The Cliffs of Insanity: Why Can’t DC Superheroes Be Married?

Reading Time: 9 minutes
Image via DC Comics
See what fun a happy Bat-Cat can be, from Batman Inc.

Batman #50 had Batman being jilted by Selina Kyle for his own good, supposedly. Over in Man of Steel #6, the miniseries rolled out with great fanfare because of the arrival of Brian M. Bendis to DC Comics, Lois Lane and Jon Kent leave Superman to go running around the galaxy (it seems) with his estranged father, the not-quite-sane murderous Jor-El.

No Happy Superheroes!

I have thoughts about each of these stories, unhappy and frustrated thoughts, and I’ll get to that but there’s also an underlying theme that’s been true in DC Comics since Dan Didio has been editor-in-chief, and that’s the idea that superheroes cannot be happy people.

Let’s look at this 2013 quote from Didio, from a Comic Book Resources panel from Baltimore Comic Con.

“Heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives,” he said at the start of the DC Nation panel, according to several sources. “They are committed to being that person and committed to defending others at the sacrifice of their own personal interests. It’s wonderful that they try to establish personal lives, but it’s equally important that they set them aside. That is our mandate, that is our edict and that is our stand with our characters.”

That “no happy superheroes” comment was in reaction to the then-LGBTQ backlash against letting Batwoman and her love, Maggie Sawyer, be married, even though the pair were engaged. But Didio and DC seemed committed to it as they announced Aquaman and Mera weren’t married either. (Odd because they acted married for ages, but this oddness has been a problem for the Aquaman books to this day.)

But then DC seemed to give way on this edict, at least a little. After the New 52 reboot, Superman was an angsty loner whose secret identity was outed to the world by Lois Lane, of all people. But with Rebirth and some hand-wave plotting (alternate realities, etc.), Lois and Clark’s marriage was not only back on but they were parents of a son, Jon Kent, who went onto co-star in his own comic.

Batman’s family came to surround him more often in stories as well, with Damian Wayne brought back from the dead, with Bruce bring Kate Kane/Batwoman into the fold in Detective Comics and putting her in charge of the Bat-Famly members as a strike team. Bruce even began dating his on-and-off love, Selina Kyle/Catwoman.

Wonder Woman brought back Steve Trevor as the main romantic interest in Diana’s life, in a beautiful run by Greg Rucka, Nicola Scott, and Liam Sharp. Since a short and enjoyable run by Shea Fontana, Wonder Woman has been in the hands of James Robinson, who seems determined to ignore Diana as much as possible in her own book and instead spotlight her annoying worthless twin brother, Jason, a new invention for a DC event, Darkseid War, that I found tedious. When Steve is in the book, there’s no meaningful interaction between him and Diana.

Something’s changed over the past year. I might point to Geoff Johns stepping away from regular editorial duties, or (more likely) to Mark Doyle’s shift to Vertigo from the Batman Comics Group Editor position, as Doyle was responsible for innovations such as the Batgirl of Burnside version of Barbara Gordon, Gotham Academy, and Batman: Eternal, which brought back Stephanie Brown, Tim Drake, and Cassandra Cain to Batman stories.

But those speculations would only be a guess.

What is clear is there’s been a reversion in DC Comics.

This reversion in thinking is bad for those who liked the Super-marriage and the version of Batman who bonded to his family. I used to call the New 52 DC reboot the “anti-Corrina” reboot as a joke because everything I basically wanted, they did the exact opposite.

I’m getting that feeling again with the last few months at DC. We’re going back to the New 52 and Identity Crisis (the rape pages are in!) sensibilities, people, at full speed. (See footnote below.)

It’s not just that I disagree with this idea of no happy superheroes, it’s that I see a bending of plot and character to make this happen, and that’s frustrating to the extreme. I was so frustrated last month by how various writers and editors were depicting romantic relationship at DC that I wrote an entire article listing ten romance authors who would write killer superhero comics.

Separations for Batman and Catwoman

Batman #50
Not to be.. maybe not for 50 more issues? Image via DC Comics

In Batman #50, as was widely reported even before the issue is out, Selina walks away from the marriage. Her reasoning, because of doubts put in her head by the Joker and her supposed friend, Holly, is that a happy Batman cannot be an effective Batman. Not wanting to deprive the world of Batman, Selina walks away.

