Wednesday, August 17, 2011

First Comes Love

I want to finish up my little series on marriages in the DCU2 by looking at how it all fits into the bigger picture.

It helps a comic company when it has great or even good characters. Even I am happy to admit that Marvel, for example, has some great characters (although I don’t often like what Marvel chooses to do with them). But the overall mythic appeal of a comic book – or any fictional – universe is also dependent on how well it represents various aspects of human experience through archetypical characters.

One example of this concept that I’ve discussed before is parenting. The DCU’s ‘trinity’ (Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) represent, well, many things. Intentionally or not, one of the things they represent are three basic modes of being raised as a child:

  1. by two parents (the Kents and their son Clark),
  2. by a single parent (Queen Hippolyta and her daughter),
  3. and as an orphan (young Bruce Wayne).

If we include a fourth, adjunct member in that “trinity”—Robin the Boy Wonder—then we get an even fuller representation of possible parenting:

  1. by a mother and father (the Kents),
  2. by a single mother (Hippolyta),
  3. by a single father (the Golden and Silver Age Batman is, for all intents and purposes, a father figure to his ward, Dick Grayson),
  4. and as an orphan (remember, the whole idea that “Alfred raised Bruce” is a completely modern invention, and pre-Crisis Bruce pretty much just raised himself… I guess when you’re really wealth you can get away with stuff like that).

Who knows? Perhaps DC will one day see fit to complete this particular puzzle and create characters with two mothers (Super-Heather!) or two fathers (like Connor Kent, but, um, we probably shouldn’t think about that one too deeply). Perhaps Apollo and Midnighter will adopt? Oh, I hope not. Gay couples always adopt Asian girls, so their child would surely be a Sword-wielding Kick-Ass Asian Ninja Chick. There’s too much of that cliché in comic books already; editors think that all fanboys love SKANCs, apparently.

Returning to the “trinity” again, they represent not just the three basic modes of parenting but the three basic modes of becoming a parent:

  1. Natural birth (the Waynes)
  2. Adoption (the Kents)
  3. Artificial means (Hippolyta)

I’m well aware that the uniquely mythological means of Wonder Woman’s birth—pygmalionization—isn’t really an option for those of us not in really tight with the gods. But it serves to symbolize all instances where someone becomes a parent through extraordinary means (artificial insemination, cloning, macro-mytosis… you know, that stuff).

Interesting though this may be… it’s not my current point; it’s just background. You are welcome to discuss it, but I mention it only as an example of how DC's iconic characters can be used to display the variety of human experience.

As the song goes, first comes love, then comes marriage, etc. And marriage and romance (or the lack thereof) are the subject of our current series.

My actual point is that, just as DC's Trinity & Co. represent modes of parenthood, so do DC’s icons—at least, potentially—represent modes of relationship status.

Clark Kent: The Unwilling Bachelor

Clark “not getting the girl” was part of his schtick for sixty decades. Now, Clark is no sad-sack like Peter Parker, so I’m not going to call him an “unhappy bachelor”. Superman’s not really “super” if he’s consistently unhappy. But it was always made clear that being Superman, wonderful though it was, meant giving some things up , or at least putting them on the back burner, including romance.

Bruce Wayne: The Willing Bachelor

I would call Bruce Wayne a “confirmed bachelor” but nowadays that’s just code for “gay”, which Bruce is not. Marriage or even a serious romantic relationship is not for everyone. Bruce has a fulfilling life full of purpose and on-going accomplishment, has close emotional relationships, and surely takes care of his, um, needs with other like-minded singles. But having—or looking for—a girlfriend has never been essential to his character. To the degree that one considers Bruce “happy”, he is a happy bachelor. Bruce is, at heart, a “Down With Love” Girl. It’s just that instead of eating chocolate he beats the tar out of demented freaks and dangerous criminals, which is better for society and much less fattening.

Hal Jordan: Man-Whore

C’mon; we all know it. Hal hooks up; Hal gets booty calls. It’s not just being played by Ryan Reynolds in a movie; it’s not just a post-Rebirth Geoff Johns’ characterization of Hal. Although both of those certainly help. Even Pre-Crisis Hal… well, let’s just keep this simple: Arisia.

