Wednesday, May 22, 2013

DC Serial Romance Story - Alex Toth's "20 Miles to Heartbreak" Part Four

I really kept you hangin' on this one, didn't I? The last time we saw sisters Melanie and Monica Winters in an episode of "20 Miles to Heartbreak," was way back in November! Sorry for keeping you so long from the searing conclusion! In case you didn't read the three other installments, get caught up on them here: part one, part two, and part three. This episode originally appeared in Young Love #79 (March/April 1970).* You can definitely tell from its overtones of equality and social justice, that this Barbara Friedlander penned story is a product of the early 1970s. No doubt with the gorgeous art by Alex Toth and Vince Colletta, it held up well into the late '70s when it was reprinted, and continues to stand the test of time.

After cleared in charges of abducting Melanie, Juan Ricco is set free. Melanie's mother and stepfather (Roger) attempt to convince her that they are on her side.

In reality, they just want Melanie to marry "respectable" Bill. When Melanie declares she will be marrying Juan instead, she is greeted with a swift slap to the face by mommy dearest. Juan whisks Melanie away from the scene, and Melanie's mother declares to her husband that her youngest daughter is dead to her.

Meanwhile, older sister Monica gets her mack on with Roger's brother (and Melanie's attorney), John. Despite the events of years ago and the (albeit wrongful) reputation Monica garnered at the hands of her mother, John never stopped loving her. 

When mother and Roger burst into John's office and find Monica in John's arms, the girls' mother can't help but take a jab at Monica with a backhanded compliment about changing her ways. A great fury inside Monica is released, and the two get into an intense argument.

Later, Melanie and Juan discuss their future plans. They talk about heading to New York, but Melanie changes her mind and tells Juan they should stay put in her small town and make everyone pay for how they treated them during the trial and the events leading up to it.

Mature and peace-loving Juan knows what's up. He explains to Melanie that she doesn't really love him, but is using him as a source of revenge against her mother. Juan assures Melanie he is there for her, but as a friend. That Juan -- pretty classy guy, if you ask me.

And so, the four episode story arc concludes in a bittersweet fashion with Melanie and Monica packing their things into John's car. The three are headed to New York to begin their new lives. Before they take off, Melanie attempts to say goodbye to their mother. Unflinchingly, mother ignores her own flesh and blood and is left to dwell in her own misery.

The ending is certainly tragic, but we can be glad that Melanie was spared the same fate of bitterness as her mother -- all thanks to Juan, and her own resolve to stay strong in the face of hate. Pretty heavy stuff for romance comics! "20 Miles to Heartbreak" is not only beautifully rendered, is also a rather interesting recurring set of stories. Though romance is an undercurrent, it is more a tale of parental relations and self-discovery. In its subtlety, the moral of the story is both effective and moving.

*Scans for this installment are from the reprint issue, Young Love #125 (May 1977)

Friday, May 17, 2013

How Can I Love a Member of the Establishment?

"How Can I Love a Member of the Establishment?"
Story: Stan Lee, Pencils: Don Heck, Inks: John Verpoorten
My Love #5 (May 1970)

Girl, I honestly don't know. How can one love a member of the establishment?  In the second counterculture-themed story from My Love #5 (May 1970) that I told you about last week, college student Lorna falls for "the grooviest male on campus." But groovy he certainly is not! According to Lorna's hip friends,  "He's an organization man!" They warn Lorna not to go there, but all she can think about is instructor Walter Price's dreamy ways.

Lorna is surprised and delighted when Walter takes a mutual interest in her. The two start dating, and Lorna's evenings are suddenly filled with sophisticated trips to art galleries and the theatre.

Once Lorna's friends and acquaintances find out about the pairing, all hell breaks loose. Lorna is now a traitor to the student power movement.

Despite being head over heels for Walter, Lorna does feel some dissonance. She knows that by dating Walter and skipping the protest she herself helped organized, she is sacrificing her own principles. Things get even worse later that evening when Lorna comes home to a note from Aggie that the student committee has planned another protest and she has been selected as one of the leaders. Lorna knows that if she refuses to lead the demonstration as asked, she will be turning her back on her peers. At the same time, participating in it could cause her to lose Walter. That night, Lorna thinks long and hard about her difficult decision. Will she chose love or the movement?

In what may surprise some readers (especially those familiar with the Charlton career stories), Lorna chooses the movement.

"It had to be this way!
I couldn't betray my beliefs --
just for a boy!"

As the protest rages on, Lorna is convinced she sees Walter through the crowd. It turns out it is him, and Lorna moves in his direction without hesitation. She is confused over his presence at a students' rights rally (surely something he would have no interest in as a member of the establishment). But Walter sets Lorna straight. He is for justice for all. Even if he is "one of them." And so, the story wraps up nicely, with Lorna having learned an important lesson: 

"...A girl can be true to her convictions --
without losing what she wants the most!" 

Definitely a different ending for this Marvel story than many other romance stories from the genre's history. By questioning her principles and her desires instead of just blindly going with her heart, this is a memorable and uniquely 1970s story. In my opinion, this internal struggle is part of what makes the romance comic book characters so appealing, and ultimately, relatable.

Have a Great Weekend!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Romance and Reality - The Harsh Truth About Marriage from Charlton

"Romance and Reality"
Sweethearts #110
(May 1970)

I know, I know. This huge wall o' text doesn't look as exciting as the previous post about wild, long-haired hippies, but it too is important -- so give it a read. To sum it up, our mystery advisor speaks of a young woman named Diana. Diana's main problem is that of "how to get a husband." Diana's primary fear? Winding up an old maid. The author fears that Diana wishes to marry for all the wrong reasons, and has some harsh words for her and girls of her ilk. With divorce rates on the rise at the time, it is no wonder the author of this filler piece was scared. And while much of the piece sounds outdated to our modern ears, I agree with some of the points made in the piece, namely: 

"For marriage is not an escape from home. It is not a solution to one's personal problems... a lot of the happiness or misery in a marriage is the resultant of the views of the people to it. And how they stand up under the conditions and situations of life itself." 

That said, the notion of romance as implicitly fleeting is not one that I buy. But what can I say? I'm a romantic! I hope you all had a nice weekend! 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Was He Too Mod... Too Far-Out for Me to Love?

I've been thinking a lot about the hippies, swingers, and beatniks of the romance comics lately. And with good reason -- there are a ton of stories in them featuring members of the counterculture. I have one for you today from Marvel, and it may just win the prize for best story title ever. Let's take a look at "His Hair is Long and I Love Him!" from My Love #5 (May 1970) by the creative team of Stan Lee, Gene Colan, and Frank Giacoia. Brace yourselves -- this guy's hair is long, but Liz don't care!

Liz is completely taken by Ronny Langdon. Problem is, Liz's dad isn't having any of it. He is prejudiced against guys with long hair! Business is bad and Liz's dad has no time for insignificant "long-haired clowns." He hasn't even met the guy, but all the same, he insists that Ronny is just no good for his daughter.

But in her heart, Liz knows the real Ronny. He is so much more than just groovy clothes and a controversial hairstyle. And just because he is into music and not business, doesn't make him irresponsible! But dad thinks Liz ought to date future accountant, Harold Evans.

The next day at school, Liz bumps into Harold. He asks her out, and when rebuffed declares, "I never thought you'd make the hippie scene, Liz!" Poor Liz, she just can't catch a break!

Except from Ronny. He knows how to make a girl feel good. Later that evening at one of his gigs, Liz's mind wanders back to her disapproving father. Uggh! Why can't he just see what a catch Ronny is!

After the show, Ronny tells Liz that he thinks it is high time he met dear old dad. Liz tries to refuse, but Ronny lets her know how much he cares about her and he can't bear the thought of her father not wanting him to date her. When Liz tries to get Ronny to go home, he grabs her hand and utters, "C'mon baby! You wouldn't wanna be proposed to by a chicken, wouldja?"

As the two make their way into the house, they overhear Liz's mom and dad discussing her future. They fear that Ronny won't be able to provide for her. Well, mom and dad! You are wrong! Ronny stuns with quite the ricochet maneuver. Not only does he ask for Liz's hand in marriage, he gives her father the name of the banker who handles the gobs of money he has earned from his music career. Liz's father's mind is instantly changed -- long hair isn't so bad after all. And though Liz's father no longer needs the money, he does see that Liz needs Ronny.

So in the end, long-haired rebel Ronny really isn't that rebellious. Turns out he is actually kind of on the conservative side! Now, this very same issue contains another story of the counterculture with an equally as exciting title, "How Can I Love a Member of the Establishment?" But, it has a very different ending. Stayed tuned next week and I'll share that one with ya!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Happy Birthday, Win Mortimer!

Today let's celebrate Win Mortimer, as he was born on this day in 1919! Though he is no longer with us, Mortimer's work stands as a lasting testament to the beauty of the romance comics. The selections below are all Mortimer penciled one-pagers from 1974 issues of Young Love and Young Romance, and run the gamut from confessional-style poem to cautionary tale. Any other Win Mortimer fans out there?

"Love Has No Voice"
Young Love #109
(April/May 1974)

"How to Lose Your Boyfriend"
Young Love #111 
(August/September 1974)

"The Kiss Test"
Young Love #113
(December 1974/January 1975)

"Your Eyes of Love" and "Just Waiting"
Young Romance #198
(March/April 1974)

"My Creed"
Young Romance #199
(May/June 1974)

"Silent Song of Love"
Young Romance #199
(May/June 1974)