Robot 6

Memo to DiDio: Superhero marriages don’t have to be happy

Kate Kane and Maggie Sawyer, from "Batwoman" #1

Kate Kane and Maggie Sawyer, from “Batwoman” #1

I’m still kind of flummoxed by Dan DiDio’s comments last weekend at Baltimore Comic-Con explaining why Batwoman can’t marry her girlfriend Maggie Sawyer. “Heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives,” he said at the start of the DC Nation panel, according to several sources. “They are committed to being that person and committed to defending others at the sacrifice of their own personal interests. 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 with our characters.”

I don’t disagree with the idea that main characters ought to struggle. A sunny walk through the park doesn’t make for much of a gripping adventure yarn. That is pretty basic writing strategy for drama: Put your characters through hell and watch them climb out. Serialized superhero stories, and in fact most Western narratives, are structured around that up and down of going from seeming defeat to triumph. It’s particularly appropriate for Batman and his family of books: The Dark Knight is built around tragedy, and his obsession over fixing that tragedy is what drives him. Bruce Wayne continually sacrifices his personal life in his constant pursuit to make sure what happened to him won’t happen to anyone else. It’s that drive that’s turned him into something of a social misfit — he can play the part of Mr. Debonair but getting emotionally close to him is almost impossible.

So on that level, I don’t disagree with DiDio.

Where we differ is with this apparent perception that marriage is a perpetual sunny walk through the park. Without turning this into a Henny Youngman routine, the truth is that any relationship, married or not, takes work and doesn’t guarantee “happily ever after.” While this is far from breaking news, the United States has a 53 percent divorce rate (although I think I should be more troubled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the government agency tasked with tracking that statistic).

That doesn’t mean every superhero marriage should end in divorce, but there are countless ways to stick to the stated edict while still allowing one character within the Batman universe to marry. Look at the marriage depicted on the political drama House of Cards: The characters portrayed by Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright have a marriage rife with infidelity, manipulation, emotional distance and a suite of other issues all primarily caused by their career-focused pursuit of power and influence. That is perhaps an extreme example, as a political drama and a superhero/crime series are different beasts, but there are plenty of elements that can carry over without making it untenable.

In the superhero world, there are plenty of ways to give a character that temporary triumph (the wedding), and then have them struggle through defeat. Heck, before marriages were deemed too old by Marvel, the publisher nearly made it a tradition that superhero weddings be crashed by supervillains. That might be a bit too silly and retro for the New 52, but a ruined wedding does have modern appeal; somebody’s been watching those 10 seasons of Bridezilla.

If that doesn’t float DiDio’s wedding cruise ship, there are plenty of other possibilities. Maybe Maggie gets kidnapped. Maybe Maggie gets injured. Maybe Maggie has been secretly working for a villain — does she really love Kate, will they stay together once the truth is revealed? Maybe Kate takes Maggie for granted, and is hardly ever home because she’s focused on her mission — will the two drift apart? Maybe Maggie and Kate can’t resolve their career differences. Maybe Maggie is forced to try to arrest Batwoman. I don’t know, I’m just tossing ideas around. I would bet the plans of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman for what would come after the wedding were better that these. They would also very likely not be a sunny walk through the park. I very much doubt that they planned to have the characters have a happy, content and trouble-free relationship or life after their marriage. They’re smart and know that they’re not writing a fairy tale.

These characters already have a rich world of tension and conflict that gives plenty of room for tragedy, defeat, sacrifice and occasional triumph. Having these two characters get married doesn’t eliminate that at all. If anything, it gives a unique spin on exploring the personal sacrifice Kate must constantly make again and again. It gives the character a higher “high” from which to fall when the Bat drags her back down into hell. Maybe the marriage doesn’t last forever, maybe it does, but the ongoing struggle for the characters to try to maintain it while up against such tough odds could be a constant source for that unique Batman-esque tragedy that is the real core of DiDio’s edict.

Caveat: Corey Blake is very happily married and despite the above, lives a daily life of sunny walks through the park with his wife.

