Underneath the Mask: Why Marriage In Comics Matters

by Aaron Einhorn
A few days ago, the word came out that due to an editorial edict by DC Comics that Batwoman (Kate Kane) and her fiancé, Maggie Sawyer would not be permitted to ever actually get married, the creative team of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman would be walking away from the title.

At first, this seemed like a feckless move that was insulting to the LGBT community. I certainly looked at it as such. But in the light of a recent statement made by Dan DiDio during the Baltimore Comic Con, I have realized that it isn’t just a short-sighted move designed to avoid dealing with the possible backlash from showing a gay marriage in their comics (despite the fact that Marvel certainly didn’t seem to suffer after Northstar’s marriage in the pages of X-Men a few years back.) No, if DiDio is to be believed, this instead shows a serious flaw in the attitude towards marriage from DC Comics as a whole.

No happy marriages can be here, so we'll just pretend these two never existed.

No happy marriages can be here, so we’ll just pretend these two never existed.

The statement is as follows (from The Beat):

Heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives. They are committed to being that person and committed to defending others at the sacrifice of their own personal interests.

That’s very important and something we reinforced. People in the Bat family their personal lives basically suck. Dick Grayson, rest in peace—oops shouldn’t have said that,—Bruce Wayne, Tim Drake, Barbara Gordon and Kathy Kane. It’s wonderful that they try to establish personal lives, but it’s equally important that they set them aside. That is our mandate, that is our edict and that is our stand.

Wow, this strikes me as an incredibly sad and pathetic statement, although I will confess that it makes a lot of the decisions from The New 52 make a whole new sense. The dissolution of Clark Kent and Lois Lane as a couple, the erasure of the marriage of Iris West and Barry Allen, and the absolute lack of existence of either Wally West and Linda, or Ralph and Sue Dibny suddenly makes sense. (Along with the invisible erasure of the marriage between Arthur and Mera. And we won’t even touch on the just pre-New 52 murder of Lian Harper.)

Yes, fans had waited nearly fifty years for this, and we had ten years of compelling stories, but it's better to keep Clark and Lois apart.

Yes, fans had waited nearly fifty years for this, and we had ten years of compelling stories, but it’s better to keep Clark and Lois apart.

Each of these couples illustrated that marriage can co-exist with superheroic activity. It’s hard, and none of these marriages were perfect, but they showed that it can work. Meanwhile, despite erasing one of the highest profile weddings in their history in the form of Peter Parker and Mary Jane, Marvel is happy to have Reed and Sue Richards running around the Marvel Universe along with their family, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones and their child, along with many heroes with non-super-powered wives.

On the first hand, I find this troubling for the reason that it paints a terrible image from our “role models.” What DiDio is saying there is essentially that being a superhero means sacrificing everything that makes life worth living. We look at superhuman characters as heroes and role-models, but I’m not certain I can agree that setting aside everything that a hero wants in their family life in service to their duties as a hero is actually admirable.

I’m a father. I have two little girls who I absolutely adore and love and would do almost anything for. I’m also an employee of a company, and the head of a local branch of superhero costumers for charity. I have responsibilities that override my desires – and while the world I live in doesn’t mean my choices have the same stakes as “Go home to be with your wife or the Joker will destroy Gotham,” it doesn’t change the fact that I have situations come up where what I want for myself, or for my family, conflicts with my other responsibilities. And sometimes work wins out, and sometimes family wins out, and every day is a different struggle.

reed_sue

All of which is my way of saying that having the line be clearly drawn, that a married superhero is compromising their duty to “the mission,” seems terribly black and white. And it means that being a superhero ultimately means cutting yourself off from the very humanity you are vowed to protect.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the other area that DiDio is missing. Outside of Disney movies (ironically, the owners of Marvel Comics where marriage between characters is not verboten), marriage does not mean “Happily ever after.” DiDio is married himself, so I’m sure he knows this, but being married doesn’t mean “a happy personal life.” Marriage is a commitment, and a two-way street, and it is often hard. Is it fulfilling and worthwhile? I certainly think so, but I also don’t think that it’s always easy. Christina and I fight. We disagree about many things and our life together is a series of compromises and balancing our own desires and needs with the desires of each other and our children.

Luke-Cage-Jessica-Jones

We also love each other, and we take a great deal of joy in each other’s company and we are stronger together than we are apart. Which just means that the daily struggles are worthwhile. Kind of in the same way that superheroes struggle against their obstacles, using the powers that make them stronger than an ordinary human, huh?

Luke Cage and Jessica Jones struggled with what being members of the Avengers meant for two people (even two superpowered ones) who were trying to raise a child. Reed Richards must often decide between spending another hour in his lab or taking time to have dinner with Sue and Franklin. For both of these cases, the struggle to balance family and their roles as heroes wasn’t a boring story or an easy out – it made for some of the best stories in their character’s histories.

And of course, through their parent company, Marvel also owns these guys, who are all about finding that balance between family and heroism, and showing that the struggle is never easy, but is always worth it.

1483059-the_incredibles_the_incredibles_620936_1280_994

Love is hard, but endures. That's a terrible message to see from our heroes.

Love is hard, but endures. That’s a terrible message to see from our heroes.

Back in the pre-New 52 days, DC was able to do this same thing. Lois Lane gave Superman the perspective and humanity he needed to stay among man and not fly above it. Linda West gave the Flash the emotional anchor he needed to return from the Speed Force. And in the poorly conceived Identity Crisis, the murder of Sue Dibny broke the Elongated Man, and ultimately led to the path that had him losing his life, only to finally be reunited with Sue as a ghost.

