If the seasonal displays in every store I go to are to be believed, Valentine’s Day is fast approaching.
With everybody’s favorite holiday right around the corner, I feel there’s no better time to talk about the love that exists between fictional characters. Really, is there any better kind of love?
Seriously, though, we do become quite invested in the romantic affairs of our favorite characters, don’t we? If you’ve ever been a faithful fan of a comic book series, television show or film franchise, it’s likely you’ve had your heart jerked around a bit.
Spider-Man and Gwen Stacy, Ross and Rachel, Han Solo and Princess Leia; no matter who your favorite fictional couple is, it’s likely your heart’s racing right now just thinking about them.
WARNING – If your heart’s racing and you DON’T have a favorite fictional couple, it’s very possible you’re having a heart attack and need to call 9-1-1 IMMEDIATELY!
Anyway, a storytelling pet peeve of mine is writers’ need to play with characters’ love lives to keep things interesting—to keep characters from going stale. I get it, but sometimes, can’t we just let our favorite characters catch a break and fall in love?
Superheroes Suck at Love
At least, that’s what the people who inhabit the same universes as pop culture’s biggest heroes must think. Even if you don’t read comic books, you’re probably familiar with a few famous couples…which, honestly, probably aren’t even together in the current series they appear in.
Superman and Lois Lane, for example. They WERE married, but their union was erased from continuity when DC Comics introduced its New 52 line of comics. Clark Kent and Lois are no longer married, and Superman instead had a fling with Wonder Woman (they’ve since split up).
Then there’s Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson. They too WERE married, but to save his beloved Aunt May’s life, Peter Parker had to make a deal with the devil (okay, not the actual devil, just a character named Mephisto who’s essentially the devil) that erased his marriage from everyone’s memory. The two former lovers aren’t even in the same comic series anymore.
My favorite comic book couple, the X-Men’s Cyclops and Jean Grey, WERE – you guessed it – married! But when Cyclops was possessed by the evil Apocalypse, it made him confront some hard truths about himself (and his marriage) and he ended up cheating on Jean with the X-Men’s former enemy Emma Frost. Jean later died, and Cyclops is currently presumed dead in Marvel’s post-Secret Wars universe.
Yeesh, and they wonder why some people consider comic books too continuity-heavy to get into.
These are just three examples of couples that had long runs before creators brought their romances to a conclusion, all for the sake of more interesting stories and character development. But, how much mileage are publishers really getting out of these characters as single men and women?
The Amazing Spider-Man’s Not-So-Amazing Love Life
So Marvel literally made Spider-Man into a swinging single man. I agree that everybody loves a Peter Parker whose life is full of drama coming from every which angle. But how many dates have we seen Peter go on since “Brand New Day” kicked off in 2008? I remember the Spidey Brain Trust teased new supporting character Carlie Cooper’s romantic potential for months, and finally put the two of them together for a few issues, but it was a very brief romance.
And like, that was it, save for a fling or two. What’s the point of having a single Spider-Man if we’re not taking advantage of the rich story material that comes with balancing super heroics with dating? In fact, who wouldn’t want to see that classic Parker luck applied to modern dating? “Spidey looks for love on the web” – the cover captions write themselves!
It’s worth noting that when Doctor Octopus took over Spider-Man’s body, he managed to efficiently battle crime while maintaining a serious relationship, proving that he truly was the Superior Spider-Man…at least in the dating department.
I think superhero relationships are on my mind of late because of Scott Snyder’s current Batman story arc “Superheavy.” If you’re not caught up, Batman was presumed dead after his latest battle with the Joker, only for Bruce Wayne to turn up with no recollection of his life as the caped crusader. Free of the pain that drove him to become Batman, Bruce has fallen in love with Julie Madison, the head of a clinic for underprivileged youth, and even wants to marry her.
Sure, why not? When was the last time Batman was in love or in a steady relationship for multiple years? Sadly, having read comic books for most of my life, I know it’s only a matter of time before Bruce puts the cowl back on and dumps Julie. And honestly, I think that kind of goes against the whole idea of making stories as interesting as they can be.
We’ve gotten to the point where we know that a superhero wedding boosts sales and media attention. But we also know that the second a couple exchanges vows, the clock starts ticking until that marriage is dissolved…because, sales.
Really, though, does being single necessarily make someone more interesting?
Your Life on Love
Look, it’s a fact that some people get really boring as soon as they’re in a relationship. If only Mephisto was real and could retcon my friend’s wedding and baby out of existence so I could have someone to go to the movies with again! Right?
Writers may think there’s more story potential when a character isn’t in a committed relationship, but isn’t life kind of more enjoyable when you’re in love? Really, what’s so exciting about being single, unless you’re like, Leonardo DiCaprio?
(And Leo, if you’re reading this, please share on Facebook!)
Being unattached means a lot of nights spent perusing strangers’ profiles on dating apps and websites. It means going to lame parties and leaving disappointed over the lack of romantic prospects in attendance. It means watching your friends in relationships pile into Ubers after a mediocre night at the bar, as you hit the streets alone, just like every night.
Hold on, just got a note from my editor. He said this is getting too depressing.
Meanwhile, people in relationships (and I mean GOOD relationships, not ones that stem from loneliness or convenience) are growing together. They’re trying new things that they couldn’t do alone. They’re building a future.
I don’t think storytellers should consider falling in love to be a kiss of death, unless they’re just really jaded from their real-life relationship woes. I get that Batman and Spider-Man will outlive us all, and tomorrow’s young, unmarried fans need to be able to relate to them, but publishers shouldn’t be afraid to let these characters grow in meaningful relationships that span multiple years. Because in the meantime, single heroes can grow just as stale to the current fanbase.
Finally, comic books allow us to escape and go for a ride. So along with all that action and adventure, let’s throw in some romance. If I wanted to read about the adventures of a perpetually single person who doesn’t date I’d just read my journal.