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What Makes A Good Comic Book Rivalry?

Why the similarities between hero's and villains is what makes for the most interesting relationships.

One of the best things about comic books are the character relationships. As fans, we read books and follow characters and the developments of these characters over time and as a result, we become emotionally invested in their relationships. But what makes a good relationship in comics? What makes a really interesting rivalry?

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Earlier this week we saw the latest issue of BATWING (#8) hit stores, and after reviewing the issue (and thoroughly enjoying it) it got me thinking about hero vs. villain relationships. Every hero has a villain that is his or her equal. They are opposites. and these opposites only exist in relationship to one another. For example, some people would say that the Joker exists solely because Batman exists; in other words, the Joker is the "yin" to Batman's "yang." This is actually a pretty common theory and one that has come up before. Some spoilers below.

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Yet, while these two characters are oh-so different, it's their similarities that makes their interactions so interesting. Since we've already mentioned the Batman and Joker example, let's just go with that. In Alan Moore's BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE Batman and Joker share a set of scenes where the Joker explicitly draws a comparison between himself and the Batman. He talks to Batman about how there really is no difference between he and Batman -- how they are both crazy and how they both just had "one bad day."

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This theory doesn't only apply to Batman and the Joker, however; although it's probably the most common. You can apply this to virtually any great, iconic comic book rivalry. Take Reed Richards and Doctor Doom, for example. The story of how these two characters met set the foundation for their future rivalry. What makes the relationship between Reed and Victor so interesting is the fact that they are both so similar. They are both two of the most intelligent men in the Marvel universe and as a result, they find themselves in constant rivalry, disagreement and at odds with one another. And it all stems from the fact that these two have way too much in common.

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Not to mention that both Doom and Richards are, well, a little bit obsessive. When these two put their minds to something, they obsess over it until, well, they hurt someone. Or something. Or themselves. The experment we cited above (Fantastic Four #278) went horribly wrong and scarred Victor's face and led him to don the metal mask we are familiar with today.

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In BATWING #8, the issue that initially inspired this article, we saw the reveal of Massacre; the villain the was first introduced in the beginning of Batwing's ongoing series. After eight issue, we not only get to know who the man is behind the mask; but we also learn a lot about his identity. Although I had felt this series started out really strong and had taken a bit of a nose-dive, issue #8 really redeemed the series. This issue revealed more than the identity of Massacre, it uncovered the relationship between Massacre and Batwing. Here are two boys who endured many of the same trials and tribulations but still wound up in two very different places. Not only are they brothers, but they were brothers in arms. They endured the same struggles. That's what made this book so interesting. These two characters have a world of things in common, and it is what makes their interactions so interesting to read.

What elements do you think make for a good rivalry? What qualities are necessary? What are some of your favorite comic book rivalries?