The Great Comic Book Fight Against Marriage
Last week, J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman announced their departure from “Batwoman,” citing difficulties with DC Comics’ editorial interference. One of the issues was DC’s refusal to allow the writers to have Batwoman marry her fiance, Maggie Sawyer. This caused a bit of a flurry of online chatter about DC being reluctant to showcase a wedding between two lesbians, but DC, Williams and Blackman have confirmed that the issue does not involve the characters’ sexuality, but the idea of marriage itself. This explanation actually makes a lot of sense, as both DC and Marvel have held a rather oppositional stance against the idea of comic book characters getting married for a number of years, usually using the argument that marriage artificially ages characters and closes off potential storylines.
The problem, of course, is that so many superheroes have been married at one point or another. Over the last thirty years, both companies have slowly but surely “solved” this problem by finding ways to erase nearly every marriage that ever existed in their respective universes. In this piece, we will examine exactly how DC and Marvel have written away marriages over the past thirty years.
Flashpoint — DC’s Cosmic Annulment
The single largest instance of comic book marriages being erased took place just two years ago when DC had their reality-altering event Flashpoint. Through a series of trips through time, first to prevent the murder of his mother in the past by the Reverse Flash and second to make sure that the murder did happen when the Flash saw what happened to the world the first time he tried to “fix” things, the Flash inadvertently and dramatically altered the DC Universe timeline. As a result of these changes, most of DC’s heroes were de-aged to their mid-20s when the New 52 began. A side effect of this change is that any marriages that these heroes had were also wiped away. The four most notable “cosmic annulments” were Superman and Lois Lane (married since 1996), Mister Miracle and Big Barda (married since 1974), Apollo and Midnighter (married since 2002) and Barry “The Flash” Allen and Iris West (married since 1966). In addition, with the complete reboot of the Earth 2 concept, all of the married members of the Justice Society of America (most of whom were married for years — decades in some cases) were also de-aged and therefore never married. So the Earth 2 Flash, Jay Garrick, is single for the first time in over fifty years and the Earth 2 Green Lantern, Alan Scott, is not only no longer married to his wife but was now actually attempting to propose to his boyfriend before a train accident killed his significant other.
Over the weekend, comic book rumor website Bleeding Cool reported that a DC executive informed them that Aquaman and Mera, married since 1964, are no longer living in wedded bliss in the New 52. This one caught many people by surprise as Geoff Johns has been writing the pair in the pages of “Aquaman” in such a way that that fans believed they were still married. CBR reached out to DC for confirmation and DC offered an official “No comment,” though as of this writing, Mera’s character bio on DC’s official website contains the language, “To stand beside her husband is to betray her family and her people, but to give them what they want, to fulfill her mission, is something her heart would never allow her to do,” which would seem to make this weekend’s confirmation that they are not married something of an about face from the events in the book and how the relationship has been described officially by the publisher since the New 52 began.
Another side effect of the Flashpoint event is that a number of characters from the DC Universe don’t even exist in this current continuity, so a few marriages have been erased by default, including Linda Park and Wally West (Barry Allen’s successor as Flash) and Hourman (Rick Tyler) and Liberty Belle (Jessie Chambers) of the Justice Society of America. Similarly, we won’t know until he shows up in “Justice League of Canada” if Adam Strange is still married in the New 52. On the other hand, several Vertigo characters including Swamp Thing, John Constantine and Animal Man moved from Vertigo back to the DCU in the wake of flashpoint, and Buddy Baker’s family has been as integral to his DC adventures as Animal Man himself.
D-I-V-O-R-C-E spells Divorce
A much simpler way of getting rid of superhero marriages is remarkably similar to how things happen in the real world: via divorce.
The first superhero divorce took place in the Avengers when Hank Pym and the Wasp, who got married while Hank was in the middle of a psychological breakdown, always a good sign for a stable marriage. The two were divorced while Hank was unfairly imprisoned. Though he did not commit the crime for which he was charged — he was later exonerated — he did slap the Wasp in “Avengers” #213 during one of his many mental breakdowns. The Wasp announced her intention of divorcing Hank in #214 and confirmed that she received the divorce in the Dominican Republic in 1981’s #217.
The next superhero divorce was the Atom and his wife, Jean Loring, who were married in 1978. In the 1983 miniseries, “Sword of Atom,” the hero comes upon a mysterious, tiny tribal world in the Amazon jungle after first discovering his wife having an affair with her law partner. While in the jungle, he falls in love with the tribe’s princess. He returns to Earth ostensibly still married to Jean, but things seem pretty clearly on the rocks and 1984’s “Sword of the Atom Special” #1 confirmed the end of their marriage.
