Well, it's Valentine's Day… or Valentine's month, one supposes, as it's all we hear about until it's over. Valentine's Half-Month?
Anyhoo, this relates to comic books how? Well, when you get right down to it, romance is an indelible part of the medium. Heck, there was a whole series of soap-opera books dedicated to it, as evidenced by DC trotting out the name Young Romance once again to tell some relationship stories for the New 52. However, the key to serialized fiction is that nobody can ever be happy, and thus any relationship established for long enough to allow 'shippers' to develop (and that's not very long at all, really, considering shippers can 'ship' relationships that have never really been established beyond a witty exchange or two) is doomed to failure.
Case in point, this list of recently-ruined relationships. This last year or so has been brutal for love in the Marvel Universe, as longstanding bonds have deteriorated to the point of possibly never being recovered – and Jason Aaron had his hands in a lot of them, oddly enough. Why just the Marvel U? Well, we'd be here forever if we listed every interpersonal connection the whole New 52 wiped away – Ralph and Sue Dibny, Wally West and Linda Park, Donna Troy and Roy Harper, Starfire and everybody she's ever met, Katar Hol and Shayera Thal, Clark Kent and Lois Lane, etc. – and the New 52 itself is still new enough that none of its drama counts just yet.
So here are some enduring Marvel relationships that have recently given up the ghost.
COLOSSUS & SHADOWCAT
Long ago, in a Silver Age far, far away, a very naive farm boy from Russia and an excitable prodigy girl with horrible fashion sense formed a connection that couldn't comfortably be followed up on back in the day due to their respective ages. Many years later, after much of Piotr Nikolievitch Rasputin's naivete had been demolished through dark, harrowing experiences and relentless family tragedy, and Katherine Anne Pryde's youthful vigor had been channeled into ninja studies, technological genius and seeking out alternatives to being an X-Man, Joss Whedon brought them together for real in his much-ballyhooed Astonishing X-Men run. If there's anybody out there who encourages shippers, it's Joss Whedon.
Yeah. Adorable. Well done, Joss, Master of Cute.
Colossus was thought dead for a year after he sacrificed his life to stop a deadly mutant disease in its tracks before it killed anyone else's little sister like it did to his, but he was secretly being held prisoner by aliens and being tortured constantly. Shadowcat is the one who found him, and it seemed to both of them like some kind of destiny. He did her so right that she phased through the floor of her bedroom naked. Then she had to sacrifice her life to phase a city-sized bullet through the planet Earth, and when SHE came back, she was stuck being phased and had to walk around in a space suit – a condition she didn't recover from until those same aliens came to Utopia and started messing with them again, trying to kill Colossus.
Cue shippers speculating on exact sexual act that caused this. I'm laying odds on cunnilingus.
From there, they had only a short time together until Jason Aaron's X-Men: Schism. A philosophical divide between Cyclops and Wolverine that forced the X-Men to choose sides, and Aaron's then-upcoming Wolverine & The X-Men title called for Kitty Pryde to go with Wolverine and start teaching at the new Jean Grey School for Higher Learning. That forced Uncanny X-Men writer Kieron Gillen to hastily break up Piotr and Kitty, which was done during the height of Fear Itself. Kitty, Peter and his returned-from-the-dead-but-not-right-in-the-head baby sister Illyana went to Cyttorak to steal some Juggernaut power away from the Serpent-possessed Cain Marko, and true to form, when Illyana went to take up the burden of becoming Cyttorak's new avatar, Piotr took the bullet for her instead, which pissed off Kitty to the point of dumping him. It was rushed and made little sense – for the entire time we've known Peter Rasputin, since his first damn appearance, he's made a habit of sacrificing himself for Illyana if need be. He took a thresher to the back for her, he gave his life to stop the Legacy Virus that killed her, and here he was doing it again. Somehow, that was the dealbreaker for Kitty.
The logic train falls off the rails here. You know you're superheroes, right? Sacrifice is in the job description.
