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)


  1. Wow! What an amazing story. I would've never imagined that these Romance comics had such complex plots. What's disturbing about this story is the seeming irremedial split between mother and daughters, which rarely happens despite intensely problematic relationships. A mother disowning her daughters is profound. But the story was realistic too in the daughters' attempt at a last reconcilation. Unfortunately, they won't find happiness (no matter how lucky in love they are) with this rift. So a sad story.

    Thanks for sharing.


    1. It is amazing that such a story was published in such a typically light genre. Thanks for reading!

  2. Man, I haven't been checking this blog enough lately. The last two posts in particular are fantastic (love that Don Heck art in the preceding one - he was a really good fit for these romance comics).
    Anyway, as to this conclusion, I just have to quote reiterate the apt summation above by Wes: wow. Certainly wasn't expecting that conclusion. This is indeed a very sad and poignant story.
    I have to say, it's too bad there's not much of a market for romance comics (at least that's the way it seems to me). These serialized stories you've been posting (this one and "Reach for Happiness") are absolute gems and should really be collected.

    1. I couldn't agree more, Edo. Hopefully, someday.