Thursday, April 12, 2012

Sailboats in the Ghetto - "A World Apart" - DC's Cautionary Tale about Racial Prejudice

I am not gonna lie -- I was drawn to purchase this issue of Heart Throbs (issue #140 - April 1972) primarily because of the rad sailboat sweater sported by the female lead. Unfortunately, said sweater never makes an appearance in the feature story "A World Apart," but I can assure you, it is still a very good one worthy of our exploration nonetheless!

On the splash page, we are introduced to Cathy and Brad under the most dire of circumstances. A fire blazes, threatening to overtake Brad's family furniture store. As the couple run towards the chaos, Cathy yells at Brad for failing to see what his prejudice would do. How did this awful situation come to be, you ask? First we must travel back to the first time that Brad and Cathy met...

"If you're one of those people who
judges others
by the color of their skins,
perhaps I can
make you understand..."

Cathy and Brad's initial meeting with one another was not a meeting that involved fireworks and roses. It was actually pretty awful. Cathy Webb, a young and ambitious social worker confronts furniture store owner, Brad Talman about his dealings with his customers from the "ghetto." Cathy reminds Brad that his father was respected in the community and he should act respectable as a result. Brad tells her that his father was a pushover who let his customers take advantage of his kind ways.

"All Brad could see was - Black skin.
I knew that it would cause trouble..."

Brad admits, he doesn't like his clientele. Cathy convinces Brad to let her show him the ghetto that evening. After their tour of the community centers and the different areas of the neighborhood, Brad still isn't convinced to trust people he feels "have no morals, no sense of obligation."

Cathy agrees to a formal date with Brad to further convince him that his way of thinking is dangerous and wrong.

Naturally, the date goes great (this is a romance comic, after all) and Cathy falls in love with Brad. All seems to be going well until one day when the furniture of a family is repossessed by Brad's store. Furious, Cathy gives Brad a piece of her mind. Brad pleads with her to not let "them" come between their love for one another. Just as Cathy reminds Brad that despite the color of their skin, their neighbors are people too -- a brick is hurled through the storefront window. Brad vows to put the Dragons (a gang whom he believes to be the culprits of the attack) in jail.

Not long after the brick incident, an elderly couple meet with Cathy to try to dissuade Brad from garnishing their wages to cover the payments they are behind in paying. Cathy confronts Brad about the situation, and it isn't long before their entire relationship becomes a constant feud. It also isn't long before another act of vandalism is committed against Talman Home Furnishings.

When a group of men from the neighborhood come to apologize for the break in that occurred by the hands of vigilantes, Brad refuses to accept. For Cathy, Brad's behavior to the men is the last straw and Brad makes her choose -- him or "them." Cathy makes her choice, and leaves Brad standing alone in his battered store.

Cathy knows that more destruction is on the brink and tries to warn Brad, despite their split. Sensing something, she heads to the store just as it is being bombed by the Dragons. Knowing Brad is inside, Cathy rushes to the scene.

Brad makes it out unscathed, but his store isn't so lucky. As the flames continue to burn, so does Brad's hatred for the people in the ghetto. Finally, Cathy convinces the same men who had attempted to make amends with Brad earlier to take action.

Risking their own lives, the men head into the burning building to pull out what they can. When Brad tries to thank them, one of the men tells him that he doesn't have to -- they didn't do it for him.

"We did it for her - and for your father.
For a man we respected who respected us!"

Brad realizes that Cathy had been right all along and vows to show the community compassion and respect from that day forth, just as he was shown in his time of need.

Not what you would expect from a typical romance comic, eh? Cathy is portrayed as a strong woman, capable of choosing her convictions over romance and also, as an agent of social change. Though the storyline is maybe a little hokey by today's standards, "A World Apart" gets its intended point across concerning the eradication of prejudice. And although dear Cathy never did wear that sailboat sweater, I hope you still enjoyed this important cautionary tale from DC!


  1. Not a bad story, really. I like the more or less "real life" type ending: no contrived situations where the bigoted guy learns his lesson, all's forgiven and everyone lives happily every after.
    Your point about this being unusual for a romance comic made me think that at that time, a romance comic is about the only place you could tell a down-to-earth story like this (in a super-hero comic, Superman would have flown in and given everybody a stern lecture, or Luke Cage would have popped in and busted a few heads, or the Spectre would have turned Brad into a tabouret that got burned up in the fire...)

    1. Well, look at that! I can now reply to comments individually! Anyway, yes -- unlike superhero stories and other genres, the romance comics were in the unique position to talk about social issues quite heavily. In fact, this story isn't really about romance, but more so, the consequences of Brad's erroneous thinking.

  2. Wow - quite edgy for 1972!

    If I were Cathy though, I'd be dubious about Brad's change of heart, as he only thanked the locals after they saved his merchandise, while he stood watching on the curb!

    I'd love to see more stories in this vein, if you have any - thanks Jacque.

  3. Amazing. All one could expect from a comic in 1972 and then some. All characters are complex and three-dimensional, the issues are not presented in simplistic terms; and the happy ending doesn't feel contrived or tacked on. All in all, a gem.

    Oh, and the pencils by Tuska are quite nice into the bargain!

    Great post!

    1. Yup, that does look like Tuska. Brad's hands are a little strange in some panels, and I know I have seen very similar ones in other stories, but I just can't place it!

  4. Hi Jacque,

    Great story. DC really produced some interesting and thought-provoking stories. I suspect the artists is someone other than Tuska. Perhaps Art Saaf or John Rosenberger (I always get the two mixed up).

  5. Not Saaf... I just can't get over Brad's hands on the last page, panel four. I have seen THOSE hands before!

  6. I think this is great stuff. You would be hard pressed to find a story like this in a modern super hero comic book let me tell ya.

    1. This period of time in comics is very special, indeed!