Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tales From the Vault: NIGHT NURSE #1

Yesterday we extolled the virtues of the legendary, misunderstood series Night Nurse, which over the last few years has slowly morphed from a punchline into a cult classic. Well, by popular demand, today we're proud to bring you another injection of the comics medicine that will get your heart pumping as we present our timely review of Night Nurse #1. Enjoy!

Details: Coming at you straight from December, 1972, it’s none other than Night Nurse. This heady concoction of love, betrayal and womanly compassion is brought to you by the team of Jean Thomas and Win Mortimer, though Win is actually credited here under his full name of Winslow Mortimer, which sounds like the uppity city mouse who visits Tom & Jerry out on their farm. I also want to mention that even though Win does the cover to this issue – and a nice one at that – the picture of poor Linda Carter shedding a solitary, tiny tear that graces the corner box appears to have been drawn by John Romita for whatever reason.

Synopsis: And... here we go. The splash page, like the cover, is symbolic mostly. Linda Carter, student nurse, is in tears at having to make a decision between her vocation and her man. This triggers a flashback that takes up the rest of the issue. Yeah, I had a flashback like that one time at Burning Man. Anyway, seems that three years ago, when she entered nursing school, Linda Carter (daughter of a family of pale and doughy doctor people) was randomly assigned two roommates -- the African-America Georgia and a redhead named Christine. Turns out the three of them really don't get along at all, which leads to tension and discomfort all around. But sadly, no outright cat fighting in tiny nurse outfits. Darn it.

But, you know, they have other things to worry about besides bickering. Namely, a bunch of nursing nonsense they have to learn. They go through endless classes and on the job training in the hospital, working themselves to the bone, only to go home and argue themselves to sleep. One day, though, they are alerted to a large emergency, with an influx of patients. They all rush to the hospital and spend hours helping patients, one of whom has a little boy that reminds Linda of her brother. Overcome by homesickness, Linda breaks down. Georgia and Christine find her and start yelling at her, but when she explains what's going on they reveal that they, too, are homesick. Suddenly they become best friends! Hurray!!!

Well, that certainly helps them all out, as they can now support each other, so things start to go better at the hospital and in their work. I love it when that happens. And even better, Linda finds herself working closely with a wealthy, handsome patient who falls for her. When he is let out of the joint, he calls her up and they begin dating. Yes, it's true love, and he ends up proposing, but with one catch: she has to quit this nursing nonsense so she can focus on being his wife. Men have needs, you know? Full time needs.

She says she has to think about it, but her friends are facing issues of their own on their time off. Christina is approached by her estranged Dad, who tries to make up with her by promising her anything she wants if she'll just drop nursing and come on home. Meanwhile, Georgia, who lives in the city, finally gets to go home to visit her family in the hood, where she breaks up a fight and then helps her poor neighbors who are too poor to get medical care. Yeah, because they… wait. That’s not funny. Save us, Obama!

Yes, things are tough all over. It's a long, hot summer, and there are power shortages that especially affect Georgia's poor neighborhood; often, their power is completely shut off by the power company, leaving only the hospital to run on generators. The angry folks of the hood are getting tired of this, and they think the big fancy hospital is getting special treatment while they swelter without fans or air conditioners or TVs to watch the Mets lose on. It’s preferential treatment for the rich, once again.

And I have to say that it’s true; the hospital is getting special treatment – because it's a FRIKKIN HOSPITAL. Jeez, WTF. Poor people, am I right?

Anyway, all the girls are back at the hospital when Georgia's brother Ben and a friend show up. They claim that they are working as janitors in the hospital, and she lets them go, but they actually have a bomb. Ben's plan is to force the power company to restore power to the entire neighborhood. He doesn't realize that the hospital has actually lost power as well due to a citywide blackout and that it's just their own emergency generator giving them energy, so his ploy is going to be useless anyway.

Too late, though -- his friend shoots a guard a kills him. Just then, Georgia and the girls burst in and tell Ben that this is stupid because the whole city is without power, and it's just going to kill a bunch of sick people. Ben's friend, it turns out, doesn't care, because he's been paid by somebody to blow up the hospital for sneaky financial reasons, which Ben didn't know anything about. But the guy shoots Ben before Ben can process this information and turns to attach the bomb to the generator. Suddenly, Linda trips him! She grabs the bomb out of midair and… then realizes, well, that doesn't help anything because he still has a gun pointed right at her. Nice try, lady.

However, this does delay him just long enough for the cops to show up, because it turns out that Linda had alerted them before she went to the basement. They blast the guy (in the back, mind you) and rush in, saving the day, while poor, deluded Ben is wheeled off to surgery.

And now, the flashback ends, and Linda has made her choice -- she and her friends have learned the importance of nursing and have decided to stay on and graduate from nursing school to become honest-to-god nurses. The rich boyfriend dejectedly leaves, amazed that his ultimatum hadn’t worked and the issue ends with the three night nurses ready to face a new day of nursing challenges.


Extras: As I noted yesterday, this issue reads more like a soap opera or prime time drama than an actual comic. There are a couple pacing issues caused by the format, such as the fairly abrupt transition between the girls from enemies to friends, but for the most part this is about as close to reading a TV show as you're likely to find. It's also quite atypical not just for comics, but even for romance comics of the time period, which were mostly formulaic (though occasionally fun in a campy way), pandering nonsense (in the best sense of the word).

It's also unusual in the way it works contemporary social and political concerns into the storyline, such as class struggles, minority issues and the challenges the girls face as they try to enter the workforce. While the feminism isn't overt by any means, there is a general message of empowerment, as each of the women in the story goes against the (mostly male) authority figures in their lives in order to pursue their dreams.

It's interesting stuff, though it's easy to see how this may not have necessarily caught on with the comic audience of the day. I'm curious to see how the later issues played out in light of this, especially the final issue, #4, which features Christine solo in a story where she goes out to do in-home hospice work and discovers the house is actually a haunted gothic mansion. I don't know if that was a change in style necessitated by poor sales or if it fits in with what preceded it, but as soon as I can find a copy that doesn't cost more than my car I'll let you all know.

My Grade: I went into this expecting high cheese and instead discovered a hidden gem. That made it harder to make fun of, of course, but so be it. A+.

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