The romance genre has gotten a bad rap over the years and not just from those who despise Twilight and Hugh Grant movies. And in many ways, that bad rap is well-earned. Romance is a lot like porn in that it creates an idealized and utterly unrealistic narrative. In the same way porn stars distort sex for entertainment, romance distorts relationships. It’s every bit the fantasy, making it seem as though any successful relationship needs to have the kind of passion that would inspire Shakespeare himself.
Superman has been entrenched in that narrative for nearly his entire existence. His relationship with Lois Lane was once held up as the ideal. This man who has enough power in his pinkie toe to level a mountain is completely dedicated to a woman who is painfully human. The love they shared was so ideal that it never really had to go through a maturation process. The only obstacle Superman ever faced with Lois Lane was keeping his secret identity from her and protecting her when she got into trouble. That may make for an epic love story in a James Cameron movie, but the reason it’s epic is because it lacks all those finer details that go into making a strong relationship.
Conversely, those finer details have been much more prominent as DC has developed the budding romance between Superman and Wonder Woman. And those details are at the core of Superman/Wonder Woman #3. Wonder Woman is not Lois Lane. She’s not even mortal. Yet at times she seems far more human in her struggles to make her relationship with Superman work. And for once Superman is the one who seems like the one who needs saving because he still sees the relationship from an immature perspective. It basically turns the traditional approach to Superman’s love live upside down and inside out. Yet it makes his relationship with Wonder Woman more compelling and believable. It’s basically the anti-Twilight.
The challenges they have been facing in this series aren’t necessarily different from those Superman would face with Lois or even what Wonder Woman would face with Steve Trevor. Someone or something has been allowing creatures from the Phantom Zone to enter their world and these are the kinds of creatures that only living demigods like Superman and Wonder Woman are equipped to handle. But in trying to handle creatures like Doomsday, it provides a difficult yet strikingly realistic challenge to their relationship. And the appearance of General Zod in this issue only complicates that challenge. If that weren’t enough, Superman’s friend and co-worker, Cat Grant, exposes their relationship to the world. It creates the kind of strain that is second only to kryptonite, but it creates a unique undertone.
The most critical moments in this story had little to do with Zod. In fact, Zod was remarkably civil compared to the egotistical, violence prone villain he was in Superman: Man of Steel. His presence only added to a conflict that began in the first issue with this series when Doomsday showed up. In being with Superman, Wonder Woman now has to deal with his problems. Conversely, he has to deal with hers, which includes dealing with the gods that happen to be her family. While Wonder Woman shows that she is willing to let him into her world, Superman is more reluctant. It doesn’t matter to him that his significant other is powerful enough to take a punch from Doomsday. He still fears for her safety if he lets his problems become hers. For some men, that’s just an excuse to avoid splurging on an engagement ring. But for Superman, it’s a legitimate concern.
While he has had these concerns with Lois Lane in the past, they’ve never been explored beyond him just protecting her. As this story plays out, the growth and maturation of his relationship with Wonder Woman is the driving force of the story. It’s not a case of love at first sight and it’s not a case of emulating every Beatles song ever written. Superman is learning to share his life with Wonder Woman. Even Batman makes it a point to tell him that he can’t put up walls between his problems and hers. And even Superman knows there’s no arguing with Batman.
And that’s what makes the relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman such a compelling narrative compared to other relationships. It doesn’t rely on decades of history or the unrealistic ideals depicted in nearly every Disney movie. It’s a work-in-progress that is growing as these two characters grow. The first kiss they shared in Justice League #12 didn’t automatically make them DC’s power couple. It’s the process of them learning to be part of each others’ lives that makes their relationship both a solid romance and one that’s actually believable. The fact that they have superpowers is almost secondary, which for Superman and Wonder Woman is saying a lot.
While the romantic themes have been at the core of this series since it began, the parts of the story involving Zod, the Phantom Zone, and Cat Grant are somewhat glossed over. And it’s not just because Zod was uncharacteristically polite when he encountered Superman. The animosity between him and Superman hasn’t been established yet in DC’s New 52. The issue here is that flow of the plot from Doomsday’s appearance to Zod’s appearance isn’t very concise. And Cat Grant exposing Superman and Wonder Woman’s relationship to the world feels like it was just pasted into the story without generating much of a reaction.
In many ways Superman/Wonder Woman #3 sets up the next set of challenges for Superman and Wonder Woman. However, it doesn’t do so in a way that flows evenly. It’s like a garden hose with a few holes in it. But this issue succeeded in establishing the dynamics between Superman and Wonder Woman. This is not like their respective relationships with Lois Lane and Steve Trevor. This is a relationship that is maturing. It’s not an ideal romance and would probably make a boring romantic comedy. However, that’s exactly why it’s so compelling and why the relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman has the kind of depth that makes it stronger than any relationship that doesn’t involve vampires.