Monday, October 01, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #274: Love and Rockets: New Stories, No. 1 by The Hernandez Brothers

This week, I Love (And Rockets) Mondays leaves behind the lands of carefully tended and curated reprints and heads into the off-road weeds of messy serial comics. We'll be back to carefully-tended a couple of times before the end, but Love and Rockets was a serial comic to begin with, and that's how nearly all new L&R material has appeared for nearly forty years. So we were going to get there eventually.

The paperback Love and Rockets series, subtitled "New Stories," was the third series. The original magazine-sized L&R ran from 1981 to 1996, was followed by a bunch of individual comics by the two Hernandez brothers (Gilbert and Jaime), and then by a triumphant reunion with the comics-format second series in 2001. After twenty issues of that over six years, it was time for another change, and so New Stories was born: it would come out once a year, with exactly one hundred pages of comics, evenly divided between the two brothers. [1]

That didn't exactly happen -- I keep getting the sense that behind the scenes Gilbert was more prolific than Jaime, which may have caused some stress to the model -- but New Stories had eight big books from 2008 through 2016, and only skipped one year as the time between issues kept to twelve months most of the time.

So: this week's book is Love and Rockets: New Stories, No.1, which contains the first two installments of Jaime's Ti-Girls Adventures, which we've already seen in revised and collected form in Angels and Magpies, and a collection of not-obviously linked stories from Gilbert, at least one of which is familiar from Comics Dementia. Again, we're getting into the time-frame where everything hasn't been collected cleanly yet -- or, at least, where I haven't figured it all out yet.

It's structured as a sandwich: Jaime has two long (25-page) installments of a larger story, which open and close the book. In between are seven shorter Gilbert stories -- including one, "Chiro El Indio," scripted by his Halley's Comet of a brother Mario -- which feel a bit like palate-cleansers, without any obvious connections to Palomar or Maria's three daughters.

Ti-Girls is choppier and more comic-booky in this original presentation -- each of the two sections is one page shorter than the final version, and Jaime later moved the single "cover" image here and added a new one for the other installment. I have the sense that the dialogue might have also been changed between the two versions, but I'm not looking to do a panel-by-panel comparison. (I still think this is basically Jaime's least successful story of his mature career.) Given that Love and Rockets was largely selling through direct-market comic shops, and those were (and still are) heavily superhero-centric, I can't say this was a bad way to launch the new volume, and it might have pulled in new readers.

Gilbert's stories include the creepy "Papa," featuring that guy with holes in his forehead and long hair in back. I don't remember if he comes back directly, but Gilbert rarely hits an idea only once, so I'll be looking for him. Also a pleasure is "The New Adventures of Duke and Sammy," a Martin-and-Lewis comic in Gilbert gonzo-space-epic style: it is unique and nutty and coo-coo. The other stories tend to be shorter and more allusive: there's a full-on dream-logic piece titled "?;" "Never Say Never," which is almost a fable, in a twisted Gilbert way; "Victory Dance," which connects oddly to "Papa" and feels like it may be another brick in a much larger wall; and a single page of miscellaneous strips under the title "The Funny Papers" that are not as humorous as you would expect.

It was a decent relaunch for the series, showing what the two brothers could do, and bringing back Mario in a supporting role one more time. Interestingly, it was very much not the two brothers doing their usual kind of stories -- Jaime was wandering off into the lands of superhero self-indulgence and Gilbert was making individual unconnected short stories in between longer epics. Maybe after almost thirty years they decided they didn't have anything to prove this time. (And they didn't.)

[1] This may be a spoiler, but that paperback-format series itself ended, and there's now a fourth Love and Rockets series, back in comics format, which started in 2016. There is an unstoppable tropism to pamphlets in American comics; we stand against it at our peril.

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