A Young (Step) Father's Story - "Second Choice!"
As promised earlier in the week, here is "Second Choice!" This story from Heart Throbs #121 (August/September 1969) is somewhat rare for the romance comics due to its multiple serious adult themes of marriage, death, and child rearing. Just a glance at the cover indicates to the reader that they are in for something out of the ordinary. The cover is of course by the late Nick Cardy, who sadly, passed away just days ago. The interior pencils (at least in part) are by Tony Abruzzo. Thanks largely to Cardy's intriguing cover, "Second Choice!" is a truly memorable story.
The splash page introduces us to three of the main characters -- Amy, and her two suitors, Billy and Jim. Sadly for Jim, Amy has chosen Billy. The two are going to get married.
As Amy stands in the background, Jim congratulates Billy on winning Amy's heart, despite the fact his own heart is broken. Jim then reminds them that they better get hitched quickly, as he and Billy have "a little date in Vietnam!" Billy and Amy heed Jim's advice and soon after, the two are married. Poor Jim stands up at the wedding as Billy's best man. A few months after the wedding, Amy kisses the two men off as they head to Vietnam, ominously telling Jim to be sure to "come back!"
On the page that follows, some time has passed, and we see Billy and Jim at war. Both men miss Amy terribly, though Jim must do so secretly. We learn on this page that Amy and Billy have had a child, Billy Jr. Sadly, we also witness the tragic death of Billy.
Understandably, Amy sinks into a dark depression following the death of her husband. Jim soon returns to the States, and comforts her as best as he can. Jim reminds her that thousands of other women have lost their husbands in the war too, and that Billy would not want her carrying on so; especially with little Billy Jr. to take care of. Before long, Amy tells Jim that she thinks that she is falling in love with him, to which Jim pleads with us as readers, "You've got to believe me when I tell you I really didn't plan it... it just happened one evening..." Despite feeling a little guilty about it, the two get married. In the union, Jim gains not only a wife, but a son as well.
Jim and Amy's wedded bliss goes on for about three months. Not long after though, it becomes clear to Jim that playing father to another man's child is a bit of a drag. Not only does he have to listen to snide comments from strangers about the baby not resembling him at all, Jim is also thrown off by Billy Jr's neediness. Jim starts to long for the freedom of bachelorhood.
Jim is also struggling with intense jealousy. He decides that trying to draw Amy closer to him with a little alone time will be the best thing for their relationship.
While at the park that Saturday, Jim suggests they join a bowling league. He is quickly shot down; bowling would be too expensive, and hiring a babysitter even more so. The two then begin to quarrel.
"Stop shutting me up! It's time I spoke the truth... and it's time you stopped thinking only of the kid... and give me some consideration!"
The tears flow and Amy begs Jim to go home with her. Jim continues to be enraged; citing their house not as a home, but as a "nursery for Billy's kid!" The two go their separate ways. Though Amy is of course devastated by her husband's behavior, she simultaneously understands it and feared it was coming.
Jim walks around town for a while, thinking. At one point he says "hello" to a pretty girl, but ultimately realizes that he is "hopelessly flipped" over Amy and putting up with little Junior is well worth it. As Jim walks, the sky turns dark and it starts storming. He rushes home right away, but thunder and lightning are already underway. When Jim arrives at their house, he opens the door to a worried Amy -- the lights have gone out from the storm. Just as the two begin to finally have a moment of honesty and tenderness, a burst of thunder and lightning scare the wits out of little Billy. The baby instinctively reaches for Jim. After just a few moments in his arms, Billy calms down. It is then that Jim finally realizes he is in fact, a father.
Not unlike other stories of young parenthood, Jim and Amy learn the importance of their family dynamic after a trying event. The most interesting thing I find about this story is actually the rather misleading and sensationalized (read: sensational!) cover. My first impression just based on the cover was that the story was going to be about a single woman who has a child out of wedlock. But maybe that is just my modern brain? I'm curious -- how do your reactions of the story align with your expectations from the fantastic Cardy cover? Please do let me know!