Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Chew the Fat: The Ups and Downs of Comic Book Romance...



Redartz:  Greetings, gang! It's Valentine's week, and the thoughts of many are turning to romance (or
at least where to buy an affordable bouquet of roses). Accordingly, it seemed appropriate to consider some aspect of romance in comics . 

Specifically, which comic book couples are most interesting/convincing to you? Which seemed mismatched from the start? There are many examples to work from: Lois and Clark, Archie and Betty / Archie and Veronica, Barry and Iris.  No doubt you all will bring up others. But for me, the iconic relationship is that of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson.

Much has been written about them and their relationship. Indeed, the comic site CBR has been running a series tracing the evolution of Pete and MJ, from the beginning onward: it's a fascinating read, and here's a link:  https://www.cbr.com/tag/if-her-hair-was-still-red/




Although some prefer Peter's relationship with Gwen Stacy , and some may prefer the Black Cat (and some may hearken back to Betty Brant), I found the Pete/MJ merry-go-round engaging (pun intended) , and nicely developed over many years. Indeed, the lengthy time I spent reading about them perhaps explains why I feel most disposed towards them as a couple. I followed them from the uneasy period following Gwen's death through their wedding, and pretty much all the way up to Amazing Spider-man 700, when "Superior Spider-man" kicked in (Doc Ock took over Peter's body; don't ask, you'd have to have been there). Pete and MJ had many ups and downs, separations , fights, and misunderstandings (both during courtships and wedded years), but


there were many truly touching scenes. Their first kiss at the airport in ASM 143; their awkwardness in the wedding (annual 21), MJ's support and empathy during Aunt May's apparent death  (ASM 400, an excellent tale shamefully undercut by later retconning). 


 And that's just the tiniest tip of a very large iceberg. For brevity's sake, let's just say that Peter and MJ are my comic couple of choice. So who are yours?

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

Next Monday is my birthday so my thoughts are on that joyous occasion (?) rather than St. Valentine's Day :)

I'll nominate Scott Summers and Jean Grey. Their long romance ended in tragedy as Jean nobly sacrificed herself as the only way to stop Dark Phoenix at the end of Uncanny X-Men #137. But then Marvel just HAD to ruin that classic moment by bringing Jean back to life with the pathetic excuse that it hadn't really been Jean who died at all, merely the Phoenix Force pretending to be her, bah!

Selenarch said...

I'm right there with Colin. And I'll add some insult to that injury and also bring up the whole Wolverine/Jean Gray will they/won't they and the Scott-and-Emma-Frost affair to really bring home how thoroughly that love story got trashed.

One romance that always stands out is the Atom and Jean Loring and how horribly wrong that went in Identity Crisis, which I thought was haunting and unforgettable.

But on a brighter note, I'd bring in Carter and Shiera Hall. Time-hopping through the centuries with your soulmate as super-hero adventurers doesn't seem like a bad deal to me.

Cheers!

Edo Bosnar said...

Totally agreed about Pete and MJ.
Another really great couple were Danny Rand (Iron Fist) and Misty Knight.
A few other comic-book couples that I think should have become canon, a la Clark & Lois or Reed & Sue, but never did were Steve Rogers and Bernie Rosenthal, Tony Stark and Bethany Cabe, and, especially, T'Challa and Monica Lynne.

Rick Dunn said...

I've always favored Scarlet Witch & Vision above all others with Saturn Girl & Lightning Lad as a not-so-distant 2nd. I still have the 1978 Treasury Edition with the amazing Mike Grell wraparound cover where those two got married.

Mike Wilson said...

I agree wholeheartedly on Pete and MJ; I wish Marvel would stop trying to break them up. I liked Wanda and Vision too, before Byrne dismantled them (literally, in Vision's case). Ben Grimm and Alicia also come to mind (the real Alicia, not Lyja).

I always thought Shrinking Violet and Lightning lass made a good couple; I'm not sure what their status is in the current Legion iteration, but I thought they were a good fit when Levitz wrote them.

Anonymous said...

