When people think about comic books, their first thoughts go to muscle-bound superheroes in bright flashy spandex costumes. Comics are about good versus evil. Supervillains want to take over the world and it's up to the hero to swoop in and save the day. Of course we all know that there is much more to comics than just superheroes.
Comic books have gone through several changes since their inception back in the 1930s. Many different genres have been the focus for comics and sometimes titles mix those genres up. These days it's pretty easy for there to be a type of comic for everyone.
The stereotype of comic readers is most of them are male and only interested in the big manly action. Readers only want to see big heroes beating up the villains. Superheroes have big epic adventures that encompass many worlds and universes.
Despite the efforts of the publishers and even Hollywood, it's clear that there is one common theme to superhero stories that always comes back...love.
When comics started gaining popularity, one of the big sellers were superhero titles. Crime comics were just as popular, if not more so. As millions read comics each week, publishers put out more and more similar titles and pushed the boundaries whenever they could. This led to the almost downfall of comics. Soon comics were labeled as a cause of delinquency and the violence depicted in crime (and even superhero comics) were a bad influence. With several boycotts and mass comic book burnings, publishers shifted their focus to other genres. Another popular one was love and romance comics.
It turned out kids wanted to read comics about romance as well. The publishers caught on to this quickly and made the wise decision of not talking down to their readers. The stories were serious and young teenage readers were hooked. In the 50s and 60s when superhero books managed to make their comeback, romance continued to play a small role in most titles. It's hard to figure out which causes more problems for the heroes, the villains or their romantic relationships.
Superman, Lois Lane and Clark Kent was one of the first superhero love triangles we saw. From the beginning, Lois was fascinated with Superman. In his alter ego, Clark tried winning over Lois but she was barely aware he even existed. This went on for decades until Lois finally started seeing Clark for who he was. They started dated and eventually got engaged. This was when Clark decided to finally confide in Lois and revealed he was actually Superman. The two got married but with DC's 'The New 52' relaunch, Lois and Clark are no longer married. This allows readers to witness the Clark try to win Lois' affections all over again.
Superman and Lois' marriage isn't the only casualty. We've heard that Barry Allen and Iris West are no longer married either. This poor couple has gone through tough times. Barry seemingly died during Crisis on Infinite Earths. It turned out that the two managed to spend some time together in the future, Iris gave birth to twins, Don and Dawn. Iris found her way back to the present, only to be a widow. Years later (in our time), Barry turned out to be alive, able to outrace death. The two were reunited but Flashpoint soon came and then 'The New 52.'
With this week's The Flash #1, we will see Barry in a relationship with Patty Spivot but Iris is still in the picture. Looks like we might have another love triangle and all the tension that accompanies them in this comic as well.
Other heroes have had romance problems. Spider-Man, as Peter Parker, constantly had girl problems. It didn't help that he constantly had to ditch his girlfriend in order to change into Spider-Man and fight one of his villains. Matt Murdock has had a run of bad luck as Daredevil's enemies either kill or drive his girlfriends crazy. There was always tension between Cyclops, Jean and Wolverine in the X-Men. The Thing's rocky exterior makes romance time a little difficult. Batman has had his share of girlfriends both as Bruce Wayne and as Batman. We even saw last week that things got pretty heated between Batman and Catwoman (the full extent of which is grounds for another article in itself).
Superhero comics aren't just about heroes and villains fighting. For love and romance to play such a big role in the action-orientated comics, it says something about what readers want. Seeing the heroes let their guard down and get close to another let's us see them as a little more human. Some readers say they sometimes relate to comic book characters. Perhaps reading about a young Peter Parker trying to get the girl is what they sometimes experience in real life (only with less supervillains hanging around). In the 90s we had several gratuitous books heavy on the sexual elements (and are seeing the return in some titles) so maybe there are readers hungry for that as well.
Just as in the late 40s, publishers give readers what they want. If readers want love (or more...graphic content) and speak out by purchasing those comics, that's what they will continue to make. Love is all you need so why shouldn't it be present in comic books as well?