June 13th, 2011, 10:16 am

5 Ways Marriage Works in Comic Books

Of all the news stories to spin out of media coverage on DC's revamp, this one caught my eye: Is Clark Kent and Lois Lane's marriage on the rocks? The title is a bit misleading - DC probably isn't breaking up Superman and Lois. Rather, they might be turning the clock back to before they got married . . . and starting the whole process over again.

Of course, this is mostly speculation at this point. There's not really any solid evidence one way or the other. But it does highlight an underlining theory among comic book creators that marriage cannot work long term among iconic superheroes like Superman. It's a theory I don't really support, even as a painfully single bachelor. Marriage is a culmination of decades worth of storylines between two characters. Fans love it. And besides, when writers and editors try to get out of it, the result look worse than someone coming back from the dead because someone hit reality too hard (see last blog).

But just like real life, marriage in comic books isn't easy. It can be a pain to write and, if handled poorly (or initiated for the wrong reasons), it can smoother out the creative spark altogether. Here are five steps comic book higher-up's should consider if they want to keep the spark alive.

5. Embrace the Mini-Series. As I mentioned last time, the mini-series "New Avengers: The Reunion" was a hit because it explores the martial status quo between literally-star-crossed lovers Hawkeye and Mockingbird. Fans loved this short-and-sweet tale, and perhaps the reason is work so well was because, as a mini-series, it was by definition short-and-sweet.

Most comic book creators use mini-series as a spring-boards for a regular ongoing series. Think of them as the backdoor pilots of the comic book industry. But I'm starting to think this is a mistake, especially after the cancellation of the Reunion's follow-up title "Hawkeye and Mockingbird".

Mini-series might be ideal for exploring the in's and out's of comic book marriages because they are, for the most part, self-contained. They allow a creative team to focus on the lives of two characters in the span of four-to-six issues, instead of forcing ongoing series to include a subplot just to account for the marriage every two issues. Plus, mini-series are easily collected as trades, which might be easier for adult readers to follow as opposed to individual issues.

4. Embrace Mass Media Appeal. Did you know the TV show "Lois & Clark" actually preempted the marriage of Superman and Lois Lane? DC Comics timed the release of their marriage issue to coincide with the airing of the marriage issue. Since then, the two mediums just as firmly bound together.

And speaking of TV, it amazes me how people have forgotten the lessons of "Smallville" a little more than a month after the series conclusions. In the article, many writers mention nullifying Supes' marriage frees up the romantic possibilities for the character, but anyone who has seen the first couple of seasons of "Smallville" knows this isn't always the case. "Smallville" beat us over the head with romance, but we knew Superman wasn't going to end up with Lana Lang. The same is true for Spider-Man post-Brand New Day, and the same will be true for a single Superman: if the readers don't buy the romance, it ain't happening. So unless they plan on fulfilling my geek dream of seeing a Superman-Wonder Woman pairing, it's all for naught.

3. Give Each Character His Or Her Own Book. This is one I've going on about for a long time. As I mentioned before, the reason most comic book unions don't work is because comic book writers feel obligated to account for the marriage. There can be no storyline or issue without at least mentioning or showing Lois Lane, Mary Jane or any number of comic book spouses. Like a bad marriage doomed from the start, these mentions are all fine and dandy during the honeymoon, but quickly became repetitious and tiresome as the writing chores stack up.

To prevent this, the companies need to consider giving Superman's better half their own book, at least in the form of a mini-series. You can't tell me that Lois Lane, a hotshot reporter from the Daily Planet, doesn't have some stories to tell? It's been done before, though not necessarily for Lois Lane. Though it was told post-Brand New Day, Mary Jane was the center of the Paul Tobin and Tim Gunn (of Project Runway) comic "Models, Inc". A much better example would be "Marvel Divas", which starred female supporting characters like Firestar and Black Cat as a circle of friends ala "Sex and the City".

If DC wants to raise some media eyebrows for Lois Lane by giving her a mini-series, they could hire a writer like Janet Evanovich (who is clearly something of a comic book fangirl herself) to pen a few issues. Otherwise, they could just pick a fan-favorite like Gail Simone. Either way, giving Lois Lane her own book seems long overdue.

2. Give Each Character Their Space (But Not Too Much Space). This is a trend I've noticed over the last couple years: when two characters get married, give them their own book. First it was Green Arrow & Black Canary, and then it was the Hawkeye & Mockingbird. Both books of both sets of painfully similar characters were ultimately canceled despite strong sales and strong reviews respectively. While you don't have to worry about accounting for a comic book marriage when the book is about the marriage, you might as well entitle the book "Green Arrow, Black Canary and the Ball and Chain."

Don't get me wrong - no one wants to see a Oliver Queen-and-Dinah Lance pairing more than me. But when two characters spend all their time together, it only ensures the characters will ultimately split. While Black Canary appeared a little in "Bird of Prey", the only time we saw a solo Green Arrow was "Cry for Justice" - when he formed a hit squad of superheroes, and ended up killing a supervillain - and his marriage along with it.

This is why comic book characters need their own solo books - to give them adventures separate of one another. Just both partners having careers in a marriage, superheroes need to have their individual set of challenges and responsibilities to overcome on their own. That's not to say their spouse can't help out from time to time, but ultimately, it has been Green Arrow and Black Canary who overcome their own personal baggage separately. Limiting their interaction to a single book is like leaving a note for the writer: "Divorce us please."

1. Embrace Fan Appeal. Like I said before, if fans aren't buying a relationship in a comic book, it ain't happening. You can pout and position your characters anyway you want, but like it or not, fan approval matters.

This is why I'm a bit skeptical DC would actually revamp Superman's marriage - because Lois Lane is every bit as much a household name. Sure, DC could turn back the clock, but that's all they could do. It's hard to see really anyone else ending up with Superman other than Lois Lane. At the end of the day, she's the one that fans unanimously accept as Superman's significant other.

It's becomes a dicey proposition when you have less than unanimous fan support for a marriage though. Spider-Man is a prime example. Fans liked him getting married to Mary Jane Watson, but having him married to a super-model became, well, just a little bit unrealistic for the perpetually-unlucky Peter Parker. MJ won fans over with her go-get-'em-tiger-personality, but as a supermodel, she wasn't the most useful character to have around (as a opposed to a reporter like Lois Lane). Then-Marvel EIC Joe Queseda was dead set against the marriage, so he concocted "One More Day", a convoluted tale of how Peter Parker and MJ make a deal with the devil to nullify any existence of their marriage to save Aunt May (who has to be pushing 100). After the fact, fans are still divided. "Amazing Spider-Man" have been netting solid sales and reviews, but even MJ detractors hated the unrealistic set-up.

Bottom line: DC might want to think long and hard what they do in the marriage department. With no costumes, a new continuity and unchanged prices for digital downloads, DC has enough fan fury coming their way. Nullifying this marriage may be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

(That's it for the this rant. There's a new Blue Yonder Wednesday)

News Archive