If you don’t know what movie I’m referencing, shame on you. Go see it. It’s classic. But in case you have no idea what this refers to, it refers to mwarriage, er, marriage. Specifically, the awful ways comic books handle marriage.
It pretty much goes without saying that every superhero/heroine is such an emotional wreck of a human being that they should never attempt anything resembling a normal romantic relationship with anyone ever. This rant is not about how terrible the people in comic books marriages are (which they tend to be, for the above mentioned reason). This rant is to show that the people involved in the creation of comic books just don’t seem to know how to handle it. Here’s a sad fact – any given character is more likely to die than get married. More than that, any given character is more likely to die twice than get married. It’s like writers understand marriage is this special event they only want characters to go through once, recent terrible retcons notwithstanding. Oddly, divorce is not very common in comic books. As I recollect, a marriage is equally likely to end in a retcon or a divorce. Consider that – writers feel it’s easier to re-write a universe to get rid of marriage than just have the characters divorce. Pardon me if I say that seems like pretty lazy writing. Let’s see, you could write arcs worth of character development, or one lousy arc that just hits the reset button. Time is money, so go with reset. No one will notice…
Despite all this, characters do get married. It seems to be narrative convention that if a couple has been together long enough, writers start to feel pressure that maybe it’s time the characters took the next step in their relationship. In this case, art imitates life. When characters do end up married, those who write/edit the comics seem to feel this is some sort of terminal disease that they need to cure the character of and they tend to do it in the worst way possible. It’s as though they feel that marriage stagnates their characters (not to mention the idea of having children). After all, writers come and go but marriage is forever. Maybe writers do feel legitimately shackled by this relationship they would never have written into the comic to begin with and are annoyed they aren’t allowed to explore the drama of getting their favorite couple together. Maybe from a drama perspective it’s harder to stick a wife in a refrigerator than “just” a girlfriend. Now, I’m not saying every character needs to get hitched. For example, it wouldn’t work to pair off Tony Stark. But it is ridiculous how badly marriages are written, even in the context of everyone involved in them being horribly broken people.
Henry Pym and Janet van Dyne – This power couple is not the worst example of how marriage is treated in comics. If you know anything about them, you should find the previous sentence frightening. Frankly, in re-reading the Avenger tradebacks it’s clear that Henry and Janet were not well matched. He was suffering from anxiety over his first wife’s death, and she was flighty, self-centered and as far as I can tell only interested in a scientist like Pym due to some sort of Electra complex. She pursued Henry, he rejected her. They only got married because Henry ended up with dissociative identity disorder after an experiment went wrong and she took advantage of it. I.e., when Henry married Janet, basically he didn’t know who he was at the time. So there we go – marriage based on deception and manipulation. The situation only deteriorated from there to culminate in Henry’s complete mental breakdown, wife-beating, divorce, and getting thrown out of the Avengers. So why did the writers feel compelled to write the marriage like this? Sure, superheroes aren’t really allowed any happiness, but given everything the Avengers have to deal with on a day-to-day basis (Kang the Conquerer, alien invasions, Dr. Doom, Kang again but a Kang from before they first met Kang…), why add so much dark drama to something to their marriage? Did the writers feel their only choices once the characters got hitched was to either ignore it or ruin it?
Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson – The appeal of Peter Parker is that even though he’s a decently awesome superhero, he’s still an everyman we can relate to. We know that even though he does his best, the universe is still going to kick him in the nuts because the universe thinks it’s funny (and we do too). This results in whining and self-pity that is as much a trademark of Spider-man as witty banter. But in the one break he ever got in his life (excepting the superpowers), and after a string of relationships that ran the gamut from “hilarious rom-com hijinks” to “unspeakably tragic,” he manages to marry the girl of his dreams. Bonus that the girl of his dreams just happens to be a lingerie model. Good for you, tiger, you hit the jackpot. He didn’t deserve her and he was a terrible husband, but she had an even greater superpower than spider-powers – she could pull him out of a bout of whining and self-pity. For that, I think we were all grateful to MJ. But apparently someone who controls Spider-man’s universe thought that Peter Parker would be much more interesting as a swingin’ single than as a happily married man, despite the fact fans had bought this whole marriage thing for nigh on twenty years or so. Let’s be honest, given the target demographic of comics, having a main character who happens to be a totally hot lingerie model is not a bad thing. While it is true that all the women in Peter Parker’s life except Aunt May are unrealistically hot (so much so an incarnation of the Chameleon even remarked on this when he took over Peter’s life), was there ever a time that Peter Parker was a swingin’ single? I mean besides when he is literally a swingin’ single. As noted before, his relationships tended to be disasters. But marriage is boring, so the Powers that Be decreed It Shall Be Undone, and thus it was erased from existence through a deal with the devil (well, Mephisto; same thing). When fans were upset, Marvel’s response was not to reinstate the marriage, but just re-write why it was erased from existence. Yes, because ruining a beloved superhero’s life again in the same way but with a different reason makes it all better.
