Top Ten Comic Book Romances That Make Us UncomfortableA column article, Top Ten by: Danny Djeljosevic, Nick Hanover
If there's one thing that superhero comics can't get right, it's depictions of minorities and women. If there's another thing superhero comics can't get right, it's healthy romance. Seeing as it's Valentine's Day and I am in no mood to discuss the positives of human relationships, I want to make myself feel better by going over the weird, often problematic and insane instances of fictional characters trying to have sex with one another. Nick Hanover joined in because he really wanted to talk about the Ms. Marvel thing.
If you want a more positive view of superhero romance for V-Day, check out Dylan B. Tano's lovely Spider-Man/Gwen Stacy retrospective -- but even that one ends in murder.
10. The Atom (Ray Palmer) & Jean Loring
The Couple: Originally Ray Palmer and Jean Loring were a typically screwball Silver Age couple. She was a lawyer, he was a man who could, uh, shrink. As the Atom, Palmer had a habit of inserting himself into Loring's cases, either assisting her or setting her up for one hell of a breach of ethics case, depending on how you look at it.
Why It's Weird: Modern comic fans are likely to immediately jump to the infamous Identity Crisis as the evidence of what's wrong with this relationship. But the issues actually go back even further, specifically all the way back to the late '60s and a storyline that found Loring abducted by aliens and driven insane. Loring would remain this way for about a year, when a different alien restored her sanity. But the problems didn't end there. Loring would be kidnapped again not long after and it was after her rescue that she and Ray Palmer married, only for that to end in a divorce due to Palmer discovering Loring with another man.
Maybe because she'd spent a good portion of her life getting abducted and driven insane by aliens and weirdos, or maybe because she was never really cured of that insanity, Loring and Palmer's relationship entered a whole new level of weirdness thanks to Identity Crisis, which found Loring hatching the worst relationship-fixing plan ever: accidentally murdering Sue Dibny in an effort to get all the heroes to run back to their spouses and protect them. Loring's characterization in Identity Crisis made her seem like an absurd, misogynist depiction of a woman who just can't let go, but knowing her history with Palmer and what she's been through, maybe it's time to reevaluate the storyline as the tale of an abused woman going through an epic breakdown.
9. Donna Troy & Terry Long
The Couple: Donna Troy, a.k.a Wonder Girl, a.k.a Troia, a.k.a. Darkstar, a.k.a. Lucius Leftfoot, is a continuity mistake caused by the people who made Teen Titans not realizing that the Wonder Girl character appearing in the pages of Wonder Woman was a younger version of the title heroine. In the pages of the mega-popular New Teen Titans, we met Terry Long, a middle-aged divorcee and college professor intentionally created by Marv Wolfman -- himself a divorcee approaching middle age -- for the sole purpose of having sex with Donna Troy.
Why It's Weird: Donna Troy is a young, beautiful fashion photographer and superhero. Terry Long is an older man with a bright orange perm, a pinkie ring, an open leisure suit and a big beard that probably conceals scars caused by years of face-slaps from married women and his own students. While that sounds superficially judgmental, all these visual cues signal one undeniable truth: Terry Long is a certified creeper who insists on sitting in on Donna's photoshoots and perving on all of her friends, including Starfire. No, especially Starfire. Terry Long is the epitome of your friend's boyfriend whom everyone but her realizes is a total sleeze.
Eventually the pair got married and procreated, which is already cause for concern because, y'know, old sperm, but actually threatened the DC Universe's very future, as their son Robert would grow up to become a villain named Lord Chaos -- subtlety runs in the Long family. As a result, a team of extreme future Titans (called X-Force) traveled back in time to murder the child.
Eventually, however, God did their work for them and killed the entire Long family (save Donna) in a car accident. Pretty anticlimactic for comics, I'll admit, but Terry Long was never going to die heroically.
8. Thanos & Death
The Couple: Take one Mad Titan and one necessary universal force and what do you get? In the case of Thanos and Death, you get a love for the ages, complete with Romeo & Juliet-style family bickering.
Why It's Weird: You mean other than the fact that one of Marvel's most feared supervillains is chasing after an obtainable force of nature? How about the fact that Thanos' genocidal acts over the years have pretty much all been in an effort to impress Death? Though their relationship has been written as a complicated aspect of an already complicated universe, Thanos' attempts to woo Death have more or less just been a display of puppy love. Maybe you make your crush a mixtape, but when Thanos courts his boo he goes all out, whether it's nuking his own home planet or attempting to destroy half of all living things in the universe with the Infinity Gauntlet.
