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CSBG Archive

Sunday with the Marriage Counselor

Reading superhero comics for as long as I have, about forty years, patterns begin to emerge. You start to see certain rhythms, certain ideas expressed over and over again.

And there’s one particular idea — you could almost call it a prejudice — that is really beginning to annoy me. If you were to boil it down to a single sentence, it would be something like, “You marry off a character and that story is over. All the drama is gone.”

Granted, we never did see what Donna saw in the guy... but this didn't have to end as badly as it did.

This is of course a ridiculous assertion on its face, even if you don’t happen to be married, but I can give you first-hand testimony. I am married and I can assure you life did not instantly become simple smooth sailing for me or Julie the moment after we exchanged vows. If anything, life gets a hell of a lot more complex when you get married.

Poor Barry. Once they Marvel-ized him, he and Iris never had a chance.

Nevertheless, that is the commonly held belief — you get married, you instantly become dull. Apart from the implied insult to everyone who’s married, this notion has become especially grating in the last couple of decades as superhero creators strive to achieve ‘realism’ in all sorts of other areas, because it really brings into sharp relief how BAD they are at dealing with THIS particular area of human relationships “realistically.”

Superhero publishers can gloat all they want to the media about how comics aren’t for kids any more and they’re all about raising the bar for ‘adult storytelling’ when it comes to depicting sex or violence… but what I see in comics, more often than not, isn’t realistic. It’s juvenile, or at best, arrested adolescence. It’s true that superheroes aren’t for kids any more — at first glance, it seems that many of them are more for misogynist twentysomething guys who are scared of girls. Hardly a step up.

Really, the miracle is that Lois isn't DEAD yet.

A lot of this prejudice against matrimony isn’t confined to comics. You see it just as often on television, and the same tired arguments get trotted out. “Look at Rhoda,” people often say. “Or Moonlighting. Or Remington Steele.”

Okay. I’ll take the dare. Let’s go ahead and look at them for once, instead of just saying the names like they’re talismans that confer instant credibility. Moonlighting and Remington Steele were both conceived as romantic comedies, the engine that drove both shows was the sexual tension between the two leads. Fair enough. Absolutely, as a storytelling vehicle, that premise comes with an expiration date: marriage would end those two shows because that is the natural end to those two particular stories. But so what? Why does that apply to superhero adventure? It’s a completely different genre. Do policemen stop fighting crime as soon as they get married? Do firemen stop risking their lives? As our friend John Seavey would say, it’s a completely different kind of storytelling engine for a superhero story than for a romantic comedy.

That leaves Rhoda, everyone’s favorite example. It’s been so long since that series was even aired in syndication I’m pretty sure that at least half the people who carry on about the Rhoda argument never saw the show. Well, I did, and here are some things you might not have been aware of —

1. It was a spin-off from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, a vastly superior production. So you had a certain dilution of talent, as well as the problem of how to make Rhoda interesting enough to go solo. Iffy at best considering the character’s entire reason for existing was to be Mary’s comedic foil and wacky neighbor.

2. The show changed format three or four times as well as trading out supporting cast members from year to year. It was struggling on dozens of different levels, and yes, one of them was that they’d started with a romance plot that got resolved too quickly, but it was hardly the only reason.

3. The marriage plot was rushed because Fred Silverman, then president of the network, wanted the wedding show in time for sweeps. You might say he insisted that the characters act contrary to their established nature in order to get a big short-term success out of a manufactured event. Does that sound familiar, DC and Marvel fans?

Of course, we're all worried about THESE two crazy kids.

Sure, there are lessons creators can learn from looking at examples of series gone wrong. But at least let’s be looking at the actual lessons. The example of Rhoda the situation comedy, as much as you can apply the mechanics of a sitcom to a superhero adventure, shows only this: plan for the long term, and don’t force something for the sake of a stunt. It’s got nothing to do with the idea of characters getting married. The flaw was in the execution.

Oddly enough, the execution is where you usually see the marriage plot unraveling in comics, too. There’s nothing wrong with the idea, just as an idea. In fact, on its face a lot of comics seem to embrace it… as a stunt. Everybody loves the idea of doing the Special Wedding Issue, the big event. And it still works — I glanced through the Green Arrow/Black Canary book, despite my distaste for most everything Judd Winnick has done at DC, and as I suspected, the whole thing seemed forced and looked to end on a grim note.

Although that particular wedding would have been tough to pull off, no matter who did it — Mike Grell did such a thorough job of breaking those two up when he was writing Green Arrow that it would be damn near impossible to get them together again without bending them completely into the wrong shape. At the very least it felt horribly rushed, especially to those of us who watched all the careful work Gail Simone did with the Canary over in Birds of Prey. If Ollie and Dinah end up actually married at the end of whatever convoluted story they are spinning out of that book, I’ll be amazed. After all, superhero comics have a long history of teasing us with the fake marriage.

Kind of says it all, doesn't it?

Which is, you know, not a bad thing either, depending on the execution.

Okay, THIS Superman/Lois marriage worked out okay... till everybody got KILLED.

I was a little taken aback, looking up covers to use here, how much mileage the Superman books have gotten out of the ‘fake wedding’ story over the years.

You get the feeling the Superman office has.... issues?

It was practically a third of the run of Lois Lane’s own book, it seems like.

Admittedly, in her younger days Lois was pretty slutty. And kind of a bitch.

Even Jimmy Olsen had to deal with the fake wedding story every so often.

Well, Jimmy's really NOT terribly marriageable.

And of course, in a Weisinger-era Superman book, matrimony is the real kryptonite for everyone. It always spells doom.

Lois Lane kind of set the tone for wedding equals horror.

You have to wonder if Mort Weisinger ever got over the whole “girls are icky!” grade-school thing. Obviously somebody had issues. No wonder the folks at Superdickery.com have such a low opinion of the Man of Steel.

But the main point stands. If you are doing it as a stunt without any idea of where you are going afterwards, of course it’s bound to be a train wreck. But that’s true of ANY event-driven storyline in superhero comics. Why does marriage get singled out as the big misstep so often?

Jury's still out on this one.

When it’s done right, it can be very cool. Certainly it worked out well in the old Tomb of Dracula… oddly enough, I think Vlad and Domini may have been one of the healthier depictions of married people in comics.

Weirdly, Dracula had one of the HEALTHIER comic-book marriages.

They were like that weird couple — everyone knows at least one like this — where you shake your head and say, “I have no idea why those two are together, but it seems to be working for them.”

Weirdly, all the people who are complaining that marriage is a terrible idea for comics characters are okay with Reed and Sue Richards in the Fantastic Four, who’ve been married for most of the book’s history… over forty years, in fact.

The one comics couple nobody can QUITE bring themselves to mess up permanently.

Reed and Sue have even had KIDS, widely regarded as a plot that means the kiss of death on a sitcom. Doesn’t that sort of defeat the whole weddings-ruin-comics-characters-same-as-on-TV-comedies argument?

If you look at it honestly, with a clear cold eye, there are lots of characters in superhero comics where a marriage worked fine.

If these two had only known what THEY were in for....

Mostly because it happened naturally as an organic evolution from the stories they were already telling, and the people who worked on those books weren’t automatically terrified of the concept.

Was there really any reason to piss on THIS marriage? No, but DC did anyway.

Here’s the thing. If you are one of the people that are clamoring for ‘adult realism’ in your superhero adventures, then realistically, some of these adult characters are going to get married and settle down. It’s what many adult men and women do.

You know, my wife reacts the same way to HER in-laws.

Even superpowered men and women, if you’re going to treat them as realistic, are going to be pairing off and some are going to try getting married. So then the burden is on the creators to think it through a little bit beyond the big stunt wedding issue.

These two got to split up and THEN the wife died. It's a two-fer!

Sadly, this is where comics writers consistently fumble the ball. This is where I really start to wonder about the emotional health of the people who work in the industry.

Do we really need to go into how screwed-up THIS couple is?

Either they are horribly scarred by their own marriage experiences or else they just plain have no idea at all what it really is like to be married. (Some writers, you can make the case that they probably have no idea what it sounds like to even talk to the opposite sex for people over the age of fourteen.)

I started by talking about patterns. Here is the pattern I see emerging over the last couple of decades — the conviction that you can’t generate any drama from a married couple other than by A) breaking them up or B) killing one of them.

Sometimes it’s a valid story to tell. I was okay with the Scott dumps Jean for Emma thing in X-Men, because let’s face it, that whole crowd at Xavier’s school is screwed up. And it was done in a plausible way… weird when you realize you’re talking about mutants and telepathy and so on, but it had a good build, it made sense, it grew from established events. And Scott has always been a doubt-ridden wreck when it comes to his personal life. That guy has no business being married.

But, far more often, breaking up a long-term romance just seems gratuitous and stupid; often it feels like a cheaper stunt than the wedding stunt that provoked the let’s-undo-this reaction in the first place. And I am convinced that it’s because many comics writers simply have no grasp of how to depict a married couple. How many times have you heard writers bitch in interviews about coming up with stories for married couples in comics? “This is too hard, I can’t think of anything, there’s no drama there.”