I don’t know whether or not the “no marriage” edict is better or worse than the idea that DC simply wanted to bury the idea of a marriage between Batwoman and Kate Kane. But I do know that, either way, it reinforces my belief that DC Comics no longer wants my money, and that the stories being created by Marvel are much more in line with what I want and need to be reading.

I want to see stories where my heroes are human underneath their powers. I want to see those family connections. And yeah, I’m ok if that means that some of these marriages fail, either because the stress of being a superhero is too much and one member cracks under pressure (like Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne), or because of infidelity (Scott Summers and Jean Grey), or because of a literal deal with the Devil. Because marriage is hard, and just like we want to see heroes fail from time to time when fighting Doctor Doom or Thanos, it’s ok to see them fail in their personal lives.

But the counterpoint is seeing the strength that Reed Richards can derive from Franklin, Sue, Valeria, Johnny and Ben. Because if heroes are meant to show us where our own strength is, then they shouldn’t be cut off from the same relationships that make each day better for so many of us.

peter_mj_wedding

Comments

  1. And how insulting to the real-life heroes in, say, the police, firefighters, and military who are married. They DO sacrifice some of their personal interests, especially in the case of soldiers who deploy – but what’s important about what they do is that they put their own safety on the line when it’s needed to save others, NOT that they have unhappy personal lives.

  2. I’m really happy you wrote this Aaron. I have been thinking about this since I read Didio’s comments because like you, superheroes have a big part in my life. My favorite stories have been when the superhero must battle his/her emotions just as I do, which is important when you have some characters with such longevity.
    Didio making this sweeping comment about superheroes uses the word should…his opinion about relationships is obviously is not a good one..so the rest of us are stuck with it too. A major problem is that young people do actually pick this up and this is what you want to tell them? That the only way you’ll be successful is by having a miserable home life?
    So, if DC thinks personal relationships are impossible then why are they coming out with a Superman/Wonder Woman monthly title? So they can show me how my favorite icon can be miserable? Haven’t we already done that with Maxwell Lord?
    (Also, why create a new universe of the Bat family is just as if not more miserable than before?)
    Relationships and marriage are part of human make up, if the heroes don’t have positive home lives every now and then..then what are they really fighting for? You and I and everyone else sacrifice for our loved ones. Why are ideals about love and companionship less important than truth and justice?

  3. Dumok the Artist says:

    I have a tough time thinking why a responsible superhero would put a normal person in danger by getting into a relationship with them. I kind of agree with the Logic DC employs with relationships. It’s one thing being with another superhuman, but to put a normal, minimally trained human in that kind of danger is not only irresponsible, it’s down right selfish.

  4. Marriage has been derided for decades in all entertainment media as an institution that weighs down the exciting lives that mainly male heroes should be leading. There has been a steadfast refusal to recognize it for what it is, a prejudice engendered by an abject failure of imagination on the part of those who work in these entertainment media. Many an excuse has been advanced for this, most centering on the idea that marriage imposes tedious domesticity on the characters, which only illuminates the failure of imagination that’s really in play, and in some cases the outright hostility some “creatives” clearly feel towards the institution.

    • Dumok the Artist says:

      Speaking AS a married man, the institution of marriage can be stifling but also rewarding, the partner can bring a much needed grounding and sense of humanity but my problem with Meta-humans getting married is that there are some serious issues that can come with the relationship. Emotional baggage, Anxiety from the partner, and yes the mind games that come with the whole “If you love me you will give up fighting crime” discussion that inevitably comes up. then there is the whole issue of physiology. Taking Clark and Lois for example, we have a situation where one wrong move on his part could wind up having Lois being killed by Clark. That kind of responsibility is seriously mind effecting, since we also have no idea if Kryptonian and Human DNA are compatible let alone the Private parts.
      My point is that Romantic relationships can not only be more trouble than they are worth under normal circumstances, being a metahuman creates a lot more issues than should really be discussed in a setting like this blog.

  5. In the quoted section Didio was referring to the Bat Clan specifically, and I can completely understand where he’s coming from. Those characters in particular are making a choice to hide their identities and risk their lives, with no special powers that would make the choice not a choice. I can see Superman deciding to get married, because he will never not be super-powered, and therefore would either choose to remain single (and presumably childless) for the rest of his life or somehow balance Superman and Spouse-of-whoever. In the Bat Family’s case, they should obviously settle down at some point if that’s what they decide to do, but one would assume either with someone who is also in their ‘line of work’, or after they are done being a Bat-whatever.
    The successful couples listed almost all involved both partners being powered, which is different than involving an ordinary human in a life that is potentially short and painful. Look at what DC did to Sue Dibny.
    The author is also pre-supposing Governmentally sanctioned and recognized marriage or nothing, which is not necessarily the case. Are Aquaman and Mera any less a couple because they apparently aren’t legally married? Where could Mera, a woman without a birth certificate, get legally married on the surface world anyway? Pre-52 she was married to Arthur in Atlantis, but the New 52 history has her persona non grata in the kingdom, so likely there was no ceremony attended by Teen Titans with helmets this time around.
    Kate and Maggie make sense as partners because Maggie’s doing something akin to what Kate’s doing, though Kate’s is much more dangerous because she has no legal backing, but I don’t see what they’re being legally hitched does to enhance the characters other than to ensure that Maggie’ll have access to the Kane Fortune. And therein might lie an interesting story.

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