WHAT THE HECK?

It’s bad enough that Tom King’s entire run of Batman never allowed us into Selina’s head at all. The reader has no idea why Selina agreed to be married in the first place, and there are few, if any, sweet moments between this version of Bruce and Selina. Certainly, nothing like the fun sequence between Bruce and Selina in Batman, Inc. that’s at the top of the post.

The story does a fine idea of showing why Bruce loves Selina, but it delves into Selina’s reasoning not at all and included moments such as her stealing her wedding dress. One, Selina steals for the fun of it or to right a wrong. She would not steal a wedding dress from a hardworking designer because that’s punching down, and that’s not what she does. Two, I’ve no idea why she’d want to be married at all. She’s a loner, always has been, and, while she’s capable of love and commitment, marriage would likely mean little to her.

I can only think DC hyped this wedding to sell more comics. Well, they are a company, and that’s what they do, but it certainly didn’t make for an enjoyable story leading up to the wedding.

The two issues preceding the wedding issue featured the graphic slaughter of an entire wedding party of black people, one of the few times that black characters have been used in King’s run. That was tone deaf, to say the least, and certainly wouldn’t put a reader into the proper mindset for a wedding.

In any case, Holly says Batman can’t be effective if he’s happy to Selina, and she walks away. :sigh: (Incidentally, this turns Holly, who was Catwoman for a little while and is one of DC’s few LGBTQ characters, into an out-and-out villain.)

Tom King has said on Twitter that to please have patience, that he has a plan for Bruce and Selina and it runs for 100 issues, so this is not the end. Accepting that King had a plan does not exempt him or any creator for the story making sense as it comes out. You cannot stand next to your comic in the bookstore and explain to all the readers to hang in there, this story will end in, oh, four years, and you’ll see how it all works out.

To continue to enjoy the book, the journey has to be enjoyable. To enjoy the journey, the actions of the characters have to make sense for them emotionally. This decision makes zero sense for Selina. If there had been a build-up to her thinking “eh, marriage thing, bah,” or if we’d seen her struggle with being pulled back to her old life and the rift between how she thinks and how Bruce thinks, maybe? But this “I’m doing this for you to be unhappy because we need a Batman” sounds exactly like Didio’s 2013 comments and it feels completely out of character for Selina.

Perhaps Selina would say: “Not effective? Oh, honey, now you have to deal with two of us now. Joke’s on you!” I could also point out that Batman is a father, and a decent one, and he’s happy about that, so what the heck is the difference about a relationship with a woman he loves that would make him less effective?

One would think being a father would make him more likely to stop wanting to be Batman because he’d want to reduce the danger that his son would grow up without a father, as Bruce did himself. But adding Selina? She’s an ally likely to help him on cases. They’d kick ass together.

So, yeah, the break-up that is part of their journey to their maybe-eventual union? is based on reasoning that is spurious, to say the least.

I guess we’re meant to follow Selina as she realizes that her reasoning was just an excuse to hide her own doubts and whatever. But if that takes four years that include a broody Bruce and Selina, nah, why would I sign up for that? I’ve had years of reading a broody, angsty Batman. Be nice to read about one who tries to make his life work, eh?

This is basically having your cake—still a grim-n-gritty Batman which DC loves—and holding the promise of ice cream maybe in four years, while readers eat that gritty, sad cake.

Nah, pass.

Sadly, though the new Catwoman book starts as a result of Selina walking away, Catwoman #1 is a fine issue. But I fear its sales will suffer from people upset the marriage rug was pulled out from under them. I’m with them there, but it’s still a shame this fine book will be tainted with it. :sigh:

In Superman: Can No One Write Lois Lane as a Reporter and a Mother?

Bottom line, in Man of Steel #6, Bendis and DC found an excuse to write out Lois Lane and Jon Kent in order to have a single Superman to write. This despite the fact she’s always been part of his mythos, that their names are literally linked forever in public consciousness, and the pairing has many, many fans.

It’s an incredibly dumb reason for the separation too. It’s like Bendis said “Hey, you see that make-no-sense reason Selina walked away from marrying Bruce? Good. Hold my beer.”