Spider-Man has suffered hugely from this. It’s probably the most grating example in comics of a character’s basic nature being trampled by writers who are twisting it to meet short-term needs. It started with the killing of Gwen Stacy, a misstep that’s echoed in the strip for decades. Then that circumstance forced the writers to remake Mary Jane into a sort of pseudo-Gwen to fill the gap. As a stopgap measure it worked okay, and the book slowly found its footing again after some ups and downs.

Then it was decided that Spider-Man needed to marry, and specifically, he needed to marry Mary Jane Watson. So we got more weird last-minute character bits designed to shore up a basically stunt-driven idea and make it look plausible, despite everything that had already been established. The marriage to MJ conveniently ignored the fact that Peter had already asked her and been shot down, not to mention forcing all sorts of ludicrous retcons to Mary Jane’s own backstory, and finally we are left with a married couple that didn’t make a lot of sense and that no one really knew what to do with. No wonder reaction was mixed.

But I can’t stress this enough — it’s all in the execution. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the idea of Spider-Man being married, or even with him being married to Mary Jane Watson. The vague discontent many comics creators feel with the idea allegedly stems from the fact that it ages Peter Parker, they say it ruins his youth appeal.

Pfft. Clearly none of these people go to the movies.

Doc Ock isn't even on this cover. But look who is.

The Tobey Maguire Spider-Man has a HUGE teenage following, many of them girls, and they are all about the Peter/MJ romance. For God’s sake, look at how much emphasis there was in the trailers for the last two films on the romance between Peter and MJ. The movie people, at least, understand the huge youth appeal there.

Likewise, there have been many brilliant stories done with a married Spider-Man — even stories ABOUT the relationship — that ring true, that make sense, that are exciting and dramatically interesting and don’t hinge on the idea of tragedy or broken romance. They almost never happen in the comics, but there have been many in the ancillary licensed books. Peter David, Diane Duane, and Adam-Troy Castro all gave us a terrific take on the married Spidey in their prose books put out by Byron Preiss and iBooks. Peter David’s story “Five Minutes” in The Ultimate Spider-Man is practically a diagram of how that relationship should work. It ought to be required reading for everyone who works on Spider-Man. That’s how married people act.

Great stories in this, along with the Peter David masterpeice that closes it out.

There are just too many good stories out there with a married Peter Parker to discount the idea automatically as being a bad one. It was badly-handled initially and there have been many, MANY bad stories about the marriage subsequent to that — Howard Mackie’s take on it leaps to mind — but the solution to those bad stories is to write better ones, not revamp the book and declare that the character should always be single.

Likewise, comics fans often grouse about how Superman should never have married Lois Lane and how that ‘ruins’ him. But step back and look at it for a minute.

If you posit that Superman is all about truth and justice, and further, that Clark Kent was raised in the heartland and spent his boyhood immersed in traditional American values and had the splendid example of Ma and Pa Kent to shape his worldview, well of course he’s going to want to get married and settle down. It’s a no-brainer.

But it was determined that this was impossible and so there were all sorts of arbitrary reasons given why it could never happen, even after superhero comics allegedly grew up and weren’t for kids any more. This is what I mean about ‘realism’ in superhero stories being largely a shuck. It took decades for DC Comics creators to make that leap of logic — that if we are going to treat Superman and Lois as adults, then either they work it out or they break up, they can’t be kept on indefinite hover and still be realistic. Even then the execution of it was hampered by the Lois & Clark TV show. But Mike Carlin, the editor of the Superman books at the time, made a very sensible point when he said that you can’t hold up Superman as a paragon of virtue when so much of his private life is built on lying to the woman he loves. Especially if Clark’s stated motivation for it doesn’t hold up to a moment’s scrutiny — “protecting his loved ones”? Please. Come on, was Lois ever in measurably less jeopardy in all those years she spent NOT knowing Clark’s secret? Yeah, pull the other one.

So if you are going to approach these characters with an eye towards ‘realism,’ then you have to follow through. You don’t get to only do half an extrapolation, not without cheating your readers. Either really do it, or else shut up about it and own up to the fact that you are doing adolescent fantasy.

I’ve gone on at length about the Lois/Clark relationship before, so I’ll try not to rehash too much of that here. But I will again remind everyone that there have been some really, really well-done stories with the two of them as a married couple and there’s nothing intrisically wrong with the concept, especially since it makes perfectly good sense for Clark’s character.

Really, Lois is the one that would have a hard time adapting to the idea of settling down. That’s where the drama and the tension would happen — and where it does happen in the better stories that spin out of that relationship.

Funny that a gay man was able to zero in so realistically on how a married woman would think.

Thankully, the current crew on the Super books seem to have a better handle on the characters than we’ve seen in quite a while. Kurt Busiek, especially, has given us a great look at how Lois and Clark’s day-to-day relationship functions, a vast improvement over most writers in the last decade or two who’ve tried to depict the marriage. I daresay it probably helps that Mr. Busiek is himself married and has been for a while.

Speaking of guys that can bring actual experience to the table, I have to give credit where it’s due. Greg Rucka’s run on Adventures of Superman had a great many things that rubbed me the wrong way, but the reason I kept up with it was because he had so many great character bits going on with Lois and Clark and he understood where the difficulties in their relationship would happen. For one thing, he was one of the very few writers — maybe even the only one — to address the idea that once they’re married, Lois is also saddled with the image of Clark Kent, mild-mannered milksop. She would constantly have to defend her husband to her friends and family, and it would probably grate on her more than it ever did on Clark himself to know how wrong everyone is about him. Likewise, Clark would suddenly have to deal with a completely dysfunctional family when he meets his in-laws, in the process discovering that there are some problems even Superman can’t solve. Rucka had a couple of great scenes with Clark and Sam Lane that I wish had built into a longer arc. There was some great potential there.

Not to suggest that the Superman books should be written with an eye towards domestic comedy. I’m just saying it doesn’t automatially shut down the potential for dramatic tension or story ideas to have a married Superman.

Those are just a couple of examples. I could go on for lots more, but this has already gone on long enough, I think. So I’ll just close with a simple plea: for God’s sake, can we please put an end to the endless bleating about how the very concept of matrimony ‘ruins’ superheroes when it so obviously doesn’t, given the right approach and talented creators?

I’m asking all you superhero writers to at least give the concept a chance before running screaming from the room. You might even find some NEW stories there, instead of rehashing the same old tragic-loss, tormented-lover plots over and over again. Drama for married couples comes from how they work out how to live their lives together, and how they adapt to each other. There are an infinite number of story ideas in that process. If you really want your superhero-romance stories to be ‘adult’ then quit your whining and look for them.

All of us folks who didn’t ruin our lives or lose interest in them when we got married would appreciate it.

See you next week.

79 Comments

This was the best column you’ve written in ages, IMO. You make a lot of good points that seem hard for the ‘marriage ruins superheroes’ crowd to disagree with.

I really hope that ‘One More Day’ doesn’t ruin the Spider-marriage, even if that looks like a lock at this point. And you’re right that Busiek has done a great job with the Clark/Lois relationship- I certainly haven’t loved every issue of his run, but I like that he’s made an effort to show us Superman’s day-to-day life. The first Busiek issue, where Lois helps Clark out with the deadlines he missed when he was off superhero-ing, was great.

Most excellent column!

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with the notion that a lot of the problems with comic-book relationships stem from who’s writing them.

It’s the ancient male trope: marry, and your life is over. Certainly your virility is in some question; and if male superheroes aren’t an excuse to splash the excess testosterone around, what are they?

I didn’t read much of Rucka’s Superman run, but I find it strange that everyone sees Clark as a “milksop,” as I hadn’t realized he’d been portrayed that way since Byrne revamped the character.

Otherwise, this is an excellent article about one of the biggest creative problems in mainstream superhero titles. My own rebuttal would have been much shorter: The Incredibles.

You raise some very valid points here Greg. Well done. I’ve never understood writers who are against the concept of married superheroes. Especially for Spidey. It make sense for Peter and MJ to stay together. That’s his whole life ethos. “With great power there must also come great responsibility.” What’s more responsibile than being married, I reckon? But, I’m saying that as a single man!
I’ve grown up reading Supes only as a married man, and it also makes sense for him, as the DCU’s elder statesman, the hero the younger heroes look up to.
And Waid’s return to Flash has just cemented the idea of how well superhero marriages can work. It adds conflict and unpredictability to the book, rather than constraining story possibilities. It’s great to see that heroes can have conflich with their spouses too, rather than only with supervillains. That’s realistic.
Plus, I think it’s great that any kids who do read comics see that you know, marriage isn’t such a bad idea after all!

Well, not to SPOIL anything about the Green Arrow/Black Canary thing, their marriage didn’t last very long, as Dinah shoved an arrow through his neck on their wedding night and killed him. How’s THAT for not knowing how to deal with marriage?

Greg, I could kiss you if I weren’t on the other side of the country and insecure in my masculinity.

I’m especially happy you brought up “Five Minutes,” which was the story that cemented Peter and MJ for me. Before that, I’d accepted that they were married, but I wasn’t sure *why*. After… well, read what I wrote about MJ on my blog. And elsewhere.

