Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Valentine's Week! Day Three (A special Ask Erik!)

Here at Erik At The Gates, we're continuing our celebration of Valentine's Day with looks at different types of relationships, from young, blossoming romances when people are still in school to later days, when you have to punch your date's exes so hard they turn into money.

Join us now, as we take on another of your questions in this special "Wuv, twu wuv" edition of "Ask Erik!"

To Erik:  Who's in the five best and the five worst relationships in comics?

No jokes to get things started this time, let's start with the good couples.  I will point out I'm going to be focusing on actual loving, physical relationships.  No bromances here.

5) Tom Beland and Lily Garcia

I discussed Tom Beland before in this blog (and he responded to it *insert high-pitched girly sound here*), but I didn't really go into a lot of discussion about the primary book I know him for, True Story Swear To God. This book is an autobiographical look at how a cartoonist from Napa, California managed to meet a radio DJ from Puerto Rico and how the two of them simply "clicked."

The comic is sappy and romantic, with drama layered in perfectly.  We know Lily is still alive, so when Tom recounts having to get updates at work as a hurricane rushes towards the home of the woman he loves, we don't wonder if she makes it, but we do wonder about the experience and the loss that comes with it, which Tom captures beautifully in (relatively) simple drawings.

There are deeply personal stories that draw the reader in, whether it's Tom and Lily dealing with intimacy issues, family problems, or simply adjusting to an entirely different culture (on both sides of the family), their drama speaks and communicates to the reader, like a dear friend is sitting down with you and just talking to you about the most amazing person they've met.

Now, the last I heard the real Tom and Lily did divorce but later reconciled.  However, the large collected edition of the books put out by Image sits on a shelf over my head when I sleep, and I bring it down to flip through when I'm feeling bad and need to smile.

It's the most honest relationship comic I've ever read and showed me that you have to be fearless when it comes to relationships, because sometimes you have to move out of the country (it's a territory, but still) to be with the one you love.

4)  Peter Parker and Mary-Jane Watson

I could go into what I love about this relationship, but instead I'll just redirect you to my second favorite Tom Beland work.

 3). Big Barda and Mister Miracle

I haven't read many comics that spotlight these two as a couple.  Sometimes they'll show up, either singularly or as a pair, in other comics I read, and each time they do I smile.  It's not just because they're the perfect antithesis of the usual "power couple" in comics (he's nimble and agile, able to escape any kind of death trap, and she's strong enough that she could punch out Superman), but it's because of what they represent.

See, the young Scott Free (later Mr. Miracle) was part of an "infant exchange program" set up by his father, leader of the New Gods, and Darkseid, the greatest evil the universe has ever known as part of a "cease fire."  Scott struggled daily to escape his the planet wide prison he was on, constantly struggling against a cosmic force trying to break his spirit.  This continued from his childhood to adulthood, never bending, never breaking.

Also on that planet was Barda, leader and most powerful of the Female Furies, the fiercest (and craziest) soldiers to serve under Darkseid.  She was moved by Scott's struggles, the two fell in love, and they managed to escape from Darkseid and have since been together. 

Now, Darkseid has been "defeated" before.  Punched by Superman, shot by Batman (that's a post for another time), slammed by Wonder Woman, for someone like Darkseid these are usually more "temporary setbacks" since "Darkseid is eternal, hail Darkseid.  Hail Darkseid.  Hail Darks-"  Sorry.

Now, one of the only true "defeats" Darkseid ever had was that, for all his power and control, not only could he not crush the spirit of this one individual, but Scott's love for Barda helped her break free as well, proving there was something much stronger than anything Darkseid had.  Their love defeated Darkseid, completely and totally, and nothing he could do would ever change that.

That is epic storytelling.

2) Reed Richards and Sue Richards

Ever since the beginning, the Fantastic Four has been about family, and nothing embodies this better than the fact that two of the members actually started a family.  Reed and Sue have faced things that would tear any other relationship apart, from dealing with opposing views during the superhero "Civil War" to kings of other nations trying to seduce Sue, from the stress of raising two kids balanced against threats from beings who look at humanity like it views bacteria, Reed and Sue have proven that, even if they're separated by distance, they are always together.

