Saturday, June 19, 2010

Nurses At War: Our Fighting Forces 53 - "The Gunner and the Nurse"

This Jan/Feb 1960 issue of DC's Our Fighting Forces (#53) features a great Joe Kubert cover, not included here. The set of scans I have available (not mine) has a defaced cover. The splash page is the same scenario as the cover but redrawn by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, who are the story artists in this one.
The script is by Robert Kanigher and follows his formula which uses the first half of the story to set the scene and lay the groundwork for the introduction of the main idea. This first section ends with Gunner taking a rest in a trench after some enemy action has been dealt with.
It should be mentioned that Gunner and Sarge are on a Pacific island. Gunner wakes up from his nap to find a gorgeous army nurse looking down at him. She's on a mission to kiss every American hero on the island, and Gunner is about to be a beneficiary of this enterprise when Sarge steps in and whisks the nurse off on a tour of their habitat. Sarge is also berating his subordinate in front of the lady, which frustrates Gunner even more. Suddenly the group is set upon by a couple of enemy troops, and Sarge has to take the responsibility of dealing with them while Gunner protects the nurse. When the skirmish is over it puts Sarge even more in the hero's light, and the nurse plants one of her hero award kisses on him, which winds Gunner up even more.
Sarge utilizes the rest of Nurse Julie's visit to impress her with his battle tales, but when it comes time for her to leave, Gunner is entrusted with the job of taking her back out to the ship. Just as he delivers her on board and is saying farewell, the vessel is struck by an enemy torpedo and they are forced into the lifeboat as the ship starts to sink. Before they can reach safety a Japanese Zero joins the attack and strafes them with its machine guns. Gunner shoots back but is clipped by the Zero's wing on its first pass. As it comes round a second time Gunner opens up and downs the plane, saving Julie's life. When Julie pulls herself back together after her near death experience, she gives Gunner that kiss he's been craving, sending him into a state of bliss.
Some panels stand out, like this one where Gunner takes on the enemy plane.
Julie comes across as a confident, assertive young woman, very feminine but ultimately supportive of male dominance. Although in some ways acting in a liberated fashion, she also willingly makes herself an object of male exploitation. She has a cute, practical, short hairstyle suitable for war in the Pacific, but is still angelic in overall appearance and demeanor.
Some late 50s/early 60s DC Comics depictions of kissing behavior are quite interesting. In this story we've got a nurse who is consciously going around kissing the soldiers, which undoubtedly would have had an uplifting effect on their morale but in a real life situation might have earned her a questionable reputation. An upcoming post on this blog will examine the phenomenon of the kissing booth and kissing fund-raisers, starting with the example presented by Lois Lane 21 (November 1961). But for now, back to Our Fighting Forces 53.
Essentially, in this story the nurse's presence creates a loose, temporary 'family' situation with Julie and Sarge as the couple, and Gunner in the role of something like a teenage boy. Julie respects Sarge for his manly superiority, justified by his acts of heroism, which Gunner is aching to emulate and finally gets the chance to when he protects the nurse. He's become a man, and Julie will petition the Sarge on his behalf to allow him to engage in 'grown up' activities - going on patrol, much as a mother in a traditional nuclear family might persuade her husband that their son is now ready to drive. Because it's not actually a family, Julie is free to reward Gunner with the adult privilege of a sexy kiss, now that he's proved he's a man.

The image of nurses presented by this story includes that of the sexy nurse, toned down for code approved comics and because DC generally provided respectable reading material appropriate for a younger audience in the Silver Age. So although it's a mild example, nevertheless Julie appears as beautiful, desirable, and importantly for this stereotype, available, and even promiscuous, albeit in this fairly muted way. She's there for men to enjoy. This can be a particularly damaging popular image of nurses and nursing which, in the worst of instances, can encourage sexual harassment and assault of female nurses by male patients and medical staff. It may also have contributed significantly to the lowering of the nurse's professional status in the eyes of the public, something the profession has long fought to counteract with stereotype disconfirming media campaigns. No harm was intended with this story, of course. It was simply using a popular theme from the time -American soldiers loved having nurses around - and surely there were few other western women for them to interact with when they were deployed. I think it's no coincidence that the great war veteran comic book writers and artists reverentially portray nurses in a variety of ways in their stories. I can't think of any examples where nurses are disrespectfully portrayed by them - Jack Kirby's and Bob Kanigher's nurses seem to always be the self-sacrificing angels, and Nurse Julie in this story is also that primarily. She's sacrificing her own safety to see to the well-being of the fighting men. This story does incorporate a little of that sexy nurse image as well, however, although nothing like the way Stan Lee used that image for Nellie the Nurse, the subject of some upcoming posts right here on Out Of This World.

3 comments:

  1. KB: Great observations! I love how you note that Kanigher seemed to have great respect for the nurses. Absolutely! for me, the DC line of war comics of this era always seemed a little more serious, less tongue in cheek, than the Marvel line. Marvel at times could be a little too hip for their own good!

    Great art in this as well. That nurse seems so alive!!!

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  2. Mykal: DC does seem to be the company with historically the greatest integrity. Wertham couldn't say much that held water in terms of criticism of the company's publications. And early post-code DC were the picture of propriety.

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  3. "Nurses at War" is a bit odd thing to chronicle, ya know.

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