All this talk about dismantling Clark Kent and Lois Lane's marriage, only twelve years young, has me thinking.
About wedding bells. About marriage vows. About power couples who travel across dimensions and somehow still have time to work on their relationship, like these happy people:
In his run on the Adventures of Superman, Rucka had Clark and Lois grow apart simply because Superman was having a lousy time at work and Lois was assigned to follow a war in another country. Realistic, everyday things like time and distance separated them, and the sadness they both felt at their limited communication was palpable to the reader. Check out this short series of panels, in which Lois heads out for her assignment. I defy you to find a better depiction of two people who want to say a lot but can only manage to say a little under the circumstances:
Diabolical. What he does with their marriage is anyone's guess. At least when DC's version of the devil, Neron, stole Wally West and Linda Park's love, he ended up cuddling and comforting all the minions he'd been torturing only hours before. Still ridiculous. Then again, Mark Waid also had Wally race into a Vahalla for speedsters, only to come back because Linda's love pulled him back to Earth. Corny, I know. But! Still believable, in its fairy tale way. Perhaps more astonishingly, Waid took Wally from being this guy--
This rather picture-happy rambling forces me to come to a point. What's a more mature, courageous decision than dedicating your life to the support, love, and protection of another human being? In comics, marriages should be taken at least as seriously as they are in real life, given that choices in comics often stand as huge metaphors, slipping into allegories, for the everyday heroism displayed for and required by actual people. What do writers have to say about marriage? How can they make readers understand the state of the union in a contemporary context through a pulpy, pop culture medium? Could they surprise us? I think so. Often, they don't.
Like when, say, Black Canary has to murder her husband on their honeymoon, but it turns out that he's an impostor, so no consequential blow-back happens. I gotta think that such plots rob marriage of any meaning beyond marking time on a character's lifespan. Rather than showing what a major and somewhat terrifying commitment marriage is, in order to prove our hero an even greater hero -- writers sometimes invalidate the whole commitment in order to create false drama.
Not only can lasting conflicts be undercut using the impostor angle, not only can marriages be stolen by the devil rather than allowed to run a natural course into lovelessness and exhaustion, they can also be thrown into the jaws of death and THEN snatched right back, as if nothing bad happened in the first place. It's okay that Ollie died -- Green Arrow and Black Canary are still together today, those crazy kids.
Still, I think it's the impermanence of marriage that drives me crazier. Maybe I'm revealing myself to be a prude here, believing in marriage as an institution when half of marriage fail nowadays. But let's be clear: I don't think divorce should be kept out of comics; I don't think everyone should be married, and watching superheroes come to that conclusion would be FASCINATING. An emotional landscape they can't conquer is rare to find; why not explore a superhero custody battle, or a drawn-out divorce proceeding?
The marketing departments at DC and Marvel seems to think comic readers can't handle a sticky situation involving one's spouse. Rather than go for the heart, they go for the entrails and the easier solution -- death, mistaken identities, curses, etc. -- rather than explore real conflict between two people. We're already dependent on technology to connect for us; avoiding actual human interaction in our art, substituting it with gore and sophomoric horror and compromises ... what does that say about us about us as citizens of a culture?
I imagine this avoidance mindset grew out of the male-created romance comics from the 1940's, where women were either temptresses or pure as snow, and fulfilled their boyfriend's every wish because that was what was expected of them. These comics were written for young girls to bask in sudsy, forbidden predicaments, true, but they also reinforced both the fantasies and nightmares worried over by nerdy male writers.
I'd love to see more characters working through the regular stress of a relationship within heightened, universe-shattering circumstances; that's drama on a goofy, adventure-sized level. It could seem meaningless on the surface, but the right writer could pack marriage and intergalactic conflict with significance, demonstrating why we love the characters and their relationships in the first place.
You don't get that attitude often. More often, you end up with dead ghost detectives, or worse, rebooted lives with a strange new set of circumstances to tangle with -- not deep issues, just plot-driven ones. (Check out the Superman 2000 proposal, later cannibalized by several writers, for an example of an O. Henry-esque sacrifice that effectively rebooted Clark and Lois' relationship.)
Because you know he will. Superman and Lois Lane ... they're inevitable, like wedding bells and inter-dimensional travel.
Fantastic Four Annual Cover: Gene Ha, Cover Artist.
Older Action Comics Panel: Jerry Siegel, Writer; Joe Shuster, Pencils.
Crying Superman Panel: Kurt Schaffenberger, via Daily Superman.
Superman and Lois Say Goodbye: Greg Rucka, Writer; Matthew Clark, Pencils; Tanya & Richard Corie, Colorists; Nelson, Inker; Rob Leigh, Letterer.
Mephisto Panel: J. Michael Straczynski, Writer; Chris Eliopoulos, Inker; Richard Isanove, Colorist.
The Flash Hotdog Panel: Mark Waid, Writer; Greg LaRocque, Artist.
The Flash Marriage Proposal: Mark Millar, Writer; Pop Mhan, Pencils; Tom McCraw, Colorist/Inker; Gaspar Saladino, Letterer.
Superman Wedding Shot: Dan Jurgens, Artist.