Monday, December 28, 2009

Latino/Spanish Artists at Charlton: Demetrio (6) - Secret Romance 33

"The Love Goddess" (July 1975) is an eight page Demetrio story set in the motion picture industry. Richard Wharton and his wife Eliza (you don't need me to tell you this is a thinly veiled reference to Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) have fought throughout their stormy marriage. Wendy, a young actress, gets swept away with the fantasy of marrying Richard as he romances her in front of his wife, and proposes they wed after he divorces Eliza. Having been warned by Steve Romano (who is seriously in love with Wendy) that Richard is just using her to annoy his wife, and that Wendy is the latest in a string of girls who all thought things would be different with them, Wendy forges ahead with the relationship with Richard, despite the awkward fact that he is married. It's public knowledge that Richard and Eliza aren't getting along, so apparently this justifies, in Wendy's mind, her being the 'other woman' in Richard's infidelity.
What Wendy really can't grasp is that Richard is still going through his mid-life crisis - he's moving towards/into old age and he's in big time denial about the natural aging process as it applies to his physical body. Being an actor he's used to adopting different personae, so he slips easily into playing the still young mature guy. Don't you love the way Demetrio draws Eliza's and Wendy's hair? And who is the colorist on these Demetrio stories? Nice job!
Despite the obvious chemistry between herself and Steve, Wendy continues to be carried along by her infatuation with the illusion that Richard presents. But as Steve predicted, Eliza won't allow it to go too far, although she is not exactly the bitch about it that we'd been led to expect. Instead she gives Wendy a fairly good shove in the right direction by setting up a rendezvous for her with Steve, after first counteracting the spell that her husband had cast over the younger woman by letting her see him without his props. What was she thinking? Really! And she knows it - she was bewildered by Richard's charm and status, but now she has all the facts she sees which side her bread is buttered on. Yes that young, handsome man Steve, who adores her so, will make a much more appropriate lover and father for her future children. Age gaps can be okay, but this one wasn't right, not by a long way. And Wendy should have known better than to go messing with a married man. Does she really want the reputation that goes with that? I don't think so.

Latino/Spanish Artists at Charlton: Demetrio (5) - Teen Confessions 89

"Running Wild" by Demetrio in the June 1975 issue of Charlton's Teen Confessions lightly touches on one of the darker aspects of the hippie culture of the late 60s and early 70s. Combine 'free love' in its most literal, sexual sense, with ultra-right wing, conservative patriarchy, chauvinism, and sexism, and you have the Hell's Angels, or in the case of this story, some nasty bikers trying to act the part. Rosalie is an unsuspecting young lady wanting to enjoy the apparent freedom of the times, but her boyfriend, Pike Roman, is a member of a biker gang, one that shares its women amongst its members. So Rosalie finds herself having to answer to the gang leader's expectations that she's shared property that he has rights to in terms of sexual enjoyment.
Rosalie's not exactly hip with this scene, but if she wants to hang out with Pike then she has to let Chopper use her whenever he feels like it, and maybe the rest of the gang also. Luckily Rosalie is loved by a square guy with a decent set of values, which include monogamy. His name is Tim, they've been friends for some time, and he has parental approval, but he's too boring for Rosalie in her state of wanting constant kicks. Tim is serious about Rosalie, though, enough to spell out warnings regarding the way she's getting involved with some bad company, although she's not ready to listen. Tim isn't afraid to approach Rosalie when he sees her at the local cafe with Pike and Chopper. Chopper seems intent on beating Tim up, but he's reminded that they don't want to draw heat from the Fuzz.Tim isn't intimidated, but leaves because it is Rosalie's desire that he does so. He obviously doesn't go too far away though, as he's on hand later to come to Rosalie's rescue.

Chopper and Pike take Rosalie and another girl to a secluded spot where they usually have their way with their chicks. Rosalie's uncomfortable, but doesn't know what to do until Tim shows up and offers her a way out, which she gladly accepts. But the bikers aren't going to let Tim just waltz in there and steal their girl, so they start working him over, free of the fear of being seen by the police. Rosalie has to act fast to save Tim, and she runs over to his car and uses it to ram the two bikers' machines. This chaotic event serves to momentarily distract Chopper and Pike from punching Tim, and he manages to reach his car and Rosalie drives him away. She's learned her lesson for sure, and won't be in a hurry to associate with those low life bikers again.

Tim's chivalrous cavalry charge has opened Rosalie's eyes to what had been developing between them all along, and we're left with sufficient evidence to conclude that they're going to live happily ever after. Another nice 9-page job, another pretty girl, by Demetrio.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Nurse Romance Stories: All True Romance 14 - Go Ask Alice! Even Drug-Addicted Nurses Can Reform!

