A few weeks about I said something about how the Batman/Catwoman relationship is one of my favorite romances in comics. This week, I thought it might be interesting to explore why that is and by extension why I love some of the other pairings born in four colors.
I guess this post was always coming; I’ve talked about romance in stories more than almost any other subject here after all, so this was almost inevitable. In the spirit of inevitability and because something that seemed inevitable not showing up here, I’m going to lead off with the one couple I’m sure people expected me to count among my favorites, but who aren’t. And that couple is…
Superman and Lois Lane
Regular readers might remember me recommending the 90’s television series Lois and Clark: the New Adventures of Superman a lot. A. Lot. In fact, you might wish that I would just shut up about it, but this time it is totally relevant.
You see, Lois and Clark was the show that got me to like Superman. Before it, I was that annoying kid you see on every forum who doesn’t just dislike Supes, but hates him for being ‘too powerful’ or ‘too good’ with no understanding of why those two things going hand-in-hand is so important to the character. But when ABC started airing a new Superman show after (I think) Early Edition and Walker: Texas Ranger, I gave it a look and was introduced to Clark Kent.
People smarter and more eloquent than me have discussed how while Batman is the real man and Bruce Wayne is the facade, it is Clark Kent who is the real man and Superman is just Clark’s way of keeping his identity secret. As a kid, I had only known the Superman of the Fleischer cartoons who was only Clark Kent long enough to run to a phone booth.
This looks like a job for YouTube.
Lois and Clark was my first exposure to Clark and I got to know and love him as a character through his interactions with Lois. Now, the show wasn’t perfect and Lois was in damsel mode a lot, but the best parts were just seeing these two being a legitimately fun pair of people who had fun being around each other as they grew closer.
So why aren’t they one of my favorite couples? Because of all the rest of Superman’s media existence.
I’ll grant that I haven’t read a lot of Superman comics featuring him and Lois, but in other media… Lois in particular is unpleasant. In Smallville, she was an overbearing jerk and not of the ‘with a heart of gold’ kind either. In Superman: The Animated Series, she’s fickle as all hell and completely takes advantage of both Clark Kent’s farmboy manners and Superman’s propensity for saving her when she does blatantly suicidal things, and in most of the movies, she’s just ‘that screaming thing’ most of the time.
Superman Returns gave Lois a break and instead made Superman a loser and a creeper. Basically, Lois and Clark seems to be a fluke to me more than an extension of a timeless relationship. Oh, and now in the DCnU, They’re not together and Superman is with Wonder Woman (because she is not allowed to keep supporting cast members of her own ever. Seriously, whatever happened to Etta Candy?). They can’t be one of my favorites because the preponderance of evidence shows that they are awful together.
But on to my actual favorites.
Batman and Catwoman
Here’s where I pay off the promise of the article’s premise and talk about Batsy and the Pretty Kitty.
The idea of a hero dating one of their villains is a trope I love in its own right and is actually called Dating Catwoman on TVTropes. However, it is the subversion of a trope that makes me love the dynamic of Batman and Catwoman, and that trope is called the High Heel Face Turn.
I’ve already explained the originals of the heel/face turn terminology and for more information on that, here’s a link to the tvtropes page for that. But I will explain the High Heel Face Turn in brief: it is the tendency for the love of the hero (usually a guy with a female villain) to totally convince their opposite alignment love interest to do a complete 180 in personality and motivations, mend their evil ways, and never look back.
James Bond typically does this once every other movie and one of the reasons why I regard Tomorrow Never Dies as one of the unsung better Bond movies is because the Bond girl there is an equally capable Chinese operative who, while she still snogs him (he is James Bond after all.), she never even considers flipping.
Also, I like the theme.
Anyway, I imagine Batman once explained this idea to Selina and that she didn’t stop laughing for a week after. And that is precisely why I love these two. Batman is the scourge of criminals in Gotham. He hates crime and all who might inflict it on his city because that is what led to his parents’ murder. And he is in love with one of that city’s foremost burglars.
