The following is a review I wrote for PopMatters for X-Men Red #11.
I love comics. I love romance, too. When you put them together, it’s like putting bacon on pizza. It takes two inherently wonderful concepts and combines them, thereby compounding everything that makes them awesome.
I talk a lot about comics and romance. I’ve cited certain relationships that stand out in the current romantic landscape and praise certain comics that raise the bar for romance between superheroes. I think I’ve made the extent of my fondness for both fairly clear. Now, I’d like to offer some specifics.
For a while now, I’ve gotten comments and emails from people asking for recommendations of good romantic comics. I feel like I’ve contemplated this enough to craft a list of the comics I feel have the most to offer in terms of romance. While there are plenty of comics that cater specifically to romance, I’ve left those out in favor of those that offer a broader story that general comics fans can also appreciate.
What follows are my top five picks for the best romance comics. Please note that this is a personal list. I don’t wish to imply that this ranking is definitive. These are just my hand-picked comics that I feel offer the perfect blend of love and comic book level awesome.
Number 5: Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane
This sweet, fun little series from the mid-2000s is one of Marvel’s more underrated gems. There’s a lot of drama, angst, and frustration surrounding the romance between Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson. I’ve cited some of the “complications” these two have endured on more than one occasion.
This series basically avoids all of that and doesn’t rely on elaborate retcons to do it. The story is less about Spider-Man and more about Mary Jane Watson. Specifically, it’s about a young, pre-supermodel Mary Jane Watson who hasn’t quite become the gold standard for sex redheaded comic book characters. That’s critical to what makes this series so great in terms of story and romance.
For once, Peter Parker being Spider-Man is secondary. That story is unfolding behind the scene, but the real drama comes directly from Mary Jane. She’s at an age where she’s blossoming into a beautiful young woman, but still figuring herself out. She’s not sure of what she wants, how to love, or where she fits into this crazy world. On every level, she’s far more relatable than any superhero.
As she navigates that world, she makes touch choices and even a few mistakes. More than anything else, though, this series shows how and why Mary Jane came to love Peter Parker so much. It doesn’t rely on overt sex appeal or excessive heroics. The story focuses entirely on chemistry and growth.
On paper, it sounds like something that shouldn’t work in a superhero comic, but it totally does. It’s a romance story that’s balanced and well-developed. It also isn’t too mature. Anyone from age 8 to 80 can appreciate the romance here. On top of that, Takeshi Miyazawa’s artwork is gorgeous, bringing light and heart to a romance that badly needs it.
Number 4: Rogue and Gambit
This is a very recent entry on my list, but one that did more than enough to justify its position. Over the course of five issues, “Rogue and Gambit” accomplished something extraordinary. It took a well-known romance that had been deconstructed, denigrated, and mishandled for years and effectively rebuilt it into something truly uncanny.
Kelly Thompson, one of Marvel’s rising stars, took the baggage surrounding the Rogue/Gambit relationship and channeled it in a way that felt both rewarding and sincere. It starts as an undercover mission, but evolves into some overdue couple’s therapy. Thompson doesn’t ignore all the factors that kept them apart. She even lets them argue and agonize over them.
In doing so, this series presents this romance as one you won’t find in any fairy tale. This isn’t a case of star-crossed lovers destined to be together. It’s a romance in which the two people involved have to really work at it. They have to confront their flaws, their failures, and all the excuses they’ve made to avoid their feelings. It gets ugly, but beautiful at the same time.
I would go so far as to cite this series a template for how a modern superhero romance can work, even without an iconic legacy. The Rogue/Gambit romance isn’t ideal, but that’s exactly what makes it so enjoyable and endearing. These are flawed characters who have both found themselves playing villainous roles at some point in their history. Them coming together despite all that just feels so right.
The only reason this series isn’t higher on my list is because it’s so recent. It’s also still evolving through a companion series, “Mr. and Mrs. X.” I’ve reviewed and praised that series too, but it wouldn’t be possible without this series. Whatever complications the Rogue/Gambit relationship faces in the future, this series will remain one of its most defining moments.
Number 3: The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix
I’ve made no secret of how much I love the romance between Cyclops and Jean Grey. I’ve cited them as one of those uniquely special relationships that is both iconic and balanced, a rare combination for a romance that has been unfolding for over 50 years now. While they’ve endured plenty of tribulations, complications, and retcons along the way, they remain iconic for a reason.