Ironically, if I were to have someone write a Peter/MJ break-up, David is also the one I’d want to have handle that story, seeing as how he’s survived a failed marriage of his own. Like you said, if you’re going to do it, have someone who knows what it’s about. Rather than what Quesada seems to be going for, a “magic reset button.” That’s not just insulting to the idea of marriage, it’s insulting to the intelligence of the audience.

I couldn’t agree more with the column. Joe Quesada should read it. I don’t understand why marriage is harder to deal with than any other steady relationship. Maybe some comic writers just want their characters to sleep with every female around (because, let’s face it, the problem always is with the male characters getting married) or create a new girlfriend that becomes popular and so he would leave his mark on the book forever. I don’t know, any ideas?

I agree one hundred thousand percent.

In Quesada’s defense, he never said he had anything against marriage– just that he felt it was wrong for Spidey.

Now, as Greg points that, that’s a load of crock; married Spider-Man does _not_ diminish his appeal to younger readers, especially with alternate versions of him in existence that do cater to those younger persons who think marriage is “icky”.

Spider-Man has never been about being an Everyman– it’s always been about growing up and changing. That’s why Peter went to college, that’s why he graduated from college. Reader identification is overrated.

And because Spider-Man is so popular, the protrayal of a good marriage– and the drama inherent in marriage– could be a noble thing: if Spider-Man has taught many of us about power and responsibility, he could also teach us how to be better spouses, too.

Excellent column as usual, Greg. Marriage for superheroes can work. It just, like most other aspects of writing a good superhero comic, requires a little imagination.

The only sticking point for marriage for superheroes that I can see is that, if it doesn’t work, it can become a very difficult thing to UNDO. You have to resort to death, divorce, or a magic reset button, all of which can be a real obstacle to the long-term future of a series (Quick aside – has anyone ever had a character in comics separated from his or her spouse, daating others, etc – WITHOUT getting divorced? Common enough occurance in life, but I can’t think of a single instance of it happening in comics.)

I guess what I’m really saying is that marriage in comics is not something that should be entered into lightly. Kind of like in life.

I do get some hope from the solitications for ‘Brand New Day’, which mention the ‘devastatingly heartwarming’ events of ‘One More Day’. Maybe all this talk from Joey Q (and recent spoilers)are all misdirection?

If the marriage is just wiped from existence, it would probably put me off buying the revamped ASM, which I would definitely get otherwise. Does anyone else feel the same way?

I think Reed and Sue work because FF was always about family anyway. Ralph/Sue and Hank/Jan work because the comic isn’t really about them anyway, they just add an interesting dynamic to a team book. As for Superman and Spider-Man, you are right on that it makes more sense for them to be married than most other heroes, but I’ve read so few of their comics in the last 20 years, I can barely tell they’re married at all.

Technically, John, Peter and Mary Jane were separated (without being divorced) during the Mackie years, and I’m pretty sure Pete dated new people. Of course, that was because he thought MJ was dead- but even once it turned out she wasn’t, they stayed separated for awhile.

This was mostly during the Mackie era, though, so it’s largely been forgotten about, even though it demonstrates how little removing the marriage would ‘improve’ the book.

Tom Russell: “Spider-Man has never been about being an Everyman– it’s always been about growing up and changing. That’s why Peter went to college, that’s why he graduated from college. Reader identification is overrated.”

You didn’t happen to see the review I wrote for Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #23 on here, did you? LOL

(Quick aside – has anyone ever had a character in comics separated from his or her spouse, daating others, etc – WITHOUT getting divorced? Common enough occurance in life, but I can’t think of a single instance of it happening in comics.)

Bruce & Betty Banner never got divorced.

The Lois & Clark wedding was a wonderful example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. As near as I can tell, the people producing the show were so afraid that marrying them off would destroy the show’s dynamic that they came up with more and more gimmicks to put it off — frog-eating clones, amnesia, etc. — thereby destroying the show’s dynamic. By the time they finally got around to the wedding, a good chunk of their audience had just left.

On a similar note, I’ve noticed that even when super-heroes actually do get married, the villains find some way to crash the wedding. Zoom shows up at Barry & Iris’ wedding; Kadabra at Wally & Linda’s. Admittedly I’ve only read a few of the books pictured on this page, but the only super-hero wedding story I’ve read without some sort of super-villain interference is that Donna/Terry wedding up at the top.

WOW.
What a babe Mera was. I think she’d pretty much confirmed my heterosexuality by the time I was six.

WOW.
Haven’t seen her for a while.

WOW.

Hey, how’d she get her hair to stay like that underwater, anyway?

Wally and Linda’s has to be my favorite superhero wedding of the past fifteen years. Why? Because first we get the big “wedding special” (though it wasn’t a one shot, just an issue of the book) with heroes from around the world showing up, huge numbers of family, and a villain interruption which pushes things back nearly two years. And then, once Wally and Linda have been out of the book for a while and you get the feeling that at least Linda is never coming back, we get a tiny, private wedding that covers maybe five or six pages and is set up in an afternoon, with Wally’s reasoning being “I just can’t wait to be married to you.” That was just such an absolutely perfect moment and way to end the storyline that I had a big goofy smile for days. (And it would’ve made a better end for Waid’s first/second run on Flash than the stupid “Kobra’s completely lost his touch and is obsessed with defeating Linda” story that actually did tie it up.)

Really great column. As anybody would guess from the fact that ‘The Incredibles’ is one of my favourite films ever, I have no issues with Superheroes staying married. I think if more superheroes took marriage seriously, maybe more female readers would buy superhero books. It’s hard to enjoy a book when the male lead jerks women around all the time. As a female reader, it’ll always damage my empathy for the male hero. I’ll just be left thinking he’s a total prat! It damages your view of the writers too, because they’re jerking you around as well.

It’s odd how superhero marriages that produce kids nearly always happen off panel somewhere in an alternate future. You read ‘X-men: The end’ and suddenly, WHOAH! Everybody’s married with mutant babies! When the heck did that happen!? It’s like the writers are stuck with this childish perception that marriage is something that will happen somewhere in the ‘happily ever after’. ‘Of course they’ll all get married and have kids, that’s what happens to people in the future, but will we write them getting married, staying together and having kids? No way!’

…As for Cyclops…well, let’s see. He dated a telepath, she died, he dated a cosmic force pretending to be her, she died. He dated a CLONE of her, got married to the clone, had a kid with the clone, then the real one came back to life, so he just left the clone without a word and went off and married his girlfriend from when he was a teenager and….I think my brain is melting… Somewhere after that, he had a psychic affair with an ex-villainess and then his wife died….AGAIN….
Scott Summers should probably date Emma. She’s the only person I can think of who can keep a guy who’s that messed up under control. I can’t really decide if he’s just been manipulated and messed around a lot or if he’s a total (to use a Bridget Jones-ism) emotional ****wit, but somebody should keep that man away from womankind.

I totally agree with your article’s message but I cannot agree what you wrote about the way Peter and MJ got married.
There were some long-term plans for MJ back then after Gwen’s death. Gerry Conway surely intended to make her Peter’s girlfriend instead of Gwen and he made a terrific job to make us accept it. He started MJ’s character evaluation right after Gwen’s death in issue 123 when she didn’t leave Pete alone at the end of the Goblin story.
Mary Jane was never a pseudo-Gwen. You felt in the old Conway-issues that she loved Pete but was too insecure about whether she can bear such a great responsibility. She couldn’t pretend any more she’s just an empty-headed party girl. This dilemma led to her temporarily refusal.
Then Tom DeFalco gave her a terrific background (now that issue was much more realistic than some of today’s ‘so-very-real’ comics: a story about a mother who left her husband and her 2 daughters struggling with their own common and separate lives) which explained beautifully why MJ didn’t want to commit herself even though she was clearly in love with Pete.
I cannot see how this can be a ‘stunt-driven idea’ or be called ‘ludicrous’.
(The only ludicrous retcon for me was Parallel Lives. But it was witten after the marriage. But I cannot see the other last-minute character bits.)
After DeFalco wrote this story there was no plausible way their relationship could have remained the same. Either they should have become closer or MJ should have ultimately become so scared because of her honesty and confused bacause of her feelings that she decided to run away.
The relationship was in an awkward state where they pretended to be just friends while Peter dated the Black Cat. This can be a real-life situation but it couldn’t last forever, either.
Yes, the marriage was unfortunately rushed but imo the growth of these characters destined them to become a couple sooner or later.

John Trumbull- I don’t remember the details but it seems like in the Peter David(hmmm intresting)
X-Factor Quicksilver and Crystal were just seperated and not divorced.

Another thing about the television examples is that IMO they mix up cause and effect. Those shows brought in the marriages because the shows were *already* getting a little tired, with stars getting itchy to move on to other things, etc.

Does anyone think Moonlighting would’ve run for 20 years if only those idiots hadn’t married the two lead characters?

Great column, Greg.

Here is your hook for keeping married people “dramatic” in super-hero comics: My wife once said to me, “if you pulled all the **** you pulled in the first year of our marriage while we were dating, I would’ve dumped your ***.” The first year of marriage is wonderful and thrilling, but in no way easy. Getting two separate lives that would intertwine for limited periods to become one complete life while still maintaining ones independent identity… not fun.

But totally worth it.

