Just in time for St. Valentine’s Day, we look back at the time the men who created Captain America followed up by creating… romance comics. Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Young Romance #1 awaits!
Writer: Joe Simon/Jack Kirby (?)
Penciler: Jack Kirby/Bill Drout
Inker: Joe Simon/Bill Drout
Editor: Joe Simon/Jack Kirby
Publisher: Prize Comics
Cover Price: 10 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $1000.00
Previously in Young Romance: After World War II, the comic book bubble didn’t quite burst, but the market for two-fisted crusaders definitely waned a bit. According to legend, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby noticed the sheer number of true confession and romance pulps were on the newsstands, and wondered if that same market could be tapped for their comic books. Though romance had always been present in comics (witness Archie’s chronic girl troubles), a comic devoted to nothing but romance seemed like a no-brainer, leading to the very metaphorical book we hold in our hypothetical hands.
Witness young Toni Benson, whose strict grandma kept her under lock and key to keep her from becoming a profligate floozy like her late mother. Finding one of her mother’s old dresses in the attic, Toni discovers that it fits, and wears it out, only to have a man offer her a ride. Once thing leads to another, and she ends up at a party in a smoke-filled speakeasy on the bad side of town. Some heavily coded moments occur in which Toni realizes that she’s being mistaken for a “pick-up”, saved from an unpleasant fate by a man named Stanley. After going out with another man, Toni ends up getting the dreaded P-O-O-G-O, she chooses to flee, only to find her romantic destiny.
This particular “pick-up” ends up being a good one, and it’s really a sweet moment. The sight of Kirby’s figure work and dark-haired women with killer eyebrows in this quiet melodrama is actually kind of fascinating to look at, especially given Toni’s relation to his later creation, the Eternal Sersi. There’s also the story of a young woman married to a much older man, with art by Bill Draut, known for various anthology work at DC Comics, as well as a short run on the Phantom Stranger’s Silver Age title.
Young Duchess learns that you’re only as old as you feel, which is another unusual sentiment aimed at older, and perhaps even female, readers. Amid advertisements for skin cream and tomes on How To Pick Up Girls, we see young June date her boss and learn the truth about class warfare, followed by a clever little tale wherein we, the reader, see the entirety of the story through the eyes of one of the characters.
The framing of the “through the main characters eyes” sequence is actually quite unnerving to me, seeing as we do the eyebrows of the main character, but it ends with a clever twist that could only have worked in comics, forcing story and art to work together for the surprising ending. There’s a less creatively-blocked, but no less entertaining, tale of young summer love, but perhaps my favorite part of the book is an Honest-To-Flex-Mentallo Charles Atlas ad closing out the book. After seeing so many parodies over the years, seeing the real thing was a strange combination of startling and exhilarating.
Though it’s not the iconic “kicking sand” version, I have to say this ad filled me with a weird sort of joy. Young Romance #1 is kind of a paradoxical read, as it’s a fully-formed version of what would become an entire genre of romance comics, leaping like Athena from Jack & Joe’s talented heads and/or pencils, making for a polished comic that doesn’t FEEL like it’s a prototype, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall. Seeing Simon & Kirby’s visuals on these quiet romantic tales is a unique experience, and one that I recommend, if you can find a copy.
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YOUNG ROMANCE #1
It is truly weird to see these 1940s adult-style stories done in the familiar Simon/Kirby art style, but that makes for a more interesting read.