Store-Bought Valentine Rankings: Batman, Spider-Man, Power Rangers, The Avengers And The Surprisingly Depressing Hello Kitty
Valentine's Day is upon us once again, which means that tomorrow, we are all legally required to give the people we love little pieces of paper that sum up exactly how we feel about them, in tribute to a Catholic saint who was clubbed to death and beheaded. Truly, it is the most romantic of all times.
But for superhero fans, it does present a problem. Obviously, we all want to express our devotion to romantic partners while also expressing our devotion to our favorite characters, but are any of the superhero valentines that you can find in stores across the country actually good? If you pick up the Batman valentines at your local Target, will your love life be soaring to new heights above Gotham City, or will it be gunned down in an alley leaving you alone to wage war on crime? It's a daunting task, which is why every year, I take the hit for you to find out if there are any good store-bought superhero valentines.
Option 1: Ultimate Spider-Man
Romance: I've been doing this annual roundup of store-bought valentines for about three years now, and in that time, I've learned that Spider-Man is pretty much the baseline standard in terms of store-bought romance, and that makes a lot of sense. Even if the cards don't actually highlight Spider-Man's actually pretty compelling love life -- which might actually be a good thing, unless you're planning on handing your special someone a card right before they're thrown off a bridge -- there's a lot to work with. Given his publication history, Spider-Man lends himself pretty well to telling your beloved that they're "Amazing" or "Spectacular," and this year's offerings even throw in a nod to his Spider-Sense for that relationship that you know is dangerous, but you just can't avoid getting into.
Of course, there's also all the requisite invitations regarding "swinging," which seems like it might be a little too explicit for most situations, but hey. It's the '90s.
One thing that's interesting about these, though, is that they're not just Spider-Man Valentines, they're Ultimate Spider-Man Valentines. That makes them perfect if you've just started a new relationship because your old one had too much continuity.
Extras: One thing I noticed when I bought this year's crop of Valentines was that a lot of them are moving away from awesome extras (by which I mean stickers, stickers rule) and more towards boring, terrible pencils. There's such a focus on #2 pencils that I'm starting to think these things might be made to be given out in schools and not by sensible adults.
Standout Card: I haven't been keeping up with Ultimate Spider-Man lately, but does Spider-Man have a flying motorcycle now?
If so, that's rad, but it also sets up a standard that you might not be able to live up to. I mean, if this card works but you don't show up to pick up your date dressed as Spider-Man on a flying motorcycle, I think we're all going to be a little disappointed.
Option 2: Beware the Batman
Romance: The depressing thing about today's Valentines -- well, one of the depressing things, we'll be getting to more later, I assure you -- is that they all use stock art and, for different versions of the same franchise, a set of stock phrases slapped on top of them. In past years, you could get actual Valentines made for the occasion, resulting in beautifully weird moments like Batman telling you that his anti-crime computer has determined you must be his Valentine -- and the computer is never wrong.
These days, we just have frowny Batman glaring at you while informing you that you're his super friend, and then ordering you to fight for justice. Think about that for a minute: Assuming you're exchanging cards with someone you love, you're probably going to get one about feelings and how much you mean to them, and you're going to be handing one that says "Thanks, but you really need to train your mind and body to wage war on all criminals." This is, I am sorry to say, the worst possible way to express love. Although to be fair, it's going to be pretty hard to make out if the Joker poisons the water supply, so maybe it's just about immediate concerns.
Extras: One good thing about Batman Valentines: they don't mess around with pencils. Instead -- Hell yes -- you get temporary tattoos and stickers. Although I'm not sure I can get too excited about that, since one of the stickers is a picture of Anarky, which, again, is a pretty weird message to send on Valentine's Day.
Standout Card: Remember what I was saying about stock art and stock phrases?
I made the joke about how this card was an explicit invitation for sex last year. Step your game up, Valentine manufacturers.
Option 3: Man of Steel
Romance: Speaking of stock photos repurposed for halfassed Valentines, we have found the true apotheosis of that genre: A bunch of vaguely romantic sentences written on pictures of last summer's Superman movie where everyone looks kind of confused and gassy. Seriously, look at that one on the bottom right. That is a guy who has no idea what is going on.
Listen, I don't own a Valentine printing business so I'm not sure how it works, but if I had to make a set of Valentines based on Superman, I'd maybe think about throwing Lois Lane on one or two of them. You know, the actual love story of the Superman franchise? I mean, sure there are two obvious problems in that kids think smooching is gross and that the only real moment of romance in that movie comes when Superman and Lois are making out while inhaling the ashes of a thousand dead Metropolitans, but still. Make the friggin' effort.
