Some things just seem to fit together so naturally. Peanut butter and jelly. Abbott and Costello. Donald Trump and hateful, willfully-ignorant, racist, seditious Nazi scum. (Sorry, I was momentarily distracted by the impeachment trial as I was writing this intro.)
In the comics, Superman has almost always been romantically linked to Lois Lane while Wonder Woman has been paired with Steve Trevor. But it always felt to me that Superman and Wonder Woman made the more natural pair as a romantic couple. I mean, these two are the clear king and queen of the comic-book prom, no? They’re the alpha male and alpha female superheroes, the two most powerful superheroes, and the two most gorgeous superheroes. As Shirley put it to Jeff back in the first season of Community: “I don’t see why you and Britta aren’t together. Two cute white students just seems right.” (FYI, this is from the fourth episode of said season, “Social Psychology.” Anyone out there who has never seen Community, you need to binge it already. I think you can find it on both Netflix and Hulu now.)
Regular blog subscribers (and I’m up to a whopping six of ‘em last time I checked!) know that I’m largely a traditionalist and might be surprised by this admission on my part. And rationally speaking, I recognize that putting Supes and Wonder Woman together this way would likely be a mistake. But emotionally, irrationally, I just can’t help myself—I ship it. There. I said it. And I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, because otherwise they wouldn’t be hawking wares like this:
…Available from the good people at Super Hero Stuff here.
Romance is a natural subject when Valentine’s Day comes around, which is why I kept this topic in my back pocket for a good nine months. It was actually inspired when I was researching my Elektra post last May, when I came across this passage in Paul Young’s Frank Miller’s Daredevil and the Ends of Heroism:
Miller has frequently called out the comics industry on its tendency to give male superheroes unsuper girlfriends and trudge them both through dull domestic situations. Superheroes’ costumed careers allow them to perform epic acts of physical prowess. Why not make their sexual lives just as superhuman, with all the bombast of leaping tall buildings in a single bound? …Why should extraordinarily powerful people like Superman or Spider-Man date normal humans like Lois Lane or Mary Jane Watson? Why wouldn’t they look for their physical equals and pursue sex lives that bristle with the intensity of their heroic exploits? (p. 110.)
Much of my early shipping of Supes & WW was born out of similar notions. Plus, just imagine how ultra-powerful (and ultra-good-looking) their kids would be! Or so my juvenile imagination went.
Of course, Frank Miller eventually did pair the two characters in The Dark Knight Strikes Again, but not to very good effect (at least not in my own humble opinion; your mileage may vary). DC then went down this same road in their (new) regular continuity with “The New 52,” making the two characters a romantic couple in Justice League #12 (Oct. 2012). This creative decision got a lot of press at the time and sparked much debate. In an article by Matthew A. Hoffman and Sara Kolmes from the tome Wonder Woman and Philosophy, some of the problems surrounding the seeming inevitability of this Superman-Wonder Woman coupling were cogently dissected:
Because the relationship between Wonder Woman and Superman is transformed into a romantic one without any change in the personalities of the characters, the later romantic relationship is built on the dynamics of the earlier friendship…. The implication of the change is that close cross-gender friendships can become romantic without any change to the relationship dynamic, which means that all cross-gender friendships are the building blocks for romantic relationships.
…To insist, in spite of social pressure, that one’s friendship is real and meaningful in its own right requires a commitment on the part of cross-gender friends to each other and to their relationship, as well as more than a little stubbornness. Pre-New 52, Wonder Woman and Superman face this pressure, and resist it because their friendship brings their life value in its own right…. We should not view friendships between the Supermen and Wonder Women of the world with suspicion, or seek to transform these friendships into romantic ones. We would be better served by noticing the good these friendships bring to both parties and ourselves, and seek friends of either gender who are willing to work with us to produce this kind of good in our lives. (pp. 88-89.)
The writers make a good case here against the cynicism implicit in the When Harry Met Sally-esque presumption that men and women can never truly be just friends. Much of this likely played a part in why Supes & WW were never seriously paired together in regular continuity prior to this. Again, I recognize this, rationally, along with all the other thoughtful reasons as to why the two never pursued a romance.
But we’re on the precipice of VALENTINE’S DAY here people—who wants to be rational at a time like this? This is a time for wild passion, mad desire, and irrationality! So let’s indulge in some irrational fantasizing and look at those handful of occasions back in the Silver and Bronze Ages when the possibility of some tree sitting and k-i-s-s-i-n-g between the Man of Steel and the Amazing Amazon was directly addressed.
