Sometimes love just isn’t enough. Tragic love stories are almost as old as stories themselves, so it’s no surprise that it’s fertile ground for television plots. Add in the soap opera tendencies of comic books, and suddenly tragic love is everywhere you look. Here below is a list of the top 15 couples in television based on comic books who may have been in love, but destiny (and writer’s rooms) was not in their favor.
First, some ground rules: this list has no repeat offenders. It’s not uncommon for one character to be unlucky in love more than once, so this list is focused on which stories, per character, had the most heartbreaking break-up situations. Secondly, you’re not going to find the Joker/Harley Quinn and the like on this list. These are characters who are portrayed in their particular narratives as people who could have had a great relationship, but were split apart circumstance or destiny instead.
Warning: Here be spoilers for multiple comic book TV shows!
15. IRIS WEST AND EDDIE THAWNE
Today, Iris West is happily engaged to Barry Allen, but back in season one, she was committed to somebody else. Iris spent the entirety of “The Flash’s” first season dating Detective Eddie Thawne, her father’s partner. They met while Barry was in a coma, and for a time it looked like Westallen would come to their comic book fruition. What made it even more heartbreaking was that Eddie was a genuinely good guy. He supported Iris, deeply loved her, and wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.
Iris loved him too, but a newspaper from the future cast doubt on their future. Iris was destined from the beginning to love Barry, and even the strong-willed reporter couldn’t deny it forever. Instead Eddie Thawne killed himself to stop the Reverse-Flash, making sure he would always be a hero in Iris’ eyes. He couldn’t bear to become lesser in her eyes, even as she begged him to stay.
14. CHLOE SULLIVAN AND DAVIS BLOOME
“Smallville” continues to reign as the longest running superhero show on television, so it can boast breaking several hearts of characters and fans. In season eight, the worst was the forbidden almost-love story of regular Chloe Sullivan and newcomer Davis Bloome. Chloe was in a committed relationship/engagement to Jimmy Olsen at the time, but she shared an intense attraction with Davis. Davis was hiding some dark secrets of his own, and even tried to rescue Chloe from the clutches of Brainiac.
Tragically, Brainiac revealed that Chloe’s feelings for Davis weren’t real, and only meant to bring him into the next stage of becoming the Kryptonian monster Doomsday. They spent more time together when they discovered that Davis’ feelings for Chloe kept him human, but even that wasn’t enough. He ended his arc by destroying Chloe’s wedding and killing Jimmy Olsen in a jealous rage. Chloe survives both men, but just barely.
13. LEONARD SNART AND SARA LANCE
This wasn’t a relationship that got any real onscreen time aside from one kiss, but that kiss was an entire season of chemistry in the making. A romance between Sara “White Canary” Lance and Leonard “Captain Cold” Snart might have started out as some fan’s crackship when they were on two separate shows, but Wentworth Miller and Caity Lotz were surprisingly good together. They both had a history of being on the wrong side of the law, and their tenures with “Legends of Tomorrow” were the beginning of the two characters trying to make up for their past sins.
Both Sara and Snart were highly capable in their respective fields, and were definitely more chaotic good-aligned than anyone else on the team. Unfortunately, Snart’s turn to the light ended in the worst way: a heroic sacrifice to save time and the rest of the team. Snart has made a few appearances in the second season, but it looks like they’re doomed to stay apart.
12. CISCO RAMON AND LISA SNART
This might be the shortest-lived possibility on this list, but Lisa Snart is still the longest-running romantic interest for Cisco Ramon. They’re on opposite sides of the law, but ever since their first encounter, the sparks flew. Initially, Lisa approached Cisco in order to coerce him into making better cold, heat and gold guns for herself, Captain Cold and Heatwave. Cisco manages to get away, but Lisa tries to make it all about business.
The next few times they meet, Cisco gradually thaws towards Lisa when he learns about the difficult choices she had to make. Team Flash manages to keep Lisa safe from danger, and Lisa reveals that most of her initial flirtation was real. However, Cisco could never get over her criminal proclivities and the pair part with a kiss. Cisco sends the re-named Golden Glider off to have her own life, even as he saw some good in her.
11. CAITLIN SNOW AND RONNIE RAYMOND
Caitlin Snow must have the literally worst luck in love. However, her on-and-off relationship with Ronnie Raymond is easily the saddest. Prior to the events of season one on “The Flash,” Ronnie apparently evaporated in the particle accelerator explosion, leaving his fiancee Caitlin grieving and all alone. She managed to find him again after months, but he lost his mind somewhere in the process of becoming Firestorm. It almost took a nuclear explosion, but Caitlin found a way to separate Ronnie from his partner Dr. Martin Stein and was reunited with her true love once again.
