Thursday, April 29, 2010

Nurse Romance Stories: Cowboy Love 11 - "The Challenge"

Not the place you'd expect a nurse romance story to pop up but there you go - the solitary 1951 issue of Cowboy Love published by Fawcett has an 11 page story featuring a nurse complete with uniform and set in the wild west! This is not my scan, it's from the Digital Comic Museum and was uploaded by TarsTarkas. The original comic itself seems to have been slightly misprinted, so there's a bit of blurring. Also the scanner has had to take care not to damage the comic, which appears to have had off-center staples, making it difficult to get the full pages neatly and squarely. This is a rare and fairly expensive comic, though, so for most of us, this is pretty much the only way we're likely to read it.

Not sure exactly what date this is all supposed to be happening in - the nurse's clothes don't look all that Victorian. The tale begins with Doc Blaine March and his pretty nurse Judith Lindsay doing their rounds out in some big country. Judith and the Doc are already in love, so that's a clue that something is going to throw a spanner in the works. The pair stop off to tend to mother-of-five Mrs. Edgeworth, but while there, some horse rustlers, the infamous Dribber Brothers, set fire to the barn and shoot Mr. Edgeworth dead, widowing Mrs. Edgeworth and leaving the kids without a father. The fire quickly spreads to the house. But worse is to come. Mrs. Edgeworth gives up her life, and now there are 5 orphans. These were good people, and something inside the Doc snaps. Despite Judith's protestations he straps on a gun belt, and goes after the Dribbers. Nobody expects him to come back alive.
But fear has left the Doctor, and he makes short work of the evil Dribbers. After word gets around that Doc March gunned down the Dribbers, another owlhoot turns up wanting to draw against the doctor. The Doc's a changed man - Judith can hardly recognize the man she loves. With confidence he strides out and icily out-draws the bad guy, sending his own reputation soaring, but erecting an even greater wall between himself and Judith.
Judith tries to rekindle Blaine's feelings with a kiss, but the mood is shattered by the comments of the worldly wise Belle (now who came up with that name? No stereotyping here!) Ravelin, who owns the dance hall. She smoothly whisks Blaine off right in front of Judith, who can't believe this rapid and disastrous turn of events. When the Doc returns he's clearly troubled in his mind. There's the nagging doubt that comes from his previous commitment to providing medical care to the locals, but also the truth that he has the power to stop criminals by using his skill with the gun. As Judith and Blaine debate the situation, a shot flies through the window, symptomatic of the gunfighter's life Blaine has now assumed.
Blaine's neglect of his practice brings old Doc Farber out of retirement. Judith speaks plainly to Blaine about the mistakes he's making, but he can't hear her. He's a changed man, and when Judith finds out he's engaged to Belle, it's just all too much for her. Running to escape the taunting Belle, Judith doesn't look where she's going and is hit by a stagecoach. An unspecified operation is diagnosed as her only hope, which Blaine then provides, his love for Judith inspiring the return of his surgical skill. Under the watchful eye of old Doc Farber, Blaine succeeds and Judith recovers, Blaine having vowed to return to using his hands for saving instead of taking lives. It took nearly losing Judith to bring the real Blaine back. They kiss, and all ends well, as long as word gets round that the Doc has hung up his gun belt!
Nice last panel with the doctor and nurse kissing in the background, and old Doc Farber winking at us from the foreground. So what image of nurses does this story promote? She's in love with a doctor. She's steadfast in her principles, and in her dedication (in this case to her man when he goes off the rails, as well as to the medical profession and provision of medical care to the populace). She's a pretty noble character in this story, in keeping with the image of nurses of yore. She is publicly enamored with the doctor, so that's a bit of a departure from the image of nurses that would have gone with the late 19th, early 20th century. BUT, he's a private practitioner, she's his nurse, they're in the lawless Wild West, so they're almost destined to be a husband and wife medical team. Maybe the setting allows for some latitude. As a woman she keeps her man good, and as a nurse she keeps him dedicated to his profession. Nice. The power of a good woman.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Nurse Romance Stories: Falling In Love 44 - "There Goes My Heart!"

