Sunday 21 October 2018

Stan Lee's awesome love triangle.

the Reed Richards, Sue Storm, Namor, love triangle, sub-mariner
Everyone loves a good triangle - just ask the ancient Egyptians - but no one loved a triangle as much as Stan Lee. If there was one thing you could rely on when buying a comic written by, "The Man," it was that, at some point, a good old love triangle would rear its head and start to blight the comic you'd bought purely in the hopes of seeing a majestic punch-up.

Right from the start of Marvel's Silver Age renaissance, Stan tried to give us a triangle involving the Thing, Sue Storm and Reed Richards. Once he'd realised that was never going to work, he quickly switched to Reed, Sue and the Sub-Mariner, which had an overlapping triangle of Sue, Namor and Dorma, just to complicate things to the max.

When it came to Marvel's next hero, the Hulk, Stan initially resisted the temptation but, finally, we got a triangle of Bruce Banner, Betty Ross and Glenn Talbot.

Spider-Man flirted with a three-way struggle between Peter Parker, Liz Allen and Flash Thompson but that never got past the planning stage and, instead, we got Peter Parker, Betty Brant and Ned Leeds before the strip subverted Stan's norms and gave us two women - Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson - briefly competing for the affections of the world's biggest self-declared loser before it all led into a triangular tangle between Harry Osborn, Mary Jane and Peter Parker.

The Pepper Potts, Tony Stark, Happy Hogan love triangle
Iron Man gave us Tony Stark, Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan, while Daredevil gave us the noticeably similar Matt Murdock, Karen Page and Foggy Nelson entanglement.

Even Captain Marvel had to face the three-cornered nightmare, as he found himself competing for Una's attention with the evil Yon-Rogg. Admittedly, it wasn't much of a competition, as Una couldn't stand Yon-Rogg.

We even had the unlikely spectacle of Don Blake having to compete with his own alter-ego Thor for the affections of his nurse Jane Foster. I do remember Stan later making tentative moves towards a Thor, Sif, Balder triangle before the presence of Karnilla put a stop to all that kind of thing.

And wasn't there some weird love triangle going on in the early issues of The X-Men, involving Cyclops, Jean Grey and Professor X? Given that she was a schoolgirl and Professor X looked to be about fifty, I cannot help feeling that was a love triangle too far.

Having said that, Stan wasn't totally obsessed with such threesomes. I don't remember there being any love triangles in the pages of Ant-Man. The winsome Wasp may have been routinely portrayed as flighty but she seemed to know exactly what she wanted, even if Hank Pym wasn't always depicted as being able to match her decisiveness.

Nor were there any triangles that I can remember in Doctor Strange. The strip featured both Clea and Victoria Bentley but I don't remember them competing for the good Doctor's affection. The Silver Surfer never had to battle with another for the attention of Shalla-Bal, unless you count Norrin Radd, Shalla-Bal and Galactus as a love triangle.

the Thor, Don Blake, Jane Foster love triangle
All of this raises the question of which of these love triangles was the best and were they even a good idea?

I have to say no, they were not a good idea. They may have been triangles but they mostly seemed to go round in circles, generally going nowhere and quickly growing repetitive, their sheer futility making every character involved seem socially illiterate.

Clearly, they were an attempt by Lee to add extra drama, conflict and intrigue to the stories but, for the most part, all they really did was make it starkly clear just how tiny the supporting cast of most Marvel strips was and how weirdly claustrophobic a Marvel hero's world really was.

Anyway, regardless of that, my vote for the best one goes to Mary Jane, Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker, simply because it was a lot more fun than the others. Neither Gwen nor MJ seemed to take it very seriously and it didn't involve the hero worrying about his beloved being more interested in a love rival than she was in him. Peter Parker's big problem was a surfeit of female attention, not a shortage.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the matter. You may have other thoughts. To be honest, I'm not convinced you do. I'm not convinced anyone does. I have a feeling I may be the only one alive who cares about Stan Lee's love triangles.

Anyway, if you do have thoughts, on which ones you liked, which ones you hated and whether their presence was a chore or a delight, you're free to express them below.


dangermash aka The Artistic Actuary said...

