The following is a review I wrote for PopMatters for “Scarlet #1.” Enjoy!
This has been a rough summer for fans of superhero comics, romance, and weddings. For a fan like me, this summer couldn’t have been rougher without adding a broken air conditioner to the mix. Between the depressing outcome in X-men Gold #30 and the disappointment in Batman #50, this summer has been a one-two punch to the heart.
While it’s pretty disheartening, I’m not totally discouraged. Being the admitted romantic I am, I believe love will eventually win out. I know that sounds corny and ripped right out of a Disney movie, but wouldn’t put so much energy into so many sexy love stories if that belief weren’t sincere.
Even so, I feel as though the current mood surrounding romance and superhero comics has a lot of room for improvement. Mr. and Mrs. X #1 was a good start, but only to a point. There’s only so much that I can do as a fan, aside from buying comics that depict quality romances with great sex appeal. Beyond that, my influence is limited.
As such, I’m going to take a moment from complaining about the current state of love in superhero comics and try a little exercise in romantic imagination. By that, I mean I’m going to contemplate the romantic potential of superheroes that will probably never cross paths, due to rights issues and belonging to different publishers.
It’s a sad fact of life and copyright laws that Marvel characters cannot interact with DC characters. However, that doesn’t mean certain characters don’t have romantic potential. In fact, I believe some have more potential than they do with anyone in their current continuity.
What follows is my personal list of the top six non-canon superhero couples. Not every couple on this list is a Marvel and DC character paired together, but given how many iconic characters those two companies control, it’s somewhat unavoidable. Also, please keep in mind that this is just my list. It is by no means definitive. This is just something meant to inject a little romance into a summer that badly needs it.
Number 6: Black Panther and Vixen
When it comes to healthy romance, it helps when two people share the same quirks. Whether that’s wine tasting or underwater basket weaving, having similar distinctions go a long way towards helping a couple thrive. It’s for that reason that I believe Black Panther and Vixen have the quirks/kinks to make a romance that’s both functional and sexy.
Black Panther’s star has risen quickly thanks to a billion-dollar movie, but his romantic history has been somewhat stagnant. His brief, but bland marriage to Storm of the X-men came off as a gimmick rather than a relationship. While he has chemistry with Nakia, it’s only the very general kind.
That’s where Mari “Vixen” MaCabe sets herself apart. Her powers, abilities, and personality is largely driven by her connection to animal spirits. It’s very similar to the connection that Black Panther has with Wakanda’s native deity, Bast. Being connected to animal spirits and having a fondness for jungle-themed costumes gives these two a unique connection that they haven’t had with their in-universe love interests.
I believe these two would complement each other in unique ways. Vixen is cunning and charismatic. Black Panther is strong and diplomatic. Alone, they’re both pretty strong. Together, they’re even stronger and much sexier.
Number 5: Dr. Strange and Zatanna
This is another instance of two people having shared interests, but with Dr. Strange and Zatanna, it goes deeper than that. These two are some of the most recognizable mystical characters in their respective worlds. Dr. Strange is the Sorcerer Supreme in Marvel and Zatanna is one of the most skilled magicians in the DC Universe. Together, their magic can be pretty potent, literally and figuratively.
However, it’s not just because of their mystical skills that I believe they would be good together. In their respective universes, both characters struggle to maintain even a semi-functional relationship. Zatanna often finds herself on the outside looking in with love interests like Batman and John Constantine. Dr. Strange has never had much of a love life outside Clea, who is almost always relegated to a supporting role.
Zatanna is not the kind of woman who is content with a supporting role. She’s someone who fights alongside Batman and the Justice League. She can handle the crazy mystical threats that Dr. Strange deals with on a regular basis.
For Dr. Strange, he finally has someone who can deal with his attitude and arrogance, which is a tough barrier for any potential love interest. Again, Zatanna dealt with Batman. Any woman who can deal with Batman has an edge. The fact she isn’t afraid to show her legs off and be a bit more playful with her magic also helps.
More than anything else, Zatanna is someone who could make a man like Dr. Strange smile while he works. That, in and of itself, is a kind of magic that helps any relationship.
