I’m a huge fan of love stories in comics. I like narratives revolving around romantic attachments, or simply including a romance subplot; I enjoy the atmosphere that results from watching complex people colliding together. Science fiction, fantasy, comedy, superhero… nearly every genre in nearly every medium features at least one legendary love story, and I’ve pulled a handful of comic book examples that I think deserve the recognition. No matter your relationship status, you can still enjoy a Valentine’s Day curled up and reading about these compelling, inspiring, and all-too-human couples.
Top 10 Comic Book Romances
1.) Saga: An epic love story transcending time and space. Narrator Hazel tells us all about her parents: how they fall in love in the middle of a galactic war, and how they left it all behind to start over somewhere far away from the bloodshed. Marko and Alana are soldiers fighting on opposite sides, meeting by chance and ultimately running away together. As if that wasn’t enough of a scandal, Alana gets pregnant, and the people hunting the couple down want to keep the fact that their child was spawned by two enemy deserters quiet. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples have created something truly special with this celebrated comic. They cross moral lines and racial divides, make you root for the innocent bystander, and completely redefine the concept of love during wartime. It’s a story about a whirlwind romance under extreme circumstances, and how love can survive long after the shine wears off.
2.) Fables: This beloved long-running series by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham almost comes off as an anti-love story at times; I still recommend it. Figures from popular fairy and folk tales find themselves banished from their homelands and start new lives in modern-day New York, and over time, the once-familiar characters set themselves apart from their more familiar iterations. For example, Prince Charming is a terrible cad with three ex-wives, Snow White serves as the deputy of Fabletown, the Big Bad Wolf – her loyal husband – prowls around as sheriff, and nothing is as it once was. I love this series through all its ups and downs, its heartbreaks and its triumphs. Fables can be twisted, and happy endings are in short supply. But the central relationship between Snow White and Bigby Wolf also swells with hope, even in its darkest moments. These aren’t the unrealistic stories of meeting your prince and living happily ever after. These are the stories about what occurs once happily ever after ends.
3.) Sex Criminals: Girl meets boy, boy meets girl. Girl literally stops time with her orgasms, boy can do the same thing. They meet cute at a party, they spend the night together… they inevitably decide to use their weird powers for good and rob a bank to save a doomed library. Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s rare, hilarious and strangely endearing story has become one of the most genuine reflections on romantic relationships that I’ve ever read. One of the major themes revolves around how, no matter how into each other you may be, when you start dating someone you’re not just dating them. You’re dating all their baggage as well. The speed at which Jon and Suzie jump onto their crazy ride in no way diminishes the deep complexity of their relationship, and the story’s overall positive outlook sex. This comic’s massive following appreciates the core of sincerity beneath the bawdy humour, as well as its inclusive perspective on sexuality and frankness when addressing taboo issues like mental health, female pleasure, and more.
4.) Nimona: Nemeses! Dragons! Science! No tagline for a book has ever been more fitting. This all-ages webcomic-turned-OGN by Noelle Stevenson warms hearts with its sharp wit and charming characters. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a former knight turned mad scientist with villainous ambitions, and shapeshifter Nimona delegates herself his sidekick as her first act of gleeful mischief. Together, they set out to cause trouble and prove to the common people that his ex, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, and the ubiquitous Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics he works for aren’t the dashing, selfless heroes they claim to be. This fun adventure lovingly skewering science fiction and fantasy tropes illustrates how even bitter lovers-turned-enemies can set aside their differences to do the right thing for their kingdom… and for one another.
5.) Young Avengers: While the Young Avengers have had a few good runs, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s recent series sticks out in my mind as outright redefining the teen superhero subgenre. It’s an exciting examination of being young, making mistakes, and even growing up a little, but the romantic plot between Billy “Wiccan” Kaplan and Teddy “Hulkling” Altman proved a standout element in a story already full of memorable moments. It’s a beautiful illustration of how love can actually save the world, even when you think everything is hopeless and the odds are too great. Though a great team book, it also deals with some thoughtful, complex emotional situations at the couple level with incredible maturity and sensitivity.
6.) Strangers in Paradise: This comic means many, many things to me. As a young, queer woman, Terry Moore’s iconic work proved formative upon my first reading. It deftly covers some pretty big issues, some of which were still considered taboo in the nineties, such as sexuality, body image, child prostitution, and AIDS. For example, Francine frequently struggles with her body image throughout the story, and its portrayed with frankness rather than histrionics. Though not explicitly a romance, Strangers in Paradise does spend time developing the romantic lives of its three main characters. Francine and Katchoo’s especially, which develops slowly and organically into a complex relationship. Though drastically different people, the two women complement each other in a touching, give-and-take dynamic, inspirational in how hard and how lovingly they strive to both serve as and bolster each others’ strengths.
7.) The Pulse: Jessica Jones has been an Avenger, a private investigator, and eventually she takes a position at Daily Bugle. Brian Michael Bendis’s follow-up to Alias covers Jessica’s brief time at the newspaper, her pregnancy, and her marriage to Luke Cage. Their relationship has been one of my favorite things in comics since its inception, starting from rough beginnings before growing and moving past the pain together. They went from two certified human disasters crashing (sometimes literally!) each others’ lives to falling in love, exorcising their respective demons, and settling down into a (comparatively – I mean, they are superheroes) stable, comfortable arrangement. I think they share one of the most inspiring marriages in comics. They’re a perfect team, always ready to look out and stand up for one another.
8.) Supurbia: Grace Randolph and Russell Dauterman’s Supurbia is all about what happens when you try to have it all: the vigilante gig, the house with a white picket fence, and 2.5 kids. And what if a whole bunch of you live on the same street, living normal lives during the day and fighting crime at night? It sounds great in theory. But, as with many of the comics listed here, this one unapologetically admits that there’s nothing neat about intimate entanglement. People are messy and complicated, therefore their love is as well. The connection between Night Fox and Agent Twilight exemplifies the theme, evolving from a mere fling to a budding romance that comes between pre-existing relationships. This book covers the utter chaos of love expressed in secret, the fallout after infidelity, family dynamics, and what it’s like for the “normal” members of the household to put up with their resident heroes.
9.) The Authority: Another team book, Warren Ellis and Mark Millar’s The Authority centers around superhumans who ride around on an extra-dimensional craft called The Carrier and fight all manner of threats against Earth. Most of them are a little rougher around the edges than the standard Avengers or Justice League, and aren’t exactly the most likable people, but that aspect sets this comic apart. Also the epic moments of gayness. Midnighter and Apollo, two not-so-subtle alternate universe versions of Batman and Superman, are both total opposites and one of the most caring couples in the entirety of superhero comics. Despite their differences, they manage to remain extremely uncomplicated, spending their days brutally kicking ass while unabashedly loving each other in full view of everyone.
10.) Sunstone: Sunstone is an especially notable comic for its positive, well-rounded depiction of queer women enjoying BDSM in a healthy, loving, and emotionally fulfilling environment. After struggling to find partners matching their sexualities and kinks, the lonely Ally and Lisa meet on an internet chat room and hit it off. Stjepan Šejić’s story starts with them sharing a weekend together, exploring the beginnings of a sexual relationship that eventually evolves into a deep, meaningful romance fully respectful of personal boundaries and preferences. BDSM unfortunately carries a pretty negative reputation thanks to ill-informed media depictions, but you don’t have to be into it to relate to such genuinely sweet, funny, and charming pair like Ally and Lisa.