Love and Rockets #46 (December 1994)

Love and Rockets #46

Fantagraphics; 1994; $2.95; 36 pgs; available collected.

Even with Beto doing the centerpiece, Love and Rockets #46 is (technically) a Jaime issue.

The issue opens with Maggie/Perla (it gets even more confusing because there’s a flashback to pre-Love and Rockets #1 days) and Esther hanging out at Vicki’s wrestling training camp. There are three Butt Sisters stories, but they’re really just one story with a brief interlude in the middle to catch up with Danita back in Hoppers. Jaime plays the wrestling “prologue” mostly for laughs. Esther has, unfortunately, become Hopey-lite in this story. Maybe even Hopey-lite-lite because she’s really just there to do comic emphasis for Maggie’s plight.

Maggie hasn’t worked out her issues with Gina, the wrestler who not only is mad crushing on her but also took a knife for her (sort of). Xo and Vicki are also at the wrestling camp (obviously) but they’re secondary supporting, which is kind of weird since–at least with Xo–Jaime had promoted her to a lead role. Not now with Esther around.

The interlude with Danita is Jaime’s second best work of the issue, if only because of its brevity. No dialogue, no text whatsoever. Danita misses Ray (which requires the usual massive suspension of disbelief because Ray), she’s lying to her mom about stripping, she gets a dangerous stalker, she’s in a bad place.

So the third “chapter” of Butt Sisters is Danita moving to Texas to live with Maggie and Esther. Along with her son. But mostly it’s a flashback about how Maggie got back into the mechanic business pre-Love and Rockets #1, starring Hopey, Izzy, and everyone else from those days. Even though Jaime’s doing it in his current art style, the flashback just reminds how much fun Locas used to be, which is a bit of a downer, because it’s like he knows–and Maggie definitely knows–how much more fun life was in those days.

The third part also reveals Esther is only Hopey-lite in certain circumstances. The rest of the time she’s a bit of a buzz kill.

But it’s a good story, with a really nice flashback, and a solid punchline at the end. So it’s a real surprise when Beto doesn’t just smoke it, he smokes it with his own riff on Locas.

Hernandez Satricon is Beto doing a Mechanics story. Maggie, Rena, Hopey, Penny, Izzy, Daffy, and Rand Race all appear. Maggie’s the lead, working with Rand and Rena to figure out what a gigantic bowling ball is doing. Changing reality is what it’s doing. Maggie gets the day off and spends it looking into the other scientific teams, leading to disaster, romance, and–finally–a new reality.

Beto boils it all down to the base elements and does a phenomenal job. Great art–his tightest lines in a while as he’s homaging–and a fantastic story. He brings the wonder back to Locas, whether it’s Penny as a superhero or just the pleasures of jigging. It’s awesome.

Jaime gets his own shot at Beto’s characters with the next story, which is Maricela and Riri as kids in Palomar. Riri steals her mom’s makeup so Marciela can get Luba looking like a movie star whether she likes it or not. It’s a really cute story, great art, but it’s just a cute story. Maybe cuter than Beto would ever do, sure, but it’s nowhere near as ambitious as Beto’s riff on Mechanics. Of course, Jaime only gets four pages while Beto got fifteen.

The issue starts good, with sprinkles of greatness, then gets singular with the Beto riff. The Jaime riff on Palomar is cool too. It’s just not jawdropping like the Beto.

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Love and Rockets #45 (July 1994)

Love and Rockets #45

Fantagraphics; 1994; $2.95; 36 pgs; available collected.

Beto’s only got one story this issue. Sure, it’s eleven or so pages–so almost twice as long as most of Jaime’s–but Jaime’s got four stories. There’s a lot from Hoppers. And a lot of Hoppers.

I guess I’m talking about Jaime’s stories first. So he’s got two stories with Maggie (Perla) and Esther. The first is Esther narrating a family get-together. Maggie there’s, Aunt Vicki and–not really introduced–family are there, Cousin Xochitl and family are there, Maggie and Esther’s dad, his new wife, their kids, are there. Lots of people. But the narration is all Esther. It’s more about her life until this point, so a short (but long) four page introduction. It’s fine. It’s a little talky and it’s weird Esther doesn’t seem to notice Maggie’s despondence, but it’s fine. It’d be nice if the accompanying party visuals worked better. But fine.

Esther narrates a lot about Hoppers and Dairytown, something Jaime’s been avoiding literalizing for… well, it’s issue #45 so forty-four issues of Love and Rockets. It gives some context for Esther’s situation, but it feels weird having this minor character doing such a big introduction.

Turns out later it doesn’t matter.

But first there’s Hopey’s interlude. She’s playing a gig in L.A. with her band and spends the day in Hoppers with her brother’s now ex-girlfriend. Hopey avoids seeing anyone she knows, dealing with any situations outstanding; it’s almost like she’s Jaime’s analogue for avoiding situations. Though Hopey does finally find out Maggie’s not back in Hoppers and gets some vague idea where she’s gone. It’s a really good Hopey story, even if it’s depressing as heck.

Then there’s the flashback story. More Hoppers history, with Ray narrating a time the KKK tried to come to town. It’s a “day with the boys” story; although the kids are in high school, Jaime draws them younger. Ish. Unlike the Esther revealing things about Hoppers, Ray’s a fairly standard Love and Rockets character. Arguably the third biggest character in Locas.

Still doesn’t make the history lesson work better. Jaime’s inorganically dumping information.

The last Jaime story is the second one with Maggie and Esther. They’re unpacking in their new apartment and trying to figure out what they’re going to do about another room. Maggie gets a little more heartbreak. Esther doesn’t really know how to help her with it. It works all right, with a funny finish.

Jaime’s best stories this issue–the Hopey one and the apartment one–aren’t the most ambitious ones. The KKK one is a true story adapted for Locas. The Esther party one… well, Love and Rockets has had some amazing parties (but they’ve all been Beto’s).

Meanwhile Beto is still peeling back the onion to reveal more of the Maria story. There are some flashbacks with some Poison River supporting players, there’s the introduction of Maria’s first… well, wait. There’s the introduction of Maria’s second husband and father of Fritz and Petra. There’s also some tying back into other Poison River events for Gorgo and maybe even some forward narrative development in the present day. Lots going on, some great art, awesome story.

Beto starts the issue too. So it’s downhill from page twelve. Yes, Jaime’s art is always great and the writing is always good–there’s nothing bad–it’s just not successful. It’s sort of ambitious? But in an obvious way. And then Jaime doesn’t even achieve the ambitions. Kind of a bummer.

Love and Rockets #44 (March 1994)

Love and Rockets #44

Fantagraphics; 1994; $2.95; 36 pgs; available collected.

For the first time in either a very long time or ever, there are only two stories in the issue. One Beto, one Jaime.

First up is Jaime’s, which has Maggie’s sister Esther visiting her in Texas. Well, it starts with Esther visiting their dad, then going to see Maggie and pals but their dad is off-panel. Also Esther now calls Maggie Perla, even though I’m nearly positive Esther didn’t call Maggie Perla during the Speedy story arc.

Anyway.

It’s a simple enough story–Esther, Maggie, Xo and her husband, and Gina all go out drinking and dancing. They run into Penny and end up back at Chester Square. We learn Penny grew up near Chester Square and Jaime gives her this exceptionally affecting subplot while Gina–now in love with Maggie instead of Xo–confronts the prostitute who beat Maggie up a few issues ago.

It ends with Esther and Maggie finally having a talk about Speedy, making it the first time anyone’s actually had a talk about Speedy dying instead of just talking about possibly talking about Speedy dying. Jaime’s avoided dealing with it for dozens of issues at this point.

Jaime splits the story between Esther, Gina, Maggie, and Penny. Xo and the husband are just scenery or good for some exposition–i.e. some of what’s happened to Esther since her last appearance. Maggie’s still in a really bad place, which Jaime hints at more than explores. He’s delaying again, but it’s fine because the desolate Texas setting looks wonderful with all silhouettes and shadows and Jaime’s detailed buildings (and costumes).

And Esther’s a good supporting player. Far more than Gina, who isn’t any younger than most of the other Locas cast when the strip started but Jaime’s looking at her from Maggie’s older perspective than on Gina’s own age level. It seems like Esther’s coming into the book. We’ll see.

Then Beto introduces some mystical realism into his story, which starts in Palomar and ends in Los Angeles. His whole Farewell, Palomar story isn’t making much sense as a) he hasn’t stopped doing stories about Palomar and its denizens and b) Jesus is still in Palomar. That story was all about Jesus leaving Palomar. Wasn’t it?

Anyway. He splits the story between Luba’s daughters in the States, though it’s mostly through Pipo’s perspective–with Diana showing up for a bit too–and Luba’s daughters in Palomar. The mystical realism comes in when Casimira (I cannot remember who she’s got for a father) goes hunting this evil bird who pecks out the eye of one of her friends.

There’s a real soap element to the story and all the romantic troubles (or at least complications) in the lives of Luba’s daughters and it’s all very open-ended, which isn’t how Beto usually does a story. He usually at least implies a wrap-up. Not here. The biggest change from beginning to end is daughter Dolaris goes from Palomar to the States. And I guess Gato and Jesus are there now too, but they’re still background. They’re less background than some of the other cast members–Carmen and Heraclio for example–but Beto’s definitely made some changes in who he’s telling the stories about.

So I guess maybe he did say Farewell to Palomar a little, but Beto’s Palomar stories have always been a lot more fluid than, well, anything else in Love and Rockets. The soap aspect just makes it feel a little more Jaime than usual… but also not.

Beto’s art is also a little different. There’s a different sense of visual pacing and scope.

While Jaime’s story is good and affecting–the Penny stuff is phenomenal–Beto’s new normal is amazing.

Love and Rockets #43 (December 1993)

Love and Rockets #43

Fantagraphics; 1993; $2.95; 36 pgs; available collected.

It’s a packed issue. Six stories, three from each brother. While Beto’s got one wordless one, he’s also got a sixteen panels a page one. Packed. And kind of entirely unexpected, as far as Beto’s stuff.

His first story catches up with Petra and Fritzi–the two half-sisters Luba doesn’t know she has in the states–as well as their mother, Maria. The story jumps all over, time-wise, and is mostly about Gorgo’s involvement with the family. It jumps around so much it’s hard to say whether it’s all reality or some of it might not be, but there are some definite events. It’s rather unsettling at times. Beto does eight panels a page, with some fantastic art.

While he maybe has said “Farewell” to Palomar, he’s building a lot off the Poison River story arc.

Jaime also expands with the next story, giving Maggie’s cousin Xochitl and her family their own story. Xo’s the wrestler who never wins. The story’s this gentle family thing with the three kids bickering about what TV to watch and Xo and her husband have a late dinner and a big fight. Lots of character stuff in a few pages, with some really nice art. It’s a cute and intense story. The realities of domestic bliss angle works.

Then Beto’s got this wordless three page boxing match. Just two fighters pummeling each other. Great art. It’s just the two fighters too. Around them is endless black. Real good. Beto’s getting a lot more experimental with the visual narrative lately.

