Monday, December 10, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #344: Love and Rockets: New Stories, No. 8 by The Hernandez Brothers

We're deep into the metafiction era of Love and Rockets in this 2016 entry, the last of the book-format annuals before L&R once again reverted to a more regular publication schedule in stapled form, as it did twice before.

(Even this quintessential alternative icon can't escape the black hole of American periodical comics and the undertow of the Wednesday Crowd. Nothing can: there is no escape for any of us.)

So this is the state of play in Love and Rockets: New Stories, No. 8:

In Gilbert's pages, we're diving deeper into the multiple-Fritzes story, one turn sillier and more self-indulgent than even the Killer stories, escalating the Gilbert nuttiness as we move deeper into the sordid world of strip clubs and fetish porn and crazy scientists modifying bodies for those activities. Oh, and drug smuggling, too, because where you have mad scientists you have crazy drugs.

I also should mention here that a throwaway line a book or two ago about Killer not being old enough to remake Fritz's movies "for seven years" was apparently meant as a trigger for a flashforward: all of these Killer-as-a-busty-teen-exploitation-star stories (and presumably the related everyone-wants-to-be-Fritz stories here) are all set in 2018 and later, according to the Love and Rockets Companion. I don't think that was clear at all, but Gilbert's stories were always more about feeling than particular facts.

It's all very sordid, including a drug-addled guy with two dicks, various background characters with freakish bodies created by a frankly mad scientist, and a confusing plot of double-crosses, murderous overdoses, and corrupt use of law enforcement. I have a hard time keeping the not-Fritzes separate, figuring out what scenes happened in which order, and (worst of all) caring about any of it. The writing gets stiff and mannered, too, even in the "real-world" scenes where it's not supposed to show that we're watching a bad movie. (Maybe that stiff writing is deliberate, to show us that these people live like they're in bad movies -- that would make sense. But it doesn't make it more pleasant to read.)

On the Jaime side, The Maggie-and-Hopey story started in the previous volume is back, with eighteen pages at the end of the book following Maggie as she goes to the reunion and does the usual Maggie thing: running back and forth as she tries to decide if she wants to be part of something or not. Hopey, also as usual, has flaked out on her without explanation -- this whole storyline feels like a summing-up of their whole thirty-year relationship, and how it never really changes. (At least, at this point it does.)

Also back from Jaime, earlier in the book, are the goofy Tonta and the bewildering Princess Animus, whose adventures here may be the the continuation of the movie that broke while Maggie and Hopey were watching it in the last volume or may be something quirkier like the Ti-Girls story of a few years before. I doubt that it will all turn out to be part of one overall story, the way "Browntown" and the other flashbacks were actually part of "The Love Bunglers" a few years before, but who knows?

The Tonta stories look like they may add up to a book eventually, but they're feeling more episodic -- what could have been the big climax, the plot by her older siblings against their mother, fizzled in the previous book, and Tonta wasn't directly part of that. Frankly, Tonta is an odd choice for a viewpoint character: she's misinformed or just confused a lot of the time, resistant to learning anything new, and no one seems to actually like her. (She's a bit like what The Frogmouth would be if she weren't sexy; maybe that's the point.)

Love and Rockets: New Stories ended as it began: with mostly quirky stories at right angles from what most of their audience wanted or expected from Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. After thirty years, it may be time to admit that our wants and expectations don't match what the Hernandez brothers are going to do, and that we keep coming back because they confound our wants and expectations.

Note: Though this is the last-published physical book with the most recent Love and Rockets material, I do have a few more bits and pieces to fill out the last few weeks of the year. I Love (and Rockets) Mondays will continue through December 31st. Next week I'll hit The Love and Rockets Companion.

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