Strangers in the Night
The first time Superman and Wonder Woman appeared in the same comic story together was All Star Comics #36 (Aug.-Sept. 1947). This was also the first time all three members of the original superhero trinity—Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman—appeared in a comic story together; only the second time Superman and Batman appeared in a comic story together; and the only time Superman and Batman were active participants in a Justice Society case/adventure.
Sidebar: At this point my research took me pretty far down a side road, with such a wealth of information to discuss that I decided to pull back and save it all for a future blogpost of its own. [EDIT: Five months later, I published a post on this subject. Click here to read it.] Suffice it to say that superheroes didn’t have many crossover adventures back in the Golden Age and, if not for those JSA adventures in All Star Comics, you’d have difficulty proving they even existed in the same universe. True comics continuity was really still just a twinkle in a young Stan Lee’s eye at this point.
Bottom line, Superman and Wonder Woman had very little one-on-one interactions in this story (in fact none of the heroes had much in the way of one-on-one interactions). The two would not meet again in the comic pages until the Justice League of America came along in 1960, and even at that point they didn’t do much of anything together. By the time we finally got something substantial on this front, the Silver Age was nearly over and we were standing on the verge of the Bronze Age.
“The Superman-Wonder Woman Team!”
At long last fans got to indulge their romantic superhero fantasies in Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #93 (Jul. 1969), in a tale titled “The Superman-Wonder Woman Team!” The only problem is that the Wonder Woman in this story wasn’t really Wonder Woman—and I mean this in more than one sense of the phrase.
Firstly, this is the Denny O’Neil/Mike Sekowsky era of Wonder Woman, wherein she was de-powered and rendered a relatively “normal” woman. This is actually a major plot point, as Lois muses early on in the story that “Wonder Woman can’t be my rival now! She’s been transformed into an ordinary mortal… without her Amazon powers!” This statement is interesting because it supposes that Wonder Woman had been a rival before losing said powers, or at least Lois had viewed her as such, despite this possibility never having been broached before. Clearly, even though it had previously gone unvoiced, the idea of a Superman-Wonder Woman romance had always been an elephant in the room.
As the tale proceeds, Wonder Woman invites Superman to join her in a circus exhibition for charity and he agrees. After the show, which Lois is covering for The Daily Planet, the audience goads the heroes into kissing for the cameras. This leads to the two actually dating, at which point Lois Lane takes up karate lessons so she can “fight” WW for Superman’s love. (Sidebar: Nice to know that women can turn into Cro-Magnons just as readily as men do when it comes to romantic rivalry.) Naturally, Wonder Woman cleans her clock (as Superman bemusedly watches on, a scene recreated for the cover) and the super-courtship continues.
And this brings us to the second respect in which this Wonder Woman isn’t really Wonder Woman—because she literally is not. As all this was going on, Wonder Woman seemed to be getting her old powers back, along with some new ones that she never had before. This makes Lois suspicious, which leads her to discover that the real Wonder Woman is being held prisoner while a Kryptonian imposter from the Phantom Zone has taken her place. Before this discovery, however, the false Wonder Woman has managed to get Superman to pop the question!
By story’s end, after the real Wonder Woman is freed and her villainous double is captured, Superman flies off, casually announcing, “I wanted to say I’d decided not to marry Wonder Woman! I care too much for you, Lois!” Well gosh golly gee, that just fixes everything, doesn’t it?
“Wonder Woman: Mrs. Superman”
Five years later, the love triangle is revisited—more properly—in “Wonder Woman: Mrs. Superman” from Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #136 (Jan.-Feb. 1974). I say “more properly” because this time we get the real Wonder Woman, with her full powers restored and in her classic costume.
This time out, the story begins with Superman and Wonder Woman already together as a romantic couple—a couple engaged to be married!—setting up a quasi-mystery that Lois Lane is determined to solve.
Eventually, the Superman-Wonder Woman romance is revealed to be a ruse, one designed to protect Lois Lane from a super-villainess stalker who’s obsessed with Superman and crazy jealous. It’s kind of amazing, though, the lengths that Supes & WW went to sell this “ruse.” We’re talking a whole lot of PDA here.
Naturally, the one-issue story ends with the truth revealed and Lois back in Superman’s arms. Lois never bothers to ask if all that hugging and kissing was truly necessary, which is a shame in a way, because watching Superman and Wonder Woman trying to explain this sure would have been hilarious.