Next is Jaime’s flashback to 1967 Hoppers and Ray and his fellow kids being excited about Christmas. It’s three pages and cute. Not much else to it. Lots of exagerated expression and the possible implication grade school Doyle is already a lush.

It’s certainly nowhere near as ambitious as Beto’s Pipo story, which is that sixteen panels a page one I mentioned earlier. Sixteen panels a page and maybe five hundred words a page. It’s intense. The story is in the text, which is Pipo’s first person recounting of her present situation and how she got there. Beto also brings up the whole “Pipo and Gato are back in Love and Rockets and Gato’s beating her” thing, which he’s always avoided until now. Not sure it was worth waiting thirty issues for the whole story, but it’s nice to see him finally address it. The art is Pipo leaving Palomar for Los Angeles and then her adventures in Hollywood. The story’s exceptionally dense and good.

Though, again, when Beto suggests he’s done with Palomar does he just mean the place?

Finally, there’s a Maggie story. Or a Perla story. Penny tries to get her to get a mechanic job. There’s some development–Maggie makes a date and discovers someone’s got a crush on her. Someone unexpected, not the guy she makes a date with. There’s a flashback, which informs some of Maggie’s situation when Jaime came back to her a few issues ago, and a lot of Rand Race mentions before he finally returns. Well, in a newspaper story. The story’s good, if a little less ambitious, narrative-wise, than even the kids at Christmas one.

The issue showcases a big constrast between Los Bros–Jaime’s still avoiding things (that Maggie flashback could’ve been its own story and, even though her first return story was excellent, maybe should’ve been revealed first) while Beto’s examining them. Even if the timeline occasionally gets fractured too much.

Also, while the last few issues certainly “felt” like they were wrapping up Rockets (which is now t-minus six issues to end), this one doesn’t. The Pipo story doesn’t feel like a conclusion but a beginning. And, hey, kid Ray is just as engaging as adult Ray.

Love and Rockets #42 (August 1993)

Love and Rockets #42

Fantagraphics; 1993; $2.95; 36 pgs; available collected.

I’m wondering if Love and Rockets #42 reads different knowing there are only eight more issues. Though Beto’s Farewell, My Palomar certainly hints at something coming to a close. And maybe so does Jaime’s opener, which is a Maggie and Penny story only it’s all about how Maggie’s real nick name is Perla and it was the Hoppers punks who called her Maggie. It’s a weird story, mostly because it’s like Jaime’s… regretting the early stories? He’s definitely changing the narrative distance to Maggie, but with a sense of finality.

Or I’m reading the foreshadowing into everything because I know it’s ending soon.

The Maggie and Penny story is quite good. Jaime’s doing his good girl art so much on Penny it carries over to one of his other stories where Hopey’s brother Joey, with his long flowing locks, is quite lovely. So much so it plays against that story’s script, which resolves who put Hopey on the milk cartons a dozen issues ago. Jaime got a lot of pages out of that subplot.

But back to Maggie and Penny. It’s a kind of grown-up Locas story, including the now muted fantastical Penny lifestyle. It’s nice. And so much more successful than the Joey Glass story.

Let’s just get Jaime done before Beto and Palomar.

Jaime illustrates a script Beto wrote when he was ten. It’s absurdist, involving easter eggs and flying saucers. Jaime draws it with Hopey and Maggie, punk days, in the leads. So it plays off the thread Jaime started in the Maggie and Penny story–we need to start understanding how Maggie remembers her early stories and not how the early stories actually read–it’s really weird and sort of disquieting juxtaposition, which also makes the disposable Joey Glass story even more annoying.

Two out of three great, with extra points for Jaime doing Beto’s old script but making it relevant to the ongoing Locas plots.

Now. Farewell, My Palomar. Jesus gets out of prison and returns to Palomar. Stopping by for a quick orgy with Israel, and to watch Satch abuse his grown children, and to meet up with prison lover Marcos. In a few panels each, Beto does postscripts on all his open Palomar plot threads. He’s putting each character to bed. Everyone’s last panel is iconic.

It’s a Palomar party story once Jesus gets to town. It’s set parallel to some of the action in the previous Love and Rockets story. Steve the Surfer is still in Palomar as background. Beto briefly explored developments in Palomar in that story–what everyone is doing a few years after the previous long Palomar arc. Farewell, My Palomar could be an epilogue on the Rockets postscript, but it’s instead this thoughtful rumination on the town and its residents through Jesus’s perspective.

Mixed into the present action are occasional flashbacks to old Palomar, one set just after the first Palomar two-parter, thirty-eight issues ago. It’s an all-encompassing conclusion. Focusing mostly on Pipo and Guadalupe–Jesus has crashed their going away party–and their immediate relations. With a bunch of cameos. And a glorious conclusion.

It’s wondrous, particularly since some of the best material are followups to stuff he just introduced in that Love and Rockets Palomar postscript. He’s doing character development through the party, bouncing all around. It’s awesome work. And his visual pacing is similarly fantastic.

Farewell, My Palomar has four parts, read two and two, with Jaime’s stuff before, then after the first parts, then the second parts closing the issue. So the issue has all this weight as it goes out with Farewell. Beto hurried this Palomar conclusion and it’s still phenomenal. And it also means, with eight issues to go, Beto’s going to be doing something new, different, or both. Again, the knowledge of the series’s impending conclusion might play a factor in the read.

Love and Rockets #41 (May 1993)

Love and Rockets #41

Fantagraphics; 1993; $2.95; 36 pgs; available collected.

Love and Rockets #41 is kind of strange. Both Beto and Jaime have somewhat peculiar story subjects. Beto opens the issue with an Errata Stigmata comic, but about her parents trying to ward death away from her. It’s four disquieting pages. Beto concentrates on the mood and lets the narrative bewilder. It’s an experiment in making the reader squirm for mixed, murky reasons.

It’s quite effective. But also an inglorious return for Errata.

Then Jaime does this sixteen page wrestling epic. It’s Maggie in the present at her aunt Vicki’s wrestling camp for girls and it’s flashbacks to Vicki’s wrestling career. Specifically how she let her homophobia ruin her life. In the present, while Maggie considers her experience at Chester Square–and last issue–she also discovers a girl in love with her best friend and quietly identifies. Loud, then subtle, loud, then subtle. Great stuff from Jaime. The scenes are all well-paced, the talking deads stuff is amazing. There’s a funny Peanuts reference at the beginning. It’s great.

And a little weird in being Tia Vicki’s return to Love and Rockets. She’s been gone maybe eight or ten issues.

Then Beto’s got two more stories, both Palomar adjacent. The first, the secret history of underworld enforcer Gorgo, ends up in Palomar. And reveals some Palomar secrets. Or hints at additional secrets. It’s a good three pages. Funny and weird and affecting. All in about equal portion.

Speaking of affecting, Beto goes for the jugular with the finale. Seven pages of terror with Luba’s half-sisters as kids in the United States. Turns out Luba probably didn’t miss much with Maria for a mom. Her half-sisters–Petra and Fritzi–showed up in Beto’s Love and Rockets story, very, very discreetly at the start–stay at home all day while mom Maria is out doing whatever. Seducing men it sounds like from the obscene phone calls from angry wives and lustful husbands. The grade schoolers answering the phone, disturbed without understanding why. Beto’s exploring intense trauma. There’s two and a half excruciating pages where you’re just wondering how much worse things are about to get for the kids. You’re trying to imagine it; Beto’s set up all the danger.

But of course you’re also supposed to remember they’re safe and well in the present. At least one of them, anyway. Beto might write big epics but he paces them to be read as published–even after he’s finished Poison River and Rockets, he’s still using their connections to explore new material. The last story is intricate. And terrifying. And great.

With an Errata cameo of sorts.

So nothing super weird, but everything a little weird. It’s one of those great, not particularly ambitious but achieving without apparently trying issues of Love and Rockets. It’s the Love and Rockets version of comfort reading.

Love and Rockets #40 (January 1993)

Love and Rockets #40

Fantagraphics; 1993; $3.50; 52 pgs; available collected.

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.

Love and Rockets #39 (August 1992)

Love and Rockets #39

Fantagraphics; 1992; $2.75; 36 pgs; available collected.

Two stories end in this issue, with Poison River having one more to go. But the issue opens with the finale Wigwam Bam, which Jaime didn’t announce last issue, and the last Love and Rockets, which Beto did. Wigwam Bam opens the issue, Love and Rockets finishes it.

Jaime gets a lot done in Wigwam Bam. It helps he’s finished the Hoppers stories. He’s got time to spend a lot of panels on Hopey. Her East coast adventure comes to a very grim conclusion, albeit a grim conclusion arrived at via lots of humor. Meanwhile Izzy is off visiting Maggie’s dad and he gives her an old journal. So the story is Izzy reading Maggie’s journal and Hopey’s awful day.

While Jaime doesn’t get into Hopey’s interiority much–he more lets her expression or even eyebrow her way through it–it’s an excellent Hopey story. Maybe the best Hopey story in Wigwam Bam. Because it’s all about her. Jaime sticks with her, doesn’t jump away. Instead it feels like he’s jumping to her, instead of avoiding her. Very nice.

And the Maggie journal stuff is fantastic. Because it answers open questions, like what happened a dozen plus issues ago when Speedy died, before Jaime did a jump ahead. The journal is mostly about Maggie’s first best friend, who appeared a long time ago (also in flashback) before dying suddenly and tragically.

There’s also plot, not just everyone in Hoppers having stuff going on so here’s ten to sixteen pages. Hopey’s awful adventure this issue is fantastic. The best plotting–with the most layers–Jaime’s done in a while. He doesn’t “save” the story, because Wigwam Bam isn’t so much a story as a period in Jaime’s Love and Rockets stories.

Otherwise, he probably would’ve saved the story.

Beto’s second-to-last Poison River is outstanding. There’s some postscript on the gangsters, then Luba returning home. The grown Luba. Lots of character development for Luba and Ofelia, not much clue as to how Beto’s going to finish it. He brings back elements from earlier chapters but everyone’s outgrown them in one way or another. Beto’s getting the story settled before it ends while reintroducing Luba and Ofelia, with a relationship dynamic much more familiar than Poison had been covering before.

Of course, given how Beto’s plotted the story, it could go on another ten chapters without coming to a conclusion. It all depends on where he’s going to finish Luba’s origin story. Based on the timeline, I don’t think it can end with them showing up in Palomar. They’re still too early.

Anyway.

Then comes Love and Rockets, which is Beto’s simple but not, obvious but not, stone-cold masterpiece. It’s way more impressive than it originally appeared–it also echoes things from Poison. The two stories don’t exactly complement one another, but Rockets has always felt like Beto doing things he couldn’t do in Poison. And then when he started doing more in Poison, he started doing more in Rockets too.

Beto perfects the panel jumping from subplot-to-subplot in Rockets’s finale. Along with the characters addressing the reader directly. He goes all over the place, does so much, including a lot with fourth tier supporting cast members. Turns out it was all important.

And it ends on one of Beto’s montages, which he hasn’t done in a while because he hasn’t been ending a story. And the montage perfectly grounds the finish. So much amazing storytelling done so concisely. It’s awesome.

Love and Rockets might actually be Beto’s most complex narrative. There are just so many characters–so many entirely new characters–so much random interaction… it’s really impressive stuff. Particularly because Beto’s ambitions on Rockets have been rather muted.