Conan the Barbarian and Belit. Another love story that ended in tragedy but with a poignant twist as Belit briefly returns from the dead to help Conan one last time. The end of Conan #100 when Belit's burning ship, the Tigress, drifts out to sea in a "Viking funeral" is one of the saddest farewells in all of comics (I know it was predetermined by Robert E. Howard's original story "The Queen Of The Black Coast" but it still occurred in comics form so I can include it).

Disneymarvel said...

I agree with pretty much all those listed before me. Of course, all the Fantastic Four couples were my favorites. Ben and Alicia to be sure, though it was fun when Ben would attract others, such as Thundra, Tigra and many others. I've always thought Johnny belonged with Crystal. John Byrne's pairing of She-Hulk and Wyatt Wingfoot was a lot of fun, too. It's always Reed and Sue for me, as I've never liked the flirtation of Sue and Namor to go very far.

One non-FF pairing that I've always loved is John Carter and Dejah Thoris!

Killraven said...

Who remembers the Doc Ock, Aunt May "fling"?

Anyway I wasn't much of a fan of the romance thing in my younger days. I appreciate the writing more now when I reread a run.

What a troubled relationship Betty Ross and Bruce Banner had in those days, my heart really goes out to them.

My favorite? Yep MJ and "Tiger"

Redartz said...

Colin J.- Happy early birthday wishes!
Yes, the Scott / Jean story was both lengthy and convoluted. On top of what you and Selenarch mentioned, I never quite got the whole Madelyne Pryor thing either...

Selenarch- great call on Carter and Shiera. Sometimes overlooked in these type of discussions, they have made a great team for many years. And it always seemed (to me, at least) that Hawkwoman was a confident, capable woman warrior and equal partner long before such an approach became fashionable.

Edo- regarding your non-canon couples: consider your sentiments seconded.

Rick D- Vision and Wanda ; their relationship was a big part of the appeal to Bronze age Avengers. Oh, those classic Englehart stories. Also, glad you mentioned the Legion. Lots of interesting pairings there; one that always intrigued me was Supergirl / Braniac 5. It's been fun seeing them work together on the CW Supergirl show, even if that particular aspect of their comics history hasn't (to this point) come up.

Mike W- Ah, Ben and Alicia. Made for each other, but never able to quite 'get there'...

Disneymarvel- Yes! Shulkie and Wyatt; that was great.

Killraven- Ock and May. Now that was an Odd Couple. And they were...together...sort of, for some time. That scene of Otto eating KFC on May's couch still haunts my memory...

Anonymous said...

What, no shouts for Scott Free and Big Barda? Really, despite the "Clark & Lois" reference, this site should be called Back in the Marvel Age! (;

On the other hand, Charlie Horse isn't here going on about Gwen Stacy which is something of a surprise really...

-sean

Disneymarvel said...

Another great couple that didn't last long enough was Batman and Silver Saint Cloud!

Steve Does Comics said...

I think I'd have to go with Peter Parker and MJ as well.

Come to think of it, most super-hero romances varied between the weird and the dysfunctional.

I remember there was a short spell in the 1970s when Tigra had the hots for The Thing. It was a shame nothing ever came of that, as it was quite fun while it lasted.

Oh, and happy birthday, Colin.

Humanbelly said...

This is quite a surprise and relief to hear SO MANY other voices citing the Peter/MJ romance/relationship/marriage! 'Cause man, there was a time when stating that opinion would get you shouted DOWN by fervent fanboys who didn't EVER want to see Pete get tied down and become domestic. Or have any sustained happiness at all, for that matter. Me, I LOVED that relationship-- and I was seriously faithful to the memory of Gwen, believe me. But that scene in the airport stands among favorites of a lifetime, it does. There was some surprisingly well-done writing going on during that time in Spidey's title. . .

I think the wedding & marriage revealed how the caliber of writers had fallen off in the intervening years. No one really seemed to understand how to navigate it-- or they didn't embrace it-- or they tried to ignore it-- and ultimately retconned it out of existence (Jesus--).

One of the best for me, brief as it was (and ultimately heart-shredding) was Hulk/Bruce and Jarella. Poor ol' Betty was the most flatly-characterized ingenue in the Marvel Universe, I daresay-- really just a walking nervous breakdown, tbh-- and it probably didn't reflect well on her how easy it was to see Bruce/Hulk's affections shift almost instantly over to the Girl in the Emerald Atom (Queen, in fact---). Ohhhh, that we could have kept her around. . .

