When you think about comic books, the first thoughts are probably about high-flying action and colorful adventure. But with Valentine's Day upon us, I'd like to share the warm and fuzzy side of the art form with a few of my favorite comic romances.
The granddaddy of all funnybook romantics is Archie Andrews, the wholesome redhead from Riverdale. He's spent over half a century in high school, and though he may be using a cell phone now, his girl troubles aren't much different from when our grandparents read about his adventures with Betty, Veronica, Jughead and the rest of the gang. ($2.99, monthly. Archie Comics.)
If anyone qualifies as the Archie of the new millennium, I'd give the crown to Scott Pilgrim. The star of a recent movie well on its way to cult status and six volumes of acclaimed black-and-white comics by Bryan Lee O'Malley, his difficulty with the ladies goes well beyond broken hearts and into the territory of broken bones. To win over the love of his life in his video game-infused hyper-reality, Scott must first survive deadly attacks from all of her evil ex-boyfriends. ($11.99 each. Oni Press.)
On the superhero side of things, no one is more lovelorn than Spider-Man and no comic paints as poignant a picture of a costumed love triangle as "Spider-Man: Blue." This nostalgic tale was written by Jeph Loeb, with warm, lively art courtesy of Tim Sale. In it, an unsure Peter Parker must come to grips with his love for the sweet girl-next-door, Gwen Stacy, and his undeniable attraction to Mary Jane Watson, a wild child with a heart of gold. Knowing just how tragically it's all destined to end packs the story with an extra emotional punch. ($14.99. Marvel Comics.)
Of course, love doesn't always make sense. For a cockeyed take on the mysteries of the heart, it doesn't get much better than Harley Quinn and her puddin', the Joker, in "Batman: Mad Love." Done in the style of the fan-favorite "Batman: The Animated Series," this short-but-sweet story by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm reveals Harley's origin as a bright but flighty psychology student with a job at Arkham Asylum who falls head over heels for the Joker despite what it might do to her career, her safety and her sanity. ($19.99. DC Comics.)
The aftermath of a plague that wiped out half of civilization doesn't sound like a romantic setting, but the epic, 10-volume series "Y the Last Man" by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra is propelled entirely by the love of Yorick Brown, the world's last living male, for a girlfriend stranded half a world away. Armies who want him dead, scientists who want him studied and women who just plain want him are no match for Yorick's desire to find his lost love. The journey's payoff is poignant and right and hard to finish with dry eyes. ($12.99 to $14.99 each. Mature readers. DC/Vertigo Comics.)
One of comics' most mature takes on contemporary relationships is Terry Moore's beloved indie benchmark, "Strangers in Paradise." Over the course of 19 volumes, lifelong friends Francine and Katchoo are revealed as complicated, thoroughly modern women. Their connection to each other, and to David, the sensitive art student, drives much of the emotional drama, and their ties to a shadowy covert organization give it a crime thriller angle that adds just the right splash of action and intrigue. ($8.95 to $15.95. Mature readers. Abstract Studios.)
And finally, it's impossible to talk about comic book romance without mentioning "Blankets," the enormous, award-winning autobiographical masterwork by Craig Thompson. In it, a teenage boy from a conservative family falls hard for a free-spirited girl, experiencing all the joys and pains of young love. The illustrations flow dreamily from page to page and emotion to emotion, capturing the poetry of love and the overwhelming sway it can have over us in a way utterly impossible for even the best prose novels or films. ($29.95. Mature readers. Top Shelf Comics.)
Jordan Lowe is the owner of Asylum Comics on Muskingum Drive in Marietta and the writer of the web comic Short Pants Romance.