Comic book reviews: Love and Rockets New Stories #5

This year’s edition of Love and Rockets: New Stories, written & drawn by Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, published by Fantagraphics, came out a few weeks ago.  Here are my thoughts on the 2012 installment of the Hernandez Brothers’ long-running series.

First off: a year is a long time to wait!  Yeah, I realize that each edition of Love and Rockets: New Stories clocks in at one hundred pages each.  But both Jaime and Gilbert have such amazingly well-written (and large) casts of characters, that there’s only so much each of them can cover in even that amount of space.  And each issue of New Stories always leaves me wanting more.  Especially last year’s New Stories #4, which Jaime Hernandez ended with Ray tragically suffering from brain damage after Maggie’s mentally-disturbed brother Calvin hit him over the head with a brick.  As a reader who has been invested in the relationship between Maggie & Ray for years, I desperately wanted to see what happened next.

In his half of New Stories #5, though, Jaime shifts the focus to the infamous Vivian “Frogmouth” Solis and her teenage half-sister Tonta.  The reason for Vivian’s nickname is that, despite looking absolutely gorgeous, she has a mouth like a sailor, and a personality to match.  Vivian is a tough character to get a read on.  I’d really need to re-read her appearances in Love and Rockets volume two in order to jog my memory, but she strikes me as the type who thinks she’s much more competent and invulnerable than she really is.  This leads her getting involved with all manner of people who are no good for her, including some genuinely dangerous individuals.  Especially in this issue, when she’s flirting with a married gangster.  She’s also hiding a handgun in her lingerie drawer as a favor for a street gang who want to murder the aforementioned mobster.  As a result, Vivian really gets in over her head, but she never seems to realize the seriousness of her circumstances, wandering around with self-centered blinders.

Her sister Tonta is presumably part of Jaime’s intention to introduce a new, younger cast of characters.  Since Love and Rockets takes place in real time, the characters age accordingly.  Maggie, Hopey, Ray, and their compatriots are now in their forties, I believe, so Jaime has been introducing a newer generation, first with Maggie’s young friend Angel (who I would love to see more of) and now Tonta.  It’s difficult from this one story to get a feel for Tonta.  In certain respects she reminds me a bit of a young Maggie, living the punk lifestyle, coming from what appears to be a dysfunctional family.  Tonta appears to be a bit more on the naïve side, though.  It did take several years for Jaime to develop Maggie into the multi-faceted character that she would become, so I don’t expect Tonta to blossom fully overnight.  Hopefully we will see more of her in the future, perhaps have her meeting Angel.  I have no idea if they’d become friends, but it would be interesting to see Jaime have his two new young female protagonists get to know each other.

The most heartbreaking part of Jaime’s half of New Stories #5 is a brief three page segment which sees Ray reflecting back on his long friendship with Doyle.  The story is literally drawn from Ray’s point of view, and periodically we get these black panels when his mind goes blank due to his brain damage.  As sad as it is, I’m glad that Jaime did briefly check in with Ray, Maggie and Doyle in this year’s issue, so that we could get a glimpse of what is going on with them.

Love and Rockets: New Stories #5

Over in Gilbert Hernandez’s side of New Stories #5, we have another look at the younger generation, as the sexy Killer takes a vacation in the Central American town of Palomar.  And at long last I’ve finally figured out who exactly Killer is related to.  Her grandmother is Luba, and her grandfather is Heraclio, and so Killer’s mother is Guadalupe, the daughter Luba had after a one-time seduction of a then-teenage Heraclio.  Glad we have that sorted out, although my girlfriend, who has been a Love and Rockets fan for a lot longer than me, claims she knew it all along!  In any case, it was great to see all of the rich back story of Gilbert’s Palomar stories alluded to, and to catch up on the current state of the town & its residents, through the perspective of Killer.  The whole trip had a poignant quality to it.  It also offered Gilbert the opportunity to explore a different side of Killer, as we see her discovering her heritage.  Before this, she seemed a rather aloof, indifferent individual to me, but New Stories #5 shows a warmer, sentimental side to her personality.

Interspaced between Killer’s explorations of Palomar are scenes from one of her great-aunt Fritz’s B-movie art-house films, “Proof That the Devil Loves You.”  Set in a fictionalized version of Palomar, Fritz plays a character that is across between Luba and Tonantzin, the fried babosa vendor who killed herself in an act of self-immolation at the end of Blood of Palomar.  “Proof That the Devil Loves You” is actually produced by Pipo, who seems to be using the film to express her feeling for Palomar.  She holds a lot of ire towards town sheriff Chelo, who in the film is portrayed as a dictatorial brat who marches about barking orders and abusing her authority.

As with many of Gilbert’s movie-within-the-story sequences, there is a certain amount to “Proof That the Devil Loves You” that is nebulous and open to interpretation.  I sometime have an ambivalent relationship with Gilbert’s adaptations of Fritz’s movies.  They can be very thought-provoking and atmospheric works, and Gilbert often excels at exercising his illustrative & storytelling abilities in them.  On the other hand, attempting to discern the meanings of the surreal events of those narratives can be very frustrating.  The difference this time around in New Stories #5 is that Gilbert is drawing clear parallels between the “real” events of his story and the “fictional” occurrences of his film, making its meaning somewhat less obscured.  That said, I still feel that there is plenty that is open to interpretation, and (as always) additional readings may reveal further layers.

In any case, New Stories #5 has certainly made me more interested in the character of Killer, and I look forward to Gilbert exploring her further in future volumes of the series.

All in all, Love and Rockets: New Stories #5 was a solid read, with quality writing & artwork from both Jaime and Gilbert.  This time around, Gilbert’s contributions slightly edged out Jaime’s as my favorites, but I was satisfied with each of their efforts.  I’m looking forward to re-reading New Stories #5 again soon, to get a different perspective on it, and maybe I’ll take a look at the preceding editions of the New Stories beforehand, as well.  With both Gilbert and Jaime, often the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts, and reading several issues together will give you a much clearer focus on characters & events.

So, once again I now have to wait yet another year for the next edition of Love and Rockets.  Torture, I tell you, sheer torture!

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