Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Kapow! Blam! Zap! And They Lived Happily Ever After?

Today at The Pink Heart Society, we meet Comic Book Aficionado, Maya Kesh, who over the next few months will be reviewing some of the Harlequin Digital comics which have hit the marketplace this year. 

Is there room in the genre for romance-centered stories or is it limited to the kind of action and adventure which spawned blockbuster Movies like The Avengers?

When the subject of comics come up how many of us think romance?  Me!  As strange as this might sound comics, superhero comics to be precise, were my gateway to romantic fiction.   

My OTP as the kids call it (meaning “One true Pairing”), is Lois Lane and Superman/Clark Kent and currently I’m very displeased with the main DC universe because they decoupled my OTP and put Superman and Wonder Woman together. 

Don't get me wrong, I love Wonder Woman, but I firmly believe she belongs with a human male, Steve Trevor if you ask me, because of the fascinating gender dynamics at play where the woman is the physical alpha.  I have a whole post about Wonder Woman and how her romance with Steve Trevor flips the traditional romance model on it’s head by putting her in the protector role.  How would a military man like Trevor, brought up in a society where men are the ones on the front line, adjust to relationship with somebody almost as powerful as Superman himself.  If I con my way back to this space often enough, I will share my thoughts in detail!

I think for many people comics bring to mind spandex and fights and not romance. However, if we think about the Movies and TV shows based on these well-known superhero characters, often what gives the story the depth and a reason for the audience to care about these people are the relationships they have with the people they love, be it their families or lovers.  Remove MJ or Gwen Stacey from a Spider-Man movie and it completely changes the dynamic.  Remove Lois Lane from the story and you lose that important window into Superman’s soul.  Without Lois we don’t see him as part of humanity wishing for the same things we all do, somebody to love and make a life with.  He also doesn’t have somebody to share his real self with. He is neither just Clark Kent or Superman, it’s more complex than that. He’s an alien raised amongst humans always having to hide part of himself in one disguise or the other. When Lois is in the know she’s the person he can be himself with.  He can be petty, happy, angry, sad, grieving, and every other emotion in between.  Through his relationship with Lois we see the man beyond the super-hero.

The same holds true in comic books. Some might argue romance isn't important yet it’s the glue in so many of these stories. For the many years that Superman and Lois were married, before DC rebooted their universe sidelining Lois and pairing him with Wonder Woman, Clark and Lois’s marriage was the spine of the story. A good example of this is Superman 654 written by Kurt Busiek, with art by Carlos Pacheco. It’s a very romantic story centered around Clark Kent and Lois Lane trying to celebrate an anniversary but life keeps getting in the way until they finally get a moment to breathe. 

I think this is a beautiful issue which captures why the relationship is so important.  Would you be surprised if I told you that I have a lot more to say about why I think this is such an important relationship and why without Superman and Lois’s love for each other the story falls flat?  Well I do, but it’s beyond the scope of this post.

Meanwhile, romance was also an important catalyst for the well-known (in comic circles)  “The Dark Phoenix Saga”. Jean Grey’s love for Scott Summers is what impresses the Phoenix Force and leads to one of the most classic Marvel stories to date.

That said, romance isn't the focus of these stories, they play the supporting role. The bulk of the stories are about the larger than life good vs evil fights on galactic scales.  Which brings me to a series written and drawn by Thom Zahler called “Love and Capes” which concentrates on the romantic relationships of superheroes (his original creations) with the battles taking the backseat. The story chronicles the relationship between Abby, a bookseller and Mark who is a superhero from dating to marriage and now to parenthood.  The focus is on their relationship with each other and their friends. 

This gives the reader a different side of the story as we follow the emotional roller-coaster of superhero relationships. 

The marriage between comics and romance isn't anything new of course. Young Romance, created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (the Captain America co-creators) in 1947, was a pulp romance comic book for adults. It’s extremely dated and often unintentionally hilarious but it was very successful, demonstrating that there was indeed a market with in the genre. 

The book was ultimately canceled in the 1970s.  After this, in the western market, romance driven books took a back seat to super villains and cosmic fighting. However the Japanese Manga style of comic books picked up the slack and found what Kirby & Simon knew, that there is indeed a market for romance.  

