Monday, November 29, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 299 (11/29) -- Love and Rockets: New Stories, No. 3 by The Hernandez Brothers

Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez are not just two of the best and most consistent comics creators of their generation, they're so far out in front that the only question is which of the two is preeminent. There are plenty of others who have created works as strong as the best Palomar or Maggie & Hopey stories -- Black Hole, Ghost World, Alec, What It Is, Maus, It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken -- but there's no one else who has put together the body of work that the Hernandezes have. Year after year, they keep expanding and deepening their worlds, telling new stories as powerful as they've ever done -- they're our Balzacs, our Trollopes.

Besides their various sidebar projects -- which are, at this point, mostly connected to their Love & Rockets universe -- they're still providing a yearly dose of the mothership, in the annual Love and Rockets: New Stories trade paperback. (I reviewed the first one for ComicMix and buried thoughts about the second in a graphic novel round-up here.) And now there's the third one, with another hundred pages of Hernandez Bros. comics.

Gilbert continues in the vein of his recent work, with "Scarlet by Starlight" -- a science fiction story about "innocent" natives on a far-away planet and the humans who irrevocably change their lives -- and "Killer * Sad Girl * Star," another Hollywood story about the young actress Killer, in which "Scarlet" turns out to be a movie from his fictional world. Sudden, unexpected violence continues to be Gilbert's punctuation -- and his cast is filled with an endless supply of women with really unlikely upper-body development -- so these stories don't break any new ground, though they're both good examples of Gilbert doing what he does well.

Jaime's half of the book, though, is a departure from the "Ti-Girls Adventures" -- frivolous wresting-cum-superhero stories featuring somewhat more fantastic versions of his main characters -- of the last two volumes. There's a short modern-day story, "The Love Bunglers," separated into two parts, with one of Gilbert's stories and the major Jaime story "Browntown" in between. "Love Bunglers" functions to amplify "Browntown" and place it in context, but it's that longer story that's the major piece in this year's volume.

Maggie is about eleven in "Browntown" -- old enough to start to know better, to have her own ideas about how things are and about how they're supposed to be -- when her family reunites in a different desert California city. (Not Hoppers/Huertas.) Her father is having an affair -- another affair, probably -- and her younger brother Calvin is falling into a situation that will damage the rest of his life. And Maggie -- back among her mother's family, who all call her "Perla" -- has a chance to get out, going to some kind of magnet school for gifted kids. But we know Maggie won't get out -- this is the past, and we know she went back to Hoppers, and everything that happened after that. "Browntown" is a precisely told, devastating story of how everything important fell apart for one family, through the eyes of Maggie. Jaime tells that story subtly, through insinuation and implication as much as by showing events, so that we see it through Maggie's eyes. It's a great short story -- not just for comics, but of any kind.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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