Digression #1: It was about five months after this issue came out that Wonder Woman #212 (Jun.-Jul. 1974) hit the stands. This was the beginning of an extended storyline where Wonder Woman began exploring how she got her powers back and why she could not remember ever having lost them, with a fellow JLA-er guest starring in every issue (for eleven issues straight, published across twenty-one months!). First JLAer up was Superman, and while there were no hints of romance between them, I found his affection and concern for Wonder Woman here rather touching and even moving at times.
“The Super-Prisoners of Love”
Those Lois Lane stories are closer to romance/soap opera than adventure, and thus exist in a bit of a vacuum, not carrying the same continuity weight as the “regular” Superman titles. This changes a bit when we get to “The Super-Prisoners of Love” from DC Comics Presents #32 (Apr. 1981). Also: Wonder Woman’s regular boyfriend, Steve Trevor, who was absent from those previous stories (he was dead at the time; then, as so often happens in comics, he got better), finally plays a role in this one.
And as long as we’re on the subject, this was another factor in the appeal of Superman and Wonder Woman as a couple (for me, certainly, and for more than a few others out there, I’m sure): the problematic nature of their regular romantic partners. Lois Lane’s love of Superman always had this superficial quality, particularly given the disdain she often held for his alter ego, Clark Kent. If she can’t recognize the noble qualities in Clark Kent, then she probably doesn’t really see them in Superman either, and thus “loves” him for all the wrong reasons.
As for Trevor, it’s a bit simpler: he was always kind of a zero. It was only in the 2017 Wonder Woman film that Trevor was finally portrayed with qualities that made him worthy of Wonder Woman. This tale addresses these points, to at least some small degree.
The cover spells out the plot clearly enough. The Greek god of love, Eros (better known by his Roman name of Cupid), decides he’s hot for Wonder Woman but she rejects him, declaring her love for Steve Trevor. The spurned god decides to get even by shooting both her and Superman (who just so happened to beam aboard the JLA satellite at that very moment) with his famous arrows of love, thereby wrecking her relationship with Trevor (and incidentally, Superman’s relationship with Lois Lane).
After this one brief, passionate embrace, the two heroes pull back, mutually acknowledging their love for other people. But the attraction that has been literally sparked by Cupid’s arrow is clearly tearing them both up inside. As they continue to discuss how to solve their dilemma, they can’t resist taking hold of each other’s hands, and Superman becomes so overwhelmed by this that he flies out of the satellite and into the void of space—the Kryptonian equivalent of a cold shower, one might suppose.
From there, the two run to the arms of their respective steadies in an attempt to tame their out-of-control desire for one another. But when Wonder Woman sees Superman kissing Lois Lane, she snaps. She almost murders Lois in a jealous rage, tossing her into the path of an oncoming truck. Superman saves her, of course, but then finds he can no longer resist his feelings for Wonder Woman. They share another passionate kiss before flying off together. Lois—along with Lana Lang, who had also been on the scene—are both left confused and heartbroken as they console each other. Then a narrative caption repeats the thesis statement that begat this very blogpost.
“Superman may just be in love with the one woman they’ve always known, deep in their hearts, was ideal for him.”
The two eventually discover a magical solution to their problem, the “blue lotus of lost love,” and set off to secure it. Along the way, as Superman is flying with Wonder Woman in his arms, he asks her, “are we really certain we want to be rid of– of what we feel for each other?” Then, after Superman is briefly buried by falling rocks, Wonder Woman calls after him, “Oh my poor darling Kal-El!”
Even though the rational sides of each of them have recognized that the situation needs to be rectified, their emotional sides are continuing to struggle. This aspect of the tale was well executed by writer Gerry Conway, but I’m not sure the artwork held up its end. Kurt Schaffenberger was a fine artist, and certainly a key draftsman in the early history of the Superman line of comics, but his more cartoony style here robbed the proceedings of some dramatic strength that a more realistic art style might have provided. (Having Vin Colletta on inks probably hurt the story still further in this regard.)
Eventually, they get the magic flower to break Eros’s love spell and return to Earth to explain everything to Lois and Steve. Standing in front of a carnival tunnel of love, Superman and Wonder Woman are invited by their paramours to take a trip through the tunnel with them, but they decline, simultaneously declaring, “maybe tomorrow.” A somewhat cryptic ending that leaves room for intriguing debate.
