Tag Archives: superhero love

Wonder Woman, Relationships, And Misguided Standards For Female Heroes

I love superhero comics. I love romance. Naturally, I love it when they’re combined into a perfect package of super-romantic sentiment. I’ve singled out a few favorites of mine in the past, as well as a few not-so-favorites that act as cautionary tales. Chances are I’ll find plenty more excuses to write about superhero romance in the future.

That said, I’d like to take a step back from the specifics of superhero romance and assess the forest from the trees, so to speak. Instead, I thought I’d highlight something that I’ve been noticing within the pages of some of my favorite comics. It’s not necessarily an egregious flaw, but it is a distressing trend for lovers of romance like myself.

It has to do with how superheroes are portrayed when they’re in romantic relationships. Almost every popular superhero is caught up in a romantic sub-plot. Superman has his ever-iconic love story with Lois Lane. Cyclops and Jean Grey have decades of romance and drama. Spider-Man gets around so much that he has multiple iconic romances.

Not every superhero is defined by their romantic sub-plot, although some are more effected by it than others. It’s hard to tell the story of Sue “Invisible Woman” Richards without involving her husband and children. However, certain characters are held to different standards when it comes to romance.

That’s to be expected, given the diverse circumstances of each hero. Not every hero is going to be affected by their romantic sub-plot in the same way. That effect also changes through different eras. Even the iconic relationship between Superman and Lois Lane has changed a great deal over the years, although not necessarily for the better.

However, this particular era has really twisted the standards for female superheroes in romantic relationships and not in a good way. I won’t go so far as to call it a double standard like the others I’ve cited, but the differences are stark. It goes like this.

A male superhero gets caught up in a romantic sub-plot. The plot progresses, he enters a relationship with his romantic interest, and continues being the same hero he’s always been. The relationship supplements his story.

A female superhero gets caught up in a romantic sub-plot. The plot progresses and she enters a relationship with her romantic interest, but the relationship conflicts with her ability to be a superhero. It gets to a point where the act of her being a hero is detrimental to the relationship. She can have one or the other, but not both.

These scenarios are somewhat generic, but they convey a similar message. Male superheroes can be in romantic relationships without it undermining their heroic persona, but female superheroes can’t have those relationships without it becoming an obstacle.

This strange, unbalanced dynamic played out recently in the pages of “Wonder Woman #754.” I’d even go so far as to argue that Wonder Woman suffers the most from this dynamic, despite being one of the most iconic female superheroes of all time. Given that she’s the ideal that other female superheroes are compared to, I think that’s telling.

The main plot of the issue isn’t important. The side-plot is where this dynamic showed up. There were frequent flashbacks that highlighted Diana’s recent “drama” with her long-time romantic interest, Steve Trevor. I put drama in quotes because it feels less like drama and more like forced excuses.

It’s been an issue for Wonder Woman for decades. Despite being her most iconic love interest, going back to the 1940s, Steve Trevor has never been that official with Diana. Even though they’ve professed their love for one another in many forms and in many timelines, they’re rarely ever shown as being in a functional, mature relationship.

It’s not just with Steve Trevor, either. Even in the classic “Justice League” cartoon in which she was romantically linked to Batman, nothing ever became official. There’s was never a point where Wonder Woman went from being single to being in a real, functioning relationship.

In fact, the only time Wonder Woman was ever in a functional romantic relationship was when she dated Superman during DC’s short-lived New 52 era in the comics. During that time, Wonder Woman and Superman had their own comics and their own stories. Sometimes, those stories became entwined. Sometimes, they didn’t. It never undermined their relationship or vice versa.

I know comic fans have strong opinions about the New 52 as a whole, but I find it telling that this was really the only time Wonder Woman was allowed to be in a relationship while still being Wonder Woman. For her to be someone’s girlfriend and still be the hero she’s always been, her significant other had to be Superman.

Take a moment to think about the scope of that standard. Wonder Woman, the standard-bearer for female superheroes for decades, can be in a functional relationship, but only with someone as capable as Superman. She and Steve Trevor can be in love, but they can’t have a relationship. He’s just an ordinary man. He’d just undermine Wonder Woman’s ability to be the ideal female hero we know and love.

