WTF? Wednesday: ‘Full Hands, Empty Heart’

Young Romance #194 (DC Comics, 1973) totally ruined my usual ritual of finding a histrionic romance comic story and mocking it from start to finish. Not that “Full Hands, Empty Heart,” the story about the thwarted love of an African-American nurse and a white doctor, doesn’t have its ridiculous parts. However, I found myself having sincere feelings after reading it. That’s not how WTF? Wednesday is supposed to work!

Interracial relationships should be such a non-issue that I feel silly saying “interracial relationships.” Society was less accepting 40 years ago, though it’s worth noting that the sight of a black dad and a white mom in a Cheerios commercial induced outrage … in 2013. As with “That Strange Girl,” this was no doubt one of the most daring romance comics stories of its day. Too bad it has an utterly unacceptable ending that ripped out my heart and stomped on it just for kicks.

Phyllis Carter is an angelic nurse for whom love remains painfully out of reach for no apparent reason. She walks home alone, stares into empty mirrors and, we’re told, dreams “empty dreams,” because single people can’t possibly have full lives. All she can do is stand by while happy patients give birth and make out in the physical therapy room.

Young Romance #194 Panel

But then she meets foxy resident Dr. Allan Tate, and sparks fly across the table as they team up to resuscitate a cardiac arrest victim. Forget medical science. “Love brought him back, doctor. The medicine you can’t find in any medical book.”

Young Romance #194 Panel 1

Before long, Phyllis and Allan are strolling in parks, gazing dreamily at one another and drawing MUCH shade from disapproving onlookers. A lion at the zoo gives them the side-eye, which is actually kind of hilarious.

Young Romance #194 Panel 3

Even the lion hates their love.

Allan’s friends are snooty bigots who see race-mixing a career killer, much like medical malpractice. Maybe worse.

Young Romance #194 Panel 4

Phyllis’ friends are at least decent enough to offer Allan some soul food (sigh), but then they give her grief about creeping with The Man after midnight and suggest she’s turned her back on her people. “Aren’t your brothers good enough for you?” Their fellow clinicians at the hospital suck, too.

Young Romance #194 Panel 5And this is where I stopped laughing and started to root for Phyllis and Allan. They appear to live in a big, cosmopolitan city. Surely, I said to myself, Young Romance will find a progressive haven where they can live happily ever after!

But then THIS happens.

Young Romance #194 Panel 6

AND THIS.

Young Romance #194 Panel 7

THIS IS BULLSHIT.

Nooooooooo! Romance comic book stories are supposed to end with explosions of anti-feminist fireworks where the heroines swoon in their unevolved partners’ arms. Is a tragic death is the only option for these guys? And why are Phyllis’ co-workers all, “I know your true love just died, but can you get back to your patients now?”

If anyone needs me, I’ll be sobbing in a corner.

9 thoughts on “WTF? Wednesday: ‘Full Hands, Empty Heart’

  1. This issue was just so sad, and for me the only good part was indeed the racist lion, or maybe he just hates humans because he is in a cage and he needs a bath?
    This comic was very sad and the thing that bothers mr E is that I think it would still be done today. Look at the hate and disdain that Gwen and King Arthur got from Merlin, Nyota and Spock in Nu Star Trek and even OST, Dr.Martha Jones and The Doctor, Lt. Abby Mills and Icabod Crane, I do not watch this show, but Olivia Pope and the President . At least Archie comics did it great with Archie and Valerie, the got their possible future happy ending.

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  2. Full Hands Empty Heart is one of my all-time favorite comic book stories. Writer Robert Kanigher was, well, a helluva comic book writer and specialized in realism, and I read Industry professionals found him really hard to get along with. I first found this story in a hard-to-find anthology titled Heart Throbs (1979), and later in its original form.

    The story is a heart-breaker for several reasons, and not just because of the way the story is structured. Oh, my goodness. Not everyone finds true love, but even harder when that couple knows they are no longer accepted by their closest family and friends, because their particular relationship is still considered taboo and repulsive in many cultures.

    Little else seems to test people’s delicate and pretentious sensibilities where private and intimate relationships are concerned, and obvious questions arise, like… “How will you keep your jobs? What will the children look like? Don’t you have any shame?” As if an entire community is suddenly affected, when these newly-revealed monsters were previously unaffected.

    43 years passed since this story was published and yet not much changed in between then. Oh, except that many people seemed to have become even more pretentious and prejudicial about the matter, over different coloring and a different culture and history..

    I wonder if anyone today realizes that the 1967 Supreme Court ruling allowing blacks and white to marry was extremely hard-fought over a hundred year period?

    Honestly, the truth of the matter is sadder than its fiction.

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