Number 4: Batman and Sara Pezzini (Witchblade)
This one kind of breaks the mold because it doesn’t pair a Marvel character with a DC character. Sara Pezzini, also known as the bearer of the Witchblade, is not a Marvel character. She’s a product of Top Cow Productions. She comes from a very different world compared to Batman, but that world makes her uniquely equipped to handle being Batman’s lover.
Batman requires that a romance be complicated and prone to tragedy. Few women can handle that. While Catwoman came very close to making it official, it’s a testament to just how tortured Batman is in his love life, among other things.
For Sara Pezzini, that’s exactly the kind of man who brings out the best in her. Unlike Catwoman, Sara was never a thief. She’s a cop and a very dedicated cop. Throughout her long-running series, she defines herself as the kind of hard-nosed, tough-as-nails person who doesn’t hesitate to run into the crossfire of a gang war or a demon army.
Beyond just being a cop, Sara deals with far larger problems that come with being the bearer of the Witchblade, an ancient weapon that tends to attract insane threats, even by NYPD standards. Batman already deals with homicidal clowns and thugs who are half-crocodile. They can handle the craziness in each other’s lives.
More importantly, though, Sara can do something that so few women have ever done for Batman. She can complement him as both Bruce Wayne and Batman. As a cop, she can actually help Batman’s efforts to fight crime in Gotham. He can, in turn, help her deal with the supernatural horror shows that tend to follow her, as only Batman can.
On nearly every level, Batman and Sara Pezzini make each other better. They’re the kind of couple that can work together and be together. That kind of romantic combination is potent. Plus, Sara Pezzini’s hardened attitude might actually help Batman crack a smile every once in a while.
Number 3: Superman and Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers)
This is probably the most controversial pairing on this list because Superman has one of the most iconic romances of all time with Lois Lane. Carol “Captain Marvel” Danvers, on the other hand, has no relationships that even come close, even if you take into account her affair with alcohol.
The reason I believe these two would forge a powerful romance is because Carol Danvers embodies the best traits of both Lois Lane and Wonder Woman. She’s a skilled fighter like Wonder Woman, having trained in the military and fought in interstellar wars. She’s also uncompromising in her pursuit of truth, much like Lois Lane.
Beyond just having the best traits of two iconic women, Carol brings something else to the table. Unlike Superman, she wasn’t born with her powers. She got them in an accident that merged her DNA with that of an alien. At the heart of her story, she’s a human who becomes an alien. Superman, by contrast, is an alien who becomes human.
That unique dynamic, the struggle between being alien and human, is something that Superman has never been able to share with either Lois or Wonder Woman. Someone like Carol could both help him through that journey and fight by his side. She’s tough enough to go up against anything, be it a mad Titan or an evil super-genius billionaire.
Superman is, at heart, an ideal. He’s an icon because he sets an impossible standard for others to aspire. Carol Danvers defines herself by doing the impossible and fighting for it every step of the way. That shared struggle can create the kind of love that empowers two already powerful characters.
Number 2: Captain America and Wonder Woman
This one is probably the most logical pairing on this list. In fact, Captain America and Wonder Woman are probably the one instance where their potential is greater than that of any in-canon romance and it’s not just because their movies were so similar.
Captain America and Wonder Woman are ideal love interests because they both represent the best of their respective worlds. Captain America is the embodiment of the American spirit of freedom and justice, reality-warping retcons aside. Wonder Woman is the personification of womanhood, compassion, and a warrior’s spirit. They both set high standards and pride themselves on achieving them at every turn.
It’s a standard that Steve Trevor never achieves, despite being Wonder Woman’s primary love interest. With all due respect to him and Chris Pine, he’s not on Captain America’s level. In fact, Captain America is the kind of guy Steve Trevor aspires to be, but never achieves. That elevates him in terms of how he relates with Wonder Woman.
Beyond just showing Wonder Woman the best a man can be, Captain America can hold his own better in a drawn out battle. He may not have Wonder Woman’s level of powers, but he’s also a man who regularly fights alongside the likes of Thor and Hulk. He’s not just capable of working with demigods. He actually leads them. It’s easy to see why Wonder Woman would fall in love with a man like that.
