Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Reach for Happiness! - Episode One

Everyone knows the names Peter Parker, Gwen Stacy, Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent, but are you familiar with Karen Wilder Summers, Rita Phillips and Greg Marsh? If you aren't now, you will be - after I review all twenty-nine episodes of the DC serial classic, "Reach for Happiness!"

The epic "Reach for Happiness!" story-arch made its debut in Secret Hearts #110 (March 1966) with art by the equally epic Gene Colan. Though "Reach for Happiness!" was not the first or last serial for the DC romance titles (the blurb on the cover of this issue is a bit deceiving), it is one of the longest running -- appearing in twenty-nine consecutive issues.

Starring Karen Wilder Summers as the lead protagonist, the series wove together the intricate lives and loves of the inhabitants of Danville Corners in soap operatic fashion. With that quick introduction, I am happy to present to you, the very first episode of DC's roller coaster of an opus "Reach for Happiness!"*

After two years away from home, Karen Wilder Summers returns to Danville Corners. Sick with the thought that no one may even want her back in town, she waits to be picked up by her Godparents, Roger and Lila. But Karen isn't back home just for a visit. It quickly becomes apparent that she is there to stay.

On the ride to Karen's home, they pass by the office of Dr. Greg Marsh. Karen reminisces how she was supposed to become Mrs. Marsh, but was derailed by meeting Frankie Summers who was at the time, a rising Hollywood star. In a flashback, we see Karen and Frankie's whirlwind courtship and subsequent engagement. We are also taken back to the heart-wrenching day when Karen had to tell Greg about her decision to break it off with him.

Upon her arrival to her family home, Karen is greeted (not very warmly, I might add) by her sister, Peggy. Cross with her for leaving home, and marrying a movie star, Peggy blames Karen for their mother's death. But after a few tears and some cold chicken straight out of the fridge, the two sisters seem to come to an understanding.

Once Karen settles in a bit, she goes to visit Greg -- the man whom she so impulsively dropped two years earlier. Surprised to see her, Greg gives his condolences for what happened to Karen's husband.

You are probably wondering -- what did happen to Frankie? Well, one night Frankie and Karen were out on a joyride with Frankie at the wheel. Going faster and faster around the bend, they crashed, and Frankie was thrown out of the vehicle and killed. As readers, we are privy to Karen's horrifying memories (brilliantly illustrated by Colan) but the memories are quickly shut out when Greg asks her to lunch.

So off they go to lunch at their favorite spot. Lunch turns into reminiscing, which quickly turns into slow dancing -- as many of my lunch dates often do!

Karen and Greg's romantic lunch is interrupted by the cruel hands of time, and Greg lets her known he must return to work. Accompanying him back to his office, Karen sits blissfully in the waiting room while he finishes up with his afternoon patients. Her momentary happiness is cut short when in walks red-headed acquaintance, Rita. Thinking Rita is engaged to a man named Ray Silva, Karen starts congratulating her; however, there is a twist in the plot. Rita reveals she is betrothed to none other than Dr. Greg Marsh! Nooooooo!

Intact with a sufficient amount of suspense -- that my friends, is how the first episode ends. In the concluding panel, DC promises readers a surprising second episode and asks them to write in and share their thoughts on the feature. Though it may be too late to tell DC how you feel about the first episode of "Reach for Happiness!", please do not hesitate to share here in the comments your first impressions! Perhaps together we can convince Warner Brothers to make the first feature film based on a romance comic!!! Or perhaps not! It will be fun nonetheless!

Be sure to join me for future posts over the next year to see how the saga of Karen and company unfolds!!!

*I have to sincerely thank Pat Curley of the blog, Silver Age Comics for providing the fine scans of this particular issue. I was hesitant to blog about this serial since I was missing the first couple issues, but thanks to Pat and his generous contribution of scans, I was able to share this episode with you while I continue to build my collection! Be sure to visit Pat's informative blog, and while you're at it, read his take on "Reach for Happiness!"


  1. Jacque: Judging by Dr. Greg's dancing lunch with karen, I'm not sure he's completely prepared for wedded bliss to that brunette shrew, Rita.

    Fantastic art by Colan. Those car-crash panels are something else. Seeing Karen sitting on the ground, crazed with grief, framed between her dead lover's shoes . . . pure Colan! Great stuff.

  2. Gene Colan can do no wrong.

    But if 29 consecutive issues does not rate the longest-running Romance serial, I wonder what does...?

  3. I love Gene Colan's art, he's one of the best, but find the very dark inking here a bit unusual in a romance comic. It works very well in the more tragic parts, but I'd have liked a lighter touch on some of the other parts.

  4. Jacque, Great stuff. I'm very much impressed with Colan's art. I agree with Mykal about the car crash panels. I suspect this strip was very much inspired by the Peyton Place TV series, which was a prime time hit at the time, playing twice a week. They use practically the same tag line on the cover of Secret Hearts: "the continuing drama" instead of "The continuing story".

    My mom was hooked on this show as a kid. I was recently able to get the whole series for her, and now she got ME hooked on it! I wouldn't be surprised if Colan took notice of it, as it has the same dark tone as his work (I once asked him if some of the scenes he drew of Tony Stark was inspired by the Fugitive TV series, and he said yes, he would not concentrate on the story, but He studied the cinematoraphy).

    Nick C.

  5. I've always admired the fluidity of Colan's work. 'tis the Deity's own work you're doing posting this. I will use material from this site as required reading for my comics history class! Again!

  6. Mykal and Tom: That car crash scene really takes the cake, I do believe! Colan's work is so cinematic and while it does work really well for the dramatic crash scene, I agree with Tom -- the rest is a little dark. But, I guess he was trying to convey Karen's dark state of mind upon her return to Danville Corners?

    Nilskidoo: Thanks for dropping by! I believe it is the longest running, but I said "one of" just to be safe. I am constantly finding new things the more issues I find, so I didn't want to jump to conclusions just yet! Some of the small features (while not serial stories per say) did enjoy some longevity as well.

    Nick: In her book, Michelle Nolan cites "Reach for Happiness" as being a "knockoff" of "Peyton Place." I have never seen the show, but it is now on my Netflix queue!!!

    Diana: That is great! You will have to let me know the reaction of your students! I would love to see the syllabus!

  7. It may have been partly influenced by Peyton Place, but it is likely also influenced by Search for Tomorrow (note the similar title) which also featured as its center the trials and tribulations of a single female, as opposed to the family-centered soaps of the day like As the World Turns, or workplace soaps like The Doctors, or town-centered soaps like Peyton Place.

  8. Good call, Van Dore! I actually hadn't heard of that show. There are a few clips on YouTube, but they seem to be from the '70s. Thanks for pointing the similarities out!!!