Comics (at least those of the superhero genre) are a character driven form of storytelling. Your main character has very individualized trials to must face, usually centered around his or her characteristic theme.
Beyond that, it’s just a matter of changing the combinations and seeing what stories shake out of that: once Kraven the Hunter has fought Spider-Man, send him on down the line and have him fight Black Panther and then Squirrel Girl. Once a villain has gone through a fair number of different heroes, start having him team up with other villains. Have him team up with a hero against another villain. Have everyone get caught in a psychic blast that flips their Dungeons and Dragons alignment so the heroes all turn into villains and the villains into heroes.
As a writer, anything you can do to introduce new options into the ‘variety of combinations’ system, you’ll want to do. The more combination types you have available, the longer your characters can last before they get stale. What’s an easily manipulated and very reader-friendly combination type? Romance.
This makes superhero romances A) very useful and B) just as likely to change as team rosters.
Romance in Superherodom is just another kind of team-up applied to the villain/hero dynamic, so they’re very easy to diagnose. They tend to fall into the following categories:
1) The Superman / Lois Lane
This is where you have the heroic identity involved with a person who would not be interested in their civilian identity (yes, I know I just talked about Superman and Lois, but this is a classic archetype—substitute Spider-Man and Mary Jane, if you want). The point of this one is the superhero empowerment fantasy; you’re supposed to think, “Gee whiz, if only I could be a strong hero, then Jenny from Shop Class would want to go to the Spring Cotillion with me… Ooh a Charles Atlas ad!”
That usually produces a nice moral—oh, it turns out she loved Clark Kent/Peter Parker too! Because love is about who you REALLY are, and now we all have diabetes. Maybe it’s a little bit of a relic nowadays; nevertheless, it was the defining relationship dynamic for most of the Golden and Silver ages, and it’s definitely left a mark on the genre.
Note that this dynamic is dependent on a secret identity. One of the romantic partners has to know both the superhero and civilian identities of the other partner, not know that they are the same person, and be presented as more attracted to the hero face than to the normal face (with secret identities out of vogue, this idea is a bit of an antique).
Other Examples: Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask, Sentry and Sentry’s Wife, Nightcrawler and Amanda Sefton (at least before the reveal that she was secretly his adoptive sister and also a wizard what the crap?)
2) The Green Arrow / Black Canary
This is where you have two superheroes who are openly in a permanent relationship. TV Tropes would call this a ‘Battle Couple.’ Because they’re both superheroes, secret identities aren’t really a factor; so this type has somewhat taken the place of the Superman/Lois Lane as the default form of comic book romance.
It’s worth noting that these relationships tend to be rocky. Whether because superheroing is a stressful profession, or because happy relationships without conflict don’t make for terribly interesting stories, these tend to involve arguments, infidelity, and breakups. Black Canary yells at Green Arrow for flirting with scantily clad villainesses. Mockingbird divorces Hawkeye, Black Widow dumps Hawkeye, Spider Woman dumps Hawkeye (Hawkeye just can’t catch a break!). Hulkling yells at Wiccan for trying to singlehandedly infiltrate Dr. Doom’s castle; Vision and Scarlet Witch haven’t been together since she went crazy and killed him (which is understandable; yeah, you would at least need couples’ counseling after that).
Other Examples: Apollo and Midnighter, Invincible and Atom Eve, Wasp and Giant Man, Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Girl/Woman, Captain/Ms. Marvel and War Machine, Cyclops and Jean Grey (but only pre-Pheonix)
3) The Scarlet Witch / Wonder Man
This is another two hero affair, but in this one there’s no relationship. One party has a crush on the other which is not or cannot be reciprocated (for whatever reason). This may be a matter of secret identities, where someone doesn’t speak up because they don’t want to make their object of affection a target (you know, to avoid a Gwen Stacy scenario. This may be a matter of unfortunate powers, like Rogue not being able to touch Gambit without killing him. Or this may just be a matter of someone already being spoken for—Scarlet Witch is married to Vision, so Wonder Man gets to be angsty; Jean Grey is with Cyclops, so Wolverine gets to go wander around Canada drunk and shirtless.
IF they do end up together in the end, it’s usually only because some outside factor has changed. Which makes sense; after all, this kind of relationship is often defined by outside factors.
Other Examples: Hulk and Betsy Ross, Dream and Nuala, Thing and Alicia Masters, Raven and Beast Boy (very briefly before the writers just kinda forgot about it), Hulkling and Prodigy, Batman and Pretty-Much-Any-Love-Interest-Who-Isn’t-Catwoman
Wow, this is longer than I thought! In Part 2, we’ll see how the forces of evil complicate these relationships; what happens when the hero falls for the villain? Or when two heroes fall in love and then one of them turns to the dark side?
-The Guy That Wrote This