The Gold Standard: The War on Marriage

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So DC Comics has a problem, and it’s not the ones that everyone keeps complaining about.

Their problem isn’t homophobia, despite the claims of a bunch of hard left leaning trash media outlets who fail to read or comprehend beyond a fourth grade level.

Their problem isn’t the New 52, despite the claims of fans who hate and fear change and want the old way back.

Their problem isn’t even Dan DiDio and his bonehead moves, because for as loudly as people whine about his missteps, the things he has done right always out weigh them in the end. Even though he is the favorite punching bag of the Twitterverse.

So what is their problem? That nothing the company does goes unreported on. That every last little move or shake up is analyzed under the most scrutinous microscopes in all of comics fandom. DC has become incapable of getting away with things that nobody bats an eye at Marvel for doing.

Like writer changes. I’ve read reports on Marc Andreyko’s taking over of Batwoman that report it as Dan DiDio lied to fans by claiming that there would be no more creative changes for the rest of 2013. Because Dan DiDio has the power to make writers not walk off of books (Batwoman), not reach the logical end of their runs (Flash), or not need replacing like most writers in the Superman family. But people are faulting him for this, because creative teams should be locked into stone and nothing ever change.

Marvel promised that the debut creative teams of Marvel NOW! would all be around for a while, and while I’m pretty sure nobody expected John Cassaday to actually stick around on Uncanny Avengers, I don’t think anyone foresaw things not living up to that promise. Yet here we are, not a year later, and what changes have we seen? Nova is on its second creative team, preparing for its third. Thunderbolts is on its second creative team, hell, Matt Fraction just dumped Fantastic Four and FF to go move to Inhumans, leaving both without bothering to finish his runs.

These are things that happen, a creative team doesn’t work for whatever reason, so you yank them and replace them. Or a creative team hits the end of their story and leaves organically. Or maybe they got another project and didn’t have time to do both. The fact that people can find a way to vilify a company for creative changes on their books is just absurd.

So then you’ve got ‘the war on marriage’, or, as the uber-liberals (I say as a left leaning moderate, of all things) would have you believe, the war on gay marriage. Where the story is that DC editorial told JH Williams and Haden Blackman that they couldn’t marry lesbian couple Kathy Kane and Maggie Sawyer. The reality of this story is that DC doesn’t want ANY characters getting married, but in order for the media to spin it and generate traffic they have to paint the story as if the big evil corporation is trying to make an anti-gay political statement.

Bleeding Cool's montage of headlines speaks volumes about the ridiculous media spin.

Bleeding Cool’s montage of headlines speaks volumes about the ridiculous media spin.

I’ve seen very few of the sites that reported on the perceived homophobia update their stories with DC’s putting Marc Andreyko on the book as the new writer. Marc is a fantastic and horribly under-appreciated writer that is best known by his fans as the guy who wrote Manhunter. Haven’t read Manhunter? Go buy it. Right now.

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A single mother with a succesful career in law, that smokes, and doubles as a vigilante that kills the bad guys. DC needs Kate Spencer back.

All of it. Regrets? There are none, it’s an amazing read with some amazing characters, and on the strength of it alone I have followed Marc around for years. He’s a writer I have the utmost faith in, and the same is said by anyone who has followed his work. So why should the media have updated their stories about the homophobic DC comics hating gay people? Because Marc is openly gay. Because he wasn’t the given the job because he is gay. Because the truth is far less insane than the slow news day media spin.

So what’s the deal with the war on marriage if it isn’t a political statement? Well, frankly, the issue is that in the 80’s and 90’s there were a LOT of marriages in comics. Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, Wally West and Linda Park, Scott Summers and Madelyne Pryor, Scott Summers and Jean Grey, Johnny Storm and Alicia Masters/Lyja, Brian Braddock and Meggan, Clark Kent and Lois Lane, Wolverine and Viper, Ultra Boy and Phantom Girl, Namor and Marrina, Bruce Banner and Betty Ross, Hawkeye and Mockingbird, Lex Luthor and the Contessa. Again, just the 80’s and 90’s, not even a complete list. I made one of those already, remember?

The war on marriage, as far as the big two are concerned, is the end result of having characters that outlast their creative teams and editorial directions. In the nineties Lois Lane was an integral part of the Superman titles, and her relationship with Clark Kent was front and center in everything that happened. Their engagement, and later marriage, were great successes by Dan Jurgens, Roger Stern, Louise Simonson, Karl Kesel, and everyone else who contributed over that extended run. It wasn’t until they were all gone, replaced by multiple writers and editors over countless years, that Lois Lane moved to the background of the Superman titles, to the point where their relationship being dissolved in the New 52 didn’t even feel like a tragedy. Ten, fifteen years ago, that would have been a blasphemous statement. That relationship MEANT something!