A great example was a recent storyline where Reed met a "council" of Reeds from various realities, and they offered to help him "fix" everything that was wrong or could go wrong on Earth.  No wars, no disease, no pollution, no cosmic threats looming in the distance.  The only cost?  Reed would have to abandon his family and join them to keep fixing other Earths after his was done.  He turned them down.  For both members, family (and each other) always comes first.

1). Bigby Wolf and Snow White

I think it's rather telling when a traditional "villain" completely changes his ways for the woman he meets.  A capable writer would set this up as a fairy tale, where the monster's heart is tamed.  An extremely capable writer could set this story amidst an epic war or some other dramatic backdrop.

A superb writer does both.

This is the case of Bigby (a.k.a. "The Big Bad Wolf" of fairy tale lore) and Snow White, who are both key characters in the title Fables.  They didn't start out as a couple, he had to work at getting them together.  But it's mostly the small details of this relationship that makes it so much fun to read about.  When you learn that Bigby smokes cigarettes because he can actually smell peoples' emotions and he needs to drown them out, that's a cute touch to a character.  When he explains the only smell he can never drown out is Snow's, and when you realize the extent one of the biggest "monsters" of fairy tales would go to in order to protect her, it carries even more weight.

There are some other honorable mentions, like Lois Lane and Clark Kent, Medusa and Black Bolt, and I was really tempted to fill this entire article on the cultural significance of Kevin Keller and Clay over in Archie Comics...but that'll be another time.

And now the worst relationships in comics.  I'm skipping some that I think are required to be on this list, like Norman Osborn And Gwen Stacy, Carol Danvers and Marcus, but I think the ones I listed are perfectly horrible in their own way.

5). Rogue and Gambit

There are not enough words to express how much I dislike Gambit as a character.  I'll go into more detail in another post, but the fact that these two spent so much time mooning over each other killed my enjoyment of any X-Men comics I read with the two of them in it.  Between painful accents (mostly from him because writers can't write Cajun accents) and the never-ending whining of him wanting to get her in bed rock her world and her constant incessant explanations of what would happen if they actually touched, it was the world's most annoying soap opera.

Of course, part of the problem was that, if anybody ever pointed out that, at any given time, there were probably fifteen to twenty ways for Rogue and Gambit to actually be able to just have sex and get it over with, it would defeat the purpose of their story arc.  See, Rogue I like.  While all of the X-Men, in some way, embody a sense of fear or rejection, Rogue is the only one who acts as a strong warning to teenagers all the time, since the moment her hormones kicked in, physical relationships are deadly.

You could read it as a precursor to the HIV/AIDS awareness, or to other STD education.  It could be a warning about unplanned pregnancy, or just how simply getting involved too early could ruin some one's life.  There are so many different ways for a character like that to be read, it's a shame she was paired up for so long with a guy who seemed to care, yes, but could never accept that she wouldn't strip down and jump his bones anyway, without looking into any possible solutions.

4)  Every relationship that Paige Guthrie has ever been in

Oh, Paige.  I liked you in Generation X, and then things went seriously downhill.  You have the absolute worst taste in boyfriends, and, well, let's look at the list.

First, there's Chamber, a young British lad whose mutant powers manifested by blowing off his chest and face, leaving a small explosion present in their place.  Then you hooked up with the X-Man Angel, including a particularly bright moment in your life where he swooped down, carried you into the sky, and you had sex in the air...with your mother standing directly below you two.  Now it seems you're getting into a relationship with Toad, a character that existed since the 60s and I'm pretty sure is signiiiiiiificantly older than you.  Oh, and he might keep one of your "skins" to store in his room to have tea with.  Yeah, not creepy at all.

Seriously, Paige, you're an adult now.  I can forgive being drawn to the emo kid when you were a teenager, but you really need to get your act together.

3) Archie and Betty/Veronica

Okay, so this is kind of cheating, but here's how I look at Archie and Betty and Veronica these days.

When I was younger, I used to think that Archie was just a confused young man, trying to constantly figure out who he had true feelings for while Veronica would scheme her way into his life and Betty would simply try to be there when Veronica got bored and tossed him aside.  I used to always silently root for Betty, the "good girl," and figured maybe one day the story would end with Archie at her door, saying "I choose you."

...and then I realized that they'll never stop printing Archie comics.

