Monday, July 23, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #204: Perla La Loca by Jaime Hernandez

Perla La Loca closes out the original era of Love and Rockets, collecting the last five years or so of Jaime Hernandez's stories, and ending with the 1996 hiatus.

(Of course, that "hiatus" turned into a "bunch of continuations under different names," for both Jaime and his brother Gilbert, which eventually led to the second L&R series in 2001. But we'll get there in a couple of weeks.)

Like Maggie the Mechanic and The Girl From H.O.P.P.E.R.S., these are stories mostly about Maggie and Hopey and their world -- a little more Hopey this time, which is welcome since she was missing for most of the past book. And what becomes clearer about both of them, as they're now sliding through their late 20s (probably; their ages and timeline is still more than a little fluid) is that neither of them is particularly motivated or organized or planful: they both drift through life, Maggie apprehensive and Hopey gleefully opportunistic, without work or other goals to orient them.

Hopey has been a musician, but she's not as devoted to it as her one-time bandmate Terry Downe is -- we see Terry somewhat more successful and older for a moment here, which makes sense. Terry is motivated and directed: she was heading somewhere. (She's also deeply manipulative, but few of Jaime's characters are all that wonderful as human beings. They're real people, which means they all do shitty things some of the time.) Hopey likes new things, and having fun, and stirring shit up, but we don't see her being much deeper than that: she probably cares about Maggie as much as she cares about anything, but, at this point in her life, she doesn't care all that much about anything.

And Maggie...well, Maggie occasionally feints in the direction of going back to work as a mechanic, though it's got to be close to a decade now since she was a trainee, and the SF elements associated with that world have fallen out of Jaime's stories. Instead, she works crappy retail jobs when we see her work at all: she seems to have turned into the kind of person who works only as much as she needs to. She spends most of this book either living on her aunt Vicki's wrestling-training camp out in Texas, briefly living with her long-estranged father nearby, or living in a town not that far away. (Come to think of it, I don't think we see her work at all in this volume -- that could be because Hernandez isn't interested in that side of her life, but clearly Maggie isn't interested in that side of her life.)

This book isn't the story of how either of them grows up. When we hit the last page here, we may think that will come next -- either a story to be told, or never told, if it's 1996 and we think Love and Rockets just ended for good. Perla La Loca tells stories about how they were still young and confused and conflicted: mostly in Texas this time, on that camp and in the nearby wide spot in the road Chester Square and wherever the characters live. How Maggie's sister Esther runs away from her impending marriage and stays with her for a while. How her friend Danita -- an odd kind of "friend," since her boyfriend Ray left Maggie for Danita -- also moved to Texas, became part of that wresting circle, and made a new life.

A whole bunch of people are making new lives and moving on in Perla La Loca. Others are just moving forward in the lives they have: building wrestling careers, indulging the weird fantasies of rich old women, getting married. Maggie is at the middle of all that, but she's not changing. (Is that because of who she is, or was it Hernandez trying to hold onto the character she was in 1981? Or maybe a bit of both?)

Questions of identity also start cropping up: I'm calling her "Maggie" here for simplicity, but she's mostly "Perla" in this book, the name her family calls her. Similarly, is Penny Century "really" Beatriz Garcia? As the title quietly underscores, "Locas" is not just the title of the story-cycle: Hernandez's main characters really do act crazy, sabotaging themselves over and over again, doing things that are bad for them, running away from their lives.

At this point, both Maggie and Hopey have been away from their old town of Hoppers for years, totally out of touch. The long opening story here, "Wigwam Bam," is basically the story of what else is going on while Maggie is wasting time in Texas: Izzy is cracking up, Doyle is trending down, Ray and Danita are falling apart, and Hopey is drifting aimlessly, first in a circle of deeply superficial catty lesbians and then into the related world of those rich old women and their hired "daughters." The rest of the book mostly focuses on Maggie, with a few Hopey interruptions and news from Hoppers when Danita and then Esther arrive.

I think Hernandez was thinking, part of the time as he made these stories, that no one can stay young forever. (Well, comics characters can, but, if they're real, they shouldn't.) Maggie and Hopey still aren't growing up, but they're getting older -- and that will continue. They're starting to realize that they're not the crazy young punker girls they were in 1981 -- but they're not quite thinking about who they should be now, yet.

Hernandez shows all of this without ever telling it. His stories are supple and imply vastly more than they say, letting these flawed people act out their conflicts and problems in front of us, almost making us feel like voyeurs in their lives. He started strong at the beginning of Love and Rockets and only got better from there: by this point, he was as good as anyone in comics and still getting stronger.

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