It’s a fact of reality that superheroes will hook up with each other. Whether on the page or on-screen, writers and artists continue to pair up heroes (or villains or heroes with villains) together to create a mostly(hopeful) holy union that will be embraced by fanboys. Sometimes, though, two great solo characters mashed together don’t make the best pairing and, in fact, these relationships make die-hard fans of the characters downright uncomfortable. Just like in life, some character relationships are just the absolute worst.
While some relationships, such as Superman and Lois Lane and Spider-Man and Mary Jane, are total staples of the industry and indelible aspects of their characters, other couples are born, experience everything a couple can experience, and have already moved on from one another in the span of a few issues. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, the law of averages is such that the more ideas writers throw at the wall, the more likely it is that one or two or fifteen of their notions will wind up making their readers uncomfortable. With that in mind, here are some couples from the two biggest comic book companies in the world which created a metric ton of uneasy fans.
15. SCARLET WITCH AND QUICKSILVER
There’s nothing more awkward when it comes to romance than finding out the two parties are related. Except when both partners know they’re related and proceed to take their relationship to the next level anyway. That’s more awkward. Such is the case of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. The twin mutants got intimate in the pages of Marvel’s horrible experiment of wrongness that was Ultimate universe.
Obviously even the most depraved of comic book fans couldn’t get behind the disgusting relationship, but that didn’t stop the writers from trying to justify it any way they could, including a now-famous page where Wasp tries and fails to explain the complicated intricacies of the Maximoff twins’ relationship to Captain America who is visibly having none of it. Even among the awkward ham-fistedness of the Ultimate Universe, this stands out as a completely uncomfortable element.
14. ATOM SMASHER AND STARGIRL
One of the most bonkers relationships in the DC Universe, Stargirl and Atom Smasher met as members of the JSA and thought the teenage Stargirl was immediately attracted to the grown Atom Smasher, his reciprocation was not revealed until many dozens of issues and a few comic book deaths later. By then, Stargirl was fresh off a more relatable relationship with Captain Marvel that had to be called off because everyone thought it was creepy that a hero who appeared to be an adult was dating a teenager.
But then Atom Smasher admitted he liked Stargirl and it was revealed through time-travel shenanigans that the two had kids together in the future and the rest of the JSA seemed to be okay with this for a while until they finally forced him to break up with her. Which meant readers could stop pulling at their collars awkwardly.
13. WOLVERINE AND SQUIRREL GIRL
Thankfully, the weird relationship between Marvel’s unstoppable underdog and the archetypal figure of testosterone personified hasn’t actually been explored in depth. Unfortunately, that means the few hints that the two were an item stand out all the more. It was first indicated that the century-plus old Wolverine had hooked up with the young Squirrel Girl when Emma Frost found a hyper-sexualized projection of her in Logan’s mind behind a door marked ‘Fantasies.’
Then they ran into each other at Avengers Mansion and tried their best to simultaneously skirt around each other while revealing to everyone in the room that they’d been together. The worst part of this ship? Some poor soul did the math behind their ages and when they likely had their relationship and figured out that Squirrel Girl was likely underage when it happened.
12. KITTY PRYDE AND PETE WISDOM
Kitty Pryde was always viewed as the little sister of the X-Men. She was the perky, impressionable young sidekick whose power was to be in exactly the right position to be both useful and problematic depending on what the story required. But when she left the X-Men for Excalibur, writers tried to age her up a bit by putting her in her first physical relationship with dour British spy Pete Wisdom.
If that name doesn’t sound familiar, think John Constantine meets James Bond and add a dash of Boris Johnson and you’d have a pretty good image of Pete Wisdom. Kitty initially hated him, which of course meant that they were inevitably going to hook up. Basically, readers got to see the girl they’d gotten to know as a child beginning her adult life with the stereotypical guy you don’t bring home to meet the parents. It got weird.
