Looking back at Love and Rockets series one

I have been meaning to re-read the first series of Love and Rockets by Jaime & Gilbert Hernandez for some time now.  The first time I read it was over a nearly decade-long period when I sporadically began picking up the 15 book trade paperback set published by Fantagraphics, which reprinted the contents of the initial 50 issue run.

I first picked up book one, Music for Mechanics, at the 2001 Pittsburgh Comic Con.  I had heard about Love and Rockets a number of times in the past, but had never tried it before.  The Hernandez Brothers were guests at the show, so I decided to start at the beginning with the first collection.  I immediately took a liking to Jaime’s “Mechanics” stories, but the offerings by Gilbert, “BEM” and “Music for Monsters,” were very bizarre, surreal pieces, and I just could not get into them.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later, in 2003, that I next read any more of the series.  St. Marks Comics was having a big sale on everything in their store, so I decided to give Love and Rockets another try.  This time I picked up book six, Duck Feet.  This was my first real exposure to Gilbert’s stories of Luba and the denizens of the Latin American village of Palomar, and I really enjoyed it.  Gilbert’s writing was full of character, containing a distinctive voice, his artwork imbued with real atmosphere.

love and rockets duck feet back cover

As for Jaime’s half of the book, with the stories of Maggie, Hopey and friends in Hoppers, that was also enjoyable.  As much as I liked Jaime’s early works, I was even more intrigued by this material, where he had dropped most of the sci-fi trappings to focus on a contemporary setting and the everyday problems of young adults.  And I also thought that Maggie, as cute as she was as a teenager, became much more attractive & sexy when Jaime began drawing her in her twenties with longer hair & a curvy figure.  That image of Maggie from the back cover of Duck Feet is one of my all time favorite depictions of her.

About a year later, the Hernandez Brothers both returned to the East Coast, as guests at the Big Apple Comic Con in NYC.  That is a really mainstream show, so most of the fans that went were there for whatever Marvel, DC, and Image creators happened to be on hand.  Gilbert and Jaime’s table was not busy, so it gave me the opportunity to chat a bit with them, and to get a drawing by Gilbert in my Beautiful Dreamer sketchbook.  A couple of days after the show, the Brothers did a signing at the Forbidden Planet comic shop by Union Square, and that’s when all the long time readers showed up, lining up around the block.  After all that, I really started to get hooked on Love and Rockets, and so spent the next several years hunting down the remaining collected editions.

The final piece of the puzzle was when I started dating my girlfriend Michele, who has been reading Love and Rockets since she was a teenager, and is a tremendous fan of the Hernandez Brothers.  Finally having someone to talk to these stories about made them even more interesting to me, and offered up an alternative perspective on the characters & events.

For the last few years, once I had all fifteen books, I told myself one day I’d sit down and read them in chronological order.  Both Gilbert and Jaime’s characters age in real time, and there is a definite progression of events as their characters go through life.  Well, two months ago I started a temp assignment at the other end of the city, which meant I was riding the subway at least two and a half hours a day.  With all that time to kill, I thought it was an ideal opportunity to finally re-read Love and Rockets series one from beginning to end.  I decided to go through Gilbert’s stories first, and then return to Jaime’s.

love and rockets poison river

For Gilbert’s contributions, I chose to literally take things in chronological order, first skipping ahead to book twelve, Poison River.  This prequel chronicles the life of Luba from infancy to her arrival in Palomar as a young single mother, with her childhood & teenage years recounted against a backdrop of organized crime and political corruption.  After Poison River, I went back to the beginning, with Gilbert’s first “Heartbreak Soup” tales set in Palomar.  Following Luba and the rest of the mammoth cast of Gilbert’s stories in order, watching them age & develop, was a very interesting, insightful experience.  I definitely got to know them much better this time through, both because I was following events in the order they occurred, and with the benefit of one or more previous readings of the stories to give me deeper insight into their lives & personalities.  Gilbert expertly crafted an almost epic tale that spans across a generation, giving us very real, flawed, dysfunctional characters.