Barry Allen: Player

Barry Allen, as recently discussed, was kind of a “player” (at least, had great potential for it, dampened only the Ever-damning Evil Eye of Iris West, Meanest Woman Alive). And he’s a known magnet for Sexy Extra-Dimensional Action Scientists and the occasional Oscar-winning actress. But he’s not a man-whore like his best bud, Hal Jordan. Barry Allen’s not a ‘hook-up’ kind of guy; he’s more of a ‘speed dater’. I’m sure Barry make every woman think she’s the only woman in the world … when he’s with her. Only Iris West knows better, because she knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men.

Arthur Curry: Husband

However one feels about Mera, Arthur Curry was the first married superhero, the king who found his queen. The tragic end of their storybook romance was the truly end of the Age of Innocence in the DCU. For better or for worse, Aquaman stands for The Married (and sometimes Divorced) Superhero.

J’onn J’onnz: Widower

Most of what current readers think of as J’onn’s essential background consists, in fact, entirely of post-Crisis inventions and retcons. That’s understandable, given that J’onn pre-Crisis backstory was, well, I think “difficult to work with” is the kindest way I can put it. So nowadays one of the strongest elements of J’onnz background is the lost of his wife and children on Mars. J’onn is one of the most significant widowers in DC comics (perhaps in all comics, second only to—of all people—Frank Castle).



Bryan L said...

Wow. I really like your analysis of the Trinity and parenting/upbringing. It's amazing how neatly that all fits.

With the relationships, though, there's no women. Is that being held for a future post, or are you just overlooking Wonder Woman, Black Canary, Batgirl, etc.?

I wouldn't call Barry a player, though. He's a Nice Boy, the kind who gets a good job, pays his taxes, dates one girl at a time, marries one girl and is utterly faithful, and hangs out with a Bad Boy like Hal Jordan, vicariously living through him. Nice Boys frequently end up with domineering shrews, so Iris fits right in there. Lots of times the shrew dumps the Nice Boy to chase a Bad Boy, and wouldn't that make an interesting plotline ...

CobraMisfit said...

Considering Hal Jordan was a pilot, that shoe certainly fits!

Scipio said...

"Nice Boys frequently wind up with domineering shrews"

You know, Bryan, I've been noticing that myself lately.

Imitorar said...

I think you've got Barry Allen totally wrong. Barry was NOT a player at all, except after Iris died. That whole period clashed with his established characterization. Barry Allen simply wouldn't forget about Iris and start trying to score with his neighbor only weeks after she died. A period of deep mourning over her death would fit the character much more than a transformation into swingin' Barry Allen (which has been retconned into a crazed expression of grief, and rightly so).

Barry was introduced with Iris as his girlfriend. She makes her first appearance roughly 6 pages after Barry does, and was a central part of the Silver Age Flash. She was part of his Dynastic Centerpiece, and a crucial one (Romantic Interest), and was the source of other supporting characters, namely Professor Ira West and Wally West. How many Sexy Extra-Dimensional Action Scientists were there actually in the Silver Age Flash? Doralla is the only one I can find, and she only appeared twice. And as with Daphne Dean, that romantic interest was one-sided. Barry was always loyal to Iris.

Characterization as a player just wouldn't fit the character. Barry was always, as said above, a Nice Guy. The type who would love and marry one woman and stay perfectly faithful. If you want a Flash who's a player, then you want Wally West.

SallyP said...

May I just say that "pygmalionization" is my favorite new word! Fabulous!

Barry IS a nice boy. not. But he's a heck of a lot of fun, at least for the space of an evening.

Marcos said...

"Pygmalionization" is indeed an awesome coinage.

But like others here, I must disagree with the attempted "pig-male-ionization" of Barry Allen. He was, at worst, a serial monogamist with a brief grief-induced period of compressed intervals in the series...

Anonymous said...

It would be a mistake to misinterpret the Swingin' Barry era as just an awkward expression of grief; everything about that era was insane, and there's really too much to fix. If you're going to retcon Barry's love of Fiona away, you also have to get rid of Ross Malverk and his whole nutty story. Or you have to ditch Barry's boss who, because he has a pacemaker, puts on a costume and uses the pacemaker to fire bolts of lightning. Or you have to chuck the awkwardness of Iris returning to Barry in the form of a middle aged man.