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How about Peter Parker? He married on-again-off-again girlfriend Mary Jane Watson back in the eighties. The marriage wasn’t perfect, Peter had a tendency to be pretty…well, he’s Spider-Man, that should say enough, but they made it work. Despite her leaving him, or him leaving her, or him being a clone, or their baby being a stillborn/kidnapped by an Osborn follower, or Aunt May coming back to life, or a stalker faking MJ’s death to have her to himself, or even Peter stuck in an airport with Captain America and Doctor Doom. They made it work, and it was a very real relationship. Joe Straczynski spent a long time writing Spider-Man, and he’s most remembered for the way he left. The Joe Quesada written One More day. What did JMS really do on Spider-Man? Well, a lot of Totem stuff, some Loki stuff (though it was Fiona Avery that had Pete and Loki eat hotdogs), but the crux of all of it wound up being the relationship between Peter and his wife. When Joe took over the book, they were separated, and when the book ended with them selling their marriage to the devil you just wanted to hurt someone because the relationship was PERFECT!

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But it’s the war on marriage. There are going to be some writers and editors who look at a married couple and see the benefits of having that dynamic in their title, and there are going to be ones who look at it and say “He’s more fun single”. Sometime they’re right, sometimes they aren’t, but the problem is that once a character is married off, you can’t just ‘make them single’. This isn’t professional wrestling, it’s comic books. We have long memories and it’s pretty hard to make us forget something as significant as an on-panel marriage, which means that they can’t just toss a character into limbo for a year, pull them out, and have no questions asked. At the same time, divorce isn’t a quick and easy bandaid yanking process that you can just burn through in one page unless you really don’t care about pulling readers out of a story.

This is why so many comic book marriages in the big two end in death. Until death do us part, that’s a part of every wedding vow I’ve ever heard, but in the real world it isn’t a loophole. You don’t wish for your significant other to die so you can go be single again, if things aren’t working, you split up and divorce. I can’t tell you how many people I know that have gone through it. Hell, I’m the product of a divorce. But in the big two, divorce is a dirtier word than widowing.

Back during the explanations for One More Day, where Mephisto came up and traded Pete and MJ’s marriage in exchange for his elderly Aunt not dying (not even going to get into how her life threatening problem with a gunshot wound and Pete had Reed Richards on speed dial), Joe Quesada explained why divorce wasn’t an option. Long story short, he rationalized that marriage and divorce would age Peter too much and make him hard for people to relate to. Because a guy in his twenties would NEVER get married and NEVER get divorced! That’s an old person thing to do! Like having kids!

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I still miss Spider-Girl

So, fun fact, but I’ve known my best friend for seventeen years. I was the best man at his wedding, and I’m the Godfather of both of his kids. The eldest of which was born when he was twenty-four. The marriage came after both kids. He’s twenty-eight now, but Marvel would have you believe he’s in his mid or late thirties, because that’s when you really get ‘grown up’.

I’m twenty-eight and I can’t tell you how many people that I went to highschool with who have already gone through a divorce. It’s more than the amount who had kids, and probably about half the ones I knew who got married, but I know quite a few people that were married at twenty-three and divorced at twenty-eight. How old is Peter Parker that he’s too young to go through a marriage or divorce? How old is he that he couldn’t believably have children? Where did these lame ass excuses come from?

The same person who has banned cigarettes and cigars from every book his company publishes, which I’ll admit is more understandable because they have killing potential, but still not the sort of mandate that matters enough to enact. I didn’t start smoking in college because I knew Wolverine did it, or Thing did it, or Nick Fury did it. To be honest, I don’t know why I started doing it. I just know that around the time I did, I started seeing a lot less of it in the media. It wasn’t in comics, was vilified on TV (after school special style), and literally vilified in movies as nine times out of ten you can pick out the bad guy because he’s smoking. I get that smoking is bad for you, but really? The Marvel Universe is a bunch of single people in their twenties who don’t have kids and nobody smokes, in New York.

I call shenanigans.

DC was, honestly, much better about this before the New 52. You had couples like Lois and Clark, but you also had situations like Roy Harper and his daughter Lian (and we will not mention the end of that story). For as hard as Marvel tried to place their Universe in the real world, DC always did a better job at making their characters feel like real people and not just analogues of a point in time in someone’s life. Peter Parker, for as much as he has gone through, will never be older than twenty-four in the eyes of the Marvel brass, but given the opportunity, he would be fifteen again. Whereas when DC hit the reset clock on their characters there were only a few that all of the sudden regained their lost youth.

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Which is on the big list of things they did wrong with Green Arrow, but whatever, they’re fixing that.

 

Comic book characters have this little niche just by nature of the medium, that these characters are visually presented to us on a regular basis and don’t have to age. Actors age, and thus TV and movie characters have to age (or be recast). Comic book characters also, unless owned by their writer, will be written by countless different people over the years. Your average character in fiction has a story that exists until the writer is done, and then they go away. It’s a very different medium, one with built in longevity as it pertains to characters. Spider-Man is fifty years old, that’s unheard of in most forms of media. To have a character last for that long with new material, in a narrative that moves forward and builds on itself. The only thing more impressive would be Batman and Superman starting in the thirties.

It’s a comic book thing, the fact that you can do that, but it creates the issue of having decisions that made perfect sense at the time creating problems in the future. It’s easy to ignore things like which real world President showed up to talk to Captain America, or Spider-Man going on SNL with the classic seventies cast. It’s harder to blow off something like twenty year marriage.

