Superheroes and anti-heroes lead complicated, over-the-top dramatic lives that inevitably wreak havoc on their relationships. No matter what that passionate lip-lock between Wonder Woman and Superman on the cover of Young Romance: The New 52 Valentine’s Day Special suggests — and enough already; we get it — the stories in this collection are not heavy on heart-fluttering moments and sexytime.
That’s not necessarily a problem, but a book with an inherently emotional theme ought to make the reader feel something. These six stories, which range from WTF to just fine, don’t leave enough of an impression to justify the $7.99 asking price. The biggest delight comes from the cute tear-out Valentine’s Day cards inside the book.
Simply putting characters in close proximity isn’t enough to make sparks fly. In “Think it Through,” written by Ann Nocenti, A down on her luck Catwoman reflects on her first encounter with Batman, which took place on Valentine’s Day several years prior. Batman comes across as a bullying scold instead of a potential love interest, and he wants Selina to learn a lesson about stealing so she can not only do the right thing but also get closer to him. OK. Emanuela Lupacchino’s illustrations avoid sexualizing Catwoman to the point of lunacy, but Batman seems ridiculously large in some panels. I could have done without all the images of Bruce grabbing Catwoman by the arm and “scruff at the neck.”
Aquaman and Mera are only supporting characters in “The Lighthouse,” the one genuinely romantic chapter. Written by Cecil Casellucci, it’s the bittersweet story of a young woman and a sailor whose love was thwarted long ago by a controlling father and the sea itself. Artist Inaki Miranda has a light, flowing style, and his art is among the best here.
Similarly engaging is “Another Saturday Night,” which pairs a freshly dumped Nightwing with “protection specialist” Ursa Minor. Though their time together is brief, writer Kyle Higgins establishes a believable connection as Ursa relates to Dick’s love troubles and the two share takeout food on a snow-covered roof. Ursa is fun, sharp-witted and ultimately elusive. Artist Sanford Green has a playful style that works beautifully in the scenes of the characters leaping from rooftop to rooftop.
At the bizarre end of the spectrum is “Dreamer,” in which Batgirl inexplicably indulges an ex-con named Ricky’s request for a follow-up to a previous kiss. Apparently, the first was just an act to protect Ricky from being branded a snitch and it totally rocked his world. The story fails to establish any chemistry between the two whatsoever, and it isn’t helped by the rough illustrations and unpleasant color palette.
Written by Peter Milligan, “Seoul Brothers” sheds frustratingly little light on the history between Apollo and Midnighter, though artist Simon Bisley makes the surroundings gritty and visually interesting. All we’re left with is Midnighter’s declaration, however untrue, that he doesn’t want to mix business with pleasure. But as with Ursa and Nightwing, there’s a glimmer of something that makes the uninitiated like me want to see more.
The grand finale is date night with Superman and Wonder Woman in Andy Diggle’s “Truth or Dare,” which continues the pattern of telling us that the two are in love instead of really showing us why. Two troublemaking sirens show up, which triggers a big, loud fight between the super-couple. Robson Rocha’s action sequences are well done and full of energy, but haven’t we seen these two throw down a million times?
Like an overpriced candy sampler, Young Romance: The New 52 Valentine’s Day Special is evenly split between mildly pleasurable tidbits and duds.