Greg Manuel said:

Tom Russell: “Spider-Man has never been about being an Everyman– it’s always been about growing up and changing. That’s why Peter went to college, that’s why he graduated from college. Reader identification is overrated.”

“You didn’t happen to see the review I wrote for Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #23 on here, did you? LOL”

Afraid not– I generally don’t read reviews of books I haven’t read/am not interested in reading. I made a similiar point in a video I did for youtube on Spider-Man and Anger– that Peter Parker was actually a very specific character almost from the get-go.

I’d just like to say that I totally agree with Fisk; the “Mary Jane became a pseudo-Gwen” line is, frankly, hooey. Mary Jane became a more mature and believable Mary Jane, and even when she was the “old” Mary Jane, she was still more mature, independent, ambitious, and had a more developed personality than Gwen Stacy, who rivals Betty Banner in the “vacuous empty-headed Stepford Girlfriend” department.

The whole idea of Gwen Stacy being Peter’s One True Love, and of Conway Screwing That Up, is a line of bull that Jeph Loeb has been peddling for years now, and anyone who wants to see just how ridiculous it is should go pick up the Essentials and read for themselves.

Apart from that, though, totally agree with everything you said and thought it was brilliant stuff.

The Mary Jane assessment is of course a matter of opinion; but the description of the wedding story itself is partly lifted from the opinions of the people who worked on those books, including Jim Shooter. Shooter especially seemed to feel it was rushed, and he wrote it. I tend to agree with him, but I only have seen the wedding trade collection itself, I wasn’t following the book at the time. Your mileage may vary.

At any rate, none of it contradicts the main point that the only people that really object to Peter and MJ being married are working in the Marvel offices. Readers have been fine with it for decades.

Greg said:

Fair enough. Absolutely, as a storytelling vehicle, that premise comes with an expiration date: marriage would end those two shows because that is the natural end to those two particular stories. But so what? Why does that apply to superhero adventure? It’s a completely different genre.

I think you’re making a sweeping assumption there. You concede that perpetual romantic tension is required in one type of genre, but you say that superhero adventures are always part of a different genre, and never the twain shall meet?

Can’t they overlap in particular cases?

I think many Spider-Man fans, for instance, would argue that the romantic misadventures of Peter Parker, dating one girl, or frantically trying and failing to date another, etc., but never mnanaging to make it all work out in any permanent sense, were part of the central premise that made him such an appealing and sympathetic character back when Stan Lee and Steve Ditko were working on him together in his first few years, and they hate to see some of the later writers lose track of what sort of genre Spidey’s stories really fell into in “the good old days.” These same fans might readily concede that “a lasting and stable marriage” could be a good thing for Reed Richards and Susan Storm, or for some of the X-Men characters, or that they dearly wish Marvel had let well enough alone after the Vision and the Scarlet Witch got married . . . but they would argue that there’s room for more than one genre and more than one set of core premises, applying to DIFFERENT heroes, under the broad umbrella of “the Marvel Universe.”

Greg also said:

Nevertheless, that is the commonly held belief — you get married, you instantly become dull. Apart from the implied insult to everyone who’s married, this notion has become especially grating in the last couple of decades as superhero creators strive to achieve ‘realism’ in all sorts of other areas, because it really brings into sharp relief how BAD they are at dealing with THIS particular area of human relationships “realistically.”

If I got this right . . . your general feeling seems to be that anytime a writer or editor digs in his heels and shoots down in flames anybody else’s suggestion that it’s about time for a superhero to settle down and get married as part of his regular continuity, this refusal is probably motivated by a deep-rooted fear that a wedding would drastically reduce the potential for interesting drama in that hero’s future stories? The same basic motive would presumably hold true for any time a writer or editor makes up his mind that the time has come to break apart or otherwise “erase” a previously-established superhero marriage which the new guy sees as “an ugly problem that I was unfortunate enough to inherit”?

I’m certainly willing to stipulate that this is sometimes a motive, perhaps one of a set of overlapping motives, behind specific cases of vehement Anti-Marriage Sentiment as a hero’s stories are being plotted out for the next year or two. But I can also think of several other motives that could be at work — and I’d imagine that sometimes the writer and the editor on a certain title, for instance, could have very different reasons for wanting to work together to obliterate an Inconvenient Marriage.

I was thinking of typing out a hasty list of such alternative motives, and then I said to myself, “Hey, that could get pretty long — maybe I should take my own sweet time to fine-tune it, and later post it separately, as a new piece of my own here on CBSG? Ten Reasons to Prevent or Destroy a Superhero’s Marriage, or some such thing? Now there’s a catchy title!” (You see what you’ve triggered?) :)

P.S. About a year and a half ago, I first suggested (in an April Fool’s Day post, admittedly) that the time would come when Marvel would have to officially admit that they were abandoning the entire concept of “Spider-Man’s marriage can only be in one position — absolutely valid or absolutely nonexistent — in practically everything we publish about him in any given year.”

Instead, I argued, it would be time to announce that each “old” monthly title should remain as part of the Marvel Universe’s stifling continuity, but each “new” title should be allowed to mark its own path, totally separate from what any other title was doing. If different writers could make great pitches to editors regarding why they should be allowed to do stories about Married-to-MJ Spidey, about Married-to-Gwen Spidey, about Divorced-from-MJ Spidey, about Bachelor High School Spidey, about Bachelor College Student Spidey, about Grieving Widower Spidey, and so forth, then let them all go for it! Let the potential readers “vote with their wallets” so Marvel could judge which premises, by which writers, were good enough to be worth continuing in years to come!

I still think that’s a pretty good idea. It gets us away from the awkward, fossilized, and incredibly smothering assumption of “it’s got to be all or nothing!” on this controversial subject, and allows much greater freedom to various writers to write Spidey’s personal life any way they please, and much greater freedom to readers to purchase whatever take on it they please, while gleefully ignoring anything that perpetually rubs them the wrong way.

I’m going to have to stand on the other side of the fence here and say not only do I disagree with your argument whole heartedly.
First off, my fiancee and I have loads of drama in our relationship just as you and your wife must. There is always something to worry about or something going on that causes tension. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t bore the hell out of anyone that reads about it. “Oh no, he forgot what she told him last week”. “Gasp, she spends too much time working”. “Oh no, can they make ends meet”. Its important and dramatic to us but this would be unimaginable boring if it were happening to Spider-Man.
The only significant shake-up you can do with a married relationship is to challange its fidelity or put one of the characters in jeopardy. Thats pretty much it. “Oh no, Maryjane has a secret..” that is a non-story because Peter is going to forgive her for keeping said secret or they are going to split up. This is much more dramatic when they are dating because he could run off with the Black Cat or leave her for good. Peter can’t do either of those things when they are married or else he is incredibly unsympathetic.
This is why every time Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman fight it is really hollow because that status quo is going to change. However, that marriage works because there are stories to tell with them both being super-heroes, them being part of a family, and yes, them worrying about their kids. But you know what, Reed and Sue were envisioned as a couple. The family dynamic is why the book works. It isn’t a departure for the characters, it what makes the characters. In fact, take Reed away from Sue and she has no character. That is why that relationship works, I see no instance where that proves anything about how marrying a super-hero off (to a civilian) makes for a compelling concept.
I also think its really bizaare to bring up the Spider-Man movies because that kind of proves the point opposing yours. The anti-marriage arguement says nothing against courtship (for lack of a better word), in fact it is one of the touchstones of Spider-Man. Balancing whether or not he can make it work with Betty Brant or if Liz Allen is more his type. Or to borrow from the movies, Peter can’t be with MJ without putting her in danger from the Green Goblin, or Doc Ock, or Venom. Peter can’t get too caught up in being Spider-Man without forgetting about MJ. Peter needs to decide if being with MJ is more important than being Spider-Man. NONE of those questions carry over once they’re married. Once they’re married we know its all going to work out and all of that tension is gone.
Being married is a static state that (presumably) lasts the rest of your life. There is no “who will Peter chose” or “will Clark tell Lois” or (going back to the original X-men) “I’m not good enough for Jean, she deserves someone like Angel”. Its all in pursuit of the happily ever after and marriage (except in stories of divorce, death or infideilty) IS the happily ever after.

Does all of this mean you can’t do a nice bit where Peter gives MJ his webshooters so she can protect herself? No of course not. But at the end of the day, Peter is going to come home to her, she is going to be okay and they’re going to get it on. You can have them argue or give them a tender moment, but you know they’re going to be together in the end and that is a dramatic avenue that is completley closed off.

Yeah, I think I’m on Ian’s side of the fence here.

Marriage doesn’t equal permanent bliss, but it does equal more stability and less soap opera love triangle stuff.

Basically, it makes the character’s universe more stable. Which, I think, should almost always be avoided in open-ended serial fiction.

Great column. And another notch in the “adulthood” column is Luke Cage, who is acres more interesting a character since he married and had a kid with Jessica Jones.

As an (unmarried) adult guy, I have to say my biggest gripe with superhero comics is their totally fucked gender politics, which overlaps with comics’ retardation about adult relationships in general and marriage in particular. The MJ & Spidey marriage might have been a ploy originally, but it’s done now, and I think it works. I really LIKE their relationship (at least when Bendis or Straczynski is at the keyboard). And the impulse to break them up for “youth appeal” is so wrongheaded and emotionally stunted that I have already vowed to boycott all Spider-Man titles for the remainder of Quesada’s tenure if it happens for real.