Digression #2: At this point it bears mentioning that a few years before this story was published, the tabloid-sized treasury edition of Superman vs. Wonder Woman (All-New Collectors’ Edition #C-54) came out in 1978. While it was a fun story, set in 1942 and featuring the Golden Age (Earth-2) versions of Superman and Wonder Woman, written (again) by Gerry Conway and beautifully illustrated by José Luis García-López, there was definitely no romance to be found here. In fact, the two had a fairly awesome brawl with each other over the potential use of atomic weapons in World War II. So while it’s not germane to our particular topic today, it’s still worth a read.
“For the Man Who Has Everything!”
Now a major goodie: “For the Man Who Has Everything!” from Superman Annual #11 (1985), by Watchmen auteurs, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. (In fact, they probably began working on Watchmen immediately after, if not simultaneously with, this annual.)
Most of you know the basic beats of this one, as it’s an extremely popular story and has even been adapted into an episode of the animated Justice League Unlimited. But for anyone out there unaware: Batman, Robin, and Wonder Woman, pay a visit to the Fortress of Solitude to celebrate Superman’s birthday. When they get there, they discover the Man of Steel incapacitated, seemingly by this plant growing on his chest. In short order they learn that said plant (known as the “Black Mercy”) was a “gift” from scary monster and super-creep, Mongul (click here if you don’t get the reference), who has penetrated the Fortress.
The most interesting aspect of the story is how the Black Mercy subdues its prey by putting them in a dreamlike state where they believe they have been granted their heart’s deepest and most cherished desire. In Superman’s case, he finds himself in a reality where Krypton was never destroyed. As one might have suspected, it’s another great character study from Moore, as well as a banger of an adventure.
Now there isn’t much in the way of overt romance between Supes and WW here, but Moore does touch on it. First, while in the midst of her fight with Mongul, the alien conqueror openly wonders if Wonder Woman is Superman’s “mate.” She responds, “Just good friends.” Then, after the fighting is over and the villain is captured, she presents Superman with his birthday gift along with a kiss.
This is probably the best way to treat the relationship—acknowledge that aforementioned elephant in the room without pursuing it much further than that. There’s a natural attraction there, and the thought of pursuing things further has crossed both their minds, but they realize it’s probably better for everyone else around them, and far less complicated, if they remain just good friends.
In early 1988, Superman’s fiftieth anniversary was coming up right around the same time as the 600th issue of Action Comics and the creatives wanted do something special to mark the anniversaries. And what could be more special than Superman hooking up with Wonder Woman? I remember this image from a DC house ad really got tongues wagging at the time:
Spoiler Alert: This scene of Supes & WW making out in space (which would be reproduced as part of a pastiche cover for that issue of Action) never happens in the actual story. Talk about your bait and switch.
The seeds for this storyline were first planted in Superman #5 (Vol. 2, May 1987), when Superman has a sexy dream about Wonder Woman. A whole year later, Wonder Woman has her own erotic dream about Superman that opens Wonder Woman #15 (Apr. 1988). Then at the end of the following issue (#16), she makes a “date” with him over the phone.
In between, she has a conversation with Vanessa Kapatelis (teen daughter of Julia Kapatelis, with whom she’s been living) about the dream she had earlier and how the first time they met, Superman struck her as a “god.”
I should probably provide more context at this point.
This is very early on in the then-new, post-Crisis DC continuity. At this stage, this version of Wonder Woman was new to the then-DC Universe. (And I know it’s going to be hard for newbies to keep up, as DC has rebooted its continuity a number of times in the decades since, but just try to follow along as best you can.) In this reconfigured history, Wonder Woman was not one of the founders of the Justice League (nor were Superman and Batman for that matter), and is actually a newcomer to the superhero scene, having just revealed herself to the public during the Legends event, which came in the immediate wake of Crisis.
Sidebar: In case it wasn’t already obvious, I really hated the Crisis and the new continuity it inflicted on us. DC essentially erased the trinity—Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman—from their own figurative Mount Rushmore. It always felt like a senseless waste to me and everything connected to it felt poorly planned.
So it was only during the six-issue Legends miniseries (Nov. 1986-Apr. 1987) that Wonder Woman and Superman first meet in the post-Crisis continuity. Despite her statement that she was a bit starstruck by him at the time, nothing in the actual comic (and she only appeared in that last issue, #6) suggests this was the case. Much like the original first meeting of the two characters back in All Star Comics in 1947, Superman and Wonder Woman barely cross paths. In fact, their interaction consists solely of one question that Superman poses to her (“And you, Wonder Woman– ?”) that goes unanswered because Wonder Woman has already disappeared, Lone Ranger style.