However, nothing lasts forever, and after finally managing to get married, Ronnie left Caitlin once again to help Barry patch up the dimensional breach that ripped through the sky over Central City. Ronnie died, but Dr. Martin Stein managed to survive. Ronnie and Caitlin were perfect because they evened each other out. He made her laugh and saw past her usual cold demeanor, and she was never quite the same after he died.
10. AGENT MAY AND DR. ANDREW GARNER
Agent May and Dr. Andrew Garner’s love story was already halfway over by the time the events of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” were beginning, but that glimmer of hope remained until the very end. May and Andrew were happily married for an undisclosed number of years, until a particularly traumatic mission caused May to pull away from him. They reunited later in the series, and were starting along the path towards reconciliation.
Unfortunately, Inhumans ended up ruining everything for them. Andrew underwent terrigenesis and transformed into Lash, a creature whose only mission in life was to kill Inhumans. This time, Andrew is the one to pull away in an effort to protect May, killing any combatants who got in Lash’s way. Andrew’s secret eventually comes to light just as Andrew comes to understand that Lash would soon take over forever. May had to say goodbye to Andrew as he transformed for the last time, and with it their last chance at happiness together.
9. JERI HOGARTH AND PAM
Sharp-eyed readers might realize that this list might have had even more LGBTQ+ couples, but Jeri and Pam make the list because they are, at least, still alive as of the season finale. “Jessica Jones” ended up changing the gender of comic character Jerry Hogarth, but kept the storyline of Jeri having an affair with another woman. While Pam worked as Jeri’s secretary at Jeri’s law firm, they started seeing each other in secret while Jeri’s wife Wendy was unaware.
They even go forward in their relationship far enough for Jeri to begin divorce proceedings with Wendy, and for a time it seemed like they would have a fresh start. Nonetheless, Kilgrave ruined everything by attacking all three women and turning them on each other. Scared, Pam helps clean up the mess towards the end of the season one finale, but she breaks it off with Jeri. Not every relationship is supervillain-proof.
8. GRANT WARD AND KARA PALAMAS
Who doesn’t enjoy a couple of psychopaths in love? Then again, Grant Ward and Kara Palamas (better known as Agent 33) probably started out all right. However, once they found each other, they were damaged beyond all repair and fighting on the wrong side of history. “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” introduced the story of these two souls as more tragedy than romance. Ward was irredeemably broken and twisted through the abuse of his brother and HYDRA agent John Garrett. Kara was a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who was brainwashed by HYDRA and turned to now-HYDRA leader Ward in order to rebuild her loyalties and identities when the brainwashing was undone.
Their stories mirrored each other’s, and so when they found some comfort in their relationship, despite their obvious psychopathic tendencies. However, the bad guys can’t win forever, so Kara ended up dying in a hail of bullets. Ward tried to avenge her, but got a mechanical hand through the ribs for his efforts.
7. HARVEY DENT AND GRACE LAMONT
One of the early episodes of “Batman: The Animated Series” showed its capacity for greatness in the origins of Two-Face as Harvey Dent. His tragic downfall would have terrible to watch as-is, but it was punctuated by watching it with his fiancée Grace Lamont. She was a character created for the series, and she doesn’t appear in any episodes apart from Harvey’s story. However, the few episodes she is in show that Harvey and Grace deeply loved and respected each other.
She knew about his illness, and wanted to support him through his recovery. Succumbing to Big Bad Harv might have meant short-term success for Harvey, but it meant losing Grace and the prospect of a happily ever after. Grace only reappears in “Batman and Robin Adventures” #1 and #2, where she witnesses the extent of Two-Face’s cruelty and abandons the hope of ever getting the man she fell in love with back.
6. RIP HUNTER AND MIRANDA COBURN
Rip Hunter and Miranda Coburn’s love story is the whole reason “Legends of Tomorrow” started in the first place. Rip and Miranda met when they were training to become Time Masters and soon fell in love, even against Time Master regulations. They both decided they’d rather quit than split up, but Rip continued at Miranda’s request. They were happily married for years and had a child, Jonas. The audience doesn’t get to see much of Miranda, but it’s clear she shares Rip’s deep sense of justice and compassion since he considers her the superior Time Master.