I don’t think that there are a lot of fully anti-super hero marriage people out there. I think a lot of people, like myself, are against stunt weddings, like Black Canary and Green Arrow’s. Like you said, they had been thoroughly broken up by the likes of Grell and even Winnick himself. To forget all that due to three days of sex does a huge disservice to both characters.
I like that Superman and Lois Lane are married. It was natural. Same with Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman. I feel that Cyclops’ marriage to Jean Grey was just as natural as his marriage-ending affair. I wish that Marvel writers trated Spider-Man’s marriage like Superman’s marriage has been treated.
I do however take issue with you saying that people write married couples better because they are married. That is like saying only women can write women and only aliens can write aliens.

If Black Panther’s wedding WAS a stunt wedding, I can guarantee you that T’Challa’s peeps designed a better tuxedo than Doctor Doom’s…

But at the end of the day, Peter is going to come home to her, she is going to be okay and they’re going to get it on. You can have them argue or give them a tender moment, but you know they’re going to be together in the end and that is a dramatic avenue that is completley closed off.

With all due respect, Ian, I think your argument might depend on oversimplifying things more than a bit. You’re suggesting that meeting the demands of a committed, complex, intimate relationship is less interesting than the high-school melodrama of ‘he could run off with the Black Cat or leave her for good’?

Y’know, he could still do that – only now it matters. All those questions you raise:

“Peter can’t be with MJ without putting her in danger from the Green Goblin, or Doc Ock, or Venom. Peter can’t get too caught up in being Spider-Man without forgetting about MJ. Peter needs to decide if being with MJ is more important than being Spider-Man.”

I’m not sure how you arrive at the conclusion that none of that holds true for a married Peter! As far as I can tell, your idea is of marriage as a sort of perpetual suburban sitcom, locked into a dull, careful, minutiae-filled routine.

Well…yeah, it’s possible, in the hands of completely unimaginative or unsubtle writers (ie, I venture to suggest, a decent percentage of the current comic-book fraternity).

But if you’ve got someone who’s interested in looking past the obvious, in creating real dramatic tension between characters rather than with explosions – a concept that as it happens Spidey embodies better than any other traditional superhero – the dramatic possibilities expand exponentially.

Isn’t a lot of the ‘anti-marriage’ movement rooted in a desperate editorial attempt to prevent the brand (characters) from aging? We all know and appreciate the fact that comics do not adavnce in real time — it’s a month between issues, sure, but obviously the characters are not one month older at the time that the next issue streets. Still, almost five decades of Spidey continuity later…

Somehow, editorial’s more comfortable with REIGN than they are with the horrendous-to-them vision of a fifty-year-old Spidey with tweens running around the house.

Have you ever been out with someone at a Mexican restaurant, and they decide the hot sauce really isn’t that hot, and decide to take a big swig of it? You don’t laugh at them because their eyes are watering and they’re desperately downing everyone’s drinks on the table – you laugh at them because you knew what they said in the first place was so very wrong and that it was going to be hilarious watching them come to terms with their misunderstanding.

That said,

Once they’re married we know its all going to work out and all of that tension is gone.

Oh, this made me laugh and laugh!

And then laugh some more…

(waves at Greg) A nice column!

Of those of us you mentioned on the Spidey books, Greg…. two writers out of three are known to be married. Any chance that married writers write better married superheroes?

Just a thought. :) (Is Adam-Troy hitched? I don’t know him.)

Matthew Lazorwitz

October 1, 2007 at 10:15 am

Just have to say bravo. This was a well thought out column, with a lot to say, and I agree with it wholeheartedly. As someone who is in the process of preparing for his own wedding, I just have to say that if life after the wedding is half as exciting and dramatic as the parts leading up to it, there is no lack of story potential.

You know, I think characters should never go to college. When they’re in high school, and they’re applying for colleges, there’s all this dramatic potential. Which college are they going to? Will they still see their friends if they go to another college? At the end of the day, they could change their mind.

Once they choose a college and go there, it’s all over. You know they’re going to be at the same school for the next 4 years of continuity, more like the next decade in real time, so what’s the point? All the drama’s gone.

(This post has been subtitled for the sarcasm-impaired.)

Wow, from the first few lines of this article I was whole-heartedly agreeing… except that the reason I did so from the start is because I’ve always felt that what Morrison did with Jean and Scott’s relationship was such a badly done and out of character blatant example of it. It’s always pissed me off.

Ah well, to each his own.

I agree to some extent with Lorendiac and Ian. The issue isn’t whether you can tell stories about a married Spider-Man; it’s just one piece of a broader trend of dismantling the formula that made Spider-Man work in the first place, that of competing responsibilities.

The standard classic pattern for Spidey-drama is to stick Peter with an either-or situation, and make him weigh dealing with one at the expense of another. The nature of the series and the character means crimefighting usually wins out, but his hierarchy is, roughly, crimefighting/family > job > school/romance. (His job goes in the middle because it sometimes exists to drive the other motives, so selling photos to raise money for Aunt May’s operation ranks higher than raising money for a date. It also doesn’t necessarily compete with the others.) Sometimes responsibilities compete on the same level–“Oh, no, Betty wants me to help her do her taxes, but I already promised Liz I’d help with the homecoming float!”–but when a higher responisibility comes along, it generally wins out, leaving Peter in a one-step-forward, one-step-back situation. That’s the weight of the responsibility he carries, and it’s pretty key to the character.

Married Spidey throws off the balance, because it bumps the love interest from the bottom level to the highest (in the same way that his holding a regular job is different from his freelance job at the Bugle). Because the stakes and potential consequences are higher. Someone who keeps breaking dates because of crimefighting we can sympathize with, because he’s making the effort and messing up through no fault of his own. If he keeps doing it to his wife, on the other hand, he comes off as more of a jerk–if he knew this was going to keep happening, he shouldn’t have put himself in the position in the first place–and if she objects too much, she comes off as selfish for the same reason. Likewise, the conflicts at similar (lower) levels of responsibility is harder to pull off, because his responsibilities to his aunt and his wife shouldn’t be competing in that way.

And I don’t buy that having the stakes higher makes for more dramatic tension–it cuts it considerably, because the higher stakes mean they’re much less likely to cross that line. If Peter misses a sort-of date with one sort-of girlfriend to go on another sort-of date with a different sort-of girlfriend, it’s fairly easy to smooth over. If he skips out on his wife to sleep with another woman, that’s a Big Deal, and he’s forever branded with that. Therefore, the reader can tell that the odds they’re going to actually do it for a character like Spidey are not all that great (Cyclops isn’t a headliner in the same way). Having an on-again-off-again relationship with a girlfriend is a fact of Peter’s life; actually breaking his marriage vows would make him the bad guy, and it’s a well you can’t go to too often if it’s going to retain any meaning. (And if he does break up with a casual girlfriend, no one writes angry essays about how Marvel’s writers and editors are casual-relationship-phobic.)

My point isn’t that good stories can’t be written about a married Peter; it’s to establish the context that his marriage eliminates (or at least weakens) one of the classic tools in the creator’s toolbox for the character. (Just as Superman’s marriage eliminated the Lois-Clark-Superman triangle–and stories around her trying to prove his secret identity, although those at least were pretty much played out.)

I pretty much agree with you, Greg, but I think the part you’re not considering is the fact that the majority of superhero comics readers are not married, and THEY carry the perception that marriage is boring/weird/scary/whatever. It makes it harder for them to identify with the character, and the publishers respond to that. Like you say, most superhero books are geared towards an adolescent mindset.

The only thing I could see marriage limiting is the “girl in every issue” crap. A superhero trying to fight crime and keep the romance alive is more interesting to me. Falling back on the newest bit of eye candy is lazy writing. BTW wasn’t there some show way back when where two rich married people ran around solving mysteries? And the show ran for a long time… God now I’m going to be trying to remember that damn show’s name all day. Oh and a classic example… the Thin Man.

Vail: You’re thinking of Hart to Hart. My knowledge of late 1970s-early 1980s lighthearted crime shows knows no bounds!

“BTW wasn’t there some show way back when where two rich married people ran around solving mysteries? And the show ran for a long time… God now I’m going to be trying to remember that damn show’s name all day.”

Hart to Hart?

Great column, Greg.

I do have a minor nitpick… if memory serves, the Action #484 cover was not a fake-out, but rather the marriage of the Earth-2 Superman and Lois (notice that it’s the Daily Star shown in the bottom left corner, not the Daily Planet).

As an aside, what’s your take on the Matt/Milla marriage in Daredevil?

Oh and a classic example… the Thin Man.

Or, as they’re known in the comics world, Ralph and Sue Dibny.

Someone who keeps breaking dates because of crimefighting we can sympathize with, because he’s making the effort and messing up through no fault of his own. If he keeps doing it to his wife, on the other hand, he comes off as more of a jerk–if he knew this was going to keep happening, he shouldn’t have put himself in the position in the first place–and if she objects too much, she comes off as selfish for the same reason.

I think I missed a logic leap here. If he makes dates knowing that this is going to keep happening, doesn’t he already come off as kind of a jerk? Under this system, seems like the only way Peter could have a wholly sympathetic love life would be if he became a Tibetan monk.