Fine. Editorial mandate, whatever. They can be on a break, even though Colossus with the burden of a mystic lust for destruction thanks to Cyttorak was probably in the absolute most need of Kitty's steadying influence. It seems she ditched him at the absolute worst point, claiming that she needed somebody who didn't have such a self-sacrifice complex. Yeah, right. Stop dating superheroes then, lady.
Soon afterwards, Avengers vs. X-Men rolls around, and Colossus gets a SECOND all-powerful entity in his brain – that of the Phoenix Force – right alongside Cyttorak (and, if you recall his own miniseries, the self-destructive voice of Grigori Rasputin, the Mystic Mad Monk, makes three), and Aaron starts to really show his apparent intense disdain for the character. Not only does he show Colossus as a complete idiot who uses the power of reality-shaping to put LEGS on WHALES, but he also has him try to win Kitty back, only to become a bitchy, possessed destructor in the process – a blunt instrument by which to hammer home Aaron's preferred pairing, Kitty with Bobby Drake. Is that X-Men: The Last Stand's fault? Is that Ultimate X-Men's fault? Maybe, but it's also Jason Aaron's fault.
So, as it stands, Kitty kind of hates Peter now, while Peter is an outlaw on the run and throwing in with Cable's band of renegades who may or may not also be terrorists. Oh, and Illyana turned out to be a complete jerk who was manipulating her brother into taking on that Cyttorak burden in the first place, ruining his life to prove a point that he should stop trying to protect her. So Peter's entire family is dead, save for a sister he now wants to kill, and he also hates himself and believes he deserves to die. Meanwhile, Kitty gets to make out with Iceman.
Oh, Crazylossus. Cyttorak, the Phoenix and Rasputin, all voices in your head. You never had a chance.
BLACK PANTHER & STORM
Once upon a time, two young people met in the African veldt – one a future king on a walkabout, the other a future goddess – and they would travel together for a time, forming a strong bond that would last well into their adulthoods. The boy was T'Challa, king of Wakanda and chieftain of the Black Panther clan, whose father was killed in front of him, forcing the responsibilities of the crown onto him far too soon. He would become an Avenger. The girl was Ororo Munroe, the daughter of a Kenyan witch-priestess and an American photojournalist, born in New York City and raised in Cairo until the age of six, when she was orphaned as well. She lived as a street thief until her mutant weather-control powers manifested, and she began to be worshipped in the Serengeti (the place where MCs ain't ready to take it). She would become the leader of the X-Men. Both of them had strong connections to Africa, both of them had tragedy befall their families at a young age, and both of them have experience with being leaders not just of teams, but of peoples. The potential for a love for the ages was definitely there.
Marvel Team-Up #100 and Christopher Priest's Black Panther. The potential for greatness.
Christopher Priest had laid some groundwork for their relationship, building on what had been established in Marvel Team-Up #100 back in 1980, but when Reginald Hudlin took over Black Panther comics, it got all retconned and blown up into A Marvel Event, one that was very sudden and had little plan for it. Typical of Hudlin's run, as it turned out, what with suddenly slinging a heretofore unseen little sister of T'Challa's as well, so we could have a Lady Black Panther in Shuri. It COULD have been great, but it wound up feeling forced. Still, they endured for six years of actual time, including a stint together in the Fantastic Four, but it turned out that it was hard to make them work since their X and A worlds were so different – and some poor decisions with Black Panther (have him replace Daredevil? Why?) made it an even bigger stretch to force his wife out of his own book. Very poor planning all around.
Vanishing pupils are a Wakandan tradition.
