The Best Romances In Comics
In last week’s installment of Ask Chris, I wrote about a few of the worst romances in comics, but with Valentine’s Day coming next week, this is no time to focus on the negative. After all, love isn’t just in the air, it’s also on the page of our favorite comics.
Which is why today, I’m grabbing a dozen roses and a box of chocolates to choo-choo-choose the All-Time Greatest Comic Book Romances!
As much as Superman is the template for the modern super-hero, his relationship with Lois Lane is also the foundation of super-heroic romance. And unfortunately, that means it brings a whole lot of baggage. I mean, it’s hard enough to have a relationship where one person is constantly lying to the other, even before you throw in stuff like this:
Then again, who knows? Maybe she was into robot spankings. Stranger things happened during the Silver Age.Of course, none of the weirdness of their relationship changes the fact that they’re genuinely in love. As much as Lois might’ve schemed to win Superman’s heart in the pages of Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane, she resolved to do it fair and square, and even turned down his proposal on several occasions when outside forces would’ve forced him into it — which, again, happened way more often than you might think. And it also says quite a bit about Superman that a guy who dated mermaids and super-powered aliens was hopelessly smitten with a reporter who’s absolutely fearless in her pursuit of the truth, just like he is.
Regardless of the complications, Superman and Lois have grown to be one of the strongest and most enduring couples in fiction, and when it’s done right, like Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman above and DC One Million, where Superman literally waits 850,000 for the crazy techno-magic science of the future to reunite him with his love. That’s dedication, folks. Lana Lang never had a chance.
As fantastic as the scenarios often are, comic books reflect elements of real life, and the romances are no exception. For instance, say you’re working with someone, and over the years, a camaraderie becomes a friendship, and it slowly becomes more, until you realize that you’re head over heels in love with someone.
The same thing happens in comics, except instead of it being the cutie in HR, it’s two members of a super-villain organization called The Brotherhood of Evil, one of whom is a militant talking French gorilla, who is in turn crushing on a disembodied brain who lives in a robot jar shaped like a skull.
Sadly, Mallah and the Brain — not to be confused with Pinky and the Brain, two world-conquering lab mice that LiveJournal has informed me are also probably a couple — they’re faced with what might be the biggest physical differences a romance has ever had to overcome. It just goes to show you that when you build a container to house the evil brain that has broken free of the boundaries of your human body, at least throw in a couple arms so you can do some basic hugging.
Fortunately for Love, Mallah and the Brain live in the DC Universe, where robot bodies are only slightly less common than acorns, and they were able to locate one that was perfectly suited for a brain transplant. Unfortunately, they discovered this body and finally confessed their feelings for each other…
…right before they both got blown up but good.
Of course, they survived, but only to show up a few years ago in Salvation Run, where the Brain’s robot body was used as a club by yet another talking gorilla to beat Mallah to death, which really makes the allegedly tragic ending of Romeo & Juliet look like the fraud that it is.
It probably says a lot about comics that the most prominent gay relationship of the past decade or so was between alternate-universe stand-ins for Superman and Batman who lived in a universe that does not technically exist anymore, but the fact remains that Apollo and the Midnighter were a totally awesome couple.
If you haven’t read The Authority, Apollo and the Midnighter are basically a more violent version of the familiar World’s Finest team: a solar-powered superman who at least tries not to vaporize enemies with his heat vision unless they become a hassle or he’s really mad, and an enhanced super-commando who once went back in time to literally kick Hitler’s head off.
They’re not exactly complicated — they did, after all, appear in a lot of stories written by Mark Millar — but sometimes it’s nice to see a couple of folks that do nothing but beat the crap out of evil and love the hell out of each other.
As for what the real Batman loves, I think that’s been made pretty clear over the years:
Okay, okay, admittedly: A man’s devotion to his preferred technique for punching criminals right in the mouth isn’t quite on the level of the love two people feel for each other, but let’s go back and look at the evidence here.
This is how Batman’s allegedly “romantic” relationships tend to end:
Not exactly something you want to put in a Hallmark card. In fact, it’s an example of Batman using the very idea of affection as a weapon to fight crime, which is pretty hardcore.
Now go back and look at the first picture. The perfect form, the extension of the arm, the fact that the Scarecrow’s mask is the only thing keeping his head from flying off of his body. That, my friends, is a dedication to the art of wrecking dudes that can only come from love.
Call me sentimental if you will, but I’m not gonna lie: One of my absolute favorite things about the Marvel Universe — which puts it in the running for being one of my favorite things about comics in general — is the idea that Ben Grimm finds love with a woman who can’t see that he looks like a monster, but knows better than anyone that beneath that rocky exterior is the heart of a good man.
Sure, it’s a relationship with all the subtlety you’d expect from Smilin’ Stan and King Kirby, but it underscores what’s so perfect about those characters. The Thing’s powers come at the price of looking for all the world like a monster — albeit a friendly one who speaks very highly of his aunt, something you never get from Googam, Son of Goom — but that in turn leads him to find the love of his life. And then there’s Alicia herself, who can never see how monstrous he looks, but, as a sculptor whose sense of touch is refined enough that she knows exactly what he looks like and loves him anyway.
Heck, just the idea of the sculptor and the man made of rock lends itself to a pretty beautiful metaphor about looking past the surface. So beautiful that… ahem… ‘scuse me here for a second, folks. I think I got something in my eye.
And speaking of great love stories created by Jack Kirby, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of the guys who invented the romance comic — no, seriously — came up with one of the best romances in comics:
Like most everything Kirby did in his Fourth World saga, the relationship between Big Barda and Mr. Miracle is a metaphor literalized into an action story, and for them, it’s all about the power of love. It’s not only a crucial element that allows Scott Free to escape the torturous life on Apokolips, but after Barda helps him escape, it’s what allows her to grow up knowing that there’s something better out there than just a life of mindless violence, and what draws her to Earth.
The central theme of their entire relationship is that two people who devote themselves to each other can conquer any obstacle, whether it’s a distance that feels like planets, forces that actually conspire to drive them apart just because they’re opposed to happiness, or even, as Barda puts it, a shark that you have to beat to death from the inside. And for real: That is the most romantic thing I think I’ve ever read.
For all that it’s a story about a man going toe-to-toe a fistfight with God and all the violence, swearing, and other assorted Mature Themes that got a lot of the attention when it was coming out, to me, Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher will always go down as one of the greatest love stories in comics.
If Barda and Mr. Miracle are the literalization of the conquering power of love and devotion, then Jesse and Tulip are that idea taken to the extreme by pitting them against the greatest possible odds. These are people separated by circumstance, by their enemies, by death itself, but they still find their way back, even when they think they shouldn’t, because they just can’t not be together.
Of course, that all happens on a backdrop of spiritual warfare, Louisiana voodoo vampires, assorted increasingly disgusting villains, and TC and Jody (and the less said about them, the better), but the fact remains: Jesse and Tulip go through the wringer harder than any other comics couple I can think of, and come out loving each other until the end of the world.
And that makes a hell of a Valentine.