Likewise, is it not possible for both himself and his bride to have gone into marriage with a certain set of expectations re: his responsibilities, only to find them challenged?
We’re not talking a weekly shift at the steel mill here. That the paradigms in such an extraordinary relationship should constantly shift isn’t jerkish or selfish; it’s just normal, sympathetic human nature.

Look, I understand that editorial is going to be very reluctant to screw up their meal ticket’s essential appeal. On the other hand, I haven’t seen any argument made here that convinces me an intelligently-written married Spider-Man profoundly spoils that appeal…other than their core audience not quite understanding what this thing called marriage is, exactly. :)

I’d just like to say that I totally agree with Fisk; the “Mary Jane became a pseudo-Gwen” line is, frankly, hooey. Mary Jane became a more mature and believable Mary Jane, and even when she was the “old” Mary Jane, she was still more mature, independent, ambitious, and had a more developed personality than Gwen Stacy, who rivals Betty Banner in the “vacuous empty-headed Stepford Girlfriend” department.

This is revisionism of the worst degree. Mary Jane had all of ONE THOUGHT BUBBLE in her whole existence prior to Gwen’s death if I remember correctly, and was an airhead that only cared about partying and had vague acting goals. How exactly does that equal more maturity,developed personality and ambition than Gwen?

I sincerely believe, and repeat it often, that Gwen only died because no one had any idea what to do with her and Pete after Pete caused Captain Stacy’s death. Stan even left the book without resolving that plotline, and I think that was why Conway killed her, because it was the easiest way to deal with the problem. So after they kill her because they wrote themselves into a corner, what are they going to tell the public? The truth? “We killed her because we didn’t know what else to do!” Of course not! So they start this whole revisionist legend of how MJ always naturally had more personality and appeal no matter how hard the writers tried to make Gwen the main chick in the book. Nice save, but not the least bit true. Mary Jane’s screen time and personality explloration is next to zero before Gwen died.

Hatcher’s right in this case.

I’d like to give a shout out to the Spider-Man novels by Keith DeCandido as also great examples of why Peter & MJ rock as a married couple for stories.
If you can’t write good stories with them married, you just can’t write.

two writers out of three are known to be married. Any chance that married writers write better married superheroes?

Well DeCandido wasn’t married when he did his two (or at least the second…not sure sure about the first)…but he did at the time have a long time girlfriend (now fiance).

As for One More Day: SPOILERS (probably–I don’t know for sure, but I’m pretty sure)

Look, Aunt May is dying, and Peter makes a deal with someone, Dr Strange, a Demon..shurg…that she gets better if the marriage gets erased.

That’s the story.

That’s what Marvel calls “Heart warming”.

This has reminded me of something. A long time ago — as in, a couple of years ago, I think — I started threads on a few forums in which I requested everybody’s help in coming up with superhero wedding stories that happened “in continuity.” My plan was to put them all together in one big table, including such details as the groom’s real name, the groom’s alias, the bride’s real name, the bride’s alias, the exact issue # in which the story took place, and the “current status” of the marriage when last heard from. I believe I actually got most of that info from a few dozen different marriages entered into a table . . . and then I saved it on a disk and never did anything further with it.

My intention was that eventually I’d post it on a webpage and then use it as a basis for a new post analyzing the probability that a superhero marriage will fall apart (or be erased by retcon, or whatever) within, say, the next 10 years, or the next 20 years, or whatever. I just never got around to writing that post. If I can still find my table of data after a couple of years, I may finally polish off that project now that this column and the responses have jogged my memory! :)

I want very badly to get into one of these really long thing where I post, and reply for ages and ages on this issue, but I just don’t have the time. It makes me sad, because, like I said… I want to. I love debating this kind of thing.

Suffice it to say, I really disagree with Greg as much as I possibly can on many points. Basically, I think he’s incorrect on why the marriages are ok, and I think he’s wrong about why he thinks people like me think they’re not ok. As much as I love Peter and Mary Jane married, and I do, because I grew up on it, I think it was a mistake. And even more than that, reading Showcase presents Superman has made me realize how much BIGGER of a mistake marrying off Superman was.

I wish I could discuss it with you face to face. Realistically, though, from my experience, it would probably boil down to one point- some people think the characters in comics should grow and change over time, and some people think they should remain, essentially, the same. And this is not an argument that can be won, as it comes down to taste. I could tell you why I think they should remain, basically, the same (and no, it’s not because I want things to stay the same way they did when I was young, or some selfish, unthinking reason like that) and you could appreciate where I am coming from, but it will not make you want things to stay the same.

Thanks to everyone who came up with the name of that show (Hart to Hart). It was driving me nuts!

BTW has anyone seen the movie called Undercover Blues? Two secret agents get married have kid then end up saving the world again (with kid in tow). Funny film.

It think the reason Manga is becoming so much more popular in America over comics is becuase the characters are allowed to grow and mature, even if at a slower pace. Naruto isn’t perpetually trying to take the Chunin exams. He’s on a path with emotional trials as well.

I think the fact that comic publishers think marrying a character “Ages” the brand is laughable. Spidey is only what 25? He’s aged 10 years in about 50 years of publication. Thats pretty good. In another 50 years he’ll be only 35- life isn’t over once you hit 30.

Superman not being married had some fun issues back in the day but the idea was quite stagnant by the 1980s. (Lois really can’t see through a pair of glasses?)

Superman needed a change if he is going to be around another 60 years and I think marrying him and Lois is a good idea. There’s plenty of drama as has been pointed out by The Incredibles, Spider-Man 2 (Mark Waid’s pick as best superhero movie recently) and even Hart to Hart (which was brought back in TV Movies in the 90s)

The Incredibles and Spider-Man movies are wildly popular with kids and *gasp* the female of our species. Neither of which seems to be a demographic for American Comics. ;)

“I’m not sure how you arrive at the conclusion that none of that holds true for a married Peter! As far as I can tell, your idea is of marriage as a sort of perpetual suburban sitcom, locked into a dull, careful, minutiae-filled routine…
But if you’ve got someone who’s interested in looking past the obvious, in creating real dramatic tension between characters rather than with explosions – a concept that as it happens Spidey embodies better than any other traditional superhero – the dramatic possibilities expand exponentially. ”

We know Peter will not get divorced any sooner than he is going to die, eat Norman Osborn’s face or rape someone. He is a money machine and thus there are measures taken to keep him ‘pure’. There’s a reason they didn’t make him the father of Gwen’s kids after all. The status is going to stay the same and thus we ‘know’ whats going to happen. If MJ leaves, she’ll come back. If they argue we get a couple issues between them arguing and then them making up. Yeah its nice for Peter to have MJ to lean on, but thats just part of a story, there isn’t really a story there. Its all going to come back to square one. You speak of infinite possibilities, but I see no examples given.

“”Once they’re married we know its all going to work out and all of that tension is gone.”

Oh, this made me laugh and laugh!

And then laugh some more… ”
Glad I could give you a laugh, but if you think that Peter and MaryJane are going to go through a messy divorce or argue about the fact that MaryJane’s sex drive is waning then you are severly misguided. I have no idea if you are going to come out of the closet and your marriage is going to fail, but I do know that Peter’s won’t.
I don’t know why some people are having a hard time understanding that when some say a super-hero marriage is boring that marriage is boring. That is not the point at all and to suggest it is is misrepresenting the point. Although I do maintain that most often reading/hearing about someone else’s marriage is incredibly boring (save the things that break it up).

Additionally, to say that there are people against ALL super-hero marriage, is just a strawman. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t with Peter Parker, I think it doesn’t.

Lastly, the person who brought up Manga makes an excellent point. With most Manga being finite (and correct me if I’m wrong on that) you can tell the story of a characters life from start to finish including different stages of skill, rites of passage, and more.
Spider-Man has no end in the comics, he will go on and on and on. Therefore he doesn’t have one over-arching story. He has a constant series of redirections and changes. Sometimes he moves on in life and it works for the character such as the New Avengers/Civil War stuff path he has taken or reaching further back, him graduating high school and going on to college. These are natural evolutions in his super-hero and personal lives and we can watch him undertake the journey without losing what works with the character. In the first instance we saw why he has always been a loner and even why he should have stayed that way. In the later we got to see him still in school but in a way that opened up more scientific and relationship possibilities.
The problem then is, that his story is never-ending and there is a constant need for one-up-man-ship. Thats where you get marriage, Peter and Maryjane having a baby, (ugh) Peter not working for the Daily Bugle (again), and Aunt May dying. (that is Aunt May actually dying. Her being on her death bed is as old as Spider-Man, a part of the mythos itself you could say).
If Spider-Man was real all of this stuff would happen but he would also age and eventually die. He would get married have a baby, change careers, etc. However, at the end of the day, he needs to be in a place where he is still Spider-Man so a kid can pick up a comic and enjoy it just the same. Doing an extended story like the Avengers (where so many people were complaining he didn’t feel like Spider-Man) is much different than a substantial shift in the character that marriage brings. The best we can hope for is to accept the revamps, keep Spider-Man as close to his original incarnation as possible, and enjoy the ride.