Across media and continuity the nature of how this relationship works varies. Sometimes Bruce will capture her and turn her over time and time again, all the while pleading for her to stop. Others, she takes up a Robin Hood approach and only steals from the bad guys. In still others, she is such an integral member of the Bat-family that she steals for Batman. To me, every single one of these arrangements intrigues me and keeps me invested in them. It’s the fact that they don’t just have one back down and instead try and find a solution that really makes it for me.
Yes, there are legal and moral issues that come with this (and you can feel free to bring them up in the comments or on the forum), but that doesn’t change the value it adds to their relationship for me the reader who is okay with people sometimes being a bit hypocritical or bending the law for love. Hell, all of us who enjoy superhero books are at least comfortable on some level with them doing the same for great justice, so why the heck not?
One might be wondering where I fall on Bats/Talia and it goes like this: Talia’s involvement makes Batman’s dealings with Ras al-Gul more interesting. However, the fact that it is often implied that Talia would give up villainy if she didn’t love daddy so much—a daddy who is constantly trying to give her birthright away to random dudes—leaves me cold to the actual romance. IF she can’t tell Ras to stuff it for love, that love isn’t all that strong.
Gambit and Rogue
Investing in X-couples is kind of like hitting on 20: a terrible, awful, no good, very bad bet. Because X-men is an ensemble franchise with a huge number of characters, is incredibly popular, has incredibly high writer turn-over, and is currently the unfavorite of Marvel editorial, the books are constantly in flux and tossed into more crappy events than most of the rest of the MU. It’s hard to see any two character left together on a book more than 24 issues, much less in a relationship. Hell, it’s hard to see an individual comic series going for more than 24 issues these days thanks to Marvel’s ADD.
In any event, as you’ll see a little further down the page, I’m a sucker for the long shots.
First of all, Gambit is my very favorite superhero of all time. Considering that he came about in the Dark Age and I would sell my readers’ souls to expunge the Dark Age from history, this might sound odd and I should probably do an article about my favorite comic characters and why. Especially since, I will admit… Gambit comes off at first blush as a colossal Marty Stu. Just massive. But I’m getting off track. There’s a whole list of things I like about this couple besides Gambit being Gambit, but it does sort of start there.
You see, the core conflict in their romance is that for the vast bulk of their time together, Rogue has been literally untouchable. For those not well-verse in X-men lore, Rogue’s power is to absorb lifeforce, mental impressions and powers through skin contact and until a few years ago, she couldn’t turn it off. And because they don’t live in a world with power inhibitors, or body stockings (yeah, I know) this means intimacy is off the table for her and she tries to push people away as a result.
Her unattainability is the clear seed for Gambit’s attraction for her; he loves a challenge. However, it’s clearly become more than that. Just to make this clear, Gambit can have pretty much any woman in the MU—I’m not kidding: his charisma has been said at times to be a mutant power on par with minor mentalism. But he stays with her, always coming back no matter what new level of horrible the X-universe heaps upon their lives.
Part of the reason for that, I think, is because they both started as villains. Es, modern comic fans, lil’ miss Southern Belle got her start as a teenaged delinquent working for the Brotherhood and even got her classic flight and strength powers from attacking Ms. Marvel. Gambit on the other hand was always an anti-hero (oddly enough, he never got mired in the guns, muscles and excess of the 90’s despite being a product of the Dark Age) and his back story has him play a pivotal role in the Mutant Massacre, which contrary to the name, was not an inter-mural soccer tournament and was instead a horrible act of mass murder (not directly by his hand, mind you /fanboy).
This shared experience actually makes them work a lot like Batman and Catwoman in that Rogue is bound and determined to be Good with a capital ‘G’ while Gambit is completely okay with remaining firmly in the gray areas of morality up to and including actual criminal action.