So good. It’s the best overall issue in a while.

Love and Rockets #38 (June 1992)

Love and Rockets #38

Fantagraphics; 1992; $2.75; 36 pgs; available collected.

Beto gets two stories, Jaime gets two stories. Beto’s are installments of Love and Rockets (the surprisingly penultimate one) and Poison River (part ten, but apparently not penultimate). Jaime’s got two Wigwam Bam entries–parts six and seven.

There’s some funny stuff in Jaime’s entries. Not to mention Izzy and Hopey reuniting. But Beto’s got two phenomenal stories. And they’re really short. Love and Rockets is nine panels a page, six pages. Eighth part of Love and Rockets and it’s still unclear who’s going to get a focus. Maricela makes sense; the story has become about her and Riri over the installments. And other characters have fallen off. Or been shipped off to Palomar for safe keeping. But Beto’s got a story with the skinheads. They haven’t gotten a lot of attention–kind of ever–but their story is the framework everything else in Rockets plays off. Even though those characters don’t participate in as many story threads as the other ones.

Beto’s done an unpretentious character intersection thing set in Los Angeles and Hollywood. And he’s never drawn attention to it. Even when Love and Rockets has seemed a little too slight or a little too much (the band), Beto’s never let it get out of control–he’s always been able to keep it on the path to get it to this conclusion.

It’s not a particularly flashy story–even with the surprising title–but Love and Rockets really does show off Beto’s writing skill.

So does Poison River this issue, but it’s always been the flashier of the two stories. It’s a ten page crime story. Luba’s sort of just been a red herring. It’s all about her husband, Peter, and his father and the various criminals they’ve interacted with over the years. The end of the entry returns focus to Luba, but Beto took it away from her for a lot of this story. And apparently it’s not over next issue, so maybe he’ll have a chance to tie it all together?

It seems possible. Though more from what he’s done in Rockets than River. River has excellent sections, but the connective tissue is sometimes tenuous. Rockets isn’t sections–with one exception–just connective tissue laid out linearly.

Jaime’s Wigwam Bam chapters aren’t anywhere near as ambitious as Beto’s entries. Even when Jaime goes for something a little more–a regular cast member’s grand exit–it doesn’t really come off. It kind of comes off, but it’s not a main cast member. No matter how hard Jaime has tried to make them one for more than a dozen issues.

Meanwhile, Hopey has a weird encounter with a famous female comedian. It’s really funny stuff and Jaime’s comic timing is great, but it’s kind of just Hopey mugging for the… page. Juxtaposed with Hoppers and Hopey is Izzy heading east and visiting various people. What’s must upsetting about Wigwam Bam this issue is how well the second installment opens only for Jaime to run away from all of it. He’s avoiding scenes again.

Though Rocky and Fumble have parts, with Rocky now a friend of Danita and Fumble on her bed. It’s cute, but also during Jaime’s apparent abandoning of Danita as a character. She’s not the one who leaves, she’s just utterly reduced. It’s weird.

So while the Wigwam Bam stories are effective, sometimes it’s Jaime trying to be effective. The Hopey and Izzy stuff is excellent, but it’s measured and precise and deliberate. Jaime’s avoiding again, like I said. He hasn’t lost his mojo. He’s just figured out how to do his mojo.

Meanwhile Beto’s seemingly effortlessly turned his “play” story Rockets into something amazing and rescued Poison River (once again) from its troubles.

The Comics Fondle Podcast | Episode 49

We’re a few weeks late but we actually read some good comics, which is always nice.

  • Quick Rant: Comics sales.
  • Floppies: Batman The Damned, Kaijumax vol 4, The Magic Order, Ether The Copper Golems, Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Infinity 8 vol 2, Hey Kids! Comics, Babarella, The Weatherman, Redneck.
  • Trades: The Complete Killer, All My Heroes Have Been Junkies, Criminy.
  • Media: Marvel Netflix, Daredevil, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow.

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Love and Rockets #37 (February 1992)

Love and Rockets #37

Fantagraphics; 1992; $2.75; 36 pgs; available collected.

Nobody gets a happy ending in Jaime’s opener, part five of Wigwam Bam. It really seems like it’s been longer. How long has it been since Maggie was around or Hopey wasn’t a red herring? Two issues? Three? Jaime’s cast–Danita, Ray, Doyle, Doyle’s girlfriend, whoever else–the kids–it feels very much like a comic strip. The way the characters constantly interact with one another without any actual on-page development. Or if there is on-page development in a relationship, it’s the point of the scene, it’s the big event.

This story has two big events. One for Ray, one for Doyle. Well, one involving Ray, one involving Doyle. Doyle’s event has more to do with Nami, who’s stalking Doyle since he rejected her. Will he reject her a third time? As for Ray, he’s still having relationship problems with Danita, even if he doesn’t know it. Even if she doesn’t know it. So he’s got a big event, only he doesn’t really get to experience it. But neither does Danita.

Nami’s the closest thing to a protagonist the story’s got.

Then there’s some Hopey at the end and a lot with the little kids roaming Hoppers, bewildered by the adults.

There’s some really nice art throughout and the narrative moves just fine. It’s just Jaime’s putting things off more. He always puts things off.

Whereas Beto, with Poison River, Part Nine–it’s hard to believe it’s been nine but anyway–Beto isn’t putting anything off here. He’s revealing all involving Maria–Luba’s mom who walked out in the first installment–and the truth about Peter, his dad, all the gangsters, Peter’s band, Isobel, and maybe a couple other things. Peter’s stomach fetish. But the story plays out naturally, detailing Peter’s obsession with Maria.

Yes, it means he stalked and manipulated Luba even more than he already seems to have stalked and manipulated Luba. So creepy. But humanized in a way the rest of Poison River hasn’t done for Peter. It really has some surprises regarding his dad, past and present, as well. And the Isobel stuff isn’t exploitative like Beto flirted with earlier.

I imagine reading the Peter flashback in chronological order with the rest of the story would change it quite a bit.

And then at the end it’s the first time teenage Luba has felt like real Luba. In a moment of tragedy, of course, but Beto does a whole lot with this installment. He’s totally changing the… ahem… course of Poison River, but also the course the reader’s assumed it was on.

Bold, successful stuff.

Then comes a six-page Love and Rockets installment, checking in on the various characters in nine panels on the first page, only for the reveal to be Steve–following his car accident–went back to Palomar to discover himself.

So now we’re back in Palomar, for the first time in at least nine issues, and Beto’s doing a lot of catch-up. Khamo’s alive and with Luba, though he’s disfigured from the self-immolation. They’ve got new kids, who are adorable trouble-makers. Toddlers these new ones. But then Steve runs into Pipo and her teenage son Sergio, who wasn’t a teenager last time he was in the comic. And then there’s Chelo and Mayor Luba and what’s going on with Heraclio and Carmen and Guadalupe and there’s a a baby for Carmen and on and on. Lots of catchup. Steve’s background to a lot of it, often literally silent.

Guadalupe is headed to the States to visit Maricela and Riri, which they mentioned before, but she actually befriends Steve in Palomar to practice English for the trip. It’s fast, it’s intricate, it’s great. It’s weird for Palomar to get such a hurried treatment, but Beto does a great job with it.

Love and Rockets #36 (November 1991)

Love and Rockets #36

Fantagraphics; 1991; $2.75; 36 pgs; available collected.

Either Beto is going to explain all the conspiracies apparently running through Poison River or he’s not. This installment resolves almost every outstanding story thread. It also doesn’t have anything to do with that Pedro cartoon character. He was big in the last installment. Nothing here. Ditto various inneundos.

Instead, Luba’s pregnant. And refusing to admit it. Maybe it’s her husband’s, maybe it’s her lover’s (he initially assaulted her, there’s no transition explaining their romance), maybe it’s the guy who raped her’s. He comes back this issue in an inordinartely depressing scene. Beto hasn’t tried making Luba sympathetic in a while, but at this point he’s obfuscating her thought process. She–and everyone else in Poison River–are a mystery. Even their histories are mysterious, like Peter’s father running a popular musical act (with Peter) and also being an assassin.

Of course, the bigger event is Poison River finally snaking back to the beginning and tying into the first installment.

The flashback is abrupt, which makes it come off a little too cheap, especially given the final reveal, but it’s a good installment. At this point, the question of Poison River is whether Beto’s going to be able to pull it off. There’s so many connections–these guys plotting to kill those guys, these guys stealing babies–then in the flashback Ofelia gets mentioned–well, it’s probably Ofelia, right after her horrifying story from many installments ago.

The story’s changed settings multiple times and even though it has settled in the Peter and Luba in the city thing, there’s still not a tone. It feels more technical than it should.

Whereas Jaime just goes for it with Wigwam Bam. Nicely the issue of Doyle having some romanticized notion of experiencing homelessness comes up so I’m glad his girlfriend was on to his bullshit. But the story opens with Hopey’s brother Joey, who hasn’t been in the book in a while, definitely not since the two year jump forward. Was it two years? Anyway. Joey’s in trouble because his mom found Hopey’s picture on the milk cartons and thought Joey did. Everyone thinks Joey did it. Even Hopey, we learned a few issues ago.

So some of the story is Joey trying to figure out the mystery, some of it is threads from previous installments continuing. Things eventually converge at Izzy’s house but without conclusion.

Izzy gets some scenes, which is nice, even if Jaime is playing way too coy with her. He can do more with Izzy; he’s just not.

He’s not doing more with anyone. There’s eight panels of sight gags on a nine panel page just so he can further delay having to deal with his story. Some very nice panels throughout, of course, but mostly perfunctory. Even when it’s some awesome work, it seems to lack his full attention. Or interest.

Then Love and Rockets cops out with the black kids at the party. Sure, the Hollywood white people are racist about it, but it’s much ado about nothing before sending Maricela and Riri off on separate rides home. Riri with Steve, who’s got the crush on her, and Riri with some of the other supporting cast. Then there’s a big twist for Maricela and Riri, which Beto had never hinted at and ignores some of the previous issue’s developments. Or at least concerns.

It’s effectively done, however, and the cliffhanger is disturbing as heck.

Love and Rockets #35 (April 1991)

Love and Rockets #35

Fantagraphics; 1991; $2.75; 44 pgs; available collected.

This issue is kind of strange because both Jaime and Beto are in the middle of stories. Parts Three, Five, and Seven. There’s nothing stand alone at all about it, except maybe the sketchbook pages at the end, but even those sketches refer to the stories in progress.

Jaime’s up first with Wig Wam Bam (Part 3). It opens with Danita’s kid, Elias, discovering Ray sleeping off getting beat up in the shed behind Danita’s parents’ house. Danita’s going to take over Ray’s apartment since he can’t afford the rent. Well, actually it opens with the promise of getting to see Izzy, who’s been mentioned, but hasn’t appeared in a while. Not since her solo story, but it wasn’t in the current time period. So it’s been a while since Izzy’s been around.

Jaime doesn’t disappoint. Izzy’s been collecting the milk carton missing ads of Hopey and making a wall collage. Meanwhile Daffy and Itsuki, working at the supermarket, talk about Maggie returnin in front of Danita, sending her into some hard self-examination about Ray and her and Ray and Maggie.

