If there’s been one thing on my mind lately, it’s love. Not just how it pertains to personal matters, but just the concept of it in general. For instance, love at first sight. This has happened to me on a few occasions, although most of the time it doesn’t really lead to anything because it occurs independently of where you and the other person are in your respective lives and whether or not either of you are in a position to do anything about those feelings. But there have definitely been a few times in my life when you see someone you’ve never met before, and they see you, and something kind of clicks between the two of you and you know almost instantly that this is a person you could give yourself to completely.
Now, I’ve heard a lot of people just chalk this up to being lust, but it’s certainly not just that, although a fundamental physical attraction is involved. With lust, you have the urge to take someone and posses them as an object of desire for however long you can get away with it. With this other feeling, it’s a feeling of giving, you want to give us much as you can of yourself to this person. You want to give them the world. So it’s like a push/pull thing, and maybe when those two forces are at a certain ratio with one another, that’s when you have “love.” I don’t really know. But it’s certainly a real feeling that I have had a number of times, I just don’t understand what I’m supposed to do with it.
And it sucks! It’s the worst thing ever to have all these grand, epic feelings pouring out of you constantly throughout the day while you’re trying to get things done. And then it gets even worse when either you or the other person in the equation can’t actually acknowledge and reciprocate those feelings. That’s the worst thing ever.
I try to guard myself as much as I can from that eventuality, doing my best to be completely stoic and not take any of these feelings too seriously or get too attached to them. With dating in general I tend to be pretty pragmatic and honestly pretty flaky in how little of myself I am willing to put into a relationship. I am typically too focused on my other goals and too cynical about women to let myself get too close to anyone.
But, as Matt Fraction once said, a cynic is just a romantic who doesn’t want to get hurt again, and I am nothing if not that. Every once in awhile a girl comes along that breaks my heart and the world snaps back into color and every passing moment stings my skin a little and every feeling is too big for me to handle. It’s strange to go from feeling hardly anything to feeling too much of everything, and there’s really no way to think your way out of it. I don’t know what to do except to write about it, and since this is a column about comic books and not the diary of a 13-year-old girl, let’s go to the super-heroes with this problem.
Probably the most romantic super-hero that I can think of is Spider-Man, since a large portion of Peter Parker’s subplots over the years have dealt with girl troubles. Even his films are steeped in (boring, formulaic) romantic tension, best personified in the newest film between Spidey actor Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, who played an infinitely adorable Gwen Stacy.
In the actual comics, Gwen was a pretty dull character that many considered to be just another of Stan Lee’s quintessential hot blonde chicks that he’d dreamt up as four-color echoes of his wife, Joan. When it became clear that Gwen was too boring of a character to match the chaos of Spidey’s day-to-day entanglements, the House of Ideas dispatched the drab distaff in order to pave the way for a romance between the wall-crawler and party girl Mary-Jane Watson. In addition to these two quintessential love interests, he’s had an array of lovers ranging from the deadly and promiscuous Black Cat, the femme fatale who famously only loved Peter when he was in costume and on the clock, to Carlie Cooper, a nice, nerdy forensic scientist that he wound up briefly moving in with.
Unfortunately, Peter is too much like me to be of any help here. He’s a sensitive guy who admires a girl passively until she makes the first move. And although he’s had a lot of girlfriends, he still isn’t really sure how to talk to women or how to keep them once he’s got them. If they aren’t kidnapped by masked maniacs or turned into one, they get slowly pushed off of Spidey’s already-too-full plate for a number of other reasons. He’s a nice guy, he cares a lot and would probably make a good boyfriend, but his head is just not in it; he’s got too many other things going on. His advice on love would probably be to internalize everything, wait for the girl to make the move, wait for the girl to break it off, internalize things some more, drink some coffee on a rooftop in the rain, go stop Rhino from robbing Diamond City. That’s more or less already where I’m at.
So then we’ll try my next favorite superhero, Batman. I’m pretty sure that this guy has had far fewer romances than Peter Parker, but it’s hard to say as DC continuity is more tangled than Spider-Man’s earbuds. Suffice it to say that Bruce Wayne has had two significant romantic relationships in his life, one which resulted in a single (?) night of passion and a bastard son with the daughter of a terrorist mastermind, and the other which has recently surpassed the 70th year of it’s “will-they/won’t-they” phase.
This is a guy who couldn’t care less about love. He has a war to fight. He’s the goddamn Batman. Plus he’s got a corporate empire to maintain. And although he might make a public appearance once in awhile with a Russian ballerina or a GAP model, I’m sure he has Alfred hand them their free Dark Knight Rises bobblehead and send them on their way as soon as whatever gala unveiling they’re at is winding down. Even the most recent Batman film, which struggled to work both of the aforementioned love interests into the series’ final chapter, couldn’t even figure out what Batman would do if he actually got the girl, ultimately ending with the hero absconding to Europe with a woman that showed little prior interest in him aside from stealing from him and betraying his trust at least twice.