This series from the late 1990s is a testament to just how strong their romance can be when retcons, cosmic forces, and terrible love triangles are set aside. At their core, Cyclops and Jean Grey are two people don’t just want to love each other. They want to create a better world for their friends, their family, and their future children. They get to do all of that and then some here.
Much of the story takes place in one of the many dystopian futures that plague the X-men, namely one ruled by Apocalypse. It puts Cyclops and Jean in a position where they can’t fall back on their fellow X-men or the support of other superheroes. They have to navigate this wasteland of a world with only each other to fall back on. It’s a true testament to the strength of their relationship.
As the title implies, though, the story emphasizes the adventure more than the romance. While there are plenty of sweet moments between Cyclops and Jean, their relationship is not the primary focus. It’s certainly a factor driving them forward, but the meat of the story is how it drives them through the conflict. If you enjoy adventure with your romance, then this is definitely the series for you.
Number 2: Superman and Wonder Woman Volumes 1 and 2
Yes, I know Superman and Lois Lane are still considered the most iconic superhero couple of all time.
Yes, I know there’s an extremely vocal contingent of Superman fans that believe there’s something missing whenever he’s not with Lois.
No, I do not care. That’s because the run on this series by Charles Soule and Tony Daniel really raised the bar for just how great a romance can be for these two iconic characters.
There’s a lot I can say about the romantic potential between Superman and Wonder Woman. It would probably take me multiple blog posts and several essays to adequately describe what sets it apart from Superman’s relationship with Lois and why it works so beautifully. Thanks to this series, though, I don’t need to do that.
This particular series takes place during the controversial, but endearing New 52 era of DC Comics. During this strange, but amazing period of DC Comics, Superman and Lois aren’t married. They know each other, but they aren’t romantically involved. That opens the door for Superman to explore a relationship with Wonder Woman. However, this series makes clear that this romance is no gimmick.
They’re not forced together, nor is it presented as a gimmick. From the very beginning, as well as the events that led up to it, there’s a distinct sense that Superman and Wonder Woman find one another during tenuous times in their lives. They’re two powerful characters making their way through a world in which they feel isolated. When they’re together, though, they’re at their best.
This story brands them as a power couple and they do plenty to earn it. Together, they face threats from alien tyrants and renegade Greek gods. Their worlds collide, but they guide each other through. They make each other stronger. They make each other better. They fight as individuals and as equals. If that’s not the definition of a power couple, I don’t know what is.
Again, if you’re a die-hard supporter of Superman and Lois, that’s fine. This series does nothing to undercut that. However, it does plenty to prove that Superman and Wonder Woman can share a powerful romance, literally and figuratively. Even after DC has undergone extensive retcons and reboots, this series still captures the power of that romance in the best possible way.
Number 1: Saga
This is probably a controversial selection for those who aren’t familiar with this series. It doesn’t involve superheroes. It’s not a product of Marvel or DC Comics. It’s an entirely different world full of bizarre creatures that include talking cats, a humanoid seal, and an entire race of beings with TVs for heads. I swear I’m not making any of that up.
However, at the heart of this amazing series by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples is an amazing love story between two characters from warring worlds. That love is very much the driving force between all the conflict and the characters that get caught up in it. It’s one of those romances that has every conceivable force working against it, but it still happens and it’s downright beautiful
Alana and Marko aren’t Superman and Lois Lane. They’re not even Rogue and Gambit. They’re not exactly heroes trying to live up to an ideal. They’re soldiers in a war between two worlds, but they somehow find each other, fall in love, and create a family together.
It’s not a fairy tale romance, though. Their romance involves more than a few explicit sex scenes, as well as a scene where Alana gives birth to their daughter. Nothing is filtered or polished. The sexy and unsexy parts of their relationship is laid bare within a world that is full of fanciful characters and locales.
It’s a genuinely epic journey, but one that all comes back to the romance between Alana and Marko. No matter what kind of romantic you are, these two find a way to check the right boxes. There are many moments of passion, sorrow, and loss. There are also plenty of moments that are funny, cute, and endearing. It has everything a great romance needs and then some.
I should offer a fair warning, though. You will get attached to these characters. You will feel it during certain moments. As a self-professed romantic, I can safely say that it’s worth the risk.