Then there’s a flashback to Daffy as a teen first hanging out with Maggie and Hopey and then–big surprise–turns out Maggie isn’t actually back. The story ends–well, one of the endings, confirming no one knows where Maggie or Hopey are right now.

There’s a lot of other stuff–mostly with Danita–but Danita isn’t exactly sympathetic. Ray isn’t exactly sympathetic, try as Jaime might to make Ray sympathetic, it just never comes off. Ray’s just inert, especially in this time frame. He’s mooching off Danita. Maybe.

But the entry is far more successful than last issue’s, simply because Jaime’s not trying to throw as many characters in it as possible. Daffy’s a good character, Izzy’s a great character. Doyle being absent helps the story. Jaime’s able to take his time with scenes and conversations; nothing’s rushed. It’s a good story. Even if Ray and Danita’s romantic troubles are somewhat less interesting than drying paint.

Nice art throughout, of course.

Then comes the five pages of Love and Rockets (Part 5). Beto has gotten the party started. Everyone is there except Steve and his homies. Including Maricela and her crush, Kris, only Kris only has eyes for Sean who’s still interested Bambi because Bambi puts out even if she is clingy and has a neo-nazi boyfriend now. There’s some great pacing, a way too long conversation about Iggy Pop, some Beto trashing Hollywood, and the band getting messed up on a variety of drugs. It’s awesome how much Beto’s able to fit into the five pages. Love and Rockets kind of feels like filler–and is far less serious than it’s gotten in the past–but it’s still some very strong work.

This issue’s Poison River chapter is only three pages longer–eight–but seems like a lot more. Luba’s getting questioned because Peter’s ex is trying to set him up as a commie, leading to everyone deciding Luba’s mom is too beautiful to be her mom (the cops get her jewelry box, her only family heirloom, open). It’s awkward and kind of heartbreaking, everyone crapping on Luba, even if she hasn’t been much of a character the last couple issues. It’s her origin story, sure, but Beto’s concentrating on the things going on around her.

Including whatever hints he’s trying to make about Peter’s ex, which aren’t quite as gross as they could be but are certainly (possibly somewhat unintentionally) transphobic. All the usual character sensitivity Beto’s shown in the Palomar stories or even in the first few chapters of Poison River is gone here. Lots of caricatures, lots of exploitation. Lots of cheap exploitation. It’s callous.

It’s also full of tension and drama and terrifying and rather well-executed. Archie even shows up, in the saddest introduction ever, making his future with Luba even more heartbreaking.

Also back is the Pedro the racist comic book character detail, which Beto used in previous issues but skipped for a while. Or at least seemed to have skipped because it wasn’t memorable. Here it’s a big deal.

Poison River isn’t back on track by any means, but Beto’s narrative plotting is outstanding and it’s compelling. Even if it’s mean-spirited and cruel.

Not a great issue (comparatively), but far from a concerning one.

Love and Rockets #34 (December 1990)

Love and Rockets #34

Fantagraphics; 1990; $2.50; 36 pgs; available collected.

In all… Love and Rockets #34 is the least successful issue of the comic book so far. It’s still a good comic. With great art. But as far as what Los Bros do and get done? It’s distracted and erratic.

Or just downright problematic. The first story, Beto’s Poison River installment, jumps all over the place as Peter’s boss has to have him investigated as a leftist to keep their government connections happy. Drug trade and all. Eventually it turns out to be a scheme from Peter’s former bandmates and his baby mama (principally baby mama) to get him in trouble for being a commie. Only Peter’s not going to be the one investigated, Luba and his father are going to be investigated.

Last chapter ended with Peter going to get his father. This chapter has his father around, but without any dialogue from him. Luba’s busy getting high–presumably on heroin, shooting between her toes–with a couple other bored young housewives. One of her friends wants into the locked diary Luba’s mother left her, which is pretty much the only attachment to the original Poison River. Beto’s gotten side-tracked with Peter and the club and especially scheming Blas, the former bandmate who wants into the drug business and is trying to seduce Peter’s boss to accomplish it. Luckily, Peter’s boss just thinks Blas is a boy toy, not management potential. Or not luckily, since it’ll probably mean he likes the whole framing Peter as a communist thing.

After seven pages of jumping around, location and time, Beto ends with a “reveal,” which is possibly… the most problematic thing in any of his strips so far. Peter’s club–his dancers–are all transgender. It’s the club’s theme, which Beto has been hiding until this point. Given Peter’s stomach fetish and all the other sexual hints in the last couple issues… Beto’s on some kind of icky, exploitative ground here. Or at least he stands next to that ground. The cheap “reveal” is icky enough on its own. We’ll see.

Then comes Jaime’s Hoppers–though no one calls it Hoppers–story. It’s Doyle’s birthday and he’s headed into get a breakfast from sort of girlfriend Lily. He’s not living with Lily right now, instead preferring to be homeless and in a camp with some other guys, which is a whole other thing. Lily’s forgotten because she’s teaching Danita to dance; it’s Danita’s first night stripping. Meanwhile, Itsuki and Daffy keep hearing how Maggie’s back in town, mostly from Nami, Daffy’s sister. Nami will be important later. Doyle hooks up with Ray, who’s almost evicted, and they both need showers.

Eventually the story gets to the strip club and then to Daffy’s house so Doyle can reject sixteen year-old Nami, kicking off a fight scene in the finale, and all around. Jaime jumps between Lily and Danita, Doyle, Ray, Daffy….

And Hopey. Because Hopey’s stayed out east and now she’s crashing with one of her friends (romantically) causing all sorts of trouble in the local art scene. There’s a little about why Maggie left, but really just a retread of what happened last installment. It’s all over the place. And… good for Jaime, he can do it? He can do a nineteen page story with probably twenty-five speaking parts? It’s competently executed but far from ambitious. There’s also a lot of avoidance; he’s contriving events to delay.

Some great art, of course.

Then is the Love and Rockets installment, which is five pages and the defacto greatest success. It’s too short and Beto’s trying to keep subplots going while focusing on Steve heading to the party with Junior Brooks and the other two Black guys. Presumably they’ll run into the neo-nazis who assaulted an elderly Black woman at the swank Hollywood party. This issue focuses on Steve’s homelife and his complicated history as an anti-racist skinhead punk in the early eighties versus what’s become of skinheads since.

It’s pretty intense actually. Steve’s turned out to be a far better character than expected.

But it’s still a far from wholly successful entry. It’s too short.

The issue spins its wheels and shows off Los Bros’s abilities, but without any forward momentum. It’s hard to think of a Love and Rockets being by rote but #34 is as close as the book’s ever come to this point.

And Poison River is in dangerously cringey territory.

Love and Rockets #33 (August 1990)

Love and Rockets #33

Fantagraphics; 1990; $2.50; 36 pgs; available collected.

Both Jaime and Beto get a lot done this issue, but Jaime’s is a little more subtle. In his Locas, he addresses something more directly than usual– Maggie and Hopey as a couple–as well as introducing racism (against Hispanic Maggie) for the first time? For what seems to be the first time. Not only her getting insulted, but also some friction–with history–between her and Hopey over Hopey’s ability to “turn off [her] ‘ethnic’ half.” It’s a lot.

And it comes after a mostly fun story where Maggie and Hopey are at a party, hoping to bounce over to Penny’s. Penny, it turns out, is at the same party (though she doesn’t have any lines and it’s only implied Hopey talks to her). There’s a lot of character interplay as Maggie and Hopey make themselves unwelcome, sometimes intentionally, sometimes accidentally. They’re now the “California girls,” something their new arty friends don’t much appreciate.

It’s good stuff, with a flashback–where Jaime gets in a really funny reveal–to the early days. Lots of personality in the art–Jaime draws literal dozens of characters–and some excellent walking around exteriors in the city at night. It’s going to be a multi-part story too, which may or may not address Hopey’s disinterest in returning home in the future.

Roy Cowboy makes an appearance on the title panel too.

Then it’s time for Poison River, which has Ofelia returning home–only for a page–an interlude before getting to Luba’s already crumbling marriage to Peter. Turns out his fetish for women’s stomachs is going to be his undoing, helped along by his former bandmate and friend, who wants into the drug trade.

It’s mostly Peter’s story, with Luba suffering through the bad marriage and odd situations the rest of time. She’s kind of got a subplot going as she’s worrying about Peter’s dad, who showed up last issue but doesn’t really figure in except to lay some groundwork. Poison River is a strange story–Beto has changed the course of said river quite a bit; it’s impossible to tell where he’s going to take it. The whole Luba origin story thing isn’t even important right now.

And then comes the… Love and Rockets installment. It’s a lot less serious than last time, as the cast works toward getting in place for the party next issue (presumably). There’s some intrigue and some drama–the skinheads are getting worse (or at least not going away), Maricela is fantasizing about the American high school girl with the eating disorder instead of Riri. It’s only six pages but somehow it’s a lot; Beto’s taken this weird, not fitting story and all of a sudden gotten a lot of mileage out of it.

So while all three installments are promising more to come–especially Beto’s–it’s a nice complete issue. Los Bros are generating momentum.

In some ways, the first and third stories–the Locas with arty farts and the Love and Rockets with teenage misfits–are the most impressive, just because Jaime and Beto are juggling so much at once. The Luba story has a bunch of characters, but they’re mostly disposable. In the first and third stories, you’ve got to keep track of all these (mostly new) characters.

Love and Rockets #32 (May 1990)

Love and Rockets #32

Fantagraphics; 1990; $2.50; 36 pgs; available collected.

The issue opens with Beto and Poison River. It’s set in 1970, during Luba and Peter’s honeymoon. In four pages, Beto develops Luba from a scared teenager to a domineering trophy bride (sort of trophy bride). She learns to have fun, she learns to demand. At the same time, Peter’s getting into club management and drug dealing, though the drug dealing isn’t really a factor. It’s a factor in so much as Peter’s doing it (and he’s got a former bandmate kind of threatening him about it), but it’s not really part of the story.

Simultaneously, there’s the stuff with Peter’s other wife (maybe, not clear) and daughter. The family he’s abandoned for Luba. It’s a quick chapter–eight pages–and most of the action happens in the first four pages. The Luba character development is crazy effective, with Beto really excelling at the summary panels. And it’s got a great cliffhanger. Duel cliffhanger. Luba’s getting more personality but somehow she’s even farther now from the established Luba. Excellent stuff.

Then it’s Jaime’s turn. He’s got three stories. The first and third are parts one and two of “Below My Window Lurks My Head,” or, what has Ray been up to since Maggie reunited with Hopey. Mostly Ray’s been up to Danita. But it takes a while for that reveal. First Jaime brings back Doyle, who’s down on his luck and dangerously miserable–very different angle on the character from last issue, when he got his own story. But Doyle’s only there to get Ray into the bar and they’re only in the bar to meet up with Danita and for Ray to have to tell Doyle he’s been hooking up with her and it’s serious.

