In Sickness and In Costume: Superheroes vs. Marriage
It's not just Batwoman -- superhero comics in general seem to have a problem with the institution of marriage, judging by the treatment of its high-profile married couples in recent years.
So apparently DC Comics has an anti-marriage agenda -- or at least it does if recent comments from creators Gail Simone and J.H. Williams III are to be believed. If true, this shouldn't really come as a surprise considering the way that the publisher's various superhero marriages have been treated throughout the years -- and it's not only DC that's guilty of mistreating its mighty married heroes.
The September 2011 "New 52" relaunch of the DC Universe left just two superheroes still happily married -- Aquaman and Animal Man -- and, two years later, only one of those marriages is still in good shape (Sorry, Animal Man). The relaunch effortlessly wiped away the marriages of both Superman and the Flash in one fell swoop, but they might have been the lucky ones -- just months earlier, the Brightest Day event series turned Hawkman's wife into air (don't ask), while popular stories from the decade earlier had seen the wife of the Atom murder the wife of the Elongated Man before being possessed by a demon and turning into a super villain.
This kind of thing is nothing new, mind you. The Flash's first wife has been murdered by arch-nemesis the Reverse-Flash in 1979's The Flash #275, and Green Lantern John Stewart's alien wife, Katma, was slaughtered seemingly without reason by Star Sapphire back in 1988's Action Comics #601, both plots demonstrating that marrying a superhero had been established to be a problematic business decades before this recent "anti-marriage" agenda.
Based on that kind of evidence, it could be argued that Batwoman and fiancee Maggie Sawyer might have escaped fates worse than death (or just death, in some cases) by DC's apparent reluctance to let the two actually wed. Then again, just the fact that they'd managed to get engaged in the first place demonstrated how lucky they were -- it only took a marriage proposal by Green Lantern Alan Scott to boyfriend Sam to result in an explosion that killed the latter in 2012's Earth 2 #2 (Sam didn't even get a chance to respond).
(In case that makes you concerned that DC really is against gay marriage, it's worth pointing out that the publisher had the first gay wedding in mainstream comics all the way back in 2002's The Authority #29, when Apollo and the Midnighter tied the knot at the end of the "Brave New World" storyline. Take that, Kevin Keller.)
Over at Marvel, things are a little better … kind of. On the plus side, the House of Ideas has arguably the most famous married couple in comics in Reed and Sue Richards of The Fantastic Four, who have stayed together through mind-controlled bondage and death, among other plot lines. There's also Northstar and Kyle, who actually made it down the aisle and back in a much-publicized wedding last year, and haven't been torn asunder by the various dramatic elements of the X-Men comics yet, which in the grand scheme of comics -- and especially the soap operatic X-Men comics -- is somewhat impressive.
Beyond that, however, things look as grim as they do for DC's married couples. The Hulk's wife? Killed, then unmilled and turned into another She-Hulk. Cyclops and Jean Grey? He cheated on her, and then she was killed by Magneto. Black Panther and Storm? On opposite sides of the Avengers Vs. X-Men storyline, the two split citing plot-driven, not-entirely-clear-to-the-reader differences. Ant-Man and Wasp? Don't ask.
It's not even limited to those with super powers: Pepper Potts' husband, Happy Hogan -- Yes, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jon Favreau's characters from the movies -- died as the result of injuries sustained fighting the Spymaster. No matter which universe you're in, it seems the whole "Til death do us part" thing could pretty much be considered the start of some kind of countdown.
And then there's Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson (nee Parker). When they tied the knot in 1987, it seemed as if nothing could tear those two crazy kids apart -- but that's because no one at the time could have foreseen that, 20 years later, someone would come up with a storyline where a demon from Hell actually rewrites history to make it that the two never got married in the first place. To say that this was a controversial move is being polite -- not only did the newspaper strip, which initially followed suit and "un-married" the two characters, later undo its own undo and reveal that the unmarried Spider-Man had just been a bad dream, but co-writer J. Michael Straczynski publicly distanced himself from the storyline. It was, however, a necessary one, at least in the eyes of Marvel's then-editor-in-chief, Joe Quesada.
"Let me try to put this as plainly as I can, and let's be really honest here, let's really look at marriage for a second," Quesada told Comic Book Resources in a 2008 interview. "When people get married, they tend to settle down -- life slows down and you gain different responsibilities, grown-up responsibilities, boring responsibilities. You go out to dinner less, see fewer movies, your social life is curtailed and revolves, as it should, around your significant other. In short, life hands you a mini-van."
The idea that being married makes superheroic characters too grown-up, too responsible -- too boring -- is one that's easy to argue with (as anyone who's been married can attest to, it doesn't suddenly solve every problem in life), but it's also one that has apparently spread across superhero publishers, creators and audiences in the last few years. How else to explain the seemingly doomed fate of nearly all of both Marvel and DC's existing marriages, not to mention the apparent nervousness of DC to allow any new ones to take place anytime soon?
Much like the TV myth of the Moonlighting Curse -- wherein couples automatically become less interesting once they've ditched the "will-they-won't-they" for a committed relationship -- superhero comic culture en masse have apparently subscribed to the notion that the very institution of marriage is cursed when it comes to people with powers and responsibilities to the world beyond mundane mortal ken. Can no one convince them otherwise? I'd say that it was a job for Superman, but we already know how poorly he fared with the task.
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