Love Hurts: ‘You’re Not A Real Woman — Like Mom! But I Am!’
Ah, romance! As Valentine’s Day lingers on the horizon, it is once again time to turn our thoughts — and our hearts — to love. Or at least, the truly bizarre and occasionally downright mind-boggling version of love that appears in that most dubious of genres, the Romance Comic. Because really, you can’t have enough stories of weepy teenagers wondering if they’ll ever love again.
If you’ve been keeping up with Love Hurts over the past year, then you’re already well aware of how predictable these stories can get. The same elements crop up over and over again, with the same formula of longing, heartache, reconciliation and a dubious moral. Frankly, it can get a little boring, which is why it’s always nice to see a story that takes those elements and combines them in a way that’s completely insane and makes absolutely no sense.Which brings us to today’s story, “Running For Love,” which originally appeared in Marvel’s Our Love Story #19 from the team of Robert Kanigher and Kurt Schaffenberger. That in itself is the first of many strange tidbits about this tale of woe, since I usually associate those guys with DC. Schaffenberger, one of my favorite Superman artists of all time, is probably best known for his work on Lois Lane and Supergirl, and Kanigher was one of the architects of the Silver Age, a writer and editor responsible for Sgt. Rock, The Metal Men, and that giant racist egg that fought Wonder Woman that one time, among other things.
Of course, Kanigher is also the dude who pretty much wrote the book on how to make a living as a freelance comics writer, and since he was prone to knocking out complete, finished stories over his lunch break, I think it’s pretty safe to say that his secret was volume. As such, it’s not entirely out of character for him to be filing tear-jerkers across town while also editing Wonder Woman, but it is a little weird.
Either way, this story is packed with Kanigher’s signature brand of lunacy right from the start. We open on fetching young Rita, silhouetted against the moon as she smooches hunky, bellbottomed Danny, waxing poetic with turgid narration about pounding hearts, which you can go ahead and classify as Romance Comic Cliché #1. Sure enough, conflict arrives toute de suite in the form of Rita’s sister, Phyllis, who busts up the makeout session with a stiff right hand:
Ah yes, Romance Comic Cliché #2: Conflicted sisters! Although really, Schaffenberger’s distinctive style makes it look for all the world like Lois Lane has finally gotten tired of Lana Lang’s bulls**t and decided to settle her hash.
The reality of the situation, though, is that Phyllis and Rita are dealing with some pretty tricky family problems:
Yes, after her husband died in a car accident, Mrs. Rita And Phyllis’s Mom just straight up walked out on her two daughters, leaving Phyllis to put herself in charge of keeping Rita from tarting around town making out on roofotps by any means necessary. It’s at this point that the story starts to go right off the rails and completely out of the realm of understanding, and I’m not the only one who thinks that. In what might be my all-time favorite moment in a romance comic, Danny watches all this go down and decides to peace out rather than deal with any of it:
If you’re familiar with the romance comic genre, then you probably assumed — as I did — that Phyllis and Rita’s differng views on love and Phyllis’s domineering, meddling ways would be the driving conflict of the story. Not only would you be wrong, but you wouldn’t even be close, because after the next page, Phyllis vanishes from the story and is never mentioned again.
Before we see how things actually shake out, though, it’s time for Romance Comic Cliché #3 as Rita wakes up from dreams of longing to a tear-stained pillow:
Rita’s method for escaping? Dating as many dudes as she possibly can, and to that, I say get you some, girl. Ain’t no shame in the game!
While she’s twerking down at “the hangout” in a panel where Schaffenberger is doing his best “John Romita Drawing Gwen and Mary Jane Dancing” impression, Rita finally thinks she’s found true love. His name is Frankie, and despite my hopes that this story would see him getting drafted to ‘Nam and eventually becoming the Punisher, the focus remains on Rita as she sneaks out to go on a secret tryst at the beach:
I’m not sure if “making out in a thunderstorm” is quite on the level of a cliché — and this might actually be the first time bright red cut-offs were ever seen in comics — but blazing lips and thunderous hearts push it over the top. Let’s just call that #4.
Sadly, the intensity of Rita’s feelings don’t last, and they’re gone as soon as she takes a cold shower. That’s not a metaphor, either:
Hang on a sec, I need to check with editorial to see if I can make a joke about what she’s doing with that shower head while thinking about her boyfriends that would lead to that kind of stuttering.
Okay, moving along: Rita eventually gets dissatisfied with her string of thunderstorm makeouts, and wonders why she can’t find ~true love~. This, of course, leads directly to her finding true love the very next day (RCC #5), although the object of her at-first-sight affections initially seems aloof and uninterested (RCC #6), because he’s playing with his little brother:
That last bit is something that always weirds me out in romance comics. I’m not sure if “a stranger broke eye contact and went back to what he was doing” is really cause for a young lady to fall into a deep and crushing depression, but it happens all the time in these things.
Either way, Rita is so taken with this nameless park patron that (RCC #7), she starts coming back to the park and wandering around “for hours” every single day on the off chance that he’ll show up again without that pesky little brother around to c**kblock her. But instead, she’s targeted by a local awful dude who’s been lurking around in search of a “swinger.”
Okay, this is where things start to get crazy.
The would-be masher ends up getting pulled off of Rita, and if you’re trying to approach this story with any kind of logic, there are really only two people that you can expect to be doing the pulling: 1) The as-yet-unnamed hunk, coming to her rescue and providing the foundation of their romance, or 2) Phyllis, showing up and laying the smack down once again in order to prove that Rita shouldn’t be putting herself out there so much.
It’s actually her mother, returning to Rita’s life after abandoning her for an unspecified number of years, who just happens to be walking through the park with the new boyfriend that, judging by the fedora and his lax attitude toward sexual assault, she probably met on OKCupid. And since that dude seems pretty uninterested in keeping his date’s daughter from being raped on a park bench in broad daylight, it’s finally time for Boat Hunk to show up and George McFly the F out of this increasingly weird situation:
Can I just pause for a minute here and say that I love the idea of “The Park Police?” How has this not been an episode of Regular Show?
Back to the story: Boat Hunk comes to the rescue and ends up going out with Rita, and Mrs. Rita’s Mom is suddenly back in her life, patching up any lingering sore points from abandoning her children in the space of two panels:
Mrs. Mom is back and Rita and Boat Hunk start a relationship, so… everything works out okay, I guess? Well, except for Phyllis, who has been deeply traumatized by being abandoned to the point where she tore up every picture of her mother and took to physical violence whenever her sister expressed affection, I guess. But hey! Rita got smooches!
Happy Valentine’s Day, Everybody!