Thursday, 7 February 2013

Young Romance Valentine's Day Special #1

Young Romance was one of DC's titles aimed at female readers, an anthology of one-offs and serials that ran from the Forties until the Seventies, notching up an impressive 208 issues. Here's the title revived for the new millennium, and the new millennium audience; instead of college girls, nurses and young wives, it's all superheroes and villains. OK, received wisdom is that a straightforward update on the classics would never sell to today's DC audience of teenage boys and old gits like me - but would this title at least have the soul, and wonky charm, of the original romance comics?

It may break your heart to hear it, but the answer, for the most part, is 'no'. Kenneth Rocafort's decidedly unromantic cover - Superman grinding his Phantom Zone projector into Wonder Woman - pretty much says it all. Let's take a look at the six strips on offer:

  • Catwoman thinks back to the day she met Batman, a February 14, as luck would have it. She's robbing from her neighbours with the help of some guy named Billy (is he brother, is he boyfriend? Writer Ann Nocenti doesn't deign to tell us). Batman stops the robbery and gives Selina the chance to become a better person. We're not told why, presumably he sees something there worth encouraging - skintight leather and massive boobs? In the present, Selina is rather pathetic, having not taken on board Batman's hint that she might be more than a thief in fetish gear - she could be a heroine in fetish fear. Nocenti's script is serviceable, but nothing to cross the street for, and would fit into Catwoman's own series just fine. The art by Emanuela Lupaccino, though, is gorgeous, with real animation and character alongside the surface gloss.
  • In Gotham City, Batgirl is smoked out by petty crook Ricky, who lost his foot during a run-in with a supervillain in the regular series. He's lovesick after she kissed him in a feint to save his life. He wants another snog, Batgirl explains why that would be a terrible idea. And kisses him anyway. Which I kinda liked, as it's a crap, very human decision. And I love that a guy so apparently out of Batgirl's league is taking her advice and dreaming big. We're promised a continuation of this storyline in writer Ray Fawkes' first of two Batgirl fill-ins, #17. There's a nice urban feel to the illustrations of Julian Gopez, but his Batgirl lacks the allure needed in a story turning on sexual chemistry. I blame the ugly current costume - Gopez draws it so realistically that Batgirl may as well be a man. And even more than with the Catwoman story, this isn't special enough to merit a place in a St Valentine's title - it stars a character with her own book, spins out of a story that took place there, and feeds back into it: Batgirl is where these pages should appear. (Incidentally, I know there's a talented artist named Julian Lopez - we're not dealing with a typo in Mr Gopez, are we?)
  • Peter Milligan and Simon Bisley serve up a character study of Midnighter and Apollo, showing their nascent romance has turned distinctly rocky. And surprise surprise, we're advised to find out more by reading their home book, Stormwatch. Veterans Milligan and Bisley demonstrate the craft you might expect, but this just isn't very interesting.
  • Nightwing stars in ... oh, doesn't he have a book of his own too? Anyway, his love life is all to pot because he's out fighting crime, you know how it is. He meets a bodyguard named Ursa Major and they get on rather well, but the path of true love, etc. Ignore the awful Ursa Major design - she looks like a tween at a pyjama party - and Kyle Higgins and Sanford Greene deserve credit for a bittersweet offering.
  • Wonder Woman and Superman are on a date in their civvies, when Diana's cousin Eros and a couple of sirens throw a spanner in the works. There's a clever ending, if you can stomach a lot of saccharine, but I'd rather be re-reading this encounter between Superman, Wonder Woman and Eros. This short is notable mainly as upcoming Action Comics writer Andy Diggle's first story featuring Superman. It's fine, as is the art by Robson Rocha and Julio Ferreira, but eminently missable.
  • You know what? There is one great story in this issue, and while it features a character with a book of his own, there's no way Cecil Castellucci's sweet, clever Aquaman tale would fit into the regular series - for one thing, there's not a single impalement. Aquaman's wife Mera discovers centuries-old letters telling a tragic love story centred on a woman who once lived in the lighthouse shared by the heroes, and the sailor she adored. The action shifts between the Regency-era romance and the attempts of Aquaman and Mera to save lives during a storm, and the juxtapositions work wonderfully well. Doing his share of the heavy lifting is Inaki Miranda, obviously having a whale of a time with the Jane Austen-era stylings of the flashbacks - and of course, the young lovers are drawn to resemble Aquaman and Mera. Enchanting.
So, one great story, one decent tale and an awful lot of fluffy filler that belongs elsewhere. I realise DC needs - or at least thinks they need - headine acts to bring in the punters, but does every strip have to feature a series character? Look, there's Wonder Woman and Superman on the ick-worthy cover, why not let them anchor the book and feature characters who might actually benefit from a spotlight? Cyborg is always good for some romantic angst. What's Static up to on Valentine's Day? Who's this Element Girl currently in the Justice League/Aquaman crossover, she must have a weird love life? Why not a single story done as a homage to the occasionally kitschy, sometimes brilliant romance stories celebrated by Jacque Nodell over at her Sequential Crush blog?

You can likely think of better ideas but the point remains, why not make a special special? Something different, rather than more of the DC New 52 same? Especially when we're being charged a whopping $7.99 for 48 pages of story. That's just four more pages than you'd get with a couple of $2.99 books; even the 'free collectible' of cute mini-St Valentine's cards doesn't make this comic worth the money. The production design is excellent, from the classic-style logo to the heart-enclosed folios via the contents page, but overall this is a missed opportunity.