Of course, Harlequin Mills & Boon has been publishing adaptations of their romance novels in the Japanese Manga format for quite some time. But recently they began to offer English translations of them in digital format. Which is the reason I'm here at The Pink Heart Society...


There are many other titles (you can find a list of them on Amazon) and fair warning? I have another post, well in my head at least, about these Harlequin Manga and how I think the adaptations work. I've read a few of them without reading the original novels, and a couple of them after reading the original novels. It’s fascinating and has made me wonder if there is a market for a revival of a romance driven comic book using this model (adapting existing romance novels to comic book form)

Romance authors are also using the comic book format to create original stories to complement their prose novels. Corrina Lawson has used the genre to explore back stories of characters found in her novels.  For example, Lawson wrote a comic featuring her Heroine from “Phoenix Rising”.

This seems to me a clever way to add to the story.  I also think as digital comics become more popular and the technology advances there is a potential to make mini animated comics which offers a whole new avenue for creators and consumers alike. 

As a lover of both comic books and romance I think there is a vast untapped potential in the romance comic genre, especially with aforementioned growing popularity of digital comic books. It offers a way to reach a market that might not necessarily feel comfortable walking in to a comic book store.

I, of course, am not a writer. So when I look at this, I'm thinking about the technical advances and what could be possible, be it short animated stories or the broad reach of digital comics in general.  Books like Young Romance in the past has shown there was a market. Is there still one?  Romance is a huge seller so I personally think a current market for romance driven comics isn't as far-fetched as it might seem. 

Tune in to the same bat-channel at a similar bat-time for the first of Maya's reviews!

Are you a comic book fan? Do you think there is room in the genre for romance? Do you have a OTP? How about the romance readers out there-would you consider reading some of your favorite authors in comic book format? As always, jump to the comments and let us know!

Maya Kesh is an Electrical Engineer who stumbled in to the world of romance via her 45 year comic book habit.  She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two children and you can follow her on Twitter.


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  2. Fantastic post, Maya. And you are a writer!

    Romance is NEEDED in the comics. Case in point, my OTP is the triangle for two Superman/Lois Lane/Clark Kent which is now called Clois. Superman was my introduction to romance. But DC Comics in it's current era, the new 52, has seen fit to eradicate all marriage and separate iconic couples. Like Clark and Lois and Barry (Flash) and Iris. (Sales have plummeted for both these characters.)

    Earlier this year, DC Comics had a survey where people were asked to decide between action stories OR stories with complex relationships. This from the regime who considers splashpages of wreckage and destruction to suffice for anything lacking in the storytelling. Why can't readers have both action and complex relationships? We did in previous eras. It would make for a more full-bodied experience. Characters are well developed because of these relationships. Readers can relate better to these superheroes because of the commonality of emotions. Especially love.

    The best way to hurt Superman is not with a punch, nor even with kryptonite. You hurt him emotionally. Attack his loved ones.

    Those legendary panels of Superman flying through the Metropolis sky with Lois Lane in his arms have only occurred twice in 3 years. Once in the Superman book, when she was an astral projection, and once recently in the Batman/Superman book. That's it!

    Fans are missing the emotional stories between characters they love. This is not just a female perspective. I'm sure the comic publishers would be startled to find their male clientele also like the emotional and romantic stories. My son, who has read and collected comics for over 3 decades, quit comics altogether because DC Comics separated Barry Allen and Iris West.

    The comic book genre NEEDS romance if it is ever going to succeed in satisfying its readership.

    1. Thanks so much! Yes, I think we need romance and we need more people who understand how to write it.

      One of the things that bugged me about Superman Returns was how they tried to position it as a romance.

      Uhh.. No? Superman and Lois were both totally out of character and unsympathetic. The other man, Richard, was the one the audience felt badly for.

      Even with the plot driven story, that being they wanted to shock the audience with the idea that Jason was Superman's son, there was a better way to write it to be more romantic.

      First, they should have established that Lois did remember sleeping with him in Superman 2 but didn't let on. Then a scene with Superman telling Lois he has to leave the planet, not for the idiotic reason they gave but for a universe driven crisis that leaves him no choice. Our whole existence is in danger if he doesn't go. Then he tells Lois not to wait for him.

      We see that she does for a few years, she has her child. Nobody thought Jason was anybody other than Superman's son so why bother at the expense of your main characters?

      She then meets Richard and moves forward.

