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.

Today, as Valentine's Day approaches and romance hangs heavy in the air, we feel the sting of heartache once more as the fine folks at Marvel Comics teach us that the flames of passion don't mix well with, you know, actual flames. Especially when you're throwing extremely flammable hairspray into the mix.Today's tear-jerker is one of three contained in the pages of 1974's Our Love Story #30, and just to give you an idea of what we're dealing with in this issue, here's how the other two go down. First up, we have the story of Helen Foster, a girl who quits her retail job and becomes a stewardess in an effort to find an exciting new boyfriend in the jet set, and ends up dating a bunch of dudes who look exactly like Tony Stark and Peter Parker:

Quick aside, does anyone know what's going on with that giant "DANCE" in the corner there? I'm not sure if it's meant to be a sign for a club or just a representation of the concept of dancing, but I'm kind of hoping it was meant to be a sound effect.

In the second story, lovely young Jen lounges around in lingerie (a recurring theme in a lot of these comics) while lamenting that her boyfriend broke up with her to marry her best friend. She ends up finding out that he's a little too aggressive when he urges her to "get it on" while she's crying (seriously) once he breaks up with said best friend, Candy, who appears to be better known to most of us as Mary Jane Watson:

That's the thing about Marvel's Romance comics: They look like Marvel Comics. Part of it probably comes from Marvel's formula for success being to heap the same kind of melodrama into superhero adventure stories that they'd strip down for the romance comics, but seeing really recognizable artists like Sal Buscema working in their usual style makes these things a little weird right off the bat. There was a "Best Of" collection called Marvel Romance a few years back that included Jim Steranko and Jack Kirby, and those stories always look like Dr. Doom is two panels away from showing up and kidnapping some wistful debutante as part of a plan to destroy the Fantastic Four.

The same holds up for today's story, "Formula For Love." Considering that Jean Thomas's story is illustrated by the (frankly pretty amazing) team of Gene Colan and Bill Everett...

...I kept expecting Dracula to show up and use Joellen Jacobs' torturous heartache to lure her into undeath as his thrall, slaking her thirst for blood and vengeance on those who broke her heart. Sadly, that is not the case, and the Formula for Love and the Montessi Formula remain in different corners of the Marvel Universe.

Instead, we start off with a little background on Joey. In case you couldn't tell from her glasses and the fact that she's literally framed by test tubes on page one, she's way into science, with dreams and aspirations fueled by feminism!

Equal treatment under the law isn't Joey's only desire, though. She's attending pre-med classes at State U -- which I'm going to go ahead and assume is the same State U that Reed Richards, Ben Grimm and Dr. Doom all went to -- and she's fallen hard for Dr. Brad Michaels, MD -- MASSIVE DREAMBOAT!

Sadly, while Joey's crush grows with each class, Dr. Brad, Madly Desired, seems to remain unaware of her existence. This is at least partially Joey's own fault, as the major component of her seduction game seems to be "getting good grades." Fortunately for her, she has a few friends who are more than willing to give her some helpful advice about how she should completely change her looks and personality:

I think my single favorite thing about this entire comic book is that the caption promoting Son of Satan makes it sound like Joey's blonde friend may actually be the Devil given human form. My second favorite thing? "Take your little bookish personality, tuck it in your lab coat pocket, and throw them both away." That line is amazing, and I will be trying my hardest to work it into conversation. I suggest you do the same.

Anyway, Sally and Beelzebub give Joey some tips on hair and makeup, and before long, she's lost those nerdy glasses and transformed herself into a f**king Klingon on Prom Night:

Seriously, what in the hell is going on in Panel 3?! She looks like a cenobite being devoured by a metroid. It's not a flattering look, even if Joey's twerkin' the hell out of it with that "I know they're impressed!" thought bubble.

Fortunately, whatever printing error made her a Cardassian above gets sorted out by the next panel, and she's able to make quite an impression in class. Unfortunately, she makes an impression by being unable to read without her glasses and gets clowned in front of her crush for it. She does, however, get to spend a little alone time with Dr. Brad, Magnetic Dude. It does not go well.

Remember a second ago when I was talking about how these Marvel Romance Comics always seem like they're two seconds away from going broken arrow and just turning into superhero books? Reading through this one for the first time, I was convinced that this scene was going to end up with Joey getting superpowers, because that is literally the only way I have ever seen a fire in a science lab end in a comic book.

Alas, instead of the ability to control flames or chemically enhanced strength, Joey just gets a bucket of water directly in the face:

Thus, Joey retreats back to her glasses and labcoat, her dreams of being with Dr. Brad and his Mesmerizing Dimples shattered. But then, as she mopes among her science, who should show to soothe her weary heart but Brad himself, confessing that he really did love her all along, lab coat, glasses and all:

And so, we get a happy ending, complete with the moral about being yourself and not trying to change who you are to please someone else. By romance comic standards, that's actually a pretty good moral.

You know, except for the part where it's in the context of seducing a teacher whose line about wanting to "talk to you about your exams" alone after class was only interrupted when you literally set yourself on fire. Let's just say it's a relatively good moral and leave it at that.

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