Romance has been a key component of superhero comics since the debut of Clark Kent and Lois Lane 80 years ago. Now, you can’t click on any comic fan’s social media page without a “relationship goals” caption above a panel of Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy or, God forbid, an edgy romantic quote pasted over a photo of the Joker and Harley Quinn.
But despite these big name relationships often taking the fandom spotlight, many of the relationships are — by any reasonable standard — extremely secretive and often unhealthy unions. There is, however, one comic book pairing that actually earns the right to be called a relationship goal: Two characters whose love for each other has been a cornerstone of their existence since the very start, without any of the drama and break-ups and unfortunate misunderstandings that other couples suffer. They may not be featured as much as the others, but at a time when lasting superhero relationships (let alone marriages) seem few and far between, they’ve shown that they can defeat any threat together.
Their names? Mister Miracle and Big Barda.
This isn’t merely my opinion; several articles from Psychology Today have listed the necessary ingredients for a healthy romantic relationship, and they show pretty clearly that, for almost 50 years, Scott and Barda Free have been able to check each box. According to experts, one of the biggest factors often noted in relationship psychology is the importance of trust. While many relationships start (and often proceed) with a level of secrecy between heroes and their partners, Scott and Barda have given each other a level of trust seldom seen in superhero comics. Barda originated as the leader and most feared member of the Female Furies, the strike force of alien despot Darkseid. It seems unlikely that the person such a figure would fall in love with would be Scott Free — son of Darkseid’s mortal enemy Highfather, and raised by Darkseid in attempt to bring peace between the two. But through the complicated history of Kirby’s Fourth World Saga, Scott and Barda find comfort within their shared experience of being raised under the dark rule of Apokolips, and build trust through the shared adversities of growing up in the abusive and brutal clutches of Granny Goodness’ orphanage — a ruthless facility designed to train Darkseid’s most elite soldiers from childhood.
During the Kirby-era “New Gods” series, where the backstories of both characters were first brought to light, Scott reveals that being with Barda is the first time in his life that he has been able to be himself without building up walls around himself. That’s a theme that continues in more recent years with Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ current Mister Miracle series. The emotions of both characters are especially high, as they’re fighting both mental illness as well as Darkseid’s armies, their own repressed childhoods, and the continued attempt for oppressive rule by Darkseid through Scott’s brother Orion. In the face of near death, persecution, and even themselves, both characters rely on the trust within their love to steer them the right way, no matter the cost.
But with that trust comes a level of believing in someone. Not just what they say or what they do, but who they are as a person — after all, you can’t have trust without standing by a person’s true self, right? Luckily, both Scott and Barda have that kind of trust in spades. Different iterations of the characters have shown different sides to the characters through the years, but one thing stays the same: They are accepting of each others’ flaws, quirks, and strengths.
During the J.M. DeMatteis-written run of Mister Miracle (as well as their featured roles in Justice League International, which DeMatteis co-wrote), there was a shift to a more lighthearted, often domestic, view of their relationship: Barda is often very feisty and domineering both when it comes to making decisions in battle alongside her husband and others, but also in terms of the relationship itself. While many men would stereotypically roll their eyes when their wife bothers them about not having enough time together because of work, Scott instead listens and takes her criticisms to heart with a smile and — more often than not — a goofy quip in return. Even on the field of battle against the most fearsome enemies, Barda is tenacious and fiery above all else, and is always encouraged by Scott fighting at her side.
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