There you have it! These are my top five selections for romance comics. I’m sure some will disagree with my selections. The list may even change as other great romance comics emerge in the coming years. That’s perfectly fine and I welcome any debates on my list.
Romance is in every medium and comics are no exception. I would even argue that the romance in comics is under-appreciated and under-valued. As the genre continues to evolve, I have a feeling that’ll change and I hope to be part of that change.
If you were to go back 40 years and ask someone to tell a story about epic space battles, death stars, and wookies, chances are you’d get a lot off odd looks and insipid excuses. Some might even laugh in your face, saying such a story could never be told, let alone make over $7.7 billion at the box office. George Lucas is probably laughing at them on top of a bed made of money.
Great stories like “Star Wars” didn’t just prove there were millions to be made from elaborate space operas and quality sci-fi. It helped establish a template for others to follow in telling similar stories. Some have followed it better than others, but the most important thing “Star Wars” was demonstrate that it can be done.
The current state of married superheroes is in a similar situation to what the sci-fi genre was before “Star Wars” came along. Both Marvel and DC Comics have done a lot over the past couple decades to undermine married superheroes, some of which have left major scars for fans and characters alike. Just look up a story called One More Day for proof.
The excuses Marvel and DC have made aren’t very convincing, but they’re not entirely wrong either. Telling stories about married superheroes is challenging. There are only a handful of married superheroes that have stood the test of time. However, even the most iconic superhero couples have been prone to the complications of marriage.
That’s why a series like “Mr. and Mrs. X” is coming along at the best possible time. This series, which spins directly out of the denigrating heartbreak that unfolded in “X-men Gold #30,” may very well provide both the hope and the template for married superheroes moving forward.
The first thing I need to say about “Mr. and Mrs. X #1” is that it’s part of a larger story that began unfolding before the events of “X-men Gold #30.” Kelly Thompson, who wrote “Mr. and Mrs. X,” also wrote a mini-series called “Rogue and Gambit,” which I highly recommend. That story did something important for both fans of superhero romance and of superhero cartoons from 1990s.
In the world of iconic superhero couples, Rogue and Gambit occupy a gray area of sorts. They’re one of those couples that rarely tops any list of notable superhero romances, but they’ve always been closely linked to one another. This is due largely to the chemistry they showed in the “X-men Animated Series” cartoon that defined so many childhoods back in 1990s. I know because I was one of them.
While Rogue and Gambit have always had romantic potential, it was never fully utilized. Neither the cartoon nor the comics ever took it beyond a certain point and not just because Rogue’s life-draining powers hindered their capacity for intimacy. There was just no real effort to evolve their romance beyond flirting and card puns.
Ms. Thompson changed that with “Rogue and Gambit.” This under-developed romance grew more in the span of five issues than it had in over 15 years of comics, cartoons, and failed efforts to get a Gambit movie off the ground. With “Mr. and Mrs. X #1,” Ms. Thompson dares to skip several steps and let this couple take the plunge into superhero marriage.
Considering how even a much more iconic couple in Batman and Catwoman failed to get that far, that’s quite an achievement. However, the way in which “Mr. and Mrs. X #1” portrays the sexy, romantic details of married superheroes is a far greater accomplishment. I would go so far as to say that it sets a new standard for just how appealing married superheroes can be.
One of the most important things “Mr. and Mrs. X #1” does is expand on the events of “X-men Gold #30.” This isn’t just critical for the sake of Rogue and Gambit’s relationship. It helps fix the greatest flaw in that issue. When the marriage of Kitty Pryde and Colossus fell through in a heartbreaking moment, Rogue and Gambit basically stepped in to keep the ending from being a complete tragedy.
The way their impromptu marriage presented in “X-men Gold #30” is both shallow and crude. It’s basically just forced in there, a marriage for the sake of saving a botched wedding. It never even gave the impression that Rogue and Gambit were serious about marrying one another. They just did it on a whim, their wedding having the depth of a drive-through chapel in Las Vegas.
“Mr. and Mrs. X #1” fundamentally changes that. It dedicates over half the issue to providing more details of that ceremony, making clear that Rogue and Gambit gave this more thought than the brand of cereal they ate that morning. There was preparation, planning, and even a surprise visit from Mystique, Rogue’s adopted mother.