On Wonder Woman’s side, she can do more than just punch the Red Skull harder than most women. She’s the kind of woman whose compassion and love of justice is second to none. Even though she’s not American, she embodies many of the American principles that Captain America champions. She may very well be the only woman he can love as much as his country.
Number 1: Deadpool and Harley Quinn
This one was a no-brainer. In terms of sheer sex appeal and romantic compatibility, Deadpool and Harley Quinn are in another league on top of being from different comic book worlds.
I don’t think I need to say much about Deadpool’s eccentric tastes in romance. Between his overtly raunchy movie and the fact he married a succubus in the comics, the man isn’t just attracted to crazy. It’s practically an omega-level fetish for him. In terms of crazy, sexy, and all the weird fetishes that go with it, Harley Quinn checks every box.
Beyond her fondness for clown makeup and obscenely short pants, Harley has always been defined by her love with madness. Love is what drove her into a world of villainy when she crosses paths with the Joker. While that relationship has many quirks, plenty of which are quite unhealthy, it shows that Harley loves men who aren’t bound by sanity.
Deadpool wouldn’t just fill her crazy quota and then some. He would offer her the healthy kind of crazy. He’s the kind of guy who reserves gratuitous violence to those who deserve it and that has been a major struggle for Harley for much of her history. He wouldn’t just be able to carry her through that struggle. He’d make her laugh just as much as the Joker and with only half the property damage.
Unlike the Joker or a succubus, Harley and Deadpool are also the kind of relationship that would have a level of sex appeal that is literally crazy. Beyond Harley’s love of skin-tight clothes and Deadpool’s “super penis,” these two would know how to have fun and blow things up, in and out of the bedroom. With these two, you never have to worry about things getting boring.
There you have it. That’s my list for the best non-canon comic book couples. I imagine this list will cause some disagreements. That’s okay and I welcome further debate on the issue. If you think there are other couples I should add to the list, please let me know. This is a rich and sexy topic that’s ripe for discussion.
What is more emotionally satisfying than seeing someone you care about find happiness? Whether it’s a friend, a sibling, or even a celebrity you admire, don’t you feel a twinge of joy when you see them achieve something special? Unless you’re a cynic or a sociopath, you’ve probably had those feelings at least once in your life.
With those warm and fuzzy feelings inside, why shouldn’t that also extend to the iconic superheroes we know and love? When our favorite heroes finally get around to marrying the love of their life, it’s natural to want to cheer them on the same way we would cheer for our best friend as he and his bride do karaoke at the reception.
However, those tasked with building the canon seem to have an aversion to married superheroes. Just this past summer, that aversion was on full display. Two major superhero weddings were set up, one involving Kitty Pryde and Colossus in X-men Gold #30 and the other involving Batman and Catwoman in Batman #50.
Sadly, both events ended without tearful vows and a drunken toast, although one salvaged a matrimonial quickie at the last second. I’ve already broken down how one wedding just prolonged an already drawn out romance while the other denigrated the entire concept of romance, as a whole. Rather than bemoan those romantic misfirings, I’d like to step back and look at the bigger picture of married superheroes.
This is actually a controversial issue among fans of superhero comics and those who create them. I’ve been browsing comic book message boards for years. I can attest to just how much fans care when their favorite characters get married. They continue caring long after the wedding reception.
On the other side of the controversy, though, there are the creators that work for Marvel, DC, and their corporate overlords. They have a slightly different view of married superheroes and one that’s not nearly as sentimental. To say their views are complex is like saying a plumber has mixed opinions on food poisoning.
While many of those writing, editing, and producing superhero media are fans themselves, they often have to leave their fandom at the door. Companies like Marvel and DC Comics don’t pay them to write fan fiction. They pay them to tell stories that will sell, increase the value of their brand, and improve market share.
A writer or editor’s ability to do this is prone to many challenges. Fans, especially comic book fans, are notoriously fickle with their passions. If they see something they don’t like happening to a character they love, they’re pretty vocal about it. Just ask fans of Captain America, the Fantastic Four, or Cyclops of the X-men.
