Superheroes and love stories go together like peanut butter and chocolate. Virtually every superhero has a love interest (or two or three) in their comic book canon. Peter Parker/Spider-man has Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacey. Clark Kent has Lois Lane and Lana Lang. Bruce Wayne/Batman has Selina Kyle and Vicki Vale. Mr. Fantastic has the Invisible Woman. Everywhere you look, in comic books, in television shows and in films, a superhero has a love interest.
Sometimes, there can be a touch of disparity between the mediums. A couple might make it from comic book page to screen and be a success with audiences, as we’ve seen many times with Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Lane. Other times, the hero is given a new love interest for the screen, such as with Tony Stark/Iron Man and Pepper Potts.
Sometimes, a pairing that works on the page doesn’t translate as well to the screen. We’ve seen this be the case with Oliver Queen/Green Arrow and Dinah Laurel Lance/Black Canary not once, but twice. On Smallville, which ran on the WB/CW in the 2000s, Oliver Queen’s love interest was a tech genius named Chloe Sullivan, not Dinah Lance (who was first an antagonist towards Oliver Queen before becoming an ally in battle). On Arrow, which runs on the CW, Oliver Queen’s current love interest is Felicity Smoak (another tech genius). The show flirted with a Oliver/Laurel romance during it’s first season but interest in the pair fell flat. Perhaps Oliver Queen and Dinah Laurel Lance are doomed not to be realized on the screen because a disparity between their comic book backstories and the modern television and film audiences preferences regarding romance.
One relationship that has successfully transcended comic books to succeed on the big and small screens is Clark/Lois. Not only are they frequently depicted as pair in comic books, but Clark is routinely paired up with Lois on television and in films as well. If I were to start listing these successful adaptations, we’d be here all day. Just know that I was a big Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman fan back in the day. I might not have known much (read: anything) about comic books back then, but I knew about Superman and Lois Lane. I grew up with them, thanks to Christopher Reeve and the movie franchise that first hit big screens in 1978. What is it about Lois and Clark works so well in any medium? Why don’t other comic book pairings enjoy the same success?
Perhaps the nature of the relationship and the current cultural climate plays a factor. Are both of the characters superheroes? Is one hiding his or her identity from the other? Have we, as the audience, watched them meet and grow together or were they a couple before we ever laid eyes on them? Do their stories and destinies complement one another. Does the love interest provide something to the hero to help him grow and fulfill his destiny?
These are all very good questions and the answer might just be that we don’t know what will work and what won’t. Audiences, particularly those for television and film, are fickle.
Take the CW’s The Flash for example. In the comic books, Barry Allen’s chief love interest is Iris West. On the television show, Barry already knows Iris before the pilot begins. They grew up together, in fact. Barry has had a crush on her for most of his life. Iris, unfortunately, is oblivious to how he feels and treats him like a brother or a friend. As a viewer, I want to root for this couple but I worry that too much of their connection has been portrayed off screen, not enough of it on screen. A few flashbacks to Barry’s childhood have helped, as well as Iris learning of Barry’s secret identity as the Flash before the end of the first season, as well as his feelings for her. Secrets aren’t a great thing to have when trying to build a love story and modern audiences are quick to reject that trope. Many The Flash fans have taken to shipping Barry Allen with his teammate Caitlin Snow. We are privy to their meeting and the early stages of their friendship, there are no secrets kept from her and she is connected to his hero story in a way that Iris has not been thus far. It presents a conundrum in the shipping community. The show continually hints that Barry/Iris are the likely couple in the future but the connection that speaks to quite a few fans most at the moment is that of Barry/Caitlin.
Shipping issues don’t just exist on television, either. If you want to see some truly interesting pairings, look no further than the cinematic universes of comic books. While some films stick to the comic book pairings—Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter, Bruce Wayne and Rachel Dawes…at least for a time—others go outside the box with pairings such as Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanov. The fandoms take things further, with huge communities shipping Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes, Clint Barton and Natasha Romanov and even Loki with Jane Foster’s assistant, Darcy Lewis.
Hey, the heart wants what the heart wants.
When it comes to superheroes and their love stories, you’re only limited by your imagination. With the range of canon so varied even in the comic books themselves, it’s foolish to tie your favorite hero down to one destiny, especially in all the various mediums that these stories can be told with. If you’re upset that your favorite couple isn’t being represented in a film or on a television show, it has to be comforting to know that the comic book still contains that love story you enjoy so much. In this, no one is “wrong”in what they choose to ship. These are all just stories, told and retold and reimagined for new audiences.
So tell me, in the comments, which superhero couple is your favorite? Do you have a different favorite in the comic books vs the film or television show? What sort of pairings tend to capture your heart the most. Do you have a type?