Some romantic relationships can be a monsterous disaster. Some literally involve monsters. Keith Bowden examines some of the worst romantic pairings in comic books over the years.
Monster relationships. Most of us have been there, at least to some degree, either as part of the relationship or watching it unfold with a friend. In the realm of the supers, the narrative sometimes gets a shocking jolt by an odd pairing that might work or... Might leave the reader wondering just what opiates the creative team is using. Some relationships turn out to be merely a bad idea, but others turn into nightmares.
Let's start with the male-identifying plant creature known as the Swamp Thing. Okay, I’m just kidding with this one. Swamp Thing is monstrous in appearance, but his love with Abigail Arcane doesn’t simply boil down to a fantasy cross-species romance, it’s a beautiful story. I can’t speak to whether this has any resonance for people of different backgrounds in relationships (I suspect the fantasy elements are too far to be analogous), but this is a “strange” marriage that works.
An example of a pairing that doesn’t work is the controversial former relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman. There are people who genuinely like this pairing of comic book “royalty,” but the relationship—aside from the specifics of being editorially-driven and largely poorly written—betrayed core aspects of both characters. They are not “gods” coming together; Superman champions the common person, and must remain connected to humanity. Diana, likewise, serves as an example of a better way for all and should not be trying to get Clark to look down on people as inferior, nor should she be seen as lesser to the man she is with.
On a related note, in pre-Crisis days DC came to a conclusion that something had to be done to shake up the Lois Lane-Clark Kent-Superman triangle for two. Lois had stopped dating Superman and dated Clark for a while. I suspect they realized that keeping the status quo meant stagnation, but they weren’t ready to give us true progress with the characters, especially in light of the successful first Superman films. Instead of taking the next step—something Siegel & Shuster had intended from the outset—they broke Lois from the triangle and inserted Lois-come-lately Lana Lang, a latter-day creation intended to be the romantic foil for the teenage Superboy. Perhaps DC would have developed an interesting story in time, and develop Clark as a truly romantic figure and not just a disguise, but this relationship was abruptly cut short in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths and the John Byrne total- reboot of the Superman story.
Blindly seeing no future in allowing a loving relationship take its course is pretty much what led to the earlier decision at Marvel to murder Peter Parker’s long-time beloved, Gwen Stacy. Amazing Spider-Man had another nightmare relationship to deal with, but not for the forlorn Peter Parker. His Aunt May had long been alternately used as something of a comic relief with absent-mindedness and a peculiarly high regard for one of Marvel’s premier rogues, Dr. Otto Octavius. Long before May was an engaging character in her own right, she was portrayed as a fragile, sometimes foolish, ancient woman. And she actually went beyond romance to the altar with Dr. Octopus, as a pawn in one of his schemes. With this high farce, I think the sympathetic relationship between May and Otto was wisely abandoned.
As Marvel writers in the ‘70s grappled with relevance and trying to give stronger roles and voices to the women in their comics—short of actually hiring more women writers—long-standing relationships from the dawn of the Marvel Age were… Re-examined. On the opposite side of “WTF pairings” were a few “WTF unpairings”. Reed and Sue Richards of the Fantastic Four came dangerously close to divorce before that course was clumsily corrected (with the “help” of the former rival for Sue’s affections, Namor the Sub-Mariner).
Hank Pym—Ant-Man/Giant Man/Goliath/Yellowjacket—became an abusive husband with a long history of mental health problems, but Janet Van Dyne (the Wasp) truly found her voice, becoming occasional chair for the esteemed Avengers. Still, the horrid physical abuse could not be swept away and divorce was the only option.
An actual metaphor for mixed marriages, Wanda Maximoff (the mutant Scarlet Witch) and the synthetic person, Vision, had absolutely horrible things done to them. This was truly a case of not knowing what to do with a happily married couple. Vision was, then was not, the original android Human Torch re-purposed. Wanda had magical phantom children, which then went away. Wanda went insane. Vision was disassembled and rebuilt with his former personality and memories erased. Their marriage was sadly doomed.
In television soap operas, in order to reinvigorate old fans and give different complexities for newer fans, characters frequently mix and match over time in both dating and marriage. Something like this was brought to the Fantastic Four in the mid-‘80s when Ben Grimm, the Thing, left Earth for a time in the wake of the first Secret Wars. While he was gone, his girlfriend, the extraordinary blind sculptor, Alicia Masters, and Ben’s pal, Johnny Storm the Human Torch, hooked up and eventually married, leaving Ben an emotional wreck upon his eventual return. The entire scenario was unsettling for fans as well.
Ben rebounded. Several other Marvel ladies expressed interest in dating the Thing, including She-Hulk, Thundra, and even Tigra. He eventually came to care for the new Ms. Marvel—not the now-Captain or the recent Muslim teenager, but Sharon Ventura, who was a wrestler-turned-super-hero. Of course, Benjy could not be allowed to have a beautiful woman be in love with his super-hero beast, so Sharon became a (I kid you not) “She-Thing,” a female version of bashful Benjy himself.
In time, people started to realize they’d seriously messed up the relationships in the Fantastic Four —further screwing up with making Sue Richards go insane a few times over the years as well—so Alicia Storm was retconned to be Lyja, a shape-changing alien Skrull, infiltrating the Earth who had turned to Johnny as a way to infiltrate the Fantastic Four when Ben disappeared, but actually fell for Johnny in the meantime, and faked a pregnancy, and my head hurts so please don’t ask me anymore about this.
(The real Alicia was rescued and 30 years later is now about to finally marry everyone’s favorite super-hero Golem.)
Abusive super-hero relationships aren’t limited to comic books, as Buffy Summers, vampire slayer extraordinaire, fell in love with bad boy and demon-vampire, Spike. I know there are huge fans of this problematic pairing, but any possible charm for me was lost when Spike tried to assault the Chosen One.
Sometimes relationships seem a good match on the surface but maybe aren’t quite so, not from problems inherent in story or personality, but in the characters’ raison d’être. I suppose that someone thought it would be a natural fit for the king of the African nation Wakanda to fall in love and marry the African mutant “goddess,” Storm of the X-Men. T’Challa (the Black Panther) and Ororo Monroe are a good fit on paper. But their background stories and motivations are oil and water and eventually they, too, divorced.
And finally, one of the most infamous problematic relationships in the history of comics occurred within the ranks of the hallowed Green Lantern Corps. At one time a new recruit, an impressionable young girl from Graxos IV in Space Sector 2815, Arisia Rrab, developed a crush on Earth’s primary Green Lantern, Hal Jordan. Hal properly rebuffed her; she was just thirteen, and apart from orange skin and pointy ears, looked just like a thirteen-year-old Earth girl. But Arisia’s inexperience and youthful longing triggered the powers in her ring to physically age her body to make her “legal” in Hal’s eyes. She didn’t become anywhere near Hal’s age, just “old enough.” Obviously, she still had the mind of her normal self, but in time she “wore him down” and they began a physical and emotional relationship. Eventually their love simply fizzled overnight, after a bizarre argument.
But shatter the pumpkins of nightmares, for there are plenty of good romantic figures in comics! As mentioned before, Alicia Masters and Benjamin J. Grimm are about to get married in the newly revived Fantastic Four comic, and Reed and Sue are doing well too, along with their two children. Clark Kent and Lois Lane are married with a son, and the princess of Themiscyra is back with the one and only Colonel Steven Trevor. ‘Nuff said!
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 do you consider some of the comic book genre's most monsterous romantic relationships? Is there one that didn't make our list or one on the list you'd defend? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or on Social Media using #MonsterLove
*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.