Could Superhero Comics Use More Romantic Comedies?
When most people think about superhero comics, they think of something very similar. They are [...]
When most people think about superhero comics, they think of something very similar. They are stories where men in tights punch villains to save the day. That's the basic idea from day one when Action Comics #1 featured Superman doing exactly that. This rudimentary framework doesn't define the genre though as anyone who has read a few superhero comics could tell you. Elements of power, identity, and justice are essential for this type of story; they don't mandate how it is told any more than a Western can only be about a sheriff shooting a man in a black hat after he steals a horse. Like any sort of fiction, the superhero genre is expansive and elastic, capable and ready to be reimagined in a seemingly infinite number of directions.
Some mashups are relatively common as readers have come to expect elements of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other popular genre stories infiltrate the pages of Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and other superhero publishers. One that isn't so common though is that of the romantic comedy. Some might make the case that like vinegar and water, superheroes and romantic comedies just don't go together. Some would be wrong. Both recent successes outside and within superhero comics make it clear that this is one style of story that could be used more often and to great effect.
The Undeniable Joy Of The Romantic Comedy
The end of summer 2018 has been very good to romantic comedies. Crazy Rich Asians outperformed all box office expectations, earning back its budget on opening weekend and holding onto the number one box office spot for two week running so far. It's not just a financial success though. Jon Chu's newest film is like a dose of pure joy injected directly into your eyeballs for two hours. Defying the worst caricatures of the romantic comedy genre, it features high stakes, ample history, and captivating characters, all working together to build an irresistible world filled with intrigue. Calling Crazy Rich Asians a great romantic comedy does the film a disservice as it's simply a great movie.
Netflix's new release of To All The Boys I Loved Before has accomplished something very similar. While Netflix doesn't provide numbers to compare against box office, their new movie about secret letters to past dates being leaked has received overwhelmingly positive reviews and a lot of chatter compared to other streaming releases. Both films also feature diverse casts breaking down myths about what American audiences may or may not want. It's clear from August that the romantic comedy is as strong as ever, and that it can be told in any format and by whomever has a great idea for a story.
Superhero Isn't An Exclusive Genre
It's not exactly like romance, comedy, or even the romantic comedy are new to superhero comics either. Again, going back to Action Comics #1 romance was a big part of the early and ongoing adventures of Superman. Lois Lane's affection for Superman and Clark Kent's unrequited love for Lois Lane created a classic love triangle that would not be resolved for decades. As the characters moved forward into the Silver Age, their interactions took on a distinctly silly nature. The incredible lengths Lois Lane would go through in order to obtain a marriage proposal and Superman's (sometime cruel) responses remain nothing short of jaw dropping. These stories are worth a revisit, especially for anyone who thinks superhero comics and romantic comedies don't feature notable overlaps historically.
Modern comics haven't veered too far away from either element individually. Ever since the iconic run by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis on Justice League International, there has regularly been a "joke" team at both Marvel Comics and DC Comics, providing adventures with a healthy side of irony and shenanigans. The new West Coast Avengers reestablished this concept at Marvel in an introduction that gets the entire team together in the midst of landsharks and plenty of other wacky scenarios. Romances have never left comics either. Green Arrow and Black Canary have been engaged in a decades long "will they or won't they" scenario that would give Sam and Diane on Cheers a run for their money. Batman, one of the most popular superhero comics of 2018 has focused more on Batman and Catwoman's romance than any other element in its story. It's plain to see that superheroes, romance, and comedy all work together beautifully in this moment and historically. Yet the notion of a superhero romantic comedy remains exceedingly rare even amidst more than one hundred new superhero series arriving each month.
More Joy In The World Of Superhero Comics
There has been one notable exception to this lack of crossover in 2018: Rogue and Gambit. The miniseries from writer Kelly Thompson and artist Oscar Bazaldua took the classic X-Men pairing and sent them on a mission undercover as a couple in need of marriage counseling. In addition to working out their own problems, in private and in therapy, they also discovered a conspiracy to steal mutant powers and rekindled their romance. If that doesn't sound like a romantic comedy with some superhero flair, then nothing does. The miniseries was a success amongst X-fans and laid the groundwork for a surprise wedding in X-Men Gold #30 followed by a new series: Mr. and Mrs. X from the same creative team. While the new series is only two issues into its run, it has already continued the charm, laughs, and romance that defined Rogue and Gambit.
While Mr. and Mrs. X is a welcome break from the constant onslaught of events and soap opera networking, it's far too rare. There's some special about a well executed romantic comedy. They focus on characters who confront challenges through the lens of joy, finding success and laughter within one another rather than the next available plot device or twist. Superheroes confront adversity and villainy in a variety of ways and there's no reason that these struggles should be defined by a grim and gritty tone. The romantic comedy simply offers another perspective on the superhero genre, one that makes for a welcome relief in a world that is often already filled with plenty of darkness.0comments