      Then Superman comes back and realizes that yes, Lois has moved forward. He doesn't have to know Jason is his right away, that could be the shock reveal.

      This keeps the bare bones of the story Singer wanted to tell but gives the characters back their integrity.

      Neither Superman or Lois should be played bitter or angry, but instead regretful and both of them don't want to hurt Richard or Jason who looks to Richard as the only dad he knows.

      I don't like the whole premise but at least this way they don't look foolish as they did in that move which was NOT romantic by any stretch of the imagination.


  3. I whole heartedly agree with what the writer of this post, Maya, is saying. Not only is Lois Lane an important part to connecting Superman/Clark Kent to his humanity, but their romance is celebrated in songs and popular culture for a reason. It's real. It's how we identify with Superman, through his love for Lois, because it makes him normal, human, which we all are. The readers will always be human (even on a multiverse planet, there's humans). So yes, romance is, I would argue, the most integral part to a Superhero story, not just that of Superman and Lois, but all as a whole. We can even sympathize with Bruce Wayne (Batman) when he gets his heart crushed by loving a criminal.
    Romance even takes centre stage in TV shows like Lois and Clark, Smallville, Flash and Arrow. And further, in movies. Man of Steel develops Lois right into the story from 30 mins. They develop Lois' and Clark's relationship from the first scene Lois is on.
    Romance in any Superhero story makes it more, gives it substance, makes for a richer story, which benefits the character and the reader. Love and romance is needed in superhero stories, despite what publishers would say.
    Romance comes from love. Love comes from the heart. So how can you have a superhero story without a heart? That makes for a boring story, like what we have with Superman and Wonder Woman. It isn't romance, it's two powerful people being together because they are powerful. It's elitism. And boring.
    I'm not going to buy a boring story because of pretty art. That's superficial story telling. I wouldn't buy that. Give me a story with heart and soul any day. And Superman's heart and soul is encapsulated in everything that Lois Lane is.

  4. I love this article! It frustrates me so much when people arc as if romance is a "lesser" part of these narratives. In reality, comic books are part of our modern day myth and love stories are at the heart of those myths in the same way they are often at the root of classic literature and mythical stories told around the world. In so many ways the famous quote from the musical "Aida" rings true: "Every story is a love story....all are tales of love at heart." (Check out the opening number of Aida to hear this theme explored in a gorgeous song.).

    In some ways, I actually think I discovered my sexual and romantic awakening as a girl through the love story in the Superman mythos. I came from a very strict family where we didn't often talk openly about things like romantic love let alone sex. So I know that I explored Eros love, at first, through the stories around me. I was very drawn to Superman because he was kind and gentle. I was very drawn to Lois Lane because I saw myself in her. She was this really smart woman, good at her job, not perfect and it felt like she understood what it was like to feel like no one "got" her. That is....until Superman/Clark Kent came along. In many ways I think the Superman love story with Lois Lane defies the norm that we are often fed in these stories bc it's really, in many ways, about a woman who was everything that girls are often told not to be---pushy, career oriented, pretty but not supermodel by any means---and instead of Superman punishing those traits in her ( as society often does with women) he responds with love. I can't even begin to tell you what that meant to be as a kid. I latched on to it and it still means so much to me today. It will always be my favorite love story for that reason.

    Sadly, I think a lot of the time our culture lessens the importance of romance bc it's viewed as being associated with the feminine. And that's very unfortunate. Bc love is a part of who we are. It's in our body and soul no matter who we choose to love. It's not logical. It's chemical. When we try too hard to have it "make sense" on technical terms in strict lines of "right" and "wrong" we lose our way. That's what I think has happened currently at DC Comics with their current treatment of Superman and Wonder Woman. It seems they were put together out of corporate mandate based on a superficial calculation deemed to "make sense" as opposed to true chemistry. Meanwhile, to me, the best love stories are far from logical. Sometimes they appear when you least expect them....kind of like real life. If you asked me to describe why I love and adore my husband I could only get so far. I could tell you he's smart, kind and funny but ultimately my words would fail bc it's not logical or quantative. True love never really is that easily explained. And I think that's why my favorite love story will always be the man who fell from the sky and fell in love with the human reporter. Bc love isn't always logical. And in some great stories---like Superman---it's not even of this Earth. :)


  5. I thought I was the only one who loved Wonder Woman and Stave Trevor as a Couple.