This is our final entry in our month of romance and love, here at Hex. This week, we’re taking a look at some romantic moments and love stories in comic books/web comics and manga. Expect some surprise choices as you scroll down this page, dear readers.
“If it’s raining, it must be love.”
Gaze longingly enough at the romance comics of the 1940s to the 1970s and you’ll find a genre full of deceit, anguish and awkward situations. Above all, they presented an unrealistic idea of “True Love” to their young female readers. Jeanne Martinet was one of those readers and now, as a humorist author, she’s rewritten the dialogue and captions of those comics as a satire on the genre. The result is Truer than True Romance — one of the most entertaining comic books I have ever read.
I have a complicated relationship with old romance comics. The artists who drew them were some of the finest in the industry, but that doesn’t mean the stories they depicted weren’t just downright ridiculous. Why do men always drive convertibles? Why do only females cry? Why do birds signify love? It’s these bizarre scenes and tropes that Jeanne Martinet comments on in her rewritten romance plots, which include stories such as “I Hate My Hair!”, “My Heart of Darkness!” and “Loving Gay Men!”
And if the great art and hilarious storylines don’t turn you on, then there’s also Jeanne’s take on the romance letters column with “Romance Reporter”, “Ask Dr Mary”, “10 Ways to Get Over a Broken Heart” and others; “…stand up and announce that you’ve stolen your best friend’s boyfriend. Now that’s a surprise party.”
I’m not a hundred percent sure if my comic book recommendation for romance will count, because The Order of the Stick by Rick Burlew isn’t actually a comic book – it’s a web comic. The series has been released in physical book form though, which is why I think that it technically meets the guidelines. In particular, I’ve picked the third book in the series, War and XPs, which features a massive citywide siege that feels almost as epic as Helm’s Deep, despite the fact that the comic uses a stick figure art style.
But I’m not here to talk about The Order of the Stick’s epic sieges or its art style. I’m here to talk about romance, and this comic has one of the best I’ve seen. A few strips into The Order of the Stick, back when the art was fairly terrible and the comic was more focused on making jokes about D&D rules than it was about telling a coherent story, a few seeds were planted that Haley Starshine, the kleptomaniac rogue, was interested in Elan, the oblivious but well-meaning bard.
This storyline slowly grew and grew over the course of the comic, with Haley’s interest in Elan becoming more and more obvious, although Elan himself remained totally unaware of the fact. Despite this, it still remained in the background of the main plot. But that changed in the third book of the series, when Haley and Elan’s story was pushed to the forefront of the comic. Buried under all the secrets she was keeping and unable to hold them all in anymore, all of Haley’s hidden feelings came tumbling out in one go, and Elan, who had finally realised how much she meant to him, reciprocated them. Finally, 400 strips after the comic had first come out, their relationship was consummated. And it was beautiful.
Just ignore the fan-service, for the moment.
I want to start off by stating that this is not the most romantic Japanese manga out there that one could read. However, Chobits by manga collective Clamp represents one of their first forays into targeting a male audience (over the age of 16) directly.
Chobits follows Hideki Motosuwa as he tries to gain entrance to university by studying at a prep school. Hideki isn’t fantastically skilled academically and hardly knows a thing about technology, wants a girlfriend badly and also wishes he had the money to afford a “persocom” (a human shaped robot). He’s also pretty much flat broke, so when he finds Chi (who resembles a deactivated persocom) dumped outside one day, he obviously thinks that his luck has changed.
The manga explores the growing relationship between Hideki and Chi, as Hideki comes to realise that Chi isn’t like other persocoms on the market. While it’s creepy in the beginning when Chi is more like a toddler than an adult, and fan-service aside, it’s a nice enough romance to see develop between the pair. It also has some artfully done moments where it questions what it means to be human or robot via the in-manga book series “A City with No People”.
And please: don’t watch the anime, it really is worse than the manga.
The first thing that struck me about the relationships in Babble is that they’re not your usually portrayed relationships. The main character, Carrie is the focus of the story. And it’s not a fantastically pleasant story (to put it lightly). What’s interesting about it though, is that the romance is secondary. It sets parts of the story up and isn’t constantly in your face about it. That and they had a previous fling, which unbalanced the whole situation in the first place. It’s basically bad and digs south from there.
Not that the relationship was necessarily badly done, more that it involved infidelity on the part of the professor. I don’t want to go too much into it, because it’s better to read it firsthand, but it was a refreshing take on relationships and romance in comics. Another thing that was apparent was that it was actually kind of mostly a sexual attraction.
The actual sex is relegated to a single panel each time so it doesn’t seem to overshadow any of the actual story and likewise, it’s usually darker than most other panels. Carrie always seems to want the attention of the professor and she seems to bounce from “ready to leave and go back home” to “ready and willing to do anything for him”.
Maybe it’s just me, but I like the fact that the whole situation is messed up. I like the idea that relationships and romance are not that healthy and certainly not that straightforward. I feel it brings in a human element into it which is often lacking in other comics and media as a whole. Because guess what, relationships and romance is not easy, we have to work at stuff, hard. Even when we feel like giving up and even when you feel like they’ve given up on you, there’s still some part of you that wants to come back for more.
This week’s choice probably results from the simple fact that I haven’t read all that much Batman. I’ve read the classics of course – Year One, Long Halloween, Killing Joke, etc. – but I’ve never really delved into the series proper. As such, I can’t really say whether Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s Hush, which ran monthly from 2002 to 2003, is typical or unusual for the Bat’s reguar comics.
What I can say is that I liked it, and that what I liked most was Catwoman. I’ve also never read any Catwoman, so I don’t know if this is typical of her stuff either. Selina Kyle is like a well-adjusted version of Bruce Wayne – she dresses in silly clothes and does questionable things, but she’s come to terms and found peace with that. Batman, on the other hand, has not.
And so, when they finally act on their longtime mutual attraction, their chemistry is great. Selina is confident and knows what she wants, but Bruce has no idea what he’s doing. It’s one of the few times Batman’s arrested development has really worked for me rather than being annoying (yes, it’s sad that your parents are dead, but you’re a full-grown adult now – get a grip). The Dark Knight is like a schoolboy who has no idea how to deal with his feelings for this girl, and it’s honestly kind of adorable. They’re so cute together!
It’s also good for them, as they both realise how open they can be with each other. Most superhero relationships involve keeping secrets and leading double lives. But here they both have double lives and they realise that, for the first time, they can share both of them.
Of course, Bruce blows the whole thing by being a paranoid nutball – by being Batman, in other words – and Selina calls it off. But it was sweet while it lasted. And, while it’s true that I haven’t read much Batman, I’m pretty sure it’s not normally sweet.