I love Mary Worth.
Many would be surprised by that admission. Not the poor souls who unfortunately follow me on Twitter and bear witness to my endless string of Mary Worth recaps, of course, but many others would be shocked.
It isn’t the strongest strip in syndication. That award would go to the high-stakes and action-oriented Judge Parker. However, it is a heartwarming and formulaic romance at its worst. At its best?
At its best that strip is the sequential art version of the beloved and oft-mourned Passions, my dear friends. Child psychics, lovelorn women in witness protection, former Secret Service agents, unhinged stalkers, child abductees, and bigamist thieves all make an appearance in the sleepy coastal town of Santa Royale. The strip dips in plausibility occasionally only to ricochet into the heights of absurdity. And absurdity is where Mary Worth excels.
For as much as I champion romances, the truth of the matter is this: if it isn’t unintentionally funny or outrageous? I’m not interested. I need my romances to be riotous Punch and Judy shows that I can comb through with friends to cheer and jeer over various plot points. A good writer knows that a soap opera is a spectator sport as much as it is a story. Did you root for Sonny or Jax? Sami or Carrie? Natalie or Evangeline? (If your answers don’t include Evangeline you can leave this blog right now. Evangeline and Cristian forever.) The point is that fans are drawn to a particular character and remain engaged in the hopes that said character will “win”—be it a man, a company, or the downfall of their evil twin.
Writer Karen Moy is well aware of that fact, generally drawing clear lines between antagonists and protagonists and ensuring that her protagonists have the happy endings that her readers crave. Are the endings pat? Well, yes. But “endings” in serial dramas can be pat. What they must never be is unsatisfying. Moy heeds this rule carefully, making sure each character receives his just deserts.
While good storytelling abounds in comics, good soap is in short supply. Truthfully, good storytelling and good soap do not always work in tandem and you can easily have one without the other. I believe that many creators are disdainful of the soap opera formula (no matter how many fans crave it) and would prefer to ape a procedural or action-adventure instead. I would love to see the resurgence of the soap opera in mainstream comics, but until then? I’ll simply check in with Mary Worth.