Memo to DiDio: Superhero marriages don’t have to be happy

by  in Comic News Comment
Memo to DiDio: Superhero marriages don’t have to be happy

I’m still kind of flummoxed by Dan DiDio’s comments last weekend at Baltimore Comic-Con explaining why Batwoman can’t marry her girlfriend Maggie Sawyer. “Heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives,” he said at the start of the DC Nation panel, according to several sources. “They are committed to being that person and committed to defending others at the sacrifice of their own personal interests. It’s wonderful that they try to establish personal lives, but it’s equally important that they set them aside. That is our mandate, that is our edict and that is our stand with our characters.”

I don’t disagree with the idea that main characters ought to struggle. A sunny walk through the park doesn’t make for much of a gripping adventure yarn. That is pretty basic writing strategy for drama: Put your characters through hell and watch them climb out. Serialized superhero stories, and in fact most Western narratives, are structured around that up and down of going from seeming defeat to triumph. It’s particularly appropriate for Batman and his family of books: The Dark Knight is built around tragedy, and his obsession over fixing that tragedy is what drives him. Bruce Wayne continually sacrifices his personal life in his constant pursuit to make sure what happened to him won’t happen to anyone else. It’s that drive that’s turned him into something of a social misfit — he can play the part of Mr. Debonair but getting emotionally close to him is almost impossible.

So on that level, I don’t disagree with DiDio.

Where we differ is with this apparent perception that marriage is a perpetual sunny walk through the park. Without turning this into a Henny Youngman routine, the truth is that any relationship, married or not, takes work and doesn’t guarantee “happily ever after.” While this is far from breaking news, the United States has a 53 percent divorce rate (although I think I should be more troubled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the government agency tasked with tracking that statistic).

That doesn’t mean every superhero marriage should end in divorce, but there are countless ways to stick to the stated edict while still allowing one character within the Batman universe to marry. Look at the marriage depicted on the political drama House of Cards: The characters portrayed by Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright have a marriage rife with infidelity, manipulation, emotional distance and a suite of other issues all primarily caused by their career-focused pursuit of power and influence. That is perhaps an extreme example, as a political drama and a superhero/crime series are different beasts, but there are plenty of elements that can carry over without making it untenable.

In the superhero world, there are plenty of ways to give a character that temporary triumph (the wedding), and then have them struggle through defeat. Heck, before marriages were deemed too old by Marvel, the publisher nearly made it a tradition that superhero weddings be crashed by supervillains. That might be a bit too silly and retro for the New 52, but a ruined wedding does have modern appeal; somebody’s been watching those 10 seasons of Bridezilla.

If that doesn’t float DiDio’s wedding cruise ship, there are plenty of other possibilities. Maybe Maggie gets kidnapped. Maybe Maggie gets injured. Maybe Maggie has been secretly working for a villain — does she really love Kate, will they stay together once the truth is revealed? Maybe Kate takes Maggie for granted, and is hardly ever home because she’s focused on her mission — will the two drift apart? Maybe Maggie and Kate can’t resolve their career differences. Maybe Maggie is forced to try to arrest Batwoman. I don’t know, I’m just tossing ideas around. I would bet the plans of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman for what would come after the wedding were better that these. They would also very likely not be a sunny walk through the park. I very much doubt that they planned to have the characters have a happy, content and trouble-free relationship or life after their marriage. They’re smart and know that they’re not writing a fairy tale.

These characters already have a rich world of tension and conflict that gives plenty of room for tragedy, defeat, sacrifice and occasional triumph. Having these two characters get married doesn’t eliminate that at all. If anything, it gives a unique spin on exploring the personal sacrifice Kate must constantly make again and again. It gives the character a higher “high” from which to fall when the Bat drags her back down into hell. Maybe the marriage doesn’t last forever, maybe it does, but the ongoing struggle for the characters to try to maintain it while up against such tough odds could be a constant source for that unique Batman-esque tragedy that is the real core of DiDio’s edict.

Caveat: Corey Blake is very happily married and despite the above, lives a daily life of sunny walks through the park with his wife.