Swingin' Barry was what it was: a doorway to madness.

Scipio said...

NICE one, Marcos.

Jimmy said...

A lot of people are going to disagree and I won't change anyone's interpretations. Here's what I got out of reading Hal's comics.

Hal was a flirt and gave the impression of being good with the ladies and whether he was good or not is not the point. The point is Hal in most of his appearances is a serial dater/monogamist who is charming to single women (often ending with dating them or proposing to them) not a man-slut with one night stands and booty calls.

Hal was in a committed relationship with Arisia. That picture you showed in context was a 'loved you, but we moved on' kiss that led to nowhere. Although Hal was a flirt he was always in committed relationships with women who often left him.

He proposed to Carol she turned him down. She then gave him the ultimatum to be with her or quit the corps. He did she turned on him, kicked him to the curb and murdered his friend. Thus why he concluded that the corps is his only love and his 'sleeping around' recently is a phase, but certainly not a long lasting characteristic. If Geoff Johns or any writer ever got over Carol and had her move on and have a happy ending, Hal could actually grow and find a mutual corps girlfriend that isn't Arisia and stop dating Earth women who wouldn't understand or care about his job that he loves.

Accursed Interloper said...

"If you're going to retcon Barry's love of Fiona away, you also have to get rid of Ross Malverk and his whole nutty story. "

How's that a problem?

Scipio said...

Let me clarify: I am not trying to besmirch Hal and Barry's pre-Crisis reputation's. And, yes, each was -- on the whole -- paired off with one woman (the Ice Queen and the Queen of Mean, respectively).

My point is actually how the new paradigm seems to be shaping up in the DCU2. And how the seeds of these new interpretations can be found in the pre-Crisis versions of these characters.

Imitorar said...

Well, yeah, the seeds of Barry the player are there, but the '80s (and the Cary Bates run in general) are not considered the height of Barry's tenure as the Flash. It's not the portrayal of Barry Allen that people think captures the essence of the character, the one that's been the model for all his portrayals since. That's the Broome-Infantino run in the '60s. And that Barry Allen was too endearingly square to be a player. Yes, the seeds of his new portrayal exist in the pre-Crisis Flash series, but it's not a part many people remember fondly.

Jimmy said...

I see what you're doing then. It works in their neat favor. Wonder what they'll do with Hawkman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Atom, Black Canary and Zatanna. Will it be more of the same from the last 20 years?

I find Hal-Slut unappealing and gross. Than again Carol being his ultimate end all leaves him no other option as he can't possibly live happily ever after with another person whose actually sane. What a loser.

Wish they wouldn't make Barry a player, because I don't want to live through a repeat of Mike Baron's Wally West run. Maybe if they give Barry a new girlfriend and give her chance as a character and not as an obstacle. If Bart and the Tornado Twins were Barry's long line of descendants (like Pre-Crisis) than whoever Barry marries in the future is irrelevant and not written in stone and Barry can have whatever family he wants in the meantime.

Suzanne de Nimes (suedenim) said...

"How many Sexy Extra-Dimensional Action Scientists were there actually in the Silver Age Flash?"

I wasn't counting, but while listening to "Tom vs. the Flash" podcasts one after the other, it was a noticeable recurring trend.

Basically, any time the Flash ended up on another world or dimension or time or whatnot (which happened quite a bit), he'd almost invariably meet a SEDAS there. There was even a story with Kid Flash and a cute-girl teen SEDAS type.

Anonymous said...

I think Apollo and the Midnighter actually adopted Jenny Quantum...

Nathan Hall said...

... and Jenny Quantum was born in Singapore. Asian baby cliche all the way!

Scipio said...


Anonymous said...

"If you're going to retcon Barry's love of Fiona away, you also have to get rid of Ross Malverk and his whole nutty story. "

How's that a problem?

