Morgan). It almost appears she would have been happier if Cheryl had been in love with her own brother.
“There was this kind of hinting at what the actual relationship was between Cheryl and Jason,” said Boltt of the Flowers in the Attic vibe the Blossom clan gives off. “It’s not very overt, but definitely it’s hinted at.”
Meanwhile, Boltt believes Penelope misses the power and influence she had before Clifford was revealed as Jason’s murderer last season. And though she thinks the character will “do anything to get it back,” she also appreciates the way the character has explored her own freedom in the wake of his death. But soon enough, her “desperation to be moneyed again” will lead to a place where she is willing to “undermine her dignity.” That desperation already lead to her alliance with Claudius, the abuse of Nana Rose and, it seems, a complete separation from Cheryl.
But then, as Boltt noted, the kids on Riverdale “seem to be raising each other.”
While a relative newcomer to the Comics-on-TV scene — The Gifted’s first season wrapped up in January – Caitlin Strucker (Amy Acker) is one of the most accomplished TV moms around. Accepting that her children Andy (Percy Hynes White) and Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind) were mutants with only a moment’s hesitation, Caitlin moved into gear to help them escape Sentinel Services, the quasi-government agency tasked with investigating and detaining mutants. She also accepted very quickly that her sedate suburban life was over. Well, she accepted it with after a few fits and starts and a particularly illustrative incident at a hospital.
But really, the choice to become part of the Mutant Underground was made from the moment they walked into the group’s HQ. Caitlin almost immediately began inventorying their supplies, set up a school situation for her children and other youngsters waylaid there, and soon became a key part of the group’s hierarchy despite her non-mutant status. Her humane empathy also won over a lot of mutant mistrustful of her intentions.
And yet, she never lost sight of her children facing their own struggles with mutant powers and the harrowing truth that combined, they could be a terribly destructive force. She made several attempts to get them out of the frontlines before finally accepting they had a role to play in the trials ahead. In short, she did everything she could to protect them, but as Boltt might put it, respected them as emerging adults.
Sadly, though, she appears to have lost Andy to the reformed Hellfire Club, but her tenacity, empathy and strength may yet prove instrumental in saving her son.