Clark Kent and Lois Lane – They seemed to work pretty well as a couple, once Superman, who can lift mountains, found enough bravery to ask Lois out (although there are some pretty terrible examples of what-ifs in the 60s). They dated for what, fifty, sixty years before the writers finally let them get together? Why wait so long? Sure, there were other women competing for Superman’s heart, but if Wonder Woman couldn’t win him over, then you knew his love for Lois was pretty darn solid. I suppose maybe the writers were just waiting to time it to sell the maximum amount of comic books. After all, your flagship character only gets married once (generally). As noted above, characters die more often than get married. Superman from Earth-Two managed to get hitched to Lois from Earth-Two before Kal-El. But finally, at long last, Clark and Lois get hitched. Mazel tov. Until DC reboots their whole damn universe in an effort to attract new readership. Amongst the many (to me) poorly thought out changes – Clark Kent is no longer married to Lois Lane. What is the point of this? They’ve already been married. The outcome of the outrage can only end in two ways (and this ties in with Peter Parker/MJ above):
1) Narrative convention and screaming fandom dictates the couple get back together anyway, so an effort to create drama becomes just another rehash of a story we’ve already seen.
2) Writers defy narrative convention and the couple does not get back together. This leads to a series of presumably dramatic and doomed relationships which results in whining. Because I totally want to read more whining about Clark Kent trying to get a date and how no one can understand what it’s like to be him.
Scott Summers and Jean Grey – Oi, where to start. It actually took a long time for these two to get together, despite being in the comics from the very beginning. Their relationship has been plagued with what seems to me often pointless drama. Jean got understandably a little paranoid about marrying Scott after the mess with his first wife (see the following; as bad as this marriage turned out, the first was was worse) and meeting two of their adult children from most likely alternate timelines not to mention knowing that bastard Sinister was interfering in Scott’s life from the very beginning. Also, the whole thing with Scott not telling her about the first marriage. See below. Anyway, in a pleasant twist, Jean proposes to Scott. My hope was finally the relentless Good Girl-Bad Boy drama with Wolverine would go away. I was wrong. So wrong. I would think knowing that Sinister was stalking the Summers’ line would be enough to guarantee they would never be happy and that plenty of drama would ensue. Nope. Instead the writers continue the relentless Good Girl-Bad Boy drama with Wolverine. Worse still, they decide to take it up a notch, because one stupid love triangle despite having married characters isn’t enough. Enter the newly ninja-ed up Psylocke and suddenly Scott’s making googly eyes at the other telepath. Then to cement the ridiculousness, the writers split the teams up in the worst way possible – Scott and Psylocke on one team, and Jean and Wolverine on the other. Why? I can only assume this was the only way they could figure out how to get some drama out of that marriage; they thought they had to wreck it. And eventually that marriage was completely wrecked. I think part of the problem was that they finally resolved that damned Good Girl-Bad Boy conflict with Jean and Wolverine deciding to *gasp* be adults and not act on their feelings considering she was married and all. Somewhere in there, Emma Frost manages to change her alignment to “good.” In a completely implausible storyline which involves several people doing the exact opposite of sensible, rational action, Scott ends up in a psychic affair with another telepath. It goes badly for all parties. In the end, Jean is dead, and a mere three days after she’s buried, Emma Frost flings her heaving and improbably barely clad breasts at Scott and they make out on Jean’s grave. Yep, no respect for marriage or the dead. Frankly the most stable Scott and Jean’s marriage ever was (as far as the writers/editors not screwing around with them) was when they spent twelve years in an Apocalyptic future raising Scott and Madelyne’s son Cable.