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But there’s an infrastructure set up now, a clear cut ‘what to do’ when you want to dissolve a relationship left over by a previous creative team. Pick a method and don’t drag it out, just rip off the damn band aid.

Case in point: Black Panther and Storm. Marvel made a HUGE deal about the pairing, and even let it overshadow the middle act of Civil War. It was their two most prominent black characters being put together, despite the gaps in logic. It was a centerpiece, as far as media headlines are concerned…well, after Marvel shopped them around. Anyway, the marriage was the culmination of an arc where T’Challa went around looking for a wife and wound up getting together with childhood sweetheart, Ororo “Storm” Munroe. They actually weren’t a terrible couple, either, and had a stint where they filled in for Reed and Sue on the Fantastic Four and Dwayne McDuffie wrote it. So good. But alas, not all things last forever, and the writer who paired the two, Reggie Hudlin, is long gone from Marvel, as was a consistent push for the Black Panther as more than a once or twice a year cameo. Storm left Wakanda as well, as the X-Men office wanted her back, and then Bendis wanted her for Avengers, and the next thing you know the Queen of Wakanda is in multiple books a month and the King is an after thought. Reggie had a point to pairing the two, but nobody looked at the couple during Avengers Vs. X-Men and decided that the two served a purpose. T’Challa annulled their marriage himself after Storm was firmly on the Avengers side of the conflict, fighting against the man who destroyed her husbands country. Essentially saying “All mutants are the same” as he dissolved their marriage as he literally punishes her for the actions of Namor, and nothing she did (she only sought to help her people, the Wakandan’s).

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So where are we now? Storm has a mohawk and is running the Jean Grey School while occasionally getting it on with Wolverine. Black Panther is working with the Illuminati to stop incursions and save the world. It’s like they were never together in the first place.

Marvel also did a gay marriage a year or so ago, putting together Northstar with his normal everyday boyfriend during Marjorie Liu’s Astonishing X-Men. I haven’t read the book in a while, but she had been doing a nice job with the characters. Unfortunately, I expect the next writer to want to use Northstar to either forget that he married a man named Kyle, split them off panel, or pull a reverse Marz and put Kyle in the fridge.

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Marvel basked in the PR they got from this issue, selling the headline and making a big event out of it. Does anyone really think it will last?

Did I really get off topic? Nah, I just wanted to rant a bit, mainly about Marvel, before I got back to this.

Kate Kane and Maggie Sawyer aren’t going to get married. It doesn’t matter that Marvel has proven that you can market the hell out of a same sex marriage and get the media to sell the books for you. It doesn’t matter that the creators on the book had a plan for the couple. It doesn’t even matter that the book is an award winner. At the end of the day, J.H. Williams and Haden Blackman weren’t going to be around forever (seriously, Williams is drawing Sandman, how much longer did he have left on Batwoman), but Batwoman and Maggie Sawyer (barring random acts of comic book violence) will stick around for a while. Neither was created by Williams or Blackman, the creators don’t have any degree of ownership. Maggie was created by John Byrne back in 1987 as a supporting cast member of Superman and eventually moved to Gotham during Gotham Central about a decade ago. Kate was created in 2006 by the creators of 52 and was later retooled by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams before Rucka left DC and Williams and Blackman took over. That leaves us at today.

Marc Andreyko is writing the book next, and what if, say, he wasn’t fond of Maggie Sawyer? Or whoever is next? Maybe the book gets cancelled, the characters shelved for a time, what then? Maybe a future Superman writer wants to use Maggie Sawyer in Metropolis, but has no interest in Batwoman. Do they end the relationship off panel? What if someone wants to take Kate down a level of grim and gritty that Frank Miller can only dream of? Would Maggie meet the same fate as Alex DeWitt, Katma Tui, Gwen Stacy, and so many others?

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Fridging Classic

What DC is mandating, the ban on marriage, is preventing that from occurring. Or at least from being a forced occurrence, because writers won’t have to find a way out of that particular handcuff.

Because Marvel and DC have spent the better part of the last decade eliminating as many of these marriages as possible, breaking characters free from their proverbial balls and chains. One More Day ended the Peter Parker and Mary Jane marriage, Jean Grey is still dead and Scott Summers continues to play the field, and the New 52 split up every couple the company had.

It’s irritating, and a bit of a ball kick to see relationships you grew up reading about torn apart and eradicated, but I understand why it has to be done. I mean, are you reading Superior Spider-Man? That book is fantastic, but if Pete were still married to MJ then the entire concept would have wound up dead in the water. After all, if Peter Parker was married, then the red flags Ock is throwing up would be impossible to ignore.

So if you want marriage in your comics…well, look to the smaller presses. Look to creator owned titles, the books that will last only so long as their creators are able to produce them. Where the longevity isn’t expected to be measured in the decades, with the torch passed on.

Marvel and DC just can’t afford to do that right now, their characters need to remain free to develop in the hands of the creators brought on board to continue their stories. They’re better off this way, lest we ever see Mephisto come calling for another marriage again.

mephistolover

OMD: Never Forget.

The Gold Standard

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