Monday, June 14, 2010

Nurse Romance Stories: Love At First Sight 7 - "The Man I Couldn't Have"

Ace romance comics, judging from those in my collection, are physically relatively narrow compared to those of other companies, St. John for example. They also seem to go for these painted portrait covers, but not exclusively. The nurse romance story in issue 7, "The Man I Couldn't Have", while set in a hospital, follows one particular romance story formula - that of the two future couples with partners destined for each other but mixed up in the beginning. The tale starts with Nurse Roa Kent tending to accident victim Andy Hunter. Andy feels bad about his secretary, Serena Barbour, also injured in the accident. She was only in the car because he had asked her to drive home with him. It's not indicated exactly what their relationship had been before their hospitalization, but Andy is quick to propose, and Serena accepts. Roa finds herself somewhat disturbed by this event, and as time goes by she starts to realize she has feelings for Andy. When he asks her to be his private nurse once he's discharged, she declines, even though her heart is all for it. She doesn't want to come between Andy and his betrothed. Despite now being engaged to Serena, however, Andy starts making overtures to Roa - what's going on???
Andy blurts it out - he's in love with Roa. But Roa's own personal code of ethics will not let her involve herself with Andy and hurt Serena. She hands Andy's case over to another nurse. Then Andy's Doctor, Wentworth, starts pushing Roa for a date, despite her protestations that nurses dating doctors are frowned upon by the hospital authorities. Andy, however, assumes that Roa's brush off results from her being romantically involved with Wentworth. Roa tries to make it clear that Andy now has a responsibility to Serena, to whom he is engaged. Serena also now is disabled, making it doubly important to Roa that she not cause the injured woman any further grief. Yet on her date with Ned Wentworth she can't get Andy off her mind, and Ned notices. He realizes he's not going to make any progress with Roa. She's too smitten with Andy.
To quieten Andy's ardor, Roa tells him she engaged to Ned. In her thoughts we see her one hundred percent determined not to steal a disabled woman's fiancee. This was a time when people knew right from wrong and some were prepared to suffer rather than take the wrong path. Andy discharges himself from the hospital, and for the next week Roa hears nothing from Ned, until she's called to assist in Serena's surgery, which is successful. The plot gets really sudsy here, with Andy not quite given the opportunity to state his love for Serena, and Serena apologizing for having kissed Ned out of gratitude for being able to walk normally again. There's a lot of unspoken feelings, but they're all welling to the surface for the finale to this romance tale. In the evening Ned and Roa go dancing and the Doctor gives it one last shot and again asks Roa to marry him.
What Roa doesn't know is that Ned Wentworth has set up a situation that is going to bring everything out into the open. He's already cured Serena to reduce Roa's potential feelings of guilt should she end up with Andy, but he has a further strategy up his sleeve. Knowing that Andy is in love with Roa and that he will leap to her defense, he asks Roa to slap him in the face as if he'd made an improper suggestion. Serena's disgust with Andy's conduct and her sympathy towards Ned is also apparently something the Doctor had predicted. He's read the characters well. There's a double wedding, and Roa can love her man free of guilt.
Although the prevailing opinion is that romance comics are dead because these kinds of stories don't reflect today's reality, I'm starting to challenge that viewpoint in my own mind. While the plots of these romance stories appear contrived, the feelings people have, the emotional turmoil that some go through in their relationships, or their search for love, are not so unreal. Today they may take on a new face, but they're still the subject of romantic movies, t.v. shows, novels, and the anguished confidential talks of people of all ages going through relationships. Without it, in fact, we might completely lose the human condition. We might as well be machines with no feelings. Maybe that's why these old romance books are so fascinating, even though we quip about their cheesiness. On some level perhaps we're connecting with an essential truth about ourselves as human beings. Not for everybody, obviously, although I think that if more people were exposed to romance comics there would be a revival of interest. It certainly isn't true that the genre is dead. Romance manga abound. Could a revival of the American romance comic book be nearer than we think!?

