Love is in the air, as it often is. In recent pages, Batman and Catwoman have gotten engaged, Green Arrow and Black Canary have reconnected, and even Rogue and Deadpool have... something going on there, it doesn’t seem like they’re even aware of what it is. Comic book relationships are a sordid affair, and heroes pairing off has been something we’ve seen since the advent of the modern superhero story. Pairings like Superman and Lois Lane or Reed Richards and Sue Storm have set the standard for the superhero relationship, but it isn’t always as straightforward as it seems.
Over the years, superheroes have changed relationships and shaken up the status quo time and time again. Maybe they didn’t work out, or maybe someone died, but eventually, the involved parties move on and find new love interests. The resulting new relationships aren’t always an improvement for anyone involved and can end up with some serious downgrades. It’s not unusual, and it’s something that isn’t going away anytime soon. We’ve crafted a list of these relationships, and hopefully, we can learn something from it. Here are 15 superheroes who downgraded romantically.
15 SPIDER-MAN: GWEN STACY TO MARY JANE
Maybe this one isn’t fair to poor Pete. After all, you can’t really date a corpse. But it doesn’t change the fact that Peter’s much-beloved relationship with model-turned-actress Mary Jane Watson always felt like Peter was settling in a sense, sticking with a relationship that just didn’t stack up to his previous flame, Gwen Stacy.
Peter and MJ are one of the most beloved fan pairings in comic book history, with fans still clamoring for the relationship’s return after it was sold to Mephisto in 2007’s “One More Day.” But going from Gwen to Mary Jane still felt like a significant downgrade. Amazing Spider-Man writers seem to agree too, with Peter still having an annual monologue and emotional breakdown over losing Gwen, despite her death being published before most of the title’s core demographic were even born.
14 GWEN STACY: SPIDER-MAN TO GREEN GOBLIN
At the same time, where you can argue Pete downgraded going from Gwen to MJ, Gwen herself made one hell of a romantic downgrade. The 2004 story “Sins Past” established that several months before her death, Gwen had had an affair with Peter’s nemesis, Norman Osborn! The tryst resulted in twins, who fought Peter briefly.
Fans naturally revolted, disgusted by the retcon of Gwen having such a flagrantly out of character encounter with Osborn. Fans had believed the story forgotten, especially when Spider-Man’s history was soft-rebooted in “Brand New Day” to make the character feel younger and more accessible, but were surprised when the 2009 story “American Son” reintroduced the twins and guaranteed “Sins Past” and the Stacy/Osborn affair remained in continuity. Despite this, neither of Gwen’s children have been seen in some time, so it’s possible the current mandate is to forget about the tryst.
13 CYCLOPS: JEAN GREY TO EMMA FROST
Scott Summers and Jean Grey were one of Marvel’s most iconic couples for years. Even after Jean’s “death,” the two were still portrayed as a standard, with Scott dating a woman who was practically identical to her afterward (which it turns out is because she was a clone). Scott and Jean reunited when she returned, but the tension was rife and Scott actually cheated on Jean.
The affair with Emma Frost was shocking, and the two became a full-fledged couple following Jean’s death. In fact, the two were a premier X-team couple, but Emma was always much colder and crueler than Jean. The final nail in the coffin was the one literally in Scott’s, with Emma manipulating his death to spur on a war between the Inhumans and the X-Men. Marvel has since gone back to the Scott and Jean pairing, with the time-displaced, younger versions rekindling their romance.
12 KITTY PRYDE: COLOSSUS TO STAR-LORD
Kitty Pryde and Colossus had a weird relationship. When the two first met, Kitty was still very young, which created something of a hurdle with the older Colossus. The two had an on-again, off-again relationship over the years, but have historically always had an attraction to each other, and most recently ended their relationship when the X-Men titles were retooled as part of “Regenesis.”
Single and remaining in Westchester to help Wolverine run the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, Kitty eventually met Star-Lord, who appeared in a crossover with the X-Men titles. The two had a somewhat odd long-distance relationship, with Kitty even joining up for a volume of Guardians of the Galaxy, but Star-Lord’s more aloof nature eventually wore Kitty down. Recently taking on the role of Headmaster at the Xavier Institute, Kitty and Colossus have teased a resumption of their relationship.