In that respect, I have some sympathy for the people responsible for handling beloved characters. They’re basically playing with someone else’s toys and getting paid for it. However, if they break those toys or damage them in any way, there can be hell to pay. Just look at the current situation with Star Wars.
That sympathy, though, only goes so far and I can’t extended to how some at Marvel and DC have approached marriage. DC Comics editor, Dan Dido, once went on record as saying that superheroes should not get married. Long-time Marvel editor and COO, Joe Quesda, even had to justify breaking up Spider-Man’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson by claiming that it “stabilized” Spider-Man too much.
Now in general, I try to be understanding and respectful when people hold positions that I disagree with. I’ve even tried to do that with hot-button issues like abortion, feminism, and organized religion. In this case though, I just have to call bullshit.
Claiming marriage does too much to stabilize a superhero is like saying ketchup makes food too red. It gives the impression that stability is somehow a liability with superheroes, as though they can only be interesting when their world is falling apart and they’re one stubbed toe away from a nervous breakdown.
It’s true that we superhero fans love seeing our favorite heroes fight back invading aliens, punch Nazis, and even take on renegade alien gods. However, it’s also true that we don’t expect or want that to be the only story that superheroes tell. We’re also interested in the lives they live outside their flashy costumes. It doesn’t just humanize them. It gives us more reasons to root for them.
Both Mr. Quesada and Mr. Dido try to make the case that part of being a hero involves sacrificing parts of their personal life in order to serve the greater good. There’s little doubt that being a hero comes at a price, as many of Batman’s former lovers can attest, but that doesn’t have to involve outright isolation.
It also doesn’t mean being a superhero makes a functioning marriage impossible, either. Yes, it’s a lot harder to be a loving spouse and a superhero, but I wouldn’t say it’s as daunting as battling planet-eating space gods or surviving a team-up with Deadpool. In fact, it can enhance their heroics in ways that go beyond romance.
I’m not the only one to make that point either. In wake of the recent wedding debacles by Marvel and DC, Comic Books Resources asked why publishers are so afraid of married superheroes. They cited the same excuses I did about heroes needing to sacrifice, but they also pointed out how these kinds of real-life, mundane events help people connect with these characters.
What the article didn’t get into is why this matters. Superman is a hero with god-like power who can move planets and create diamonds with his bare hands. He’s also married to Lois Lane and still has to put in the effort to make that marrage work, even when it becomes prone to complications.
Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four is among the smartest beings in the entire Marvel Universe. He creates thought projectors, flying cars, and personal robots without breaking a sweat. He too has to work hard to keep his marriage and family functioning, especially when a handsome Atlantean king keeps trying to sleep with his wife.
Then, there’s Spider-Man. I know I’ve brought him up a number of times and not always in a positive light, but what happened to him and his marriage is still one of the most controversial things that have ever happened in comics. In many ways, he embodies the ultimate flaw in the excuses to undercut married superheroes.
In the infamous story, One More Day, Spider-Man’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson wasn’t just undone. He actually made a deal with Mephisto, Marvel’s stand-in for the devil, to sacrifice his marriage in exchange for saving his Aunt May’s life. Considering his Aunt had told him just a few issues ago that she didn’t want to be saved, Spider-Man still went through with it.
To say fans were upset by that decision would be like saying the Hulk has a slight anger management problem. This act didn’t just undercut an iconic superhero romance. It essentially reverted Spider-Man back to the state of an immature loser who had barely grown up since high school.
Again, Marvel made plenty of excuses. Long-time Spider-Man writer, Dan Slott, claimed that Spider-Man has to remain within a particular status quo. He has to keep being this lovable loser who is always struggling to hold down a job, keep a girlfriend, and still be a hero. In order to keep that unique appeal he has, and all the merchendising money it makes, he can’t be married.
I understand that logic, but I still call bullshit. You know what happens to characters who never change, grow up, or evolve over time? It’s the same thing that happens to real people. They become boring and unlikable. In Spider-Man’s case, he becomes something worse. He becomes the guy who sold his marriage to the devil to save someone who didn’t even want to be saved. That’s not heroic. That’s just plain selfish.