In a mood of 'variations on a theme' I'm posting this nurse romance from DC's Falling In Love 44 from August 1961. It illustrates the problem female nurses have to face at work in hospital wards with male patients, but also ends up reinforcing the idea that women can become nurses and end up with a nice husband whom they meet as a doctor or in this case a patient. The story starts, though, by depicting that hazard of nursing - male patients getting the wrong idea. Nurse Bernice has to fend off the romantic inclinations of one patient, but wonders if her knowing that this is a common delusion male patients exhibit isn't shutting the door on potential real romance. When I was working on a survey to measure the public image of nursing I was consulting a prominent nurse educator and she talked about this very problem - the intimacy of care coupled with the guy lying in a bed does put the female nurse at risk for different levels of sexual harassment. This isn't something DC dreamed up.

Nurses are women, not stone. So Bernice does develop some attachment in the instant a handsome patient kisses her, and then has to deal with the residue when that patient inevitably walks out of the hospital some time later with a babe on his arm.

When another handsome patient comes on to Bernice she wavers, and starts to believe that there might be something a little more real going on. She allows herself to hope, gets dressed up to go and see this guy Ray, only to find him chatting up another nurse and confirming that which she had been taught about men in hospitals who express affection for nurses. Bernice re-absorbs herself in her duties as a professional carer and tries to forget the feelings that had been stirred within her.

Bernice avoids Ray for the rest of his stay in hospital, but when she hears he's getting discharged she breaches professional ethics, runs to the lobby and plants a kiss on him right in front of the blond in a fur coat who looks like she's his partner. Nurses - they're self-sacrificing angels - okay - but so ready to disgrace themselves for the sake of a guy who couldn't give a crap anyway? Well, I guess she's only human, and men and women in any walk of life are prone to do that kind of thing. This is a romance story after all!

So finally when all hope of finding a patient to love seems to have flown out the window of the hospital, Bernice finds herself in a tangle with an unpredictable mentally ill patient. That's after she's contemplated romance with a handsome reporter who's there because his hands were burnt while he was saving passengers from a burning aircraft. He doesn't try to hit on Bernice, and in fact is verbally rather unpleasant and dismissive of her care. While he's asleep (apparently) Bernice voices her thoughts out loud, and kisses her dreamy patient, who subsequently comes to her rescue when the mentally ill patient goes berserk. When Bernice finds out he'd heard everything she said, and was awake when she kissed him, she's embarrassed and apologizes for her professional misconduct. But in that kiss they had met as souls destined for each other. Bernice has finally found her patient to fall in love with (and so she can now pack in nursing and become a housewife!?).

The artist on this story, for me anyway, creates a beautiful, gentle, caring image of the nurse - her facial expressions, body language, movements, dress, all combine to communicate femininity and womanliness as well as a deeply caring professional. At the same time Bernice is somewhat fragile and vulnerable, apparently by virtue of being a woman. Nevertheless she has the strength to move past the disappointments that result from unsolicited advances from amorous male patients, using absorption in her work as her means of recovery. While endorsing the idea that nurses can find a nice husband amongst the patients they care for, this story doesn't suggest that this path to matrimony is a particularly smooth one.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Nurse Romance Stories: My Personal Problem 3 - "My Changing Heart"

"My Changing Heart" is the cover story for Ajax Farrell's My Personal problem 3 (Sept. 1956). It's a cool cover, nicely drawn, which largely gives away the plot to this short 6 page nurse romance story. Nurse Joan Perkins is hopelessly in love with Doctor Tim, a narcissist so full of himself it's nauseating. He doesn't return her affections, and basically couldn't care less about her. Joan's patient, Johnny Caine, however, is very interested in her. He's good looking too, but Joan is so besotted with the worthless Tim that she doesn't realize what's beginning to happen between herself and Johnny. Tim's running around with some other woman so Joan, with her time off because it doesn't coincide with Tim's, devotes her hours to giving Johnny company. Johnny's not complaining, but his communications of affection for Joan are still falling on deaf ears. When Tim comes by and sees Joan volunteering her time to attend Johnny, he assumes she's gold-digging and that Johnny is her rich patient and potential husband. What an absolute cad that Tim is! Perpetuating such a harmful negative stereotype of nurses!
Tim is just so arrogant, and his indifference to Joan is insulting. However, maybe the problem is also with Joan. After all, has Tim been leading her on? NO! Has he even given any indication that he's interested in Joan romantically? Quite the contrary - he's made it abundantly clear that he doesn't see them in a relationship. He may be a bit of an @$$ but at least he's honest. Maybe Joan's denial of the reality of what actually or potentially exists between her and Tim is the biggest issue here. She's also in denial about Johnny's declarations of love for her, and of her own growing feelings for him. Finally she's snapped out of it when she hears the news of Tim's elopement. Fortunately for her, Johnny's the kind of bloke who's ready to wait for the girl of his dreams to come to her senses, and all ends well.
Thus ends Joan's illusion and the unrequited love she was torturing herself with. It's not like Johnny's second best either. Joan lucked out in the end.

I noticed that this comic, along with many romance books that have nurse romance stories, has a nursing recruitment ad. I've seen them in other books that aren't carrying a nurse romance story, but I wondered if there was a connection, a kind of arrangement between the comic book company and the particular nursing entity, in this case the Post Graduate Hospital School of Nursing in Chicago, to add a nurse romance into the book, that somehow portrayed nursing as a desirable profession for young women. Although the nurse in this one is a bit slow on the uptake, her anguish-laden search for love is something many girls could relate to back then. It was precisely because she was a dedicated nurse that she ended up with dreamboat Johnny Caine. So the messages this story puts out in terms of the image of nurses are:

1. nurses are the doctor's handmaidens - typical stereotype from this period. Joan is there to tend to Tim's needs, like when he has a headache. But she means nothing to him.

2. nurses are self-sacrificing angels - Joan donates her free time to looking after Johnny.

3. nursing provides significant opportunities for women to find high grade marriage partners. Surely young women wouldn't become nurses in order to snag a man! But Joan ended up with a good one she most likely wouldn't have met had she not been a nurse. So in this story, the nurse gets a handsome (and potentially rich) patient for a husband instead of the alternative, a handsome (and potentially rich) doctor. Either way is fine, right!?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Nurse Romance Stories: True War Romances 6 - "My Forgotten Mistake"

With a cover date of March 1953, Quality Comics True War Romances 6 features a nurse cover story "My Forgotten Mistake."18-year old office worker Lucy is in love with Jack Foster, who seems not to notice her at all. Lucy surmises it must be her girlish appearance. After all, everyone at the office calls her 'Angelface' because of it. So when the office workers decide to throw a party in honor of Jack leaving to join the forces, Lucy decides its time to demonstrate that she's really a woman. She 'tarts' herself up with a revealing dress and is instantly noticed by every male as she walks in. Instead of dancing with Jack, however, she uses the attention given her by Carl when his animal instincts are activated upon the sight of Lucy's shapely form, to make Jack jealous. Due to her inexperience, however, the effect on Jack is not quite what she intended. Jack is quite disgusted by her brazen display, which shatters the image Jack had of Lucy. He had previously been attracted to her, but restrained himself because he knew he would be going into the forces, and didn't want to start something he couldn't follow through with if he was killed in action. Lucy sees the truth too late to prevent Jack leaving with a very revised view of Lucy as a person, one that is no longer desirable. So this is Lucy's mistake, the kind a young person can make and which can potentially ruin what might otherwise have been a wonderful life. In an attempt to move on with her life, Lucy goes back to school and qualifies as a nurse two years later.
Lucy gets a job in an army hospital, where a wounded soldier takes a fancy to her, but Lucy still has no interest in any man except for Jack Foster, who by some cosmic coincidence, turns up as a patient at the very same hospital. However, he no longer recognizes or remembers Lucy, or anything from his past. He's suffering from amnesia as a result of a wound. When the doctor finds out Lucy knows Jack, he assigns her the task of helping him regain his memory, so she takes him to his former workplace. But nothing stirs, except for Lucy's anxiety. Jack finds Lucy attractive, but the irony is, if she succeeds in helping him remember his past, he'll recall his impression of her as a shameless flirt.
Lucy has matured in the two years since she last knew Jack, and also possesses a dedication to her work as a nurse. Her sense of obligation to the well-being of her patient over-rides her desire for Jack not to remember her in a negative light, and so she arranges a re-enactment of that very same office party held before Jack left to go to war. The scheme works, and Lucy exits rather than go through that rejection by Jack all over again. Back at the hospital she thinks she's alone when expressing her anguish out loud, but Jack followed her there after the office gang told him how she sacrificed her chance with him so that he would be well again. Jack realizes what a prize chump he's been and declares his love for Lucy. Thank goodness for that! She's a good person and finally got the break she deserved. She's a good nurse too, and she might not have become one had it not been for that 'mistake' two years earlier. And then she wouldn't have been at the hospital to help Jack regain his memory! Fate seems to have planned it that way!
The image of the nurse here is something good and pure, a step up above the ordinary. Lucy is a version of the self-sacrificing angel, who puts her patient's well-being before her own. She made an innocent mistake as a girl, but did something good to make amends, even though she was not guilty of real wrongdoing. As a nurse, her life was free of reproachful actions - those belonged to her pre-nurse past. Overall a positive image of nurses and of the reformatory and uplifting power of nursing on the individual who becomes a nurse. The story also suggests success in romance associated with becoming a nurse, with the nurse likely to be the object of the romantic attentions of male patients, particularly those in the military. This is the between-the-lines stuff that's not mentioned in the nursing recruitment ads that often accompany nurse romance stories in comics. That suggests to me that the nursing profession was not only paying for their ads to be put in romance comics, but part of the deal was that there was a nice nurse romance story in the book as well, one that said things that the nursing ad couldn't really say directly. I mean, how would it look if the nurse ad said, "Become a nurse and you're sure to get a handsome hunk ask you to marry him!" The romance story can say that in so many words and pictures without stating it directly.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Crime... and Medicine... Do Not Pay!

My proposal for a book chapter on the image of nurses in Containment Era comics was accepted by the editors with a deadline of August. So now the writing has to begin. I've already collected together a good number of actual romance comics with nurse stories, as well as some scanned issues from various sources, so there's more than enough material. I had wondered about buying a copy of Crime Does Not Pay 132 (March 1954) that I'd seen on eBay, with this 'tough dame' nurse cover by Charles Biro. Luckily I thought, "Why don't I check the Digital Comic Museum to see if they have a scan of it?" and bingo! One thing of note on the cover is the stereotypically red-headed nurse, wearing high heels in the operating theater, who's also handy with a gun! That's my kind of gal!

With this cover I was expecting the story to be something like that Marvel Night Nurse issue, featured recently on Jacque Nodell's Sequential Crush, where a gangster is receiving treatment in the hospital, a rival mobster comes to bump him off, and the nurse gets between the two, insisting that he'll kill the patient over her dead body. This crime cover may even have been the inspiration for the Night Nurse story, but alas, this issue is one of those where the actual story contents don't match the expectations generated by the cover illustration. The story and art are credited to Dick Rockwell by the Grand Comics Database. Instead, what we have is a rich patient in his last days, and a ne'er-do-well doctor obviously not getting paid the big bucks that medical men get nowadays. Envious of the old man's wealth, the doc cooks up a scheme to relieve the elderly citizen of some of his accumulated cash. Gaining his trust, the doctor acts as scribe for his will, for which the patient awards $50 in gratitude for this simple task (he could have bought 500 new comics with that much cash back then!). The doc isn't satisfied with fifty, and adds a couple of zeros after the patient has signed the will, deliberately avoiding contact with the old man's attorney Ed Harris.

At this point in the story the nurse character breezes in and out providing her care in the expected fashion.
Subsequently, with his plot in danger of being exposed, Dr. Burton does what any down-on-his-luck graduate of medical school would do - he bumps off his patient while the nurse is out of the room. She's suspicious though, and when Burton offers her $1000 to keep quiet, she knows he croaked the old guy and wants $3500 to keep schtum. Unfortunately for her she should have blown the whistle instead of thinking she stood to gain from the doctor's impropriety. He leads her along, her mind so bewildered by the thought of all that cash that she doesn't realize the danger she's in until it's far too late. One strangulation, a taxi ride with the body wrapped in a rug, and quick deposit in the mortuary later, Burton again thinks he's in the clear. What he doesn't know is that attorney Ed Harris is wise to him, having sent his assistant Tom Whitaker to spy on his conversation with the nurse. Tom's inability to read the circumstances allowed the doc time to kill the nurse, but a bit of further investigation reveals the doc's plan. The nurse's disfigured corpse is identified in the morgue, and ex-G-man Harris heads Burton off at the train station. Burton's for the chair, but the poor nurse paid a heavy price for giving in to temptation and exhibiting highly unethical conduct for a self-sacrificing angel.
The cover states that the contents of the book are all true crime stories, but this doctor is a little unbelievable - how on earth did he qualify with the kind of outlook he has? But then I guess it takes all sorts. Same with the nurse. This story is one of those that makes me thank Wertham, though, despite regretting that his testimony eventually resulted in the loss of the great EC. I'm not a fan of the crime genre, and this tale does slight the medical profession big time. As far as the image of nurses that this promotes - to begin with she's the polite and helpful provider of care we expect, but all of a sudden she transforms into an unscrupulous wannabe moll, abandoning her professional code of conduct seemingly at the drop of a hat. As such there is the suggestion that nurses will engage in extremely unethical conduct if the opportunity arises to benefit financially from doing so. Yuck!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Romance Comic News: Golden Age Comic Downloads Reincarnated

Following its year (at least) of server problems, the UK's Golden Age Comic Downloads site, the world's #1 source of public domain golden age comic scans has been reincarnated as the Digital Comic Museum, and you'll be relieved to know that it functions normally.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Romance Comic News: Dick Giordano Passes Away

John Lustig posted on the Yahoo Romance Comics Group that Dick Giordano left this world 10 days ago. John linked to his 2001 interview with Mr. Giordano, which is a great read and gives some nice background on his involvement with romance comics. So I'm just putting the link here as well in case anyone seeing this blog would also like to read it. Thanks John: John Lustig Interview With Dick Giordano

Saturday, April 3, 2010

African American History Month Reprise: Sgt. Fury 6 - "The Fangs of the Fox"

Central to any consideration of the introduction of African American characters into mainstream comic books of the 1960s has to be issue #6 of Sgt. Fury (March 1964), a Lee/Kirby masterpiece with inking by George Roussos. The whole series promotes a view of harmonious relations between all ethnic groups and races in America as desirable, simply by virtue of the diversity of the Howling Commandos themselves. You have a Jewish American (Izzy Cohen), Italian- (Dino Manelli), Irish- (Dum-Dum Dugan), African- (Gabriel Jones), and originally three Anglo-Americans, two from the north (Fury himself and Junior, who gets killed early in the series) and one from the South (Rebel Ralston). But issue 6 of this series is one that takes the bull of racism by the horns, brings it out in the open and slays it for all to see.
As the cover suggests, the story is "based on a little known incident of the North African campaign", so right away you know Rommell and the Afrika Korps are going to be part of the tale, and Monty's British Desert Rats are going to show up at some point. The expertise with which this story is written, though, is evident from the way the reader is led to believe that the mission to get Rommell is the main plot, and that the racist issue is a sub-plot - it's not evident at all from the cover. By the end of the book the former fizzles out and the latter provides the main punch. The story was clearly written to get a strong point across on racism.

Back to the story of issue 6. Leaving aside the details of the mission, just suffice to say it's all going on in North Africa, the Howlers are given a replacement for Junior who was lost two issues previous. Fury notices something strange about the new guy, George Stonewell. First of all Fury puts it down to their new man maybe trying to impress him with his toughness, now that he's with the Howling Commandos, but when they enter the barracks all is revealed:
Fury sure doesn't mince his words. Notice how Stonewell assumes that 'Rebel' is a racist because he's from the South. In Wally Wood's "Perimeter" (Frontline Combat 15 by EC, Jan 1954) Wood used a similar scenario to undermine the stereotype of all Southerners being racists. In fact this story feels like it draws a lot of inspiration from Wood's 1954 standard setter.

Now as I'm sure anyone in the armed forces will tell you, the most important people to any soldier are the other members of his/her unit. I hasten to add that I do not speak from direct experience here, but from what I have learned from a colleague who is a veteran. Their lives are inter-dependent at a level most other people don't experience. So disharmony is, unsurprisingly, a danger to everyone concerned. A couple of times during this story the point is made that racial disharmony is a direct threat to the lives of soldiers - Stonewell, in considering himself superior to Izzy and Gabe, doesn't think them capable of handling the mission, and his clumsy attempts to take over their roles nearly gets them killed a couple of times. Here's the first incident, where mistrust of Gabriel's abilities almost ends in disaster and does reach a flashpoint between Jones and Stonewell that Fury has to break up and suppress with some serious threats:
In a kind of interlude, because Stonewell speaks German, Fury wants to use him to communicate with a captured Nazi officer. It is during this conversation that Nazi anti-semitism and racism against African Americans back home are equated:
Then comes the incident in which Stonewell tries to take over Izzy's role because he thinks Jewish people are incapable inferiors. Again this exposes the two commandos to unnecessary danger, as their conflict alerts the enemy to their presence. Yet when the chips are down the two fight as a team, and Stonewell deals the blow that frees them from their immediate danger, but in the process he's hit by grenade shrapnel. Izzy has to carry him to their rescue by Fury and the rest of the unit:
So now comes the final anti-racist message, using the same blood transfusion idea seen in the Our Army At War 160 story "What is the Color of Your Blood?" (November 1965) featuring Jackie Johnson and the Nazi heavyweight boxer. Gabe has the same rare AB blood type as Stonewell, who won't survive without a transfusion. Sgt. Fury 6 predates OAAW 160 by 18 months, but Bob Kanigher was using the blood transfusion theme in his Sgt. Rock stories well before this issue of Sgt. Fury. Remember the story "A New Kind of War" (March 1961) featuring Sgt. Rock and the nurse in Our Army At War 104, where she offers her blood to save Rock's life? In that one I think the point was being made about the bravery of nurses in war, and their willingness to sacrifice part of what keeps them alive, or even their own life, for that of their patient. Here the blood transfusion is being used to show that there's no difference between black and white. It makes the 'one drop of blood' rule look ridiculous.
The final page sees Stonewell preparing to depart, reassigned after making his recovery thanks to Gabe, and being saved by Izzy, the two men whose racial and ethnic backgrounds had led him to despise them. Stonewell has changed, but he's not fully reformed by any means. It's taken a lifetime of conditioning to turn him into the bigot he is, and in his case it isn't something that is going to go away too easily. But there's hope, and the last panel summarizes the message the story was putting across.
So ends one of the few major anti-racist comic books of the decade, the first in the 1960s to directly and openly confront racism.