In the 1940s and '50s, many preachers, parents and politicians railed against comic books as the cause of juvenile delinquency, tossing around phrases like "seduction of the innocent" and "horror in the nursery." Thanks to a new book, I finally agree with them. I have now read comic book stories that are more horrible than any horror comics, more disturbing than any adventure stories.
The source of this plague? Romance comics.
Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby with "Young Romance" No. 1 (1947), romance comics were aimed at girls, but more than a few boys bought them, too. "Young Romance" No. 1 sold an astounding 92 percent of its press run, and romance comics were some of the bestselling comics in America in the early 1950s.
Some of these romance comics were pretty good, especially those at Crestwood's Prize Publications and St. John Publishing, depicting more or less realistic problems, and strong-minded women with the agency to solve them. But a great many of them were astonishingly bad. In many of them, the moral of the story was for the woman to give up all independence and simply do what she's told by a man. In mindless servitude, the story fairly shouts, lies happiness.
Worse still are the ones that attempted real-world romantic complications — like insanity or drug addiction — and come off so cartoonish that it's clear the writers had no clear understanding of those issues. Or stories where clueless, middle-aged, male writers would attempt to depict "rock and roll" teens of the 1950s, hippies of the '60s and women's libbers of the '70s.
As evidence, I need only present "Weird Love Vol. 1" (IDW, $29.99), collected by Clizia Gussoni and Craig Yoe. Yoe has made a career out of reprinting public domain comics, mostly horror books, but with "Weird Love" he has hit the mother lode.
Subtitled "You Know You Want It!" the book offers such nonuniversal tales as "I Fell for a Commie!" "Love of a Lunatic!" "You Also Snore, Darling!" and "Yes, I Was an Escort Girl!" Laughably bad stories address free love with "Love, Honor and Swing, Baby!" or ask whether a girl can be "Too Fat for Love!" Can love survive if your girl is your boss and whispers those three little words, "You're Fired, Darling!"? And "Weep, Clown, Weep!" addresses the classic dilemma of a girl disapproving of her beau's profession, which in this case involves rubber noses and floppy shoes.
Where else are you going to find dialogue like:
• "I must tolerate Tom's political opinions, even though I can't accept them! My love for him is greater than anything on earth. I can't risk losing him!"
• "He's unbelievable … absolutely wild! But I'll tame him. When I'm through he'll be absolutely domesticated!"
• "Whew! (These drinks) are strong! But I'll have to get used to it if I'm going out with sophisticated people!"
• "Oh, why couldn't we have met under different circumstances? I know he just thinks I'm a good-time girl!"
•"These bikes are keen — I'm having a swell time!"
One corrective for "Weird Love" might be "Rat Queens." Set in a sword-and-sorcery milieu familiar to readers of "Conan the Barbarian," the girls of the title are four mercenaries for hire against threats both mundane and mystic. Their mix of combat styles and tools make them the most formidable force in the city of Palisade, which is chockablock with other mercenary groups.
Yet while the adventuring and goblin-slaying and whatnot is a lot of fun, the real selling point of "Rat Queens" are the personalities of the four. Each is distinct and three-dimensional, with specific and relatable backgrounds. All of these damaged creatures find acceptance with each other that they couldn't find at home. It's grrrl-power, of course, but it's also as realistic as those four girls you knew who hung out behind the gym together in high school.
But this book isn't for the kids. The Queens engage in unrestrained, casual sex; they guzzle booze and drugs shamelessly, and they work out their frustrations by slicing up bad guys.
"Rat Queens Vol. 2: The Far-Reaching Tentacles of N'Rygoth" ($19.99, Image Comics), written by Kurtis Wiebe and drawn by Stjepan Sejic, shipped May 6. "Rat Queens Vol. 1: Sass and Sorcery" also is still available.