Weirder still, Thanos and Death have managed to couple, resulting in the birth of something called the Rot, which they were then forced to destroy for the good of the universe. Yet the first time they spoke directly to each other occurred after this. No matter how weird your relationships may have been, it's safe to assume that at least they haven't resulted in mass genocide or the creation of deformed, universe-threatening babies.
7. Kitty Pryde & Colossus
The Couple: Kitty Pryde, another young character with like seven different monikers is a naive teenager from the suburbs who can walk through walls. Colossus: a metallic strongman/Russian bumpkin with surprising awareness of the concept of statutory rape.
Why It's Weird: During the prime Chris Claremont years of Uncanny X-Men, Kitty Pryde was 14 and Colossus was 19, and that shit is mad illegal. Despite this, Kitty, amidst her teenage sexual awakening, tried to jump the man's bones all the time, surprising him with mistletoe kisses and seeing situations like impending death from Brood infection as opportunities for a quick apocalyptic fling. Save for a tender kiss here and there, Colossus wisely refused the temptation, thus avoiding deportation.
Behind the scenes, you can easily imagine Cyclops informing the Soviet mesomorph that, in our American high schools, adult boyfriends of teenage girls are really, really creepy. Meanwhile, Professor X hears them (WITH HIS MIND) and remembers that one time he had the hots for an underage Jean Grey in X-Men #3.
Eventually, Colossus and Kitty Pryde did hook up, but they were both adults at this point and Kitty realized that Colossus was mentally unstable. I love happy endings.
6. Swamp Thing & Abigail Arcane
The Couple: Just your normal, everyday pairing of totemic swamp guardian and telepathic, telekinetic and empathic descendant of sorcerers.
Why It's Weird: Even if one half of this couple wasn't made out of swamp stuff, Swamp Thing and Abigail Arcane have quite the complicated history. Kicking it all off is the fact that Arcane more or less got together with her first husband -- government agent and Swamp Thing hunter Matthew Cable -- in order to get closer to Swamps. That relationship with Cable itself was tremendously fucked up, culminating in an incident in which her dead uncle Anton possessed Cable, raped Abigail and then "magically murdered her." It was only through the combined efforts of Swamp Thing, Cable and a slew of DC's magical characters that Abigail was saved.
Afterwards, with Cable in a permanent coma and Abigail's life rebooted, Swamp Thing and Arcane finally hooked up, thanks to the help of some magic mushrooms. That would of course be more than weird enough for most romances, but things get stranger thanks to the help of signature Alan Moore creation John Constantine, who allows Swamp Thing to possess his body so that he can impregnate Abigail and usher in the Second Coming in a mirror twist of Abigail's traumatic experience with her uncle Anton.
But yes, otherwise a completely healthy and natural relationship.
5. Spider-Man & Black Cat
The Couple: Everyone has that bad news relationship they can't resist like a nicotine addiction or a Hoarders marathon. Hapless do-gooder Spider-Man, meet thrill-seeking Selina Kyle impersonator Black Cat.
Why It's Weird: This is the original "We keep our masks on. It's better that way." Black Cat not only loves to swing around the city and punch things, butshe has the hots for Spider-Man and only Spider-Man. In Spectacular Spider-Man #87, our hero finally unmasks in front of her and the results aren't as desirable as anyone in Spidey's position would hope. Instead of, I dunno, planting a kiss on him or exclaiming, "Pete! I should have known all along, she begs him to put the mask back on. She's happier not knowing the man underneath. Even today, Black Cat is kind of the pseudo-ex that Spidey has trouble reconciling, going as far as to proposition her for a little rebound sex after being dumped. Good thing writers these days are smart and give Black Cat enough self-respect not to go for it.
And, considering their chosen avatars, Spider-Man and Black Cat are pretty much furries only to be predated by Hawkman and Hawkgirl. No wonder Warren Ellis refers to superheroes as "underwear perverts."
4. Starfox and the Ladies of Marvel
The Couple: In the case of Marvel's Starfox, it's not so much a matter of coupling as it is a matter of what won't this guy sleazily seduce? As an Eternal of Titan and brother to Thanos, Starfox is an immensely powerful figure who has your normal super strength, endurance and, oh yeah, the ability to control the emotions of others. Which he certainly doesn't exploit at all.
Why It's Weird: Starfox was always a bit of a creep, to the point where he was forced to shed his original Eros moniker when he joined the Avengers because the team thought it was inappropriate… yet somehow they didn't think his reveal of his pleasure-inducing powers or his occasional trips to pleasure planets with Tigra or that time he made a device to mask telepathic activity during sex were inappropriate. But eventually some writers at Marvel figured out that Starfox was essentially a superpowered date rapist and started writing him accordingly.