Extras: Pencils again. And they're cheap, too. They snap almost as easily as your enemies' necks.
Standout Card: Picking a single card that encapsulates this whole set is a pretty daunting task. Originally I was going to go with one that I called "Murder Superman's Gas Face," but I think it really comes down to this one:
"Have a Happy Valentine's Day, because if you don't, I will murder this planet and reign atop a mountain of skulls" is... That might actually be worse than the Batman one.
Option 4: Power Rangers MegaForce
Romance: Of all the franchises that you'd expect to reuse old art -- or even to just keep the same boxes of Valentines in circulation for another year -- Power Rangers Megaforce rolled out with an entirely new set of cards for 2014. This is pretty surprising for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that Power Rangers Megaforce is technically over. Still, these are entirely different cards than the ones I picked up last year, and I applaud the effort.
Even better, the actual cards themselves are pretty fantastic. True to tokusatsu form, they read like they were hastily translated from a foreign language, full of phrases like "Mega Valentine Strike!" (which I assume to be a super awesome makeout technique) and "We Are United, Valentine!" which is close enough to "Let's Get Together!" to work, in a Mr. Sparkle sort of way.
Extras: In addition to a new set of cards, Power Rangers has also upgraded from temporary tattoos to stickers. Hell yes, stickers. Gosei knows what's up.
Standout Card: I have no idea what this means.
All I know is that it's a robot with an unexplained Southern accent exhorting you to summon the Valentine's power, and that this is the best possible way to say "I love you."
Option 5: Avengers
Romance: With a movie franchise that has made more money than actually exists in the world, it's no surprise that you can cruise into any store and pick up a set of Avengers Valentines. What is surprising is that whoever it was that licensed this was apaprently working on a budget of twelve bucks and a ham sandwich, and came out with a remarkably lackluster set of cards.
They're not as offensively terrible as the Man of Steel cards, you understand, but they're just a mess all over. Bad enough that they've got stock art, but lines like "Have A Smashing Day" are printed on cards where the Hulk's way in the back! C'mon, guys. I appreciate the effort, but that is like day one stuff. And, I swear to God, one of these just says "Assembled" nine times. That's not a joke. At least they remembered it for that one.
Extras: Tattoos and stickers, one of the few bright spots of this set.
Standout Card: "Avengers Initiate."
You had one job. You had one job.
Option 6: Hello Kitty
Romance: I had a sneaking suspicion that superheroes weren't going to cut it this year, so I made sure to pick up an extra option just in case, and I went with Hello Kitty. That makes sense, right? Everyone loves Hello Kitty! She's so cute! She's all about hearts and flowers and romance! Oh how wrong I was.
See, these cards are definitely divided into two categories. There is one -- one -- "Be mine?" that's clearly meant to be given to your actual sweetheart. The rest are just brutal variations on the classic let-them-down-easy style. You could maybe make a case for "You're sweet!" to have potential, but "Friends Forever" and "Stay Sweet!"? those are things you write in the yearbook of someone you don't know very well. I'm getting depressed just looking at these.
Extras: Pencils. Cruel, cruel pencils.
Standout Card: "If you pause it, you can pinpoint the exact moment where his heart breaks."
These cards are why Badtz Maru wears black on the outside, because that's how he feels on the inside.
Option 7: Outer Space Glow Sticker Valentines
Romance: Remember last year, when the superhero Valentines were a complete bust, but I was able to save the day by finding a set of cards that were just 3D skulls that changed into electric guitars when you moved them? Well, I remembered, which is why I grabbed a box from the good people at the Mello Smello corporation. And this time, they are comparing the love you feel to the majesty of space itself.
How fantastic is that? Not only is it astronomically romantic, but the puns work! A shot of the Earth with "You're out of this world!" A bittersweet (and weirdly pink shaded) photo of Jupiter with "You're worlds away!" The completely inexplicable "You're a ringer!" for Saturn, implying that your dearest beloved is hustling people for bets down at the pool hall! They are perfect for literally every occasion.
Extras: The Outer Space Glow Sticker Valentines not only include stickers -- which, as we have established, rule so hard Valentines want to fine me -- these things glow in the dark. Everybody making Valentines that include pencils: Get that weak junk out my mailbox.
Standout Card: The single best thing about this card: You can tell your special someone "I love you. Here's a picture of Uranus."
WHAT'S THAT? I HAVE JUST BEEN NAMED PRESIDENT CHUCKLES, EMPEROR OF ALL COMEDY?! I KNEW THIS DAY WOULD COME!