April 3 - Well, today was my Dad's last day at work. As of 3:00PM, Kelly Mundt has officially retired. Dad was something of a Doogie Howser, having graduated from medical college at eighteen years old. He was a double-threat, proficient in both the diagnostic medical laboratory and the (then still) new use of X-Ray machinery.
(Believe it or not, that's Dad after college, at his first job, in 1963)
As such, just a few years later, he became the head of both the Laboratory and X-Ray Departments here in my hometown of Prairie du Chien...when he was just 24. And there he stayed, day in, day out, until 3:00 today. Oh, the names of the departments have changed a bit (now jointly called Diagnostic Services), and the equipment has changed immeasurably (CAT, MRI, digital...heck, they don't even use X-Ray film anymore), but my Dad has been in charge of all of it for over forty years. On his way out the door, he stopped at the reception desk and asked to use the hospital's public address system, upon which he announced "Kelly Mundt has left the building. Kelly Mundt has left the building." With that, flanked by the sound of applause coming from every corner of the hospital, he walked out to begin his well-deserved third chapter. In his honor, I've decided to get a jump start on June's traditional celebration of paternity with an entire month dedicated to fathers in comic books! Believe it or not, this has been an actual topic of geeky conversation several times during my years as a fanboy/cartoonist wannabe. Ever since Joseph Campbell told us about the guy with 1,000 faces, the relationship between comic book characters and their fathers has been the subject of great debate and conjecture. Even my own comic, The Adventures of Monkey, isn't immune to discussion of it's (my?) many "daddy issues." So, let's jump right in with one of the most prevalent "daddy issues" in comics, the absentee father. Long before it was a popular topic on Tyra, comic books have been dealing with the subject of "men who leave." It's as if there is some rule that a character, male or female (but especially male) isn't really a "grown-up" until Dad is gone. An incredible array of characters lost their pops to the Grim Reaper before beginning their "adventures." Poor Superman had to lose two. In the past, I've argued that this "absence of a father" element was a reflection on the kind of creators and, ultimately, readers that are drawn to the comic book medium. Now? I'm not so sure. I think that such stories as Superman's are just in keeping with the world's mythology, which has inspired many comics creators for decades. Some of that is because of the sense of "passing of the torch" that a father character's death elicits. As Uther had to die so that Arthur could rule Britain, so we feel that Thomas Wayne had to die so that Batman could rule the night. There is not only torch-passing involved, but a somber empowerment, as in "I'm the man of the house now." In some ways, this is pretty much what happened to my Dad's father, my Grandpa Les Mundt. At the age of twelve, his Dad (Great-Grandpa Henry) died. Grandpa's two older brothers were already off to barber college, so, with his Mom and a handful of sisters to support, little Les took over running the family farm. He "retired" sixty years later when he died at the age of seventy-two. Of course, not every absentee father character actually died. An off-shoot of the theme is the mysterious-disappearance, dramatic-later-reappearance father. This is an especially evil plot device, as it first tortures a character through childhood, then revisits that pain after a couple of decades of healing have passed. Curiously, none of this applies (at least not broadly) to mother characters. Weird. Well, let's pick this up again tomorrow. I've got my Dad's retirement party to set up early in the morning. Until next time, here are your first few Comic Book Father Characters of The Day - Reed "Mr. Fantastic" Richards, Jor-El, and Pietro "Quicksilver" Maximoff!