Following some serious moments of matrimony (or "batrimony") at both of the major superhero publishers, it's time to take a serious look at how marriage functions in superhero comics today. How often are superheroes getting married? What are the pros and cons? And is it time for a change?
WARNING: Before you start reading, be aware that this article contains spoilers for both Batman #50 and X-Men Gold #30.
In the course of a month, both Marvel and DC Comics have marketed entire events around weddings that never actually occurred. They bought into the soap opera flair and drama only to “surprise” fans at the finish line with twists straight out of Julia Roberts’ Runaway Bride. Many fans have been notably upset, throwing out backlash about the publisher’s dedication to making both weddings an event and a general lack of commitment within superhero comics.
While Colossus and Kitty Pryde failed to tie the knot in X-Men Gold #30, at least Gambit and Rogue took the plunge and are serving up a new series of their own. Meanwhile, Batman and Catwoman join a long list of couples at DC Comics who have become uncoupled over the past decade. So what is it that scares superhero comics about marriage? The bachelor and bachelorette lifestyle are perfect for many, but any individual wearing a cape seems incapable of settling down these days. We think that’s a mistake for superhero comics and are here to make the case that marriage can and should be a part of these adventures.
The Marriage Gap in Superhero Comics
While the recent misses of the last month highlight the cold feet of superhero creators in general, this is part of a much larger trend. Most notably there was an unofficial ban upon marriages during the five year New 52 era at DC Comics. It has been suggested that this was because marriage aged the superheroes too much, most of whom were supposed to be in their mid to late 20s. While this might make sense for a 29-year-old Batman, it resulted in several scenarios where the lack of a formal commitment looked downright silly. Aquaman and Mera were stated to be single even as they referred to one another by their official titles of king and queen. Batwoman also came very close to tying the knot and breaking some boundaries at the publisher before it was called off, resulting in a major change in the creative team behind the critically acclaimed title. This “rule” has clearly been altered in the Rebirth era, with Superman and Lois Lane married once again, but it still holds sway over the majority of superheroes at DC Comics.
It is far from a one-sided issue though, as fans would be hard-pressed to find many marriages that have lasted at Marvel Comics. Even fan-favorite couplings like Spider-Man and Mary Jane have been undone in the past decade, often in fashions that leave readers scratching their heads. Very few long-lasting couples seem to be considered safe with a classic duo like Reed and Sue Richards sticking together, even if that means disappearing for a few years. It’s not just that superhero marriages tend to be rocky, which would make sense given the lives they lead, but that they tend to default for the single life in general.
Escaping Perpetual Adolescence
The never-ending battle for truth and justice provides a reason for relationships to fall apart, but it also makes it all the more believable when few ever reach the stage of matrimony. In both of the largest shared superhero universes, there’s a generally accepted timeline in which the core, founding heroes (e.g. Superman or the Fantastic Four) have been operating between 10 and 15 years. Given that history, the perpetual bachelorhood of even someone like Peter Parker who started saving lives in high school starts to look a bit silly. Batman has been in some form of relationship with Catwoman for more than 80 years outside of comics and at least a decade within the medium. A last-second decision to ditch the date seems all the more bizarre in that timely context.
None of this is to say that marriage is the only or best outcome for a romantic relationship. There are lots of healthy modes for adults to advance their personal connections and lives, and marriage is certainly not for everyone. However, for many, many people it is the ultimate goal of a successful romantic relationship and an important step in life. While many superheroes aren’t forced to perpetually remain in high school, at their original jobs, or even under their first pseudonyms, this is one common change in life that is denied to them. It part of a perpetual adolescence within the genre, and one that both Marvel and DC could do without.
Marriage as a New Adventure5comments
The real reason that superhero publishers need to get over their fear of commitment is that they (and, as a result, their readers) are missing out on a lot of great stories. Looking at the most successful and longest-lasting marriages in superhero comics, it’s clear they create just as many opportunities as they might close. The Kent and Richards families have become the centerpieces of their respective publishers. Clark and Lois still work great in independent and familial adventures, while Reed and Sue are the parents of Marvel’s “first family.” The stability of their homes has fostered a place for a new generation of heroes to grow while these great couples confront each new challenge together.
There are just as many story possibilities to be found within a strong marriage as a young hero who is dating. That sort of long-term commitment evolves just as much as Tony Stark’s rotating roster of dates, but is far more interesting as a bond that develops with time instead of being regularly replaced. It also connects with a readership that is largely at an age where they seek stories that reflect their own lives with the grand metaphors of the genre. While Spider-Man and Mary Jane might have gone through battles no real person will encounter, they were always a relatable duo when dealing with their anxieties together and worrying about one another. Marriage is a common part of life and a spectacular adventure, and it’s one that will only make superhero comics better when embraced.