The next story is Maggie, Hopey, and Penny (Penny’s in the background, in a hilarious mom mode). Maggie just found out Ray dumped her for Danita, which pisses Penny off. So Maggie decides she’s going to show Ray by hooking up with Hopey–while they’re at Ray’s ex-girlfriend Maya’s place. Only Maya wants to make it a threesome and Maggie doesn’t, which brings back the “not lesbian, Hopey only” sexuality Maggie talked about a dozen issues ago (or more) with… well, Danita. The issue ends with some friction between Maggie and Hopey, mostly because Hopey’s avoiding talking to Maggie about it.

Great art on this story. Simple, great art. Jaime does wonders in seven panels, specifically the visual mood of this unnamed city (or, as Ray calls it, “that big old metropolis”).

Then it’s back to Ray and Danita. Ray’s more serious about the relationship than Danita. They’re arguing because Danita’s son’s father is out of jail and he’s looking for them. He’s murderously dangerous. All these people start showing up at Ray’s apartment; every time the doorbell rings, they think it’s the dad. Only it’s everyone else but the dad–including Penny, who’s mad–and ’Litos (from Hoppers) who hasn’t been in the book for ages.

It turns into a nice party, with some great panels and a lot of texture from Jaime. It’s got a kind of funny ending, but also a sad one. At this point in Love and Rockets, in Locas, it’s impossible to tell what Jaime’s doing with Ray. He’s almost entirely different than when he started but still exactly the same. He’s older, tireder, in a way no one else in the book has aged or exhausted. It’s interesting, particularly since Jaime focused on him so strongly for five or six issues a while ago.

Then Beto closes it off with the second chapter of… Love and Rockets. Seems some skinheads have attacked an old Black lady. A teenage girl might know who did it and she used to date one of the guys in the Love and Rockets band and then there’s surfer dude Steve and Riri and Maricela (worrying about Palomar being attacked by the fascist government). There’s a bunch of new characters, or fleshed out minor characters from last chapter, and a bunch of echoes to Poison River. Maricela has acne, like young Luba does in River. The South American governments–in Rockets–are sending out death squads, just like they’re doing in River.

But Beto’s also, apparently, going to look at punk rock and racism. He does the whole story in three rows of three panels pages, lots of dialogue, lots of characters, lots of jumps between those characters. Not much in the way of establishing shots. It’s something kind of new from Beto because it’s not lyrical, but it’s also not particularly sympathetic to anyone. There are likable characters, sure, but he’s not invested in anyone yet.

As usual, great issue. Very different issue. Los Bros are changing up the comic.

Love and Rockets #31 (December 1989)

Love and Rockets #31

Fantagraphics; 1989; $2.50; 36 pgs; available collected.

The issue starts with Maggie trying to join Hopey and Tex’s new band. They’re delayed getting back to California, which might not even be on Hopey’s radar. It’s a Maggie and Hopey story, a little different given Hopey’s hair, but also because it’s two pages and (roughly) twelve panels a page. Maggie runs into Ray’s ex-girlfriend. It’s a cute little Locas, but feels like Jaime’s just keeping their burner warm.

Next is Beto’s Poison River. Part three. Teenage Luba gets married. The husband is a band manager and conga player (in said band). He’s much older. He’s also married with at least one child, but Luba doesn’t know about the other family. He’s obsessed with her and nowhere near as creepy as the other grown men pursuing Luba and her teenage friends. There’s also the origin of the hammer. It’s an excellent story; Luba isn’t particularly familiar in it. She’s not the kid from the previous issue, she’s not the Luba from regular Palomar. She’s actually far more revealed than her adult self. The husband, who Beto didn’t identify as a husband, showed up in one panel at the start of Human Diastrophism when Beto was going over Luba’s kids’ fathers. There’s also the start of Luba’s bather career; she and her friends work at the local bath house. Beto does a lot with it, especially since everyone except Luba and her family (who don’t play a big part) are new characters. It’s excellent. Beto makes it seem casual in the excellence.

Then is a Doyle story. Jaime’s not done with Doyle, which is a surprise. It’s a flashback story to 1982, so presumably before Doyle met Hopey and Maggie but after he’d been friends with Ray. Doyle’s just out of jail, looking for Ray (who’s gone east), working for with his girlfriend and Lily, who isn’t his girlfriend yet. Lily and the girlfriend are exotic dancers, Doyle collects the money and gets rough if need be. Jaime structures it all around broken toilets keeping Doyle up at night, which is a special kind of despondence. There’s not much with the girlfriend, but the burgeoning relationship with Lily is really sweet and well-done. It’s out of place in the sweetness, but also perfect. There’s some great art too. It’s just a surprise.

But nowhere near the surprise of the last story, Beto’s Love and Rockets: Premiere. It’s this comic–but sad and dark–story about Steve Stranski, a metalhead surfer who… if you look close… once vacationed in Palomar. He’s taking a couple hot chicks to see this band, Love and Rockets, perform. Only they think it’s the actual band Love and Rockets and not some garage band knockoffs. It’s a fun, goofy story and then all of a sudden Steve meets his friend’s new Hispanic housekeeper and starts crushing on her, even giving her a ride home with pal Gerry (another surfer who vacationed in Palomar). Turns out it’s Riri and she and Marciela are trying to make it in the States. And it’s to be continued, which is another surprise. Beto’s doing Marciela’s story too.

It’s a sort of different issue–even with Luba being active in her origin, it doesn’t feel like Luba, and Doyle’s proto-Doyle, and Maggie and Hopey are just cameoing. But it’s another excellent one. Both Jaime and Beto maintain their ambitions throughout.

Love and Rockets Bonanza #1 (March 1989)

Love and Rockets Bonanza #1

Fantagraphics; 1989; $2.95; 52 pgs; available collected.

Love and Rockets Bonanza collects short Love and Rockets miscellanea from, approximately, 1985 to 1988. The first issue of 1985 was #10, the last issue of 1988 was #28. All these little stories–the longest ones are six, some are just single pagers–appeared in other Love and Rockets publications, like the collections or in the color Mechanics series or Fantagraphics’s Anything Goes anthology. There’s even a Los Bros story from “The Village Voice.”

What’s so interesting about the stories in the collection is what Beto and Jaime were developing outside the regular series. Like Pipo getting dropped on her head on delivery and it haunting her. Or Pipo hanging out with the boys until she started wearing dresses. Or Chelo’s back story. None of this Palomar stuff made it into the series proper–well, maybe some hints about Pipo hanging out with the boys, but nothing to this level. Instead, it showed up in the collections–in Pipo’s case, starting with the first one. Pipo, who disappeared from the series proper, had a whole character development thing going (as a kid, anyway) and it never bled through to the main series.

Similarly, Daffy is much more of a supporting cast member in some of Jaime’s extra Locas pages than she ever was in the main series. Especially in the time frame of these stories–it’s all “Mechanics”-era stuff. There’s even a story, from Anything Goes, so not a Love and Rockets collection (yet… it subsequently got collected), where there’s actual closure with Rand Race. At the time Jaime did the story for Anything Goes, Hopey and Maggie were about to be separated–or already had been–Bonanza’s March 1989 release was a flashback to a much different Love and Rockets than where Jaime and Beto had ended up in the main series at that point.

Though there were some definite hints of things to come. While most of the new elements are on their own–like Pipo’s head, Daffy’s continued presence, some actual sibling bonding for Hopey and Joey–there’s also Beto foreshadowing Ofelia’s tragic story. It’s in a story about Guadalupe’s interest in astronomy, which may or may not have the giant book from Human Diastrophism (more like does), from Anything Goes in May 1987. Beto didn’t get around to fully revealing it in the main series until #30, over two years later.

There’s also some interesting standalone stuff, like Beto and Jaime collaborating on the “Village Voice” piece. They both wrote, Jaime pencilled. It feels very much like one of Beto’s first person punk historicals, which he stopped doing in the main series ages before March 1989 when Bonanza dropped. Jaime’s got a A Date With Hopey, about some doofus who–according to him–was “this close” to dating Hopey. It’s all from his perspective, Hopey and Maggie are background, and the whole thing reads like Jaime’s trying to ape Beto’s first person style. Very, very, very interesting stuff in the creative timeline.

It’s a solid collection of stuff; Beto’s Palomar stories are the best, just because Jaime’s not trying too hard with the Locas material. It’s for fun. He’s got some great art–Maggie reading the comic book adventures of her time with Rand Race, for example, has some gorgeous science hero-ish art from Jaime; material from a September 1988 collection, years after Jaime had stopped doing “Mechanics.”

There’s some stuff with Penny telling Hopey about Costigan, so set in the early days, during a story covering Maggie’s first day as Race’s assistant. Very cute story. Jaime goes for laughs and smiles, Beto goes for laughs and smiles but with some depth.

A lot of Beto’s art is much cleaner in these little stories, less hurried, like he was trying to be impressive for the collections.

Bonanza has been collected again elsewhere, but like I said, it’s a interesting bit of creative development stuff–what the Brothers didn’t work on in the main book, but worked on to support the main book when it got collected.

Love and Rockets #30 (July 1989)

Love and Rockets #30

Fantagraphics; 1989; $2.95; 52 pgs; available collected.

Love and Rockets #30 stands out for a couple reasons. First Jaime does a retcon. He does a flash forward and a retcon, like he’d written himself into a hole and couldn’t find a way out. And also because Beto, in one chapter, turns in a layered, complex tragedy in the Luba origin and it’s the best single issue piece in the series so far. It’s ambitious as all hell and completely contained.

But first Jaime and Locas.

The story starts two years after the club (presumably the one from #24) burned down. Danita’s kid (who hasn’t appeared in ages) is a toddler now. He doesn’t know Maggie, who passes him on the street (Maggie’s wearing shoes now). And then the club–turns out Maggie hasn’t seen Daffy for two years. Daffy’s got a new group of punk friends. Penny has been in an accident, they tell Maggie, which sets off the story. Eventually, Maggie and Ray are back at Penny’s mansion, hanging out. Enter Hopey.

Hopey’s got a story, Penny’s got a story, even Ray gets a flashback to his time as a struggling artist out east. Jaime retcons a bit–fudging the Hopey timeline, establishing Maggie having a job as a copy machine repairperson (which is an all new development this story)–and it works. He’s able to bring the band back together.

There are casualties of course. Poor Ray gets a major downgrade. He gets a couple good moments. He and Tex are a funny pair. But it certainly doesn’t feel like it did a couple issues ago, when Jaime was prepping him for a leading role in the book.

There’s some great art. Jaime’s not doing the big panels, but he’s able to do some callbacks to the first Costigan mansion story from #4. Visual and narrative. All while maintaing his eight or nine panels a page and his comic strip pacing. It’s fantastic.

It’s also fun, funny, and life affirming.

So Beto’s story, continuing Luba’s origin, is a bit of a kick in the teeth. Almost literally because Luba’s adoptive father is passed out drunk on the street at the start of it. He and Luba make it down to his hometown, where his sister and her daughter, Ofelia, are there to take them in.

It immediately becomes Ofelia’s story, set in the early fifties, in South America (somewhere), where there are facists and there’s a chance for communism or maybe even socialism to take hold. And there’s a new sense of possibility and pride because of Frida–nice tie to Beto’s biography.

There’s a lot.