And this brought something new to light.  When you first start reading Archie, you can understand his amazement that two gorgeous young women want to be with him in a purely platonic, milkshake drinking relationship.  But at some point, Archie has to figure out that he has a great thing going on, and he doesn't want to ruin it.

Heck, there are frequent story lines where Archie is trying to juggle two girlfriends at once.  This makes him, as science can clearly support, "a bad guy."

These days, I still get enjoyment from the occasional Archie comic when the spotlight isn't on the constant love triangle these three have, and while I never really cared when Cheryl Blossom entered the picture, I will admit I had extremely conflicted emotions when Archie started dating Valerie from Josie and the Pussycats.

I'm not sure about Archie's current status (I'm sure he'll hook up with Sabrina the teenage witch at some point...if he hasn't already), but if Archie announced that he and Betty and Veronica were permanently through and they were going to focus on other stories?  I'd cheer.

2)  Terry Long and Donna Troy

...I'm just going to start at the beginning for this one.

Donna Troy is the daughter sister younger version of Wonder Woman total stranger given mystical pow-oh forget it.

Donna Troy is a teenage girl with Wonder Woman's powers who starts attending college starring in a book that still has Teen featured prominently in the title.

Terry Long is her 29 year old college professor who works part time in a book store and is working on studies involving ancient Greece.

These two hooked up, got married, had a baby.  Terry and the baby later died in a car accident after they split up, but both came back during a big zombie yeah, Donna Troy had to fight her own zombie baby with superpowers.

...look, I'm just going to post the following pictures (the first ones are from one of their first real dates) and be done with this garbage.

...okay, maybe one more thing that someone else used to reference Terry Long.

So, who's my number one choice for worst relationship?

It's not Cyclops and Emma Frost.

It's not Scarlet Witch and Vision.

It's not even that brief moment when Superman and Big Barda were almost forced to star in a porno together (long story).

1)  Superman and Lois Lane

"But wait," you're saying, "you already picked these two as runners up for one of the best couples."

Yes, I did.  But in this instance, I'm cheating and pulling Superman and Lois Lane from the movie Superman Returns.  It's a comic book-based movie, so I can do it.

Now, I'm not going to go on about the cast, the plot, or any of the other stuff that people claim drags the movie down...instead, I'm going to focus on the messed up relationship between Superman, Lois, and Richard White.

Superman's been in space for five years, leaving behind Lois Lane (who conveniently has a baby in under a year after he goes), who starts a relationship later on with Richard White.  When Superman returns (see? the title is so clever!) he tries to rekindle his relationship with Lois.  Let's ignore the fact that Lois is either lying to Richard because she knows that her son is Superman's, which is a pretty lousy foundation for a lasting relationship, or she doesn't know her son is Superman's because he kept wiping her mind in pretty much every movie he was in, and that has more implications than I want to even think about.

When Lois gets kidnapped, Richard goes with Superman to save her.  WITHOUT POWERS.  Richard is willing to raise Lois' mystery kid.  Richard is, apparently, the greatest human being who ever lived...and Lois dumps him (her fiancee) because Superman's back in her life again.

This is, of course, after he spies on her for a while, and then takes her up into the sky to have some intimate alone time while Richard and her son wait for her.  Of course, Lois isn't exactly prone to making wise decisions since she takes her son (possibly with or without knowledge that he might be bulletproof) along with her to investigate Lex Luthor's yacht, and then later uses him as a distraction while she tries to summon help (with a fax machine...which is a phone...that you dial...and can talk through, Lois, you idiot).

...don't get me started on Superman's kid killing a man with a piano.  That's a whole other bucket of rage, and it runs deep.

I realize it's late, and I'm not typing this in an organized manner, but it's not because I'm tired.  It's because trying to mentally put together how anybody in this relationship besides Richard White, the damn romantic rival, was supposed to be a likable makes me lose the ability to think straight.  Superman deserves his own rendition of Do The Creep up above, being the world's strongest deadbeat, and Lois Lane is a vindictive woman who's a terrible parent and seems more than willing to spend her time with the guy who crushed her heart five years before...and may or may not know he's the father of her son!

It- I- it just- ....I hate this movie and I hate what it did to this couple.  Richard, go over to Riverdale and rescue Betty Cooper.  I'll pay real, American money to follow that story.

No comments: