Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Unrequited Love: A Baker's Dozen Of Comics Characters Suffering Unrequited Love (The Wednesday List No 1)

In which the Blogger lists 13 great comics or strips concerned with the terrible pain of unrequited love, all of which qualify simply by being the first stories to come to the blogger's mind when the time came to make a list. As such, and in no order of preference;

From Batman: Mad Love, by Paul Dini & Bruce Timm (1994)
1. Harley Quinn loves The Joker

She's the deeply disordered murderer with a longing to settle down and raise a family with her boyfriend, and he's the psychotic serial killer who loves to cruelly mock, manipulate and beat her. (Chances of a happy ending: 0/10)

From the Krazy Kat Sunday page of April 16, 1992, by George Herriman
2. Krazy Kat loves Ignatz Mouse

He can also be a she, but regardless of gender, he/she adores the mouse who loathes him/her in return and lives to lob bricks at his/her head. (Chances of a happy ending: 2/10 - In later years, there was something of a mellowing of the relationship, and previous generations of cat and mouse had, Herriman told us, found true love.)

From The Saga Of The Swamp Thing #25, by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette & John Totleben (June 1984)
3. Matt Cable loves Abigail Arcana

He's the ex-super-spy with an appalling alcohol problem, strange psychic powers, and a tragic inability to reconcile with his wife, and she's the daughter of a terrible super-villain who's fallen in love with a seven-foot tall, mobile, smart and compassionate swamp plant instead of her husband. (Chances of a happy ending: 0/10)

4.Walter The Wobot loves Judge Dredd

He's the utterly obedient and frighteningly dependent house robot dedicated to his deeply repressed master, and he's the deeply repressed master and fascist super-cop who's no time for over-affectionate house robots. (Chances of a happy ending: 0/10)

From Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2, 1977, by Jim Starlin & Joe Rubenstein
5. Thanos loves Death

He's an insane demi-god who's fallen in love with a personification of Death and is willing to destroy the heavens in order to win her affections, and she's death. (Chances of a happy ending: 20/10.)

From the first daily of Charles Schulz's Peanuts in which Charlie Brown admits to feeling particularly fond of the Little Red-Haired Girl (November 12, 1963)
6. Charlie Brown loves the Little Red Haired Girl - november 12 1963

He's the lonely kid with zero self-esteem, and she's the Little Red-Haired Girl. (Chances of a happy ending: 2/10, but there's years to go before the unlikely might just fall into place.)

7. The Executioner loves The Enchantress

He's the supposedly cold-blooded killer who lives for his perpetually scornful and unfaithful lover, and she's the woman with her eye on the Kingdom's Prince rather than the state butcher. (Chances of a happy ending: 0/10)
From Captain America #162 (June 1973), by Steve Englehart, Sal Buscema & John Verpoorten

8. Peggy Carter loves Captain America

She's the woman who became catatonic when her wartime lover was reported dead 30 years before, and he's Captain America, who's awakened from an iceberg as young as ever and shacked up with his wartime lover's kid sister. (Chances of a happy ending: 0/10) *1

*1:- But wouldn't it have been terrific if Captain America had instead settled down with Peggy, despite every popular prejudice that might have been he'd against them?
From Superman #583, Sept 1986, by Alan Moore, Curt Swan & Kurt Schaffenberger
 9. Lana Lang loves Superman

She's the woman who never got over the boy she loved when growing up, and he's the boy who grew up to be Superman and fell in love with Lois Lane instead. (Chances of a happy ending 0/10)

10. Bone loves Thorn Harvestar

He's a little cartoony lad from a completely different species to that of the woman he loves, and she's royalty with cows to look after and a kingdom to secure too. (Chances of a happy ending: 0/10) 

From Teen Titans Annual #3, by Marv Wolfman, George Perez  & Romeo Tanghal (1984)

11. Beast Boy loves Terra

He's the gauche, sweet green kid who can turn into elephants and gnats, and she's the teenage psychopath sleeping with the old and super-villainous guy who's close to four times her age and out to slaughter her supposed team-mates. (Chances of a happy ending: 0/10) 

From "Who Was That Dog I Saw You With Last Night?" by Elliot S! Maggin, Curt Swan & Bob Oksner (From Superman #287, May 1975)
12. Krypto loves Miss Chelsea

He's the canine super-hound who's been courting the beautiful pooch from the better side of town in his secret identity, and she's a cloistered young dog who's terrified by his mysterious super-powers. In romcoms, the way of true love tends to run smoother when folks tell the truth to each other, but that's not how it plays out for the poor Dog Of Steel. (Chances of a happy ending: 0/10) 

From 1988's "Next Best" by Paul Chadwick
13. Concrete loves Maureen Vonnegut

He's a human brain forcibly and irreversibly transplanted into a sexless alien body, and she's the doctor he adores who "sometimes" gets "so frustrated" because she "can't do surgery on him".  (Chances of a happy ending: 0/10) *2

*2:- The splendid Mike Loughlin, who - unlike your Blogger - has read "Concrete: The Human Dilemma", suggests that 0/10 is far too pessimistic a rating. Mea culpa.

Please do let do let blogger know any and all of the endless other options.

Tomorrow is the first of this week's new comics review columns. I hope you might popping into TooBusyThinking then. While Friday brings an interview for your delectation.


  1. I was tempted to say Batman + Anyone but then I vaguely recalled you arguing - fairly persuasively - for Silver St. Cloud, I believe? And if memory of your piece serves she was the one to walk away.

    1. Hello Smitty:- I was deeply tempted by the Batman/Silver St Cloud situation. But in the end, I thought it wasn't really unrequited so much as tragic. They both love each other, but he dresses up as a bat and fights psychopaths, so it's not really going to work, is it?

      Plus, the two of them hooked up a few decades later, so unlike the others on the list, they did at least get to share a few ... private moments.

  2. Spider-Man loves Mary Jane - they did a comic about it and everything, that's how you know it's gonna last.

    1. Hello Brigonos:- I take your point. Pah.

      And I did, by chance, almost add poor Harry Osbourne from that comic to the above. He got trumped by Lana Lang. Poor Harry, can't even make the list of losers ...

  3. Maybe a little dark, but Cassidy loves Tulip?

    1. Hello Colby:- Oh, that would have been perfect. Great call, and if it had come to my mind, I'd've gone with it.

  4. Whoa, did you read Concrete: The Human Dilemma? I haven't read the more recent Dark Horse Presents material, but I think Ron & Maureen might have a slightly higher chance at love than 0/10. On the other hand, romantic happiness seems very in-Concrete.

    - Mike Loughlin

    1. Hello Mike:- Nope, I haven't read it. The Sequart piece came about because I started to read Concrete from the beginning. I've every intention to catching up, but I want to work my way through the new collections one by one.

      I've added your concerns to the above, but I've kept my poor assessment in, so as to not obscure my own stoo-pidity :)

      Thank you. I do appreciate it.

  5. Poor Harley. :( Though I must admit that panel makes me laugh every time, partly because it always amuses me that Dinni and Timm managed to put a very obvious and crude sex joke into what was ostensibly a children's comic and not completely break the mood (but then again, "Mad Love" is a pretty accurate and screwed up look at an abusive relationship dressed up as a children's superhero caper).

    I like to think that when the Joker finally buys it, it won't be in some grand plot gone awry or a blaze of glory, but because Harley finally snapped and beat him over the head with a heavy skillet.

    Also, love the Thanos score. It's gotta be hard to keep such a can-do spirit and dedication with all that nihilism.

    1. Hello Adam:- You know, Mad Love seems so scary, insightful and grown up that I struggle to think of it ever being associated with anything other than for-grown-ups books. I know you weren't suggesting anything else! It just suddenly struck me that it was so much more mature - though not in the comics sense of "mature" - than just about anything the Bats franchise was banging out in the 90s. Yep, as you imply, Mad Love is damn smart and compassionate book. For my money, the greatest superhero book there's ever been.

      I find your scenario re: the Joker's death entirely convincing. Well, in the Dini/Timm BAS world. I couldn't care less what the New 52 versions of the characters do.

      Thanos, ah Thanos. There's a certain flaw in his thinking, isn't there, from the POV of anyone who isn't entirely insane ...

  6. Gads! Yesterday a review of 'Concrete', and today a nod to BONE!!!

    C'mon, give us a Usagi Yojimbo review next!

    1. Hello Matthew:- Strangely enough, I was sorting out The Year In Comics posts until my time writing the posts ends with 2013. I was thinking, I really must get a Usagi Yojimbo in here ....

  7. Didn't Ofisa Pup also love Krazy Kat? You missed your chance for a three-way of unrequited love! :)

    1. Hello Osvaldo:- I've only read a few collections of Krazy Kat, so I'm far from an expert on the strip. What I have read has Offisa Pupp caring deeply for Krazy Kat, but not in a definitively romantic sense. I'm happy to be corrected, but it's Krazy Kat who's the obviously romantically deluded one. If nothing else, Pupp is handling his feelings - beyond his irritation - rather well.

    2. I haven't read too many of the strips myself, but have always heard (and read) the relationship among the three described as a "love triangle."

      Jay Cantor's 1987 novel (which uses the characters, and Krazy's obsession with Ignatz as a metaphor for human self-destructive impulse vis-a-vis the bomb) certainly plays up this angle as well.

    3. Hello Osvaldo:- Oh, absolutely! I've seen it referred to in exactly that way. But I haven't seen the conclusive proof yet that that's the definitive reading, and so I stuck with what I knew.

    4. I also forgot to say. I love this list!

    5. Thank you Osvaldo. I hope the lists are an entertaining minute's worth of a read during a dead moment in the day.

  8. "You know, Mad Love seems so scary, insightful and grown up that I struggle to think of it ever being associated with anything other than for-grown-ups books. I know you weren't suggesting anything else! It just suddenly struck me that it was so much more mature - though not in the comics sense of "mature" - than just about anything the Bats franchise was banging out in the 90s"

    It's amazing that the Dini/Timm show able to consistently turn out a mature, compelling take on the characters and make a whole slew of the old characters relevant and interesting without resorting to cheap events and gimmicky storytelling, all with incredibly tight standards and oversight being imposed upon them, and were still able to run circles around what was happening in the comics at the time. Even more amazing, the editors at DC didn't take a look at what this, and then sit the talent down in front of a TV and say, "TAKE NOTES AND DO WHAT THEY'RE DOING!"

    I loved that show as a kid, but when I rewatched it a few years ago I walked away loving it even more. "Mad Love" is the highlight, of course; as you say, it is the best superhero book around. But it's not like that was a fluke; there's some absolutely amazing stories told in that series (ok, there are a couple of stinkers too, but we'll just ignore those for now). Even with the comics being dominated by SHOCKING DEATHS and CHANGES THAT WILL NEVER BE UNDONE (UNTIL THEY ARE!), none of it matches up to an episode where Batgirl has a Scarecrow hallucination where she falls to her death and lands on her dad's police car, which leads to her bereaved father swearing vengeance on Batman and hunting him down until they both die a violent death. It's smart, it's dark, it never once felt gimmicky or like a stunt to grab wavering attention, and managed to do interesting and challenging things with the characters all while treating them with respect (down to an ending scene where Gordon basically tells an about-to-confess Barbara that, no, he's not a complete idiot and knows exactly what she's about to tell him a good decade or so before they finally gave the character that small dignity in the comics...and then erased it). And even after all that, it was still handled sensibly enough that it could air in a time slot deemed suitable for children.

    But getting back to the point at hand, Harley is an amazing character that, in all reality, shouldn't have ever been as successful as she was. There's about six million ways that "we're going to give the Joker a clown girlfriend" could have gone wrong*, and yet...

    *see: the New52 Harley Quinn

    "Thanos, ah Thanos. There's a certain flaw in his thinking, isn't there, from the POV of anyone who isn't entirely insane ..."

    Thanos is sort of like Dr. Doom: he should be absolutely ridiculous and impossible to take seriously, and yet he's one of the greatest superhero characters there is. It's all about the conviction. His plan is absolutely bonkers, but boy does he BELIEVE in it.

    1. Hello Adam:- Comics have long been famous for ... going their own way. Rather than reaching out for new audiences, or even attempting to hold onto anything but the core of their readership, the Big Two have a tendency to target the "I-LIKE-GRIM" adolescent tendency. As such, little of BAS's quality appears to have been fastened onto as an influence in general terms.

      I can't add to your summary of the virtues of even the most apparently bleak of BAS episodes, except to say "huzzah". I agree entirely. In fact, I dearly wish that some clever soul would actually issue the series on DVD in Britain so that we could enjoy something other than the first few series. Pah.

      I like your analysis of why we believe in Thanos, when the character's done right. His conviction is beguiling, isn't it? Go to the well too often and he becomes utterly wearisome, mind you, and it's hard to believe that we ever REALLY needed to see him after the wonderful Avengers/Marvel-Tow-In-One Warlock crossover. But he has had his moments since, and I can hope he'll have a fantastic time on the Big Screen, trying, and failing, to destroy a large chunk of everything.

  9. "She's the woman who never got over the boy she loved when growing up, and he's the boy who grew up to be Superman and fell in love with Lois Lane instead."

    This is an incredibly beautiful, melancholy sentence.

    1. Hello Roni:- Thank you. There is something deeply melancholic about characters who are doomed to be heartbroken, isn't there?

  10. Re: Thanos- No, he and Adam Warlock never needed to appear again after the initial Starlin material, but my generation didn't discover him until Infinity Gauntlet. He was this AWESOME!!! new bad guy who happened to have debuted in the '70s that we instanly took to. Even after the diminishing returns of subsequent appearances, he still has a mystique about him.

    Re: Batman: TAS- The writers had the luxury of choosing and reinterpreting the entirety of Batman's history up to the '90s. While I'm sure they could have done a good job even with DC's convoluted continuity, not being hamstrung by it was a virtue. The show didn't succeed solely because of the fresh start most of the characters were given, but it was definitely an asset.

    That said, DC editorial could have taken some of the tone, structure, and character work to the comics without much complaint. I don't know how well the Batman comic book writers of the era could have done so, either.

    - Mike Loughlin

    1. Hello Mike:- Thanks for making the kind of point which no-one should ever have to make to a sleepy-headed blogger. Yes, of course, the re-use of Thanos in genuinely enjoyable stories such as Infinity Gauntlet does keep the character alive as well as entertaining audiences. And through that, folks go back and find stuff which may or may not be key texts.

      You're of course right that BAS had the advantages you mention. It's a shame that when the New 52 came along, the version of Bats which was rebooted contained so little of the best of BAS. I fully respect that there's a great deal of folks who enjoy the latest Batman, although in truth he's really the Batman of recent years with more continuity problems. But boy it lacks a sense of humour and a lightness of tone to go along with all the grimness.

  11. Colin, your recent posts about Gerber's Defenders have reminded me of one of the best unrequited relationships: Jack Norriss & Valkyrie. It was a doomed relationship because Valkyrie was, simply put, NOT Barbara Norriss and couldn't be who Jack wanted her to. All the same, it was excellent at bringing Val down to Earth and forcing her to communicate with regular humans.

    Jack was also such a great presence in the Defenders book as he and the team had a mutual dislike, yet he kept trying to assist them for Valkyrie's sake; it should have been pathetic to see Jack trying to win the love of a woman who didn't exist, but at certain moments - notably when Jack turns the tide against the Sons of the Serpent - it was beautiful. When Jack was written out of the Defenders, the series lost a lot of heart.

    1. Hello Michael:- I couldn't agree with you more about the cluster%£!& that was the relationship between Jack and Val. It expressed not just the truth of the characters as individuals, but also worked to open up a discussion of how tough it can be to cope with the effects that a necessary measure of feminism can bring. Jack was clearly a bloke who wasn't being fair to Val, but his pain and good intentions were always evident too. And of course, Gerber kept developing his character too, so that he was starting to move beyond his obsession. His attempt to assume a James Bond role, and the disastrous effect it had, was an illustration of how Gerber could both mock a character and make the reader like and - strangely - admire them. I can barely think of a moment to do with the character which I enjoyed beyond his supporting role in David Kraft's Scorpio tales. I must go and discover what happened to Jack Norris. I have a vague memory of his joining SHIELD, but I can't help but think that it'd take a Steve Gerber to pull that one off.

      I will be having a crack at Jack and Val too in this series. It's surprising, but the Sunday Defenders pieces do seem to be getting a good number of hits, and there's lots to talk about in that run. In truth, it's my chance to really dig into a classic run and see if I can learn from whatever I'm up to perceiving there. The 75-77 period was the absolute height of Gerber's career as a writer of super-books, and there's a great deal to admire there, as of course you'll be very much aware :)

  12. Hi Colin,
    The Krypto snippit was enough to momentarily soften my cold, dead heart.

    This was a lovely, random list, btw. Nicely done sir.

    1. Hello James:- All concerned appear to have tried to soften the heartbreaking end of that tale by showing a smiling, arm-in-arm snuggle between Superman and Lois. But who cares about them when Krypto's been heartbroken.

      Thanks for being so generous about the list. I'm trying to get as broad a range of material as I can without grabbing at material I don't know for the sake of variety. Mind you, the coming one for this Wednesday is proving a problem ...