Monday, November 26, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #330: The Children of Palomar by Gilbert Hernandez

Hey, remember what I said last week about Gilbert Hernandez's Julio's Day? Well, take that and reverse it, and it's the same issue with The Children of Palomar.

I waffled about counting Julio as part of Love and Rockets because it wasn't connected to any of Gilbert's regular fictional worlds or styles -- it was set in a Latin American country over the past century, but there was no connection to Palomar or any of his other works. But two excerpts from it did appear in Love and Rockets, so that was close enough for me.

The Children of Palomar, on the other hand, collects stories that appeared in a large-format three-issue miniseries called New Tales of Old Palomar. It appeared in between issues of the paperback Love and Rockets, so it's not really analogous to the late '90s Palomar/Luba's Family stories that appeared in other comics -- those were during a L&R hiatus; these could have been in L&R if Gilbert wanted them to be, and had space.

But they are stories of the Palomar characters, mostly in their younger days, so it would be crazy not to include it in a series all about L&R. And so here I am: once again ruefully shaking my head about the ways Gilbert Hernandez consistently confounds expectations and inevitably zigs when you expect him to zag.

The Palomar timeline has never been terribly clear: neither Hernandez brother has ever locked down any stories to particular years, and there's usually a vagueness about how long has passed between stories. But these stories are mostly at the same time as or somewhat earlier than that initial burst of Palomar stories in the mid-80s.

The first issue is about how two "demons" were discovered stealing food in Palomar: two tiny, dirty figures who could run at what seems like supernatural speed, and can only be captured when the young Pipo goes at her top speed to catch up to them. Those "demons" are the Villasenor sisters, Tonantzin and Diana, and they do get cleaned up, moderately civilized, and given to a foster family in Palomar to grow up (into the young women we've already seen them as).

The second issue takes place even earlier, with Gato (the older husband of first Pipo and then Guadalupe) as a kid of seven or eight, tormented by the local Black Shirt Gang as part of an initiation and in a surreal landscape we haven't previously seen anywhere near Palomar. There's a very symbolic "crack" -- a vertical gorge, shooting arrow-straight across the landscape, just a bit too wide to jump across -- for one example. The surroundings are more like Gilbert's surreal or odd-SF stories than like the more realistic (or magic-realistic) world of Palomar. There's also a group of "scientists" in some kind of environment suits, speaking an unknown language, who kidnap several folks from Palomar to experiment on them with a strange gas that gives kids perfect knowledge of their future deaths. This is all pretty weird, and I think it's supposed to connect with Gato's eventual death in a car crash, but it didn't really click for me: just more random Beto weirdness.

And then the third issue has two unrelated stories. It starts out with Tonantzin and Diana as teens, with a return of the Blooter Baby from one of the weirder Venus stories. Apparently, Blooters appear to childless women, and is an omen that they will never have children. Tonantzin goes to a previously unseen temple of some kind -- or maybe a magician's house? -- to learn how to contain the Blooter and make it go away. This kind of peters out, maybe supposedly ending with Tonantzin's coming to terms with her childlessness. And the last story is set in the modern day, or something close to it, with another violent encounter between Sheriff Chelo and the weird-talking scientists from the second issue.

I've mostly drawn a distinction between Beto's Palomar stories and his "weird" or surreal stories, but this collection combines all of those elements: these are stories with Palomar characters and the random violence, unexplained super-science, and supernatural transformations of his quirkier work. If you like all of the sides of Gilbert Hernandez, this will be a particular treat. If you preferred one or the other, it will be less to your taste -- but that's always the way it is, right?

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