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26 Comments

Stan Lee once said of writing Amazing Spider-man that sometimes, you have to have your characters win otherwise they just become unsavoury. This is exactly the kind of thing he was talking about. It’s why I dropped Spider-man after OMD, it’s why I gave up on Walking Dead after the baby died, and it’s why I’ve dropped all DC books from my pull list (save for Wonder Woman, which I buy because its success irritates DC)

“Its success irritates DC” all the way to the bank.

Superhero comics don’t have to be miserable.

love the caveat.

I remember reading the coolest stories of Spiderman married to Mary Jane. I dropped too after Brand New Day.

It doesn’t matter whether the characters are married or not. You can have great stories whether they’re married or not. You can have crappy stories whether they’re married or not.

What matters is to hire great writers and let them write great stories that are true to the characters.

If DiDio did something to taint the marriage between Kate and Maggie he’d have headhunters everywhere suggesting it was painting a negative portrait of gay (or lesbian) marriage. There’s no winning, and REAL drama surrounding a marriage would just be brutal, while happy marriages remove a source of solid drama. Also, the new 52 reboot was done to de-age the DC catalog; one of the BIG (biggest?) age-ing indicators is marriage–see a little something called “Spiderman”–you can complain about this all you want but Marvel (and DC, come to think of it) lived it.

Some of my very favorite runs of comics had happy couples — Daredevil and the Black Widow, Cage and Harmony Young, Misty Knight and Iron Fist, Wonder Man and the Beast (bromance division), Ralph and Sue Dibny, the list goes on. Don’t get me wrong, domestic drama has it’s place — to look at other media, Tony and Carmela Soprano were the best part of the The Sopranos, and (much as you say) it’s not because their marriage was happy. But there’s a place too for Bob and Emily Hartley.

Even when I was younger than most 2013 comic readers, I liked stories with cool, happy couples, and read plenty that still had all the action and adventure I wanted. If today’s editors can’t find writers who can do that — write good comics that engage, amaze and inspire featuring characters who love each other — today’s editors aren’t very good. Dressing it up in how heroes sacrifice is just bs — and it’s bs that is offensive as hell to real heroes be they cops, firefighters, soldiers, crusading health care and social workers, etc. “You have to sacrifice everything to be a hero” my ass. Willing to sacrifice, perhaps, but the rest is just lazy writing.

@DissidentFish, as a kid I, too, loved heroes in committed relationships (Green Arrow and Black Canary, Ralph and Sue, Aquaman and Mera, Mr. and Mrs. Fantastic), but I think you and I (and other likes us) are clearly in the minority. Further, I can understand how most younger readers (I’m married with kids) want to see heroes with dating issues, which, presumably are more relatable (and more malleable for the endless string of writers).

Memo to CBR: nobody wants to read about two people married arguing

Remember as a kid how you wanted to be Superman? Remember thinking how miserable he was? You don’t? He was usually smiling you say? Well isn’t it better now that he’s a big sad sack? A deadbeat dad or a depressed guy who doesn’t get his act together until he’s in his 30s? Isn’t it more adult?

You can build and change the basics but you can’t forget them. Superheroes should be people we want to be not be happy we’re not.

I’m sure I said this around the time of One More Day, and I’ll say it again: to claim that any situation a character may find him or herself in (whether a marriage, a natural disaster, or an empty room with no doors or windows), is unsuitable for telling interesting stories shows a lack of vision on the part of the claimant, nothing more. Any situation can be made interesting by a writer who has an interesting story to tell about it.

I don’t even agree that “unhappy home life” is a prerequisite for being a Bat-character. For decades Barbara Gordon had nothing but a happy family life; and the same was true of Tim Drake through the best years of stories about him.

“Maybe Maggie gets kidnapped. Maybe Maggie gets injured.” Can you imagine the outrage that would occur if either of those two things happened? DC is in a lose-lose situation right now in regards to pretty much everything.

I think it all depends on the character.

I don’t want a married Spider-Man, James Bond, or Hawkeye. I think Spider-Man lost a lot of appeal when he ended up marrying a super model. Parker’s supposed to be a loveable loser. He finally gets the girl, and then screws up. That’s Peter Parker. James Bond’s a misogynistic ladies man which is central to his character, and Hawkeye should be like Han Solo before he lost his balls with Princess Leia and became a pussy – the scoundrel. None should be married.

