Alright boys and girls, I think I left off yesterday about to discuss my two sacrosanct comic book couples, whom I will defend with uncharacteristic and frankly disproportional zeal. Before I do that though I want to discuss a little more some things from earlier in my previous posts. For those of you who read the comments section this will be a retread for you, so you might just want to skip down a paragraph. I feel that all these shenanigans have less to do, ultimately, with whether young readers can “identify” with the characters in question than they do with the authors and editors wanting to ignore everything that happened to the character after they as readers turned sixteen. Its what I call the Generation Gap in comic books. The disconnect between what the writers view as a character’s essential canon, based on their memories of him or her during their formative fan years, versus the canon of their contemporary readers who don’t have the same revisionist attitude. This isn’t the first time they’ve tried this with Spiderman (Cloooooooone Sagaaaaa), and while I’m less familiar with Superman’s post-Crisis stories I wouldn’t doubt that they’ve tried this thing with him before as well. As a young kid who didn’t start reading either character until after they were married, it seemed absolutely natural to me. There was a sense of history there, and it made both characters seem more fleshed out in my mind. But, the personalities involved at each company don’t want to come out and say that these decisions are just because they want to cheat at collaborative storytelling, so they play the hackneyed “relevance” card. Its essentially a twist on the same argument they used in the nineties to make everyone really angry and wear lots of belts. They might as well let Rob Liefeld out of his imprisonment in Tartarus if they’re going to trot that old pony out. (Unless they already did that…)
The thing of it that gets me is that this isn’t a phenomenon limited to either Pater Parker and Mary Jane or Clark Kent and Lois Lane. There is an unspoken war on commitment that seems to go on behind the curtain of these universes. Over on the Marvel side of the aisle we have Scott Summers and Jean Grey. How many times have they killed Jean Grey off (literally) and tried to set Cyclops up with somebody else? For all those keeping score at home, the answer is at least three. Three times! This is absurd! U.S. marriage law is not equipped to handle this level of permeable mortality! On the other side of the spectrum at D.C., Green Lantern Kyle Rayner has had at least three different girlfriends killed off. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “Women In Refrigerators” in reference to the treatment of female characters in comics, Alex Dewitt is the trope namer and the first casualty among Kyle’s significant others. Why? Why do writers keep doing this? I just want us to examine our assumptions here.
Now, as to the couples I mentioned earlier. Why do I hold them so high? Why am I ready to foment a Marxist insurgency at the mere suggestion of writers busting them up? Its several fold. First and foremost is the fact that, moreso than just about any other comic book couple, they feel real to me. They feel like two people who are legitimately in love and deal with all the attendant problems that really entails. They have real problems, as well as the obligatory zany spins on real problems that the superhero lifestyle promulgates. They overcome them too, sometimes stronger for it, sometime worse for wear. Life happens to them, in a way that I feel so many of their peers are somehow isolated from. Additionally, unlike most of the aforementioned four color couples, each half is an equal partner in the relationship. There’s none of this good luck kiss before waiting to get kidnapped business that seems to follow superhero romance like an unwashed cousin who won’t get a job. Both (all four?) Luke Cage and Jessica Jones as well as Rick Tyler and Jesse Chambers share in the dangers and the responsibilities of the costumed career, they’re all breadwinners and they’re all heroes.
As far as Luke Cage and Jessica Jones are concerned, I also love them for the character arcs in each of them that their romance facilitated. For the uninitiated, while each had been in the other’s romantic orbit for a time beforehand, their relationship didn’t properly begin until after a drunken one night stand which resulted in Jones’ pregnancy. This wasn’t really a high point for either character. Jones was still damaged from her largely failed heroic career to that point and in particular her horrific experiences with a mind-controlling sexual predator. Cage was continuing to struggle on the fringes of legitimacy, lacking in acceptance and respect due to his checkered and volatile past. This event, which could easily have been another nail in the coffin, instead effectively catalyzed a personal and professional resurrection for both of them. Jessica put her demons to rest and Cage graduated to Marvel’s A-list. Theirs was always an unconventional relationship, but one that was all the stronger for its strangeness. I’d argue they’re an even better fit than a number of Marvel’s more established romances. Also, their daughter is super cute…
I love Rick Tyler and Jesse Chambers for a similar reason. Each has baggage, each helped the other unpack it. Both are “legacy” heroes; the children of superheroic parents. This carries with it equal parts sense of responsibility and unwanted obligation. Both struggle with other legacies as well, including that of the bizarre and often suspect science of their respective fathers. Jesse has dealt with the pressures of leadership and a life consumed by masked heroics, while Rick has repeatedly battled the habit-forming aspects of the drug which gives him superpowers. Both have grown from their involvement in eachother’s lives, and their relationship has endured its fair share of strain. The natural chemistry of their characterizations though has made their bond both strong and fundamentally believable. In many ways these two seem to epitomize the spirit of “for better or for worse.”
Relationships of this caliber in the comic book medium are of rare stuff. It would likely take the power of an editorial mandate to unmake them, and frankly that sort of power used in this way almost seems to border on plain bullying. Nevertheless, they exists in a universe that seems fundamentally hostile to their existence, and their continuance must be carefully stewarded. I hope that I have perhaps intrigued my gentle readers with my gushy romanticism, enough that perhaps they may even come to find the same enjoyment in them as I.