One of my girlfriend’s favorite moments from a Gilbert story is contained in “Duck Feet.”  After Palomar’s nightmarish encounter with a lonely bruja (a sort of witch), Luba contemplates “Don’t know what’d be worse… losing someone where I could never be with them again… or having that someone always close by but having lost them just the same.”  It’s a very introspective moment.  This time around, I was left wondering if Gilbert intended this as a foreshadowing of Luba’s eventual estrangement from her daughters.

love and rockets duck feet pg 58

Jamie’s involvement with Love and Rockets is centered on Maggie, Hopey, their gang of friends, and their families.  Initially there are the aforementioned sci-fi elements, with Maggie working as an assistant mechanic repairing rocket ships and pining for the attentions of prosolar mechanic Rand Race.  These aspects are gradually phased out over the early books, and eventually Maggie and Hopey are very much grounded in reality.

There are exceptions, namely the bombshell Penny Century, who with her wish to become a superhero and her marriage to billionaire H.R. Costigan remains with one foot firmly planted in the fantastic.  There is also Izzy, the woman who first introduced Maggie and Hopey to one another, and who for many years was their close friend.  As with Gilbert, Jaime includes elements of magical realism in his stories, and this manifests in the apparent pursuit of Izzy by the devil, who has an infatuation with the unfortunate woman due to the guilt she carries over having gone through a divorce and an abortion.

I think that one of the key elements of Jaime’s stories is the process of growing up, of maturing, the struggle to become an adult and leave childhood behind.  Maggie and Hopey both have to face the choice of pursuing long-term adult relationships or continuing teenage flings.  A great deal of the tension revolves around whether or not they will continue to be lovers in a dysfunctional relationship, or if each of them will decide to walk away and set down roots in a stable relationship elsewhere.  Other characters face similar choices.  During the events of “The Death of Speedy,” we see the return of Ray Dominguez to Hoppers after several years on the East Coast.  Ray is alarmed to find his old friends, now in their twenties, still acting the part of wannabe gangsters and macho street hoods, unwilling to grow up, ready to start fights with rival gangs at the drop of a hat.  Ray despairs at this, having gained the maturity and worldview to recognize that his friends are on a path of self-destruction

A more humorous look at the struggle between adulthood and immaturity can be seen in the long running feud between professional wrestler Vicky Glori and her former tag team partner, Rena Titanon.  Vicky is Maggie’s aunt, and Rena becomes a close friend of Maggie’s.  Years back, Vicky turned on Rena and cheated (“She used the ropes!”) to take the world championship title from her.  Since then, neither woman has been able to forgive the other.  Much to Maggie’s dismay, each even seems ready to use Maggie as a pawn, with both trying to turn her against the other, leading Maggie to despair at “old ladies playing junior high school games.”  Certainly I can relate, having been in situations where people I’ve known in their thirties and forties still act as if they were teenagers, with all of the accompanying petty jealousies, backstabbing, and selfishness.

love and rockets house of raging women pg 95

I think the relationship between the past and the future is actually a pivotal aspect to both Gilbert and Jaime’s stories.  In Gilbert’s final Palomar tales contained in Luba Conquers the World, Luba’s past comes back to haunt her, and she resolves to set out to close the door on the legacy of her youth.  In the process, she realizes she needs to leave the town of Palomar and move on with her life.  Her future lies elsewhere.  For Jamie’s two protagonists, however, the first series of Love and Rockets appears to end with them much as they began.  While many of Maggie and Hopey’s friends and family have realized it is time to grow up and move on to the next stage of life, the closing pages of Chester Square sees the two women contentedly reunited in the back of a police car, arrested for carrying on as if they were still juvenile delinquents.  For them, at least at this stage, they are happy to stay put and remain who they are.

Of course, both Jaime and Gilbert continued to create material after the conclusion of series one.  So this is certainly not the ending of Maggie, Hopey, and Luba’s stories.  In future series, especially in Jamie’s installments, time does continue to march on, something very much epitomized by the continuing developments of Maggie’s life, and those around her.  But that’s something to discuss in a future blog post!

So, re-reading these Love and Rockets books was definitely a rewarding experience.  I’m now looking forward to moving on to the later stories by the Hernandez Brothers, to once again see what happens next.

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