It doesn’t matter if Superman is married or not because he’s not a ladies man or a loveable loser. I do miss the love triangle between Superman/ Clark and Lana and Lois but that had a good long hard ride. It makes sense to hook him up with Wonder Woman and I can’t think it will ever have a happy resolution – the relationship has the makings of a “civil war” style fracture in the DC Universe. But I think the Lois marriage was treading water. It had a long run and restricted the character from interacting with other women.

The only characters I see as married are Aquaman, Elongated Man, and Vision and the Scarlett Witch. But when I think of it the ” I love you, I hate you, I love you, I want to kill you, I love you, you got my son killed, I love you, I hate you etc etc” of Aquaman and Mera’s relationship was also pretty repetitive and old. But I’m enjoying it now, although previews indicate they’re getting divorced or the marriage is annulled.

Vision and Scarlet Witch were a good combination, but they had to f@ck around with it too much. On their own those two characters are really bland, but they were great as a couple. And Ralph and Sue Dibny were great as a married couple as it defined their characters – before Sue was raped and burned alive. Thanks for that DC.

So to summarise: I agree with DC somewhat, but not entirely based on the individual character.

Well Mr. DIDO you have succeeded. I am unhappy. I read comics for stories that creative people work on. I do not read stories that take well established characters,change the essence of what made them popular in the first place and then censor the creative team. One punisher is enough. A whole universe of unhappy vigilantes is not one I Will spend my money on. 52is just a bad experiment gone horribly wrong.

I feel the thing is kind of an extension of the same sort of philosophy that is the cause of DC only being comfortable making Batman films – eg. that it feels it only knows how to get Batman to work, therefore, by some strange logic the only way to make other characters work is to make them Batman. But not every character is Batman, and trying to apply that logic to every character is just bizarre.

Every person is different in the real world, even among members of a single profession, and so it stands to reason just as much as Batman should logically have relationship issues from his personality, that other characters shouldn’t from their own. Which isn’t to say that marriages even have to be unhappy, even if you insist on characters struggling in their lives, it doesn’t mean they have to struggle in all aspects of them, and the fact that some of them can have stable long term relationships is in the hands of good writers when not hamstringed by editors is a launching pad for stories and character insights as much as any act of superheroics.

I can almost see why DC feels this way, since a lot of iconic heroes in the past were single people. You saw it on television when there was a huge amount of detective shows (McMillan and Wife was popular because it was an anomaly, and Columbo talked about a wife you never saw and wondered if she were real) and there was a time when a television show would stop dead in its tracks when the male-female protagonists got together (like Moonlighting). But, television has grown out of this, with shows like Bones where the couple not only got together but have a child now, so, why do comics still have its head stuck in the past? Many posters here have mentioned married couples in comics that did work and the attitude that comics are for kids is obviously ridiculous, when you see who is buying comics at comic shops. Besides, I have been to 3 weddings in the last 5 years where all the couples were in their early 20s, so it is making me wonder if this is not our new reality.

I think all the “outrage” is due to the fact that we are talking about a gay couple and being onboard 1000000% with gay marriage is seen as nesessary or one might be seen as a bigot or homophob. I don’t remember this much outrage when DC erased Superman and what’s-her-names marriage. After OMD, it seems most people just started writing it off as the the new norm. But now, make it a GAY marriage and you’re not doing your social justice duty unless you’re as outraged as you can possibly be! Where is Gail Simone’s overrated opinion when we need it? Some dude on this very site wrote an article about how the “New 52″ isn’t working and made it a point to bring up Orsen Scott Card and Batwoman, even though Card doesn’t even have anything to do with the New 52. He just wanted to hop up on his soapbox and preach tolerance by being intolerant of those with differing opinions. The fact is, marriage in the heterosexual community is on the way out. Just because a couple that’s gay gets married doesn’t mean they will end up happier than any each and every hetero couple that has ever lived. If and when gays are allowed to get married like the rest of us, they will all experience the same amount of grief (and good times admittedly) that the rest of us have including fights and divorce. Bogus facts like “gay people have less of a divorce rate” is because they currently cannot get married at all in most states.

