Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My six favourite comic romances

I’m a big old softie at heart, and I do genuinely like it when fictional comic characters discover a real romantic spark.

There used to be dozens of romance titles published, but they all faded away over the years as superheroes took an iron grip on the medium. But the romance wasn’t totally dead, and there have been small moments of true passion, and sometimes there are true happy endings, where people do settle down with that special someone.

In superhero comics, settling down with the missus usually doesn’t end well. Both Superman and Spider-man have had their marriages dissolved with time travel and demonic shenanigans. They did both last longer than anybody expected, but they caved in the end.

It didn’t really matter, because there were very few times that Mr and Mrs Kent and Mr and Mrs Parker actually acted like proper couples, and those brief moments of real marriage time showed up on the most obscure places, like Warren Ellis’ JLA: Classified story, which featured a Clark and Lois who felt like a real married couple.

But there are other couples in comic books that have been delightful and educational. Couples that show us how it’s done, couples that are really romantic. Couples like these six:

1. Mina Harker and Allan Quatermain – the romance of the new

The romance between these two 19th century adventurers has been the spine of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. No matter what kind of odd and dramatic situations they found themselves in, Allan is always there for Mina, and she is always there for him.

There are times when they do seem like some strange fantastical creatures, after all the strife they’ve been through and their immortality, Allan and Mina are minor gods, striding through the 20th century in secret steps.

But they’re also the two most human of all the Extraordinary Gentlemen, and have real spark and fire as a couple. They know how to needle each other, and which buttons to push, but that happens to every couple who has been together for a while. Just because every comment is a snarky comment doesn’t mean those words aren’t still dripping with real affection.

It’s there in any couple who have been together for decades, and these two have been together for more than a century. They might snipe and moan like horny teenagers sometimes, but there are several lifetimes of affection there.

The other thing that makes the Mina/Allan couple so enticing is that they never stop looking for new things, and push each other onto strange new experiences. Unlike many other fictional immortals, they still love life and this world, and want to see and feel as much of it as possible.

It’s no fun doing that kind of thing on your own, and that’s why they blaze a path worth following. Go out and see the world with the one you love the most, and the world will love you back.

2. Christine Spar and Brian Li sung – the romance of destruction

The relationship between Christine Spar and Brian Li Sung in the pages of Grendel did not end well for anybody. Within months of their brief and passionate affair, they were both dead, eaten alive by the same demons.

But there was also the sense that they were damned anyway. Christine was a dead woman walking, hollowed out by the death of her son and the burden of that damned mask. Brian was sucked into the world of Grendel, but he was also doomed whether he got close to Christine or not. Nobody got out of Grendel’s world alive.

So when they are together, for just a few short moments, there is this horrible inevitability, but there is also a fragile tenderness between the two lovers.

For those brief slices of time that they are together, all that other misery that is bleeding into their lives is shut off. It can’t be avoided, but it can be postponed.

Their love burns with an intense flame that quickly fizzles out, but at least they feel that heat. Most of us should be so lucky.

3. Wally West and Linda Park – the romance of the slow burn

For a comic that is all about velocity, the romance between Wally and Linda took its own sweet time, and was all the more moving because of it.

Linda started out as a vague secondary character, turned into a romantic interest after a couple of years, and was soon The Flash’s one true love. There was a decade of comics between their first meeting and the moment they finally got married, and like any good relationship, they took the time to get to know each other.

Mark Waid has a spectacular romantic streak, and the team-up of Wally and Linda is one of his highest achievements in superhero comics. The current DC’s focus on Barry Allen has let this relationship fade into the background, but they will always be welcome back, because they have the best stories to tell over the dinner table.

4. Wolverine and Jean Grey- the romance of animal passion

The best thing about Marvel Girl hooking up with the old canuklehead is how wrong it is. Jean belongs with Scott Summers, she’s always been Scott’s girl and that’s the way things should be.

But love doesn’t always work out like that. It’s both way more complicated and far simpler than it looks.

