Fantasy tends to be a genre of dead mothers and wicked stepmothers. Perhaps this shouldn’t be a surprise since modern stories often draw on generations of fairy tales and retellings with absent moms. Yet when the mothers are part of the story, they frequently function solely in their parental role, without an indication of their own personhood beyond that. So for Mother’s Day, I wanted to create a list of some of science fiction and fantasy’s (SFF) amazing moms. We may not get to see the lives of these moms on screen or on the page, but we’ve got the clues to know that they are their own people—and that makes them realer mothers.
I’ve already written about what I loved about Pixar’s Onward as a gamer, but my first response to the film really came as a mother. Laurel Lightfoot, a single mom who has been raising two boys since her husband died 16 years earlier, doesn’t hesitate for a second to charge into danger when she thinks her boys are in trouble. While there’s a classic Mama Bear element that emphasizes her mom-ness, there’s also the fact that she picks up a giant sword and goes head to head with a dragon.
I watched the film thinking “I want to be the kind of mom who does that.” Part of the reason Laurel’s in shape enough to go dragon-slaying is that she does her own workouts in the morning and she’s got a mean ogoshi (hip throw) that she utilizes early on. She obviously still loves the husband she lost, but she’s moved on and is in a long-term relationship. At the end of the movie, she goes out for a girl’s night, wielding a battle ax. As a mom character, she’s got plenty of personhood beyond her role as a mom—and all of that comes together to a high degree of awesome.
Being the mother of the Black Panther can’t be easy. Being the mother of two Black Panthers, as happens to Queen Ramonda in a recent run of comics set in Wakanda (Shuri has taken on the Black Panther mantle twice), has to be even harder.
While there’s never a doubt that Queen Ramonda takes the back seat to her children, she’s clearly got a backbone of steel. In the MCU, when Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) wins in ritualistic combat against T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda, along with her companions, brave Jabari land to gain allies in taking back Wakanda. In the first issue of Nnedi Okorafor’s excellent run on Shuri, Queen Ramonda brings back The Elephant’s Trunk, a group of women who would secretly guide Wakanda from behind the scenes. Queen Ramonda is always there to support her children, but she’s also always there to support her country, and to make sure that Wakanda stays strong.
For the majority of the Harry Potter series, Molly Weasley (Julia Waters in the movies) serves as the good-mom vision of what Harry could have had. She dotes on her children. She supports her husband, even when she thinks he’s made the wrong choices (flying car???). But there’s a moment at the end of the series when Molly Weasley unleashes, and we see that, as well as being a maternal presence, she’s also a witch packing a whole lot of heat in her wand. While there was a debate back when the last book came out that her magic was wasted as a housewife, there’s also an element of choice there: Who says that having powerful magic as a mom isn’t important?
While Miles from Tomorrowland may not be a television show on a lot of adult radars, it has the rare distinction of having the mom be the captain of a family run ship. Captain Callisto works for the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, and it’s her job that takes Miles and the rest of the family all over the galaxy. She’s the final word when it comes to decisions for any mission—but she’s also mom, and she’s there to help her children navigate their own place in the universe.
Janet van Dyne
The original Wasp has gone through a number of incarnations in the comics, and not all of them were great moms. Michelle Pfeiffer’s recent MCU incarnation, where it’s the hope of seeing her daughter again that allows her to communicate from the Quantum Realm, that works best for me as a character who is both all-mom and all-person.
First, Janet’s work as an agent for SHIELD led her to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the world—not something mom characters are always allowed to do. When she returns from the Quantum Realm, she’s got even more abilities, something I hope she’ll get to explore with the help of her family. But even while she’s a superhero, she still calls her daughter Jellybean with so much love, you can see it radiate from her—even when she’s doing it from inside the body of Scott Lang.
One of the guiding beacons of light through the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” middle grade series by Rick Riordan is Percy’s mother, who is the one person who loves him unconditionally. Although for the entire first book, Percy’s motivation is that he thinks his mother is dead, it turns out the gods were just playing havoc with mortals, and by the end of the novel, not only does she return to life, but she also reclaims her own personhood from an abusive relationship.
As the novels progress, Sally only ever appears in the background, but you can tell there’s growth and development for her off stage as she pursues her dream career, and as she becomes romantically involved with a really solid boyfriend. When Percy tries to get them both to safety late in the series, the pair enthusiastically join in the battle to save the world—which shows that parents don’t have to get left at home to do nothing while their hero kids battle against incredible odds.
While Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland) of Buffy the Vampire Slayer actually does stay at home for the most part, she also stepped up to the plate when needed. She and Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) had a tumultuous relationship, and she actually doesn’t take it well at all when Buffy’s Slaying comes out, but eventually, she becomes a supportive figure in Buffy’s life, as well as a center of normalcy in the midst of weirdness.
Joyce serves in a supportive mothering role to other characters in the series—including in one heart to heart with Spike (Jason Marsters)—and loves Buffy’s supernatural sister, Dawn, despite having had her memories rewritten in order to accept her. While in many ways Joyce fits into the category of the mom who only ever gets to be a mom, the series frequently hinted at aspects of her life beyond being mother to the Slayer, and her loss was felt deeply by the characters after her (natural) death.
Unlike Joyce Summers when she discovered Buffy’s secret identity, Muneeba Khan, mother of fan favorite Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, drops another kind of bomb when Kamala fesses up: she already knew. While Kamala has been running around, hiding her superhero activities for months, Muneeba figured out what was going on and quietly supported Kamala’s activities.
While frequently Muneeba’s role in Ms. Marvel has been as a parental figure to avoid, rebel against, or seek out for solace and comfort, there are few moments or parent-child interactions in comics that have hit me as deeply as that reveal in Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #18. It’s both the ultimate in realizing that your mom always knows what you’re up to—and an ultimate showing of love.
Moms aren’t defined solely as the person who gives birth to a child. Some of the greatest moms in SFF are adoptive, or found family. One such mom who consistently reassures with her presence is Martha Kent, who raised the orphaned Kal-El as her own. But she’s not one to just sit back and let the world happen around her. On Smallville, not only did Annette O’Toole’s Martha serve on both the Kansas State Senate and the U.S. Senate, but she also took on the mantle of the Red Queen to protect Clark’s secret identity. That’s a lot for any mom to take on!
In the excellent Bone comic series by Jeff Smith, Granma Ben emerges as one of the coolest grandmothers around—early on, readers find out she’s the reigning champion of the annual cow race, and that’s long before they realize how much of her life she had to hide in order to keep her granddaughter Thorn safe.
She’s the only mother that Thorn ever knows, and she’s continually heroic in the way she stands up to the evils of the world around them, serving as a role model for Thorn—and Fone Bone—as they navigate the evils Granma Ben accidentally helped set into motion.
Sometimes, the role of mother falls beyond the neat boxes celebrated on the card-giving holiday, and I think one such character who consistently serves as a mother to a broken superhero who badly needs one is Alfred Pennyworth.
Both as Bruce Wayne and Batman, the hero relies on Alfred to manage things. Alfred also regularly serves as Bruce’s moral compass, particularly in the Christopher Nolan films where he’s played by Sir Michael Caine. Alfred loves Bruce unconditionally, even when he’s making the wrong decisions, and he’s there to help Bruce be a better person—which is one of the best ways to describe the job of a mom.
Who are your favorite mothers in SFF?