Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy Relationships in Comics

I don't remember the exact context, but my friend Shawn had the question posed about how many happy relationships there are portrayed in DC comics. I started thinking about comics in general and today there are almost no great relationships left in comics.

Clark (Superman) Kent and Lois Lane in DC and Peter (Spider-Man) Parker and Mary Jane Watson in Marvel. Going away from starring characters you have Jay (Flash I) and Joan Garrick in DC and no others in Marvel come to mind.

Over the years we had Barry Allen and Iris West, Wally and Linda West, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Adam Stange and Alanna (that relationship still exists), Ray Palmer and Jean Loring, Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris, Green Arrow and Black Canry, Garth Ranzz (Lighting Lad) Imra Ardeen (Saturn Girl), Mon-el and Shadow Lass, Karate Kid and Princess Projectra, Reed and Sue Richards, Ben Grimm and Alicia, Johnny Storm and Crystal, Dr. Strange and Clea, Scott Summers and Jean Grey, Captain America and Sharon Carter, Daredevil and Karen Page, Hawkeye and Mockingbird, Vision and Scarlet Witch, Thor and Sif, Thor and Jane Foster, Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne, Bruce and Betty Banner - and I'm sure a lot more that I'm not even thinking about.

So why can no one ever live happily ever after anymore. Are Bigby and Snow White the only couple destined for fairy tale happiness?

The lack of strong romantic relationships in comics is a reflection of the nature of most story telling seems to rely on conflict and a happy couple does not have conflict. Also I believe it a reflection of our society that we have come to devalue the positives of marriage and what a good long term relationship really means. While many may almost look down on and sneer at "traditional values" (and I know I have not succeeded in my own life in maintaining that life long relationship (hopefully this time is it)), but as with all things we should strive for the better things. I also miss the sense of relationships in many comics. It was fun reading about the Legion and seeing how couples came together, got married and had children. I enjoyed Wally West having Linda as his guidepost and the one that kept him tethered to this world. Their love story was fantastic and a great one to follow. The break-up and Reed and Sue does not bode well for the Fantastic Four, because that book was always unique because it was about family and how family stayed together no matter what. The "new" line-up being hinted at is only good as a stop gap until they can "fix" Reed and Sue's relationship and make them a family again. If you don't, then you have four people lumped together, not the Fantastic Four.

This also goes back to my one major theme that characters (even the core ones in the DC and Marvel universes) need to grow older and change or else the stories are made up just to keep things shifting. Cyclops with White Queen is interesting, but has never been what would have happened in my mind. The justifications can be made as to why things happened, but it does not keep the spirit and what had been established.

Clark belongs with Lois, Nightwing with Barbara Gordon, Reed with Sue and on and on. It seems to me that at times comics companies don' listen to their characters and let them do what everyone knows they are going to do, just to be contrarians. Stan Lee used to say that after awhile the stories wrote themselves and in a sense he was right. Once you know your characters and put them in a situation you don't have to figure out what is going to happen, you just have to let them do what they do.

The net result is that we have very few happy relationships in comics and I think that is a shame and I hope we see more good relationships form and grow in 2007.


  1. Really, it's kind of funny - I would think that if superheroes actually existed, the only way most of them would be able to stand up to the stress of being a hero and continue to perform as a hero on a regular basis, would be if they had some good, healthy relationships where they could take refuge and relax. Otherwise, meltdown and burn-out would probably occur pretty quickly.

  2. Arielle - I agree and also I find that portrayal of a decent relationship can be just as entertaining as I know that even a good relationship can have conflicts.

  3. Jim-

    I think the issue is not the relationships but the fact that the characters don't age. And, I don't think they should.

    As a demographic, comic book readers are older than the average bear and I think that the todays characters represent that. I imagine that Superman/Batman are in their early-mid-30's. Nightwing would be mid-late 20's. That's a good age for us older readers but how much does that appeal to a 16 yr old? Not as much as a 20 something hero does. If Superman aged, he would be long dead before now. I would like him to stay around long enough for my kids to read and enjoy him.

    In comics, time goes much, much slower because it has to. Once a character ages he can't go back. Spiderman is no longer in HS or college and no one expects him to be. So, if a character ages, and then can't be de-aged how does he grow is a method that attracts ALL demographics?

    And before you say he can be deaged... how well did it work for Iron Man when they turned him into a teenager or Ben Reilly, which was in effect, a younger spiderman without attactments.

    So, the problem is, what now? I.e, without changing the relationships then how does a character grow?

    And, while I was hurt when some of the relationships ended (I still curse Byrne for ending Vision/Scarlet Witch!) It's allowed more interesting stories because of it. Just think, if V/SW hadn't broken up then we would never have had the New Avengers You can easily see my point.

    And, I really don't care to see the characters grow up and have families and kids. I live that... everyday. Let me tell you, the thought of Clark changing diapers bores the crap outta me. Comics are escapism, and as such, I want escape, not a mirror of my own life. For that, I go to the indy's (please note... very few of those in the collection that don't have an elf or some horned demion thingee)

    Anyway, once again, like the LSH being super-duper great, you're way off base.


    PS. BUT, as much as this hurts, I agree the breakup of Sue/Reed is a bad idea.

  4. Although there was huge conflict separating the characters mid-run, PREACHER's Jesse Custer & Tulip O'hare remain my favorite couple.

    Their love burns until the end of the world, baby.

    Until the end of the world.


  5. Shawn - True. I hope they reprint Preacher as a hard cover.

    Lee - I understand your point, but I would point out the JSA and how they can allow someone new to take the mantle of that hero and therefore a tabla rasa for that character again. This allows the mentor to age and have a life as a supporting character and we can have the new hero move on. This created great stuff like Starman and allows us to have a new Question or Robin etc. This prevents 40 years of convoluted back story that characters like Cyclops and every other Marvel hero has to deal with, because Marvel never has a new generation of their characters.

    So sadly Lee you are mistaken, but you are still young and learning.

  6. Lee,

    Jim isn't proposing keeping the focus on the aging characters, but rather to let them grow up and their apprentices take over for them. This keeps the focus on the "young" crowd, while opening up the story possibilities involved in mentor/student relationships.

    I thought Batman Beyond did a decent job of this.