Tragedy struck when the immortal dictator Vandal Savage struck down Miranda and Jonas, leaving a grief-mad Rip to create the Legends in order to save them. In the end, Rip had to give up the possibility of saving his wife and son from the clutches of time and let them go to save the world instead. Miranda would’ve approved, all things considered.
5. LAUREL LANCE AND TOMMY MERLYN
Ah, the ship that broke a thousand hearts. The first season of “Arrow” proved that DC still had some bite in a post-“Smallville” world. At this point, it still seemed like the show would end up bringing estranged lovers Oliver Queen and Laurel Lance together, but this was complicated by Tommy Merlyn. Merlyn was a character created for the show as Oliver’s best friend and alternative love interest for Laurel. He shared pre-island Oliver’s playboy tendencies but none of his supportive home life.
Over the course of the season, Tommy and Laurel ended up falling in love with each other, with many viewers wishing she would stop pining for Oliver and commit to Tommy. In the end, Tommy sacrificed his life in order to save Laurel from a destroyed building with his last words to her being “I love you.” It was a heartbreaking ending to a beloved character, and Laurel’s life quickly spiralled in the aftermath.
4. JOE AND FRANCINE WEST
Joe and Francine West were only introduced in a few episodes of season two of “The Flash,” but even that was almost too much. Joe and Francine were married with baby Iris, but Francine’s addictions caused significant strain on their marriage. Eventually, Francine disappeared and Joe let her go. He decided to lie to Iris, telling her her mother died to protect her from the knowledge of having a parent who chose addiction over her child.
Francine reappeared with a terminal disease and Joe’s son Wally in tow. The final scenes between Joe and Francine proved that their past was too scarred for them to make up. However, Joe was able to forgive her on her deathbed and Francine passed away while they had made peace between them. This is a surprisingly human story within a show of fantastic proportions, and is handled beautifully by Jesse L. Martin and Vanessa Williams.
3. RAY PALMER AND KENDRA SAUNDERS
How do you move forward with your crush when soulmates are real and you know definitely you’re not hers? If you’re Ray Palmer, you barrel ahead anyway. Or, at least, that’s what happens when Carter Hall dies early on in “Legends of Tomorrow” season one. Kendra believes it’s impossible for her to meet Carter again in this lifetime, so in order to be happy she starts seeing Ray. They are really sweet together, both smart and powerful and work really well as a couple.
However, things started turning sour when Kendra came across one of her past lives in the Old West. In so doing, she received confirmation of what she probably already knew — she’d never feel as fulfilled or happy with someone other than Carter, and even then they’d be taken away from her. Kendra still accepted Ray’s proposal, but when a brainwashed Carter showed up towards the season’s finale there was no choice. Ray let her go, and the AtomHawk shippers were devastated.
2. MATT MURDOCK AND ELEKTRA NATCHIOS
In order to be perfectly clear, this is Matt Murdock and Elektra Natchios as depicted in season two of Netflix’s “Daredevil.” Matt has always had an air of tragedy about him, so Elektra crashing into his life again after so long can’t be surprising. They feed the darkness in each other, but there are some bright spots, too. Matt is understood by Elektra like nobody else in his life, and Elektra is inspired by Matt’s goodness even when she tries to hide it. The two of them together are equal parts of a bad idea which ends up saving the day.
However, Elektra has been subject to another destiny — to become the Hand’s weapon — and after fighting back, she dies in Matt’s arms. When she dies, Matt returns to a life that he let come to ruin, and it’s unclear at this point if he’ll ever recover. Whether or not Elektra’s story as the Hand’s weapon will continue remains to be seen, so viewers may yet see them together again.
1. CLARK KENT AND LANA LANG
If any comic book relationship has “doomed to fail” written all over it, it’s this one. Everybody knows that Clark ends up with Lois, with Lana being relegated to Superman’s origin story. Since “Smallville” is all about that origin story, Lana is front and center. It’s been rumored that the reason Lana became such a pivotal figure on the show was because the creator’s couldn’t get the rights to use Lois Lane on the show as early as intended, so Lana had to become a bigger part of Clark’s journey.
Even if that’s not true, it was difficult to watch two characters who deeply loved each other be split apart by what they believed were necessary lies again and again. There’s just enough there to believe that maybe Clark and Lana will stay together forever, stringing out hope until the last second. But part they did. In season eight, Lana absorbed a kryptonite bomb in order to save a city, but doomed her to never get close to Clark again without hurting him.
What do you think has been the most tragic star-crossed coupling on superhero TV? Let us know in the comments!