Love gets a raw deal in modern comic books. Sure, leading characters in superhero, crime and other comics genres have romances and entanglements and whatever else, but those are always subplots in service of another larger story element.
In the real world, the quest for sex, commitment and affection is something everyone can relate to. It's not just a side plot. So it's great that we've got a new comic all about people whose superpowers make hearts appear over other folks' heads.
Fresh Romance is the lovechild of Janelle Asselin, a former DC Comics editor of series like Batman and Birds of Prey who's now the senior editor of Comics Alliance. The first issue bundles together three serialized stories from various creators about people trying to make a love connection happen for themselves or other people across widely divergent locales through time and space.
The modern twists that Fresh Romance puts on courtship comics all subvert so-called traditional ideas about who we're "supposed" to want to be with. "School Spirit" by Kate Leth, Arielle Jovellanos, Amanda Scurti and Taylor Esposito starts off with an classic Archie-style, high-school-centric set-up with two girls competing to be with the same guy...
but that's just a smoke screen for them dating each other.
"Ruined" takes the familiar tropes and setting of a classic 19th-Century British romance and centres it around about-to-be-married characters who aren't breathlessly in love with each other. But appearances must be kept up in the story by Sarah Vaughn, Sarah Winifred Searle and Ryan Ferrier even if the facade is totally transparent.
The last story in issue #1 revolves around Ruby, a young woman tasked with getting people to fall in love. The problem in the chapter by Sarah Kuhn, Sally Jane Thompson, Savanna Ganucheau and Steve Wands is that she doesn't seem to care much about love or other people. The protagonist in "The Ruby Equation" gets some help from a feline fairy familiar but seems to only care about meeting a quota, not the actual people she's matching up.
All of the stories feature great art and nice, tight plotting that make the most of their smaller page counts. The flushed, hormonal colouring in "School Spirit" and delicate linework in "Ruined" are particular standouts, elements where the creative approaches underline the themes of each story.
When most people think about mainstream comics nowadays, they probably think of stories adhering to a speculative fiction template with a focus on attaining external goals. But romance was once a major category in comics publishing decades ago, alongside comics series about cowboys, soldiers and horror. Fresh Romance feels like a breath of fresh air because it treats the interior lives of its characters as more than just decorations for a series of set pieces. Love for its own sake isn't anything to be embarrassed about. If there's a place in comics shops and on tablets for universe-shattering sagas and zombie apocalypse drama, then Fresh Romance can hopefully get a little love too.