Trouble with Comics
TWC Question Time #25 Romance!

This week’s question: What’s your favorite romance in comics?

Logan Polk: Thanos is one of my favorite characters. I think he’s endlessly compelling when handled right, and a big part of that is his love life. So, my favorite romance in all of comics has to be Thanos and Death. Okay, it’s more of an obsessive and unrequited love than an actual romance, but it’s a story that I’ve followed for most of my comics reading life, and one I still find completely fascinating. To want the approval and affection of someone so much that you would seek godhood and attempt to wipe entire portions of the galaxy out of existence? That’s an epic love story. What can I say, I’ve always been a fan of the bad guys just as much (or more) than the good guys.

Tim Durkee: Even though it is not as popular as his first fling with the human Lois Lane, I enjoy the chemistry between Superman and Wonder Woman. I was first introduced to their relationship with the Kingdom Come miniseries, an Elseworlds tale. That is a story that does not take place in the current time frame of stories in the DC Universe. I’m not sure if he was seeing the Amazon on the side and decided to go full-time after Lois Lane’s death, sorry for the spoiler. They both are also an item in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight universe. More spoilers: Superman and WW have a child together and another on the way. The impression is that there was still a relationship between Clark and Lois before Lois’s death. I can understand Lois being all gaga over the Man of Steel, I just can’t see him seeing any interest in her, so having him with the most powerful woman in the DCU makes more sense to me. Now, the new 52 universe has them together, so I’m told. I have read some reviews about them together. Some love hate, more hate it. I am curious what direction the DCU films will take with the introduction of Wonder Woman.

Mike Sterling: I never really paid much attention to romance in comics when I was younger. Generally, that was for good reason; in most of the superhero comics, it wasn’t so much “romance” as “plot point” or “character description.” You know, “Lois is Superman’s girlfriend” or “Iris is Flash’s wife” or whatever. Love interests existed to be threatened by villains, or to be nosy about secret identities, or to be pined over, or whathaveyou. It was a technical point, not an emotional connection.

So, as will come as no surprise to most of you who are familiar with my online shenanigans, it was the romance that popped up in, of all places, Swamp Thing that caught me off guard.

Yes, Swamp Thing, the comic about a monster who fights other monsters while hangin’ out with pals who are related to monsters or are monsters themselves. That’s where a comic book romance finally hit home with me, and yeah yeah make your jokes, but it was one of the most totally out-of-nowhere-but-yeah-of-COURSE moments I’d ever read in a comic at that point. I’m talking about Saga of Swamp Thing #34 (March 1985) by Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and John Totleben, where Abby tells Swamp Thing of her feelings for him, exclaiming “how could you love me?” Swampy’s response: “Deeply…silently…and…for too many…years.”

That pair of awkward admissions between a couple of characters I’ve been reading about for so long…that was the sort of honest emotion that’s not present in the eternal running-in-place of Superman and Lois, or most other superhero books. Particularly for someone like me, who’d been invested in these characters and was suddenly blindsided by this step forward, a change in the status quo in a storytelling industry that doesn’t like changes in the status quo.

Naturally, the relationship was fuel for melodrama, as this is comics, after all. Abby getting up to some plant-lovin’ becoming fodder for tabloid journalists, losing her job as a result, etc. etc. – all part and parcel of the soap opera style of funnybook storytelling, but through everything, Swamp Thing and Abby felt like an actual, and oddly normal (or as normal as they could manage) couple.
It didn’t last, sadly. Now, a couple of Swamp Thing series and a line-wide reboot of the shared DC universe later, Swamp Thing and Abby's life together is no longer at the center of Swampy’s adventures. It's nice, though, to recall a time when I could be genuinely surprised at a turn of events in a comic book. And not the usual "THIS ISSUE - SOMEBODY DIES!“ type of nonsense that’s no longer really working anyway - but just a couple of characters that you’ve read about for several years, quietly and shyly admitting their feelings to each other.


Joe Gualtieri: Growing up, I was the weirdo in your group of comic-loving friends, the one with really weird taste. You see, I vastly preferred Cyclops (Scott Summers) to Wolverine.

