T. Kyle King’s published work ranges from newspaper columns to film reviews and from short stories to law review articles. Most notably, he served as a site manager and staff writer at DawgSports.com, a daily weblog devoted to University of Georgia athletics, from 2006 to 2013, and he is the author of a book about the history of the college football rivalry between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Clemson Tigers published by Clemson University Digital Press in 2013. Kyle is a lifelong comic book fan whose thoughts on comic books previously have appeared at ComicsVerse, Progressive Boink, and the Superman Homepage. Kyle is a Superman guy.
DC Comics is making major changes to Superman, reducing his powers to the level of the Man of Tomorrow’s 1938 debut and publicly revealing his secret identity as Clark Kent. As the Man of Steel makes the transition from Truth to Justice, our Superman writer, Kyle King, takes a look at one of the major issues from the recent makeover.
I am a Superman guy, but I have been critical of recent Superman stories, particularly with respect to their depictions of the Man of Steel’s relationships with Lois Lane and Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, the recurring theme seems to be the diminution of characters who traditionally have been outgoing and larger than life.
The current title following the combined adventures of the newly romantically involved “power couple”, Superman/Wonder Woman, premiered in 2013 in conjunction with DC’s line-wide “New 52” reboot. The series’ initial writer, Charles Soule, explained before the title’s launch: “They’re arguably two of the most powerful beings in the whole DC Universe and they’re romantic together so just imagine the adventures and excitement that can come from that.”
MORE NEWS FROM THE WEB
Somewhat more cynically, Superman/Wonder Woman’s inaugural penciller, Tony Daniel, said the book found its genesis as “something that would, for lack of a better example, that hits on the Twilight audience…. The drama, the characterization with love triangles and forbidden love and things like that.” This prompted a sensible question from a fan of superhero comics: “Romance? Is that it? Is there going to be a plot or something?”
Readers of the series can determine for themselves whether Superman/Wonder Woman has been well plotted over its two-year run, but Soule’s and Daniel’s comments make it clear that the premise is that, as the most powerful man and woman in the Justice League lineup, the Man of Steel and the Amazon Princess make a natural couple. This questionable premise forms the foundation for every flawed portrayal the series has offered.
Historically, the notion of a romantic relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman has been winked at rather than realized. The power couple’s fake engagement in Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #136 was a ruse designed to protect Lois. John Byrne had the Man of Steel share an awkward kiss with the Amazon Princess in Action Comics #600, fulfilling fears that had haunted the dreams of Clark’s Daily Planet colleague since at least Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #93 in 1969.
Byrne’s super-smooch allowed Kal-El and Diana to get it out of their systems before opting sensibly to be friends and teammates rather than lovers. The correctness of this ultimate resolution had been explained earlier in the Alan Moore story For the Man Who Has Everything, in which Superman and Wonder Woman share a friendly kiss on the former’s birthday. A smiling Superman asks afterward, “Why don’t we do that more often?” Wonder Woman replies, “I don’t know. Too predictable?” The Man of Steel concurs: “You’re probably right.” Even those members of the audience who didn’t like the answer understood its accuracy.
That ordinary order was altered by Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come, which ended with Clark and Diana together and expecting a child. However, those events took place in an alternate future timeline, leaving the current canonical continuity in which Superman and Wonder Woman are a couple as a comparative rarity in the DC Universe.
As natural as the pairing appears at first glance, there are good reasons why the Man of Steel and the Amazon Princess have not typically been entangled romantically. Moore was right about the predictability of the union, as evidenced by the cynical Twilight rationale offered at the outset of Superman/Wonder Woman’s run, but the mere fact that the relationship is obvious and formulaic does not necessarily mean it is a bad idea.
As suggested by the second billing Diana receives in the title of the power couple’s shared publication, the pairing with Clark poses large problems for Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman’s historical debt is to feminism, a point underscored in the reaction to creator comments that were squeamish about the application of that label to the Amazon Princess. The unique absence of a central male figure behind Diana’s defining narrative lies at the core of her character. This is why Wonder Woman’s story remains largely unchanged in Marguerite Bennett’s acclaimed DC Bombshells, and it is why Diana’s substantially subordinate role to a now less powerful Superman frequently falls flat.
As tough as this romance is on Wonder Woman, though, it also adversely affects the characterization of the Man of Steel. When the New 52 introduced this relationship in 2012 with a steamy cover to Justice League #12, some fans saw the union as more natural for a Superman now portrayed as “a brooding and self-doubting alien” whose “development focuses very strongly on the alien aspect of his nature.”
If anything, though, the emphasis upon Kal-El’s isolation on his adoptive homeworld ought to be an argument against the god-like superhero having a romantic relationship with a goddess. The essence of Superman exists in the tension between the responsibility he bears because of his Kryptonian powers and the desire he feels to be completely human. That latter wish finds expression in Superman’s secret identity as Clark Kent, in his commitment to be true to his Smallville upbringing, and in his relationships with his friends and co-workers.
Today, thanks to Truth, Superman’s secret identity has been revealed. Clark Kent effectively is gone, replaced by Archie Clayton, so Superman’s interpersonal relationships are even more important. What the Last Son of Krypton needs now, more than ever, are his friendships with the human beings who keep him grounded. Superman needs Perry White. He needs Jimmy Olsen. Most of all, he needs Lois Lane.
Lois provides Clark with the link to humanity that Diana cannot, and, without that, he is not truly Superman; he is nearer to the Martian Manhunter than to the Man of Tomorrow. His relationship with Wonder Woman does not strengthen, but actually severs, that essential connection. It is no accident, therefore, that the Superman of Superman/Wonder Woman is distant, aloof, selfish, insensitive, untrusting, and moody. Without Lois to tether the tripartite Superman to his human half, Clark fades into the background in the shadow of the alien Kal-El.
Consequently, the fundamental question raised by any romantic relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman inevitably is: “What about Lois?” For the most part, many fans’ fantasy of the ultimate power couple historically has appeared less as a viable alternative to “Clois” and more as a plot device in a story properly centered around the Daily Planet’s top reporter. A union between Clark and Diana can produce some interesting dichotomies, as when Superman confronted Steve Trevor while Wonder Woman squared off with Lois Lane in a recent excellent issue in the Truth arc, but such an unsustainable relationship simply cannot work in the long term because it is too untrue to a trio of iconic characters.
Superman is an alien who craves a closer connection to the humanity that inspires him as much as he inspires us. Wonder Woman is a warrior with no need for a stronger man to make her whole. Lois Lane is an idealist drawn to the Man of Tomorrow as the embodiment of what is best in all of us. All three characters are lessened when Superman is in a dating relationship with Diana rather than Lois. Even after Truth, Clark and Lois should be, and still can be, together.
Are you happy with the present direction of the Superman/Wonder Woman series?
Do you hold out hope that Justice will end with Superman and Lois Lane reunited as a couple?
Share your thoughts in the comments and ComiConverse with us!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.