Sadly, as of the last time I read them, Rogue got control of her powers and dumped Gambit in order to find herself or something, one of the few problems I had with Mike Carey’s run on X-men. Strangely enough, about 60% of all X-men fan fiction is devoted to this couple and 95% of that isn’t actually bad, but it is boring as hell. I just don’t understand. Honestly, if I had something to give at the moment, I would set a bounty for you guys to link me to good Rogue/Gambit fics. Maybe that will be the contest for Collection 03, ‘Whoever sends me the best Romy fic’.
X-23 and Hellion
If investing in an X-couple is like hitting on 20, then investing on an X-couple made up of new and/or young characters is like hitting on 20… when you’re playing poker. These characters don’t have the popularity power that keeps Wolverine in five books a month and also alive, so they can expect to be shuttled off into comic book limbo or straight up killed (for absolutely no good reason) in relatively short order.
Which is why it is downright depressing right off the bat that these two will be in a high place in the ‘top favorite characters’ list. Case in point: I couldn’t find a freaking image to put in this section!
Hellion has one of the least creative powers ever (in fact, Lydia from D:LA has the exact same powers down to the signature color and still manages to use them better than him) but makes up for it by being awesome. Meanwhile X-23 has a steep hill to climb, being a female (literal) clone of Wolverine who nonetheless is a god, strong character on her own even though she was created by those fountains of awful (okay, they do good work in animation where they can’t 90’s everything up like Rob Liefeld’s annoying little brothers), Kyle and Yost.
In one of the only good bits of writing those two have put into print, Hellion and X-23 went from being antagonistic toward each other, to being forced to work together, to finally carrying about each other once they find themselves in life or death situations. I’ll give those guys props for an amazing scene in their New X-men run where Julian (Hellion) convinces Emma Frost to unlock his full potential, then goes all out, sonic booming his way across the country and even through a giant robot in order to bring a gravely (even beyond her regeneration) injured X-23 to the healer Elixir. To top it all off, he pep-talks the then-comatose Elixir awake to fix things.
The core of my love for this couple comes largely from the fact that Hellion is a bad person; brash, obnoxious, scornful—while Laura (X-23) only thinks she’s a bad person for the things she did under duress or as a result of being taught by evil people. And it’s up to Hellion to try and teach her how to be a hero and to show her affection.
I know, it smacks of that ‘broken bird’ thing that I hate, but it really isn’t. Laura shows time and time again that while she does need the rest of the cast, she’s not in any specific need of Julian to ‘fix’ her, and when their relationship ended (for now, hopefully) at the end of her solo series, she makes it clear that her next step in healing is one that he can’t be along for. …It would have been nice to have actually seen her off on her path of healing, but she instead wandered into the (awesome) Avengers Academy series and then the (unspeakably disgraceful) Avenger Arena without really growing anymore. Hellion… is hanging out in the background of Wolverine and the X-men.
Spider-man and Mary Jane
I’m going to try something novel here. I’m going to get through this entire section right here without mentioning the story One More Day which broke this couple up, or the ongoing campaign Marvel editorial waged against them since at least the mid-90’s. I’ve said my piece about that and not only does it not have anything to do with them as a couple, but if you read the story, OMD itself goes out of its way to show precisely why they are one of the best couples in comics. No more talk of that. Starting now.
When I do that ‘favorite characters’ thing, Spider-man is going to be in the same slot as Lois and Clark, an honorable mention I can’t call one of my favorites because the vast majority of their media is legitimately terrible. I love the witty, geeky guile hero. I like the concept of web-slinging in all its forms. I love Rhino, Doc Ock, the Vulture, and all the many and various Goblins and Goblin derivatives. I love the motto that with great power comes great responsibility.
But the ugly truth is that in my opinion, Spider-man hasn’t had a good main-stream storyline since the mid-point of JMS’s run. That’s a long damn time.
So really, I love everything about Spider-man but the actual comic books he appears in. What do I love most though? Mary Jane.
Indeed he did, MJ.