As the kid in your class who literally would remind the teacher to give the class homework, I suspect this is part of why Scott Summers appealed to me, along with the hyper-competence. I suspect it’s also worth noting that my first X-title was X-Factor #65, and I started regularly reading with X-Men #1, so more than five years after the ugliness with Madelyne Pryor occurred, and a couple years after Pryor was firmly established as a clone of Jean Grey created by Sinister, so that controversy was essentially a settled matter when I began reading. So I was Cyclops fan, and I was really into his relationship with Jean Grey. When John Byrne and Fabian Nicieza teased an affair with Psylocke, I didn’t take it seriously as storyline (nor, rereading those issues, should I have. There’s nothing there, really). Years later though, when Stephen T. Seagle hinted at real cracks in their relationship, I was apoplectic, and wanted him off the comic, which happened not long after, and after a few terrible issue by Alan Davis, I dropped the X-Men comics for the first time in about eight years. I soon started buying them again, as Davis finally did “The Twelve”, a story the X-books had teased since the late 80s. That arc ended with Cyclops apparently dying after being possessed by the soul of Apocalypse (this is all actually relevant). That was basically it for Davis, as Chris Claremont returned to the X-title for a disastrous run both creatively and n terms of sales. Marvel’s Editor in Chief Bob Harras was basically fired over it, he was replaced by Joe Quesada, who brought in Grant Morrison to revitalize the X-franchise. Oh, and Scott Summers returned from the dead prior to Morrison’s run starting in New X-Men #114.

Morrison’s run infamously begins with the line, “Wolverine. You can probably stop doing that now” foreshadowing how the series would focus on the idea of change and nowhere would Morrison affect more change than in the character of Cyclops. Following his resurrection, Summers’s marriage to Jean Grey is in tatters, the two not having touched each other for five months. Cue Emma Frost joining the team. She almost immediately hits on  Summers, and Morrison leaves the result of her come-on ambiguous at first. Gradually, it’s revealed that the pair involved, but only psychically, as a sort of sexual therapy for Cyclops. Jean Grey-Summers learns about it at the end of “Riot at Xaviers”, and the fallout carries into the first part of “Murder at the Mansion”. To Jean, the affair is just as real even if it’s happening on the psychic plane, and it soon turns out that despite her detached demeanor, Frost has real feelings for Summers. The reveal comes on one of my all-time favorite pages (drawn by Phil Jimenez) as she break down in Wolverine’s arms, the panel layout narrows until she has to ask, “Why did I have to fall in love with Scott Bloody Summers?”

The relationship hits the back-burner for the series from there until the final arc, “Here Comes Tomorrow” (the title an allusion to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake), a new take on “Days of Future Past” where the key moment is Summers walking away from Frost at Grey’s grave (she died at the end of the previous arc). Jean Grey, in a superhero afterlife, heals reality, urging “Live. Scott.” Which prompts him to embrace Frost, after answering her question, “Don’t you want to inherit the Earth” with “I… yes.” The “yes” and scenario reads as a gender-flipped allusion to Molly Blooms long soliloquy that closes Joyce’s Ulysses:

[…]how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will yes.

As the Blooms do not have a perfect relationship, but love each other, the allusion suggests that rather than the story-book, “perfect” romance of Scott Summers and Jean Grey, Summers and Emma Frost will have a more realistic and messier relationship. Subsequent comics certainly bore this out and while the relationship seems to have run its course (plus Cyclops is dead again), the beginnings of their relationship make it my favorite in comics.

Men of Steel and Miracles: Scott Cederlund on Alan Moore’s Miracleman #1-16 and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow

Whatever Happened to the Man of Miracles?

“As it transpired, I was quite touched: They made a bonfire on the wastelands that was once Trafalgar Square and on it heaped their comic books, their films and novels filled with horror, science fiction, fantasy, and as it burned they cheered; cheered as the curling, burning pages fluttered up into the night; cheered to be done with time when wonder was a sad and wretched thing made only out of paper, out of celluloid.”

from Miracleman #16 (December, 1989)

Alan Moore ended the era of the superman. He first did it in 1986 when he sent the Superman of Siegel and Shuster off into the realms of memory with the two-part “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583, almost immediately following DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths which reset the DC universe and marked a clear departure from the old DC Comics. In that story, the Superman of the Golden, Silver and Bronze age is given one last adventure as all of those corny, aged villains come back, more bloodthirsty than ever. It’s one last remembrance of friends and foes before John Byrne reimagines the character into something not quite as magical. And then Moore finally ended the idea of a superheroic nirvana with the destruction and resurrection of London in Miracleman #15 (Nov 1988) and #16 (Dec 1989.) That conclusion of his “Olympus” arc accuses DC and Marvel Comics of every atrocity that allowed to happen within the pages of their comics and blithely ignored. Sure it was all imaginary stories but did that make them any less real?


