Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Nurses At War: Our Army At War 78 - "Battle Nurse"

While nurses can pop up in all kinds of comics besides those in the romance genre, they are relatively frequent characters in war comics. This isn't surprising - the nursing profession as we know it began with Florence Nightingale tending soldiers in the Crimean War, and Clara Barton and other Civil War nurses in the USA. Those "ministering angels" gave nursing one of its most powerful images, but the proximity to battle also led to them being seen as heroic. World War I involved massive recruitment campaigns for nurses that utilized these two images of nurses. The earliest (that I know of) nurse lead character in comics was the very adventurous Myra North, Special Nurse - a syndicated newspaper comic strip that ran from 1936 through 1941. Nurse Myra also appeared in what are now very rare and expensive comic strip compilation comic books published by Dell in the late 1930s. While always available when needed, Myra's nursing skills took a back seat to her penchant for international intrigue and detective work, which often placed her in a war zone.

War comics tend to stick to the need for nurses to tend the wounded, which may land them in a backup role assisting the hero, hence the same combo of ministering angel and heroic nurse. This seems to be the case with "Battle Nurse" in OOAW 78 (DC, January 1959), although the story is essentially a romance in a war setting. The cover art is credited to Irv Novick in the Grand Comics Database. The juxtaposition of the hero, the nurse, and the wounded soldier is the military equivalent of the doctor - nurse - patient relationship that has its origins as an analogy of the respectable Victorian middle class family. Beautiful cover - very dramatic. The story is written by Bob Kanigher, who also occasionally wrote love stories, with art by the duo of Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. A fine example of their work.
Stan and Jennie are lovers, but it's WWII and Stan is a G.I. leaving for the front line. Jennie insists she'll be seeing him, but To Stan that means she's always there in his thoughts, even when the going gets really rough. Eventually he's in London on leave, standing on a street corner remarkably like the one near where my grandmother grew up! It's there that he thinks he sees Jenny, but it's someone else (Wonder Woman in disguise I think!).
So Stan has a hard time believing his eyes when he does actually encounter Jennie in Piccadilly Circus. An obligatory London bobby holds up the traffic while the two lovers embrace - she was true to her word - she wasn't going to let an ocean separate them. But then there's an air raid - the "buzz bomb" is a V1 rocket - the engine cuts out then you wait to see if you survive - my mother experienced these on a daily basis during the Blitz when she was a girl. The air raid nearly finishes our two resilient lovers, but they come out of it okay, and then Stan is off to the Pacific, shipped out so quickly he can't get confirmation that Jennie survived.

Stan is island hopping in the Pacific and is eventually confronted by a charging squad of Japanese soldiers. He stands his ground and is just about able to deal with the enemy before he loses consciousness. When he comes round, he thinks he's hallucinating Jennie's image but that gal has followed him round the world and he's on an ambulance plane with her taking care of him. After all that enemy action, it's ironic that natural forces down their aircraft and the two find themselves hugging a wing, with another wounded soldier in tow whom they just managed to get off the plane before it started to break up.

Well things couldn't get worse than being at the mercy of the waves in the middle of the Pacific - or could they? Of course they could! There happens to be an opportunist Japanese fighter pilot in the area who sees the chance to finish off the Americans. Stan is left with only one option: use the other soldier's machine gun to try and bring down the plane. As the enemy fighter strafes the American trio, Jennie (as nurses are often depicted in war stories) puts the safety of her patient before herself, and shields him with her own body. Stan gives it all he's got, but it looks like it's all over when he runs out of ammo and the fighter is still in the air. But it's a dead fighter, and it just passes overhead (nice panel) and dumps in the sea at a distance.

That's one stubborn lady, who won't let anything keep her from her man! Classic ending! Comic book nurses often seem to be red-heads (I'd say at a higher percentage than red-heads exist in the general Caucasian population) and I'm thinking there might be a bit of a stereotype there, something to do with Irish women becoming nurses historically, maybe. Stubborn (in a nice way) + red-head + nurse = my youngest daughter!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Nurse Romance Stories: Romantic Secrets 11 - "The Flowers"

Charlton's Romantic Secrets 11 (1957) is an example of those comics that have interiors that don't have anything to do with the cover. But looking at the cover, there's a nurse romance theme that I've seen a few times - the temporarily blinded guy in the hospital bed with his eyes bandaged, loved secretly by the nurse. The nurse pretends to be someone else for therapeutic reasons, or hides some painful truth about the man's girlfriend or fiancee (as this cover suggests), but whatever it is, all is revealed and resolved when the bandages are removed.