The image of nurses presented by this story adheres to the self-sacrificing angel idea. Roa doesn't want to break the hospital 'rules' about nurse-doctor romance, and she puts aside her own desires so as not to harm Serena. Roa is an honest, principled person (even though she had to tell a white lie about being engaged to Ned so that Andy would discontinue his advances and his betrayal of Serena). Note that the older nurse, Miss Perkins, isn't married - she's the archetypal career nurse spinster who has sacrificed marriage and family for her work - maybe she just wasn't pretty enough to snag a doctor or a rich patient! And so the stereotypes unfold. Roa in this story falls in love with her patient, and the doctor falls in love with his patient, so it seems this phenomenon afflicts the wider medical profession. If you're single and a patient, watch out! In the beginning, though, the doctor was hoping the nurse would fall in love with him. The female nurse is the male doctor's assistant and subordinate. Nurses are mostly pretty, young, white women, who work at the bedside in hospitals or for private patients, and who accept orders from male doctors. Otherwise they are older, not so pretty, white women who never got it together to get married and have kids, and who still have to take orders from male doctors.


  1. KB: The quality of your scans and posts keep getting better & better~! The painted St. Johns covers are really wonderful. Enjoyed your Nurse posts immensely~ especially that hard to find post code Simon & Kirby issue with the incredible brushwork art by (?)(name hard to read).

    Look forward to your next theme ;~j

  2. Lysdexicuss: That S&K issue was a nice one. That artist was Jo Albistur - had to look him up because i couldn't read his signature clearly from the page, and it certainly wasn't one I recognized. I've been doing a lot of scanning lately as each nurse story I come across in my collection needs to be scanned for the project my wife and I are working on. I'm going to post them all on this blog eventually, but after initially processing the scans with Picasa, I make another copy and reduce those so that they fit into the software we're using for our content analysis. Just over a month left to meet our editor's deadline hence the furious scanning. The scanner actually broke down on Sunday - only 2 years old but well used. Had to order a replacement, so I'm waiting for that at the moment. Still have more scans than I have time to post at the moment.

    I do like the painted Ziff-Davis and St. Johns covers myself, especially those on Romantic Marriage, Cinderella Love, and Perfect Love. I have some real beauties in my collection. Of course, the Matt Baker line drawn covers are in a league of their own. Wish I had more of those but they are usually around $30-$40 a pop in reasonable condition. Those I do have are pretty beat up.

  3. "Today they may take on a new face, but they're still the subject of romantic movies, t.v. shows, novels, and the anguished confidential talks of people of all ages going through relationships. Without it, in fact, we might completely lose the human condition."

    This is EXACTLY what distinguished Marvel's 1960s superhero comics from those of other publishers. It's hard to read Daredevil, Thor, Spider-man, or Fantastic Four without realizing that Stan Lee infused superhero tales with romance comics subplots. Long after I had forgotten the specific fights between superheroes and super-villains, I remembered Sue's indecision regarding Reed and Sub-mariner, Daredevil's longing for Karen Page, the budding and dissolution of a relationship between Peter Parker and Betty Brant, and Thor's conflict with Odin regarding his love of a "mere mortal."

    That's also probably the reason why over at DC I enjoyed the Lois Lane stories more than those of the other members of the "Superman family." Lois was frequently shown in tears and grief, and her "imaginary stories" almost always focused on her marriage to someone.

  4. Anonymous: I agree regarding Marvel's infusion of romance sub-plots. DC comics were not without them, but they had a different flavor and situated their characters in a different socioeconomic category that maybe didn't connect with the readers as much. Yes, definitely to your comment about the Lois Lane comics, plus many had that irresistible Kurt Schaffenberger artwork that made Lois look so cute. Others there were - Mystery in Space (Adam Strange and Alanna), Flash (Barry Allen & Iris West), The Atom (Ray Palmer & Jean Loring), Green Lantern (Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris/Star Sapphire), Wonder Woman (Diana Prince/WW & Steve Trevor), Ralph (Elongated Man) Dibny and his wife Sue, Hawkman & Hawkgirl, who were also a married couple, and later on the relationship between Green Arrow & Black Canary. So late 50s and 1960s DC comics had their opportunities for romance, and these were definitely sub-plots in those series, but they somehow didn't resonate as well as Marvel's at the time, especially in the late 60s. I totally agree that the romantic elements of the Marvel stories were far and away more interesting in the long term than the details of the battles with the villains. What would happen when Peter finally met Mary Jane? Would Johnny and Crystal's relationship last? Would Doc Strange and Clea ever get the opportunity to be together? Ben Grimm & Alicia... Sgt. Fury and Pamela Hawley...