11. IRON MAN AND BLACK WIDOW
For all its flaws, Marvel’s Ultimates universe gave readers no small amount of controversy to complain about. One of the biggest complaints was the uncomfortable relationship between Iron Man and Black Widow, which began, continued, and ended basically as poorly as possible. To be fair, a large part of the awkwardness surrounding the pairing was due to dramatic irony. Black Widow was secretly a member of the Liberators, a team of supervillains preparing to take over the world, who was in deep cover in the Tony Stark-led Ultimates.
For several issues while the two dated and eventually were engaged, readers had to watch Tony miss obvious red flag after obvious red flag as Widow laid out her betrayal. And then she died, which for some reason writers tried to compensate for by releasing an in-universe sex tape between the two. Because the Ultimate Universe need to be more gross.
10. HAL JORDAN AND ARISIA
There was never a way to make the relationship between Green Lantern Hal Jordan and his teenage protégé Arisia anything less than wildly uncomfortable, but writers chose to handle it in the worst way possible. Initially an unrequited romance, Hal Jordan eventually admitted under duress that what held him back from reciprocating Arisia’s advances was the significant age gap between them. In response, Arisia had her Power Ring physically age up her body to adulthood.
At least, that’s what readers were told. The character was drawn a few inches taller, but her body type, personality, mentality, and overall appearance was completely the same, meaning that when the two embraced and started to make out, it still looked like grown man groping a teenager. This relationship lasted for years in the comics, making readers wince uncomfortably at every panel.
9. NIGHTCRAWLER AND JIMAINE
As a general rule of thumb, incest is not a comfortable narrative mechanic. Especially when it sneaks up on one or more of the parties involved. At one point, the X-Men were taken to hell so Nightcrawler could stand trial (don’t ask) for the murder of his foster brother (don’t ask) where his foster sister, Jimaine, was their defender (don’t ask). The story may seem pedestrian compared to some of the more iconic X-Men stories, but the real kicker came at the end of the story where Jimaine revealed to everyone that she had actually been in disguise for several months as Amanda Sefton, Nightcrawler’s lover.
While they weren’t biologically related, they had been raised together into their 20s. So you’d think Kurt would be a wee bit upset that he’d accidentally been sleeping with his sister for several months. Instead, he was enthusiastic about it, much to readers’ discomfort.
8. JOKER AND HARLEY QUINN
It doesn’t matter how much of their merch dominates Hot Topic shelves, it doesn’t matter if they’ve been the center of some of the best Batman stories of the last two decades, and it doesn’t matter that the DCEU is actively retconning their relationship, the pairing of Joker and Harley Quinn is an abusive, horrifying partnership that makes readers cringe more than laugh. Born from the DCAU, Joker and his obsessive punching bag have been beating each other, mostly him beating her, across pages for the better part of 20 years.
More recently, the two have been separated in the comics, an attempt to give Harley agency without her abuser. An admirable gesture, but flawed in that readers have been conditioned to view Harley as an extension of Joker, and by giving her a persona without him, writers are only demonstrating how much control he still has over her life.
7. SPIDER-MAN AND BLACK CAT
An obvious attempt to replicate the legendary chemistry between Batman and Catwoman, the uncomfortable relationshipping of Spider-Man and Black Cat is one of the most bizarre couplings in all of comics. First of all, despite how they’re drawn, Peter Parker is supposed to be a teenager when they first meet, meaning she was a grown woman actively pursuing a teenager. Second, one of their first appearances together involved her revealing to him she kept and maintained a literal Spider-Man shrine to him.
Third, when he admitted that he wasn’t completely immune to her sensual charms and unmasked so they could be together properly, she had a panic attack because, to her, it seemed like Spider-Man had pulled his actual face off. Because, shocker, her romantic attraction to him was born from psychosis.
6. ANT-MAN AND WASP
In a bizarre way, this couple doesn’t actually belong on this list. In their original incarnation, Ant-Man and Wasp were not an inherently uncomfortable couple. In fact, they were one of the classic comic couples like Superman and Lois Lane. But then Hank went a little bit crazy and the smack heard round the industry ended their relationship cold.