The actual nurse romance story inside the comic is a short, 4-page filler. It's pretty basic, but has a certain charm. George Miller is the patient, Sally the nurse. She finds out George is new in the area, knows no-one, and has no visitors therefore. Seeing George lonely, she brings him flowers and visits him herself, which is much to George's liking and you would think assists in his speedy recovery.

Apparently the flowers are excess to the requirements of a very popular patient down the hall, according to Sally. The relationship between Sally and George stays on the platonic platform, at least from an external viewpoint. Sally's not one of those nurses who breaches codes of professional conduct and starts smooching with her patient. Sally visits George whenever she can and George gives a hint but doesn't reveal just how attached he has become to this ministering angel. George is then finally ready to be discharged, but ends up leaving without seeing Sally. She's quietly devastated (which is where we came in on page 1) and has just about accepted that she's lost George when he returns to the ward, flowers in hand. George sussed that Sally had been buying the flowers herself, and before he revealed his true feelings for her he wanted to just buy a bunch at the florist and return the favor.
As we take our leave, we can tell that wedding bells will follow soon. Brief, innocent, charming, no frills, with a super simple plot line. Sally's nurse stereotypes: the ministering angel, coupled with the tendency to become romantically involved with her patient (doesn't.look like she was in nursing for the purpose of finding a husband).

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Twist in the Tale - Thank Goodness it Went Out of Fashion?

The issues of Young Love leading up to the death of Prize and the taking over of the title by DC are a strange lot. There are, however, some pleasant surprises here and there, like "The Twisters Led Me To Temptation". The cover to Prize's Young Love V.6 #2 (Aug/Sept 1962) attempts to convince the reader that there's a connection between doing the twist and some form of debased lifestyle, but as the story begins there's no hint of this revelation. The art in these issues from what was actually Prize's reboot of the title after a 4 year absence (I have a few in my collection) is a little different - the Simon and Kirby influence seems gone - but it kind of grows on you, with a little contemplation. Anyway this particular story starts with Kathy, a very bored teenager, looking for a "charge" out of life and not finding it in parties, fast cars, or fast guys. Incidentally, I don't think the claim at the top of the first page of the story, that Elvis started the twist, is accurate.

 Taking her parents' advice, Kathy gets a job, then another, and another - they're all boring too, and so are the dull parties she continues to attend, having nothing better to do. And it's there that she runs into Jim Parker, the guy who will change her life. He's a drummer in a band and has a nice pink car. Jim takes Kathy to his workplace, the Three Pines, a bar with a dance floor and an eclectic clientele that "ranged from beatniks to mink-clad dowagers". It's when Jim's band starts up that the resident Chubby Checker wannabe, Porky, a somewhat robustly proportioned individual, takes to the floor to get everybody started on the twist. Kathy joins in and is an instant hit, all eyes diverted from Porky to her. Porky and his partner reckon they might be onto something if they can get Kathy on board. Jim drives Kathy home and gives her a passionate goodnight kiss. Is this the love Kathy needed to liven up her life?

Kathy becomes a regular at the Three Pines and inevitably Porky asks her to work for him and Lucky, because she'll bring in the teenage crowd (the twist was apparently the first modern dance popular with both teenagers and adults). Lucky is a little hesitant about employing Kathy, until Porky explains that the kids will provide a smoke screen for their illegal gambling activities in the back of the joint. Jim has his suspicions that Porky and Lucky are using Kathy, and tries to dissuade her from taking the job, but she's an independent young woman and makes up her own mind to go ahead - why not get paid for what she likes to do? But Porky has a big gambling occasion lined up, and he's using a twist event led by Kathy as a cover. Even Kathy starts to get nervous.

Inevitably the place gets busted and Kathy ends up arrested and on the front page of the newspaper. But the judge is a reasonable guy and gives her a talking to instead of sending her down, plus he wants her to teach his wife and daughters how to do the twist! Kathy just made some bad choices about where she hung out and with whom, and that's the little lesson she finishes with as she signs off with her message to the readers.

So the story has some elements that lend an air of familiarity to the tale, but also some subculture and moment-in-history-specific details that give it a unique blend. Oh the early 1960s - what wouldn't I give to be able to go back and twist again!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Nurse Romance Stories: Romantic Marriage 2 - "Her Father's Image"

There's a couple of things I'd like to say before getting into this story. First of all it is how much I enjoy those Ziff-Davis/St. John comics from the early 50s, with Romantic Marriage and Cinderella Love being two of my favorite romance titles. I especially like the ones with painted covers. Gorgeous! Issue 2 from 1950 (no month specified) appears to me to be swiping an image from a contemporary British comic, the Eagle, which began publication in 1950. The Eagle featured Frank Hampson's famous sci-fi series, Dan Dare, and although I couldn't find an exact match to the soldier on the cover of RM2, here's a couple of pics of Dan Dare to give you the idea that it might be so:

Well it might be just a coincidence but the first thing that came to mind when I saw the cover of RM2 was "Dan Dare!" Anyway, back to the nurse romance story. When Nurse Gail Gordon helped car crash victim Norman Crandall through his most critical period of recovery to the point where he could be released from hospital, she became attached to him as the product of her intervention. When he asked if she would be his private nurse she eagerly accepted, not having thought what kind of person he actually was. Therefore, although it turns out Norman is loaded and lives with his aunt in a stately home, we can't accuse Gail of gold-digging - she had no idea!

Norman's not a uniform fetishist, so when Gail sheds her nurse clothes and slips into a swimsuit, revealing herself to be a brunette bombshell, Norman instantly gets the hots for her - the very hots! And its no surprise by now that Gail finds herself head over heels in love with Norman. But then Gail notices the similarity between Norman and her father, and she resolves to complete the likeness by molding Norman's personality until it matches that of Daddy. Couple of things here - first, girls do apparently have an subconscious tendency to seek partners with characteristics that in some way reflect their father (e.g. Dad was physically abusive to Mom, so daughter ends up in a domestic violence situation herself). Secondly, there's this womanly thing of wanting to change the man of her choice into the image she has constructed of her ideal man (which sometimes manifests as wanting to reform a bad but 'really misunderstood' guy). It's hard to know where stereotypes end and reality begins in this realm.

For rich guys, yachts are kind of obligatory, as much as the stripy shirt and hat are for the yachtsman. And yachts are great places to declare undying love for your woman. But now that Gail has Norman under her spell, the transformation process has to begin. First non-smoker Norman is encouraged to take up pipe smoking. Next, he's a pacifist but Gail's dad loves hunting, so now Norman has to go along with Gail's desire that he go out and murder innocent wild creatures. Buying all the hunting gear and weapons isn't a financial issue for Norm, and neither is getting out into the wilderness to bag some game - he's got a sea plane! But suddenly events take a turn for the worse when Norman, unfamiliar (as already noted) with firearms, accidentally shoots the family lodge's caretaker, Pierre. Good job Gail's a nurse, huh!?

With good weather and Norman's sea plane, it's possible to get Pierre to a hospital in around an hour, tended by Gail. When Pierre pulls through, Gail again attributes his survival to her intervention, but here comes the reckoning. Gail thinks she's saved Norman from a manslaughter charge, but Norman has a different perspective. He gives it to Gail straight - Pierre's near death experience was directly the result of Gail trying to manipulate Norman into adopting various traits of Gail's father - okay Norman shouldn't have gone along with it, but it's not happening from here on. Gail admits she's been misguided in her actions, but she loves Norman anyway and no longer foolishly thinks he should change. A close call, and now everything should be hunky dory right? But wait - suddenly Gail's back to her scheming. Gail's dad meets Norman, and seems awfully keen to have Norm head up his Alaska oil project. Gail's back in full transformation mode, thinking that Norman will be like her Dad after all, a businessman. Norman is hesitant to accepts Gail's Dad's offer, but goes along with it to please Gail again. Things are, however, beginning to fall into place in Gail's head, and she starts to get some realizations regarding her Dad's enthusiasm for having Norman, and his money, in charge of the Alaska thing. Oh boy!

So here's the irony. Gail's dad, Mr. Gordon, is a stock swindler, and he used Norman's good name to persuade investors to buy worthless stock. The whole thing tumbles down, Norman takes the rap, and he has become like Gordon, another swindler. Gail realizes too late that she loved Norman just the way he was and should never have tried to change him. Fortunately (maybe Norman's good reputation working in his favor here) the DA has been ready to give Norm a chance to clear himself. As Gordon spills the whole story in his conversation with his daughter, Norm and the DA's representative are listening outside. Norm is cleared, Gordon is arrested, and Gail has inadvertently informed Norman that she wants him just the way he is - no more meddling trying to change him. Norman's a real gem - he overlooks all the trouble Gail has caused him starting with her assuming ownership of him at the hospital, and they're going to marry and live happily ever after. Norm is even going to ensure all those swindled investors get their money back, meaning Gordon will be out of jail in a week or so. Happy ending! But we went through some tribulations to get there for sure.

This tale delivers a lot of stereotypes about women in general, but what is the story's lesson about nurses?  Well this one assumes her successful care provision entitles her to ownership of the recovered patient, an entitlement to determine aspects of the patient's life. In this case the patient was someone she fell in love with, who also turned out to be the most eligible bachelor imaginable - money, looks, impeccable character, willingness to go out of his way to please the woman he loves, the ability to overlook faults in others. Gail's a lucky girl - lucky because what she put Norman through would have driven an ordinary mortal away on day one!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Nurse Romance Stories: Love Stories 152 - A Nurse Joins DC's Pity Party

After Jaque Nodell's terrific post on wheelchair-bound characters in DC love comics ( http://sequentialcrush.blogspot.com/2009/11/dcs-pity-party.html ) I kind of half remembered seeing something similar in my collection somewhere. Then the other day it turned up as I was looking for the next nurse romance story to scan for a project I'm working on. This story from November 1973, "Love Ran Away (but I was tied to a wheel chair)" combines nurse romance with the disability awareness, and is featured on the cover of the comic.

"Love Ran Away" is a simple story with an unusual setting. Tina and Jimmy are wheelchair bound lovers who race each other in the corridors of the hospital. They have never formally expressed their love for each other, but it is evident, at least to Tina, in other ways. When they race, Tina always 'throws' the race by braking and letting Jimmy win. This almost ceremonial interaction finishes with a kiss, and a fairly intense one at that. Tina also dreams of the two of them running together, unfettered by the wheelchairs they must of necessity be bound to in the real world.

Enter Nurse Ellen Hanson into the mix. She takes an instant liking to Jimmy, and Jimmy seems taken with her. At least, he's engrossed in his interactions with Ellen to the exclusion of Tina. Tina regrets that she now only races and kisses Jimmy in her dreams. As Nurse Ellen becomes more involved with Jimmy, and against all hope, tries to encourage him to walk, Tina is left out in the cold to lament the loss of her love and even to doubt it ever existed from Jimmy's side. Now her dreams have Jimmy running with his nurse.

But it all comes to a climax, and resolution in Tina's favor, without any action on her part. When he falls, Ellen suddenly comes to the realization that Jimmy isn't going to walk, as she had known all along really. Furthermore she goes on to acknowledge that she had seen the opportunity to help Jimmy walk as a way to compensate for the time she had paralyzed her own brother in a car accident in which she was the driver. Ellen also intuitively knows that there was love between Tina and Jimmy, and that she had interposed herself between the two of them. She apologizes, and leaves in a distressed state. What is unusual about this nurse depiction is that the psychologically troubled individual is more a stereotype of social workers than nurses - I don't think I've come across it before as an image of nurses. The mixed up individual deriving self therapy from their work in a helping profession is, however, a media stereotype of social workers.

So Tina and Jimmy are back as they were, racing and kissing. Does Jimmy even realize Tina is in love with him, or that he is in love with Tina? Those men! Is there anything between their ears? But does Tina care? Not one bit! She's got her man and right where she wants him. Mwah!