Miracleman is such a product of its time that when Marvel Comics recently reprinted the long-out-of-print comics, it was basically ignored. It was like you could almost hear fandom’s collective yawn of “been there, done that.” After all, the Alan Moore of the mid-late 1980s directly influenced the tenor of comics for at least 10 years, that is if the strong reach of Moore isn’t still very active in the most mainstream of superhero comics today. Geoff Johns has spent a career trying to rewrite Moore so the general direction of DC is haunted by the ghost of Moore. Moore and Frank Miller wrote the textbook on superhero deconstruction that’s still used by the likes of Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Millar.

For Moore, that legacy is mostly cemented by Watchmen, his mic drop moment in superhero comic books. But Miracleman both predates and postdates Watchmen, begun as a serial in the British Warrior magazine in April 1982 before wrapping up over seven years later as a semi-monthly Eclipse Comics publication. If “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” was Moore’s gently rocking the Superman myth to a gentle and unending slumber, Miracleman counted off every sin of the superhero and laid them all down at the superman’s feet.


As Moore progresses through the Miracleman story, he begins it by wondering what a C.C. Beck Billy Batson character might be like if they suddenly found themselves in 1980s Britain with the power of a god? Middle-aged Mike Moran is a bit overweight, probably overworked, and wakes up from dreams of flying through space with pounding headaches. Rediscovering his magic word, “Kimota!” he becomes a blonde, chiseled god. Even his thinking is so much clearer that it’s like he’s a different person. From finding his maker, his “father,” to discovering others like himself, Miracleman’s story is about him becoming something more than human. He’s not just the next evolutionary step; he’s the next one thousand steps.

Moore and his various artists’ stories are about how a god operates first as a superhero and then as a man. But the twist isn’t that the god learns any real lesson. In the end, Miracleman accepts his godhood, his place above humanity and sets to reign from on high in his new Olympus. For all of the sins of the superhero, Moore judges them to be apart from humanity and unanswerable to them. This isn’t praise of the superhero; it’s a condemnation of them.

It’s odd that in all of Moore’s superhero work, the one character he remains somewhat sympathetic to is Superman. “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” gives Superman and Clark Kent the sendoff that they deserve. The story, drawn by Curt Swan, with inks by George Perez and Kurt Schaffenberger, sees the future in which these childish characters become more “grim and gritty,” more homicidal. The story is a mercy killing as much as anything else, protecting the original Superman from what comics would become in the late 1980s and 1990s. The irony is that this is the future that Moore himself created primarily in Watchmen. “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” serves as an apology for Watchmen but it also serves to protect the story of Superman, no matter what may happen to the characters afterwards.

In Miracleman, particularly in the final “Olympus” storyline (issues 11-16), Moore doesn’t show the character the same kindness. He’s far from being protective of Mike Moran, his wife, his daughter or any of the other heroes or villains introduced in the story. His Miracleman story shows a god remembering who he is and then taking his place among a pantheon. London and humanity are collateral damage in this world where middle-aged men and children wear the bodies of gods. Or are the gods wearing the bodies of middle-aged men and children and then discarding them in favor of their godhood? The damage done is both emotional and physical. The destruction of Liz Moran is no less frightening than the desolation of London.


It’s almost funny how much DC’s movies look like they’re embracing the ideas of Alan Moore’s Miracleman while Marvel chooses to ignore them.  The idea of cities falling out of the sky is commonplace in Marvel’s movie kingdom while DC’s The Man of Steel visually embraces parts of Moore’s “Olympus” storyline.  The final battle between Zod and Superman in Zack Snyder’s film looks an awful lot like John Totleben’s scenes of chaos and destruction.  But Snyder in that movie didn’t follow up on the consequences of the fight the same way that Moore did in his final issue. Once again, it’s the wrong lessons of an Alan Moore story applied to one of those future iterations of the Superman that Moore tried to spare the character of back in “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

Alan Moore’s Miracleman still remains one of the great superhero comics. But what once looked like the celebration of the superman now looks like its condemnation. John Totleben, the final artist in Moore’s run, ends the story with Miracleman in a military dress-style version of his own costume, sitting in the heights of Olympus, sipping on a glass of wine and looking down on mankind. It’s not a protective gaze of the character but more a gaze that puts Miracleman and mankind in their places, one sitting high above the other. “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” ends with a wink and a nod to the reader, letting them in on the secret of the way that Moore saved Superman. Miracleman: Olympus ends with a warning about placing these characters to high on a pedestal.

And much like what we all took away from Watchmen, the lessons of Miracleman fell on deaf ears.

I miss the Silver Age Superman to this day.

– Scott Cederlund