Besides, Cyclops and Marvel Girl were an ideal couple that never really lived up to that ideal. Death and resurrection messed everything up, and Scott didn’t help matters when he went off and married an exact duplicate of Jean with a disturbingly obtuse past.

There was one brief period, after the Inferno shenanigans had sorted out the whole Madeline Pryor thing and before everybody moved back into Jim Lee’s mansion, when Scott and Jean actually acted like a proper couple, but most of the time there was something coming between them, from cosmic craziness to carnal passions.

But the spark that turned into a fire between poor old James and poor young Jean did not start well. Wolverine made his intentions known from the start, but just came across as a cocky little runt. In those Claremont/Cockrum stories, Wolverine is a little creepy, because he hasn’t got that code of honour and long, complicated history that will ultimately define him. When he makes a pass at Marvel Girl in those early issues, you just want Cyclops to open his eyes and blast this arrogant dick apart.

Anything that existed between Jean and Logan simmered slowly over the next few decades. It was still there in those weird John Bolton-drawn back-ups in Classic X-Men, or that time during the mutant massacre when he caught her scent when she was supposed to be dead and went mental.

In fact, it was a passion that was never really consummated. They ended up as a couple in the Age of Apocalypse, and after years and years of flirting that felt perfectly natural. But by the time Scott and Jean called it quits in the real world, she was soon on a spaceship heading for the heart of the sun, and never came back.

Wolverine was with her, at the end.

She could calm him down and he could show who how to live. The fact that it never really worked out for them is a terrific tragedy, but a hell of a story.

5. Midnighter and Apollo – the romance of the obvious

There was some obvious fan-baiting is making a Superman analogue give the glad eye to a Batman duplicate, but taking all those wry smiles from old issues of World’s Finest Comics and turning them into a full blown romance wasn’t that much of a step, or all that surprising.

What was surprising was how well that relationship worked in Stormwatch and the early Authority issues. Warren Ellis created a true couple, who worked together on everything and would do anything for each other. They were a professional, social and romantic partnership that was so logical it was weird that it took so long to form.

What was even more surprising was the deft touch Mark Millar brought to the characters when took over The Authority. Millar is often (rightly) criticised for blowing his big, bombastic moments, but his bits between the super-fighting can be tremendous.

In his Authority comics with Frank Quitely, Millar goes behind closed doors and shows extraordinary beings enjoying an extraordinary life in an extraordinary world, but still makes them human enough to care about. Midnighter and Apollo stop acting for the world when they’re on down-time, and say things to each other that would sound appalling as a public statement, but are often revealed in intimate and private discussions.

Overlooking the world, they are terribly human and insanely powerful, but Apollo and Midnighter are such a comfortable and obvious couple that it’s only natural.

6. Ray Dominguez and Maggie Chascarillo – the romance of comfort

There are a dozen great romances in Love and Rockets, from Heralcio and Carmen to Penny Century and Herb Costignan, but the sweet and blissful hook-up of Maggie and Ray is always my favourite.

Partly it’s because that relationship came just as Jaime Hernandez’s comics were settling on a bold and humanistic style, and partly it’s because they were both at a stage in life where they just needed to chill out and relax for a while, after a very stressful few years.

Two years evaporate in this coupling, glazed over with a nonchalant shrug. Ray and Maggie are comfortable, drifting through things with little care. They’re still going to punk gigs, but they’re more likely to get settled in at a table near the back.

Even its ending was smooth – there was no real break-up, just miscommunications and hurt feelings from a distance, and they all moved on.

There were hints and teases over the past few years that they could get back together, and it really looked like it was happening in the most recent annual issue of Love and Rockets, but it didn’t work out. And it was no disappointment – they were good and fine reasons why they couldn’t continue. It’s hard, but life goes on

I still think that they will get back together in their twilight years. Both of them have a lot they still need to work out, but when they get older and deal with it all, thy will come back and live out their days in some comfort. There is always hope.

1 comment:

demoncat said...

nice list of romances. love seeing Apollo and Midnighter romance on this list. plus also thought Wolverine and Jean romance was more interesting and better then when Jean was with cyclops.