HB

Anonymous said...

Another vote for Petey and MJ. I started reading the comic several issues after Gwen’s death, and had pretty much stopped reading it by the time Petey and MJ got married, so my so my ‘stanning’ for that ‘ship’ (did I do that right?) is all about their Post-Gwen ‘getting together’ arc. That memorable First Kiss at the airport is one of my all-time favorite scenes from the Bronze Age. ‘Far...freaking...out’ indeed!

Len Wein didn’t seem to know what to do with her once he took over the writing. It was kind of a bummer to watch MJ suddenly become the nagging gf, always complaining because Peter ditched her while Hammerhead or Stegron or whoever was tearing up the Town. It was like a lazy repeat of Gwen’s old schtick. Maybe Len just didn’t like MJ as a character or something.

It was interesting following the PP/MJ romance storyline while simultaneously reading the older stories featuring Gwen in MARVEL TALES. I liked Gwen, sure, she was kind of like the Ultimate Fantasy Girlfriend. Smart, vivacious, super-pretty, quite a bit out of our hero’s league but never held it over his head, etc. But in a side-by-side comparison, I was Team MJ all the way. She just seemed to be much more three-dimensional to me.

-b.t.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and am I the only one here who was totally thinking ‘Steve Rogers and Bernie Rosenthal!’ When Chris Evans and Jenny Slate we’re dating?

- b.t.

Redartz said...

HB- I'd agree that some of the writers really didn't know how to handle the Pete/MJ marriage. Two that did- J.M. DeMatties and Peter David. I think JM did that take in ASM 400.

Glad you brought up Jarella. Her death and the aftermath were heartbreaking to read. That was some truly human Hulk.

B.t.- yes, the Wein/Wolfman/ONiell era wasn't kind to Mary Jane. But Roger Stern effectively brought out her back story.
And love your observation about 'Chris and Jenny'...

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Denny O'Neil, no love here for the mousy, kinda plain, totally-lacking-self-esteem Debra Whitman? At least she was a novel spin on the old "Girlfriend Ditched By Peter" trope -- when he'd finally return after fighting the Bad Guy, instead of chewing him out, she'd be all, "I can't blame you, i'd probably rather be taking pictures of Spider-man punching out the Rhino than hanging out with boring old Me, too". Guess i gotta give Denny points for trying something different, but man it was so awkward. Cringe-y.

- b.t.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

My reasoned conclusion, after reading comic blogs for a few years now, is that unless one lived through Pete - Gwen, it's just a footnote.

In my case, starting with ASM #100, I read every issue to her death, so a good 2 years worth from the age of 10 - 12.

One is quite impressionable at that age. In ASM 100, I learn Pete loves Gwen so much... so, so much... that he takes a drug to lose the Spidey powers once and for all.

2 years later, after growing 6 arms, the trip with Gwen to the Savage Land, Flash being kidnapped and almost being decapitated, etc. etc. she is dead.

It struck me hard enough that I stopped reading ASM within a few issues.

But again, I was fully vested in Petey and Gwen, at that age, and didn't read about it in hindsight. So...

Redartz said...

Ah, wondered when you'd stop by Charlie! Your attachment to the Peter/Gwen relationship is totally understandable. She was a big part of the web-slinger's story through many of his formative years. And by extension , our formative years. Also, I understand how her death turned you off. The last superhero comic I read as a youngster was Amazing Spider-Man 90, when Captain Stacy died. After that story it was nothing but Archie, Disney and Charlton for several years, until 8th. Grade.

An, the power of comics. 50 years later and they still impact us!

Edo Bosnar said...

Interesting that Disneymarvel mentioned Silver St. Cloud; she ranks second in my list of top three possibilities for Bruce/Batman's one-and-only.
The first is obviously Selina/Catwoman (if nothing else, Alan Brennert showed everybody how right this is in the story from Brave & the Bold #197). But based solely on Englehart's brief run on Detective, I would accept Silver as an alternative.
The third in my top three is Talia - she, however, is problematic because of her split loyalties and also her questionable moral compass.