And Ofelia’s a mean caregiver to toddler Luba. Toddler Luba who has bowel and bladder control issues, which Beto plays–occasionally–for the closest thing the story has to comic relief.

There’s more than political commentary, there’s social commentary–there’s even this subplot about the racist comic book Ofelia uses to teach Luba to read. And then there’s Luba’s adoptive father; he still plays in.

The story is a series of vingettes, irregularly occuring as time progresses. The little moments in the little panels (Beto’s doing like seven most pages).

And then sixteen pages into the chapter’s twenty-two, Beto goes an entirely different, entirely unexpected but entirely logical, organic route and terrifies in a way nothing in Love and Rockets has ever terrified. Horrifies in a way the comic has never horrified.

Then there’s a little epilogue, setting up the next chapter, returning the story to Luba. Ofelia was just borrowing it.

It’s an astounding story. All the layers Beto works in, all the little threads, both in the narrative and the art. It’s phenomenal work. Jaime’s Hopey and Maggie reuniting doesn’t disappoint and excels, which is an admirable feat, but what Beto does with Poison River, Part Two is horrifically magical.

The Comics Fondle Podcast | Episode 48

It’s been five weeks, which makes sense since it’s not easy to find books! Even some mainstays have disappointed the last couple months… and, of course, some haven’t.

Floppies – The Weatherman, Punks Not Dead, Barbarella, Bloodstrike, Highest House, Ether: Copper Golems, Infinity 8 vol 2, Maestros, Jimmy’s Bastards, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest, Redneck, X-Men: Second Genesis, Seeds, Kaijumax Season Four.

Retro – Love and Rockets.

Trades – Complete Aleck Sinner Vol 2, Fourth World Omnibus, The Complete The Killer.

Mixed media – Luke Cage, CW, Titans.

you can also subscribe on iTunes…

Love and Rockets #29 (March 1989)

Love and Rockets #29

Fantagraphics; 1989; $2.25; 36 pgs; available collected.

Beto’s back to Palomar in Love and Rockets #29. Well, he’s back to some kind of Heartbreak Soup, maybe not Palomar. He’s got the first chapter of Poison River, which recounts this terrible tale of migrant workers. Eventually. It opens with a housekeeper thinking she’s rescuing a baby from the father burning it with a cigar. Or worse. It’s unclear. Beto doesn’t have any exposition in the story. He often doesn’t have any dialogue. For example, when the man’s wife (and presumably the baby’s mother) returns and gets booted out of the house, it’s all without dialogue.

Then Beto introduces Eduardo and Juan, two ditch diggers. They’re hungry, it’s hard to find work (and the boss lays off at least one person a day). Eduardo has Juan over for dinner; now, Eduardo is the one who took the baby in the opening scene. He’s now living with the mother. Or more like the mother is living with him. Eduardo’s also got another woman, Karlota. It’s unclear who he’s supposed to be with; though it definitely seems like Karlota.

There’s jealousy, drunkenness, disaster, and Eduardo ends up in charge of the baby. Baby Luba.

Beto throws in that revelation in the second to last panel, long after he’s proven the Palomar-free Heartbreak Soup story. His art’s fantastic, the pacing of it and the panel composition. A lot happens in the panels’ backgrounds in the story. Lots with recurring visual motif, lots with expression. Never with exposition. Beto’s got a lot to say in Poison River, a lot to talk about, but he never gives the reader a vocabulary guide. He’ll have these single panel scenes, then multi-panel sequences, sometimes flashbacks; there’s a severe narrative distance. Eduardo’s the protagonist, but the story’s not from his perspective. Not most of the time. Probably.

It’s awesome.

And it maybe has an Izzy cameo. What’s Izzy doing in Mexico? Well, Jaime’s story for the issue is Flies on the Ceiling: The Story of Isabel in Mexico. This story has come up in the comic before, with Hopey wanting to read about it in Izzy’s diaries, but it’s not like Hopey shared her findings with the reader. There has been some back story on Izzy, especially tying her into the version of Isabel from the first issue of Love and Rockets; Jaime repeats some of that distinct imagery here. But then he tells a very different, utterly heartbreaking tale. Frankly it’s hard to imagine Hopey would find anything to laugh about.

In Mexico, sometime after having an abortion, Izzy is shuffling through a town. A single father asks for her help getting his son to eat dinner. Izzy starts rooming with the pair and in a nine-panel page of fantastic montage, becomes a member of the family. The son likes her, the father is crushing on her. Eventually Izzy even smiles.

After an old woman ominously speaks to Izzy on the street, Izzy confesses her past to the man. He loves her anyway. Just as much. Izzy’s happy. Until one day she has a vision and has to leave the man and the boy, locking herself away in a one room apartment; there, the devil confronts her. They’ve–why assume the devil is a he, the devil tells her–been following her. They love her suffering.

It becomes this hard story about Izzy’s emotional and mental breakdown; with flashbacks to her abortion. She’s traumatized, over and over again.

It’s an emotional roller coaster of fifteen pages. Tragic, beautifully illustrated (Jaime does these super-thin background lines, focusing the foreground against them). The whole story plays out on Izzy’s face, panel to panel, with the occasional haunting or disturbing image. It too is an awesome story. And probably Jaime’s best done-in-one and maybe best overall since he’s moved to the nine-panel a page layout, which he uses for the entire story, save the title page. It’s a rending tale.

So, great issue. For maybe the first time in the series, Beto and Jaime are handling some of the same themes between their stories in one issue.

Love and Rockets #28 (December 1988)

Love and Rockets #28

Fantagraphics; 1988; $2.25; 36 pgs; available collected.

Love and Rockets #28–at least the Jaime stories (he has four)–almost read like an entirely different comic, just with the same characters and the same artist.

The issue opens the only Maggie story. It’s set… sometime after the last issue’s events with her aunt, with Ray painting Maggie. Then he paints Danita instead. There are some jokes and wigging out from Maggie, but Jaime’s a lot more interested in it as Ray the conflicted creative. Lots of thought balloons about his artistic consternation. It’s got a comedic finish (and a Luba reference), but even the finale punchline is a little different. It’s good, with some great motion, but it’s Ray’s comic strip. Even if Maggie’s in it. Weird.

Then is a flashback story about Terry, Hopey’s ex-girlfriend and ex-bandmate. It’s Terry’s story for like a page (in the present people are talking about her to the reader, breaking the fourth wall), but by the second, Hopey’s there and it’s mostly Hopey’s story. Like the subtext is Hopey’s back story (more of it) and the big stuff is Terry’s. It’s beautifully paced. And arguably the most “normal” Locas story in the issue.

Because then it’s another Ray story, only it’s when Ray’s a little kid and it’s like Peanuts. Only with talking adults and lots of trouble and fantastically detailed backgrounds. It’s a cute little story, with Jaime really showing off his comic strip pacing abilities. Some gorgeous silhouettes too.

Then there’s a break in Jaime stuff and it’s Beto’s biography of Frida Kahlo. It’s an illustrated timeline of her life’s big events, with some tangiental information, and some phenomenal art. And a Tonantzin cameo (because Beto couldn’t help himself?). It’s a twelve-page story; the first eight or nine speed past. It slows down before Frida’s death, but Beto doesn’t foreshadow the death. He’s just changing up the pace a little. To be fair, it’s Frida’s life’s events. They’re changing up the pace. Then it’s got a beautiful finish.

It’s confident, measured work from Beto. He’s got his ambitions and he realizes them, even if it is the first time since Love and Rockets started I wished the book was in color. The visuals don’t need it, but who knows what they’d be like if they had color. It’d be cool to see.

Finally, it’s a beautifully paced six pager about Ray and Doyle taking a high school buddy out drinking. It’s played almost entirely for laughs, with a very different sense of humor than Jaime’s ever employed before. The scenes are paced perfectly, there are some great expressions, but there’s no punchline. Not for the characters, not for the reader. Jaime tries something talky for emphasis, it’s just dull. His previous stories all ended with sharp punchlines this issue–even the non-epical Terry story–and it’s a rocky out for the issue. (Beto had a perfectly good finish for the Frida biography too).

So. Kind of strange issue. Successful, especially Beto’s biography thing, but strange thanks to Jaime’s meandering. Sometimes it works better than other times–it might just be Doyle’s a bad character to lead a story, he’s always been a lot better playing off people and Ray’s got zilch in that last story too.

It’s like Locas with dudes, only… the dudes aren’t dynamic.

Love and Rockets #27 (August 1988)

Love and Rockets #27

Fantagraphics; 1988; $2.25; 36 pgs; available collected.

Beto’s got two stories in Love and Rockets #27, neither Palomar-related, both more concentrated on the art. The first is a two-pager about traffic. Automobile traffic and the false promises of automobile ownership. There’s some really detailed art, much different than anything Beto’s done (at least lately), with an emphasis on patterns and panel layouts. It’s a neat start to the issue.

His second story comes at the end, the dialogue-free A Folktale–oh, right, Beto’s using pseudonyms on both stories. The first is by Bob Dillon, the second is by Loup Garou (on the first page) and then Karl Barx on the last. It’s about a woman who’s (apparently) having a BDSM party, an old man peeing in the ocean, and the devil. There’s a teleportation orb; kids playing on the beach push the old man into the orb, he shows up at the party. Where the devil has just arrived. Only the women isn’t so taken with the woman as she is with a hooded man (with skulls in his eyes). The old man has crosses. There’s a lot going on. It’s eight pages. Lots of liquids, the implication the old man is God, all sorts of stuff. It’s a good close to the issue. Beto’s taking a break from worrying about the narrative.

In between is Jaime’s second part to the Maggie working for her Aunt Vicki story. Lots happens. Vicki is winning all the wrestling matches because Maggie being so standoffish with her is pissing Vicki off so she’s taking it out on opponents. Meanwhile, back in Hoppers (now, for the first time, I think, near or part of L.A.–Vicki’s getting Maggie a plane ticket, it comes up), Doyle and Kiko are sitting around talking about what’s going on with Maggie’s love life (i.e. Ray vs. Hopey). Jaime keeps going back to them for their commentary, as Maggie eventually gets fired and then goes on the road with one of Rena’s old wrestling partners in a hunt for Hopey.

Jaime does a bunch of character development on Vicki, a little on the Hoppers supporting cast–mostly Daffy. Maggie’s hunt for Hopey comes up empty but she does manage to get wasted a lot and go to the zoo. And maybe there’s some resolution for Maggie and Vicki, though Maggie’s almost completely unaware of how much their relationship problems are weighing on Vicki. It’s kind of like it’s Vicki’s story, with everything else just extra to set up whatever’s next once Maggie gets back to Hoppers.

One thing Jaime doesn’t do is anything with the recently deceased Speedy. Kiko mentions him, but doesn’t name him, and Izzy appears silent in a panel during a dream sequence. After the first page, which features Roy Cowboy (a Jaime character from the early days of Love and Rockets) as a wrestling announcer, and has a larger establishing panel, Jaime sticks to six or seven panels a page. He’s getting really good with the detail in these smaller panels. Scene pacing, implied movement between panels, establishing shots during scenes and conversations, all of it’s outstanding.