FFM = love triangle
FMM = Devil’s Triangle
That's why Spider-Man was best. And don’t forget Peter/Betty/Liz paving the way for Peter/MJ/Gwen.

dangermash aka The Artistic Actuary said...

And I know Kirby was great but Sue looks like a guy in a wig in both of those panels.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Steve - I never thought about the love triangles... I guess cause the only one I really was aware of, that was ongoing, was Spidey's. But I never thought MJ was seriously in competition for Petey boy?

(Spoiler Warning if you never read SPidey 100 - 102 from the summer of 1971!)

I was digging out the long boxes this past month to reread ASM 100 - 102. In part, I was wondering why I hate Gerry Conway so thoroughly and looking back at his killing Gwen Stacey. So here I am rereading my ASM 100 that I bought off the spinner, lo those many years ago, and Spidey takes the serum to lose his Spidey powers (and get 4 more arms) because he wants to be a normal dude and be with Gwen. He loves Gwen soooo much he tries to undo his Spidey powers.

And then 20 issues latter Conway kills her and Stan and Gerry try to rationalize it saying she was irrelevant. So irrelevant that Spidey tried to undo his Spidey powers? Whatever the hell was in their heads wasn't in the head of this 10 year old, that's for sure!

Which circles back to say that I never perceived a real triangle among Pete, Gwen, and MJ cause Spidey loved Gwen so much he undid his Spidey powers for her.

TC said...

There was also a hint of a Captain America-Scarlet Witch-Hawkeye triangle at the beginning of the Avengers' Kooky Quartet period, but nothing much ever came of it. Years later (ca. 1970), DC imitated it with a suggestion of a Batman-Black Canary-Green Arrow triangle in Justice League, but that never went anywhere, either. In both cases, it was never really resolved, just dropped and forgotten.

DC also used the "hero as his own rival" shtick sometimes, especially in the early years. Superman snubbed Lois Lane, who snubbed Clark Kent. And Bruce Wayne had girlfriends (Julie Madison, Linda Page) who criticized him for being an idle playboy, while they admired Batman for fighting crime.

It may have seemed clever and even terribly sophisticated to a ten-year-old kid at the time, but it seems silly and soap operish now. And it may have worked once or twice, but it was repeated so often it became a cliche.

Killdumpster said...

Though the sub-plots of Superman/Lois Lane/Clark Kent & Thor/Jane Foster/Don Blake are similar, they also are drastically different.

While Jane, more often than not, had admiration for Don's surgical & scientific prowess, she also could be sympathic towards his crippling malady.

Lois on the other hand, considered Clark, for the most part, a lucky goofball rival in her job-set.

Jane can be forgiven for not linking Thor & Don, given the difference physique & the only suspicion being they aren't at the same place at the same time.

Lois on the other had, the intrepid reporter looking for a Pulitzer prize, couldn't see past those damn glasses?

She deserved to get "scooped".

Anonymous said...

Yeah, generally Stan Lee was a terrible writer Steve. Didn't he suggest in an early issue of the X-Men that Xavier had the secret hots for Jean Grey?
And then I seem to recall the Angel chatting her up while Cyclops kept moping about her.
Both seemed like pretty feeble attempts at the triangle formula.

As well as Reed, Sue and Namor in the FF, you also had to wonder what exactly was going on between Johnny and Ben, and how Wyatt Wingfoot fitted into that.
(Although with Alicia around giving Ben cover, some might consider that a rectangle)


Steve W. said...

Sean, it was indeed a tangled romantic web that Stan wove. And Xavier did indeed have designs on Jean, at one point.

KD and TC, I could never work out if there was supposed to be a love triangle between Lois Lane, Superman and Lana Lang. Did Lois and Lana ever meet?

Charlie, if I remember rightly, MJ was introduced by Stan as a love rival for Gwen but he seemed to quickly decide that was going nowhere and had Pete choose Gwen while MJ settled for Harry, while still having the hots for Peter.

I think Conway and Lee decided to get rid of Gwen because they thought she was boring - and it's true that, for years, she'd been given nothing to do but mope around over everything. Clearly, that could have been fixed by redefining her personality and giving her things to do but it seems they preferred the quicker fix of having MJ take over as Peter's love interest instead.

