The 10 Greatest Modern Image Comics Romances
February 12, 2019 | Vernon Miles
February 12, 2019 | Vernon Miles
Read up on the 10 couples from Image Comics keeping the flame alive in sequential art.
Little separates the grand drama, spectacle, and stakes of the modern comic from the tale of Saint Valentine. Valentine was a Christian priest who married followers of the faith, all of whom were persecuted throughout Rome circa the third century. Emperor Claudius Gothicus (if ever there was a comic book name) ordered Valentine to renounce his faith or face execution. Valentine refused, immortalizing his position as the patron saint of love, marriage, and… beekeepers—his sacrifice recognized every February 14th.
Roughly 1,700 years later, our modern myths still address the fight for love against repressive forces. Whether it be two young women fighting homophobia before uniting in their golden years or two alien pacifists fleeing warring armies, the sanctity of romance thrives within sequential art. Here are some of our favorite recent Image couples keeping the flame alive, even as dystopian governments and sex police pursue them. Check out our legacy titles to find even more epic romance, including Spawn, Sunstone, and Twisted Romance.
It’s not just the scale of Bingo Love that makes this star-crossed romance work. Most romantic dramas capture two people at one shared moment in their lives, but readers follow Hazel and Mari through decades of friendship, passion, and painfully genuine love. The book conveys the inner turmoil of countless LGBTQ youths, as Hazel weighs confessing her romantic feelings for a childhood crush against the horror that it might dissolve their current friendship. Bingo Love is set in the mid-20th century, at a time when that confession could have even more dire ramifications than it does today. The book ultimately captures a lifetime of facing the ramifications of two people’s unbreakable infatuation. Every moment, from page to page, is an emotional ride as beautiful as it is uncompromising.
There aren’t many werewolves like Julie. She might morph into a scary lupine predator when she loses control of herself, but at her core, the barista is shy and a little insecure and very protective of her friends. She falls deep in what her best friend calls “puppy love,” but the Moonstruck (get it?) fully embraces that term for all of its purity and innocence. And as Julie and Selena, also a furry shapeshifter, struggle with the magical shenanigans of their monster-inhabited world, it’s impossible not to feel the chemistry of every minute these two spend together.
Kirby Miyazaki and Stella Maris shouldn’t work. In the cruel and semi-cartoonish dystopia of The New World, they’re a pair of paradoxes. Kirby’s a straight-edged, gluten-free hacker who loves gardening. Stella’s a brutal agent of the authoritarian regime whose violent reality show is the second most popular live-streamed program on Earth. In a world seemingly content with its mass entertainment hell, neither of them are happy with the status quo. And after one wild hookup, tyrannical forces attempt to set them apart, forcing Stella to face a life-changing choice that sends both of them on the run.
Like the comic she stars in, pig girl Leslie defies convention. In a society built on a strict patriarchy where anthropomorphic critters are forced to find love and marriage with the opposite sex of their own species, Leslie harbors fantasies of a mysterious wolf she knows she can’t (legally) pursue, but haunts her dreams. As she gets closer and closer to the mandatory reproductive process, she gains a deeper awareness that she can’t find happiness if she refuses the wolf huffing and puffing at her desire.
In many ways, the real romance at Unnatural’s core isn’t between Leslie and the Wolf: it’s with Leslie and her own psyche. Creator Mirka Andolfo uses the book to reflect on her home country of Italy’s misguided campaign to get its citizens to procreate. Her work advocates ignoring social pressures, telling readers to be who they are and find affirmation in their innate identity and desires—no matter how unconventional. And if you’ve ever felt weird about anthropomorphic cartoon animals, be warned that this might awaken a desire you never knew you had.
