God of Comics – On Marriage in Life and Media
I’ve got a wedding coming up.
Not one I’m officiating – I do that from time to time – but one where I’m tying the knot to a girl I met through the Vancouver geek community. I was on assignment, she answered a Craig’s list add. She was married and I was engaged. Six years later and we’re free and looking to build a life together. I’m proud of her and I kinda melted when she asked me.
But it’s got me thinking. There’s two pairs of comic book characters that are in the process of doing the same thing right now, and narratively one makes sense and the other does not. When I first started doing this, DC Comics was going through their horrible nu52 phase and Marvel was going strong, but we’ve moved on and things have inverted: DC fixed themselves with Rebirth and are doing interesting things and stories, including an exploration of the relationship between Batman and Catwoman. Marvel, meanwhile, has doubled down on heroes fighting heroes or heroes becoming villains and gave us Captain America as a Nazi and now are regressing back to Shadowcat marrying Colossus.
So… let’s talk about this.
Both weddings are rooted in nostalgia: Bruce and Selina have been on-and-off-again for pretty much the whole of Batman’s existence, and every iteration of the character has pushed that narrative. Bruce has dated other women and Selina has dated other men, but the two of them keep coming back to each other. They’d gotten into a fairly interesting place before the nu52 happened, and now that the nu52 has ended they’ve worked to get back to that place.
And then this happened:
That is beautiful.
That takes everything that came before and expands upon it, builds on it, and moves it forward – and that’s what DC Comics has done. They learned from the mistakes of the nu52 and instead of regressing or retconning are moving forward. The most recent run of Batman comics have explored both the histories of the characters and their place in a decades-long mythos. They’ve pushed narratives that talk about what these characters mean to one another and their various love interests, friends, families, and enemies. There’s some heartfelt stuff here, and while writer Tom King’s characterization is sometimes questionable he does get the broad points right and is moving everything forward at a nice clip.
On the other hand, there’s what Marvel is doing with Kitty Pryde and Piotr Rasputin.
See, over the past thirty years, Kitty has moved on. John Byrne introduced Kitty as a fourteen-year-old mutant with a crush on the much older Piotr, and he reciprocated before getting lost in his own emotional soup. Since then, Kitty has moved on to Illyana Rasputin and Rachael Grey (the subtext was confirmed as text by several writers as the only way to get around the Comics Code Authority), Pete Wisdom, Robert Drake, and Peter Quill. Piotr died and came back to life, was confirmed gay and then put back in the closet, but the text has been clear forever: Kitty had a crush and she moved on. Piotr has a thing and also moved on.
The thing is, people that grew up on the Byrne comics really like the Kitty-Piotr thing, despite the two of them having very little in common. Both of them are complex individuals who are not good for one another romantically and never have been, but Joss Whdeon liked pushing them as an end game and some other writers have picked that up, despite it making no sense. Warren Ellis probably hit the nail on the head during his run in Excaliber back in the nineties:
The sad part is that this is an annoying thing in an otherwise decent run on X-Men, and I like Kitty as a leader. It feels like more Marvel editorial mandating stories, logic be damned, that have seen short-term sales boosts for long-time readers leaving in droves.
And it’s not like Marvel doesn’t have a wedding on hand that they could do that would bring in a lot of old readers and new readers:
Yeah. Remember when Spider-man sold his marriage to Satan as a slap in the face to God? Satan literally told Peter that’s why he wanted to do it, too, and Peter sold off his marriage to the Devil in a story that seemed like Marvel’s worst… but Marvel seemed to take having that being called their worst as a challenge.
Where am I going with this?
People talk about “mature comics” or storytelling, and what they mean is stories that deal with weight and emotion and things that aren’t easily solved by punching, or impossible to solve with punching. Stories that have consequence. Stories that mean more than the text on the page.
Marriage is a sign of maturity, I think, a new step in two lives in the real world and a union of story potential in a fictional one. As such, marriage should be a joining of equals, two people that both bring everything they are into a union that makes them more than the sum of their parts.
Bruce and Selina have already proven that their union will create greater stories that derive from them loving one another and getting along. Kitty might have had that with Peter Quill, but she has not had that and will not have that with Piotr. So, these marriages? It’s a good decision on the part of DC Comics, a bad one on the part of Marvel.
And for my own? Time will tell, but I’m hopeful.