Again, the bottom line is you have to come out as 1000000% for gay marriage and pretend it’s the answer to all of humanities problems, or you’re a hate mongering troll in the public eye, and that’s what all of this is really about. A cookie will go to the first moron who calls me such a name even though no where in my response did I ever say I was against gay marriage. Huzzah for social justice.

I think you may enjoy the view from that soapbox a little, too, Vizator.

In any case, there was quite a bit outrage/coverage about the dissolution of the Superman/Lois Lane marriage, but I don’t think the two can be compared apples to apples (in part) because: 1.) that action came with a push of the refresh/reboot button that began the New 52; and 2.) the Batwoman/Maggie Sawyer decision was interpreted initially, and inaccurately, by some as being anti-gay marriage, versus a broader marriage decree.

However, certainly it’s understandable if the effects of a broader marriage ban on the Kate/Maggie relationship struck a particular nerve in the wake of two landmark Supreme Court decisions and in the midst of legal/legislative fights around the country regarding marriage equality.

And regarding your “bogus facts” digression: Rates of most any any kind (divorce, murder, birth, et al) aren’t calculated by comparing a smaller population to a larger population. They’re based on the number of _____ (divorces, murders, births, et al) per 1,000 people, 100,000 people, what have you.

Nice save at the end Corey :p

Yeah your soapbox is pretty handy and all painted nice and bright as well, huh Kevin? Yes I do take into account the per capita (that’s what you were trying to say by larger versus smaller populations correct?) number of divorce when it comes to straight versus gay marriage. That much should have been inferred by you but next time ill be explicitly for your benefit okay? And there aren’t any landmark decisions by the Supreme Court, or fights in state courts worth speaking of, you’re just bantering words to try to sound intelligent, a typical fanboy tactic much like I’m using with you now. Supreme Court is back in session next year with another “landmark” decision, and the next year, and the next…

It’s worked in The Fantastic Four for 50 years and it worked in Superman when writers who were talented like Kurt Busiek, Joe Casey, and Joe Kelly. I also think it worked pretty well in

I also think it’d be interesting to tackle a divorced superhero couple. Green Arrow almost got there before the new 52.

The idea that you can’t have romantic tension with a married couple is crazy. If the Schmoes who write Everybody Loves Raymond can do it, someone at DC can too.

I don’t know what all these people who say “young people don’t want married couples are talking about”. I’m 19, been reading comics since I was 10 as have many friends, and none of us think its better when the characters are single. Its better when the comics are good and when the characters give you something to aspire too.

Spidey was the worst. Coming from a single parent family it was nice to think that the person I was aspiring to be (and still do, to some extent) could have a long and happy marriage and live happily ever after, one day. All the “ageing” stuff is crap too. I know plenty of people who are married have kids etc. and are under 25, plus some of these characters ARE old. It’d make sense that by the time Bruce Wayne is 35 or spider-man is in his 30′s they might want to try and settle down and make a go of it with someone that they love.

If they’re people we should look up to it’d be nice to see them have some normal human relationships. Or is that what people who enjoy comics are meant to be: people who can’t have relationships, or at least long lasting ones, with people? Is that how superheroes are meant to inspire us, to not even try to be happy?

@Francis

I started reading “Amazing Spider-Man” after Spidey married Mary Jane. Despite being a single teen at the time, I was not put off by the new stage in Spidey’s life. Peter Parker is one character who writers were willing to allow to grow up. Sometimes the changes were positive (college) and others were not (Gwen Stacy’s death). So, Pete tying the knot is in character for him.

At the same time, it didn’t eliminate the lovable loser aspect of Spider-Man. When your wife has more name recognition and money than you do, that will create some tension.

Hence, it was a HUGE mistake for Marvel to keep Peter Parker in an eternal single a la Peter Pan. That simply isn’t Spidey.

The Stan Lee paraphrase David supplied reminds me of what it was like reading the works of the First Apostle of Joylessness, Gerry Conway. He could put heroes like Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, Spidey and the FF through the wringer, but he hardly ever bothered to give them a “win.”

Still, I must admit, Stan was the one who let the genie out of the bottle.

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