But it’s all a delay. The story ends with Maggie in stasis for a few months, not having to think about the future, getting to stay in Vicki’s house while Vicki’s on the Japanese wrestling circuit. It’s cute–and works thanks to the story being from Kiko and Doyle’s perspective, at least as far as Hoppers drama goes–but is hard not to feel like Jaime’s avoiding things. Like Maggie being the protagonist.

Love and Rockets #26 (June 1988)

Love and Rockets #26

Fantagraphics; 1988; $2.25; 44 pgs; available collected.

Beto finishes up Human Diastrophism this issue; there’s a lot to talk about with it. A whole lot.

But first Jaime, who does a very different Locas than he’s being doing lately. It’s about Maggie going on tour with her Aunt Vicki, who’s won back her wrestling belt and needs to defend it. Maggie’s along as her assistant (of sorts).

The story opens with some developments for Maggie and Ray (they’re together in some capacity), though Ray is pretty sure Maggie would pick Hopey. Hopey’s entirely off page. She tries calling Maggie, which is one heck of an off-panel development. Daffy and Tom Tom (who’s been gone for how long) show up for some exposition and fun at the beginning of the story, then it’s Maggie on the road and Vicki’s wrestling insanity.

Vicki’s been in the book more lately, but nothing like here. Jaime humanizes her in a direct way, as opposed to the usually comedic ways he’s done in the past. Comedic and frightening. But here we finally get some insight into Vicki’s role as Maggie’s pseudo-mom, a role previously reserved (to some degree) for Vicki’s nemesis, Rena. Who gets a mention but no appearance.

Art-wise, Jaime’s really going for some comic strip style pacing here. Holy crap, I just realized there’s a cameo from Vincente and Saturino (Palomar). Anyway, the comic strip style pacing. It’s an awesome mix of action and detail. Jaime’s moving quickly, but never rushing through detail. Quite the opposite, in fact. This story’s probably more detailed than Jaime’s been lately. When he’s doing six panel pages (three rows of two), he’s able to do a lot more with the visual pacing, to force the reader’s attention. It’s an almost entirely “for fun” outing, but with some phenomenal visual storytelling.

And now Human Diastrophism.

This final installment would seem like a postscript or epilogue, if it weren’t where so much of the impact occurs. It certainly seemed like Luba’s mad rush of self-destruction and terrible choices peaked earlier, but not exactly. Here’s where her behaviors finally fully explode; it just looked like she was exploding before. Beto brings back something from earlier for the deus ex machina on it, from the second chapter. Beto’s page numbering for the story is straight through all installments (it ends, here, at page 100). The story certainly deserves a full-read through on its own.

But it’s not just what the final installment doesn’t resolve, it’s what it introduces. It’s what subplots turn out to be more important and how they echo with earlier things in Beto’s Palomar stories. There’s a callback to the first one, no less. And then references to some other characters.

It’s a twenty-page story. With maybe three main plot lines and then a bunch of supporting ones. There’s character development going on between panels, not in focus, like Carmen and Heraclio coming to terms with Guadalupe being his daughter. Beto does a lot of visual echos between Luba’s men, Archie and Heraclio in particular, but also echoing Tonantzin off Diana. In some ways, it’s the culmination of all the Palomar stories since the first one (set ten years before or whatever). But it also refers to that story.

So while it’s independent–the character development of Luba’s daughter, Marciela, almost entirely happens in this story, the serial killer story line is contained to it, lover boy Khamo is entirely contained to it–Human Diastrophism is all about Palomar. About the only thing it doesn’t have to do with is the boys who grew up and moved away.

Of course, all that discussion and it doesn’t even touch on the end of Human Diastrophism, which is entirely unexpected but also perfectly in line with the story (and Beto’s Palomar work). It’s devastating, but removed, then Beto zooms back in, only just the reader. The reader is in on a terrible truth.

It’s the best work in the comic so far. Complicated but simple. It’s never hostile. Beto never makes it difficult to follow. He never tries to trick the reader. He just demands patience and attention. Human Diastrophism is exceptional. It’s full of so much sadness, but never once does Beto get melancholic or saccharine. It doesn’t seem possible he’ll ever top it. We shall see.

Love and Rockets #25 (March 1988)

Love and Rockets #25

Fantagraphics; 1988; $2.25; 36 pgs; available collected.

Before starting Love and Rockets #25, I kind of wondered if Penny would ever be back. Jaime’s been bringing back a bunch of the old Locas characters, but no Penny. Sure, her last appearance was problematic as heck and Jaime doesn’t really do the stylized stories she had, but it seemed weird she wasn’t back.

She’s back. In the second story, Hopey and her new sidekick, Texas, end up in the Costigan mansion where Hopey, Maggie, Penny, and Izzy stayed around twenty issues ago. It’s such a different kind of comic. Jaime’s not moody anymore. The art’s great and the comedy’s great, but there’s no moodiness. It’s kind of sad. Jaime’s gotten to be such a good artist with the smaller panels, he doesn’t have those full-page (or half-page) luciously designed panels anymore. There’s no more visual pacing, which is what he did with Locas back at the start. Back when it was Mechanics.

Anyway. Hopey and Texas are broke and hungry and hit up Penny for some room and board. Penny’s living the bored life of a billionaire’s trophy bride. Jaime plays her–and the strip–mostly for laughs. Maggie shows up in a flashback, which is also heavy on the laughs, but does do some character development (or revelation) on early days in the Hopey and Maggie friendship.

It’s a good story. With a great punchline.

However, it comes after the penultimate chapter of Human Diastrophism, Beto’s truly awesome Palomar tale. There’s Luba’s interal struggle with aging, there’s her daughter Maricela being fed up with life in Palomar (particularly under Luba’s roof), a lot with Luba’s daughters actually. And it finally all ties in with Tonantzin and the letters. Amidst it all the monkeys are going crazier and crazier.

Oh, and the serial killer story seemingly gets resolved, although there are still a bunch of unanswered questions.

Beto moves the story at a rapid pace. Panel to panel, he changes from one set of characters to another, then back again, making a pattern. He slows down for big sequences, like the serial killer stuff (as well as the hint of a red herring to be revealed, presumably next issue), but also with how the Tonantzin letters tie in to everything else. He brings subplots to the foreground, sends them to the background; there’s not just Luba’s oldest daughter running away, there’s Luba delivering her other daughters to their fathers, which is this other visible subplot–the characters stand around in the background talking about it–but Beto doesn’t have any time for it. He’s precise with what dialogue the reader gets to “hear,” what thoughts the reader gets to read. It’s exceptionally good stuff.

I can’t help but think a) Human Diastrophism is the best thing Beto’s done so far in Love and Rockets (and it’s definitely the best multi-issue story arc), but also b) there was an utterly lost chapter–Beto meandered through the second or third installment. Only to turn around and create this phenomenal story. I think it was the second chapter.

It’s a great issue. Beto makes the comic. Jaime, especially with the relative silliness of the Hopey and Penny story, is the dessert.

Love and Rockets #24 (December 1987)

Love and Rockets #24

Fantagraphics; 1987; $2.25; 36 pgs; available collected.

Beto gets one story this issue, Jaime gets three but really two. It’s an interesting three stories; two are Maggie (and Ray) stories, one is a Hopey story. The Maggie story is about, well, The Night Ape Sex Came Home to Play. Maggie, Daffy, and Kiko (how long has it been since Kiko has been in an issue–has Kiko ever been in an issue) are trying to get into a show with little success, then run into Joey and Tony. Who’ve been around for ages.

Joey (Hopey’s brother) has been holding onto Hopey’s letters for Maggie–which Hopey’s usually writing or avoiding writing in her stories–so Maggie wants to get those. Everyone also wants to go check out Ray and Doyle’s new apartment. Maggie doesn’t want to go because the Ray stuff is still unresolved.

It’s a fast, sometimes funny, character building four pages. Jaime does a lot with the supporting players–as well as some world building (there’s some acquaintance who knows Izzy)–and it leads perfectly into the second story, which is Hopey’s.

The band is finally breaking up. Terry has found a new band (so, after teasing it issues ago, Terry never did get around to seducing Hopey) while Monica and Zero are getting together and running off, leaving Hopey with a broken down car. It’s another four pager, with Hopey ending up buddies with Texas, who’s possibly a musician too (or wants to be) and also has nowhere to go and no money to get there. It’s beginning of a beautiful friendship. And, even though Hopey’s occasionally really nasty, it’s very nice to get to see her not playing second-fiddle to a band story. It’s been a while since she’s gotten to have so much personality.

Then comes Beto’s Palomar and it’s another fantastic installment of the serial killer story, Human Diastrophism. Turns out Luba’s verbally (and physically) abusive behavior to her oldest daughter is rubbing off, horrifically, on her youngest. Meanwhile Tonantzin’s still worrying Diana and Carmen (and, by extension, Heraclio and Pipo). Of course Pipo’s still fooling around with Khamo, Luba’s favorite toy boy. Beto introduces–it can’t be for the first time so I missed it–a mystery enabler for Tonantzin’s behavior; she can’t read the letters from her prison pen pal herself, so someone else is doing it.

Humberto the artist is posting his violent sketches–of the killing he saw–around town as he zonks more and more out, his eyes becoming saucers like the terrible monkeys.

Archie confronts Luba, tragically, over Khamo. Soon after Luba finds out about Pipo and Khamo and plans some kind of response (possibly violent but probably not really, Luba’s not actually terrible). Luba even tries–and fails–to bond with Maricela after hitting her in the last chapter. Meanwhile Maricela’s romance with her secret girlfriend is discovered.

There’s more serial killer victims, there’s some romance for Chelo, there’s a bunch of other stuff. Including some tourists who may have killed one of their friends and that body is either missing or in with the serial killer’s victims.

Speaking of the serial killer’s victims, the story ends on one heck of a cliffhanger involving one of them.

It’s a fantastic story. Beto keeps it moving, he keeps up the character development, humor, tragedy, all of it. Great stuff. And the perfect way for the issue to end.

Except it turns out Jaime’s not done. He’s got the second part to the first story, six pages this time, with Ray deciding he’s going to finally confront Maggie about liking her. On the way he meets Doyle’s weird stripper girlfriend and, after having thought he missed her, runs into Maggie. Jaime doesn’t really give us a Maggie and Ray scene, instead lets Daffy finish off the story, which is fine, she was there for the start.

It’s a neat pair of stories, separate but joined; there’s some great art in them, of course, but none of it seems very narratively ambitious. Jaime’s getting pieces into place, Hopey, Maggie, Ray. There’s nothing about Speedy being dead, which is–initially–very, very weird.

Jaime’s second part to the Locas story (or third, whatever) also means the issue doesn’t end on Beto’s quizzical and disturbing finish to Palomar.

As Beto becomes more stable in his storytelling, Jaime’s still exploring. Not the content but how to tell the stories. It’s interesting.

Love and Rockets #23 (October 1987)

Love and Rockets #23

Fantagraphics; 1987; $2.25; 44 pgs; available collected.

Right off, Beto makes up for last issue’s Palomar installment with this one’s. It’s the third part (and not the conclusion) of Human Diastrophism, which–among other subplots–has a serial killer loose in Palomar. Last time Beto sputtered around, trying to figure out how to pace the various plot threads–the serial killer seems to be working at the dig where Luba’s lover (and unknowing father of two of her children) is working, with Beto also doing stories about Luba’s kids, plus Tonantzin’s circle of friends being very worried about her. The same players move through both plots, but they’re not connected. Not even by the serial killer; yet.

