For all their powers and unbelievable adventures, superheroes are still human -- meaning, whether it’s Valentine’s Day or cuffing season, they’re looking for a little companionship in their fantastic fictional lives. Creators and comic book writers have always taken a realistic approach to their characters, and depicting nuanced love lives seems to be an especially fun process for them. Most of the time, readers get to enjoy seeing the heights of passion and affection that can exist between two characters – look at Superman and Lois Lane’s decades-long love affair, for example. Unfortunately, bringing some realism into superhero relationships also means exploring less than heroic scenarios.
The most common form of poor romantic behavior in comic book relationships, outside of accidental or purposeful miscommunication, is infidelity. Superheroes cheat on their loved ones with strangers, friends and fellow heroes, and no one tangled up in the affair ever really wins in its aftermath. So, while this list chronicles the “upgrades” and “downgrades” of cheating superheroes, the designation applies more to the situation than the people involved. This isn’t to absolve the superhero betraying their partner’s trust, or the person pursuing the superhero despite knowing they have a significant other. Instead, it’s to better understand these characters and their very human flaws.
15 DOWNGRADE: DICK GRAYSON AND BARBARA GORDON
Dick Grayson’s love life has always been a mess. He’s one of the sexiest people in DC canon and, when in love, he’s the most considerate partner a person can ask for. But he was also raised by Bruce Wayne which means, for all his desire to have a fulfilling relationship, he has the emotional intelligence of a wooden teaspoon. So, it was only a matter of time before he did something to jeopardize his engagement to fellow Teen Titan Starfire.
In the 1996 Nightwing Annual #2, it was revealed that Dick slept with Barbara Gordon while he was trying to get her to RSVP to his wedding. It’s understandable in context -- the two have a history of mutual pining, and this reunion came after Barbara’s devastating experience in The Killing Joke -- but talk about poor timing and a serious disrespect to Dick and Starfire’s beautifully crafted long-term relationship.
14 UPGRADE: SUE STORM AND NAMOR
Mister Fantastic and Invisible Woman are the quintessential example of marriage in the Marvel universe. Their relationship arguably defined the Silver Age when The Fantastic Four first premiered in 1961, and their family has only blossomed over the years. But their marriage is far from perfect. Reed Richards has acted like a total jerk in canon, often at the expense of his family. And Sue Storm, for all her loyalty, has often found her marriage lacking in the support she needs.
Enter Namor, King of Atlantis. He’s been obsessed with winning Sue’s affections since 1962, and Sue’s always been tempted by his good looks and princely behavior. Most notably, the two shared a passionate kiss in Namor #50, some time after Reed was assumed dead. They’ve never gone farther than these stolen moments in the 616, but the grass definitely seems greener on the other side of the ocean.
13 DOWNGRADE: JIM GORDON AND SARAH ESSEN
Before Barbara’s birth/adoption (it depends on the continuity), her father Jim Gordon was the one dealing with the complications of love in Batman: Year One. In this classic tale by Frank Miller, Gordon is a young beat cop who transferred back to Gotham to start a better life for him and his pregnant wife, Barbara. However, Jim feels trapped by the GCPD’s corruption, his personal feelings of dissatisfaction and a pesky vigilante on the loose.
The only light that makes his world brighter is fellow officer Sarah Essen. Their stimulating working relationship quickly develops into a full-fledged affair, which unfortunately is used by the GCPD as blackmail against them both. Jim removes his blackmailers’ power in the situation by telling Barbara of the affair himself, but he dooms his relationship with both women and his reputation in the city in the process.
12 UPGRADE: SCOTT SUMMERS AND JEAN GREY
Thanks to a resurgence of interest in X-Men related media, Cyclops and Jean Grey are one of the most well-known superhero relationships in pop culture. They fell in love during the early years of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngers, and they went on together to create the original X-Men team with their classmates. Their commitment to one another despite the odds is near legendary.
But for Scott, one of those obstacles was his wife, Madelyne Pryor. When Jean was first overcome by the Phoenix Force, Mister Sinister made a clone with some of her memories. Scott married Madelyne in Uncanny X-Men #175 because of the resemblance, but their marriage was always strained. So, he eventually abandoned her and their child for Jean. Since their relationship was built on shaky ground, and Madelyne soon became the villainess Goblin Queen, Scott ending up with Jean seems like the future they deserved.
11 DOWNGRADE: OLIVER QUEEN AND SAMANTHA CLAYTON
This entry was a hard choice because Green Arrow is a notorious playboy. Despite his love for Laurel Lance, fellow hero Black Canary, Oliver Queen frequently puts the reputations of Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne to shame. To shake things up on this list, we’re going to the Arrowverse to check out Oliver’s history of infidelity. And one of the first memorable instances on his titular CW show was his affair with Samantha Clayton.
When Oliver was young and in the early throes of passion with Laurel, he met and slept with civilian Samantha. The consummation occurred offscreen, but we do know that he accidentally impregnated her and she suffered a miscarriage. Eight years later, Samantha revealed the truth: Oliver’s mother bribed her to pretend she had a miscarriage and move to Central City to raise the child. It was a lot of trouble that could have been avoided.
10 UPGRADE: SCOTT SUMMERS AND EMMA FROST
We said that Scott and Jean deserved each other because of all the tough choices they’ve overcome to be together; we didn’t mean that their relationship would actually last. The two have always had chemistry, but after as many deaths, resurrections, and evil possessions they’ve dealt with, their relationship became difficult to maintain. And when things devolved into outright toxicity, both started looking elsewhere.
For Scott, his upgrade unintentionally came in the form of Emma Frost. The two began telepathic therapy sessions after Scott underwent a traumatic ordeal with Apocalypse, but these sessions soon become sexual in nature. Nothing happened in real life, but Jean still felt betrayed when she caught them in the act in New X-Men #139. Weirdly enough, things worked out in the end. Jean gave them her blessing and then conveniently succumbed to the Phoenix Force (again), leaving the new couple to start their lives together.
9 DOWNGRADE: CLINT BARTON AND DARLENE WRIGHT
Matt Fraction’s 2012 run on Hawkeye is considered an important addition to Clint Barton’s comic history, reestablishing and introducing several interesting tidbits about the character. Unfortunately, one of those new character traits is that Clint has a bit of a wandering eye, motivated by an extreme lack of self-esteem and a borderline destructive desire to feel loved.
During a particular “dumpster fire” moment in his life, Clint meets an equally down-on-her-luck woman named Cherry in Hawkeye #3. He offers to buy her car to help her out; they hook up instead. But Cherry forgets to mention that her real name’s Darlene and she’s trying to escape her mafia leader husband. As Clint gets tangled up in Cherry’s affairs, his affair is discovered by his superhero girlfriend Jessica Drew. They break up, Cherry eventually flees the country, and Clint ends up alone. It just wasn’t worth the heartbreak, bro.
8 UPGRADE: JEAN GREY AND WOLVERINE
The dissolution of Scott and Jean’s relationship cannot be pinned entirely on Scott’s actions, of course. Between all the strife outside of their control, distrust and resentment have been a growing problem in their relationship because of their fellow colleague and Jean’s longtime admirer, Wolverine. Even casual X-Men fans know that Logan has always held a torch for her which, coupled with his lack of respect for Scott, has made him try to pursue a relationship. And when the going got tough with Scott, Jean wasn’t above entertaining the idea of an affair.
Jean and Wolverine shared their first canon kiss in Uncanny X-Men #394 when they’re transported to another dimension and think they’re going to die. The two make out again after Jean stumbles upon Scott’s psychic affair with Emma. With a decades-long attraction and less-than-savory romantic alternatives, Jean and Wolverine together is a major upgrade for them both.
7 DOWNGRADE: THOR AND HIS MULTIPLE DALLIANCES
Compared to some of the other couples on this list, Thor and Jane Foster seemed like a solid couple whenever they were together. Their breakups always followed the classic formula of minor superhero drama -- Thor leaves Jane to protect her, Jane leaves Thor so he can focus on Asgard, the reasons are usually pretty wholesome. Or they used to be, until the reason for their latest breakup was revealed in 2016's The Mighty Thor #20.
At this point in their lives, Thor is now the unworthy Odinson and Jane now wields Mjolnir, even though doing so speeds up the effects of her debilitating cancer. When Odinson finds out that Jane is the new Thor, he asks her if this is spite for all the times he cheated on her. It’s not, of course, but the blasé nature of his admission makes a mockery of their entire relationship.
6 UPGRADE: GAMBIT AND ROGUE
Hands-down one of the romantic superhero couples has to be Gambit and Rogue, whose relationship has graced the pages of X-Men comics since 1991. But Remy has carried a few personal demons into this relationship. For one thing, he had a shady past as a member of the Thieves Guild and an unwitting ally to Mister Sinister. For another, he was technically still a married man.
The marriage was by no means ideal, as readers learn in X-Men #8. During his tenure in the Thieves Guild, he had an arranged marriage to Bella Donna Boudreaux of the rival Assassins Guild. The union should have consolidated power in New Orleans’ criminal underground, but Remy ruined the plan by killing his wife’s brother in self-defense. He then abandoned Bella Donna and fled the city. A divorce would have been easier, sure, so he’s now trying to make up for his past mistakes.
5 DOWNGRADE: KIRAN SINGH AND TIM DRAKE
Better known by her superhero name Solstice, Kiran is a teen superhero first introduced in 2010 who can manipulate light. In New 52 canon, she joins the Teen Titans and becomes Bart Allen’s steady girlfriend. Their romance is sugary sweet in the comics, and she even followed Bart into exile on the future prison planet of Takron-Galtos. With such a strong history together, it was a little surprising when Kiran cheated on Bart with Tim Drake in Teen Titans #17.
Context doesn’t really explain the situation on Kiran’s part since there was no prior indication that she and Bart were having problems. Meanwhile, Tim is off-the-hook for his behavior in this issue because he was possessed by Raven, so he was trying to sabotage the team and screw with their personal lives. Dubious consent and random poor choices make this a bad situation for everyone involved.
4 UPGRADE: PEPPER POTTS AND A FORMER COLLEGE BOYFRIEND
When it comes to romance in Iron Man history, the award for longevity goes to Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts. They eloped in the 1959 Tales of Suspense #91, and leave Stark Industries to start a new life. However, almost as soon as they move, Pepper rekindles an old romance with a former college boyfriend, and she and Happy get a divorce.
This was another tough entry. The reason this affair is an upgrade has nothing to do with the person Pepper was cheating with -- the former boyfriend doesn’t even get a name. But this affair was indicative of the lack of a true connection between Happy and Pepper. They slide into a "situationship" at Tony’s insistence and Happy’s persistence, but he couldn’t quench her desire for a more exciting life. The marriage was doomed to fail, but at least they figured it out before they destroyed their friendship.
3 DOWNGRADE: MATT MURDOCK AND DAKOTA NORTH
Matt Murdock has to be one of the most tortured superheroes in comics; it would almost be funny if it wasn’t so relatable and tragic. He struggles to be a good man, but the temptations of violence and lust often get in the way. He deals with the former urge through his work as Daredevil, but the latter has always been a problem. Even his happy marriage to Milla Donovan couldn’t quell his other urge.
Prior to his affair, Milla had been drugged by the villain Mr. Fear. As a result, she accidentally kills a stranger and is institutionalized. While Matt tries to help her, he ends up getting closer to P.I Dakota North, with whom he’s working on another case. You know how these things go… Matt is stressed, and lonely, and Dakota is available. Even though they immediately regret their one-night stand, his personal morality is incredibly tarnished.
2 UPGRADE: OLIVER QUEEN AND SARA LANCE
This entry isn’t congratulating Oliver Queen for his shameless cheating in the Arrowverse. And this example is especially heinous. A few years after cheating on Laurel with Samantha, Laurel is still trying to make things work with her longtime boyfriend. The proposal of a serious relationship freaks Oliver out, so he begins sleeping with Laurel’s sister Sara while stringing Laurel along with false promises.
Confession time: this entry is purely subjective. The only good thing that came out of this affair was placing Sara on her own path to heroism, with a few alliances with serious villains along the way. Despite all the strife in her life, Sara is now actively trying to be a better person than the people around her. Oliver was her stepping stone to eventual greatness, so the affair was an upgrade for her. But Oliver doesn’t deserve to win anything. He’s still pretty awful.
1 DOWNGRADE: AQUAMAN AND DOLPHIN
If their recent onscreen meeting in Justice League didn’t clue you in, Aquaman and Mera have a long and rocky history together. The two married pretty early in their comic careers in 1964, and they have had about as many breakups and makeups as Scott and Jean. It’s a comparison that no one, fictional superhero or otherwise, would want to share in the pursuit of a successful marriage.
As is often the case, their biggest obstacle to happiness is themselves. When their child is murdered by Black Manta, Mera and Aquaman become estranged. She leaves Atlantis for some respite and Aquaman, thinking her absence permanent, pursuits a relationship with Dolphin. So, when Mera returns in Aquaman #12 and catches the pair, a knockout fight ensues when some communication and emotional support could have prevented the issue. Mera ultimately forgives her husband’s infidelity, but maybe she should have considered a divorce.
What superhero cheaters do you think seriously downgraded from their partners... or actually improved their romantic situation by stepping out? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!