Let’s examine the problems with this scenario.

Jor-El first arrived as a genocidal maniac who incited murder (and killed people himself) to prove to Clark that humanity sucks. He should be locked up or sent to the Phantom Zone on sight.

Instead, in a subplot drawn out for six issues, Lois, Clark, Jon, and Jor-El argue over whether Jor-El should be the one to teach Jon about his powers. Oh, sure, let the genocidal maniac take custody of a boy with superpowers. That should end well, right?

Clark considers this. I have no idea why except plot reasons. Lois listens instead of sending Jor-El away from her family immediately, and Jon, who fears turning evil, wants to go with Granddad to turn to be a better person, I guess. HELLO, JON, HAS IT BEEN MENTIONED YOUR GRANDPA IS THE KIND OF KILLER YOU DON’T WANT TO BE?

Ahem.

Not only do Clark and Lois listen to this but Lois suddenly decides, sure, she’s taking her son and going with said genocidal maniac, leaving Clark alone to protect Earth. Because, hey, she can write a book about traveling the galaxy. Except, how the heck is she going to write a book about this without revealing the secret identity of her son and husband. This. Makes. Zero. Sense. Neither of Jon’s parents point out that having him trained by a murderer will make him more likely to be evil, not less.

Then they leave instantly. As you do when the murderous granddad shows up for family dinner and you have no control of your son and have to do what he wants. As is so in-character for Lois and Clark.

::bangs head on keyboard::

Of course, Bendis doesn’t know how to write Lois at all, given her painful dialogue in this exchange. Most men seem to have no trouble writing men as fathers and also as people but, apparently, such is not allowed for women to be mothers and people. I suspect Bendis is setting up Clark with cute redhead Melody M. to create a love triangle when Lois returns, for more drama.

So we’re back to angsty, loner Superman again. JOY. NOT.

Yes, Marriages Can Be Complex and Interesting

Batman as the gritty loner isn’t the Batman I knew growing up. Denny O’Neil’s Batman was Gotham’s Guardian, but he could fall in love, he could be a good father to Dick Grayson, he could relate to people. And he was still a good Batman.

Earth-2 Batman passed on the mantle, yes, but arguably did more for Gotham as married rich philanthropist Bruce Wayne and then as police commissioner than he ever did in a costume.

Superman, of course, was married for many years in the comic. Heck, the devotion between him and Lois Lane drove the Superman books in the ’90s, in a great way.

I would love to read a Batman book where Bruce and Selina navigate the rules of their marriage, the conflicts in their different approaches to helping people, and how they manage to integrate their public and private lives, all the while fighting crime. This would be fascinating to me.

But I guess I have to wait four years for that while getting the same old forced unhappy Batman (who can yet be an effective father) brooding over being a loner.

Hard Pass.

Can DC Ever Change? No (For Now)

Is this thinking ever going to change? Not until changes are made behind the scenes.

While it’s not always easy to draw a line between problematic men running things and lousy portrayals of women and relationships with women in fiction, I can point to the fact that many of the people who enabled the sexual harassment of now-fired editor Eddie Berganza are still at DC, including Didio, the top person, and Editor Bob Harras.

No change is truly going to come at DC until they diversify the editorial staff, from the top down, with more women, especially women of color, and more men of color, especially black men, in positions of high power. (Bryan Edward Hill, now writing an arc for Detective Comics, may be the first black writer to ever have a run on Detective Comics. Hill’s work is awesome, go read it, but having him be the first or one of the very few is not okay.)

You can see the grimmer DC coming not only in these choices but in Batwoman’s estrangement from the Batman Family as a result of actions in her own book, Batwoman, and the Detective Comics run.

Not to mention that the Teen Titans Special #1, which doubles down on the idea that kid superheroes should be nastier and deadlier than their mentors, and the current Aquaman run, which is no doubt leading to a split between Mera and Aquaman.

And you can see, this darker DC it coming in the announced Heroes in Crisis, which has the laudable goal of exploring trauma in superhero lives, but it’s going to be kicked off by a murder mystery, just like Identity Crisis.

Just like Identity Crisis, it appears that at least two heroes will be on the DC chopping block.

No word yet on any rape pages this time, though. So there’s that.