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Love stinks. Yeah, yeah.
It’s the ugly truth and a catchy song, but neither of those makes the statement any less real for the Marvel Universe. If I ever found myself trapped in the funny pages of my favorite Marvel comic, the first thing I’d do is move out of New York City. The second would be to never, ever fall in love. It’s just bad news, a death sentence, a waste of time that will only be written and rewritten at the first sign of a sales slump or a lazy story. Lust is one thing, one-night stands, longing looks, flings and things are all a different story, but love? Real, true, committed love? The kind that some believe you only see in fiction? Don’t look for it in the pages of Spider-Man.
More sad truths persist: There’s just not a lot of profit in true love. The Stable Adventures of Spider-Man and His Wife is way too long to grace a comic cover and doesn’t grab our attention as much as an unanswered question will; the romantic chase is what keeps readers tuned in, but even that can sour if it’s not shaken and stirred from time to time. Look at Rogue and Gambit! They’ve been Will-They-Won’t-They since they laid eyes on one another and became such a staple of shipping hearts of ’90s children (like myself) that their very characterization withered on the vine. They lost all sense of who they were without one another but still couldn’t commit to a permanent relationship. And those who have? The merry, married Marvel heroes?
It’s not pretty. If I was the Beaubier-Jinadus, I would have made a very firm pre-nup. Is there any hope for a happy Valentine’s Day for these newlyweds? Read on!
Folks, before I got weighed down by the ugly truth about Marvel love, I happened upon an article on Marvel.com that spotlighted 10 of Marvel’s “finest couples.” This was written back in the long, long ago of 2008, which might not seem that long, but considering how fast the Marvel Universe changes and how fickle we the readers can be, it reads like the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s a Who’s Who of sad feels and OTPs that have been dashed upon the rocks of nostalgia and destruction. Firestar and Justice haven’t graced the pages of a comic in years, let alone together as a couple (the article lists their official break-up as I Heart Marvel: Masked Intentions, a one-shot from 2006). The list has Scott Summers and Peter Parker twice, making me a little fuzzy on the qualifications of what makes a “fine couple” and sad that all of their listings are currently in a state of tragedy. Peter might never be with Mary Jane or Gwen Stacy again and Scott should probably take a page from Gambit and Rogue and work on some Me Time rather than hooking back up with Emma Frost or Jean Grey.
I really, really feel bad for the time-displaced versions of those crazy kids, but that’s another story.
Elektra and Daredevil, the Vision and Scarlet Witch, these are not great romantic role models. I hate to say it, but Sharon Carter and Captain America aren’t representing ever-lasting love either. During Ed Brubaker’s run, Sharon was mostly vestigial; a hapless victim, a pawn in a larger game,; Sharon wasn’t the main character of the book and it truly showed. Rick Remender might have a more hopeful look on that couple’s future, but for now Steve’s battling his way out of a dimension built on a deadly nemesis rather than looking for love.
Love can be a quick fix, a grab for sales as the need arises. It catches the reader’s attention and imagination, puts us in an empathetic place and tugs at the ol’ heart strings as the creative team needs to support their sales or further their stories. Remember “The Wedding of the Century”? What doesn’t Ororo and T’Challa say about what’s left of our century? A bunch of pomp and circumstance that ends with some angry words and an annulment? Storm wasn’t the one who flooded Wakanda, but because she allied herself with people who allied themselves with Namor, their entire marriage never happened in the eyes of the people she once ruled. That’s tragedy, which we can always count on love providing. And if the tragedy grows cold, you can always revive it by bringing characters back together.
That’s the cycle of nostalgia and tragedy that we readers can count on. Couples can be broken up and brought back together as many times as we’ll put up with it. Northstar and Kyle could be broken up for a variety of reasons as a story might demand. One of them could even die, but with enough time and interest, there could be a resurrection and recitation of vows because we demanded it. And even if we demand it, they could fall apart right on after. Death can stop true love. Politics can end true love. Alien possession can stop true love. In fact, I wouldn’t say that Marvel shies away from same-sex relationships as much as it shies away from commitment in any relationship. Teams split up. Parents die. Is the only constant of being a super-hero the presence of evil? Or is there a greater force in the universe?
The good news and the beautiful truth behind the ugly one is that yes, there is still hope for true love, the finest couples and heart-felt commitment in our funny books. This week, Fantastic Four #4 reminded me that the Richards created the rarest of all elements: a family. Sure, Sue and Reed can be on the fence with on another, fighting, dying, disagreeing and breaking apart. But they are stronger than those opposing forces and go beyond the impossible to prove it. They have children, Ben Grimm is just as close a member of their clan as Sue’s own flesh and blood. In Civil War, Reed and Sue were split on their political beliefs. In Secret Invasion, Sue had been replaced by a Skrull doppelganger. Johnny Storm was left for dead in an alternate dimension The roster can change and members can be replaced but none of these can fundamentally change who the Fantastic Four are: a unit bonded by love for one another.
Maybe that’s the reason why the ugly truth about love and commitment in the Marvel universe doesn’t bring me down as much as it used to. The creative teams handling the Fantastic Four have done such a good job at reminding us, through all the fun and adventure, their ups and downs, their deaths and resurrections, that the family unit is the strongest one there is. Others may fall or fail, but the Fantastic Four endures, so maybe there’s hope for us all.