And thus, any variation of their relationship has been awkward ever since, either because it rests firmly in the shadow of the abuse or because fans know that some version of it is on the horizon. At this point, if Marvel wants to involve either of them in a romantic storyline together, it inevitably has to grapple with the circumstances surrounding their first major split, an awkward situation readers would rather not have to find themselves just because Marvel crewed the wrong ship.
5. PROFESSOR X AND JEAN GREY
An example of a ship that thankfully never became cannon, the original incarnation of the X-Men featured a subplot where the elderly Professor X was attracted to his teenage student Jean Grey. It was only mentioned in a few panels in an early issue, but it in no uncertain terms laid out that Xavier was in love with Jean but couldn’t tell her because, among other things, he was the leader of the X-Men, he was in a wheelchair, and, oh yeah, he was some 30 years older and in student-teacher relationship with the young Phoenix.
Add to this the facts that Professor X is the single most powerful telepath in the Marvel Universe, already had some manner of control over Jean to control the Phoenix Force, and has a history of controlling and brainwashing his allies and the uncomfortable implications of his thought bubbles become even greater.
4. CAPTAIN AMERICA AND SHARON CARTER
It’s always awkward to date someone related to your ex. But that apparently didn’t bother Captain America when he started dating Sharon Carter, aka Agent 13, the grand-niece, or niece depending on which continuity you choose to follow, of his World War II girlfriend Peggy Carter. It doesn’t matter how much chemistry the characters have, there’s no way to bridge the valley of awkwardness this inspires. And that’s not even taking into account the almost 100-year age gap between the two brought about by Steve’s impromptu cryogenic freeze.
Their relationship is so bizarre and uncomfortable that their ship in the MCU is far and away the worst romantic subplot in the entire franchise. Amazingly, she’s consistently been one of his primary love interests for the better parts of fifty years. That’s 50 years of readers wondering if Sharon doesn’t mind that her boyfriend is still hung up on her aunt.
3. SUPERMAN AND WONDER WOMAN
In a broad sense, the Superman-Wonder Woman relationship has always been better as an ideal than as an actual thing. The idea of the two most physically powerful heroes hooking up is an appealing power fantasy, but real comic readers know that their personalities are never quite compatible enough to be viable romantic partners. That makes it all the more awkward when writers convolute reasons for the two to abandon their traditional significant others and elope.
It was notably uncomfortable in the otherwise stellar Kingdom Come, it was so bad in the New 52 that it’s been completely written out of DC’s Rebirth line, and the only place where it seemed to work is in the Injustice series, where the romance partially inspired Superman to become a tyrannical dictator. Meaning that, at some level, even the writers must realize how insincere this pairing is.
2. GWEN STACY AND GREEN GOBLIN
The weird “Sins of the Past” storyline was just one in a series of shark-jumping moments in Spider-Man comics, but is memorable for containing the most bizarre retcon in recent comics. According to the storyline, the tragic teenager Gwen Stacy had an affair with Norman Osborn, aka the Green Goblin, resulting in her giving birth to twins.
The story was supposed to emphasize how little Peter actually knew about Gwen and how he shouldn’t feel as guilty as he does about his role in her death, but instead it disgusted fans with a complete reimagining of a character’s agency, shipping them with a man more than twice her age who dominated almost every aspect of their relationship. All seemingly for the purpose of shock value. It’s incredibly telling that the most memorable image from this story is Normans’ pervy leer.
1. CYCLOPS AND MADELYNE PRYOR
It took a considerable amount of restraint to keep this entire list from being just about Cyclops and his various flings and romances. But if there could be only one Cyclops-centric entry, it had to be his doomed relationship with Madelyne Pryor. Their romance began shortly after that death of his one true love Jean Grey and was sparked almost entirely by Pryor’s uncanny resemblance to his recently deceased lover.
After a whirlwind romance and the birth of their son, Cable, it was revealed that not only was Jean alive, not only was Madelyne a clone of Jean, not only had she been created by Mister Sinister, but every aspect of their romance had been orchestrated just to produce little baby Cable. In a weird way, that felt like pandering to readers who were already expressing discomfort with Cyclops’s obvious inability to move on.
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