That’s the price a superhero pays for remaining in a prepetually regressed state. I contend that price is far higher than any associated with the inherent difficulty of writing married characters. With Spider-Man, One More Day established that no matter what he did in his personal or heroic life, he would never change. He’d always end up sleeping on his Aunt May’s couch.
It doesn’t matter if he pursues a new romance. It doesn’t matter if he becomes a billionaire and runs his own company. A reader can just assume he’ll screw it all up somehow and end up right back where he started. It’s just hard to root for any character that keeps regressing like that.
It’s like rooting for a sports team that never wins. Even terrible teams can turn it around at some point. Yes, that includes the Cleveland Browns. If that team never wins, though, why even root in the first place?
This is why marriage is so vital to the growth and evolution of superheroes. When a hero gets married, it’s not just an excuse to have a big event full of superhero-themed cakes. It’s a culmination of a much larger story about love, growth, and strength. It takes a lot to make a marriage work and not all of it can be done with superpowers.
Therein lies the ultimate appeal, though. When a superhero gets married, they go from simply pursuing a relationship to actually making it work. They have to learn how to build a life with another person and become part of a larger family, something that cannot and should not be exclusive to the Fantastic Four.
It fundementally changes how superheroes approach their lives, in and out of costume. It adds new layers of complexity and intrigue. Yes, it’s considerably harder than telling stories about Superman rescuing Lois Lane from Lex Luthor’s evil clutches. That’s exactly what makes it more compelling.
I don’t doubt that Marvel and DC will continue making excuses about married superheroes. Whether or not their approach to the issue evolves remains to be seen. However, since they’re in the business of keeping their characters relevant, they will have an incentive to adapt these characters for changing times and maturing audiences.
Being the romantic I am, I believe love will eventually win out in the end because love is part of why we root for superheroes in the first place. Love isn’t just about being unselfish. It’s also about achieving something special after so much sacrifice. Fans of superheroes want to see them achieve the things they struggle for. It affirms that all those heroics have meaning and purpose.
Marriage doesn’t have to be the ultimate achievement for a superhero. It can be part of it, though. It doesn’t have to be an end. It can be a beginning, as well. Until Marvel and DC lets its heroes get to that point, though, those stories won’t get told and hearts will keep getting broken for all the wrong reasons.
It’s been a rough summer for fans of romance, superheroes, and superhero weddings. In fact, in all the years I’ve been reading comics and following romantic sub-plots, I can’t remember a time when there was this much melodrama and heartbreak. I understand that any epic romance is going to involve a healthy bit of emotional strain, especially when it involves superheroes. There comes a point when it just becomes too much.After the deconstruction and denigration of superhero romance that unfolded in X-men Gold #30, I feel like we’re dangerously close to that point. It’s as though everyone involved in making superhero comics is admitting that superheroes can’t get married. They can’t have a functional, compelling romance and still be interesting.That sort of sentiment is basically an affirmation of Marvel’s justification for undoing Spider-Man’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson in the infamous One More Day story. Given the relative infamy of that story line and the recent upheaval with the X-men, many fans of both superheroes and romance were placing a lot of hope that the wedding of Batman and Catwoman could help stop the bleeding in Batman #50.I certainly counted myself among those who was very excited about this event. I even admit I really wanted this to make up for the disheartening outcome of X-men Gold #30. The romantic in me wanted at least one superhero wedding this summer that didn’t end in heartbreak or tragedy.Well, if you saw the same spoilers in the New York Times that I did just two days before Batman #50 came out, you already know that’s not what happened. Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle did not get married. That means in terms of superhero weddings, the summer of 2018 is now 0 for 2.However, that outcome did not compound my lingering disappointment from X-men Gold #30. I’ll even go so far as to say that Batman #50 didn’t send the state of superhero romance past the point of no return. It didn’t improve the state of affairs. It was disappointing, but not to the point where it damaged a story or a romance beyond repair.Before I explain, I want to establish that many of the details beyond this point are heavy spoilers. Seeing as how this comic was already spoiled a couple days prior to its release, much to the chagrin of comic retailers, I don’t think I need to place too many warnings. I still recommend that people buy the comic, but there’s more going on here than a wedding that didn’t happen, much more so than