Dangermash, you're right. I'd forgotten about the Liz, Peter, Betty triangle.

Anonymous said...

Steve, there are a fair few covers of the Lois Lane comic from the 60s with Lana and Lois both competing to attract Superman (he's obviously turned on by stupidity), but of course that doesn't mean anything. We all know that you can't judge a comic by its cover, right?

They definitely met in the 70s though, as Lana was anchor at WGBS TV when Lois and Clark worked there.


Anonymous said...

PS Sorry, forgot to add - don't think there was a triangle there, not in the 70s anyway, as Lana seemed to have cooled off toward Superman.


TC said...

Lana Lang was a semi-regular character in Lois Lane's self-titled comic in the 1960s. They usually got along reasonably well, and their competition for Superman was like a friendly rivalry rather than a feud.

In the early 1980s, there seemed to be a romance developing between Lana and Clark, but that cooled off, and he ended up with Lois.

In the late 1970s, there was a story that said Clark's glasses gave off Kryptonian radiation that hypnotized everyone he met, so they saw him as balding, paunchy, and older than Superman. So Lois (and everyone else) couldn't see past those damn glasses.

That story never became canon, though. Maybe because it contradicted several earlier stories where people, including Lois, did notice that Clark looked like Superman. There was a story in 1966 or '67 where Clark was chosen to play Superman in a movie because of the resemblance.

Lois did suspect Clark of being Superman, and there were a number of Silver Age stories in which she tried to prove it, but he always came up with a ruse to throw her off track.

Anonymous said...

I love Stan Lee, but you could supply a dozen pancake houses with the sap he used to put out on a monthly basis.


B Smith said...

Prof X's designs on Jean amounted to one panel in #3 where he professes love - not bad for someone half his age that he barely knows...but Stan had a habit with new titles of throwing everything and anything in, just to see what would stick.

Anything that didn't he tended to then ignore, until those pesky letter writers reminded him (and he couldn't have foreseen blokes old enough to know better discussing it over 50 years later).

Triangle are okay as plot devices if they're feasible...there were hints in Daredevil's book at one stage of a triangle with him, the Black Widow, and....Moondragon?! Thank heaven Steve Gerber thought better of that one! Generally I didn't mind the Peter/Gwen/Mary Jane one, as it meant Stan could do some light cattiness dialogue-wise, and Jazzy John could inflict some of his best groovy chick pencilling on the haplessly hormonal reader :-)

Anonymous said...

That's a pretty good characterization of Stan as a writer, B., and I'm saying this as a big fan of his. He would throw all kinds of stuff against the proverbial wall and "see what would stick." Kind of a machine-gun approach to writing, I guess!
If somthin' didn't work, no big deal. On to new frontiers! The Living Eraser didn't work, but Dr. Octopus did. I admire the gumption.


Steve W. said...

Sean and TC, thanks for the Lana Lang/Lois Lane info.

MP and B, thanks for your contributions as well.

Anonymous said...

Whist not technically a triangle I was hit pretty hard when Crystal dropped Johnny Storm for Quicksilver. It was the sense of betrayal...


Steve W. said...

I agree. Crystal's decision to marry Quicksilver never ever felt right.

Killdumpster said...

I couldn't believe when Crystal dumped Torch for Pietro. Then again, they later wrote her as a conniving slut trying to bust up Vision & Wanda. I grew up thinking she was a thoughtful, loyal person from the 60's & early 70's days. I guess fact or fictional, never underestimate how low a human, or "Inhuman", can go.

Killdumpster said...

Or how low a writer would take a character, that maybe has been seldom used, to stir up the pot, regardless of that character's previously printed history.

Ant Master said...

I was quite taken with the Wonder Man, Vision, Scarlet Witch and of course the more unusual, Yellow Jacket, Hank Pym, Wasp relationship.

Dougie said...

I really like Englehart's work but if his Crystal stories were about "rising and advancing of the spirit", it never got off the ground. She became part of the Black-Knight/Sersi triangle next.

I always liked the Thor/Jane relationship because it was suitably mythological: gods and mortals.