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‘Love Everlasting #1-3’ (review)


Written by Tom King
Art by Elsa Charretier
Published by Everlasting Productions

 

Published for free on Substack, Love Everlasting takes us to a new frontier in creator-owned comics as Tom King and Elsa Charretier reach back to the romance genre.

The phrase “Tom King does a romance comic” gives me pause. The guy who wrote psychologically devastated Batman, a doing-the-best-he-can-despite-the-nihilism-and-PTSD Mister Miracle, and other tales, is going to offer his treatise on love?

And yet, these first three issues make for a story easy to fall in love with. Not that I am a collector of romance comics, but as a 30-year comics reader and occasional student of comics history, I’ve made my way around that post-Wertham, Silver Age heyday of romance comics. Even Jack Kirby made romance comics! And I remember thumbing through back issue bins of Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane  — each cover, and romance plot, more outlandish than the next.

The first issue introduces us to Joan Peterson, secretary to her best friend’s boyfriend – and of course she’s also in love with him. The cover has the classically tearful heroine at her typewriter, looking away from the lovers, with a thought bubble that reads: “He’s everything I ever wanted and everything I can never have!” The only thing missing is the Ben-Day dots colorization.

The first tale goes simply enough, as Joan suffers the pangs and passions and florid fantasies tamped down in chaste, heteronormative kisses and proposals of marriage. But just as Joan gets her dream man, a crown of blooming flowers framing the kissing couple, the story halts and jumps from mid-1960s tale to another woman dressed as a late-’60s counterculture girl, kissing her folk rock boyfriend.

And that brunette, who looks very similar to the Joan Peterson we just met in the first tale? She’s also named Joan Peterson? And we’re in another tale of forbidden love, this time with class boundaries and an overbearing, stodgy father? What is happening?

Joan is swept up in this romance, but as she fawns over her love Kit playing gigs in the Village, she has vague memories of George, the man in the previous story. But before the can question things too much, the story flips again, this time to a Western and two rivals for her hand.

What is happening to Joan? Is she split across some kind of multiverse? Are these love lives even real? Is she a character in a story who is realizing that she herself is a character in a story? And that’s before we meet The Cowboy, a masked man on the hunt for Joan who plays a dangerous, yet unexplained, role in her jumps from romance story to romance story.

I can’t say enough good things about Charretier. She’s a rising star in the business with an intelligent YouTube in which she peels the layers on creating comics. Her layouts are masterful sequential storytelling matched by an art style that recalls Bruce Timm and Alex Toth. Her stylized figures don’t lose subtlety, and her use of black for shadowing and contrast elements give the series depth and add to a foreboding atmosphere that is revealed issue by issue.

Because with each issue, the mystery deepens. Yet this is so much more than some metatextual tale, because alongside the bigger story of what’s going on with Joan, you also get some actually good romance comics. The melodrama, the rivals, the flowery speechifying, betrayals and hidden romances – it’s all there.

In the second issue, Joan winds up in a Downton Abbey-style period romance of upstairs/downstairs forbidden love between her maid and the scion of the manor house. And just as the young lord returns to whisk Joan away to happily ever after, Joan reveals how self-aware she is about the danger coming after her.

Issue No. 3 completely nails the genre, with a young girl about to graduate high school who is torn between staying close to home with her steady, or going across the country to college and chasing a new life. And then King and Charretier add a multigenerational layer of romance to the story with a twist that made me hunger for the next issue right away. I don’t know what this all means yet, but I’m ready to keep reading to find out.

Grade: A

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