what we saw in X-men Gold #30.By nearly every measure, Batman #50 approaches the concept of a superhero wedding differently than X-men Gold #30. The wedding of Kitty Pryde and Colossus was set up as this big, momentous affair between an established couple that overcame a lot just to have the opportunity to get married. They brought in friends, family, and fellow superheroes from across the X-men comics.In contrast, the ceremony in Batman #50 was very small. In fact, there wasn’t much of a ceremony to speak of. The only ones who were present besides Batman and Catwoman were Aflred, Bruce Wayne’s butler and long-time confidante, and a lone judge who was already drunk so that he wouldn’t remember his or Catwoman’s identity. Batman always has a plan for that sort of thing. That’s why he’s Batman.On top of that, Batman is the one who proposed to Catwoman back in Batman #24. He’s the one who pitched the idea of getting married in the first place. That’s critical because Kitty Pryde was the one who proposed to Colossus in X-men Gold #20. That matters because she’s also the one who broke it off and at the last second, no less. Things were a bit less cruel in Batman #50 and that’s saying something for a Batman comic.At one point in the story, Batman makes clear that he still wants to marry Catwoman. He’s not having second thoughts. It’s Catwoman who makes the fateful decision to break it off and she doesn’t wait until half-way through the ceremony, either. To put that another way, an admitted jewel thief who enjoys having sex on rooftops showed more decency than Kitty Pryde on her failed wedding day.It’s not a public spectacle that turns into an equally public debacle. It’s a private affair that simply doesn’t pan out. There’s no awkward reception. There’s no attempt to salvage it by shoehorning another romance into the mix just so someone gets married, as though such romances can be swapped out like batteries. It just doesn’t happen.Moreover, Catwoman actually gives a reason for not going through with the wedding and, unlike Kitty Pryde, it’s not a wholly contrived. She establishes throughout Batman #50, through a series of montages documenting their romance over the years, why she loves him and why he’s such an effective hero. In the process, she reveals something profound about Batman.What makes Batman both effective and iconic is how he takes the pain of a tragedy, namely the death of his parents, and turns it into strength. The same pain that would break a lesser man drives him to do so much more. He’s the Dark Knight who defends Gotham. He’s a hero who deserves to fight alongside demigods and aliens on the Justice League. For him to be Batman, he needs that pain to fuel him.From Catwoman’s perspective, Batman finding happiness means denying him the fuel he needs to be Batman. That’s not a realization that just randomly pops into her mind at the last second, though. This is something the Joker actually points out to her in Batman #49. It has less to do with whether or not she loves him and more to do with him being the hero that Gotham needs.That doesn’t make Catwoman’s decision any less disappointing, but it’s still nowhere near as callous or selfish as Kitty Pryde’s decision in X-men Gold #30. I know it’s somewhat unfair to keep comparing the two, given the different circumstances of their relationship, but those distinctions highlight an important element that the failed Batman/Catwoman wedding has that the Colossus/Kitty Pryde wedding didn’t.What happens in Batman #50 is definitely a setback for Batman and Catwoman’s relationship, but it doesn’t fundamentally destroy it. In fact, there’s a very critical detail at the end of the issue that leaves the door open for this romance to keep evolving. I won’t spoil it, but it unfolds in such a way that makes romance fans like me want to root for this relationship.The same definitely cannot be said for the Colossus/Kitty Pryde relationship. After the way things played out during their wedding, it really feels as though their romance is damaged beyond repair. It’s no longer a love story. It’s an outright tragedy, one that would need an even greater contrivance to repair at this point. In a universe with shape-shifting aliens, though, that’s not wholly unfeasible.In the grand scheme of things, Batman #50 is still disappointing in the sense that it doesn’t let Batman and Catwoman take their love story to another level. In fact, not a whole lot changes. The way it plays out feels more like a setback rather than a tragedy. The writer of the comic, Tom King, even claims it’s just part of a much larger narrative between Batman and Catwoman.How that story will play out remains to be seen. Given how long it took Batman and Catwoman to get to a point where they try to get married, Batman #50 already gives the impression that their romance is being dragged out. For a couple who has been off and on again since the 1940s, that’s saying something.If I had to score Batman #50, as both a comic book fan and a romance fan, I’d give it a 6 out of 10. It’s a bit of a letdown, but it’s not nearly as soul-crushing as X-men Gold #30. It still leaves the state of superhero romance in a very precarious state, but at the very least, this book gives me reason for hope.I’ll still be very skeptical of any future superhero wedding for the foreseeable future, though.
