Monday, September 3, 2012

The New Normal: Love and Rockets New Stories #5

Before I begin my review of the new issue of Love and Rockets, here are links to my reviews of L&R New Stories #1, #2, #3 (as part of a best of the year column) and #4 Anyone who's read these four issues knows that Jaime Hernandez just concluded a highly dramatic and emotional storyline about family, betrayals, trauma and finding one's center in the nick of time. Gilbert has been exploring his interesting in pulp storytelling as framed through his comics adaptations of the "films" that star long-running character Fritz. Along the way, he's slowly been exploring Killer, the daughter of Guadalupe and granddaughter of Luba and Heraclio, several more of his bedrock characters. For both artists, this issue represents a sort of retreat, retrenching and reseeding of storylines.

Let's start with Gilbert. After more or less leaving behind Palomar stories at the conclusion of volume 1 of Love and Rockets (with some flashback series such as his Ignatz line stories and the occasional very brief look-in as exceptions), it looks like Gilbert is returning to his old stomping grounds. However, there's a twist. It's not just that everyone's older, but rather that the story is being told through the innocent but not naive eyes of Killer, whose resemblance to Luba is not accidental. "Somewhere Outside the U.S. Border" reintroduces us to Chelo, the guardian and sheriff of Palomar, and Vicente, the scarred man whom Chelo watched over his entire life. "And here we go all over again", says Chelo, bemusedly remarking on Killer's potential to wreak havoc. "Proof That The Devil Loves You" is the central narrative for Beto in this issue, and it's a stunner. He combines his fascination with lurid pulp with Palomar to create perhaps the most meta story since Dan Clowes' story "Velvet Glove: The Movie".

Interspersing Killer's adventures exploring Palomar after coming from America with a movie starring Fritz as a character who's half-Luba and half-Tonatzin, Hernandez not only hilariously pokes fun at his own comic but also builds a real narrative as we understand why the movie is vicious to a couple of characters in particular. Fritz plays Bula, who carries around a "symbolic screwdriver" (I laughed out loud at that one) and flails about town trying to establish her own identity in the most shallow way possible. The actress who plays the Chelo character is depicted as being cruel and capricious to the Pipo stand-in, which is no surprise considering that the movie was produced  Pipo. Pipo had long-standing feuds with Chelo and Luba, so this is her little way of getting payback (Encouraging Chelo to watch the movie sometime was a particularly bitchy thing for her to say). Meanwhile, Killer is entranced by Palomar, downplaying the "haunted" nature of the town and the hatred "her tia" (I'm presuming Maricela, given her shared loathing of her mother Luba and Chelo) had in talking about the town. When Luba's original hammer falls from the Whispering Tree, Killer treks back to the US to give it to her grandmother, but she's wise enough to know where this story is going. In much the same way Fritz was the focus of L&R Volume 2, it's clear that Killer's journey is just beginning.

Is Gilbert simply repeating himself by going back to the Palomar well? I don't think so. Instead, he's using the cracked lens he's been training on pulp stories through Fritz and training it on an old target. Already, he's given the reader a taste of what his Palomar stories might have been like if he had been a different kind of storyteller (certainly, a less humane one). The Luba, Pipo and Chelo stand-ins all wind up dead while all thought of nuance is thrown to the winds. Unlike Beto's other pulp stories, which are similarly lurid in terms of violence and overall noir quality, Pipo's movie "Proof That That The Devil Loves You" is simple-minded to the point of silliness, a lampoon of the events that originally occurred. Gilbert quite noticeably never has heroes or villains in his stories, only characters whose flaws wind up hurting others to a greater or lesser degree, and the assignation of heroism and villainy in the movie story is what makes it so amusing. With the fun and games over, I'm curious to see whether Killer will wind up being an active protagonist like Luba in the Palomar stories or a passive one like Luba in "Poison River". Luba will clearly be her mirror both for the reader and the other characters, and it will be quite a feat for Gilbert to pull off the trick of creating a new story that treads on new ground while making Killer as memorable as her grandmother.

Jaime takes a slightly different tact in following up a story that could have easily wrapped up the entire series if he had so desired. He essentially puts Maggie and Ray on the shelf (they appear only briefly) and introduces a new character "Tonta" (Spanish for "dummy"), the half-sister of Vivian the Frogmouth. We jump back and forth in time with Tonta, who proves to be a sort of Bizarro Maggie. They're about the same age and liked the same kind of bands, only the frumpier Tonta never quite got her dream man, the singer Eric Lopez (sort of her version of Rand Race). Jaime clearly is going places with this character, spending a lot of time setting up her past and establishing mysteries that he will explore in the next few years but also putting her in the same setting as the modern L&R stories. The violent, dangerous world that the Frogmouth flirts with and that has been touched upon from afar by Jaime gets his full attention in "Crime Raiders International Mobsters and Executioners", a kitschy title that does indeed involve a gang and a potential assassination. The Frogmouth has been a fun character because she seems to show absolutely no regard for others and is essentially a thrill-seeking narcissist. However, despite her great looks, her repulsive personality essentially sets off everyone's bullshit detector instantly, leaving her constantly frustrated. We got to see that explored to comedic effect with her interactions with Ray and Maggie in Volume 2 of L&R, but here, we see that the game she plays sometimes has more serious consequences.

The most intriguing new character Jaime introduces is Gretchen, "the Gorgon". This is a character who appears in the flashback portion of Tonta's story, a teenaged girl with a profoundly ugly face who fully owns that aspect of her herself while generating all sorts of mystery. Tonta talks to her all the time but constantly hides that fact from her hipper friends. Like Gilbert saying "And here we go", Jaime's last line of her initial appearance is "It's going to be a hell of a summer." Going with a brand-new character instead of further fleshing out Angel of Tarzana is an interesting move. By extensively utilizing flashbacks, Jaime will get a chance to explore a cracked-lens version of Maggie as a teen (roughly the same age when L&R #1 debuted) as well as keeping her firmly ensconsced in the wider Locas storyline (though as an outsider looking in). Both brothers, after thirty years, are looking forward and looking back at the same time, revisiting characters on the verge of adulthood like in the earliest days of their comics (characters who were the same age as they were, essentially) while still spending time with characters who are now pushing fifty. There were no earth-shaking events depicted by either brother in this comic, but I'm guessing the next the next three volumes will explore (and explode) the groundwork laid in this issue.

1 comment:

  1. An excellent, thoughtful analysis. It certainly gave me some things to think about that I expect will come into play when I re-read this issue in the near future.