Meanwhile, male heroes like Batman and Spider-Man can become romantically involved with far less capable individuals, many of which don’t have superpowers and can’t fly across the planet to be on time for date night. They’re still allowed to be in those relationships, but Wonder Woman can’t even make the effort with one of her most iconic romances with Steve Trevor.

As a fan of superhero comic, romance, and Wonder Woman, I find this both flawed and frustrating. While the “Wonder Woman” movie did an solid job establishing genuine romance between her and Steve Trevor, they still never got a chance to actually be in a relationship. It’s as though a female hero can’t be in a relationship without losing something. At the same time, a male hero can’t have a complete story without one.

It’s a strange disconnect and I think it’s getting worse. In recent years, superhero comics have made a concerted effort to develop female characters and I applaud that effort. It has led to some major successes. The problem is that, like Wonder Woman, these female characters aren’t really allowed to become anyone’s girlfriend. Being in a relationship is seen as an obstacle to being strong, independent, compelling characters.

Respectfully, I call bullshit.

Being in a relationship isn’t detrimental to any character, male or female, if the relationship is well-written. In addition, female characters don’t have to be completely, 100-percent independent to be great. In fact, making them that emotional single-minded is a good way to make them unlikable and unrelatable because, in the real world, people have relationships. They form bonds, rely on others, and are effected by those close ties.

Now, I don’t deny that writing great female characters is challenging, especially in recent years. It feels like you can’t write female characters without having an agenda anymore, even when it’s not printed on a shirt. Again, I call bullshit. Female characters, like all characters, are deeply affected by the loving bonds they form. They deserve the same development and exploration as their male counterparts.

Why can’t Wonder Woman be in an official relationship with Steve Trevor?

Does being Steve Trevor’s girlfriend make Wonder Woman any less a superhero?

Does any female superhero lose something when they become someone’s girlfriend?

These are relevant questions that are worth asking. If someone as iconic as Wonder Woman can’t be in a relationship with someone without undermining what makes her Wonder Woman, then that’s not a problem with her as a character. That’s a problem with the standards and assumptions we have about superhero romance.

I’m sorry if this rant feels dragged out, but this has been bothering me for a while. I’d be happy to discuss it more. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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Filed under DC Comics, Marriage and Relationships, romance, superhero comics, Wonder Woman

Vision, the Scarlet Witch, and the MCU’s Romance Problem

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Trying to find flaws in the Marvel Cinematic Universe these days is like trying to find a flaw in Mr. Rogers. It’s pretty much impossible, unless you’re willing to be exceedingly petty. Even the most ardent critic can’t deny the success of this now iconic cinematic universe. Such a franchise doesn’t make over $7 billion at the box office by having many egregious flaws.

That said, the MCU is not without its shortcomings and I’m not just talking about underperforming outliers like “The Incredible Hulk” or outright failures like “Inhumans.” One such shortcoming, which I feel has not had sufficient scrutiny, has to do with romance in the MCU. As someone who is a lifelong comic book fan and an admitted romantic, this stands out to me more than most.

It only became more apparent with the upcoming a TV series starring Vision and the Scarlet Witch on the Disney+ streaming service. The romance fan and the comic book fan in me initially liked that idea because Vision and the Scarlet Witch are one of the Avenger’s most endearing and colorful romances in the comics. This is definitely one of those relationships that can carry an entire show.

However, given that this takes place in the MCU, the concept is already on a shaky foundation. While the events of “Avengers: Infinity War” established that these two characters are romantically involved, there’s little in terms of how that relationship developed. As a result, the tragedy that played out in the Battle of Wakanda had little dramatic weight.

It’s one of the few glaring flaws in an otherwise stellar narrative. However, the lack of romantic depth between Vision and the Scarlet Witch is only the most obvious symptom of a much larger problem that has been unfolding in the MCU since the days of “Iron Man” and “Thor.”

Some parts of that problem are pure logistics. Building a cinematic universe on the scale of the MCU requires a lot of moving parts and, as a result, romance was often a secondary concern. Kevin Feige and the creative minds at Marvel Studios opted to prioritize other aspects of character development. Given the MCU’s unprecedented winning streak, it’s safe to say those priorities were well-placed.