I'm also a bit surprised by the general impression that Len Wein wasn't fond of MJ. The earliest issues of ASM I ever read, when I was still about 7-8 years old, were from Wein's run, which is probably one of the reasons I think of MJ as the only one for Spidey. I recently read the entirety of Wein's run (last year), and the fact is that he sustained the idea that Pete and MJ were a steady couple, albeit a couple still working out the kinks in their relationship. After he left ASM, MJ pretty much disappeared for a while (except in Spidey Super Stories), as other writers introduced potential new love interests for the Webslinger: the Black Cat in O'Neil's run, and Deb Whitman in Spectacular Spider-man, who then began showing up in ASM as well. Meanwhile, Chris Claremont introduced Cissy Ironwood, a bland, sort of Gwen Stacy-lite character, as a love interest for Peter in the pages of Marvel Team-up. Near as I can tell, Claremont was the only writer who used or mentioned Cissy.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Red - you are correct. After Sean's remark above. I pondered the Pete/Gwen thing. I think I was quite bothered by her death.

At the age of 12, in 1973, where had I been exposed to death? A few old relatives I didn't know so much had passed. Oddly, I had much more emotional connection to the comic book characters. To have a female I knew "closely" for the past 2 years die in a violent way was... I don't know the word... "traumatic" make light of true tragedies.

Let's say is had a real impact. Perhaps it was a bit too much for me at the time? I have to think it was the most violent event we'd seen in comics til that time?

Redartz said...

Edo- you your remarks on Len Wein are well made, better than I expressed it. It just seemed Pete/MJ's 'rollercoaster ride' was wilder under Wein than under Conway. But then that might be more realistic, as the relationship progressed.

Also, regarding Cissy Ironwood: almost forgot about her. But she brings up a question. A frequent letter writer in comics at the time (and assistant to Will Eisner) was Cat Yronwode. Anyone know if Cissy was intended as a 'salute' to Cat?

Edo Bosnar said...

Red, I never thought about the Cat Yronwode connection for Cissy, but it's definitely possible.
Also, I just realized that I misattributed the Black Cat's introduction (and thereby creation) to Denny O'Neil, when in fact she appeared during Marv Wolfman's run on ASM. Probably got mixed up because I was thinking about how Deb Whitman started making regular appearances in ASM during O'Neil's run, who took over from Wolfman.

Anonymous said...

Charlie Horse 27 —

Maybe there are varying degrees of Gwen being a ‘footnote’ to anyone who didn’t experience her death in ‘real time’. My first issue of ASM was #128, just six issues after said event. She may already have been gone but her death cast a somber pall over the book for a good long while. Before then, I only knew Spidey as that wise-cracking guy from the cartoons, so to see him as a young man trying to get on with his life while struggling with almost overwhelming grief was a gob-smacking revelation to 12-year-old Me. It was through reading the Conway / Andru run that I first realized that there were unexpected depths of character in those gaudy four-color adventures. There were a LOT of great comics back then, in the Late Summer/Early Fall of ‘73 — TOMB OF DRACULA, Starlin’s CAPTAIN MARVEL, McGregor and Co. on BLACK PANTHER, Englehart and Co. on DR. STRANGE and CAPTAIN AMERICA, MASTER OF KUNG FU, etc — but I think ASM was the one that had the biggest impact on me as a newbie comics fan. And Gwen — even in absentia— was a big part of that.

Plus, as I mentioned earlier, I had the good fortune to be able to get at least the gist of Gwen / Peter thru the MARVEL TALES reprints — #49, reprinting ASM #66 was my first — almost like an on-going series of flashbacks to Happier Times. But I can only imagine how shocking it must have been to have witnessed her death in real time. Things like that really just didn’t happen in those days.

Edo—

If the Wein run had been my first exposure to the characters I’m pretty sure I’d feel much the same as you do. After my beloved Conway/Andru run, everything just felt slightly ‘off’ to me when Len took over (Harry most especially). But now you’ve given me the urge to dig out my ESSENTIAL phone books to check ‘em out again.

- b.t.

Humanbelly said...

