Night Nurse (Marvel, 1972)
Writer: Jean Thomas
Art: Winslow Mortimer
Night Nurse is a comic between worlds. It is largely a straight-up story of a young nurse struggling to balance medical training, hospital routine, and a regular life, the sort of tale that dominated the racks during the super hero dry Comics Code era. But it doesn’t stay put for long. Within the four issues of its brief run, it turns quickly from the standard Career-And-Romance structure of its early Sixties Linda Carter: Student Nurse roots towards an odd but exciting mixture of medical ethics, gangland violence, and straight up Vincent Price era horror.
Drugs and gentrification, two-bit hoods and flagrant malpractice all have their space in Jean Thomas’s dizzy world of one hospital’s late night goings-on, largely thanks to her deft disposal of the central male love interest. A rich playboy arrives, asks Linda Carter to stop nursing so that she can marry him, and she decisively refuses, never looking back, and opening up pages of space to dwell on something more than traditional hospital romance.
The first issue features not only a spritely gallop through the rigors of medical school and hospital training, but a class warfare subplot that ends in near municipal terrorism. The overall message is somewhat hard to scratch out amongst the various plot twists (the poor are upset about blackouts that seem to hit their neighborhood disproportionately, but then it turns out they hit everybody equally after all, leaving us who knows where in terms of urban indignation). Lack of clarity aside, full kudos to Thomas for, in the first issue of a nurse genre comic, tackling something as obscure as classism in electrical access.
Issues two, three, and four wander even further afield from standard Medical Caregiver tropes. The second issue features a fellow nurse beginning a relationship with an older surgeon who, it turns out, is a raging drunk who manipulates his authority with the hospital to cover for his malpractice and supply him with drugs for his various medication addictions. It’s a story that would fit comfortably on an episode of House but seems pretty daring for the second issue of a comic that was only tenuously allowed life in the first place.
Issue three is rather more nurse-y, with Nurse Carter back at center stage, risking life and limb to protect a patient who really doesn’t particularly deserve it, but issue four runs straight into the Spooky House on the Hill genre with the dejected nurse from issue two taking up work as a private caregiver to a handicapped son of a crumbling ancient family housed in a, yes, spooky house at the edge of a cliff. It’s a mystery thriller tale, perhaps a last ditch attempt to save the comic by using tried and true Sexy Redhead Nurse in Peril imagery and story elements.
To no avail. The series was done, and when the Night Nurse returned as a character, it was in order to focus on her new role as an after-hours emergency caregiver for the superhero community, not as a regular nurse doing the best she can amongst the chaos and jumble of the regular world. It’s a series I’d rather like to see revived in its original form to add a bit of something different to the superhero dense offerings of Marvel’s regular roster. The return of female characters distinguished by their dedication, hard work, responsibility, and intelligence rather than their super powers or tight costumes is one that surely must be coming, mustn’t it?
“Nurse, quick, this Meter’s flatlining. Give me 10 cc’s of Power!”
Fierce: 9: Carter and her fellow nurses have a strict ethical code and follow it, hang the risk to themselves. They aren’t superheroes. They can’t deflect bullets. But they will do their job, and do it to the fullest of their abilities no matter what it might cost them. Carter rushes into danger, takes charge, and uses her knowledge and experience to save the day, and that’s more Fierce than any series of punches or psi-blasts could ever be.
Smart: 10: The first issue is devoted largely to segment showing Carter and her friends going through the sprawling labyrinth of nurse training, directing attention at the massive amount of intellectual stamina it takes to join a profession often cerebrally under-valued.
Funny: N/A: This is a straight up drama and career book, with no humorous elements to speak of.
Art: 7: Winslow Mortimer turns in classic artwork that suggest General Hospital with a twist at its heart. It’s not a revolutionary addition to the medium, but it does its work updating a genre with some nice de-stabilizing sensibilities.
Amelia Cole (IDW, 2013-Present)
Writer: Adam Knave & D.J. Kirkbride
Artist: Nick Brokenshire
There’s an old chestnut deep in the heart of the American mythos that dependence is the death of liberty. We can’t provide welfare for the poor, because they’ll grow dependent on it. We can’t allow the state to provide health services, because that will reinforce unhealthy habits. And on. The problem is, positions on the issue of the balance of mercy and dependence have become so entrenched, so fortified with catch words and automatic talking points, it’s difficult to bring people to a new perspective.
Fortunately, finding new ways to adjust humanity’s perspective on ossified issues is more or less what art does, and what comic books have rather proudly specialized in for the better part of a half century now. In the pages of IDW’s Amelia Cole, Knave and Kirkbride tell a tale of a society of magic and non-magic users weaving their mutual myths of Dependence and Need while all being manipulated by a grotesque and unknown entity. The parallel with uber-corporation capitalism run amok, manipulating its defenders and victims alike, is there, but is subtle enough to not raise defensive hackles.
We are thrown into this world suddenly, along with the protagonist, Amelia Cole, a magic user who lived in a world of no magic, but was trained in one of omnipresent magic. Chased by the authorities, she leaps into this new world, of magic users running government and refusing to authorize the use of magic for the non-magical population, lest they become too Dependent upon it. Amelia will have none of that, however, and uses her abilities whenever she can to help anybody who needs them. Amelia is a lovely representative of that fundamental empathy which humans have so long as it’s not been beaten out of them by the rhetoric of Just Rewards, and it manifests in everything she does in her new world.
It’s hard to say what is more delightful about this book, really, the level-headed people-first heroism of Amelia, or the masterful scaling of the universe and story, as we move from a conflict between Amelia and the Establishment’s super hero, to her versus the mechanism of the city government, and finally to her versus the powers that control all aspects of that machinery. Just when you’re sure who you dislike, the story scales up and we learn how good intentions get quashed in a quietly predatorial social system.
More than that, the book is fun. For all of the big ideas going on, Amelia’s day to day makes for purely enjoyable reading, as she wields a magic plumber’s wrench during the course of her job as a non-magical building’s superintendent while talking to Lemmy, the junk golem she conjured when she first arrived in this new world. The purely personal feels very real, and makes the super-heroics feel like high-stakes stuff in spite of all our decades of jaded comic experience. I’m always glad when a new trade comes out, and always a bit sad when it ends.
Power Meter Shall Overcome.
Fierce: 10: Amelia doesn’t stop. She will not abide the logic of allowing preventable harm to fall on regular people, and repeatedly throws herself in the path of mammoth machinery which has Dependence Prevention as its primary justificatory mechanism.
Smart: 8: Amelia is gifted and pushed on by righteous empathy, but we don’t ever see her, or anybody, doing things particularly brainy. The book itself, however, in its sense of scale and underlying themes, is very smart, enjoyable as just a magic saves the day narrative, or as a covert commentary about states privileging their favored classes through partial legislation.
Funny: 8: Amelia’s interactions with the vagaries of this new world are delightfully awkward and self-aware and ring very, very true.
Art: 9: Brokenshire’s art has a sort of People’s Art quality to it that first perfectly with the themes of the comic, at the same time politically engaged and street-level human.