All True Romance 14 (November 1953, published by Comic Media) is a sought-after issue because of its doubly desirable nurse and marijuana combo story "Dread Past". Young Alice Cagen was led astray by bad association, as "every night, the prim little nurse in the white uniform became transformed into a wild-eyed, frenzied dope addict!", stealing morphine from the hospital to add to the marijuana procured by her dubious boyfriend, Jack Dillon. The story starts near the end, followed by a two-page flashback covering Alice's sordid earlier life, brought about by her finding herself as Jack's anesthetist when he's brought into the hospital bleeding internally after being shot while trying to escape the law.

Alice and Jack end up getting busted along with their dope fiend buddies. While Jack goes down for two years, Alice gets a year and emerges from prison a reformed woman, ready for a fresh start.

Alice moves to a new area and gets work in a hospital experiencing a nursing shortage (certainly true to life there), where she and the doctor in charge soon fall in love with each other, he proposes, and she says "Yes", despite the nagging worry over what he'd say if he knew about her troubled past. Alice gets promoted to anesthetist, and things are going well until the cops bring in the wounded Jack Dillon, and Alice is faced with the possibility that Jack will expose the truth about her, and she'll lose the doctor she's about to marry.

Alice has the power of life and death in her hands as she administers the anesthetic to Jack, and succumbs to the temptation to take the easy way out and give him just a little too much ether and silence him forever. But at the crucial moment her conscience wins out, and she withdraws from her plan to kill Jack only to see him die on the operating table. Feeling intense guilt, Alice runs away, but Dr. Mark Gibson gets to the railroad station just in time to prevent her flight. She comes clean about her past, and about her thoughts of murdering Jack, but Mark explains that Jack was already dying when he came into the hospital, his internal bleeding leading to his final death, nothing to do with ether. Mark absorbs and adjusts to this new information about his fiancee rapidly, and the wedding is still on! It all goes to prove that the reformatory powers of our criminal justice system can even help those weak-willed nurses with their hands in the medicine cabinet, and doctors are above the petty stigmatizing that the rest of us mortals in society sink to when we discover someone has a criminal record.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Friendly Skies?

During the 1940s Marvel Comics had a massive teen/young adult humor presence, with titles like Tessie the Typist, Millie the Model, Hedy Devine, and Nellie the Nurse, these mentioned here representing four of the most commonly accepted careers for women at the time - secretary, fashion modeling, actress, and nurse respectively. These female gendered occupations turn up throughout the 1950s and early/mid-60s in romance comics. One theme already noted by Jaques Nodell on her blog, Sequential Crush, is that of the woman finding romance and then surrendering her career to become a home-maker. Another female gendered occupation of note is that of air hostess or airline stewardess, which appears from time to time in the romance genre, most notably in DC's early run of Young Romance. This cover here is from 1950, My Own Romance 14 (Marvel), which shows just the scenario mentioned above in the process of taking place, unless it gets derailed by the intentions of the rival for the pilot's affections.

The Heart of Great Super-Hero Epics

It isn't that astonishing to find that love makes the super-hero world go round. Lois has her Clark, Peter Parker his Mary Jane, Mr. Fantastic has Mrs. Fantastic - well, Invisible Girl/Woman, Wonder Woman her Steve Trevor, and so on. But perhaps one of the most intensely love-driven super-heroes is the Silver Surfer, alias Norrin Radd of the planet Zenn La. Norrin, and his sweetheart, the gorgeous Shalla Bal, were sorting through Norrin's restlessness, when events took a fateful turn. Zenn La had a peaceful, technologically advanced civilization that had outgrown war, and so was defenseless when the planet consuming entity known as Galactus arrived there to feed:

Norrin sacrificed his freedom and became Galactus's herald in order to save his home planet, and Shalla Bal, from destruction, and so the romance of the young couple became one that spanned vast tracts of space.

All that was recounted in Silver Surfer 1 (which embellished Jack Kirby's original saga of the Silver Surfer from the pages of the Fantastic Four). The first few issues of the Silver Surfer showcase what was probably John Buscema's career pinnacle, despite the volumes of work he produced subsequently. Certainly in contention for his best ever work is Silver Surfer 3, which introduced the supremely evil and malevolent Mephisto, who simultaneously despised the Surfer for his purity and integrity, and at the same time desired to gain control of the Surfer's soul. To this latter end he quickly realized that the Surfer's one weakness was his love for Shalla Bal (although it could also be considered a strength), and through several issues of the series he plots to capture his prize, the Surfer's soul, using Shalla Bal's well-being as his bargaining chip.

