Friday, February 15, 2008

Falling In Love #83

Falling In Love #83, May 1966, DC Comics

Blogger's note: Entry for Tuesday, February 12, 2008.

"Would it shock you to learn that deep down, all men are afraid of girls?"

Falling In Love #83 is an absolutely exquisite example of comics' Silver Age romance genre. By 1966, I would imagine that titles like this were on the decline in popularity, what with the infamous "Summer of Love" a mere three years away, but Falling In Love bottles the innocence and insecurities of a bygone era and offers an interesting analysis of how romantic themes have changed over the past forty years, particularly during this Valentine's Day week.

Falling In Love #83 features three different romantic tales, different in their circumstantial context but stunning in their similar insight into the male/female dynamic. In “I’ll Wait for You,” Heidi meets her boyfriend Drew’s father, the wealthy attorney, who insists that no woman should chain Drew down with marriage until he has passed the bar exam and joined the family firm. When Drew goes away to take the test, Heidi doubts his commitment to her, and several weeks later when her friend sees a disheveled Drew hiding away in Ellenville, Heidi travels to the small city to find him. Sure enough, she finds Drew residing in a flophouse, where he admits to failing the bar and disappointing his father. In the end, Heidi and Drew resolve to face their torrid fears together. (Artistically, this story was the most daring, with a pulpy panel design and dramatic character blocking.)

In “And Soon Perhaps Love,” Karen refuses to believe the rumors that her boyfriend Greg is a lying, cheating sleazeball. Tom, the nice guy next door, seems more persistent than Karen’s other friends, even inviting her to coffee in the hopes to get her mind off of that gruesome Greg. When Karen sits Greg down and tells him she wants to ignore the rumors, he slyly replies, “You’d better -- or I’ll be pretty mad at my little girl!” While most women could take such degradation in the ‘50s, like I said earlier, the ‘70s were right around the corner, so Karen only needed one more panel of puppy-eyed sheepishness to see through her boyfriend’s sleaziness. Perhaps Tom was right about him, and more, after all!

Finally, in “Deep Down, All Men Are Afraid of Girls,” Suzy simply cannot get over her fear of men! What? Doesn’t the title of this tale explain that men are afraid of girls? Ah, but look further, dear reader . . . Although Suzy freezes every time she’s out with a man, resulting in a paralyzing silence, her latest beau, Jerry, elicits the most self-inflicted disappointment, as he’s the most romantic guy she’s ever met! Just when she thinks it’s over, Jerry shows up on her doorstep -- to apologize to her! When Jerry confesses his fear to open up, Suzy realizes she isn’t alone, and in the end, their mutual social inadequacies are just enough to finally bring them together.

So, what can we learn from these different yet eerily similar stories? Here are the lessons no relationship expert would ever admit!

1. Women have incredibly high expectations, but will go to the lowest standards to meet them. Heidi, Karen, and Suzy are all on the prowl for Mr. Right, yet they seemingly settle for men with daddy issues, borderline abusive tendencies, and social inadequacies, respectively. The only man with any redeeming quality is Tom from “And Soon Perhaps Love,” who obviously suffers from Nice Guy Syndrome and is essentially described as “good enough.” Hey, most guys can pull that off, right?

2. Every woman’s emotional paranoia is the natural and acceptable result of her man’s equally natural and acceptable shortcomings. In “I’ll Wait For You,” Heidi’s fear of abandonment borders on manic, yet when we learn that Drew failed the bar and sought to abandon his presumably disappointed loved ones, her obsession is practically justified. Further, until Karen sees Greg for the scumball he is, his perfection is well established and even the reader is almost completely deceived. Even Suzy’s fright is reciprocated with the assumption that all men are afraid of girls! Now, I don’t know who wrote these old tales, as genre-specific titles like Falling In Love were usually published sans credits, but assuming the comic book industry was dominated by middle-aged men, this issue is a classic example of self-inflicted emasculation for the sake of sales. “Surely young girls will relate to these emotional plights, but the characters’ shortcomings must be justified by their boyfriends’ inherent faults, lest we alienate female readers altogether!” The last page ad for other romance titles sums up the creators’ mentality with its tagline, “Love problems every girl can understand!” Read between the lines and you’ll find the subliminal message, “Because men are the cause of those problems, right, ladies?”

Indeed, the easiest way for me to understand a series like Falling In Love is to liken it to other comics I genuinely enjoy. So, I insist, it isn’t too great leap to claim that, while the man/woman dynamic boasts a lovers’ strength in these stories, it also betrays a hero/villain formula. The men are obviously out to thwart their women, yet their women exploit their weaknesses to conquer them. Heidi, Karen, and Suzy’s respective concerns were conveyed as so dire, I almost expected the outcomes to these tales to have a “Weird Romance” quality to them. Perhaps Drew was trapped in a pocket dimension so he couldn’t write Heidi, or Karen’s friends were really seeing Greg’s twin brother gallivanting around town. Still, the question remains, would it shock you to learn that deep down, all men are afraid of girls?

If Falling In Love is accurate, who wouldn’t be afraid of them?

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