(For the record, I personally it that Peter has Maryjane to lean on when times get tough. It makes me happy for him. However, going back to the character’s origins, Spider-Man not having anyone at all to lean on was part of the character. It seems like an artificial step that we (fans, writers, etc.) have added so we can be happy for him over a natural evolution for the character. Its a double edged sword, we want Banner to be cured and rid of the Hulk so he can live happily ever after but if he is then there is no more story. (But the Hulk is such a massive mess that I shouldn’t have even brought it up)).

Although I do maintain that most often reading/hearing about someone else’s marriage is incredibly boring (save the things that break it up).

OK, have it your way. I still think you’re missing out on a whole lot, though.

Yeah its nice for Peter to have MJ to lean on, but thats just part of a story, there isn’t really a story there. Its all going to come back to square one. You speak of infinite possibilities, but I see no examples given.

OK, fair enough. Here’s one that’s already been used, that I came across on scans-daily and really liked: Peter convinces the Silver Surfer to give MJ the Power Cosmic just long enough for a single ride on the board. It’s her birthday – and it’s Peter’s way of trying to help her understand his world.

See, you don’t have to look only at the possibilities of argument or breakup or ‘oh, my [female] loved ones are in jeopardy!’ That’s melodrama, not drama, and hackneyed at that.

Assume instead that MJ’s an active, intelligent partner in the marriage. She wants to enter fully into Peter’s life; maybe help, maybe even participate. What happens when she tries? What does an ordinary human see and feel that a superhero doesn’t – or a woman vs a man, for that matter – and how does that change their relationship?

Then there’s the reverse scenario, the one Greg mentions re: Superman above. MJ’s a supermodel, a celebrity. By rights she should have a Hollywood hunk on her arm, not a geeky science teacher (albeit what would have to be a pretty hunky science teacher, at that).
What happens when Peter – and, inevitably, Spidey – is forced to cope with her world? He’s no mean showman himself, after all.

Married couples do argue, with some regularity, without thought of breaking up. Because in real life, people have actual personalities, stuff that makes them unique, and making a commitment to that person is thus an intricate dance of learning and accepting.

In one of the ‘why I had Spider-Man as my No.1 pick’ essays on the Top 50 countdown, someone reels off any number of personal questions Peter Parker has to deal with.
When he married, those questions became MJ’s too, whether either likes it or not. Pick any one of them, imagine what both character’s take on it would be, and go from there.

It’s interesting that in the past most of our superhuman gods and heroes–Greek, Norse, Celtic, and those I know of Africa, Asia, and the Americas–were married (exceptions being Beowulf, Robin Hood, and Jesus–in most versions).

Obviously these figures weren’t pure entertainment but even mortal heroes in epics were usually married and I don’t think Homer considered dropping Penelope to pump up the drama. Luckily Sophocles never had to deal with Marvel editors or Oedipus would be forever battling the Sphinx and perpetually dating Jocasta. (That might not be the best example.)

T.: I don’t contradict what you say.
I agree that MJ has that weak ‘party girl’ personality BEFORE Gwen’s death.

But after Amazing 122 she did not become a ‘pseudo-Gwen’ as Greg has written but a more complex and interesting personality than Gwen had EVER been. How can that be called revisionism? Just because we didn’t know anything about her background in the Lee/Romita issues doesn’t mean she couldn’t have had that specific background. We just didn’t know about this because Pete dated Gwen. (That’s why we knew her father/background) After the tragic death of Gwen MJ started to really care about Peter, they became closer and it turned out for our/Pete’s surprise that she is more than an ‘empty-headed’, ‘just-one-thought-baloon in 50issues’ girl.
It is character evaluation. (And a very fine one imo)

And I agree with you in another note: Gwen was killed because nobody knew what to do with her. Conway said that reportedly in interviews. BUT he also said that he and Romita always liked MJ better and Conway wanted to make her Peter’s girlfriend. So he made MJ grow up.

T said:

“This is revisionism of the worst degree. Mary Jane had all of ONE THOUGHT BUBBLE in her whole existence prior to Gwen’s death if I remember correctly, and was an airhead that only cared about partying and had vague acting goals. How exactly does that equal more maturity,developed personality and ambition than Gwen?”

Because Gwen had all of ONE THOUGHT BUBBLE in her whole existence prior to her death, and was an airhead that only cared about Peter and had vague goals of being Peter’s girlfriend. Oh, sure, she mentioned once that she was going for a science degree, but on the whole, she existed pretty much just to obsess over Peter Parker and that was it.

Of course, this is revisionism. My revisionist tactic of “actually reading the first 122 issues of Amazing Spider-Man, then forming opinions based on what I read” completely ignores the established fan orthodoxy that has enshrined Gwen Stacy as Patron Saint of Characters Who Are Far More Interesting Dead Than Alive (Marvel Edition; Barry Allen is, of course, the DC Edition). My sincerest apologies to anyone who wishes to not have their worldview challenged by actual facts. :)

Wow, great article.

I gotta go with the stereotypical woman reader view here: I like reading about the relationships of the characters. I think its cool when a lot of the characters get married (or in the Dibny’s case, just *are*). I find myself reading old Captain America comics, and being far more interested in what Steve Rogers is acting like towards Bernie Rosenthal, than the silly villain of the week, most of the time (though Batroc makes me giggle uncontrollably). I’m still easily amused by my old Generation X comics, and the silly drama between Chamber and Husk. I like the will they, wont they stuff, but I also like the “what happens after they’re married” too. It seemed totally natural when Jean and Scott got married. Variety is the spice of life, right?

That being said, everyone aware of continuity that I know of is scratching their heads about the Green Arrow/Black Canary wedding.

So, I agree, a lot of marriages can work as great stories. When they’re handled well.

Of course, this is revisionism. My revisionist tactic of “actually reading the first 122 issues of Amazing Spider-Man, then forming opinions based on what I read” completely ignores the established fan orthodoxy that has enshrined Gwen Stacy as Patron Saint of Characters Who Are Far More Interesting Dead Than Alive (Marvel Edition; Barry Allen is, of course, the DC Edition). My sincerest apologies to anyone who wishes to not have their worldview challenged by actual facts.

Do you ever read accounts of how insanely irate fandom was over the death of Gwen Stacy when it occurred? If she was so boring, why would she cause such a hooplah? And people use the Barry Allen analogy, but let’s be honest, which of his Silver Age DC contemporaries had better personalities? They all had the exact same boring one! Barry, Hal, Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, they all had interchangeable, boring identical personalities until Marvel Comics came around and pressure arose to retroactively give them personalities. If Barry Allen survived to the present day, he would have retroactively received his own individual, interesting personality just like Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, Hal Jordan and Diana Prince.

And if Gwen Stacy was inherently boring because she solely to pine after a man, than so is every single other female superhero love interest up until that point in time as well: Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Iris West, Carol Ferris…they ALL existed just to pine after the hero or try to discover his secret ID…it was the 60s!!! Women simply didn’t do that much in comics back then, Gwen and MJ included. Like Lois Lane, Lana Lang and other women created in the days before feminism, Gwen would have been given a richer personality if she survived. But to judge her 1960s depiction by today’s standards is unfair, because all current female characters and many current male characters that existed back then would fail the “interesting” test if you chose to judge them by their 1960s depictions.

Everyone is having so much fun that I hesitate to jump in. But let me clarify one thing.

The point wasn’t so much “marriage is okay,” the point was more, “If you want the credit for doing adult superheroes, then really DO it — treat your characters and the concept of marriage in an adult manner. Specifically, quit bitching that it ends any possible interest in their lives.” Because that’s a teenage point of view.

Otherwise, own up to doing juvenile stories with a static premise and do THAT to the best of your ability. I’m just tired of creators doing comics with such a clearly adolescent, teenage view of matrimony talking like they’re doing Serious Adult Literature when it’s so… not.

Specifically, quit bitching that [Marriage] ends any possible interest in their lives.” Because that’s a teenage point of view.

In all fairness, it really is the viewpoint of a lot of married men as well!

“OK, fair enough. Here’s one that’s already been used, that I came across on scans-daily and really liked: Peter convinces the Silver Surfer to give MJ the Power Cosmic just long enough for a single ride on the board. It’s her birthday – and it’s Peter’s way of trying to help her understand his world.

See, you don’t have to look only at the possibilities of argument or breakup or ‘oh, my [female] loved ones are in jeopardy!’ That’s melodrama, not drama, and hackneyed at that. ”

There isn’t really anything in your example that requires the couple to be married. Yeah MJ needs to know Peter’s secret identity, but that could just as easily been a gift for his girlfriend. The fact that they are married doesn’t really add anything to that story.
The examples I gave were a direct result of being married and stories that are told about a married couple.
Also, I think throwing around the word hackneyed is misguided when your example of a great story is a non-story in and of itself.

“Assume instead that MJ’s an active, intelligent partner in the marriage. She wants to enter fully into Peter’s life; maybe help, maybe even participate. What happens when she tries? ”
We get Maryjane the sidekick. Granted you aren’t getting paid to come up with stories (and are probably not a writer) so I shouldn’t focus on the quality of your ideas over the fact that they are ideas that would work for Peter and MJ in the context of being married.

