DC Comics, one of the two largest comic book companies in the world, also holds the distinction of holding the intellectual rights to some of the most iconic romances in the medium. Superman and Lois Lane are practically comic book royalty at this point, as are Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor and Batman and Catwoman. But Isaac Newton’s fourth law states that for every good couple in comics, there’s one that is equally terrible. And in the modern internet age, terrible is spelled C-O-N-T-R-O-V-E-R-S-I-A-L. From potentially accidental homophobia to bizarrely off-kilter pairings, DC has a not-so-hidden history of poor matchmaking decisions.
While some of them seemed good on paper, they consistently fell apart in execution and have collectively accrued enough fan animosity to choke a Red Lantern. The argument exists that perhaps these controversies could be born out of modern sensibilities being, ironically, too sensitive, but several of these couples are from decades past so quell those ideas before they manifest. Besides, if the old comic codes couldn’t censor those infractions of morality, it’s doubtful anything less than full-fledged fan backlash could. And considering that impact demographic response has become a vital part of comic book progression and community, it’s worth taking a look at what they hated so much.
15 STARFIRE & THE OUTLAWS
Of all the characters to be redesigned in DC’s New 52, perhaps nobody came out looking worse than Starfire. Previously an optimistic and passionate alien refugee with a playfully flirtatious attitude, she was retconned into a scantily-clad, vaguely unfeeling nymphomaniac whose overt sensuality felt more like exploitation than liberation. Over the course of her comic run in Red Hood and the Outlaws, she routinely slept with her teammates and even stated that she didn’t remember her previous romance with Dick Grayson, the supposed love of her life.
Fans were not only upset by the loss of her previous personality, but were disgusted by how she was used more like a walking honeypot as opposed to the legitimately likable character they’d all known and loved. Though DC’s Rebirth has largely returned her to her previous self, the scenes of her propositioning Arsenal have forever stained the character.
14 THE COMEDIAN & SILK SPECTRE
For the longest time, Alan Moore’s Watchmen has been held up as one of the paragons of the comic medium, proof that the format is more than just childish frivolity and is capable of attaining high-art status. For the most part, this is very valid argument, but there are still moments of strangely wrong-headedness within its pages. A major plot point in the story is the near assault of the first Silk Spectre, Sally Jupiter, by the Comedian, Eddie Blake.
Eddie’s crime is the beginning of the breakdown of the Watchmen’s processors, the Minutemen. However, it is later revealed that after her attack, Sally later fell in love with Eddie and even had a daughter with him. The idea of Sally being in a relationship with a man who traumatized her drew obvious criticism, but was largely drowned out by praise for the rest of the work.
13 JOKER & HARLEY QUINN
Let’s make one thing absolutely clear: Joker and Harley Quinn are one of the most iconic comic book couples ever. Born in the DCAU, their pairing is so emotionally visceral and gripping that anyone who dares to say that the episode “Mad Love” is anything less than a masterpiece can expect a torch-bearing mob outside their door within minutes. But the basic truth is that their relationship is as toxic as they come and is a prime example of violent domestic abuse.
Joker’s domination over Harley encompasses all aspect of her life and, despite her cute cries of “Puddin’,” it is genuinely hard to watch. The love for the characters remains, but the discomfort at their one-sided relationship is likely why the two are broken up in the comics today and potentially the reason why their love has apparently been retconned in the appalling DCEU.
12 DICK GRAYSON & HELENA WAYNE
DC’s obsession with its own multiverse has been simmering over for decades. The idea of alternate realities and parallel stories are as intrinsic to the company as some of its iconic characters. In fact, some of those characters only exist because of the existing multiverse. In an alternate world, Batman and Catwoman have a daughter named Helena who eventually becomes her world’s Huntress and is partially raised by Dick Grayson, who eventually inherits Batman’s mantle.
The fact that they’re adopted siblings is only part of why their coupling sparked backlash. The other half of the outrage came at the specifics of their interactions, which involved Dick creeping on Helena in the shower, confessing he missed his ‘peeking privileges’ from when he changed her diapers, and hot’n’heavy training sessions. The controversy of this pair has died down following their deaths, but those who remember this couple still shudder at the memory.
