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.

Remember a few days ago when I mentioned that "Love Behind Bars" was the lead story in the classic Young Love #119? Well, it turns out that what the second story, lacks in conjugal visits, it more than makes up for in complete love-struck kookiness.This tear-stained tale is called "Love Trap," and while that sounds like the sinister machination that Darkseid would throw Mr. Miracle against in order to break his spirit -- right down to the quotation marks around the title -- it's actually even weirder than it sounds. It focuses on Ava, a young blonde who does her level best to avoid falling in love, even though she literally has to walk past individuality-crushing billboards from some kind of dystopian Blade Runner future on her way home:

From the advertisements instructing her to give up, you might think that her aversion to romance might have its roots in her job down at MiniLuv making sure that everyone's on the same page about the war with Eastasia, but the real source of it is even more depressing than that. See, Ava has a sister, Jan, and their relationship is... Somewhat contentious.

Unlike Ava, Jan falls in love frequently, if you consider dating someone once a year to be frequent -- and as someone who reads romance comics from 1976 on a professional basis, I do. Unfortunately, Jan's relationships always end in a heartbreak that she just can't get over, probably because her sister keeps detailed track of the exact dates her heart was broken and reminds her about it when she's trying to watch TV.

As a result, Ava's been scared off of love, and must content herself with getting her jollies by sniping at her sister until Jan bursts into tears. Even so, in true Romance Comics fashion, Ava is tortured by dreams of making out with her sister's boyfriends.

Ava's not a very good sister.

You know, now that I look at it, the dialogue from those Dream Hunks seems a little familiar. Let me just zoom in and enhance for a second..

Ah, that explains it. And with that, I've pretty much nailed this year's Eisner for Dumbest PhotoShop in a Periodical or Website. But y'all don't wanna hear me, you just want to dance.

In addition to making her pretty snippy about what to watch on television, Ava's constant smooch-based night terrors only serve to strengthen her resolve when it comes to avoiding love, and also make her inadvertently name that Neil Gaiman Sandman prequel we've all been hearing about:

ALl of this raises the question of just how exactly one goes about avoiding love, and this is where things start to get a little strange. Ava seems to be laboring under the truly bizarre impression that "Love" is an actual, physical place that she needs to get away from, so she decides to spend her weekends riding a train to random places that she picks from a list of stops and then wandering around alone for hours on end. It makes sense, too: A beautiful young lady, riding a train to a destination that doesn't matter, walking through parks sighing heavily and lamenting her fears about love? What could possibly be romantic about that?

She's pretty confrontational about it, too, which shouldn't really come as a surprise given every other panel of this story, preferring to wander around backwater towns that don't even have a movie theater where she might run into the possibility of necking. One weekend, however, she finds herself in the sleepy hamlet of Hillsdale, and the drama kicks in:

I'll be honest, folks: At this point, I kind of hate Ava. I mean, it's already hard to root for her when she's being such a raging jerk to poor, eternally heartbroken Jan, but the smarmy eagerness with which she's looking forward to shutting down her ersatz Robert Redford is like something out of Funky Winkerbean. So far, my most positive reaction to Ava's plight has been schadenfreude, and I don't really think that's what Young Love was going for.

If you've ever read a romance comic before -- or, you know, any story at all -- you probably already know that Ava and this unnamed hunk are going to get together, so this might be a good time to start placing bets on just how that's going to happen. Smart money's on "he didn't make a pass at her because he's blind, and therefore she knows that he loves her not for her beauty but for the real person inside," a plot that made up roughly 30% of all romance comics from 1950 to 1979. We'll see, though.

Ava ends up at a frozen lake, where she sees a pair of skates laying around and decides to try them on, prompting some pretty sweet lettering...

...and also life-threatening danger, but only one of these is actually interesting.

Sure enough, Señor Hunk (we won't know his name is Joel for another two pages) shows up to drag Ava away from certain death, only to find that she's sprained her ankle. Fortunately for her, he's an aspiring doctor, and takes her back to his house to patch her up:

You'd think that being literally confined in a room with a handsome, caring young doctor while he tied up her leg would be close enough to whatever Ava's mental definition of a "Love Trap" is that she'd start freaking out, but instead she just sits there silently until Joel drives her back to the train station. Through it all, Joel never hits on her, which of course makes her fall madly in love.

Sure enough, she ends up cheating at her little stick-a-pin-in-the-map game and heading back to Hillsdale, returning to the lake to willingly throw herself into a Love Trap:

So! What have we learned?

Well, lesson #1 would seem to be that as soon as you start thinking you can live your life without a man, you will immediately die unless a man is there to save you. And lesson #2 is that ladies, if a guy doesn't act like he's interested in you, then he can literally read your mind and you should fall in love with him forever.

I... am not sure these are good things to learn, even by the standards of the company that taught us crime can be solved by dressing as a bat and punching it.

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