Romance in comics is often handled with the same competence as a teenager who keeps failing to pass the 10th grade. When it comes to telling stories about romance between two powerful characters, it’s a two-way street with one too many traffic cops. Either a couple is in the process of hooking up or in the process of breaking up. It’s will-they-or-won’t-they versus how-bad-is-it-going-to-get?
The list of iconic couples that have succumbed to this narrow narrative that anyone can see in a 90120 rerun has only grown over the years. Couples like Vision and the Scarlet Witch, Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, and Cyclops and Jean Grey have all been undermined, undone, or utterly nullified via deals with the pseudo-devil. With Reed and Sue Richards possibly joining that list after Secret Wars, there’s a real chance that iconic romances could go the way of VHS and mix tapes.
Marvel’s handling of romance has been flawed, to say the least. That’s why DC’s efforts with the Superman/Wonder Woman relationship that emerged from the New 52 was so refreshing. For once, it seemed they would actually put an effort into making this a real relationship and leave sticking to tired formulas to bad Johnny Depp movies. They just had the resist the urge to slip back into familiar territory once the narrative required more effort.
The events of Darkseid War and Truth have made that temptation very strong. The events of Superman/Wonder Woman Annual #2 attempt to give an overall perspective of the relationship, if only to explore the extent of its potential. The narrative that unfolds leaves us with more questions than answers, but it still provides solid insight into the only relationship that either Marvel or DC has put any effort into developing.
This isn’t a story where Superman and Wonder Woman team up to punch Lex Luthor and Cheetah in the jaw and then make out over their unconscious bodies. It’s more an inner reflection told by Superman, comparing his relationship with Wonder Woman to the relationship his adopted parents had. In some ways, it’s both a fair and unfair comparison. Jonathan and Martha Kent represent the gold standard for a loving couple and loving parents. Comparing any relationship to them is like comparing every man’s endowment to that of Ron Jeremy.
However, it’s a fair comparison in the sense that this relationship is Superman’s insight into what a loving couple should be. Compared to those who get their ideas of love from Twilight books and Kanye West videos, this is as good a standard as any man could use. Throughout Superman’s musings, we see how his relationship with Wonder Woman meets and does not meet that standard.
We see moments in the relationship where things are sunshine, rainbows, and Celine Dion songs. From getting frisky in the Justice League Watchtower to sharing a double date with Aquaman and Mera, these moments make clear that the love these two share is genuine and passionate. Some of it is the kind of puppy love that made Stephanie Meyers rich. Some of it is a deeper, more meaningful love that would never have made it into a Julia Roberts movie. These moments provide depth, but they also set the stage for the flaws in the narrative.
As Superman’s musings continue, we get more insight into other parts of his relationship with Wonder Woman that were never explored in their respective comics. One such moment was him reacting to Wonder Woman becoming the new God of War. While it doesn’t lead to an argument, it does reveal some insecurities. These aren’t the kind of insecurities that can be overcome with extra date nights and chocolates, either.
The insecurities in this case eventually morph into obstacles. Wonder Woman being the God of War and Superman losing his powers become excuses for uncertainty. This is the main weakness of the narrative. The uncertainty feels forced and somewhat petty. When Superman and Wonder Woman start to get petty without the influence of Brainiac, then something is wrong.
Some of these issues that are explored don’t need to be issues, but they’re presented in such a way and that makes them feel less than genuine. The idea that Superman doesn’t trust Wonder Woman to handle being the God of War or that Wonder Woman doesn’t trust Superman to be who he is without his powers isn’t just disingenuous. It’s unreasonable. Again, unless Brainiac is influencing them, they have no excuses.
It’s towards the end that these forced insecurities start to have a negative impact on the relationship. That’s not to say that it makes the emotions less sincere. If anything, it reveals that Superman and Wonder Woman’s relationship still lacks the maturity to make it a reasonable comparison to the Kents. Even if they’re still light years ahead of any relationship Marvel has attempted in the past five years, the insecurities are inflated to a point where Superman and Wonder Woman feel out of character.
There are plenty of moments in Superman/Wonder Woman Annual #2 where the strengths and the progression of the Superman/Wonder Woman relationship are well-developed. But the conflicts that are explored in this issue feel too forced. It gives the impression that DC is succumbing to the same temptation that Marvel did when they nullified Spider-Man’s marriage with Mary Jane Watson. Even if this doesn’t lead to another deal with Mephisto, it feels like someone is too ready to sell their soul.
Every relationship faces conflicts and obstacles. The Superman/Wonder Woman relationship is no different. But in the same way comics rely too often on Nazis and evil scientists, they rely too much on forcing dysfunction within a relationship to make it interesting. Superman and Wonder Woman don’t have to be on the verge of breaking up or making up to be meaningful. The emotions between them just have to be sincere. With the exception of sociopaths and poorly moderated message boards, these emotions appeal to everybody.