In the pages of She Hulk, Starfox was taking to court over allegations that he was abusing his abilities and forcing women to sleep with him or otherwise toying with their emotions. She Hulk herself came to believe that Starfox had manipulated her into having a brief fling with him, but the truth was that he had only forced her into a relationship with John Jameson. While it's still unclear how many of Starfox's trysts are the result of his abilities, there's no denying that the modern take on his abilities is exceedingly disturbing.
3. Scarlet Witch & Vision
The Couple: Scarlet Witch is the daughter of a genocidal supervillain and has the ability to cast "hexes" to alter the probability of things happening, which is a surprisingly abstract power for a mutant. The Vision is a robot who cries a lot.
Why It's Weird: Oh Christ, let me list the ways:
- He's a robot
- He's a robot created by Ultron, who was created by noted wifebeater Hank Pym
- Hank Pym is therefore Scarlet Witch's grandfather-in-law
- Vision's brain contains the brain patterns of Wonder Man, another Avenger
- Scarlet Witch married the Vision, much to the consternation of a jealous Hawkeye and a jealous Quicksilver
- Quicksilver is her brother, by the way
- And Hawkeye is a man who fights crime with sporting goods
- And Vision is a robot
- Scarlet Witch used her hex powers to give birth to twins
- A robot somehow fathered children
- Those children were actually illusions created from fragments of the Devil's soul
- No, really
- It turns out a "time lord" named Immortus made the pair fall in love to prevent Scarlet Witch from having children, as her offspring would end up becoming major cosmic threats (see: Donna Troy & Terry Long)
- Scarlet Witch later broke it off with Vision and fell for Wonder Man
- Surprisingly -- downgrade?
- Those twins somehow reappeared as Young Avengers
- Either way, Vision is still a robot
No wonder The Scarlet Witch went crazy. The dubious lesson learned from Avengers comics is this: If you don't want a woman to procreate, construct her a very articulate vibrator. And if you're really smart, you'll beat your wife and invent things to kill your friends.
2. Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers) & Marcus
The Couple: She's one of the most powerful heroes in Marvel and he's basically his own grandpa. It's truly a love for the ages.
Why It's Weird: Where do you even begin? The strange affair of Ms. Marvel and Marcus began with a kidnapping. Marcus abducted Ms. Marvel in order to make her his bride and the mother to… another version of himself. Utilizing his father Immortus' technology, Marcus was able to brainwash Ms. Marvel and she soon gave birth to a rapidly aging version of himself, who then also stole her away while her teammates in the Avengers did fuck-all.
So to recap: Marcus abducted Ms. Marvel, raped her, impregnated her and then thanks to his accelerated aging, was able to pretty much instantly seduce her after she gave birth to him. Which makes Marcus his own grandpa, in a relationship with his own mother/grandmother, stuck in an infinite loop of hereditary jenga. You can go around and around on this forever and still not make much sense of it. Luckily, Chris Claremont, who had more than a small stake in Ms. Marvel's rise to popularity, was so baffled and angered by this plot development that he pretty much immediately set about undoing the damage and through Carol took the rest of the Avengers to task for allowing her to be so completely abused and manipulated.
1. Superman & Lois Lane
The Couple: Seriously?
Why It's Weird: The relationship between Superman/Clark Kent and Lois Lane is easily one of the most fucked up romances in superhero comics, and we just got through an entry that detailed incestuous sci-fi rape. As we all know, Superman's secret identity is Clark Kent, a cowardly milquetoast Clark Kent, whom Lois despises for obvious reasons -- she's an courageous, aggressive reporter and he's an overgrown baby in a cheap suit. She loves Superman, though, making for a great nonexistent love triangle where Clark finds himself competing with himself for a woman's affections.
Lois Lane's obsessions with our hero are twofold:
- I am going to marry Superman if it's the last thing I do.
- Also, I'm pretty sure that Clark Kent guy is Superman.
As a result, Superman used his super-intellect to devise elaborate schemes to get out of marrying Lois and to hide his secret identity -- sometimes at the same time. And he did this over and over for decades, giving her a reputation for being a marriage-crazy lunatic. Also, sometimes he had sex with a Mermaid.
That is, until Clark Kent both reveals his identity and proposes to Lois Lane -- and she says yes! Superman just got done spending decades convincing a woman that she's inane only to show that, yeah, she was right all along. On Superman's part, that is psychotic. For Lois, Stockholm Syndrome at its finest.
If Superman serves as the basis for the entire superhero genre and this is the kind of relationship it conveys, what hope does any other superhero story have in depicting a healthy romance?
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, Sequential Fuckery. His webcomic The Ghost Engine (drawn by Eric Zawadzski) will debut in Spring 2012.
When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon.