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!


  1. Congratulations on the book chapter, that is fantastic! If you need a reader before you turn it in, let me know!

  2. Jacque: Thanks, I will take you up on that offer. It was a piece of good fortune that a book on a topic that could include this topic is being put together. My wife and I are going to do a content analysis of the stories just for images portrayed of nurses and then write it up in 5000 words with a maximum of three illustrations (no comic covers). I responded to a call for papers that was distributed via the comix scholars listserve and this time it was successful. That's also how I got to write a chapter for a book on Captain America before. What I'd like to know is how to approach a publisher with an idea for a book and persuade them to support it. I do have an idea for a book I'd like to work on with you and Aaron the Ghost Who Blogs if you guys are interested, but I don't know how to get that support for the work first. I think it would be something that would sell, but how to find an approach the right publisher?

  3. My sincerest congratulations on your commission for that chapter. I really do look forward to reading it when all your hard work is finished.Well done! Huzzah!

  4. KB! Sorry I didn't see this earlier. I will be sending you an email very soon!!! Sorry for the delay!

  5. colsmi: Thanks for the congrats! Now I have to deliver the chapter!! BTW I acknowledged you in the recent article I submitted to ImageText. If you like you can review the submitted article in pdf version at:

    I'm hoping that the UF English Department who publish the ImageText journal don't ask for any substantial revisions because I don't have a lot of time on my hands. In fact that's an understatement. But I'd appreciate any criticisms/feedback from you if you have time to look at it.

    Jacque: Thanks. I'll watch for your e-mail, Since writing the post above I've come across a potential publisher. I've looked over their proposal form and think it is worth giving them a shot. I'll talk to you more about the whole idea when I hear from you.