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Tainted Love: The Worst Couples in Comic Book History

by  in Lists Comment

Valentine’s Day is on the horizon. Everywhere you look, there’s nothing but loved-up couples, bad chocolate and soppy posts all over social media. And while it’s a day of celebration for most people, it’s worth pointing out that not every relationship is a happy one — sometimes, in hindsight, it would’ve been better for everyone involved if Cupid’s arrow would’ve landed somewhere else instead!

RELATED: Mutant Love: The 15 Greatest X-Men Couples

The same is true when it comes to the comic-book world; although there have been plenty of happy and healthy unions over the years, there have also been quite a few super-relationships that were… well, super-dysfunctional. That’s why CBR is counting down the list of power couples who might have been better off staying single… or at least staying away from each other!

15. DAREDEVIL AND KAREN PAGE

Daredevil with Dead Karen Page

Any relationship in which one party is super-powered and the other, well, isn’t is bound to be full of challenges: sudden disappearances, cancelled dates and the occasional kidnapping by a super-villain are all potential potholes. But of all Marvel’s heroes, arguably none is better at putting people in harm’s way by dating them than Daredevil. If you don’t believe us, just look at his relationship with Karen Page!

From her first appearance in Stan Lee and Bill Everett’s “Daredevil” #1, she was smitten with Matt Murdock, but her relationship with him (which, weirdly, starts with her dating his fake “twin,” Mike) led to her having a nervous breakdown after she discovered his secret identity. Fast-forward two years and she’s a failed-actress-turned-porn-star-turned-heroin-addict, willing to sell DD out for a fix in “Daredevil” #227. Yikes! Though she and Matt tried rekindling their relationship on a number of occasions, it always ended poorly for Karen: she was cheated on (with a woman called Typhoid Mary, no less!), told she’s HIV+ by the villain Mysterio in disguise as her doctor, and finally, impaled on one of DD’s billy-clubs when trying to protect him from Bullseye. Sometimes a girl needs to know when to walk away!

14. GREEN GOBLIN AND GWEN STACY

Green Goblin Seduces Gwen Stacy

It’s fair to say Gwen Stacy holds a special place in the heart of the “Spider-Man” fandom: her death in Gerry Conway et al.’s “Amazing Spider-Man” #121 in 1973 remains one of the saddest and most gut-wrenching comic sequences ever printed, mainly because it was Spidey’s attempts to save his sweet, innocent girlfriend — rather than the whole being-hurled-off-a-bridge-by-Green-Goblin thing — that killed her. So, when J. Michael Straczynski retconned an affair with Norman Osborn and a secret pregnancy into Gwen’s backstory in his 2004 “Sins Past” story arc (in “Amazing Spider-Man” #509-514), many fans felt betrayed.

In “Sins Past” Norman and Gwen’s affair lasted at least 7 months — her pregnancy having been accelerated by GG’s weird DNA — before she chose to break it off and deny Norm custody of the twins. In retaliation, Green Goblin decided to hurl her off a bridge and raise the kids in secret to become Spidey-assassins… y’know, because comics. This messed-up relationship undermined the purity of Gwen and Peter’s love for each other (because Gwen’s a cheat), and cast doubt on MJ’s trustworthiness (as she kept mum about Gwen’s affair), and ultimately got Gwen killed. Talk about a bad break-up!

13. ROY HARPER AND CHESHIRE

Cheshire Turns a Gun on Speedy

Roy Harper seems to change names as often as his mood (Speedy, Arsenal, Red Arrow, take your pick!), so it’s probably not altogether surprising to learn his fear of commitment extends to relationships. If you need proof, look no further than his romance with the terrorist supervillain Cheshire, who he knows more intimately as Jade. It all started when Roy agreed to go undercover for Checkmate, the international espionage agency of the DC Universe, and took his orders a bit too literally. See, he ended up bedding the woman he was supposed to be spying on, then sneaking out before she woke the next morning. Ouch!

To make matters worse, Jade got pregnant from that one-night stand… meaning Harper didn’t just sneak-abandon his woman, he left his young daughter Lian as well. It wasn’t until Marv Wolfman’s “New Teen Titans” #20 that ol’ Speedy found out he was a daddy, but the touching moment was somewhat spoiled by the fact that Cheshire was waving a gun in his face at the time. After their daughter tragically died, the two again came to blows in “Rise of Arsenal” #3-4. Luckily, the New 52 apparently erased this doomed romance from continuity for good.