“I think I missed a logic leap here. If he makes dates knowing that this is going to keep happening, doesn’t he already come off as kind of a jerk? Under this system, seems like the only way Peter could have a wholly sympathetic love life would be if he became a Tibetan monk.”

The difference is basically one of expectations. Single Peter doesn’t intend to miss his girlfriend’s birthday party, but he can’t ignore the Rhino rampaging through downtown–and that’s what we expect from the character, and he suffers an appropriate level of guilt and reproach for it, and he does his best to make up for it the next week. And the guilt and reproach are part of the formula, because Peter is acting against expectations for reasons the girlfriends aren’t aware of.

Married Peter is already giving up some of his time with his wife to patrol every night, plus there’s the special occasions he misses on top of that. The difference here (and I wasn’t as clear on this as I might have been) is that, since MJ knows and presumably approves of what he’s doing, she should have come to expect it. Therefore, if the writer tries to use the guilt, reproach, etc. to the same extent with married Peter as with single Peter, the relationship and those in it come off looking a whole lot worse. As I said, it’s not a question of the ability to write entertaining stories, it’s a question of losing tools the writer previously had access to.

We get Maryjane the sidekick.

Uh-huh. Thank you much for being kind enough to critique my ideas, but I think my amateur writing career can get along fine regardless. :)

Look, we’re clearly having two different conversations here. The difference I’m trying to emphasise is in the emotional commitment, not the literal marriage vows themselves.

Really, how else do you distinguish a marriage from any other relationship? I’m having some real difficulty imagining Peter feeling the need to grant a random girlfriend the Power Cosmic, or she being brave enough to take that leap of faith without enormous faith in him.

However, YMMV. So I think it’s best we end this here.

T said:

“And if Gwen Stacy was inherently boring because she solely to pine after a man, than so is every single other female superhero love interest up until that point in time as well: Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Iris West, Carol Ferris…they ALL existed just to pine after the hero or try to discover his secret ID…it was the 60s!!! Women simply didn’t do that much in comics back then, Gwen and MJ included.”

Except that this is, in fact, my point: MJ isn’t included, because as a result of her not being Peter’s love interest, she was free to do things other than pine after the hero or try to discover his secret ID. She could decide to drive her motorcycle off to catch a look at the Rhino, or try out for an off-off-off-Broadway play, or get a job singing at a nightclub. Sure, she played ditzy (although even that isn’t strictly true–she played hedonistic party-girl, but she rarely acted dumb. There’s a difference.) But she had a well-developed personality and an independent streak a mile wide, even before she developed additional maturity while helping Peter get over the death of Gwen (a perfectly natural character development, really.)

Whereas Gwen, as the Designated Love Interest, really did have nothing to do except pine over Peter and complain about that icky Spider-Man. (Heck, even Betty Brant had a more interesting life back then. So did Liz Allan, and she was a very minor character.)

FunkyGreenJerusalem

October 2, 2007 at 6:19 pm

, Gwen would have been given a richer personality if she survived. But to judge her 1960s depiction by today’s standards is unfair, because all current female characters and many current male characters that existed back then would fail the “interesting” test if you chose to judge them by their 1960s depictions.

That’s kind of shiftitng the goal posts a bit – before she was just plain better than MJ, now she could have been better.
The elves from Cassidy Keep in X-men could have been better if developed more – but they weren’t.

Do you ever read accounts of how insanely irate fandom was over the death of Gwen Stacy when it occurred? If she was so boring, why would she cause such a hooplah?

Well either people were so shocked it happened, as it hadn’t before, and nobody knew what the hell was going on, or they used her as a fantasy figure to fill in for their own lack of girlfriend.

Having read a pretty hefty chunk of old-school Spidey, though surely not as much as Greg, I’d have to say that MJ was always more interesting than Gwen, and that most of her subsequent character development came from exploring layers of her character that seemed quite plausible- not by turning her into a Gwen clone.

It’s possible your point of view might depend on when you started reading. When I was a kid, one of my favourite comics was a reprint of ASM #259 (the one where MJ pretty much tells Peter her life story, straight after the black costume saga) because I found her story so believable, and such a logical extension of the older stories I’d read.

I think Ian’s argument dovetails nicely with the fact that he has a “fiancee.”

What people like Quesada don’t seem to get is that Marvel’s growth audience–young people–grew up with a married Spidey, & to them Peter & MJ are like Reed & Sue are to older fans of Joe’s generation.

It’s just another failure to recognize where the book has actually gone after all this time.

Note that I say, “growth audience,” not, “core audience.” Smart businessmen look to where their new customers & future customers are coming from. I don’t believe Marvel can afford to abandon its recent & future base in favor of an imaginary “core” that happens to look exactly like the staff themselves.

“What people like Quesada don’t seem to get is that Marvel’s growth audience–young people–grew up with a married Spidey, & to them Peter & MJ are like Reed & Sue are to older fans of Joe’s generation.

It’s just another failure to recognize where the book has actually gone after all this time.”

Yep. Anyone who is under the age of 30 (which is the target audience, after all) has never read a story with Spider-Man single. Unless if he or she read older stories, and in that case, said person only got those issues due to interest Spidey generated on the first stories this person read, which were all done with Peter Parker married. Is Spidey less popular than he was 30 years ago? Or do you see fans saying they can’t relate to a married Pete?

And, to be honest, i don’t really buy that Joe Q thinks Spidey would be more relatable if he was single, and is just using the argument to force Peter to be the way he prefers personally. Likewise, i don’t believe he really thinks that less mutants were necessary to have the X-men be more popular (and both fan reaction and sales indicate that he was wrong), but that’s another discussion that shouldn’t be done here.

To be fair, Omega Alpha, there’s any number of ways that fans under 30 could have been introduced to a single Spidey, whether it be through Marvel Tales or cartoons or the movies, or, if they’re closer to 30 than 20, straight off the spinner rack. The question is whether or not any of them were put off by the marriage when they did eventually come across it, and I agree with you that they probably weren’t.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

October 2, 2007 at 9:27 pm

And, to be honest, i don’t really buy that Joe Q thinks Spidey would be more relatable if he was single, and is just using the argument to force Peter to be the way he prefers personally. Likewise, i don’t believe he really thinks that less mutants were necessary to have the X-men be more popular (and both fan reaction and sales indicate that he was wrong), but that’s another discussion that shouldn’t be done here.

Nor did Wolverine need an origin story, but it sold.
All he’s trying to do is generate hype and hopefully sales.
As Marvel doesn’t make it’s main cash from comics, as long as he’s bringing in cash, Marvel’s corporate arm won’t complain.
You can argue that sales are actually slipping on the books after these events, but so far the events themselves have given enough of a spike that it doesn’t matter.

My weird experience of Gwen Stacy is that issue 121 where she died happened to be the first Spider-Man I ever remember buying. So in a way her death and loss defined the Peter Parker character for me as much as the whole power/responsibility origin.

Greg, I’m just getting around to reading your column now because, eerily enough, I just got back in town from my honeymoon. I agree 100% with what you said.

Quesada’s anti-Spider-Man’s marriage crusade has brought me closer to dropping a book in the name of a bone-headed editorial mandates than anything in the 15+ years I’ve been reading comics. And there have been some pretty bone-headed mandates in that time…

I really hope One More Day doesn’t end the way everyone is thinking it will.

I’m certainly on board. I’d like to read about more married couples in comics. There’s still stuff you could do with characterization. I think with superheroes, you could look to professional wrestling and the marriages of the performers there as inspiration for how being a superhero might wear on a relationship. There’s a lot of fairly truthful stuff coming out now that it might be possible. I mean, I would think with flying around the world and space adventures, one of the closest things in real life would be something like pro wrestling, where the guys are on the road for a good chunk of the year, and doing something that’s pretty dangerous, putting their bodies through the ringer as often as they do.

The thing I have a bit of an issue with is assuming that the writers, especially olden time guys, have relationship issues because of how they write. I mean, a lot of people writing about comic books have talked about demographic shifts in comic audiences. Back in the days when it was twelve cents an issue, it seems like the audience was all kids who thought girls were yucky, you know? And when you come to today, the people writing have the burden of years of continuity hanging over their shoulders (nothing, NOTHING escapes the notice of the fanbase these days, which places an exceptional amount of importance on adherence to continuity), continuity that showed characters acting in the objectionable “icky girls” sort of way.

Making the argument that because writers write consistently in poorly when it comes to marriage seems to open the door to the argument that comic writers also cannot solve their problems without violence, since the preponderence of comic book stories end that way. Or that the writers take the law into their own hands.

[…] I also find the argument that you can’t tell interesting stories with Spider-Man, as our friends in the U.K. often say, kind of crap. While our own Mark Andrew makes a good argument on a thematic level (with a remarkable show of restraint in dropping his g’s in the process, which is commendable), I tend to fall more on old man Hatcher’s side of the fence on this issue; it’s a gut vs. head thing, for me at least, but I’m comfortable playing Stephen Colbert here. It just strikes me as a lazy argument, more “No one in comics knows how to/wants to write this story” more than “it can’t be done/it’s ruining the character,” especially when Joe Q. was advancing it. It just seems like a cop out to me, especially because it always assumes there is no conflict in marriage whatsoever. […]

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