Monday, August 27, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #239: Esperanza by Jaime Hernandez

Everyone gets older, in any world that tries to be real. Most comic-book worlds don't try -- how old is Peter Parker now? And how old was he in 1966?

Jaime Hernandez's comics world is real -- or as real as it wants to be, with only minor occasional eruptions of superheroes and prosolar mechanics. And that world tends to move in forward in time in fits and starts: there will be a clump of stories with his characters at one point in their life, coming out over two or five or six years but covering maybe a month or two of their lives, and then the next clump will begin after that, with another few years passed almost without noticing.

That's how we live in our own lives -- at least how I do. Everything seems to be basically the same for a while, with years that are all pretty much the same rhythms, and then you look up and everything is suddenly different.

Esperanza collects comics from the second Love and Rockets series, from roughly 2000 through 2007. I could say that this book sees the focus snap back to Maggie and Hopey -- which is semi-true, since there's a long story sequence for each of them here -- after the stories in Penny Century, which spread further out into the cast. But Ray D. is just as prominent here as he was in Penny Century: there, he was mooning over Penny; here's he's in a complicated relationship with "the Frogmouth," a stripped named Vivian who also seems to have an unrealized crush on Maggie. Penny herself doesn't show up as often this time out, true: she drops in and out of the Locas world regularly over the years, as if only visiting it from her own, more glamorous and exciting universe.

And there's two major new characters here, both younger than the aging Locas: Vivian "the Frogmouth" and Angel Rivera, whose name we're not actually told directly at any point. So Maggie is still the center of this world -- Vivian has something like a crush on her; Ray D. is still semi-obsessed with her; Angel lives in the apartment complex she manages; and we all know about Hopey -- but it's a large world, full of people with cross-connections.

Esperanza starts off with the ten-part story "Maggie," only briefly interrupted by a Ray D. appearance. That's more reductive than the book really is, though: all of the stories in Esperanza are telling the same overall story. Some are Maggie stories, some are Hopey stories, some are Ray D. stories, and some even more exotic, but these are all people in the same circle and the stories are all placed in time. It's all one piece in the end: it all comes together.

Maggie is still managing that broken-down apartment complex in LA, blonde and chubby in what's probably her early forties. She's still sabotaging herself, still helping Izzy manage with her minor-author fame, still circling Hopey, who is tending bar nearby and working in some kind of office. (If there was ever any explanation of what Hopey did for close to ten years in that office with Guy Goforth, I missed it.)

Vivian -- a bombshell of a woman of twenty-five or so who generates trouble just by being in the vicinity -- is the motivating force for most of what happens in Esperanza. She dates Ray D.; she almost has an affair with Maggie; she's caught up in various low-life gangsters and ex-boyfriends who don't realize they're ex. And she can spark a fight just by standing there.

The rest of the plot is set in motion by Hopey's old enemy Julie Wree, whose mean-girl circle is still intact, still more successful than our heroines, and running a popular public-access TV show, where Izzy appears once and Vivian is the "ring girl," coming through boxing-style in a bathing suit holding large cards.

Well, there's a lot of incidents here that aren't set in motion by anything in particular. Hernandez's characters are restless and unsatisfied and rarely happy with themselves -- and that drives them to do a lot of what they do, in this book and in all of his other work.

The back half of Esperanza semi-alternates stories about Vivian and Ray D.'s messy relationship with the "Day By Day With Hopey" series. Hopey is studying to be a teacher's assistant -- we don't see her do much studying, but we see her leave the old office job and start the new job -- and it looks like she's finally growing up, finally leaving behind the reflexive shit-stirring that was so central to her early punk personality. (You can see Vivian as the same kind of person, only more so: Hopey fomented chaos deliberately, Vivian is an endless source of chaos in herself.) But she's also having a slow break-up with her live-in girlfriend Rosie while flirting with saying "I love you" to Maggie, chasing the cute girl fitting her for glasses and having a friends-with-benefits thing going on with yet another woman, Grace.

This is a world: these people all know each other. Some of them like each other, some of them love each other, some of them want to fuck each other, some of them want to kill each other. Actually, "some" in the previous sentence might be understating it: the thing about Hernandez's cast is that they all feel like that to all of the rest of them, more or less, at different times. (Except Julie Wree: everyone hates that bitch.) Epseranza has stories from the time when some of them are starting to think that they might be getting a little to old to be this crazy all the time.

Maybe they're right. But I also notice that Hernandez has been bringing in newer, younger women all of the time -- Gina and Danita previously, Vivian and Angel most prominently here -- so that, if his old cast ever does grow up too much, he has more Locas to keep it all going.

I wouldn't worry about that: nobody ever really grows up. We just get old, faster than we expected. And we're all still crazy: that's why we read Jaime Hernandez, to show us the ways we are, so we can laugh and recognize our own craziness.

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