Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Far from a Romance

Night Nurse #1 (Marvel, July 2015, $7.99)
Writers: Jean Thomas, Linda Fite, and Brian Michael Bendis; Artists: Winslow Mortimer and Alex Maleev; Colorists: George Roussos, Andrea Hunt, and Dave Stewart; Letterers: John Costanza, Charlotte Jetter, and VC's Randy Gentile; Assistant Editor: Cory Sedlmeier; Editors: Roy Thomas and Axel Alonso; Cover Artist: Siya Oum.

I can almost hardly believe that this series was originally published. By the time Marvel published the original Night Nurse series in 1972-1973, most publishers no longer published romance or "women's" comics. (I qualify that term because women can make and read any kind of comic, even if publishers have long tried to market specific kinds of comics to women.) Even in the early '70s, Night Nurse was an anomaly and far from a romance or teen drama comic. This wonderful budget reprint volume collects #1-4 of the original series, as well as a 2006 appearance in Daredevil Vol. 2, #80 (whole number #460) that contains a Night Nurse cameo and establishes her in the Marvel Knights neighborhood of the Marvel Universe.

The original four-issue series brings together three young student nurses: a wealthy redhead estranged from her father, an inner-city African-American woman, and a comparatively unremarkable blonde. As roommates, their backgrounds couldn't be much more different, but their shared experiences in nursing classes end up bringing them together as friends.

Each issue focuses on a challenge the new friends need to overcome, alone or together. Political radicals plan to bomb the hospital to protest rolling brown outs in poor sections of the city. An addict surgeon tries to cover up a death caused by his negligence—while romancing one of the students. An injured mafia kingpin becomes a target while under care at the hospital. And at a remote mansion, an invalid poses a threat to a visiting nurse.

Night Nurse is more similar to the horror and mystery comics of the '70s than earlier "women-oriented" comics such as the romance comics, teen comics like Archie, or even Marvel's Patsy Walker and related comics. Winslow Mortimer's artwork is realistic and dramatic—suitable for a dark action comic. The comic could have even inspired a TV show at the time; think Emergency! meets The Incredible Hulk.

The 2006 cameo in Daredevil recontextualizes Night Nurse from its student nurse origins to a character in the mainstream Marvel Universe treating injured superheroes in the deep, desperate dark of night. In that issue, she tends to Daredevil's wounds while Elektra, the Black Widow, Iron Fist, and Power Man take on the Hand. The recontextualization works, and she could easily find a new place in comics today. This volume is an excellent book ending of the old and the new.

Availability: Night Nurse #1 is available as a back issue.

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