This goes a long way towards showing that Rogue and Gambit are serious about getting married. Even if you didn’t read Ms. Thompson’s “Rogue and Gambit” series, the first eight pages do enough to show that there’s genuine love between these two. Moreover, they want take that love to the next level.
Even for a romance not built on Disney-style fairy tales, that’s a pretty important detail. There’s a major difference between characters actually wanting their relationship to evolve and just doing it because it makes for a nice event. It’s the same difference between wanting to eat to McDonald’s and having to eat at McDonald’s. It affects the experience.
That shared desire between Rogue and Gambit shows in both the ceremony and the honeymoon. That’s another key component that “Mr. and Mrs. X #1” adds to the template. It doesn’t just stop at the heartfelt wedding ceremony they share with friends and family. It acknowledges and even shows off the sexy tidbits of married life.
Rogue and Gambit don’t just love each other enough to want to get married. They also want to express that love like any other horny couple. It doesn’t have to be a dirty secret or some trivial side-note. It can be part of the story and thanks to the wonderful artwork of Oscar Bazaldua, it’s a spectacle to behold.
We get to see these two in expensive wedding attire and their birthday suit. There are moments of genuine affection. There are moments of playfulness. There are also moments where they address more serious issues, such as Rogue not being able to touch without the aid of a device that inhibits her powers. All of that is fit into a single issue.
On top of all that, “Mr. and Mrs. X #1” still finds time to squeeze in some heroics at the end. It’s not all heart-warming ceremonies and sexy honeymoons. Rogue and Gambit are still X-men. That means they still answer the call to adventure when it comes. That’s just what heroes do. Being married doesn’t have to change that.
That shouldn’t be such a novel concept, but that is a common criticism of married superheroes. Once they get married, their ability to be superheroes is somehow diminished. That’s like saying being a rock star diminishes someone’s ability to enjoy random songs on the radio. It’s a false flaw that Ms. Thompson and Mr. Bazaldua go out of their way to subvert.
The nature of the conflict that interrupts Rogue and Gambit’s sexy time is somewhat underdeveloped. It involves aliens and space battles, which is basically a typical Tuesday for the X-men. There’s not much in terms of refinement, but that’s less a flaw and more a logistical limitation.
“Mr. and Mrs. X #1” is the first issue of a series, which means there will be other opportunities to expand that story. Rogue and Gambit’s life as married superheroes isn’t ending. It’s just beginning. They’re still going to be heroes. They’re still going to fight aliens in between hot romps between the sheets. Married life doesn’t have to be boring. What a concept, right?
I’m not being coy. That’s the ultimate takeaway from this comic. Two well-known, well-developed characters can get married, share some loving moments, get sexy, and still be superheroes. Being married doesn’t have to supercede their heroics. It can complement it as well.
It’s a lesson that other superhero couples, be they iconic or based on a random hook-up, would be wise to learn. Even powerful heroes like Superman are only as compelling as the relationships and interpersonal dynamics that highlight who they are. In the same way teamwork makes the Avengers and the Justice League strong, marriage can make a superhero couple strong.
That really shouldn’t be such a radical notion, but Ms. Thompson and Mr. Bazaldua do plenty to remind us why it shouldn’t be. “Mr. and Mrs. X #1” sets a bold tone for Rogue and Gambit. It doesn’t stop at a beautiful wedding or a sexy honeymoon. The heroics continue. It just takes a different tone.
The ending of the issue, which I won’t spoil, even sets up some new drama between the happy newlyweds. It’s not the kind that’ll instigate another frustrating love triangle, but it does hint at a conflict that wouldn’t be much of a conflict if Rogue and Gambit weren’t married. Rather than limit their story, it expands it.
“Mr. and Mrs. X #1” does so much in the span of a single issue that it would take me all day to list them all. It’s not a perfect issue. If I had to score it, I would give it a 9 out of 10, just because it had piggy-back on the heartbreak in “X-men Gold #30.” The most important achievement, though, is the precedent it sets. Married superheroes can be sweet, sexy, and fun and this is how you do it.
Like a marriage in a real world, relationships evolve. Getting married is not an endpoint. It’s another step in the dramatic, yet sexy narrative that is romance. Superheroes are fully capable of taking that step without turning into a bad sitcom. “Mr. and Mrs. X #1” shows that this step is worth taking. Hopefully, other couples follow and build on this sexy new template.