(a) Emanuela Lupacchino & Jaime Mendoza, Inaka Miranda, Julius Gopez, Simon Bisley, Sanford Greene, Robson Rocha & Julio Ferreira
Since last October, DC has been celebrating the holidays with it's Li'l Gotham digital series written and drawn by fan-favorite 'chibi' artist Dustin Nguyen. For Valentine's Day, DC decided to go a different direction with an anthology issue of stories about young heroes in love. Interestingly enough, none of the characters from the Young Justice family of 'New 52' titles are featured in this issue, with Batgirl being the youngest featured character. But more on that later. Young Romance: The New 52 Valentine's Day Special #1 is an attempt to take advantage of a relationship-based holiday by highlighting some of the various romantic relationships littered throughout the DC universe. Unfortunately, this collection of six stories never manages to rise above mediocre because more that half of these stories just feel completely contrived and unnecessary.
To begin, there are a lot of logistical issues with Young Romance. As I mentioned earlier, Batgirl is the youngest hero included in this anthology. I wouldn't normally call this a problem, but the other meaning of the title is that the relationships featured are new ones, which is also a flawed claim. Aquaman and Mera have been together for years, and there's no indication that their story takes place early in their relationship. Superman and Wonder Woman have been together for a while now, for all intensive purposes. And what about all the other relationships in the 'New 52'? Instead of featuring, say, Kid Flash and Solstice, Superboy and Wonder Girl, or even Jason Todd/Roy Harper and Kori'andr, DC decided to create some new relationships out of thin air. I enjoyed seeing Nightwing find someone who can keep up with him, but the fact that Dick's story simply "END"s -- instead of possibly leading into something else like the other stories -- stops the momentum cold and leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Why create something new only to give it the "bottle episode" treatment and throw it away at the end?
Narratively, Young Romance suffers at the hands of writers who don't normally handle these characters. Or in Ann Nocenti's case, mangles them. In "Think It Through", Batman and Catwoman's first meeting is basically just a flashback. Unfortunately, Nocenti only looks into the past to reveal how shallow Selina Kyle truly is before bringing readers back to the present day so Selina can remember all the things Batman said to her the first time they met. Yep: instead of actually showing Batman and Catwoman conversing, Nocenti decides to leave that all to ethereal dialogue boxes. It's an inane decision that makes absolutely no sense considering she had the ability to show the intimacy instead of telling it. Also, Batman's advice makes him sound like a misogynistic ass. Peter Milligan's "Seoul Brothers" is probably the best of the bunch because Milligan has been writing those characters and their relationship for quite a while. Aquaman and Mera in "The Dreamer" are also entertaining, but the Victorian-era love story that just so happens to mirror the current day almost exactly is grating from Cecil Castellucci's 'wink wink' attempts at cleverness.
As a first major attempt at a holiday themed anthology issue for the 'New 52', Young Romance feels like Maid in Manhattan when it should have felt like Sleepless in Seattle...or the other way around. I don't know which romantic comedies are considered good or bad. The point is that though entertaining, Young Romance feels underdeveloped, or perhaps overanalyzed. There's a lot of potential in these kind of issues, but this one misses the mark.