Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ugly Duckling Week - Marvel's Turn!

Charlton and DC have had their turns tackling the "Ugly Duckling" here at Sequential Crush, but today Marvel takes the reins!

"How? How Can He Love Me?" from Our Love Story #22 (April 1973)* (script by Stan Lee, pencils by John Buscema and inks by Frank Giacoia) is the story of Jo, little sister to glamorous model Jennifer Blythe. Though Jo describes herself as not "exactly an ugly duckling," she still has a tough time keeping up with her elegant sister.

Not only beautiful, sister Jen is benevolent and encourages Jo to come out of her shell instead of living off of her success. Jen has faith in Jo, but Jo is unwilling to believe in herself wholeheartedly. Jo embraces the notion that, "...if I don't expect too much, I can't be hurt too much!"

After Jen leaves the house for her modeling gig, she calls Jo to tell her she has left behind her Pucci and she needs Jo to deliver it to the shoot. Upon her arrival, Jo gets a cold welcoming from handsome and famous photographer Martin Drake. As Jo stands before him, her brain turns to mush.

Later, back at home -- Jen apologizes for Martin Drake's boorish behavior. Jo hardly seems to mind, as Martin's attractiveness lingers in her mind. As a consolation (and knowing she could use the social exposure) Jen invites Jo to the "Model's Ball" being held that evening. Upon arrival, Jo immediately regrets accepting Jen's invitation.

Just a few moments pass -- suddenly, Martin Drake comes up to Jo. He tells her he is so happy she made it and apologizes for his earlier behavior. He asks if he could drop by the following day to see her. Jo agrees, but in the back of her mind thinks that Jen must have put him up to it.

Martin drops by and much to Jo's disappointment, he and sister Jen talk shop the whole time. Just before he leaves, Martin tells Jo that he paints and would like her to pose for him. Once again, Jo agrees to Martin's request but doesn't get her hopes up for anything to happen between them romantically.

But Jo is wrong! Martin has the hots for her and the goddess-like painting shows! As Martin unveils his masterpiece he declares, "No mere painting could ever capture your true, natural, innocent beauty!" The heat of the moment takes over and Martin removes Jo's glasses and ravenously kisses her. It is in that instant that Jo feels herself transform into a beautiful young woman.

Join me tomorrow for
one more "Ugly Duckling" tale!

*Cover art by John Romita. This story was originally published a few years earlier in Our Love Story #6 (August 1970).


  1. The 'ugly duckling' premise seems predicted upon the notion that physical beauty is paramount and this story perpetuates this. While I have a romantic soul, I find from experience that visual appeal has it's limitations, and true love looks beyond such superficial pleasantries.

    Comic books are notorious for exploiting stereotypes, and the visual short story format necessitates this to a large degree. Therefore, it's easier to show transformation from outcast to princess by the simple removal of eyewear and letting down of one's hair. The two-dimensional medium won't allow us to delve into and know true personality; does Jo have an annoying habit of cracking her knuckles perhaps? Or a high-pitched screeching voice? Perhaps a tendency to eat like a pig and burp inappropriately or be overly flatulent. Maybe she holds grudges and is preoccupied with her own needs when in conversation with others. We don't know any of these things in the short story, even though they may be attributes common to humanity at large, so they don't play a role in the larger ideal of romance.

    Instead we remove any extraneous elements and pare down the notion of true love as being a purely animalistic physical attraction:
    Jo finds herself inarticulate by Martin's physical good looks, even though he treats her at first like a cad. Martin confesses that he (while he was scolding her condescendingly) instantly fell in love with her, likely for her natual, innocent beauty (and probably not for her conversational skills). She returns his advances by calling him "my darling". So love is shown here as a purely physical and visual attraction, and nothing else.

    I'm not trying to be overly critical of the story, or the medium, or the genre. I'm just saying that love, and romance need not be limited to the physical or the visual. I am a romantic, but I also like poking holes in stereotypes. So I guess I'm an anarchistic romantic.

    Sorry for the ramble. Love the blog, Jaqcue! Keep up the great work!

    PS- I enjoy the art by Buscema and Romita, especially Romita, who drew romance comics for years before coming into prominence as Ditko's replacement on Spider-Man. I like his clean and friendly, straight-forward yet visually powerful drawing style, especially on romance comics.

  2. correction - that should say predicated...not predicted.

  3. Jo is a wonderful archetype; I like how Stan Lee wrote the ending, with the Beautiful painting attempting to capture her essence, with the Artist's words explaining, essentially, that all "art" is doomed to fail in such endeavors. Buscema is a Master at drawing women's eyes & lips ! I will forever be envious. 'Our Love Story' was Marvel's last gasp at contemporary Romance and this stuff really holds up well (representing that time period, that is). Thanx for sharing, Jacqui !

  4. She wears glasses, there she must be less attractive. With a short story you have to work with architypes it seems to ensure some sort of identification with your characters.

  5. Using the painting as a plot device pays off quite well. Though, its introduction seems peculiar at first.

    Not a bad story—I wish the art was better, but the last page is good anyway.

  6. These "Ugly Duckling" stories are a great study in comic book storytelling and creating shorthand and symbolism in just a few pages. When it comes down to it, most of the romance stories deal with insecurity (but isn't that a huge part of the romantic experience?) -- these ones are just a little more blatant!

    Thanks all for your comments everyone!