Every now and then, a movie comes along that was unremarkable in its time, but gained greater meaning years later. It’s one of those unspoken challenges of movie making that doesn’t involve dealing with difficult actors. Sometimes, a movie is either ahead of its time or too late to make much of an impact. Like cooking the perfect steak or good fart joke, timing is everything.
That brings me to “Megamind,” a very well-done, but often overlooked animated movie from Dreamworks. Since it’s not Pixar and doesn’t involve “Shrek,” it had a lot working against it before it came out. However, it also had plenty more going for it and not just in terms of quality 3D animation at a time when “Avatar” finally made that gimmick viable.
The movie boasted an amazing voice cast that included Brad Pitt, Will Ferrell, Jonah Hill, Tina Fey, and David Cross. It also did plenty to leverage that star power. Will Ferrell even famously dressed up as the titular character at the San Diego Comic Con to promote the movie. I’m not saying that, alone, would’ve made that movie a success, but Will Ferrell is one of those rare talents who can make anything more appealing.
In addition, the movie told a compelling story in a way that was concise, enjoyable, and appealing for adults and children alike. It showed in the favorable reviews it received from critics and the high scores it earned from audiences. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite show in the box office totals. The movie did well, but it fell short of the high bar that both Pixar and “Shrek” have set for animated features.
The reason for the movie’s shortcomings are numerous and varied. It came out in 2010, just in time for titles like “Toy Story 3,” “How To Train Your Dragon,” and “Tangled” to steal the show. It also came out at a time when superhero movies were just starting to ascend. “Iron Man” had just come out and the scars from “X-men Origins: Wolverine” were finally starting to heal.
However, “Megamind” really jumped the gun in terms of timing. We were still a few years before “The Avengers” cemented superhero movies as ultimate box office gold encased in vibranium. As a result, the remarkable concept that “Megamind” introduced went forgotten, but I believe it’s worth remembering.
The plot of “Megamind” is simple on paper, but complex in its implications. It tells the story of a self-proclaimed super-villain named Megamind, who was voiced by Will Ferrell. His persona is essentially a comedic parody of every super-villain trope that ever existed. He’s a mad genius bent on conquest and domination, but is constantly thwarted by an overly-powerful, overly-handsome hero.
That hero, appropriately voiced by Brad Pitt, is Metro Man. Like Megamind, he’s also a parody of every superhero trope. He’s part Superman and part Captain America, grossly overpowered and so morally pure that it’s laughable. As such, the movie never attempts to frame Metro Man’s heroism or Megamind’s villainy in a serious sort of way.
That approach is key because the way the story plays out essentially flips the script on the standard narrative surrounding superheroes, super-villains, and what motivates both of them. It conveys a message that didn’t really have much impact in 2010, but if it came out just five years later, its themes would’ve been much more relevant.
At its core, “Megamind” asks what would happen if an over-the-top villain like Megamind actually defeated an over-the-top hero like Metro Man. How would he react? How would the society around them react? These are questions that often have simple answers in other superhero movies. “Megamind” dares to add an extra layer of complexity.
Early on in the movie, Megamind achieves what Lex Luthor, Dr. Doom, and every other mustache-twirling villain failed to achieve. He defeats his heroic nemesis. He takes over the city he seeks to rule. There is no longer anyone or anything to stand in his way. He is, for all intents and purposes, the most powerful being in Metro City.
That’s not the end of the story, though. That’s just the beginning. Shortly after this achievement, which caught Megamind himself by surprise, he has an existential crisis of sorts. Suddenly, there are no more plots left to hatch. There are no more battles left to fight. He has everything he ever wanted, but it still leaves him feeling empty inside.
