Young Romance was one of DC’s titles aimed at female readers, an anthology of one-offs and serials that ran from the Forties until the Seventies, notching up an impressive 208 issues. Here’s the title revived for the new millennium, and the new millennium audience; instead of college girls, nurses and young wives, it’s all superheroes and villains. OK, received wisdom is that a straightforward update on the classics would never sell to today’s DC audience of teenage boys and old gits like me – but would this title at least have the soul, and wonky charm, of the original romance comics?
It may break your heart to hear it, but the answer, for the most part, is ‘no’. Kenneth Rocafort’s decidedly unromantic cover – Superman grinding his Phantom Zone projector into Wonder Woman – pretty much says it all. Let’s take a look at the six strips on offer:
- Catwoman thinks back to the day she met Batman, a February 14, as luck would have it. She’s robbing from her neighbours with the help of some guy named Billy (is he brother, is he boyfriend? Writer Ann Nocenti doesn’t deign to tell us). Batman stops the robbery and gives Selina the chance to become a better person. We’re not told why, presumably he sees something there worth encouraging – skintight leather and massive boobs? In the present, Selina is rather pathetic, having not taken on board Batman’s hint that she might be more than a thief in fetish gear – she could be a heroine in fetish fear. Nocenti’s script is serviceable, but nothing to cross the street for, and would fit into Catwoman’s own series just fine. The art by Emanuela Lupaccino, though, is gorgeous, with real animation and character alongside the surface gloss.
- In Gotham City, Batgirl is smoked out by petty crook Ricky, who lost his foot during a run-in with a supervillain in the regular series. He’s lovesick after she kissed him in a feint to save his life. He wants another snog, Batgirl explains why that would be a terrible idea. And kisses him anyway. Which I kinda liked, as it’s a crap, very human decision. And I love that a guy so apparently out of Batgirl’s league is taking her advice and dreaming big. We’re promised a continuation of this storyline in writer Ray Fawkes’ first of two Batgirl fill-ins, #17. There’s a nice urban feel to the illustrations of Julian Gopez, but his Batgirl lacks the allure needed in a story turning on sexual chemistry. I blame the ugly current costume – Gopez draws it so realistically that Batgirl may as well be a man. And even more than with the Catwoman story, this isn’t special enough to merit a place in a St Valentine’s title – it stars a character with her own book, spins out of a story that took place there, and feeds back into it: Batgirl is where these pages should appear. (Incidentally, I know there’s a talented artist named Julian Lopez – we’re not dealing with a typo in Mr Gopez, are we?)
- Peter Milligan and Simon Bisley serve up a character study of Midnighter and Apollo, showing their nascent romance has turned distinctly rocky. And surprise surprise, we’re advised to find out more by reading their home book, Stormwatch. Veterans Milligan and Bisley demonstrate the craft you might expect, but this just isn’t very interesting.
- Nightwing stars in … oh, doesn’t he have a book of his own too? Anyway, his love life is all to pot because he’s out fighting crime, you know how it is. He meets a bodyguard named Ursa Major and they get on rather well, but the path of true love, etc. Ignore the awful Ursa Major design – she looks like a tween at a pyjama party – and Kyle Higgins and Sanford Greene deserve credit for a bittersweet offering.
- Wonder Woman and Superman are on a date in their civvies, when Diana’s cousin Eros and a couple of sirens throw a spanner in the works. There’s a clever ending, if you can stomach a lot of saccharine, but I’d rather be re-reading this encounter between Superman, Wonder Woman and Eros. This short is notable mainly as upcoming Action Comics writer Andy Diggle’s first story featuring Superman. It’s fine, as is the art by Robson Rocha and Julio Ferreira, but eminently missable.
- You know what? There is one great story in this issue, and while it features a character with a book of his own, there’s no way Cecil Castellucci’s sweet, clever Aquaman tale would fit into the regular series – for one thing, there’s not a single impalement. Aquaman’s wife Mera discovers centuries-old letters telling a tragic love story centred on a woman who once lived in the lighthouse shared by the heroes, and the sailor she adored. The action shifts between the Regency-era romance and the attempts of Aquaman and Mera to save lives during a storm, and the juxtapositions work wonderfully well. Doing his share of the heavy lifting is Inaki Miranda, obviously having a whale of a time with the Jane Austen-era stylings of the flashbacks – and of course, the young lovers are drawn to resemble Aquaman and Mera. Enchanting.
So, one great story, one decent tale and an awful lot of fluffy filler that belongs elsewhere. I realise DC needs – or at least thinks they need – headine acts to bring in the punters, but does every strip have to feature a series character? Look, there’s Wonder Woman and Superman on the ick-worthy cover, why not let them anchor the book and feature characters who might actually benefit from a spotlight? Cyborg is always good for some romantic angst. What’s Static up to on Valentine’s Day? Who’s this Element Girl currently in the Justice League/Aquaman crossover, she must have a weird love life? Why not a single story done as a homage to the occasionally kitschy, sometimes brilliant romance stories celebrated by Jacque Nodell over at her Sequential Crush blog?