Crystal and Quicksilver’s rapid courtship and then marriage in 1974’s “Fantastic Four” #150 was always a bit of a strange pairing. Although the pair had a baby in the early 1980s (when we learned, once and for all, that Magneto was, indeed, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch’s father), their relationship soon fell apart as Crystal had an affair with a real estate agent on Earth. This betrayal crippled Quicksilver’s sanity for a few years. It did not help that Crystal then spent a couple of years as a member of the Fantastic Four, where she longed for her old boyfriend the Human Torch, followed by a few years as a member of the Avengers, where she longed for her teammate the Black Knight. Ultimately, Crystal and Quicksilver reconciled. The events of “Onslaught” changed things, though, as Crystal was one of a group of heroes who seemingly sacrificed themselves to stop the evil villain. In reality, Crystal was transported with the others to an alternate version of Earth. When she returned a year later, her marriage to Quicksilver was effectively over. Their official divorce was handled off-panel at some point in the late 1990s.
Black Canary and Green Arrow had been in an on-and-off relationship since the late 1960s when they finally got married in 2007 (after, of course, the initial wedding ended with Black Canary seemingly killing Green Arrow, who wasn’t really Green Arrow but a bad guy pretending to be the hero as part of some sort of villainous plot). Black Canary left “Birds of Prey” to share a title with her husband, and the marriage lasted for roughly three years before the pair divorced after the horrific events of “Justice League: Cry for Justice,” where the evil Prometheus destroyed much of Green Arrow’s home base of Star City, killing Green Arrow’s granddaughter, Lian (the daughter of his sidekick and surrogate son, Speedy/Arsenal). When Green Arrow murdered Prometheus in revenge, it was too much for Black Canary to take. Of course, even if they had stayed together, “Flashpoint” would have erased their marriage, as in the current DC continuity, Black Canary and Green Arrow don’t even really know each other.
After a worldwide quest for a Queen, King T’Challa of Wakanda, the Black Panther, eventually married his childhood sweetheart, Ororo Munroe, the X-Man known as Storm, in 2006. Their marriage was a happy one, but they soon found themselves torn between their respective duties — T’Challa to his kingdom and Storm to the X-Men. This came to a head in last year’s crossover event, “Avengers vs X-Men,” when teammates of Storm became possessed by the Phoenix and waged war on the Avengers. The Black Panther had been giving the Avengers refuge in his kingdom when the Phoenix-possessed Namor practically destroyed Wakanda with a tsunami. By this point in time, Storm and a group of other X-Men had already turned on their possessed friends, but T’Challa could not forgive her for her earlier support of the X-Men in the conflict between the two groups and informed her in “Avengers vs. X-Men” #9 that the High Priest of the Panther Clan had annulled their marriage. She retorted that the High Priest of the Panther Clan was T’Challa himself, and he acknowledged that fact.
Donna Troy, formerly known as Wonder Girl and then Troia, married college professor Terry Long in 1985. After giving birth to a son, she retired from being a superhero and she and Terry and their son moved to a farmhouse. They eventually gave refuge to the time-lost heroes known as the Team Titans. Their relationship began to fall apart as Donna was drawn back into superheroics and their home was destroyed by supervillains. They split up sometime after the “Team Titans” series ended in 1994. Adding further injury to insult, in 1997, John Byrne firmly sealed off this part of Donna’s life by killing off Terry and Donna’s son (as well as Terry’s daughter from his first marriage) in a car accident in “Wonder Woman” #121.
Hawkeye and Mockingbird had one bizarre marriage. They married in the final issue of Hawkeye’s 1983 miniseries after barely knowing each other and soon co-founded the West Coast Avengers. On a mission through time, they were separated and Mockingbird found herself drugged and raped by a Western “hero” known as the Phantom Rider. Mockingbird sought out revenge on the Rider and though she did not actively kill him, she allowed him to fall from a cliff to his death when she could have saved him. When Hawkeye found out about this, he flipped out and the two separated. After Hawkeye temporarily left the West Coast Avengers, he and Mockingbird reconciled for a time while they led a new team of wannabe superheroes known as the Great Lakes Avengers. When Hawkeye returned to the West Coast team, Mockingbird did not. They seemed headed for divorce before reconciling soon before Mockingbird was killed in 1993’s “Avengers West Coast” #100. Years later, it was revealed that Mockingbird was alive and that she had been replaced by a Skrull before she was “killed.” However, it turns out that the Skrull had replaced her before she and Hawkeye reconciled, and the real Mockingbird had filed for a divorce from Hawkeye. The two continued a relationship for a while before Hawkeye began dating another Avengers teammate, Spider-Woman.
Mockingbird also played a role in the divorce of another pair of Avengers. The Scarlet Witch and her android teammate, the Vision, were married in 1973, but in 1983, the Vision was corrupted by an alien computer and decided to try to conquer the Earth in an attempt to protect it. After the Avengers defeated him, he was “cured” and the pair retired from superheroics for a while, even having two sons (through magic), but the countries of the world were not sure they could trust the android hero, especially when they both returned to active super hero duties as members of the West Coast Avengers. Mockingbird, being a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, was asked to help gain access to the West Coast Avengers headquarters. She agreed, but the spy agency did not tell her that they planned on kidnapping and essentially taking the Vision apart. The Avengers were eventually able to get the Vision working again, but his personality had been effectively wiped clean. Originally, his brain waves were based on Wonder Man, but when the Scarlet Witch asked Wonder Man if they could use his brain waves to restore her husband, he refused, at least in part because he knew that he loved the Scarlet Witch as well. With the Vision’s personality now completely different from before, the pair eventually divorced around 1990. At the same point in time, Scarlet Witch learned that her two sons were not real, but just creations based on her powers. As you might imagine, losing her husband and her young sons at the same time caused her to have a mental breakdown.