It leads him on a path that reveals some unexpected insights into the whole hero/villain dynamic. At first, Megamind doesn’t know how to handle his new situation. It’s so unfamiliar and so jarring that it causes serious distress. Even for a super-genius, sudden change and unfamiliarity can be very difficult to handle.
Megamind’s first instinct, which is usually the same instinct most ordinary people act on in such distressed states, is to return to something familiar. He attempts to recreate the status quo as he knew it, which led him to create a new hero in Titan, who is voiced by Jonah Hill. He says outright that without a hero to fight, he has no purpose. Since he happens to be a super-genius, he just decides to create one.
In doing so, he learns as well as everyone else in Metro City that creating a hero is not as easy as just giving someone heroic abilities. On top of that, he also learns that it’s not always possible to go back to that comfortable status quo. In fact, attempting to do so could only make things worse.
Without giving away the entire movie, which I encourage everyone to see, “Megamind” presents some pretty insights into what it means to be a hero and a villain. At a time when more complex villains like Walter White and Erik Killmonger are gaining greater appeal, I believe these insights are more critical now than they were in 2010.
A great deal of what drove Megamind early on was his assumption that he’s the villain and Metro Man is the hero. As such, they’re destined to fight each other with the hero always triumphing. He never stops to question that assumption, nor does he contemplate his goals for after he succeeds. It’s not until he actually succeeds that he realizes how flawed those assumptions were.
Metro Man realizes that even sooner. In one of the main twists of the story, “Megamind” shows that even idealized heroes aren’t immune to this inescapable dynamic. Like Megamind, Metro Man does what he does because he assumes that’s his role. He doesn’t question it until it becomes untenable.
By breaking that classic hero/villain dynamic, both Metro Man and Megamind reveal that the nature of the struggle between a superhero and a super-villain is often incomplete. They may think they know what they want. Heroes want to save the day. Villains want to conquer and rule. Beyond that, though, there’s no other vision. It’s just an endlessly repeating cycle that eventually goes nowhere in the long run.
In a sense, the entire story of “Megamind” is a reflection of the paradox of superheroes. Heroes may save the day and defeat the villains at every turn, but they never go beyond that struggle. They never attempt to change the conditions that allow the villains to instigate conflict, nor do they do anything to prevent new villains from emerging. They save the world, but don’t do anything to change it.
This shortcoming is a big part of “Megamind” from the beginning. No matter how many times Metro Man defeated Megamind, he always ended up back in jail. From there, he always escaped. He never changed or reconsidered his actions until he actually succeeded. To some extent, Metro Man does exactly what keeps Spider-Man and Batman from effectively achieving their heroic goals.
Ultimately, the resolution that “Megamind” offers in the end is something that undercuts the hero/villain dynamic completely. In the end, both Megamind and Metro Man stop making assumptions about their roles and actually make choices of their own, for once. In Megamind’s case, his choice conveys something that no other superhero movie has dared to attempt.
He takes the same traits and abilities that make him a villain and uses them to become a hero. More importantly, though, he doesn’t do so because of a role based on an assumption. He does it because that’s what he chooses. When finally given a choice to do something with his abilities, he chooses to do good. That’s not just uplifting, even for an animated movie. It speaks heavily to the forces that shape our identity.
In the context of modern superhero movies, “Megamind” both parodies and subverts the foundation of the genre. It doesn’t just ask the question as to what would happen if a villain actually beat the hero. It asks whether those who identify as villains are capable of doing heroic things, if given a choice.
Even with more complex villains like Walter White, most superhero movies and superhero media, in general, still follow the same dynamic that trapped Megamind. They have a villain, put them in a particular role, and keep them in that role by locking them into a cycle.
For some inherently villainous individuals, like Lex Luthor, that cycle isn’t necessary. For others, though, it poses interesting questions that rarely get answered. The villains have their roles. The heroes have theirs. The story plays out and the heroes triumph, but does that have to be the end of the story?
“Megamind” dared to expand on that story and while it may have been ahead of its time, those themes are still relevant. As superhero movies continue to set new box office records, they will likely become even more relevant and “Megamind” will get the appreciation it was just too premature to achieve.