Love Hurts: The Listening Heart Thinks Your Feelings Are Stupid (1965)
While my favorite superheroes are pretty well-known, I've always had a soft spot for the weird, minor and exceptionally obscure comic book characters, too. There's something about those goofy little weirdos that only show up a few times that always grab my attention, and this week, as we head towards Valentine's Day, I think I have found a new favorite: Amy Ames, The Listening Heart!
Amy appeared in the mid-60s in the pages of DC's Secret Hearts as an advice columnist who would sort out her readers' heartbreaks and occasionally find a few herself, and I'll be honest with you, folks, those stories are not really that great. They do, however, feature scenes where Amy just tells a bunch of teenagers that their feelings are stupid, and that is a romance comic plot I can get behind.
At least, that's how she handles it in the pages of Secret Hearts #105, in the provocatively titled "Too Many Loves!", brought to you by Robert Kanigher and Gene Colan. Yeah. Gene Colan. From Tomb of Dracula. I know.
Here's the thing about Silver Age romance comics: They were weird, especially when Kanigher was involved. For some reason, that dude seemed way more comfortable writing about a World War II commando unit that contained a Frankenstein and a Medusa than anything that even remotely resembled emotions that would be felt by an actual teenager.
Between that, Kanigher's legendary grumpiness when responding to readers in letter columns, and this particular strip's placement right after the "real" advice column, Ann Martin: Counselor-at-Love (who, let's be real here, was probably also Kanigher), I'm going to go ahead and guess that the Listening Heart was a direct reaction to having to read through actual letters from readers wanting advice on their teen problems. But that's just a guess.
Either way, this particular story opens with Amy being visited by young Bette Brown, and I think we can all agree that she is completely insufferable.
Not gonna lie, though: "Writhed on a bed of nails of loneliness" is a pretty amazing turn of phrase, even for '60s romance comics where the prose was so purple that Prince made a suit out of it.
So if Bette has Johnny and all the other girls have nothing but the gnawing loneliness that comes from a life without a steady boyfriend, what's the problem? Well, it seems that after dating Johnny since before Kindergarten (seriously), Bette finally made eye contact with another boy while visiting a library and immediately fell in love.
Johnny, for his part, is laid up in bed for a month with "a virus" while all this is going down, giving Bette plenty of time to explore maybe not marrying someone that she's been dating since she was four. If you ask me, this seems like a perfectly reasonable course of action, but for Bette, it's a conflict. How, how, I ask you, can she love both boys equally?!
The answer, according to the Listening Heart, is that she can't, and also that's a stupid question.
Amy Ames is sick of your nonsense, and her response made me laugh out loud. I mean, look, I wasn't exactly expecting a romance comic from 1965 to come out in favor of polyamory or anything, but Amy's blunt assertion that you can only ever love one person ever swings so far back in the other direction that it was every bit as unexpected. And also, I'm not really sure that's true, Amy. If nothing else, I'd think one young Archie Andrews would have a little something to say about the heart's capacity to love.
Anyway, no sooner has Bette stormed out than Amy's office is invaded by another petitioner, thus proving that nobody actually writes letters anymore. In this case, it's a boy named Larry, who's in the exact same situation. The only difference is that instead of a debilitating virus, the inciting incident of his love triangle was that his girlfriend Janet went to visit her grandmother:
There is nothing in this story -- and very little in the history of comic books -- that is quite as hilarious as Janet being out of town for literally five minutes before Larry stumbles into hooking up with some lady who buys him lunch to keep him from getting arrested. Five minutes! For Pete's sake, Larry!
Anyway, just like Bette, Larry finds himself torn between his pre-existing but absent lover and the new lunch-buying hotness, and just like Bette, Amy tells him that he's an idiot who doesn't even understand how anything works.
Gene Colan was no stranger to drawing pretty perfect panels, but he honestly could not have nailed this one better. I mean, between Larry's sad-sack face that still has those good cheekbones, and Amy in a pose that could not be more obviously indicative of wanting this dude to get the hell out of her office so she can go back to dishing out advice to actual paying customers, there is so much to love here. Just look at the tension in her hand! She could not hate him and his stupid beautiful face any more than she already does!
As you may expect, Larry does not take the news that his feelings are completely fake and stupid very well, but as he gets up to stomp out, the door opens and it turns out to be Bette Brown, returning to give Amy an update on her situation and then meekly walking out once she realizes that she's interrupting what could charitably be called Amy's advice.
But rather than letting the young lady walk out into a monsoon that seems to have sprung up right outside the Listening Heart's offices, Amy walks out with Larry, and they take Bette to go get a cup of coffee. As for why, exactly, Larry is still around at this point, I have no idea, but feel free to go ahead and guess what happens when these two lovestruck dopes meet each other:
Yes, it seems that Amy was right and that their feelings of love were, in fact, stupid and wrong, but now they're in love for real! Within five minutes.
Larry works fast, folks. Larry works fast.