Before Marvel Comics was the publishing and multimedia giant it is today, it went by the names Timely Comics from 1939 to 1950 and then Atlas Comics through the 1950s. And before the revival of superheroes in the late 1950s, the stories the company produced fell within a number of other genres that proved popular at the time: one of these being romance. With titles such as Young Romance, Love Tales and Patsy Walker (a character who famously made the jump from romance to superhero comics in becoming Hellcat), Marvel’s earliest days were chock full of stories of troubled youths and their romantic angst and antics. As Marvel’s “Battleworld” series of comics continues to pay tribute to the publisher’s many past series and stories, Secret Wars: Secret Love serves as a tribute to these lovelorn days of old, showing several of Marvel’s heroes setting aside the dangers of crime-fighting for the perils of romance. And if this issue is anything to go by, Marvel could definitely have a promising project in reviving some of those old tales.
The issue is divided up into five separate short stories, which take place within the continuity of the Secret Wars story arc, where the multiverse has collapsed and the sole remaining Earth is an amalgamation of parallel Earths, with Doctor Doom as its overlord. As it turns out, this scenario actually works to the comic’s benefit, as the apocalyptic, dystopian background gives the stories’ romance narratives a charming sense of interiority. And it’s the two stories in the issue that detail the already well-established relationships of the Marvel Universe that work best.
The Battleworld backdrop works particularly well in arguably the comic’s strongest story, featuring Matt Murdock and Karen Page. While the story details a battle between Daredevil and Typhoid Mary as Daredevil attempts to contain the chaos of Battleworld’s New York, the actual narrative, told from Karen’s point of view, is a tale of romantic distrust and jealousy. While Mary and Matt fight, Karen can’t help but retain a sense of jealousy over Matt and Mary’s history. The juxtaposition of scenes of Matt battling villains and evil creatures across New York with Karen’s monologue detailing her relationship concerns creates an absorbing and clever narrative of persistent, romantic angst even in the face of catastrophe. And the story’s ending, showing Karen and Matt kissing while the world burns behind them, is a beautiful illustration of enduring love.
The other of these stories features Danny Rand and Misty Knight going on a dinner date to try and reclaim a spark in their marriage. The story opens with Danny visiting another famous Marvel couple, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, as the two babysit Danny and Misty’s daughter, Lucy. The two marriages featured in the story are endearingly written as the dialogue and interactions between the characters maintains their lasting appeal as superhero couples, such as Danny and Misty ultimately abandoning their date to fight a giant dinosaur. “Sometimes it takes a giant Dinosaur to remind you how to love someone,” Misty says, as the two decide to spend the rest of the night watching kung fu movies. “Being married is full of little traps,” Misty says. “Sometimes you forget you got into it by being two people who really liked each other.” The scene is a heartfelt look at a rediscovered romance, and the unique qualities that define a relationship, Danny and Misty’s being no exception (Who can forget that Danny once proposed to Misty with a ring at the bottom of a Chinese food container?)
The remaining stories in the issue are more teen stories than romances, one featuring Kamala Khan and new Ghost Rider, Robbie Reyes, and the other starring Squirrel Girl and Thor. The former involves Kamala working at a concession stand in a stadium in Doomstadt, the capital of Latveria, where Robbie Reyes is competing in a dangerous race against other Ghost Racers. When a monster from the racetrack tries to attack Robbie, Kamala steps in as Ms. Marvel to help him fight it. After the dust settles, and Kamala and Robbie are left standing together, there’s a seeming moment of romantic intrigue, at least to the the two superheroes’ respective admirers, Bruno and Lisa, who stand looking horrified from the sidelines. When Kamala and Robbie (platonically) clap hands and celebrate their victory, Bruno and Lisa breathe a collective sigh of relief. The romantic angst of the story falls with the heroes’ secret admirers rather than the heroes themselves, and makes for a humorous, Archie-esque scene of lovestruck panic. Whether Kamala and Robbie could be a couple in future stories, as the comic’s cover implies, or just great friends, remains to be seen.
Squirrel Girl’s story features her winning a date with Thor at a Super-Triathlon, and mostly just features the two partying it up in Asgard. The story doesn’t show much beyond Squirrel Girl’s immense enjoyment of such a unique opportunity (including touching Thor’s abs when she’s forced to rip his shirt to put out a fire), but does so in a hilarious and delightful way.
The final story of the comic is a short romance by famous Marvel Animals illustrator Katie Cook, featuring bug versions of Wasp and (original) Ant-man on a date. While the story is impressively drawn and very cute in tone, the regular narrative input (i.e. “there’s a terrible nerd joke coming up”) becomes a bit distracting by the end, as Cook seems to try and remind the reader of the story’s cuteness. Nevertheless, the story shouldn’t disappoint fans of Cook’s work.
Secret Wars: Secret Love is an enjoyable look at the diverse storytelling potential within the Marvel Universe and its always rich cast of characters, and serves as both a successful homage and convincing introduction to romance comics for those unfamiliar with the genre. Hopefully Marvel considers using it as a stepping stone to more of these tales in the future.