It’s only recently that the lack of emphasis on romance has caught up to the MCU. From having Thor break up with Jane Foster prior to “Thor Ragnarok” to horribly mismatched romance between Hulk and Black Widow, there’s a glaring absence of successful, well-developed romances in the MCU.

Even the successful romances, namely Tony Stark and Pepper Pots or Ant Man and Wasp, had much of that success unfold off-screen. At most, a movie would show them getting together or enduring a major conflict, but there would rarely be any moments that fleshed out the romance in a meaningful way. Every bit of development only centered around defeating a villain, which is good catalyst for romance, but not much else.

Now, we’re getting an entire show about a couple who were on opposite sides of the conflict in “Captain America: Civil War” and inexplicably together in “Avengers: Infinity War.” In terms of meaningful romance, this is not a trivial oversight. If someone didn’t know their romantic history in the comics, then they would be understandably confused as to why they ended up together.

Not seen here is ANY hint that these two have been flirting.

It’s the same problem that the original “X-Men” movies made when developing the horribly flawed love triangle between Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine. The narrative in the movies relied too heavily on assuming peoples’ knowledge of the source material in lieu of providing an understandably reason as to why this romance is occurring. Again, that’s not a trivial oversight.

How is anyone who only saw “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War” supposed to buy into the relationship between Vision and the Scarlet Witch? The movies only establish that they’re together. They don’t establish why, how, or what they went through in establishing their relationship. Everyone is just left to assume, which is rarely a good strategy for developing meaningful romance.

Even if the relationship between Vision and the Scarlet Witch were entirely platonic, it would still be quite a stretch to believe that they have a genuinely intimate connection. It’s possible that the upcoming show will help develop that connection, but there’s no getting around how underdeveloped it has been to this point.

The same could be said for other relationships throughout the MCU. Some are so underdeveloped that when intimate moments do occur, they rarely have much impact. Captain America’s relationship with Peggy Carter in his first movie probably had the best foundation, of all the MCU romances, but that only made him kissing her niece, Sharon, feel downright wrong. Haley Atwell herself has said as such.

Romance, even among fictional characters, requires some level of chemistry to go along with the narrative. While that can be difficult to fit into a single movie, it’s not impossible. Movies like “Man of Steel” and the first “Spider-Man” movie were able to establish the necessary chemistry with only a handful of scenes. Such scenes have been absent or underdeveloped in the MCU.

Ironically, the most fleshed out romance in the MCU is between Starlord and Gamora, two characters who aren’t an endearing love story in the comics. I would even argue that the scene in which Starlord sacrifices himself to save Gamora in the first “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie shows more romantic depth than any other MCU movie to date.

It didn’t take much to show that Starlord and Gamora have chemistry. From their first interactions to the many challenges they overcame over the course of two movies, they developed a powerful connection that just isn’t there for Vision and the Scarlet Witch. That connection is part of what made the events between them in “Avengers: Infinity War” so heart-wrenching.

That same sentiment just wasn’t there with Vision. We knew from the events of two previous movies that Starlord genuinely loved Gamora. We understood how strong it was by the time Thanos entered the picture. There’s none of that present with Vision and the Scarlet Witch. When they face a similar situation, it just doesn’t have the same impact.

It probably helps that Guardians of the Galaxy was a relatively obscure series before the first movie and has little history of iconic romances compared to the Avengers. However, it does show that the MCU is capable of meaningful romance. It just seems incapable of applying it to the more notable couples from the comics.

While such flaws haven’t stopped the MCU from succeeding on so many other levels, it still ensures that Vision and the Scarlet Witch have an uphill battle in terms of proving their romance is more than an assumed contrivance. It’s certainly not impossible, but there’s a lot to develop in terms of chemistry and depth.

Given on how “Avengers Endgame” played out, it may not matter how poorly past romances have been handled. However, the impact it has had in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies shows that there is a place for romance in the MCU. Perhaps Vision and the Scarlet Witch can be part of that with the upcoming show, but it has lot to overcome before it can be the iconic romance that the MCU needs.

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Filed under Marvel, romance, superhero comics, superhero movies, television