12. THE ATOM AND JEAN LORING

Atom and Ressurrected Jean Loring

Sometimes absence really does make the heart grow fonder. Take Ray Palmer’s ex-wife Jean Loring: she and Palmer split after she got caught cheating with her law partner, he fell in love with a tiny Amazonian princess in Jan Strnad’s 1982 “Sword of the Atom” miniseries, and both moved on with new relationships. All seemed peachy… and then “Identity Crisis” happened. Why is that important? Well, Loring decided that she wanted her lover back during this story arc (written by Brad Meltzer) and resorted to some pretty extreme methods to make it happen — and by extreme, we mean she orchestrated the death of a whole bunch of people, including Sue Dibny, Firestorm, Captain Boomerang and Jack Drake in order to send Ray running back into her loving arms.

Incredibly, this plan actually worked until the Justice League figured out her evil plan and locked her up in Arkham. But not even institutionalization could stop her: she became Eclipso’s host and caused carnage, and later, after being brought back from the dead by a Black Lantern Ring, was eliminated by her ex-husband in “The Atom and Hawkman” #46. That’s certainly one way to end a marriage!

11. HAL JORDAN AND ARISIA RRAB

Hal Jordan and Arisia Rrab

When alien teen Arisia debuted in Mike Barr et al.’s “Tales of the Green Lantern Corps” #1, she quickly became the feisty little sister the GLC never had. Over the years, writers such as Len Wein have played with the idea of her having a schoolgirl crush on her “big brother” Hal (as seen in issues such as “Green Lantern” #181), but this was always depicted as a one-sided fantasy on the part of the young Arisia… at least, that was the case before Steve Englehart came along and did the unthinkable.

In “Green Lantern Corps” #6, Arisia claims to be in love with Hal and uses her ring’s powers to age-up her body a bit so they can be together. Now, we know what you’re thinking: as one of the most morally incorruptible heroes out there, Hal Jordan’s bound to let this kid down gently, right? Erm, no. Sure, there are a few feeble protests (like pointing out he’s still grieving the love of his life), but he gives in insanely quickly, and by “Green Lantern Corps” #211, everyone acts like it’s totally normal that Hal’s dating his 13-year-old teammate. Thankfully, the couple split in “Action Comics” #620.

10. NIGHTCRAWLER AND JIMAINE WAGNER

Jimaine Wagner Reveals She is Amanda Sefton

Nightcrawler is pretty well-known by “X-Men” fans, but most of them aren’t aware of just how bizarre his family life is. As a baby, Kurt was placed in the care of the fortune-teller Margali and grew up on the circus circuit alongside foster siblings, Jimaine and Stefan. Despite being very close to them in his adolescence, Kurt ended up in pretty sticky circumstances with his adoptive family as an adult, starting with killing his foster-brother, then being put on trial by his foster-mother, and finally inadvertently hooking up with his foster-sister. Now that’s what CBR calls a triple threat!

In Chris Claremont et al.’s “X-Men Annual” #4, Jimaine comes to her foster-brother’s rescue in Hell (where, naturally, the trial is being held) and takes the opportunity to profess her love for him… and not the sisterly kind. Once they’re safely back on Earth, she drops another bombshell: Kurt has actually been dating her for months, as she disguised herself as Amanda Sefton to get closer to him. They might not be related by blood, but they were raised together since Kurt was “barely an hour old,” making their prolonged (but thankfully now ended) relationship all kinds of wrong!

9. CYCLOPS AND MADELYNE PRYOR

Cyclops Being Punched by Madelyne Pryor

If there was an award for the Best Superhero Husband, Cyclops wouldn’t be winning it any time soon. He has repeatedly cheated on his (admittedly, sometimes-dead) wife Jean Grey over the years, even having a psychic affair with her telepathic rival Emma Frost in “New X-Men,” while recovering from the effects of Apocalypse’s mind-meld. However, CBR would argue his other wife, Madelyne Pryor, got a much rawer deal from Scott than Jean ever did.

After Jean’s death in “The Dark Phoenix Saga” (in “X-Men” #129-138), Scott met Madelyne in Chris Claremont’s “Uncanny X-Men” and — despite the fact she looks exactly like his dead ex — decided to settle down with her, get married and start a family. Y’know, like you do. Although Claremont intended this to be Cyclops’ happily-ever-after moment, Jean was later resurrected for “X-Factor,” so Claremont, along with co-scripter Louise Simonson, needed Scott to drop his new wife and kid to return to the X-Men. Cue weird retcon! Madelyne became Jean’s clone and got a whole lot more demonic, turning into the Goblin Queen and effectively absolving Cyclops of his marital commitment. Never heard of divorce then, eh guys?