So it fell to Jason Aaron to break them up in Avengers vs. X-Men #9, after which Marvel editor Tom Brevoort admitted that they never really figured out how to make them work as a couple beyond the initial stunt. The reason for it was that Storm was a part of Cyclops' "Extinction Team," and they stuck around with him even after his crew became The Phoenix Five and started to reshape the world. The Avengers kept fighting them, using Wakanda as a secret base of operations, until Namor destroyed the country with a tsunami (impressive, considering Wakanda is landlocked). Thus, T'Challa was forced by duty to annul his marriage to one of the war-criminal X-Men, and he did it quickly and without much in the way of outward sentiment. Because that's what T'Challa does – his first duty is always to his people. Even though Ororo felt she shared that duty, he had to cut her off from it. She kept coming back to TRY to fulfill her responsibilities, and the result was a fight in Avengers vs. X-Men VS. #5 (also written by Aaron) that tried to delve into the pain of it a bit more. It's not what T'Challa the man wants, but it's what was required of T'Challa the king… even though that little sister of his is now the regent of Wakanda and chieftain of the clan, so he's not really the king… it's all kind of hazy. Silly Hudlin.
Maybe what ended in AvX can be repaired in A+X? Anybody? That title was practically made for them.
Now, T'Challa has become the Black Panther of the Dead and is stepping up to Avengers-level action and selling his soul to the Illuminati, thanks to Jonathan Hickman, while Storm has re-upped the mohawk she had in the 1980s and is working out her anger in Uncanny X-Force. And apparently making out with Wolverine. For some reason, Aaron added a recent scene in his Wolverine and the X-Men where Ororo and T'Challa are on friendly enough terms to play long-distance chess with each other, but twisted the knife-wound in by having T'Challa ask her specifically NOT to date Logan. And she is, apparently out of spite or something. Yeah, it's a mess.
A vs. X VS. #5. Which I think means Avengers fight X-Men fight Short Circuit.
HULK & RED SHE-HULK
Betty Ross had essentially been Lois Lane to Bruce Banner's Superman since Day One, so one supposes it makes sense that in this post-Lois & Clark era, Bruce and Betty don't really exist anymore, either.
Sure, Bruce is her second husband, and Betty is one of three of his wives (the only human one, though!), and his being the Hulk complicated things severely. However, they WERE married for a quite a while – even when his unstable personality aspects merged and he was ONLY the Hulk (albeit with Bruce's intellect and some much needed confidence bordering on arrogance that is characteristic of the Hulk – chicks dig confidence), she was able to get over it and stand by her man. Hell, when she thought he was dead for a while, she nearly joined a convent. She does tend to be a woman of extremes when push comes to shove, being the hardass daughter of the hardass General Thunderbolt Ross and all. Once, MODOK irradiated her with gamma power and turned her into a half-bird monster called the Harpy, who then tried to kill the Hulk at all costs. She never much liked the Hulk, and she saw how tortured Bruce was about it all the time.
No wedding is complete without haggard old men and gunshot victims.
Also, she was dead for years. Bruce's old enemy Emil Blonsky, aka The Abomination, poisoned her with radiation and made it look like just being with Bruce all those years was the root cause. It wasn't, and old Thunderbolt Ross would eventually kill Blonsky as payback. How? By becoming a Hulk himself, after making a deal with MODOK and The Leader and using the same process to bring Betty back to life. As a Hulk.
Her worst nightmare, right? One problem, though. She loved it. She loved the release of being a Hulk, as she can shift back and forth at will, and when she's all red, her inhibitions fall away – and considering that she was almost a nun and she was raised by a very repressed military father, that's kind of a big deal. Thus, there's a big OH, FUCK YOU sense about her now when it comes to Bruce and all his angst about being a Hulk, when in her experience, being a Hulk is goddamned amazing. Almost like being drunk with power – and she went on kind of a crazy bender for a while with that, going so far as to schtup one of the Hulk's oldest enemies, the subterranean King Tyrannus. To be fair, he's pretty smooth and is in no way like Mole Man, and it seems she considers her previous death to cancel the old marriage vows. There's been death, so that's when she and Bruce must part. Especially considering the fact that the Hulk got married to an alien warlord, had kids and nearly beat up the Earth while Betty was dead. People change.
Incredible Hulks. A lot of stuff got broken. Including hearts and minds.
