Alice Walker wows us with this insightful analysis of the sad love lives of TV superheroes:
by Alice Walker
It’s been nearly 15 years since superheroes first conquered the big screen — and the small screen is next. Today, almost every major network has a comic book superhero, from Netflix’s critically acclaimed Daredevil to Fox’s shaky Gotham.
Like their movie counterparts, the broad outline of each of these shows is the same: do-gooders trying to save humankind from megalomaniacal villains. Since that’s what the entire genre is based on, that’s pretty much expected. But there’s another, much stranger quality that these shows share, one at odds with the rest of television’s current trends: They have eschewed romance to the point of near non-existence.
To be clear: Romance hasn’t been eliminated altogether. However diluted, the classic love interests — culled from decades of comic book stories — are still around. Daredevil has its Night Nurse, and Gotham has its Barbara Gordon. Relationships are teased, and longing glances are exchanged. Occasionally there’s even a hook-up. But from show to show, in episode after episode, these connections between characters have been unceremoniously thrust so far into the background that they barely touch the main story arcs. It’s a baffling choice, undercutting dramatic tension and diminishing fan engagement.
Let’s start with the worst offender: ABC. Despite Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s creative resurgence in season two, the show’s relationships are still largely one-directional, lacking the steamy flair that drove Whedon family shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. As the second season ended, the only existing romance was between ex-spouses Lance Hunter and Bobbi Morse, who — while perfectly fine on their own — have not been particularly engaging as a pair. Watching two characters we barely know bicker and reunite is hardly the stuff fandoms are built on. And it’s not like the appetite isn’t there; fans have been reduced to rooting for non-existent couples (see: SkyeWard) in the absence of an actual compelling love story.
Then there’s the S.H.I.E.LD. spin-off prequel Agent Carter, whose star Hayley Atwell is so charming and charismatic she could have chemistry with an empty chair. But despite the obvious potential, the series settles for the specter of her relationship with Captain America — a plot that we’ve already seen played out across the two Captain America movies separated by more than a half-century of story. Are we really supposed to believe Peggy Carter had no romances during the 70 years when Captain America was frozen — when she believed he was dead?
Turn the dial to Fox’s Gotham, which spends plenty of time on villain back-stories and convoluted chase scenes, but only lip service to the many couples you’d find in the Batman comics on which it’s based. Gotham‘s ostensible lead is James Gordon, and while he has several dalliances, they’re almost always underdeveloped and secondary to the motivations that actually drive him….