11 KYLE RAYNER & ALEX DEWITT
The first girlfriend of new Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, Alex DeWitt had a short shelf life as a character. Orignally, she was in an on-again-off-again relationship with the hero and even helped design his uniform, chunky mask included. Their romance was as bland as Cheerios, but the controversy came in how it ended. To motive Kyle to be a hero, writers decided to brutally kill off Alex by way of the villain Major Force who strangled her, made himself a sandwich, then eviscerated her body and shoved her in the refrigerator for her boyfriend to find.
This act coined the phrase ‘women in refrigerators,’ a catch-all term for killing off vulnerable or useless female characters for no other reason than to progress plot or to show the hero react to loss. The trope unfortunately still continues to this day despite Alex DeWitt supposedly being the last.
10 BATWOMAN & MAGGIE SAWYER
The controversy of the lesbian couple of Batwoman and Maggie Sawyer comes not from them being gay or any implicit matter of their actual relationship, but rather from how the company handled what should have been its culmination. Despite Marvel having success by marrying two gay characters, when Batwoman proposed to her then-girlfriend, it was quickly announced that the engagement was not going to lead to a much-deserved marriage.
Cries of homophobia were bombastic at the news and DC scrambled to explain that the decision to not let the lesbians get married wasn’t from a place of hate, but practicality. According to them, "Heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives." This coming from the company that owns Superman, the most optimistic superhero in existence, and, in an apparent shift in attitudes, has made him married with a child. Make of that what you will.
9 HARLEY QUINN & NIGHTWING
Fans were initially excited to learn that Bruce Timm’s DCAU was making a comeback in 2017 with Batman and Harley Quinn. The previous attempt to restore interest in the universe was 2016’s Batman: The Killing Joke which was met with the most laughably negative reviews a Batman property had seen since the live action movie from earlier that year and long-time viewers were eager to see their enjoyment of the series justified. Then Harley Quinn hooks up with Nightwing while she has him tied up in her bedroom.
Harley Quinn has always been a fairly over-sensualized character, but seeing her come on to Nightwing was downright unnerving, made creepier by Loren Lester returning to voice Dick Grayson, the same character fans had seen as a teenager in the late '90s. The film itself was fairly forgettable and fans are more than happy to let it stay that way.
8 SUPERMAN & BIG BARDA
Big Barda, best known as the double agent of the New Gods and wife to Mr. Miracle, once made a "film" with Superman. Granted they were under mind control and being puppeted by an Apokalyptan god named Sleez, but it still happened and there was still a heavy amount of backlash. A fair amount of it came from the "film" aspect of the story.
It came out in the late '80s, a period when, while the medium itself was rapidly becoming more contemporary, comics were still seen as a primarily child-oriented serial where even a passing reference to any adult theme was wildly inappropriate. There was also considerable backlash from a community of fans who didn’t want to see Mr. Miracle and Big Barda, a loving and healthy marriage, broken up over a very exploitative mind control episode.
7 NIGHTWING & TARANTULA
Assault is rarely, if ever, handled well in comics. It’s an unfortunate staple of the medium that such matters are used solely to project weakness or vulnerability, typically onto female characters. And when it happens to male characters, it happens to Nightwing. Tarantula was a character who gave Nightwing a chance to have his own Robin. A former FBI agent, she is inspired by and falls in love with the hero of Bludhaven, eventually growing close enough to exert influence over him. And she uses this influence to make him let her kill the villain Blockbuster.
While Nightwing is drugged and in shock, she takes advantage of him on a rooftop while he verbally protests. She takes him to a courthouse to get married, but he comes to his senses enough to rebuke her. Needless to say, the controversy this sparked was eventually what got the Tarantula character written out.
6 THE ATOM & JEAN LORING
To be fair to Atom and Jean Loring, they actually had a good relationship in their original incarnations. Back in the '60s, they were one of the great comic book couples who were notable as one of the few examples of a realistic relationship not working out for realistic reasons. The controversy came years later in 2004’s notorious Identity Crisis storyline.