Beto’s art style is a little different. He’s more distant in his composition, figures are smaller, backgrounds are sometimes emptier. It’s like he’s figured out the narrative distance, going a lot more for comic strip visual gags and blocking. He’s working at a much faster pace, whther it’s the action of Luba’s kids jump-roping or transitioning from Archie (Luba’s current until her ex showed up boyfriend) going to work at the dig to him working alongside Luba’s new old lover. There’s also lots of silhouette, as the town starts killing off the monkeys.

Beto’s also doing a lot more character work, particularly on Luba, but also with Pipo (which means establishing a lot about her since she’s never been as active–not since the first Palomar story); plus Heraclio gets to come off like a complete ass. This issue’s installment feels full, packed with content to unravel while reading. Beto’s art informs on how to read it, how to process the information. The words all become very important, along with the composition, the expressions. The pacing of dialogue as it relates to the composition and expressions. Even if the previous issue’s installment hadn’t been strangely undercooked, this issue’s Palomar would still be spectacular. Out of nowhere–not just nowhere, but after a misstep–Beto’s reaching new heights of ambition and success. It’s awesome.

Jaime then has the impossible task of following Beto. Not just following Beto, but presumably concluding The Death of Speedy Ortiz. The story takes a much wider lens on Hoppers 13 than Jaime employs; it’s not a Maggie story, it’s not a Ray story. Licha–Maggie’s gangster (but now altrusitic, community minded gangster) cousin–has a big part. Her biggest part in the series to date. Esther’s around causing trouble, with the Dairytown gangster mad she’s dating Speedy, then Speedy’s local squeeze out to get whoever else he’s seeing (thinking it might be Maggie), but then Speedy’s Hoppers 13 gang friends mad about him beating up a friend last issue.

That beatdown was literally done as a sight gag, so it’s kind of a surprise.

Meanwhile Izzy is having her first episode in ages, ’Litos (and Ray) are trying to keep the Hoppers 13 guys cool about Speedy–not to mention Ray’s mom sick of him sleeping on the couch.

Finally there’s some resolution to the Speedy and Maggie relationship, which has so much dramatic impact it replaces the actual danger Speedy’s in.

Then there’s a haunting finale before a flashback to when Maggie was a freshman in high school, at a wedding between one of the Hoppers kids and a Dairytown girl. Everyone’s there, young Speedy, but also Letty, Maggie’s pre-Hopey friend who tragically died. In a short flashback strip ten issues ago.

Jaime does a bunch. There’s some great, great art, there’s some way too goofy comic strip visual action–bing, bang, boom stuff; oddly, Beto does all that comic strip sight action to perfect result in Palomar, Jaime just doesn’t make it work in Locas. It’s weird. It’s also perfectly successful in the first few pages of the comic and then Jaime loses his grip on it.

And Maggie’s still barefoot for some reason.

It’s a good comic. But in widening the scope of Speedy Ortiz, Jaime kind of changes what it takes for the story to be a success. It also can’t compare to Beto’s Palomar entry, which is breathtaking.

Love and Rockets #22 (August 1987)

Love and Rockets #22

Fantagraphics; 1987; $2.25; 36 pgs; available collected.

Both Beto and Jaime are in the second chapters of multi-issue stories in Love and Rockets #22–including a Jerusalem Crickets (starring Hopey and the band) two-page entry. It’s strange because it doesn’t quite work out like usual. Meaning Beto doesn’t knock it out of the park.

But he’s second. I’ll wait this time for him.

Jaime’s Jerusalem Crickets two-pager has Hopey finally writing to Maggie. The strip’s funny, humanizes Terry some more, and is generally cute. Jaime’s a lot less focused on Terry and Hopey previously being romantic than Terry towering over Hopey and it being kind of a sight gag. It’s a cute opener.

And is most interesting because Maggie’s not thinking about Hopey at all anymore in Locas, which continues The Death of Speedy Ortiz–Jaime’s now playing with the promise of the title, moving various pieces around the board. Ray’s still in love with Maggie, still doesn’t talk to her (because he’s got to hang out with the boys). Esther and Speedy are fighting, Blanca (who Speedy has sex with whenever he’s mad at another girl) is out stalking Speedy’s new mystery girlfriend, Esther’s gangster boyfriend is in town, and Maggie is still mad crushing on Speedy.

There’s a lot of great art, with Ray and the boys’s night scene full of wonderful silhouette. The sun sets during the story, which Jaime tracks across pages subtly but definitely. As time progresses, the tone gets more and more dangerous. Jaime follows Ray and Maggie, with Speedy getting the last two pages. Maggie’s barefoot the whole time, which is never a plot point, but a recurring detail. It’s awesome.

Jaime also plays a lot with plaid in the silhouette (the Dairytown gangsters wear plaid), and a lot with depth. He’s keeping with seven panels on most pages, but very ambitious with his exteriors in those smaller panels.

Izzy has a one panel, foreboding appearance. She’s gardening, which is again strange. Smiling last issue, gardening this one.

It’s a very successful entry, setting the issue up for a great Palomar. Which then turns out not to be so successful. Mostly because it doesn’t seem like Beto’s Palomar knows what he wants to do with it. He’s got all sorts of things going on and doesn’t really want to concentrate on any of them.

The first sign of misused pages is the title page. Beto uses a whole page for it. One out of fifteen. Then he spends the next page and a half on some dorky American surfers bickering over what kind of music to play on their boom box on the beach. Then it’s a check-in on Diana and Tonantzin, but not a scene, just establishing Tonantzin is still nuts and Diana is still worried.

Teenage Humberto’s interest in art–facilitated by Heraclio, who’s happy to have someone around to appreciate it–gets a page. Humberto will come back a bit later, but it’s not really important yet. It’s well-executed, well-written, but kind of a time waster. Then it’s off to Luba’s daughters and their problems; eventually there’s the reveal the oldest daughter is gay and hiding it, while the other one going to school has a book stolen by the monkeys.

Mind you, last issue ended on the haunting image of a dead child and a serial killer. Now it’s a little kid with a giant book, so big she has to carry it over her head. It’s the most outlandish, cartoonish thing Beto’s ever done in Palomar (or so I recall).

When he does get around to Chelo investigating the murder from last issue, there’s more fighting with the newly appeared mayor, but nothing substantial. It’s nowhere near as disturbing as the possibility Martín’s reaction to it is going to be terrifying. And then Beto introduces a girl who has a crush on Martín, as she’ll be important in the end.

Luba shows up just long enough to break Archie’s heart, the surfers come back, Luba’s daughters have a scene, there’s dancing, then there’s the serial killer ending….

Every page has three rows of panels and it’s rare for any of the plot lines to get more than two full rows and a single transition panel on another, sometimes crossing page breaks. It’s packed. With too much information, too much plot developments, too little character.

It actually reminds a lot of that picnic story Beto did about ten issues ago when he also didn’t seem like he knew what he really wanted to do with the pages.

The ending with the serial killer is terrifying, there’s a lot of good art, but it’s not substantial at all.

I don’t know if the comic’s been this uneven, quality-wise, between the brothers before.

The Comics Fondle Podcast | Episode 47

We’re back on track! Sort of!

Floppies – Ether The Copper Golems, Barrier, Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Doctor Star, The Sentry, Kill or Be Killed, Lazarus, Snagglepuss, Kaijumax, Bloodstrike, Damned, Magic Order, Mister Miracle, Plastic Man, Resident Alien, Weatherman, Barbarella, Flavor, Punks Not Dead, Coda.

Retro – Love and Rockets, DC Comics Presents, Star Trek.

Trades – The Troublemakers, Young Frances.

Mixed media – Whatever Happened to the Girl of Tomorrow, The Flash, Luke Cage, Ant-Man 2.

you can also subscribe on iTunes

Love and Rockets #21 (July 1987)

Love and Rockets #21

Fantagraphics; 1987; $2.25; 36 pgs; available collected.

I misunderstood last issue when the letter page said it was the last Heartbreak Soup story for a while. It might have been the last Heartbreak Soup but not the last Palomar. Palomar is going strong, with a very creepy–while still very funny at times–story about a serial killer coming to town as Archie proposes (again) to Luba. There’s also a bunch of back story on her kids. Other plot points include Carmen, Pipo, and Diana worrying abut Tonantzin’s fear of invasion, as well as the introduction of Alcalde… the mayor. Who knew Palomar had a mayor.

Beto moves between the characters, focusing mostly on Luba, before wandering from person to person. Heraclio inadvertantly claims his (unknown to him) daughter with Luba as his own, leading to a scene at Luba’s, which introduces the workers outside town. One of them is the serial killer, one of them is the man Luba can’t resist (and father of two of her children), one is Ofelia’s love interest. Kind of cool for Ofelia to finally get a love interest.

Meanwhile, Beto has the creepy monkeys–all silhouette except pointy teeth–making “chit chit chit” noises to raise the tension. Plus, one of Luba’s kids won’t stop making the noise. Creepy, romantic, funny. It’s an awesome story.

Beto’s also got a one pager opening the issue, Bala. A guy runs at the glass wall of the third wall. It’s visual, it’s funny, it’s the first time he’s had anything but Palomar in a while.

Jaime’s got two stories. First is Jerusalem Crickets, which is a quickie–seven pages–about Hopey and the band on tour. Turns out Hopey’s scared to call Maggie, who was originally supposed to go with but then they cut out on her. Jaime remembers Maggie’s a mechanic again so it’s so unclear why she had that dude she worked with fix her car a few issues ago.

It’s a fun story, especially since the bandmates have barely figured into any of the Locas stories. They’ve been present, but rarely active. Terry’s a whole lot more likable here than ever before. Things aren’t going well on the road. Jaime’s got some great single, wide panels of their shows.

Meanwhile, back in Hoppers–and after Beto’s Palomar story–Maggie’s dealing with her sister, Esther, moving to town on weekends. There’s a misunderstood love square with Maggie, Speedy (who Maggie kind of liked and who kind of liked Maggie), Esther (who likes Speedy and who Speedy now likes), and Ray (who likes Maggie but thinks she’s dating Speedy).

Alongside that story, which Jaime plays a little for laughs, a little not (Maggie is rather conflicted about her feelings, Speedy is a manipulative monster of a dude), is the Dairytown gang driving through and raising the possiblity of violence. Ray–back in town so giving the reader an entry perspective–reflects on what he sees, which lets Jaime get away with quite a bit of exposition.

Jaime uses comedic comic strip techniques on serious subjects and vice versa; it works out beautifully.

Both Bros Hernandez seem a lot less interested in being likable–if Beto was ever interested in it, but Jaime certainly made his cast likable at the start–and more confident in their storytelling. Jaime’s art for the stories this issue don’t have the big art emphasis–literally big, like big panels, where he used to let loose. He’s got a single big panel, everything else is eight panel pages, in three rows–and he lets loose in those, confidently using silhouette for mood and abbreviation, ditto expressions.

It’s a great issue. Of course it is.

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