8. JUGGERNAUT AND SHE-HULK

Juggernaut and She-Hulk Wrecked Bedroom

Chuck Austen’s stint on “Uncanny X-Men” during the ‘00s was marked by some pretty strange relationships. There was the time Carter hooked up the comatose Havok with his mom (also Havok’s nurse) using his telepathic powers, because he thought they’d make a good couple. Then there was that time Angel thought it would be totally cool if he started dating Cannonball’s little sister. Oh, and who could forget that time She-Hulk decided to take attorney-client privilege to a whole new level?

Yup, that’s right folks! In “Uncanny X-Men” #435-436, She-Hulk agrees to represent the villainous Juggernaut in court and things end up getting physical between them. And the reason? Juggernaut didn’t break out of prison when fellow inmate Rhino — who for some reason is an actual rhino-man rather than a dude in a weird-shaped suit — tried to escape, and then said a bunch of stuff about supporting social welfare and liking sports. Swoon? Not only is it totally out of character for She-Hulk to hook up with a villain, but not sleeping with the client is (probably) the first thing they teach you at law school! Thankfully, Dan Slott wrote this relationship out of continuity during his “She-Hulk” run.

7. NAMOR AND MARRINA

Namor Fights Marrina

Boy meets girl. Boy shows off about being the King of Atlantis. Girl finds out she’s really an alien born from a glowing space-egg. It’s a match made in weird, watery Heaven — that’s the story of how Namor the Submariner got together with the Plodex humanoid Marrina. Cute, right? Wrong! Turns out pregnancy doesn’t really agree with Marrina… and by that, we mean her wacky hormones trigger her transformation into a murderous sea-monster. Nice going, Marvel. It’s nice to see those gender biases are still alive and well!

Readers thought they’d seen the end of Marrina after Namor sped up that whole ‘til-death-do-us-part thing and impaled her on Black Knight’s enchanted Ebony Blade (as depicted in “Avengers” Vol.1 #291-293 and “Alpha Flight” #15-16), but she was brought back during the 2008-2009 “Dark Reign” crossover by Matt Fraction and Alan Davis as a genetically-altered monster with a taste for Atlantean blood, set loose by Green Goblin. Talk about a blast from the past! Namor’s forced to kill her again in “Dark Reign: The List — X-Men,” this time depositing her head through Norman Osborn’s window and putting a permanent end to their relationship.

6. PURPLE MAN AND MELANIE KILLGRAVE

Purple Man and Melanie Killgrave

Although Stan Lee and Joe Orlando’s quirky Silver Age super-villain Zebediah Killgrave (otherwise known as Purple Man) was always a bit of a joke in “Daredevil,” Netflix’s “Jessica Jones” proved what a menace a man with Killgrave’s mind-bending powers can be. Not only do his pheromones give him control over the actions of others, but as Brian Michael Bendis’ “Alias” #27 proved, he can also manipulative a person’s cognitive functions, making them see, hear and feel things according to his will. Throw in his love of the ladies and you’ve got yourself a very dangerous cocktail.

The list of Purple Man’s victims is long, but arguably, his forced marriage to Melanie Killgrave is the biggest travesty of them all. In Bill Mantlo’s “Alpha Flight” Vol.1 #41, Melanie encountered Killgrave in a bar and was married within the hour; she also got pregnant before Purple Man relinquished his hold on her under the misguided assumption Melanie would willingly stick around. Thankfully, Melanie took her opportunity to flee and quickly filed for divorce, but her lucky escape unfortunately wasn’t permanent. For the record, Marvel, relationships without consent are really not okay!

5. SPIDER-MAN AND BLACK CAT

Spider-Man and Black Cat

Spider-Man and Black Cat have the opposite problem to most superhero couples. In the early days, rather than trying to keep their super-aliases a secret, they tried (in vain) to keep their real human identities hidden from one another, even conducting their relationship in full costume. Weird, right? Peter Parker and Felicia Hardy’s relationship was based on hedonism and excitement, but their unwillingness to recognize each other for who they truly are was always going to be a recipe for disaster.

Their relationship has caused trouble for Spidey since their very first meeting in “The Amazing Spider-Man” #194-195, when Black Cat tried to break her father out of prison and then faked her own death (not the only time she’s pulled that particular trick — she did the exact same thing in “Amazing Spider-Man” #226-227 after breaking out of a mental institution). Their numerous attempts to conduct a relationship extending beyond their superhero personas haven’t been all that successful either, and although she’s a powerful ally, Felicia’s proven herself to be a vengeful ex, dating his friends, his enemies and even trying to sabotage his marriage. Maybe it’s time to put the Cat out for good, Petey-boy!

