Love and Rockets #40 is a surprising issue. Beto’s Poison River finale is a surprise, lost Los Bros brother Mario contributes his first material in at least seven years, and Jaime gives Maggie her own story for the first time in a while. Not seven years but almost seven issues?
Jaime opens the issue. Maggie’s in a desolate micro-town–motel, restaurant slash bar, Laundromat–alongside the highway. She maybe got there on bus. She’s leaving on the bus. The story’s about her waiting for the bus to arrive and what happens. There’s a supporting cast–the shop owners, the sole local hooker (who thinks Maggie’s competition), the literally junior security guard, a bunch of migrant workers (one of whom knows Maggie). It’s their day in this place. It’s Maggie’s story about being in that place for the day–there’s no exposition about where she’s been or how long since she’s left Hopey, instead Jaime just relies on her behavior and expressions. It’s a rough day for Maggie. It’s a very different Maggie story–there aren’t any laughs–and she’s not on a Hopey quest. It’s the first time Jaime’s had Maggie alone in ages. And the first time ever after the two year time jump forward. It’s intense and excellent; Jaime does wonders with the emptiness of the “town,” both in bright day and dark night.
Then it’s Mario’s story, fourteen exceptionally dense pages about an election in a South American country. There are U.S. college students helping with the election for the U.N., there are rebels, there are local election officials, there’s the corrupt soft drink company officials, there are bandits, there’s a lot. And Mario fits it all in. The story, Somewhere in the Tropics, races and jumps all around. Characters intersect, separate, intersect again, separate again. It’s an extremely complex read. And a very successful one. Mario’s art is extremely detailed but with a wide brush. It’s very impressionistic.
There are a lot of narrative techniques to pass between stories, lots of composition techniques to emphasis characters, it’s great comics. And makes one wonder what Mario’s been doing away from Love and Rockets.
Beto’s Poison River finale finishes the issue. It’s like sixteen pages. It has enough content for three times as many. Beto does exactly what I didn’t think he could do–he brings Luba to Palomar and ends the story just before the first Palomar story, thirty-seven or so issues ago, starts. He relies entirely on summary–after resolving Luba and Ofelia both getting seduced by hippie dudes, which takes about ten pages. The last six pages are all summary to rush to Palomar. It’s expertly done, but also not the best thing for the story.
It’s particularly interesting because of how River now reads without the (not initially obviously) connected Love and Rockets entry in the same issue. Beto’s still got references to the Rockets stuff here, but the echoing is different. It doesn’t feel forced so much as… rushed. Beto’s rushing the finish of the story. Albeit by making it a successful Luba origin. River didn’t start as the Luba origin; well, it sort of did, but then it expanded. Now Beto’s contracting it just so he can finish it up.
It’s too bad. Some great stuff throughout, of course. It’s a perfectly solid finish. It’s just not exceptional and it’s rushed. It’s also a little weird because not only doesn’t Beto overshadow Jaime this issue, he doesn’t overshadow Mario either. His big Poison River finale is the least exciting part of the comic.