The story, which involved the murder of Sue Dibny and the uncovering of a mind-wiped mystery, pushed Loring and Atom back together and they briefly rekindled their romance before it was revealed that not only had Jean committed all the crimes in the story, but she was also crazy and had orchestrated everything just to make Atom fall in love with her again. Fans were already uncomfortable with the shocking story line, but the reveal of Jean’s insanity initiated an almost unprecedented wave of backlash.
5 DEATHSTROKE & TERRA
"The Judas Contract" storyline is one of the most famous stories to come out of the celebrated Teen Titans series in the '80s. It centered around team spitfire Terra turning villain to side with the mercenary Deathstroke against her former friends. It was well paced and built naturally. It also featured a questionable relationship between the two antagonists. Deathstroke was an older, gray-haired man who was in a recognized, intimate relationship with the 15-year old Terra.
It marred what otherwise would have been an impeccable story with viscerally negative reactions to the controversy. Hypothetically, the writers included this relationship to emphasize Deathstroke’s villainy. But his name is Deathstroke the Terminator. He was already one of the most recognized evil threats in the DC Universe at the time. This pairing was unnecessary and disturbing.
4 BABY DOLL & KILLER CROC
Despite only appearing in a handful of episodes, Baby Doll was one of best things to come out of the laudable Batman: The Animated Series. Stricken with a genetic mutation that prevents her growth, Baby Doll was a former sitcom actress who struggled to be taken seriously as a thespian and turned to crime in desperation. She was a tragic character, not entirely responsible for her own misdeeds. In the last season, writers decided to pair this vulnerable woman with the cold, cruel Killer Croc.
Obviously modeled after the successful odd-couple of Joker and Harley Quinn, it was painful to see these characters’ psychoses trying to mold to fit each other and failing spectacularly. They were only together for a single episode, but the spiteful fan backlash assured that the pair would never come together again.
3 BATMAN & BATGIRL
Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke is often referred to as the best Batman story ever told which is ironic because Batman doesn’t feature too prominently and the story is actually about The Joker. When Bruce Timm, producer of the fantastic DCAU, announced he was making a cartoon adaptation of the legendary story with the famous voice cast of his shows, fans rejoiced. Then the movie came out and everyone was quiet in a moment of shock before becoming quite loud in a moment of rage.
The outrage came at a pivotal scene in the movie where Batgirl and Batman, who share a defined student-mentor relationship, spar on a rooftop and their physicality eventually results in them stripping and making love under a gargoyle. This violation of character and discomforting destruction of their relationship was offensive to long-time fans and the film suffered as a result.
2 WONDER WOMAN & SUPERMAN
Superman and Lois Lane. Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor. These two couples have almost always been together, to the point where their names are nearly synonymous. But comic fans and writers have always played with the idea of a Wonder Woman-Superman romance, mostly because they are unarguably the two most powerful members of their respective gender in the entire universe. Though a few alternate worlds have made this a reality, Kingdom Come comes to mind, they were finally made a reality in DC’s New 52 reboot.
The negative response was immediate and vehement. Fans were already sour on some of the drastic and occasionally offensive New 52 redesigns and a poorly choreographed romance that had always worked better conceptually was not a great way to diffuse concerns. As if to emphasize how bad this was, writers paired these two together again in the Injustice universe where both were homicidal tyrants.
1 DONNA TROY & TERRY LONG
This list could have been about controversial Marvel couples and the pairing of Donna Troy and Terry Long would’ve snuck its way in there out of sheer necessity. The infamously uncomfortable couple of the 19-year old Wonder Girl and her exponentially older college professor lasted for years in the comics, with the two even marrying and having a child together, much to the chagrin of readers. On top of the age difference, there was the implicit student-teacher relationship to be navigated as well as Long’s professional ethics.
He would openly flirt with his girlfriend’s female teammates in the Teen Titans and was about as lost in the '70s as a character could be in '90s. He looks like a ginger, creepier Bob Ross creeping on a girl half his age because he’s turned on by her superpowers. And Donna looks unnatural just by entertaining his advances.
Which of these relationships is the worst? Let us know in the comments!