Mary Jane does practically all the heavy lifting when it comes to making these two one of my all-time favorite couples. How? Let’s start with the glaringly obvious: Mary Jane is not a superhero. She’s honestly not even a semi-capable fighter. Yes, she does know self defense and once wailed on Chameleon with a bat, but the Huntress she ain’t is what I’m saying here.
The reason that’s remarkable is that she still understands Peter’s situation as Spider-man and supports it in any way she can. Sadly, this is a trait that pretty much every loving spouse of a cop, firefighter, soldier and government agent has, but at times, it seems to be such a unique trait to MJ in the Marvel Universe that it might as well be her mutant power. Still, credit where credit is due, MJ at times displays a better understanding of what being a superhero entails than her husband and while she does have times that it becomes too much for her, she steps up more often than Spider-man himself should be expected to.
Mary Jane is, to pardon the cliché, a rock; an island of stability in Peter Parker’s eternally collapsing universe. It is through her love, support and generally level head (best illustrated in Jim Butcher’s terrific Spider-man novel The Darkest Hours) that the reader has any hope of suspending their disbelief that Peter hasn’t offed himself already.
The other remarkable thing about these two (and something that most adaptations surprisingly remember) is that MJ wasn’t Peter’s first love AND she wasn’t just introduced out of the blue as a replacement Gwen Stacy. MJ was there in the supporting cast already as Pete’s sassy, party girl friend and their affection grew naturally after Gwen died. I think this might be a unique happenstance in comics. Can anyone tell me of another example of this?
As to why that matters to me; maybe I’m wrong, but the very fact that Mary Jane was never intended to be the love interest allowed her to develop in a different way than most such characters and in turn allowed the relation to develop more organically and continue to do so over time. Not saying that ‘intended’ romance stories can’t do this, just that this one has ‘happy accident’ written all over it and I like that.
Also, I like the idea it creates that you don’t get just the one True Love. That might sound odd coming from someone who is so into romance, but I’m also someone who has had loss and occasionally blamed themselves for losing what felt like ‘the one’. The phrase ‘there are other fish in the sea’ is almost universally used in a crass, cynical (but usually meant to be helpful) manner, but it is kind of nice to know that it isn’t a ‘one slip and you’ve missed you chance’ kind of deal.
And now, the runners up, couples who could have made this list, but didn’t for various reasons:
Blue Beetle III and Tracy Thirteen
Reason the didn’t make it: The Blue Beetle solo series was cut brutally short and we never got to see more than a few highly entertaining dates. Ah, what could have been.
Jean Grey and Cyclops
Reason they didn’t make it: I hate Cyclops and also I always have the feeling that I remember these two being together fondly because I hate Scott and Emma (Because I hate Cyclops and Emma Frost needs to be a villain again).
Beast Boy and Raven
Reason they didn’t make it: While they had a canon relationship and were on the path of healing their rifts right before the Titans series went off the goddamn rails, nearly everything I love about their relationship is actually based on fanon for the Teen Titans animated series. I can’t include them on this list because this list is for why I like the canon couple and I was never exposed to much of the canon couple.
Beast and Abigail Brand
Reason they didn’t make it: While I love their interactions, I’ve noticed that these two don’t have much of an actual history. They seem to just run into each other every once in a while. Call me when they have a few dates, share some quiet moments, and I might even bump them about Gambit and Rogue.
And finally, a short list of characters who need long term love interests because it would be awesome:
Booster Gold, Kid Omega, Wolfsbane (don’t you dare say a word about that… stuff… that happened in X-Factor), Bunker, Mercury, Deadpool, Doctor Strange, Nico Minoru, Mephisto (I am not kidding. The issues of New Mutants where he tries to data Magma are awesome), Wonder Woman (a normal person, please!), Lex Luthor (completely serious) and last, but not least, Bishop.
Take to the forum or the comments to demand an explanation on those. I promise they’re entertaining (especially my reasons for wanting Lex hooked up).
Questions, comments, verbal abuse? Please post them below in the comments, or the forum.
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