The one thing that interests me about Batman and Catwoman, though, is similar to what interests me about Spider-Man and Black Cat. In both cases, the hero meets the villainess while both parties are engaged in super-hero activities. Essentially, they met at work. They probably don’t have much in common outside of their job, and would probably not see eye-to-eye on a lot of things or wind up having a stable, lasting relationship, but within the context of their workplace roles, they have something with which to build a relationship upon. And honestly, I’m sure a lot of times Catwoman goes out and robs places just because she wants to flirt with Batman.
Plus, there’s also the classic truism of “opposites attract” at play. Batman and Catwoman each represent a different side of life than what the other is normally exposed to, and through that they have become intrigued by one another. That also brings the aspect of a challenge into the mix, since neither person in the equation is really used to pursuing their counterpart’s personality type, which makes it even more intriguing and intoxicating. I’m sure there’s some truth in that regarding the way people fall in love. Perhaps a large part of it is the challenge, the thrill, knowing that the odds are against you, not having tried this particular flavor of mate before. And I’m sure that it also says something that both of the women in this scenario are wearing skintight leather catsuits. If you’re a lonely nerd that goes out at night dressed as a creepy-crawly animal to avenge the death of your parents or surrogate father, meeting a girl like that who shows even a little interest in you would presumably be devastating.
Alright, let’s wrap it up by examining how one more super-hero deals with love, the original super-hero, Superman. This is a guy who, for the most part, shares a lot of personality traits with Peter Parker; he’s an outsider, he wears glasses, he is (as Clark Kent) very timid and afraid. It’s only as Superman that he can shed that disguise and become the Golden God sent from Krypton to protect and enlighten the human race. Much like the Black Cat’s feelings toward Spider-Man, Clark Kent’s lover, Lois Lane, only used to admire him while he was acting as Superman. In his everyday disguise as a weak, unimportant, flimsy, fallible man, he wasn’t even a blip on Lois’ radar. However, when he is acting as his True Self, Lois is in love with him. She just isn’t aware that Clark and Superman are the same man.
In most tellings of their story, Clark falls in Lois almost right off the bat, just as Lois falls in love with Superman nearly just as quick. Clark is clearly attracted to her for her tenacity, her classical “spitfire” personality and probably also her talents as a journalist. There’s also probably the other elements that we’ve talked about also at play, with Clark probably seeing Lois as an unattainable mate just as she probably sees Superman the same way, plus they both also view each other as something new and exciting that they’ve never tried before.
The thing that’s different about Clark, though, is that he eventually gets Lois, just as Lois eventually gets Superman. No matter how many times the gods of storytelling rip them apart and thrust them both back to square one, they always wind up back with each other, happily married, sometimes also with children. They wind up together and they stay together. Superman doesn’t just let the relationship fizzle out because of his duties as a super-hero, and unlike Spidey or Batman who each patrol a single city, Superman’s jurisdiction is the entire freaking planet. But he makes it work, he makes his home life with Lois just as important as his work life as humanity’s big brother. He’ll bounce out on Lois to go to Indonesia and reverse a tsunami, but he’ll bring her back takeout from Singapore. It undoubtedly takes a lot of patience on Lois’ end, especially when Clark nabs the front page by reporting on something he himself did (awful journalistic ethics, by the way), but she knows the benefits are worth it.
That’s what makes Superman probably the most useful super-hero when it comes to this topic. He’s a sweet guy, and not only that, he’s a grown man about things. He handles his work life but he takes care of his personal responsibilities with Lois as well. Whereas Spidey sits around ruminating over things until they collapse around him and Batman just wants everyone to leave him the hell alone so he can go off and beat up muggers, Superman acts like a stable adult and puts in the time necessary and says his “I love you’s” enough to keep things running smoothly.
He’s a guy that always puts the needs of others before the needs of himself, whether it’s as a super-hero or as a husband. He constantly wants to give to others around him, and his power is having the courage to do it without feeling embarrassed or ashamed by it. He bears his heart to the world, he puts himself out on a limb, he exposes all his own vulnerabilities, and if they’re ever used to hurt him, he just turns around and gives more. He doesn’t want anything in return, and he doesn’t hold it against anyone if they can’t reciprocate his love. That doesn’t matter to him. He just wants to make sure that you felt loved today, because you were, and the only bad thing that could happen is you not finding out.
I’ll probably never figure out where love comes from or what purpose it serves on an anthropological level, but I’m confident that Superman’s approach to love is the only sane way to handle it.