4. THE COMEDIAN AND SILK SPECTRE

The Comedian Sexual Assault on Silk Spectre

Alan Moore’s seminal 1986 “Watchmen” series contains some pretty messed-up couples, but CBR reckons that the hardest relationship to stomach by far is that between Sally Jupiter (the first Silk Spectre) and the sexual predator Eddie Blake, aka the Comedian. In “Watchmen” #2, Eddie subjects Sally to a violent sexual assault but is prevented from completing the crime by their mutual teammate, Hooded Justice, who beats the Comedian to a pulp while the latter laughs on. It should’ve ended there, but Sally later agreed to further relations with Blake — this time consensually — which led to their daughter Laurie’s conception.

There’s no two ways of looking at it: the relationship between Sally and Eddie was extremely toxic and, in a perfect world, would never have existed at all. Not only did the Comedian escape punishment for committing such a despicable act when Sally decided not to press charges, but he was actually rewarded for it by her “love” (for want of a better word). This state of affairs has never sat well with a lot of fans and, decades after its release, it is still one of the most controversial pairings in comics.

3. ANT-MAN AND WASP

Ant-Man Hits Wasp

Speaking of dysfunctional marriages, Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne — better known as Ant-Man/Giant-Man and Wasp — aren’t exactly a match made in Heaven. Sure, they’ve fought super-crime together and have had some good times, but Hank’s also done some truly despicable things to Janet that most fans would rather forget. In Jim Shooter’s “Avengers” #213, for instance, Hank ends up losing his temper during a blazing row with his wife (the usual stuff… y’know, taking the bins out, creating a murderous AI and setting it loose on the Avengers in a half-baked attempt to win back their favor, that kind of thing), culminating in him striking her hard across the face. Ant-Man? A wife-beater? Really?!

That’s not even the worst of it: in Marvel’s alternate Ultimate Universe, Hank isn’t just mentally unstable, he’s a full-blown psychopath. That becomes terrifying clear in “Ultimates” #6 when Hank attacks Janet, dousing her in bug spray while she’s in Wasp form and setting a posse of ants on her, leaving her in a state of anaphylactic shock. No wonder she left him! (Although they’re coupled up again in “Marvel Adventures: The Avengers” #20. Boo!).

2. QUICKSILVER AND SCARLET WITCH

Ultimate Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch

Twin siblings Pietro and Wanda Maximoff — otherwise known as Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch — have been around since the ‘60s (debuting in “X-Men” #4) and were always very close, but after they were introduced to Marvel’s Ultimate Universe by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch, there was something a bit… different about them. Plenty of hints were dropped that their love for one another might extend beyond the familial, but when Jeph Loeb came along in 2008 for “Ultimates 3,” he decided to explicitly confirm that the pair were completely in love and had no problem with, ahem, expressing that love physically.

No, we’re not joking. We really wish we were. And the grossness doesn’t stop there: one of their sordid encounters is witnessed in “Ultimates 3” #3 by Wolverine who, in this Universe, had an affair with the twins’ mother, Magda… meaning he might inadvertently have watched his own kids getting down and dirty. Thankfully, this event is removed from the main Marvel continuity, in which Django and Marya Maximoff are Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver’s true biological parents (as confirmed by “Uncanny Avengers” #4) and that whole twincest thing never happened. Phew!

1. THE JOKER AND HARLEY QUINN

Harley and the Joker

No list of dysfunctional couples would be complete without The Joker and Harley Quinn: their Bonnie-and-Clyde-gone-wrong partnership is the antithesis of #relationshipgoals. Yet, weirdly, they’re still seen as one of the most iconic pairings in comics. Since Harley debuted as the Joker’s sidekick in the ‘90s “Batman: The Animated Series,” her “puddin’” has used her as a puppet and a plaything, often getting her to do his dirty work then trying to dispose of her once she’s no longer useful. But then, did any of us really expect The Joker to be good boyfriend material? He is a deranged sociopath with no conscience; any roses Harley receives are usually rigged with explosives!

All jokes aside, it’s sad to think how fundamental this toxic, unfulfilling relationship has been to Harley’s characterization. As Paul Dini and Bruce Timm’s 1994 one-shot “Mad Love” shows, her submission to The Joker and his subsequent control over her has made Harley who she is. Dr. Quinzel sacrifices everything — her career, her freedom, her entire identity — without ever really getting anything in return (unless you count all the abuse she suffers). Harley’s no saint, but hey, villains deserve love too!

Are there any other doomed couples you think should have made the list? Let us know in the comments!

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harley quinn
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