Between a matinee of 1HenryIV and evening of 2HenryIV here in Alexandria, VA-- but still wantin' to chime in-- (Plus I kinda miss youse lugs-!)

One of the Pete/MJ relationship things that didn't set as well for me was the soft-retcon (more of a "reveal", I suppose--) that MJ had known Pete was Spidey, like, since forever. I"m pretty sure even before Gwen died, right? Which at the time seemed to cheapen a lot of their own history. HOWEVER-- in retrospect, that may have been a smart move, because we all seem to forget that one of the driving sub-plot elements at the time of Gwen's death was her pathological (even kinda frightenening), deep hatred of Spidey. Remember her saying something to the effect of "The only thing stronger than my hatred of Spider-Man is my love for you, Petey."-- ? Yet somehow Pete got into his head that revealing his identity to Gwen was going to be a GREAT idea around then-- "She'll flip!"-- and even as a 12-year old I remember thinking, oh dude, bad BAD idea. . . (I'm guessing that was meant to be one of the options for unshackling the two, as mandated by the Editors-).

So with MJ, the knowledge really does show that she was gonna be on-board with the WHOLE guy, and not just one aspect of his multifaceted self. I do get that and appreciate it now---

HB

Redartz said...

HB- did you ever read any of Kurt Busiek's "Untold Tales of Spiderman " series? One issue did a nice treatment of MJ and her 'discovery'. That series, actually, was one bright spot in the 90's Marvel world. Definitely worth a look. And especially the first Annual. Did a review of it awhile back, either here or at BAB. Don't remember, all the years and posts kind of meld together. But it was fantastic fun...

B.t.- you have the Essentials? Man, I've been trying to find a reasonably priced copy of the Conway /Andru years. May have to knuckle under and go with Amazon.

Edo Bosnar said...

Red, if you want to get those reprints in color and you don't mind the digest format, I'd suggest looking for the Panini pocketbooks (they're not actually digests like the Archie ones - they're a bit larger, like halfway between the classical digest and the tpb format).
Here's a link to a useful site that lists all of them. Scroll down until you see the Spider-man books - the Conway run begins in the volume entitled "Countdown to Chaos."
They're no longer in print, unfortunately, although some of them can still be found new at the Book Depository (UK-based, but with free worldwide shipping). Otherwise, I'd suggest running searches for them using Book Finder, which will find you online listings of all of the used copies, from lowest to highest price. Another good used book site to check out is Awesomebooks - for some reason, its listings don't appear in Book Finder results. It's also a UK-based site, but they charge a flat worldwide shipping rate, about $4 I think, regardless of the number of books you buy.
And if nothing else, eBay is also worth checking out.
Since the Panini books were mainly intended for the UK/European market, you're probably more likely to find less expensive copies being sold from overseas sellers.

Anonymous said...

I really like those Panini pocketbooks too. About five years ago, I picked up most of the Conway/ Andru run in that format, except for one volume (“The Green Goblin Lives Again”), which, for whatever reason was going for about double the cost of the others at the time. Shoulda just bit the bullet and paid it — while I waited to see if I could find a cheaper copy somewhere, the price kept going up, and up, and UP. Last time I looked, it was going for around $125. Oh well!

-b.t.

Anonymous said...

AAAAAANNNDDD, I just checked to see how crazy the prices currently were on Amazon, found a Very Good ‘Goblin Lives Again’ for less than 7 bucks. So thanks, Edo, for putting it back on my radar!

-b.t.

Redartz said...

Edo- thanks for the links! I'm looking for some of the Essentials, but color would be nice. It appears some of those Paninis are getting pricey, but some are still reasonable. Will give it a try...

Edo Bosnar said...

b.t., re: stumbling onto a cheap copy of some book you're looking for. Welcome to my world. Since I no longer live in the US, and don't have access to brick & mortar used bookstores or comic book shops, I depend on online searches to find the stuff I want at reasonable (read: cheap as possible) prices. It's good to run periodic searches - I do so about once every 2 weeks or so: I have a list of the books I want the most, usually with their ISBNs, and then just spend about a half-hour running searches through Bookfinder and other sites. I've stumbled onto so many great deals that way.

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