I guess it wouldn't be, except that the entire Swingin' Barry era was pretty consistently low quality, but also (unfortunately) an important part of Barry's history. So once you start pruning there's nowhere to stop, and pretty soon you've pruned too much. It's like firing that one Imperial Stormtrooper for being a bad shot.

In other news, the direction I wish they'd go with Hal and Carol is, they've dated so long and disastrously they can't bring themselves to date one another any longer, yet they get each other so well that they have unexpectedly become really good friends. So Hal can talk to Carol about how he's screwing up with Cowgirl, Carol tries to coach him on how to do it correctly, Hal flirts with Carol out of habit, and Carol deflects it with a gentle "nice try, flyboy". It would be new comics territory, and would fit the two of them too.

Anonymous said...

Carol has several times intimated that while she believes Hal is the only one for her, the Sapphire has told her that it's not reciprocated. A lot of Hal's arc leading up to Blackest Night was showing how unsuitable he was to be the White Lantern (he did not really feel any of the other emotions, while Sinestro is shown to embrace them all). And there's the fact that Sapphires are now chosen for their lost or hopeless loves.

-- Jack of Spades

Orlando said...

I like your analysis of the parenting models and the trinity. You had written it before in this blog and it impressed me quite a lot.
However, you have been promoting quite heavily the bachelor Clark Kent. Frankly, I prefer Clark to be married. First, because it moves the character away from the teenager inadequacy themes of Peter Parker, which will become a clear danger to Superman. It is true that Clark was a bachelor most of his time, but the justification for this was always very artificial and flimsy (it was repeated to the exhaustion in every comic, as if repeating a nonsense very often makes it more credible), and more often then not it resulted -in order to sustain that status quo - in an attitude of Clark towards women that was ridiculously misogynistic, dishonest, and cruel. It resulted in tons of predictable sitcom/soap plots. It made Superman into a liar, and manipulator that constantly plays with the feelings of others: he keeps Lois (and Lana) "on the hook", knows he cannot have a relationship with her (for rather stupid reasons), but often ruins her chances of getting another relationship.

As a reader, you are left with this constant tension that you know is unlikely to be resolved either way: Superman cannot mary, and Lois cannot mary another guy and disappear from his life. This kind of tension cannot be held for a long time without becoming boring, annoying, and farcical. That is way in Lois & Clark they had to move on, it was unsustainable to stretch the situation forever. It is true that it often destroys serials to solve that tension (look for instances at Moonlighting). In the case of Superman and Lois, it worked ok, so why break it?

After all, married Superman still didn't have a perfect life (the Last Son of Krypton story, for instance, explored well the basic need that Superman had for a son, and how this he could never accomplished), but his personal life wasn't trapped in an artificial stasis.

I guess what I want to say is that bachelor Superman opens the door for a never-ending stream of bad, boring unresolved relationship and love triangle stories. Married Superman releases the character for more interesting, and less farcical, character arcs.


Scipio said...

"Married Superman releases the character for more interesting, and less farcical, character arcs."

Perhaps. But none of those actually happened while he was married, as I recall.

steve mitchell said...

"Arthur Curry was the first married superhero."

Well, as long as you don't count Katar Hol.

Orlando said...

[I wrote this before, but it disappeared, so here it goes again]

Well, you must take into account that married Superman had a lot less time to produce memorable stories, not to mention that part of this time was the 90s, and, due to decompression, new stories take a lot more time to tell than the old ones.

In any case, married Superman had a lot of decent stuff. Actually, before the pointless World of Krypton (pointless because we all new how that had to end to go back to the status quo) and the ridiculous Grounded, I was thinking that married Superman was doing very well. This is subjective, of course, but I liked Last Son quite a lot, and it is a married Superman story you could not tell with bachelor Superman, I liked the One year later stuff, Superman and the Legion of Superheroes, the Brainiac arc, the Superman 3D and Final Crisis stuff. Also, we had good JL stories with Superman during the Morrison and Waid runs, and the entertaining craziness of the Batman/Superman stories. So, all in all, in my opinion, these have been good years for Superman.

Scipio said...


Indeed; I misspoke. What I should of said was, 'the first superhero to MARRY".

Katar Hol was married, yes; but he came out of the box that way.