And I wanted to love it.

12 comments:

  1. So this DC comic turned out to be a bust, but hey, this week was also Jeff Lemire's first issue of Green Arrow! At least there was something else much better to enjoy, even if it wasn't romantic.

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    1. Ah yes, never got to GA last night, good to hear it's promising.

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  2. I've often spoken about the Wonder Litmus Test, wherein Wondie is paired off with an upper-level hero in order to increase his machismo quotient. (Interestingly, Donna Troy had one of her own, but with lesser heroes.) Before DC went all nu52, they got WW together with Aquaman, just in time to herald his new position as the Big Man Not to Be Messed With at DC, as opposed to the classic "Aquaman suuux!" character.

    Now they have Supes and Wondie together. Yawn. Their similarities/possibilities cancel each other out. Which needs the boost more, I wonder? Supes is already supposedly DC's epitome of caped testosterone. From what I hear, Wondie is the epitome of un-caped testosterone these days. Can this pairing do either any good?

    Thanks, but I think I'll instead indulge in a REAL romance book—which I can get at a lower price for something that will take me several hours to read and sniffle at. Hello, Julia Quinn, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jenny Crusie, etc!

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    1. PS: Loved the "Phantom Zone projector" phrase!

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    2. Yeah, I'm heartily sick of Diana being positioned as Trophy Woman - there was that Batman business too, yechh. So the 'romance' is reflected in Superman's book, but not Diana's own (well, so far as I know, I ain't reading!).

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    3. There is an amazing essay floating around that talks about how both Wonder Woman and Lois Lane both "alphas" in their own domains prior to this stunt (Wondy in her world and Lois at the Daily Planet) have been reduced and slowly chipped away and weakened every since this insulting stunt with Superman and Wonder Woman.

      It's eye opening. Really eye opening. Diana is written more and more passive. The art in this issue drew her like Megan Fox. She had vacant eyes and huge, male oriented cleavage. Lois' character has been slowly chipped away and chipped away and pushed aside.

      It's really eye opening. This "romance" is not only not romantic but it has had deeply misogynist effects on two powerful female icons. That's the harsh truth.

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    4. Martin, I will say I liked the romance between Batman and Wonder Woman on the old Justice League Unlimited show, it was for the most part nicely subtle.

      And while Carol beat me to to it, have to tell you that reading "Superman grinding his Phantom Zone projector into Wonder Woman" made my day. Thanks.

      BTW-What would you say is the most romantic comic you ever read? I have to say the panels from the DC Horror anthology (I think) you put up a while back with the couple bringing 'color' to the surroundings by the last panel on the page was up there.

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    5. Hi, Anon, I shall do a search for that essay, not that I'll need convincing.

      Mr Whiskas, I think I have all the JLU so will try to find those episodes and watch them. Cheers for the kind words on Superman's attributes. And what a great question, good choice. I've been thinking about this for a couple of days and am going with The Brave and the Bold #197, by Alan Brennert and Joe Staton, revealing how the Earth 2 Batman and Catwoman got together - a beautiful tale. And anyone whose never seen Jim Aparo's cover is in for a treat:
      http://www.comics.org/issue/37273/cover/4/

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  3. Valentine's day is about cheese,and sickly sweetness. Come on and this book is clearly aimed at a younger crowd who frankly are not as uptight about what constitutes "love" as some mature readers seem to be. IMO.

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    1. Well good look getting the kids to fork out $7.99!

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    2. I'm a 20 something. I consider myself a young reader. I LOVE romance stories. But there was nothing romantic about this book. The cover was gross and degrading and the stories were stupid.

      You know what I ::would:: have found romantic? A great story about Lois and Clark with some inspiration taken from the final season of Smallville. Because say what you will about the mistakes that show made (and they made plenty) but their romance between Lois and Clark was so romantic and sexy it made my insides ache.\

      The 200th episode where they slow dance in the barn and then lift off the ground? The love making? THAT is superhero romance. If I want to watch great superhero romance I'll go for Superman but it won't be with Wonder Woman, man.

      And frankly, as a Wonder woman fan as well, I found the story with Supes to be totally insulting. Could this company do more to make it clear that this is all about HIM and that Diana and Lois are just pawns in this game?


      Having Wonder Woman say it's noble to lie? Wonder Woman would NEVER say that. Having Superman break the lasso? Unheard of and a total disrespect to Wonder Woman officially putting Superman above her power level. That is her SPECIAL weapon. Having Superman stop the bullet? Again, total disrespect. Diana herself couldn't stop those bullets in her own book and she loves EVERYONE. It was absolutely terrible. Also, I'd like to see where these characters fell "in love" considering they've been on like 2 dates and a few short issues ago Superman was still standing outside Lois's door like a puppy in heat.

      I love romance. I love cheese. I love sickly sweetness. But if I want to find it with DC characters...I know where to look for it. There is a GREAT V-Day issue from a few years back with Lois and Clark. If I want a V-day comic i'll read that or watch Smallville or something. This? No thanks.

      -Audrey

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    3. Thank you Audrey, for the excellent points. The only one I might disagree with is the bullets business. If anyone is faster than a speeding bullet, it's Superman ... then again, it's a MAGICAL speeding bullet, Superman has zero defence. So yes, it's dumb.

      And the disrespect for Lois and Diana is painful.

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