DC Comics had quite the PR kerfuffle on their hands this week — first it become public knowledge that company wouldn't allow Batwoman to marry her partner (who is a lady), and then the company asked fans to draw panels of Harley Quinn, nude, apparently preparing to commit suicide. DC has since spoken out about the massive misunderstanding that caused the Batwoman story to go national — it's not that they don't want two women getting married, they say; it's that superheroes aren't allowed to have meaningful personal lives lest they forget it's their job to save the world.
Let's start this off which what Dan Didio — DC co-publisher — actually said in his interview with The Hollywood Reporter:
They put on a cape and cowl for a reason: They're committed to defending others — at the sacrifice of all their own personal instincts ...Tim Drake, Barbara Gordon, and Kathy Kane — it’s wonderful that they try to establish personal lives, but it’s also just as important that they put it aside as they know what they are accomplishing as the hero takes precedence over everything else. That is our mandate, that is our edict, that is our stand with our characters.
That sounds kind of legit in certain ways: If you consume a lot of media focusing around heroes (especially those on long journeys or just those who happen to commit heroic acts as a habit as opposed to a one-off thing), you'll notice a repeating motif of the suffering hero. The one who frequently loses loved ones to the cause is only more inspired to fight for what they believe in.
If you've seen Supernatural, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or read any of the superhero comics in existence, you know what I'm talking about. Think of The Dark Knight, when Christian Bale's Batman loses love interest Rachel Dawes, but must push through the pain and sacrifice himself even further to preserve the memory of Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent. For the good of the city, and all.
What Didio's saying makes sense — and goes along very neatly with DC's blanket marriage ban on the New 52—but in a way, it's also just a weird overplaying of the difference a fictional marriage certificate would make to a character's life. What, a character can't be miserable and married at the same time? Doesn't it just make it even more devastating if the writers decide to off that particular loved one?
It might just be bad phrasing, but Didio's claim that superheroes must live their lives without meaningful personal relationships just rings false. Io9's Rob Bricken says it well:
If DC’s heroes need to put aside their personal relationships, then why the hell are Superman and Wonder Woman dating? ... Look, relationships are a large part of what make stories interesting — not just in comic books, but in fiction ...There’s a reason [Scott Snyder's recent comic, which explores the Joker's affect on Batman's relationships, is] called Death of the “Family”, and that’s because family is the most basic personal relationship there is ... What is it about “family” that's okay with DC, while marriage isn’t?
It's not romance DC's banning, it's marriage, and that's a hard line in the sand to draw when it comes to the development of certain characters and their relationships, not to mention future story lines. As Bricken says later in his piece, "all [Didio's] doing is keeping writers from furthering relationships, letting readers know that no romance in DC comics ever have a chance of lasting by editorial decree, and denying storytellers to tell certain types of stories." The Mary Sue's Susana Polo also made a point for why it's different for DC to ban marriage for the gay characters than it is for the straight ones they're also banning:
Those kids need heroes who do the things that their environment tells them are impossible. They need gay heroes who grow up to be loved by the men and women that they love, in stable, healthy, and, yes, legally sanctioned relationships. They need heroes, as well as real people, to show them that it gets better.
That. Is what heroes. Are for.
It's no wonder J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman walked out on Batwoman; as they said in the statement announcing their resignation, they left "because [DC's decisions] prevent us from telling the best stories we can." [Image via GoodComics]