Scott Summers and Madelyne Pryor – Yes, Scott Summers is on my list twice. So after the Phoenix Saga Jean died and Scott was understandably disraught. Then he happens to meet a green-eyed redhead just about Jean’s age named Madelyne Pryor. In a very short time, even by comic book standards, he’s married to Madelyne and has a baby boy to boot. At this point I guess the writers/editors figured the only thing to do was either have Scott hang up his visor and get a real job to support his family or they could wreck that marriage. From I’ve read, the lead writer of the Scott-Madelyne marriage actually expected to go with option 1 – Scott would settle down and leave the X-men. In this case I suppose the marriage fell prey to a stronger narrative convention – nothing can ever really change ever. So instead the writers went with option two and they managed to make Scott Summers, the Boy Scout, into the world’s biggest douche-bag. Upon hearing a rumor that Jean might possibly not be totally dead, he abandons his wife and baby without so much as a note to find Jean. Ok, so maybe we can forgive him since it was obvious he wasn’t over Jean when he married Madelyne. Jean is alive, and he completely neglects to tell her he’s already married! Jean finds out and she’s the one to tell him to go back to them. When he checks in with his wife he finds the house burned to the ground, his wife and child missing, no bodies in the wreckage, and a calling card from the Marauders. His response, “Well, that sucks.” And then he goes back to Jean. Not long after, Madelyne and the baby are found safe and sound by another team of X-men although this is not relayed to Scott and Jean until much later. The situation, as you may imagine, turns out badly for all parties.
Reed Richards and Sue Storm – You may protest that they have been married and stayed married for a very long time (comics time). Well, this was a marriage that like of Henry Pym and Janet van Dyne, and started off in a kind of bad way. Reed was older than Sue by a few years, and using her money to go into space. Early FF comics have him dismissing her opinions, ordering her around, and basically behaving like a misogynist bastard. Despite this, they get married. And even had children, which brought about a lot of drama. Of course, Franklin is a god, but hey, these things happen. Sue nearly divorced Reed when he shut down Franklin’s powers but they reconciled. Sue nearly divorced him again after that whole Civil War mess. The second child would have ended the universe and was never born. And finally the third child is only three and easily as smart as Reed Richards. But they’re still married. And that’s part of the reason I get annoyed at how marriages are treated by many writers/editors – the exception shows that marriages don’t have to be terribly written.
The best writing of any married characters, or hell any characters in a relationship, is when it’s written honestly. The writing is at its worse when there is such contrived drama like love triangles or crazy cloning sagas or totally out-of-character moves. And at least in the case of Reed Richards, numerous what-ifs and lots of hints and allegations and at least one storyline in Universe 616, marriage is the only thing that keeps him from being Dr. Doom. Seriously. There is a whole cabal of alternate universe Reed Richards’ who all got together to improve the universe, whether the universe liked it or not (I.e., they had turned into Dr. Doom). The common thread amongst these parallel Reeds? No Sue. For whatever reason, either Sue died or left, none of the Reeds were married. Reed needs someone (I know this may not need to be his wife, but in this case it is) to listen to his plans and say to him, “Reed, you realize that depriving all of humanity of their free will is wrong, don’t you?” And this has to be someone he’ll listen to and reply, “You’re right. I’d better scrap that plan.” Hell, in alternative universes where Reed dies and Doom marries Sue, Doom’s if not a good guy at least not a bad guy. Writers can do better. Right now I’m enjoying the writing of the marriage of Luke Cage to Jessica Jones and how they’re dealing with being Avengers and parents of an adorable little girl, even though the situation is deteriorating rapidly. But it’s being written like two adults (albeit under extreme circumstances) acting like adults in a bad situation. Wow, is that so much to ask? Or is it just a matter of time before Jessica starts flirting with Wolverine? I sincerely hope not.