However, when Greg Pak ended his epic run on The Incredible Hulks back in 2011, he left the pair on a positive note. They'd worked through some issues (by beating the crap out of each other repeatedly – like you do when you're Hulks in love) and realized that this could be the beginning of a new kind of relationship for them – Green Hulk and Red Hulk! A real power couple! An actual happy ending for the most put-upon characters around? Who'da thunk it?
Not Jason Aaron. The Ol' Love-Hater rolled in once again with his new (and pretty well universally reviled) take on The Incredible Hulk that posited that Bruce Banner was insane after being mysteriously separated from the Hulk at the end of Fear Itself out of nowhere, and was dumb enough to start giving himself brain tumors to try to re-Hulk himself. Needless to say, this drove Betty away, although she did come back long enough to bang the Bruce-less Hulk in the middle of the street… it… it wasn't very good.
Yes, we get it. You are very clever with that switcheroo, there.
So now, Betty Ross is in her own book (weirdly enough, Marvel didn't bother to renumber the Red Hulk series when handing it off to Red She-Hulk – you'd think they'd jump at the chance to renumber anything, but no) trying to put a stop to a military gone too far, while Bruce Banner is re-Hulked, and he has decided to come out of the shadows (now that everyone is thankfully ignoring Aaron's Hulk run) and has started working for SHIELD. He even has a little robot buddy. They haven't talked to each other in a while, and there's no sense that there's anything on the horizon for them. On one hand, it's great to see a character who has been resigned to love interest most of her existence step up and get her own book, but on the other hand, some of us really liked those two together. Jason Aaron hates everything I like. Or maybe he's just determined to disabuse me of the tendency to be a shipper.
This is what happens when you have alter egos made out of spite.
WINTER SOLDIER & BLACK WIDOW
Okay, finally, one that has nothing to do with Jason Aaron. Instead, this was Ed Brubaker's swan song on Winter Soldier, probably fulfilling some Marvel mandate to free Black Widow up to date Movie Avengers and not be tied down to the weird half-cyborg assassin.
The story of James Buchanan Barnes and Natalia Alianova Romanova is a long and complicated one. Barnes was once Bucky, the teenage partner of Captain America during World War II, who was long thought dead in the same Baron Zemo-related tragic explosion that left Steve Rogers frozen for decades in suspended animation. Turns out, Bucky survived, and was found by the Russians, who proceeded to indoctrinate him into their Winter Soldier program. They brainwashed him into being a strategic killer for them, and then kept him on ice whenever they didn't need him, as a way to prolong his life artificially. It seems those nasty Russkies did the same thing to young Natalia, training her in the infamous Red Room of their Black Widow Ops program, technologically prolonging her life as well as she became superspy Natasha Romanoff. Barnes was actually one of her trainers during that time, and the two had a thing.
Much later, Natasha defected and became and Avenger and a SHIELD agent, and much later still, the Winter Soldier emerged from stasis once again to kill both the Red skull and one of Cap's former partners, Nomad. It's not until Cap got control of a Cosmic Cube that he was able to break the Russian programming, and at long last, Bucky Barnes remembered who he really was. Not long after that, Steve Rogers was assassinated, forcing the long-delayed line of natural succession to kick in, and Bucky stepped up to become the new Captain America – and he and Natasha found themselves together once more – this time, free of brainwashing and free to be their true selves. And they were nuts about each other. Could anyone possibly understand either of them more than the other could?
Cripes, it's like they were made for each other. Good luck living up to that, Hawkeye. You dick.
