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Here’s some Rocky Balboa-ish 1950s boxing romance for you – Love Diary #37

November 3, 2012

Before anything else, a couple things have to be said about the cover. One, it seems like everything about the poses of the two featured players is positioned to draw our eyes to the chestular and groinular regions. Two, it looks like a boxing ring has been set up on the U.S.S. Enterprise’s transporter pad. And now that that’s out of the way…

I don’t often delve into the romance genre here on the blog, preferring to leave that field to specialists like our fine colleague over at Sequential Crush. Why? It’s not that the books have cooties, or are chock-full of mushy girly stuff. It’s just that the stories — whether they’re about girls from the wrong side of the tracks, nurses falling in love, teenagers going through puppy-love heartache, what have you — are all cut from the same cloth. It seems like the same ground is plowed again and again and again. You can say the same thing about the superhero books that are the normal fare around here, but hey, what can I say, I’m more in tune with that. (Let’s not talk about when romance crosses over into superheros. Please no.)

But hey, this 1953 comic has boxing, which involves men hitting other men in the face. WORTH A LOOK.

We’ll only deal with the cover story here, which means we’re not going to take a look at the other stories inside the book (the “Secret Shame” is alcoholism, btw) that feature early art from the great John Buscema. As consolation, the feature is illustrated by Mort Leav, the creator of the classic Heap character. And his art is pretty nice. So there.

Our main character and narrator in “Fighting Heart” is Sheila, whose boyfriend, Davey Brock, is a journeyman prizefighter. She’s utterly devoted to him, but after a big victory, she soon discovers that a successful boxer’s lady friend is the first thing to get squeezed out of the posse, and has to content herself with watching him devour a post-fight steak:

Davey goes under the management of (the, let’s be honest, sleazy-looking) Al Martine, and subsequently starts a big winning streak. Flush with success, he gets a little too frisky after one fight that leaves him looking like a Champion-tenderized Ben Grimm:

Is that behavior that qualifies one as a “masher”? Were they still using that term in the 1950s, or was that more of a turn of the century thing?

Sheila and Davey’s relationship becomes more and more strained as Davey comes gets closer and closer to a championship bout. At a dinner party, while Davey has a Martine-picked strumpet draped all over him, Sheila strikes up the acquaintance of Hank Strong (great name), a sportswriter. He has some disturbing insights for her — and Davey:

I mean, he’s blowing smoke rings. It has to be true.

What happens when Sheila tells Davey this? He brushes it off as he continues to get fresh (and crude):

That slap signals the end of their relationship. And who moves in to pick up the pieces? HANK STRONG, BABY. He and Sheila start dating in a whiplash-inducing rebound and are engaged in no time, but is Sheila really over Davey? It’s put to a test when they gather around the newfangled “flickering” television to watch Davey in his big championship fight:

The willing cuckold, ladies and gentlemen. It’s so rare to see one in the wild. (The cuckold cuckolded by the original cuckold. BREAK OUT THE FLOW CHART.)

Poor Davey. Martine had been feeding him a steady diet of bums to puff him up for the bout against the champ (also managed by Martine), who would in turn feast on him. Maybe Don King read this as a kid and found inspiration in it. Sheila runs to Davey’s side, and they make punch-drunk amends and walk off into the sunset — or night, whatever:

Fin.

If it wasn’t for the boxing, there’d be nothing in this story to separate it from the rest of the romance pack. The “caught between two lovers” angle has been strip-mined bare over the years — though people return to it constantly — and the same goes for the contrast between the physical paramour and the intellectual. The one thing that might give a reader pause here is the willingness of Strong to let his girl go. This noble relinquishment of love is something else that crops up all the time (most memorably in the Mr. Garrison/Mr. Hat/Mr. Stick “Do you love him? Then run to him.” South Park triangle), and it never ever sounds like something that happens in reality. At least not so cleanly. It seems that there’d be a lot more gnashing of teeth involved — and maybe a few punches thrown.

Story concerns aside, there’s a great deal to admire in Leav’s art here. I’m especially fond of the second to last panel in the “masher” scan, which has Davey cackling, hands on hips, like a super-villain. A little like an evil Captain Marvel, come to think of it. Worth the price of admission.

There you go. Love in the world of cut-men and spit buckets.

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