Marcus Lopez Arguello faces all manner of threat inside Kings Dominion Atelier of the Deadly Arts: murderous peers, manipulative headmasters, and deranged figures from his past. The most devastating threat to the assassin-in-training, though, is a volatile love triangle. Maria is a survivor of a savage drug cartel family. She only seeks Marcus’ compassion and care. Yakuza heir Saya’s rapport with Marcus is far more hormonal—she’s more apt to slam dance at a punk show than snuggle. After Maria catches her crush wander into Saya’s company, the tension escalates to attempted homicide, but Marcus eventually folds the trio into a perfect pair, as seen in the last arc of Deadly Class, “Love Like Blood.”
In a starborn tale of vengeful bounty hunters and intricate robotic conspiracies, the grounded relationship of Marko and Alana makes it all work. Two army defectors on the run from every side of a multi-faction conflict, Marko, Alana, and their daughter, Hazel, are perpetually one step ahead of losing everything. If there’s any testament to how meaningful Saga and its foundational romance are, visit any given comic or pop culture convention to find at least one couple cosplaying as Marko and Alana, often with a little Hazel in tow. Alana and Marko aren’t just captivating comic characters, they’re the new incarnation of Romeo and Juliet, a pop culture symbol of love’s power to transcend all obstacle.
At a glance, Saga may look like a fairytale romance, but don’t let the wings, horns, and TV-headed royalty fool you. This is the story of three people who need and adore each other and would do anything in the world to protect each other at all costs. Prepare for tears, both happy and sad.
Love is hard to find in David Lapham’s crime epic, Stray Bullets. It’s a vicious noir book following impulsive youths and murderous gangsters, and while there’s plenty of sex, it’s mostly people using each other. Beth is definitely one of those people. And Orson, very much, is not. There’s hardly a horrible thing in the world that Beth hasn’t seen, and half of them she’s been responsible for as she orchestrates a grand coup on Baltimore’s worst pushers. So there’s something uniquely bizarre about her relationship with the very un-criminal and awkward Orson. The college boy brings out a side of her that the criminal underworld hasn’t completely crushed. Maybe it’s doomed, and it clearly throws both of them onto a path towards inevitable heartache, but amid all of the brutality, it stands out as one of the (almost) pure elements in this avalanche of bad decisions and debauchery.
A communications barrier weaves through Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl’s intoxicating fantasy, Isola. Rook is a soldier of the crown and Olwyn is a queen mysteriously transformed into a blue-and-black tiger. But on the long and dangerous road to the land of the dead—Isola— to lift the queen’s curse, a far more complex bond between the two slowly reveals itself. Rook swears fidelity to Olwyn, but the queen is no less devoted to her guardian. The story unfolds in dreams and flashbacks that slowly tease out pieces of the puzzle. But as one character notes: there’s more to their bond than duty. And as the pair travels through a weird, mystical world, they can only rely on each other.
Love isn’t always pretty. The premise of Sex Criminals is absolutely surreal—two people, Suzie and Jon, who stop time and rob banks when they orgasm—but the romance is painstakingly relatable. The comic offers a documentarian look into the pair’s off-and-on romance; writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarksy leave no awkward emotion or uncomfortable bodily expression untouched. Funny premise and clever background sex puns aside, Sex Criminals unloads a story that thrusts readers into an intimately personal love, with all of the glitz and glamour stripped away to reveal hurdles like depression, financial hardship, and fictional sexual positions. All of this in a book with time cops wielding dildos.
No bigger power couple exists in comics than the gunslinging Horseman of the Apocalypse and the leader of an Asian hegemony occupying California. In a world on the verge of oblivion, Death and Xiaolian spend more of the series apart than they do together. But it’s their separation, and their mutual need to reclaim everything (and one) that was taken from them, that illuminates the power of their relationship. Through glimpses of Death’s fellow Horsemen, the reader witnesses the apathetic murder cyclone he could have been were it not for Xiaolian. And with every other leader of a dissolving United States hastening the world’s destruction with endless betrayals and machinations, only Xiaolian and Death’s bond offers hope in the face of total entropy.