Love and Marriage. Not what immediately comes to mind when you think about Superhero Comic Books. But if you've ever wondered how this has been handled, Keith Bowden is here to give us the scoop!
Marriage is what brings us together and comic books have had strange relationships with married couples. Marriage was largely for peripheral characters: investigated by detectives, parents, or antagonists. This was true for teen/children's comics, detective stories, romance, crime, and horror comics.
Oddly, the superhero genre was initially—and has usually remained over the decades—reluctant to explore the possibilities of marriage, relying on tropes of unrequited love and the complications of secret identities with girlfriends. Preserve the secret? Have a string of dates with different women? Apparently celibate?
Perhaps this is not so odd, though, as popular fiction and fairy tales are filled with orphans and widowed parents, and are therefore likewise somewhat lacking in married couples.
In the early years, though Lois Lane and Superman never made any progress, there were a few dedicated super couples around, such as original Flash Jay Garrick & Joan Williams, Bulletman & Bulletgirl, and Hawkman & Hawkgirl—but even they were all just dating (and fighting crime together).
After the superhero revival of the Silver Age, a toe was dipped into the waters of matrimony when some of the now older WWII heroes were shown to have made the commitment to their significant others, such as the aforementioned Jay & Joan Garrick. But then a new character was introduced who was married virtually from the beginning: The Elongated Man, with his partner in every sense, Sue. Ralph & Sue Dibny were the new Nick & Nora Charles of superhero-dom, and beloved if not mainline sellers.
This paved the way in 1966 for established Marvel heroes Reed Richards and Sue Storm to tie the knot, followed a month later in DC Comics by new Flash Barry Allen and Iris West. Meanwhile, Marvel's The Fantastic Four became more of a family than ever, and this expanded two years later when Sue & Reed begat Franklin. Also in Marvel, Janet Van Dyne aka Wasp married a somewhat deranged Hank Pym aka Ant-Man later that same year.
Weddings continued in the Bronze Age, but marriage wasn't easy in the 1970s, as Reed and Sue separated for a time; Hank abused Jan and they divorced; Iris died. (As they say, she got better).
But let us not admit impediment to the marriage of true minds, and embrace the marriages of the greatest heroes of WWII on DC Comics alternate universe Earth 2 (Superman and Batman), revealed and explored in several arcs. Bruce Wayne had married Selina Kyle (Catwoman) and had a daughter Helena, who grew up to be the Huntress. Lois Lane married Clark Kent and the adventures of Mr. & Mrs. Superman ran regularly for years in the Superman Family book.
In the Modern age, Wally West became the third Flash to take the mantle of husband when he married Linda Park. Reed and Sue's family expanded with a daughter. Peter Parker married Mary Jane Watson simultaneously in comic books and The Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip. Perhaps most famously, the long-delayed wedding of the primary Clark Kent and Lois Lane finally came to pass.
Progressively, same-sex marriages between heroes broke into mainstream publishers, in Marvel with Northstar & Kyle Jinadu-Beaubier, and in DC with the two heroes Midnighter & Apollo.
Positive relationships continued elsewhere in the genre, for instance in Thom Zahler's Love and Capes, which followed Mark and Abby's relationship: from dating, to marriage, to birth.
Most superheroes are still single, but these days it's not their relationships that are in trouble but the very concept of marriage itself. There was an editorial decision that Spider-Man should not be married, so an actual deal with the devil was contrived to retcon Peter and Mary Jane's entire marriage from ever having happened. More divorces were written, as well as deaths of spouses in particularly misogynistic ways.
When DC Comics rebooted their entire universe in 2011, they placed all of their characters at early points in their lives, which naturally reset the married characters to points prior to their marriages. Further, there was an editorial mandate that marriage was forbidden. No one was married in their books, and no one could become married, which created tensions with some creators and especially with fans.
DC's New 52 reboot had other problems, and so eventually as the powers-that-be rethought their whole initiative and rigidity, they began to soften on this issue and reintroduced the Clark and Lois from before: a little older than we'd last seen them, married... and with a son, Jon. Perhaps shockingly, even Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle are getting married again, this time within the main continuity. Over at Marvel, Reed and Sue Richards, along with their children Franklin and Valeria, are returning after having been missing from continuity for the past few years, so we're seeing a return of some mainstream married couples in comics.
Outside of comics, many stories end with marriage, like it's an award for completing whatever travails the protagonists endured. While that sounds like a worthy reward, it does imply that "happily ever after" is boring and not worth narrating. We have the potential in these comics to show that's not true, if writers rise to the challenge of exploring it. On TV we've often seen series that have come to grinding halts once the leads get hitched. I refuse to accept that boredom is a legitimate outcome and those writers (or producers or upper management) didn't know how to write characters with that level of commitment, needing the thrill of sexual tension to keep their fictional romances alive. Perhaps we can hope for better times, and expect to see provocative, engaging stories with super spouses.
Keith Bowden is a lifetime reader of comic books, an active member of the online comic book community, and the co-host of the video log Geezer Geeks. To find out more you can follow Keith on Tumbler and Twitter.
What's your take on marriage and family within the comic book hero's lives? Did the writers make a huge mistake undoing so many of them? What would you like to see happen in the future? Share your thoughts in the comments below or join the discussion on our social media using #ComicBookLove
*All the Comic Book images accompanying this article are copyrighted to either Marvel or DC Comics and fall under the Fair Use clause of the United States Copyright Law.