Norrin's and Shalla Bal's love proves stronger than Mephisto's sinister plans, but the cost is that, although brought together for the first time since Norrin became the Surfer (now confined to Earth for disobeying Galactus and fighting against him to save Earth), they are again parted. In Silver Surfer 10, however, Shalla Bal returns, with the help of Norrin Radd's rival for her affections, the twisted and evil Yarro Gort. They travel by space craft from Zenn La to Earth, where they find the Surfer entangled in a Latin American freedom fight, a struggle of the people against their would be conquerors and dictators. The Surfer has rescued the beautiful and passionate Maria Perez from her captors, and as he flies her to safety Maria shows her gratitude with a kiss, which happens to be what Shalla Bal sees on the spaceship's view screen as the Zenn La craft approaches. Shalla Bal erroneously concludes that she has lost her lover.

As this story continues in the next issue, Yarro Gort of course hooks up with the bad guys, hoping to destroy the Surfer in the process and make Shalla Bal his. Sharing his technology with the oppressors, Gort goes to turn it on the Surfer, and as Shalla Bal tries to stop him she is gunned down. Despite his godlike powers (Stan had to keep the separation of the Surfer and Shalla Bal going for the sake of future plot lines), the Surfer is unable to mend Shalla Bal's wounds, and arranges her return to Zenn La, while Yarro Gort has met the demise he so richly deserved.

Finally (in the original Silver Surfer series) Mephisto returns with Shalla Bal again, and issue 16 ends with him making a deal with the Surfer - the Surfer's soul for Shalla Bal's life, and to prove his surrender to Mephisto, the Surfer must attack S.H.I.E.L.D. This becomes the plot for issue 17:

Mephisto is such a baddie that he substitutes Shalla Bal for one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. office staff so that when the Surfer arrives to keep his part of the bargain with the devil, he will destroy his love along with the S.H.I.E.L.D. facility. Somehow, however, Nick Fury and his group are able to capture and imprison the Surfer, but when he becomes aware that Shalla Bal is outside his prison cell with Mephisto, those thick walls can't keep the Surfer from his heart's desire.

One issue later the series was canceled, and the rest is history. But whatever twists and turns the Surfer's saga took later on, that lost love that could never be, between Norrin Radd and his Shalla Bal, is really what drives this definitive series, just as much as the Surfer's despair at the shortcomings of the human race, and his persecution at the hands of those he always helps. John Buscema did draw some nice romance stories for Marvel around the same time as his Silver Surfer work, and made a great romance artist.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Mysterious Matt Baker

Just why is it, when Matt Baker is acknowledged as one of the greatest, if not THE greatest romance comic artist, that we know so little about him? My answer to that question is that he was African American, possibly the first African American to work in comics. He lived and worked in a segregated America, whose comics portrayed a bleached society in denial of its own diversity. Matt Baker clearly did his job well, but passed away before he could receive the public recognition that his work deserved and is given, as far as is possible, nowadays. Baker's work is rare, sought after, and expensive. Why expensive? Looking at the cover of Teen-Age Romances 37 (above) it's not hard to see why. He's every bit a Norman Rockwell, but more dynamic.He understands so well how people move, and his figures are full of expression, not static or starched. He's especially good at drawing beautiful women, and while he is most widely known for Phantom Lady, his romance art is arguably his most accomplished.

A Google search doesn't bring up much background on Baker. There used to be a website with some biographical material, but it no longer exists. He's the subject of some online encyclopaedia entries:

But basically its going to be difficult to ever know much about the man who left us such an impressive portfolio of wonderful art.
Anyone for tennis?

The story from Teen-Age Romances 37 (pictured at top of entry), entitled "Thrill-seekers' Weekend", is one of a number of Baker classics from St. John comics featured in John Benson's invaluable compilation Romance Without Tears (2003. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books). 11 Baker-illustrated stories, written by Dana Dutch, are contained therein, along with some gorgeous Baker covers. It is still obtainable new and used through Amazon:

as is Benson's companion volume, Confessions, Romances, Secrets, and Temptations: Archer St. John and the St. John Romance Comics (2007. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books) which delves into the background of the St. John Publishing company, and contains a three page interview with Matt Baker's half brother, Fred Robinson:

Thanks to Dark Horse, we're also able to enjoy It Rhymes With Lust (2007. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Books), Baker's ground-breaking 128 page St. John digest size masterpiece, that has claims to be the first graphic novel:

and which carries a short, one-page bio of Baker on the last page.

Baker's work suffers or benefits depending on who his inker is. Undoubtedly his St. John work gets some of the best, if not the best treatment, while I've seen Atlas obscure Baker's pencils almost beyond recognition. To finish, here's a Quality Comics, middle-of-the-road piece of Baker. Nice cover, and a short, six-page story (the entire comic can be downloaded from Golden Age Comics Dowloads). "Was He Ashamed Of Me?" echoes the theme of my previous post - again the uncertainty of whether love is possible between people who come from different socio-economic strata:

Post-script: not by Matt Baker, but this cover of Young Brides 27 refers back to my comment at the end of the previous post. It's another tortured individual who deems herself unfit to interact with the wealthy: