Twenty years gone, and Jaime Hernandez’ Las Locas have lost none of their charm: Maggie still struggles with her waistline, Hopey still lives in full-rebellion mode, Penny Century (as seen in her own book) remains an emotionally adrift bombshell, and Izzy, as ever, is at war both with depression and herself.
None of which should suggest that these characters haven’t experienced believable evolution over the last two decades. Indeed, each has aged as gracefully on the page as their prodigal creator has off of it.
Known for their steadfast refusal to compromise their characters in light of reader’s tastes and desires, The Brothers Hernandez did at least acquiesce to fan wishes by reincarnating Love & Rockets. And, while the Brothers admit that there’s a certain cache in the Love & Rockets title alone, the true draw of the comic is how well Gilbert and Jaime’s stories and characters—different as they are—compliment each other. Jaime’s often lighthearted, character-driven, decidedly urban Locas tales offer the perfect harmonious contrast to Gilbert’s more heavily plotted, bittersweet ensembles, so often set in the fictional South American village of Palomar. There remains something truly unique about two siblings, each so enormously talented, each talent such a compliment to the other, working together on the same title. Essentially, Los Bros are comics’ answer to Hollywood’s Coen Brothers, except that they create their masterpieces autonomously before combining them under the LnR umbrella.
In a nod to the title’s history, the cover of Love & Rockets #1, Volume 2 features six different versions of Maggie (prim and conformist in white gloves and matching purse, pensive in a wifebeater T-shirt and jeans; young, petite, and feisty as a mechanic, etc.) over her evolution from earliest incarnation to the present. Jaime’s opening tale, simply titled “Maggie,” smoothly reintroduces his flagship characters Hopey, Izzy, and, of course, the cover girl. The tension, sexual and otherwise, remains present in Maggie and Hopey’s complex but genuinely loving relationship, while Izzy continues to be the looming, melancholy enigma she’s always been. The first story centers around Izzy’s surely-doomed appearance on the vapid talk show of old Locas’ acquaintance, Julie Wree. (Note the name play on “jewelry” which perfectly summarizes the materialistic focus of the character.) Of course, host Wree’s shallow egotism sinks any chances of Izzy discussing her book. In fact, although Izzy is seated onstage beside guests who match Wree’s vacuity note for hollow note, Izzy is either cropped from the picture seen by viewers or blocked entirely by the bulbous butt of a bikini-clad woman. The resulting embarrassment leaves the emotionally fragile Izzy in tears, and the only-slightly-more-stable Maggie sweeping up the pieces.
Gilbert Hernandez then introduces his latest serial, “Julio’s Day”. In a scant seven pages, Gilbert demonstrates his hard-won mastery of the medium by fluidly illustrating the birth of Julio and a subsequent trauma brought on by a duplicitous, glory-seeking Uncle. Easily jumping forward to Julio as a moonfaced preschooler, Gilbert is ever-so-subtle in suggesting Julio’s molestation by a slightly older boy in his town. By issue #2, wide-eyed Julio is off to his first day of school, walked there by his protective older sister who casually warns him away from the “old, dry boogers” surely mashed against the underside of the school desks. You’re almost certain that heartbreak lays just around the bend as you witness Julio delighting in the words and pictures of his first school book and, a page later, looking up beatifically at a nest filled with baby birds. Of course, Gilbert doesn’t disappoint (or rather, he does) as a pair of witless bullies intersect with Julio before he gets home, and soon they’re ripping pages from his book, before simply launching it at the nest. Gentle Julio is left crying and in a cruel predicament before his sister arrives to the rescue. A brutal last panel illustrating the fate of the baby birds foreshadows the hard road for Julio ahead. Indeed, a teaser for Love And Rockets #3 (scheduled for August) warns of more bullying and perhaps worse, the “slow destruction of [Julio’s] passion and creativity” by the school system. Nothing comes easily in Love & Rockets, and innocence is typically as short-lived in these fictional environs as it is in real life.
There is, in fact, a third sibling in the Love & Rockets equation: Older brother Mario Hernandez. It was Mario who urged his younger brothers to follow the muses that resulted in Love & Rockets. And, although never having the time to devote himself as fully to comics and storytelling as either Gilbert or Jaime, Mario has remained a sporadic, but interesting contributor to the title since its initial bow. On past tales like the powerhouse “Somewhere in the Tropics” (LnR #40, Vol. 1), Mario’s less-studied, yet sinuous art stands in stark contrast to that of his more facile brothers. It’s this story of a banana republic, Comprachico, in the throes of rebellion and political chaos as it tries to shake free from stronger neighboring country Marzipan, that lays the groundwork for Mario’s current collaboration with Gilbert, the grand “Me For The Unknown.” While it’s uncertain just how Mario and Gilbert have split up the work on “Me For The Unknown,” it’s clear enough that Gilbert handles the artwork and most likely the dialogue as well. Many years prior, the pair had a similar collaborative arrangement co-plotting the ill-fated Mr. X, with Gilbert writing dialogue and Jaime handling art chores. Economic imperialism, dictatorship, class struggle, scandal, and one man’s chance for an entirely new life (at the expense of the family he abandons) represent just the tip of the plotting iceberg regarding “Me For The Unknown.” It’s a story that should only gain momentum as both it’s given more time to unfold and the large cast of characters becomes more refined and delineated.
Two decades after the first series’ debut, Love & Rockets may no longer be the mindblower of a comic that it once was, if only because of its compromised element of surprise. Nonetheless, it remains as funny, achingly beautiful, and exquisitely crafted as any printed work one’s likely to find on his or her library shelves or at the local bookstore. If only we all could age this gracefully, and have so much fun in the process.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/love-and-rockets/