Reviews, Books

Comic Books and Romance: Four-Color Love Stories

Goodbye To Romance ComicsSo you’ve finished your book. Your heroine is done pining—maybe she’s changed some hearts, charmed some rogues, or busted some skulls—in any case, the romantic lead is hers. You, however, have tossed the book out of arm’s reach, set it on the shelf like ashes on a mantle, or buried it in the backyard—we all handle things differently. It’s over. My condolences.

But what if I could promise you endless romance? Something that doesn’t end once, with a sigh, but loops on for eternity, each time new and different, yet still familiar.

“That sounds like a lie, woman I’ve never met before,” you say, remembering your first disappointing bite of a candy whose label described it as “chocolatey”.

Well, it’s not. It’s–And here any mystique I’ve cultivated over the last twenty-seven years breaks a heel and faceplants onto the bottom of some stairs–

Comic books.

Now, I know the idea of muscular men in tight clothing saving the day is a hard sell to romance fans, but hear me out. For all of the industry’s problems (and there are a lot), no love returns like love in comic books. These stories get passed down from writer to writer every few weeks, and like a game of telephone refereed by a few editors at the end of their wits trying to fit stories into canon. They start to take on a life of their own. In an industry that has existed for nearly a century and followed the same iconic characters, some things get re-explored. No retelling is the same, but there are legendary moments every writer wants to make theirs–the last son of Krypton landing on Earth, a couple gunned down in an alley in front of their only child, the first brush of a hand.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Catwoman, exiting a billionaire’s estate via the rooftop with an armful of rare jewels, finds her getaway path blocked by a chiseled, bat-themed, wall of justice.  “We have to stop meeting like this,” she says, batting her eyes behind a cowl, cocking her hip just so. Batman, poet of the Justice League, tenses his butt and replies: “You’re going to jail.” They fight, make-out, or both.

Catwoman gets to make this joke at least once a year. They’ve met like this before.

Four-Color Catwoman

And they’ll meet like this again and again until the end of comics.

Catwoman Ed Brubaker Darwyn Cooke

I bought my first comic at the age of eleven, in a bleary-eyed haze I would later learn to associate with being hungover. My dad, having survived a health crisis that warranted a few awkward “If anything happened to your father” speeches from relatives, in a fit of introspection exclusive to those mad with gratitude for life, looked upon my brother and I with new found pity. We didn’t know any of our extended family, or Spanish for that matter. New York had shaped us into chubby, nearsighted things. It had choked out the sun itself, causing us to wither into little wiener nerds. So he gifted us one week of Spanish lessons, pulled us out of school, and thrust one-way plane tickets to Puerto Rico in our hands along with a twenty dollar bill.

Eleven year old me, fatigued and drunk on the sheer power of money, spun an airport newsstand rack around and settled on The Long Halloween, a solitary Batman title among a few hundred Marie Claires. It was, as the title implied, long. It was in English. It may as well have been the last book written in English to me. I read it with the reverence of someone whose entire language would come spilling out of their mouth in Times New Roman font, directly into an airplane barf bag.

The Long Halloween wasn’t my first encounter with Batman, but it was my first good look at his almost sort of girlfriend, Selina Kyle, better known as Catwoman. Though I was a little too young to care about romance, I liked Catwoman a lot. She was clever, she knew what she liked. She slept on a bed of stolen diamonds and like fifty cats.

I came back home a year later, but I wouldn’t come back to comics until I was a teen freeloading in the Graphic Novel section of the Barnes & Noble closest to my school. To say it warmed my heart to pick a trade paperback off of a shelf and see that Catwoman still got the drop on Batman would be an understatement. It felt like checking in on old friends. “What did I miss?” I asked. A lot, it turns out. Breakups, betrayals, secret babies–the beloved old plot points of every good romance novel and more. I made the mistake of approaching it like a book reader. Looking at a favorite author’s work and saying “I’ll read all of it” is not the same as looking at a character like Catwoman and saying “I’ll read all of it.” My eyes were bigger than my stomach on this one. I, nearly twenty-eight now, still haven’t even scratched the surface.

One thing that remained constant, though, was Catwoman’s ability to fall in love over and over again. It didn’t matter how bad things got, she dusted herself off and welcomed love back in. Catwoman’s writers did not brush her off, she, the living, breathing character of Selina Kyle did. She’s done this particular dance a few hundred times, mostly with Batman. In ways that didn’t interest me:

Batman and Catwoman kiss

And in ways that did:

catwoman and eiko 2

But, honestly, if that one tale as old as time doesn’t do it for you, there are hundreds to choose from.

Couples in Comics

You can get your romance served with super speed, flight, invisibility, time travel, necromancy, space police procedurals, personifications of deities and more. Couples in superhero comics alone reflect nearly every romance subgenre in the book.

It’s not perfect. Comic books have a long way to go, in terms of who is represented in those twenty-ish pages per issue, and how, but if you’ve dismissed comic books your whole life, you’re honestly missing out on really robust relationships. With the massive success of the Fresh Romance Kickstarter there’s even hope of the romance subgenre in comics flourishing again. Don’t be like teen me, who eschewed romance novels and the burly babes featured on their covers but read Nightwing with no qualms.

Nightwing by Nicola Scott

You’re better than teen me. Go pick up some comics.

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