However, they are both assassins with extremely shady pasts, and it stands to reason that a shared ghost from that past would emerge to threaten their happiness. Leo Novokov, the deadliest part of the Winter Soldier program – a man Barnes had a hand in training – was traumatically re-activated without direction, and thus formed a rather virulent hatred for Barnes and devised a nasty plan to get back at him, especially now that Rogers was back and Barnes had faked his own demise during Fear Itself to go undercover and defuse the remaining WS operatives he could find. Novokov knew much about Barnes, and knew the only way to really get at him was through Natasha, whom he abducted and re-brainwashed back to her Red Room days. A frustrating, maddening hunt for her ensued, with Novokov outthinking Barnes at every turn – even fooling Barnes into thinking he'd won once, before yanking it all out from under him again. Finally, with the help of Cap and friends, he finally managed to beat Novokov and get Natasha back, but even in defeat, Leo claimed victory, as the only memory of hers they could not restore was that of her relationship with Barnes.
Thus, Bucky is left to soldier on with an intense heartache of a love lost, while Natasha is free to go on about Avengering without any of that angst weighing her down (although, admittedly, she has plenty of other angst to go around). Will she start hooking up with Hawkeye again and be kind of like the big movie? Where will Bucky go from here? Questions yet to be answered. However, Brubaker went out on a strong note, and the folks filling his shoes better have some big feet.
Dammit, Brubaker. Hell of a knife twist on your way out the door.
SPIDER-MAN & MARY JANE WATSON
You may have thought this ruined years ago, but surprisingly enough, Satan did not already kill the love of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson with any true finality. It took Dr. Octopus to do that.
We all know the tale. College student Peter Parker, who was just getting mixed up with Gwen Stacy at the time, was introduced to Aunt May's friend Anna's niece, who sauntered her fine red-headed self into the doorway and boldly proclaimed "Face it, Tiger, you just hit the jackpot!" You would seriously be hard-pressed to find a proclamation any bolder than that. The story since then has been a roller-coaster of secret identity hijinks, a high-profile marriage of two people madly in love with each other, in sickness and in health, through symbiotes and clone sagas, until Mephisto do they part.
Satan eats marriages. So THAT'S what happened to that Kardashian thing.
The "One More Day" malarkey has been covered ad nauseum – essentially, Satan makes a deal with Mary Jane, and she sells him their marriage in exchange for Aunt May's life and various other random retcon concerns (Peter's secret identity restored, Harry Osborn brought back from the dead, etc.). A noble sacrifice that was met with much fan disdain. However, Dan Slott's been writing Amazing Spider-Man since then, and he's been firing on all cylinders throughout most of that run, establishing MJ as Peter's best friend, who is one of the very few who know his secret (and perhaps she's the only one who still remembers the whole Mephisto thing, too). At the end of the Spider Island event, MJ quietly admitted to a jubilant just-saved-the-city Peter that she still loved him, and he didn't quite catch that. The hope was still there that maybe they'd have some kind of future together, even if Marvel Editorial On High bent over backwards to break them up.
Now, however, Peter Parker is sort of dead, a ghostly shadow of himself who's had to watch as Dr. Otto Octavius has taken up residence in his body. Otto had none of the reservations about pursuing MJ again, and began to push the issue, to which MJ responded hesitantly, but positively. She took it very slow, though, to the point where Otto got frustrated enough to say 'forget it' and instead accessed Peter's memories of their history together so he could just masturbate to them instead of jumping through MJ's hoops. Yes, that happened. But it turns out the more Otto takes of Peter's memories, the more he also takes of his emotional connection to them, and thus he began to experience the inner conflict about MJ, calling their relationship "a recursive loop," "an equation that can never be solved" and "the greatest trap of all," adding that the only way to free her from it is to move on.
Superior Spider-Man #2: On sale now! Go get it! It has masturbation in it, too!
So it seems the long dance has ended for the foreseeable future – although we CAN foresee a time when Peter Parker is back in control of his own body, but even Ghost Parker seemed to be impressed with the harsh nobility of Otto's clean break, citing it was something he could never have done himself. Perhaps they will still be close, but they remain forever destined to be in the friend zone – and now, they both actually realize that.
Did he, really? Would Satan have gotten involved with Gwen Stacy? Oh, wait, she had Goblin Kids. Never mind.
CYCLOPS & EMMA FROST
This one has the best hope for reconciliation of any on this list, but the weird love between Scott Summers and Emma Frost has been through the wringer, thanks to the crazy-ass Phoenix Force and the mess of Avengers vs. X-Men.
Scott Summers was once the top student of Professor Charles Xavier's School for the Gifted, the leader of the first team of X-Men and guy with a stick up his ass. Emma Frost was raised in a wealthy but cold Boston family, and she pranced her way into the Hellfire Club wearing lingerie as her supervillain outfit and abusing her telepathy for her own gain, and you'd likely have had to pay through the nose to put a stick up her ass. However, Emma had a soft spot for helping kids, and her propensity towards teaching eventually reformed her enough that she took a job at Xavier's school.
At least he admits it's weird.
Scott, as we all know, was married to his First-Classmate Jean Grey, who had a penchant for dying and being reborn. He was also married to her clone for a while, and then left her clone with child when Jean popped back to life the first time, so his track record with fidelity is spotty. Thanks to Psylocke, he discovered the possibility of 'psychic cheating,' wherein you have affairs with telepath babes that exist entirely on the mindscape – and that's going to be discovered when you're also married to a telepath. He had enough trouble resisting the thong-wearing Betsy Braddock – how do you think he'd manage to stave off someone like Emma Frost, who wields her sexuality like a weapon? What began as psychic therapy after a particularly traumatic experience wherein Scott merged with mutant-archvillain Apocalypse eventually became a full on mental affair between the two – which didn't sit well with Jean. Luckily for Scott, Jean would soon Phoenix out again and shuffle off this mortal coil once more, leaving him free to fall in with Emma. Not that it sat too well with friends and family, but it was some kind of true love. Jean even approved of it before she left.
Eventually, the X-folks would learn to accept them together, and the two of them took over the Xavier school, as for all his failings as a husband, he rarely failed as a leader, and that boundless confidence in the field would make Emma, in her words, "positively throb." When M-Day hit, reducing the number of mutants in the world to less than 200, things got real. Cyclops marshaled the mutants he could onto an island called Utopia and tried to make it a mutant stronghold, slowly growing more hardline about the preservation of the species – hardline enough that even Magneto joined their forces. Emma was behind him at every turn – even when they went to war with the Avengers over the return of the Phoenix Force. That is, until the Phoenix Force possessed them both, eventually leading Scott to betray her, forcibly TAKE her portion of the power and go full on Dark Phoenix on everybody and murder his father figure, Charles Xavier.
I'm not so sure if thats ALL she's ever done…
We saw Emma had begun to completely resent Scott as she was reduced to ugly prison fatigues instead of her usual Tres Fabu white wardrobe, but moreso because he turned out to be a misguided idiot. Cyclops was in prison as well, looking to become a martyr. Everything looked kaput… until Magneto freed him, and they came for her, and now they've teamed up together in a sort of antihero X-Men way, capturing new mutants to train them together. True, Bendis' first attempt at writing Emma was pretty godawful, with no sense of how she actually spoke, but eventually, he'll either get the hang of it or force us to accept her with the typical Bendis voice… and we'll see if they actually reunite fully while having completely fallen from grace together. If they do, it still won't be the strangely appealing twisted love story it once was. It'll be a much darker thing of desperation and frustration.
And Emma will be wearing black.
So there's your tour down Misery Lane, folks! Happy Valentine's Day, everybody! Enjoy what happiness you have, because comic book characters never will. They can't. Because their adventures have to stretch out for 50 more years, at least. For those of us who get too invested in relationships like these and get a little heartsick when they end, Kitty Pryde perhaps summed it up best back in Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men. Let's just take this advice to heart.
I'm trying to heed that advice myself… but I still can't even talk about all the time Christos Gage of Avengers Academy put into developing the relationship between Hazmat, the prickly girl with the death touch, and Mettle, the skinless surfer dude, only to have it immediately destroyed in the first issue of Avengers Arena by having Arcade murder the shit out of the guy.
I admit it. I'm a sap. I can't deal with it yet.