No one who has been reading comics for the past decade was much surprised by this announcement.
Married superheroes have had a rough time in recent years. From Invisible Woman’s part in the Civil War opposite her own husband to the death and zombification of ex-Justice Leaguers Ralph and Sue Dibny to Spider-Man’s deal with the Devil that eliminated his marriage to Mary Jane from the Marvel record books, the message has been clear: if you’re a superhero, and you’re married, well, good luck with that.
Of course, in comics, as in any kind of drama, any relationship is fair game for conflict, but the erasure of the Clark Kent/Lois Lane marriage isn’t about escalating any kind of conflict to create tension or about removing obstacles that get in the way of an exciting story, it’s just about the very idea of marriage being inappropriate for a superhero in today’s marketplace.
DC (and Marvel) want their heroes to be attractive to the youth demographic that actually spends money buying stuff. Marriage is for old people. I mean, your grandparents were probably married, right? Marriage is like black-and-white television and Ovaltine.
Marvel made this kind of thinking clear in 2007, when then-Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada initiated the “One More Day” storyline, ultimately crafted in a way that opposed then-writer J. Michael Straczynski’s wishes.
The end of “One More Day” resulted in Peter Parker sacrificing his marriage, and any memory of his marriage, effectively erasing it from the past. That Quesada drew the four-part story himself showed readers that the un-marriage was the company line, with his stamp of approval on every page.
The stated motive for getting rid of the Spider-marriage (which had been in place for 20 years, or, basically, the entire comic book reading life of nearly every Marvel fan) was, as Quesada phrases it in a fan-directed interview: “the goal of telling incredible Spidey stories for you guys moving forward.”
The not-so-subtle implication was that “incredible Spidey stories” would be impossible if the main character had to deal with the old ball-and-chain back home. You know, the supermodel love-of-his-life ball-and-chain.
There’s a small pocket of readers who have never forgiven Quesada for getting rid of the Peter Parker/Mary Jane marriage, and they hit the message boards at every opportunity to rail against the four-year-old decision.
The truth is that the Spider-Man comics have been better since “One More Day,” but the lack of the marriage seems irrelevant. With very few exceptions, all of the stories told in the intervening years could have been told with a married Spider-Man without affecting the plots or characters or themes much at all.
No, the only thing the marriage removal did was to free up Spider-Man to seem younger. To seem less like an old dude with things like, ugh, domestic responsibilities, and more like a young, carefree guy who swings around and has, um, more heroic responsibilities, to go along with his great power.
Now DC is doing the same with Superman. But it’s a somewhat different scenario, because (a) Superman has always seemed like an old dude—a kind of super-dad for the entire superhero genre, and (b) they aren’t telling a story about how his marriage got erased, they’re just going to pretend it never happened, starting in September.
DC’s striking at that first bit, that notion that Superman has always been more than a bit stodgy. They’re making him look younger in the September relaunch, and not only telling stories about his early days in Action Comics, but even the set-in-the-“modern”-day Superman series will feature a much more youthful Superman, one who is not as paternal as he has usually been depicted in the past 70ish years. And one of DC’s self-proclaimed hits of last year was the Superman: Earth One graphic novel, written by the very same J. Michael Straczysnki who was involved with Spidey’s de-marriage-ification. The Earth One book features a Clark Kent who sports a hoodie, expresses self-doubt in the big city, and generally looks like a character Tom Welling would be way too old to play. Superman’s not married in that book, either, but that’s because it takes place in his earlier years. Or an alternate reality of his earlier years. Something like that. It’s not very good, honestly, but that has nothing to do with the lack of marriage.
And while the September line-wide relaunch gives DC a chance just to start with a new set of rules for Superman, and to pretend that he was never married to anyone, the plan to get rid of the marriage dates back over a decade. Internal politics at DC at the time led to a veto of not just the un-marriage but the entire proposal for a new, fresh direction of the Superman universe. The proposal, sometimes referred to as “Superman Now” and sometimes as “The Superman 2000 Pitch,” would have brought Grant Morrison, Mark Waid, Mark Millar, and Tom Peyer in as the chroniclers of the Superman family stories. It was supposedly a done deal, until one member of the editorial staff fought back against it, and led to all four creators leaving DC entirely.
In that proposal from 1999, the writers make a case for the elimination of the Clark/Lois marriage, and outline a story that would have poisoned Lois Lane’s brain and triggered a series of events where the fifth-dimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk would have erased the marriage from the minds of everyone in the DC Universe. All-in-all, it’s a similar solution to what would eventually become Joe Quesada’s answer for the removal of the Spider-Man marriage at Marvel.
Did I mention that Grant Morrison—one of the Superman 2000 architects—is writing Action Comics, starting in September? I believe I mentioned that somewhere around here.
So it is indeed no surprise that the Superman marriage will disappear by this fall. I would like to be one of those people who feels offended by the prospect, or takes a stand on the moral ground that this move is yet another example that the foundation of marriage is eroding in our society. Instead, I just feel like it’s yet another case of a missed opportunity—one that was missed, and missed, and missed, in almost every Superman story written since 1995, when the couple finally tied the knot. Because there just haven’t been many stories that dealt with the Clark Kent/Lois Lane marriage with any kind of emotional depth. Most writers have ignored it, or used it as just a way to replace caption boxes (Superman and Lois could provide the exposition to each other, instead), or dealt with it as just part of Superman’s setting. A decoration, of sorts, with a bit of superficial dialogue attached.
There’s no reason that the Super-marriage couldn’t have been the comic book equivalent of the one portrayed so effectively by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton on the late-and-lamented Friday Night Lights. But it never was. Not even close.
And soon it will be gone forever, and we’ll return to the days of the Superman of the Silver Age where the marriage only existed in “Imaginary Stories.” But, as the man once said, aren’t they all?
Tim Callahan once spent a lot of time thinking about the Superman 2000 Pitch, and it’s nice to see that he put that brainpower to use once again. He has also been happily married for 14 years. Without a single attempt to remove the relationship from continuity.