Young Romance 2: The Best of Simon & Kirby Romance Comics

The first Young Romance volume must have done well, because here’s another collection of classic love stories by masters of the comic medium Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

In contrast to that volume, which ranged more widely across years and titles, this one more closely approaches chronological coverage. The reprints here come from Young Romance #1-10 (with the exception of stories included in the first book) and Young Love #1-2, published from 1947-1949. A thorough introduction by comic historian Bill Schelly covers the history of the pair’s work with the genre, in case you missed the first book, as well as the cultural context of many of the stories included.

As before, I enjoyed reading these stories. While expected behavior of a “good girl” may be a lot different these days, the impulses to risk everything for love or disobey parents who just don’t understand are universal. The stories are dense — with intent, with events happening quickly, with full panels that establish setting and background and costume, because all that is so important to getting caught up in these stories of women who only want to find love.

For instance, Toni, the “pick-up” of the first story, chafes at the overprotection of the grandmother she lives with (and the grandmother looks like she’s 80, not today’s active, youthful women). Toni makes over an old dress of her mother’s, hits the sidewalks, and is soon being driven around by a well-off young man. Yet she doesn’t pay enough attention to his refusal to meet her guardian (a poor sign of character) until the night the roadhouse they’re visiting gets raided and he bails without her. One of the gambling gangsters saves her. It turns out his background is similar to hers, and they hit it off. Still, it’s not doing her reputation any favors, so he leaves her for her own good, until she accidentally runs into him later, reformed and working at his own gas station. Where this would be a six-issue spectacular (at least) in the current market — if romance comics were even published today — here, it’s all of 13 pages. With all the twists and turns, it’s a thrilling read, complete with happy ending.

Other stories feature a factory worker dreaming of meeting the boss; a girl struggling to escape her lower-class slum but held back by her father’s ignorance; a woman dating her husband’s best friend while he was serving in the military; a girl with overly high standards who never gets a second date; a small-town schoolteacher who struggles with snobbery when she’s tempted to date a local farmer; a gold digger the boys decide to teach a lesson; a war bride who finds herself in unusual circumstances when she quickly becomes a widow; and a man tempted to steal to give his wife the treats he thinks she deserves. And that’s only half the book! As you can see, there’s a huge diversity of topics and types, although underneath it all, there’s a distinct understanding of class distinctions and cultural pressures.

The stories can be quite wordy, as they’re trying to pack a lot of background and motivation into relatively short spaces. It’s a tribute to Jack Kirby’s skill that the images, even when crammed into half the panel space, are so striking and evocative. The text, meanwhile, is full of flavor, setting a deeply emotional, almost melodramatic mood. Some of the plots, like the one about the girl trying to go straight after getting out of prison or another with two dancing sisters where one wants to leave the stage and settle down but can’t disappoint her sibling, reminded me of movies from the era. I’m sure that other pop culture we don’t know about or don’t recall had some effect on these stories, as they were putting out a lot of them quickly. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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