11 SCARLET WITCH: VISION TO DOCTOR DOOM
For a long while, the primary couple of The Avengers was The Scarlet Witch and The Vision (or occasionally Wonder Man, as the love triangle was commonly present). The two were a couple of years, a relationship which spawned a pair of mystical twins and a number of relationship highs and lows, but the relationship stopped dead in its tracks when Vision was destroyed in “Avengers Disassembled” and Wanda went missing after “House of M.”
Following “House of M,” Wanda was gone for a long while, living in Wundagore. During Avengers: The Children’s Crusade, Young Avengers teammates Wiccan and Speed sought her out as they believed themselves to be her resurrected twins. It came to light that Wanda was not only an amnesiac but engaged to none other than Doctor Doom! She eventually regains her memory after a jaunt to the past but has remained romantically unattached since.
10 VISION: SCARLET WITCH TO VIRGINIA
Wanda wasn’t the only one to look to other relationship options, though. After his reconstruction, Vision never really had an opportunity to reconnect with Wanda, and when he did he was having trouble with his memories. To protect himself and others, he wiped his memories and emotions out, becoming a cold robot with no attachment to Wanda. Shortly after, Vision created a wife, Virginia, and children Vin and Viv.
A downgrade? Maybe not at first. Vision and Virginia are an excellent couple, incredibly close and a great match. It would make sense that they’re a great match, seeing as how Vision built her that way. But over the course of the excellent Vision series, Virginia slowly falls apart, committing multiple murders, including family cousin Victor Mancha. Vision and Viv have been alone since then, and Vision’s romantic life hasn’t really been brought up.
9 CRYSTAL: HUMAN TORCH TO QUICKSILVER
There was a time where Johnny Storm had a long time girlfriend with the atom-bending Crystal. The sister of Medusa and princess of the Inhumans, Johnny and Crystal were infatuated with each other and in a relationship for a long run of Fantastic Four, but eventually, the pairing soured and she left the book.
Crystal would find herself with a completely different hothead shortly afterward: Quicksilver. The two were an item for the better part of 25 years and even had a child together. The relationship strained when they split up and strained even further over Quicksilver’s repeated attempts to bully Crystal over how to raise their child. Crystal has remained unattached for the most part since then, focused more on her duties as Inhuman royalty, though she did have a brief relationship with Ronan the Accuser.
8 MEDUSA: BLACK BOLT TO HUMAN TORCH
The Inhumans sure like to mix things up from time to time, but Medusa’s relationship to Black Bolt ending was fairly surprising. It still made sense in context, with Medusa separating from him after his long absence from Attilan while he was believed to be dead. Medusa kept busy, assisting the Fantastic Four and participating in a number of major events, while Black Bolt becomes, of all things, a nightclub operator.
With the refreshed Inhumans property in the wake of Death of X, Medusa is seen entering into a new relationship with Johnny Storm, who had joined up with the Inhumans following the disappearance of Reed and Sue. The relationship was brief though, ending when Medusa destroyed the Terrigen Cloud in Inhumans vs. X-Men, but the story did end with the implication that Medusa and Black Bolt’s relationship may be rekindled.
7 SUPERMAN: LOIS LANE TO WONDER WOMAN
You’d have a hard time finding a more classic pairing than Superman and Lois Lane. A lot of that comes from how Lois’ hard-edged, take-no-guff attitude contrasts with the down-to-Earth humility Clark demonstrates. But time and again, writers have tried to pair him with Wonder Woman, and it always feels like a downgrade.
Notably, this is the de facto pairing of the Injustice universe, with the two bonding after Lois’ death thanks to manipulation by The Joker. The New 52 also split up Lois and Clark and made Superman and Wonder Woman a long time couple, a pairing that ended with that Superman’s death. In fact, the only time that pairing hasn’t been a complete disaster is Kingdom Come, and that was largely because everything else around them was so awful.
6 GREEN LANTERN: CAROL TO ARISIA
Hal Jordan hasn’t had quite the play with the ladies as his counterparts John Stewart and Kyle Rayner have, largely being in a (relatively) stable(ish) relationship with his boss, Carol Ferris, for much of his time in comics. Okay, the relationship has been, at best, unstable over the years, hampered by her refusal to date an employee and his wheeling-dealing, Green Lanterning.
During one of his longer stints off-world, though, Hal did find the affection of another Lantern Corps member: Arisia Rrab. Arisia is a weird case for a romantic interest for Hal, only being 13 years old when the two met. Desperate for Hal’s affection, her ring picked up on her subconscious desires and aged her physically to adulthood. Hal initially refused, but eventually came around to see Arisia as an adult (which, again, she was absolutely not, despite the difference time manifested on her world) making for a pretty gross relationship that isn’t mentioned much anymore.
5 (KINDA) SHE-HULK: JUGGERNAUT
She-Hulk had a lot of relationships, and good ones too: her childhood friend, Zapper; superhero ally, Wyatt Wingfoot; even ManWolf himself, John Jameson! But at the end of the day, there was one huge, strange downgrade that blew everyone’s mind: the Juggernaut.
It’s a weird one. The Juggernaut, imprisoned in Canada and awaiting trial, convinced She-Hulk and the rest of his legal team that he’s not a flight risk by stopping the Rhino from escaping, and winds up bedding She-Hulk. She-Hulk herself denied this as a running joke for years until an issue of her own book years later established this as an alternate reality version of She-Hulk. Was this always the intent? Unlikely, and a recent issue of Hulk even poked fun at the instance again.
4 NIGHTWING: STARFIRE TO BATGIRL
Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon have been a couple that has carried over to other forms of media for decades. Batman: The Animated Series, Batman & Robin, chances are if these two are turning up, they’re a couple. But they’ve been apart for much longer than they’ve been together in the comics, and it really highlights Dick’s luck with women.
Dick was with Starfire, an ungodly attractive, incredibly strong and kind alien princess. The two eventually married, but Dick still carried a flame for Barbara, so much so that he wound up sleeping with Barbara when delivering the wedding invite for his and Kori’s wedding! The two would separate sometime later upon realizing their love was really more of a sustained, deep lust for each other. Both women are incredible, but when it comes to relationships, Dick traded something great for something good and still managed to screw it up.
3 BATMAN: CATWOMAN TO JEZEBEL JET
The page in “Hush” where Batman unmasked himself to Catwoman was the comic book equivalent to the shot heard around the world. The prospect of the long-simmering relationship between the two becoming legit had fans on the edge of their seats, but by the end of the story, Bruce was led to believe he couldn't fully trust Selina and the relationship ended.
So, Bruce instead starting dating supermodel Jezebel Jet, who eventually earned his full trust and even learned his dual identity. Then she turned out to be a member of The Black Glove and very nearly killed Bruce in “Batman R.I.P.” Maybe the problem is him? Bruce hasn’t had a lot of luck with other women for one reason or another, but recently got back with Catwoman after she accepted his marriage proposal.
2 PEPPER POTTS: HAPPY HOGAN TO IRON MAN
Happy Hogan pined over Pepper Potts for years, and they were a recurring couple in the long-running Iron Man series. But they had their problems, and they were separated for a spell. During this run, she and Tony entertained the notion of dating, but ultimately concluded they didn’t have an attraction, and she reconnected with Happy.
Then, Civil War happened, and Happy died. During this story, the first Iron Man movie released, which had a ton of romantic tension between Tony and Pepper. As a result, Tony and Pepper grew closer, forming a relationship and falling in love, with Pepper even taking on her own suit of armor as Rescue. It was a weird step for Pepper, pairing up with the ladies man like Tony, and a huge step down from the relationship she shared with Happy.
1 DEADPOOL: DEATH TO SHIKLAH
Perhaps the strangest couple on the list, Deadpool has paired with Death herself. After years of Thanos pining over her, she found herself tied to Deadpool when he was cursed with immortality. But after decades of the pair being unable to connect due to Deadpool’s inability to die, the relationship ended and the two moved on.
Deadpool was no slouch in the relationship department during this time, with a number of girlfriends and flames, but found love in the strangest place. Hired by the vampire king Dracula, Deadpool was meant to kill Shiklah, a succubus. Instead, the two found themselves in love and soon wed to form a strangely violent relationship. The pair’s relationship ultimately ended, with Shiklah marrying Dracula, which might be considered an upgrade for her.
Can you think of any other times a superhero traded down romantically? Let us know in the comments!