Then, right before this romance storyline, both characters had also participated in the Millennium crossover event and did even less together. In other words, no real foundation had been laid for the story they were telling. The new continuity was only into its second year by this point and they were already retconning that romantic sparks were flying during that initial meeting, just so they could make this thing work.
Anyway, The Adventures of Superman #440 (May 1988) finds Superman flying through the skies like a giddy schoolboy, anticipating his “date” with Wonder Woman with great excitement. They finally meet at the very end of the issue. “Superman!” Wonder Woman exclaims as the Man of Tomorrow descends from the sky to greet her. “Wonder Woman!” he responds. “At last!” The issue ends with the two sharing a kiss.
Looks like this is the beginning of a romance for the ages, right? But then “Different Worlds!” in Action Comics #600 (May 1988) opens with this:
Ugh. This is so painful on so many levels.
The previous issue ended with an embrace that was romantic but not necessarily passionate. When we pick back up here, it looks like Superman’s forcing his tongue in her mouth. And with her eyes open wide in seeming shock, it seems clear that Wonder Woman feels violated by this. Also, for further context, in this then-newly-rebooted continuity, Wonder Woman has never been romantically involved with any other man before. In fact, interacting with the male gender in any way would still be fairly new to her at this point. It’s her first kiss, in other words, and the way it’s portrayed is beyond cringeworthy; kinda gross, really. If this happened in 2021, we’d call it sexual assault.
This clearly wasn’t the intent of writer and penciler John Byrne (George Pérez did the inks/finishes), but the sloppy set up made something like this almost inevitable. Instead of fabricating an attraction beforehand and clumsily going on from there, Byrne would have been better served exploring a growing attraction between the two characters over the course of the actual story he’s telling right here and now in this issue. But they wanted to end the previous installment with the “big” moment/cliffhanger of a kiss, and did this with no good plan for how they were going to resolve it in the next installment. Which is what led to this awful opening scene that I only wish I could scrub from my memory, a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Really, between the seat-of-your-pants retconning and the beyond-awkward execution, there doesn’t appear to have been much planning involved with any of this. It feels like the Superman anniversary crept up on them and they just spit-balled this storyline in a rush. Now I can hear some of you out there saying, “How can it feel rushed when Superman’s attraction to Wonder Woman was established an entire year earlier, with the dream sequence in Superman #5?”
Well, that’s just it—after Superman #5, the plot point doesn’t come up again for a whole year. It comes off as if they put it out there, forgot about it, and then had to scramble to catch up. I’m guessing a big part of this is that, as mentioned earlier, they had this huge Millennium crossover right on the heels of the huge Legends crossover, in addition to coordinating the cross continuity of three Superman titles (Superman, Adventures, and Action) in the midst of it all.
In any case, after that awful and squirm-inducing beginning, the two characters talk a bit, then get mixed up with a plot by Darkseid to conquer Olympus, foil his villainous machinations, then end it all deciding to be just friends. Finis. The whole thing turned out to be a rather pointless and messy waste of everyone’s time.
Digression #3: Eleven years later, in Wonder Woman #141 (Vol. 2, Feb. 1999), Wonder Woman, Superman, and Batman become entangled in this alternate dreamscape where Wonder Woman and Superman fall in love, marry, and even conceive a child together before they’re all forced back to their normal reality. As a sort of dream, it’s not really in any kind of continuity, but it’s still an interesting read.
The Wrap Up
As covered at the beginning of this post, in more recent years they put Superman and Wonder Woman together as a legit, in-continuity, romantic pair. Now I stopped regularly buying new comics almost fifteen years ago, but I did buy that issue of Justice League in 2012 because I was such a Superman-Wonder Woman ‘shipper. The story didn’t land for me, emotionally, because this Superman and Wonder Woman didn’t feel like my Superman and Wonder Woman. They weren’t the same characters I grew up with and I held no affection for them. I didn’t buy any further issues.
Over the course of my research for this post, I found that DC went on to publish a full-blown Superman-Wonder Woman title afterward. Looks like the series continued to explore the two as a couple over the course of twenty-nine issues from 2013 to 2016. I’m tempted to track down an issue or two; maybe it will land differently for me now after nearly a decade.
All these years later, I still ship ‘em and likely always will.
Paul Young, Frank Miller’s Daredevil and the Ends of Heroism (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2016).
Matthew A. Hoffman and Sara Kolmes, “When Clark Met Diana,” Wonder Woman and Philosophy (Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2017).