‘Til Death They Did Part
One surefire way to end a superhero marriage is through the wording of the vows, namely the “’til death do we part” aspect. Patsy “Hellcat” Walker and Daimon “Son of Satan” Hellstrom were teammates on the Defenders when they fell in love, marrying in 1983. After they both left the Defenders, they were more or less out of the spotlight until Hellstrom gained his own series in 1993 (now calling himself “Hellstorm,” as I guess “Hellstrom” would be a tough sell for the title of a comic book series). Daimon’s more demonic influences took control of him at this time, basically driving Patsy insane until, in 1994’s “Hellstorm” #14, she killed herself. Her death lasted until 2000 when she was rescued from Hell by the Thunderbolts, her relationship with Hellstorm having ended with her death.
Bruce Banner married his longtime love Betty Ross in 1986 during a period where Bruce was separated from the Hulk. When he once again merged with the Hulk and Betty realized that Bruce, at least in some part, controlled his transformation, she left him. After a few years apart (where she almost became a nun!), the two eventually reconciled after Bruce and the Hulk were merged into one being with the Hulk’s body and Bruce’s mind. In 1997, Betty was poisoned by the Abomination and died. At some point before 2009, she was revived by the Leader. Apparently, having been at the Gamma Bomb explosion where Bruce became the Hulk, Betty had enough residual Gamma radiation in her that she could be transformed into a Hulk as well, and she officially returned to life in 2009’s “Hulk” #16 as the Red She-Hulk. Since her return, she and Bruce are no longer a couple. So either they got divorced off-panel or her death ended the marriage.
When Nothing Else Will Do, a Retcon Will See You Through
A company-wide reboot, divorce and one of the couple dying and then returning are all fine ways to end a superhero marriage. However, what if you don’t want to reboot your entire line of comics? And what if you think that being divorced and/or a widow (even temporarily) will age your hero just as much as a marriage? Then you need yourself a retcon! A retcon is retroactive continuity, where you retroactively change the past. Marvel has two notable examples of young heroes who got married where retcons erased the marriage.
Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, surprised the world when he fell in love with Alicia Masters, the estranged girlfriend of his best friend and Fantastic Four teammate, Ben Grimm, the Thing. The two eventually married in 1987’s “Fantastic Four” #300. The marriage had some struggles over the next few years as Johnny’s ex-girlfriend, Crystal, joined the team. Things ended completely in 1991’s “Fantastic Four” #357-358 when it was revealed that “Alicia” was not Alicia at all, but really a Skrull spy named Lyja! Lyja had been placed on Earth to spy on the Fantastic Four around the time of “Secret Wars.” The only problem was, the guy she was sent to spy on, the Thing, had left Earth, so she improvised by getting close to Johnny Storm instead. She shocked herself by actually falling in love with the Torch. Despite whatever feelings he had for her, however, Johnny was not going to stay married to a Skrull. The Fantastic Four rescued the real Alicia and while Johnny technically did divorce Lyja, it really had to be more of an annulment, as he married her under false pretenses.
Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man, married his girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson in 1987. Nearly as soon as they tied the knot, though, editors on the Spider-Man titles tried to untangle it. First there was 1994’s Clone Saga, which would keep Peter and Mary Jane a couple by revealing that Peter was actually a clone of the real Spider-Man, who would take over the series as a new, single Spider-Man. This idea did not work out. Next, 2000’s “Amazing Spider-Man” Vol. 2 #13 seemingly killed Mary Jane off. Even after she was revealed to be alive a year later, she and Peter remained apart until 2003’s “Amazing Spider-Man” Vol. 2 #50. In 2006’s “Civil War” #2, however, Spider-Man revealed his secret identity to the world, and when he later turned against the government’s Registration Act, he, Mary Jane and his Aunt May found themselves fugitives from justice and, as it turned out, old enemies of Spider-Man. The Kingpin had one of his men try to assassinate Peter. Peter instinctively dodged the bullet and it instead hit Aunt May. With his aunt near death, Peter desperately tried to find a way to save her. Finally, in the 2007 storyline “One More Day,” a way out was found. The demon Mephisto would save Aunt May provided that Peter and Mary Jane give up their marriage. If they agreed, she would live — but they would have never been married. The two eventually agreed and their marriage was thereby erased from existence (in 2010’s “One Moment In Time,” we both learned how their wedding was called off in the new continuity as well as how a separate joint effort of Doctor Strange, Mister Fantastic and Iron Man erased Spider-Man’s identity from everyone’s mind.
So while Marvel does still have a handful of married couples — Luke Cage & Jessica Jones, Reed and Susan RIchards, Black Bolt and Medusa — at this point, “Animal Man’s” Buddy and Ellen Baker are DC’s only sure-thing married couple, which means that while Batwoman’s squelched nuptials are a shame, the odds are DC was just saving some time from them erasing the marriage from continuity in a couple of years anyway!