Love and Rockets #50 (May 1996)

Love and Rockets #50

Fantagraphics; 1996; $4.95; 60 pgs; available collected.

Love and Rockets #50 is a perfectly solid issue of Love and Rockets. Beto’s Palomar farewell is outstanding in its execution, with him employing a lot more comic strip-influenced narrative techniques than usual. He doesn’t have enough room, it’s clear, and some things are rushed. Mario’s back for the finale too, which is fitting since he was in the first issue. It’s a perfectly good Mario story, not great, but with some excellent art and a fine sense of humor. And even Jaime’s Locas finale is good. It’s definitely affecting, even when Jaime’s being manipulative and burning through pages for no reason except to mess with the reader. Beto doesn’t have enough room, Jaime’s got too much.

The issue starts and ends with Jaime’s last two parts of “Bob Richardson,” which have seemingly unrelated short text pages before them. Short but big letters. So when the third part of the story opens with “God Mother Son,” you’re paying some attention to Esther talking on the phone to her mom. Maggie’s off having a really weird scene with the masked wrestler where she tells him about their mistaken engagement (her family thinks they’re getting married, as does Danita who’s in love with said masked wrestler). It’s a wordy, lengthy scene and Jaime doesn’t really get anywhere with it. Maggie seems weird. And she goes on seeming weird the rest of the chapter. Jaime’s lost her perspective. Even though “Bob Richardson” always seemed like a series finale for the strip, chapter three doesn’t feel much like chapters one or two. Maggie’s positioned way different. So’s Danita. Esther gets more to do but it’s literally nothing for herself.

Then there’s a break and it’s time for Mario’s interlude. It’s a story about him (Mario) losing his comics creating muse and how he gets her back. There’s some great art and it’s always an amusing story. It’s just not particularly special, other than Mario coming in and doing a last contribution. It just…doesn’t make a lot of sense given how little Mario’s done in the book lately. It’d be a lot more effective if he’d been regularly contributing. Emotionally effective anyway.

And then it’s for the Palomar extro, where Beto runs through what seem like a dozen story ideas–some resolving outstanding issues, some creating new ones–in twenty-four wonderful pages. There’s a big overarching story–an earthquake has hit Palomar and residents are back from all over to help in the time of crisis, including Luba’s family from the States (save Maricela). Even the awful American photographer guy comes back for a bit. It’s not exactly like a Human Diastrophism-focused sequel, but it’s sort of like one.

Beto does an amazing job hopping and skipping through all the stories as they go. Sometimes a scene or a subplot will get its own page, usually not. Sometimes it’s just an extremely well-executed panel. It’s kind of a Chelo story, but also a Luba and family story–which now includes Pipo. It’s very interesting to see how all the characters interact thanks to their developed, much different relationships, something Beto mostly skipped over when he left Palomar for a while. It’s a far more upbeat Palomar story than usual, full of Beto’s love and enthusiasm for the characters.

And he finally makes the Guadalupe and Jesus stuff work, though I might just be worn down in the last issue.

The last page is a big reveal. Sort of. It’s a big reveal with no bearing on the series, not even in hindsight. It’s just a big smile to go out on.

Jaime’s also got a big reveal in the last seven pages of Locas, “Bob Richardson Part Four.” He intentionally wastes three of those pages so it’s more like four, story-wise. Of course, the big reveal comes as an aside on one of the wasted pages, not even given a hint of the time it deserves. One last revelation about Speedy.

But otherwise, it’s just a chipperer-than-ever-before Hopey finally tracking Maggie down. Maggie’s possibly sad out of jealousy, possibly not. Doesn’t actually matter as it turns out, because the grand finale hinges on coincidence and bad luck. It’s a really fast, flashy finale, with Jaime laying on the nostalgia. It’s a perfunctory finish. There’s no ambition to it, not like Beto did in his Palomar farewell. Jaime just lets it wrap up and avoids the rest. The big difference, as always, being Beto never avoids anything, he just paces it out. Jaime always implies he’s pacing it out, then just avoids it.

Some great art on the Jaime stories, of course.

The last pages of the comic advertise the future from Los Bros, so you’re not too broken up about the series’s conclusion (I mean, Beto practically has Chelo advertise a new Luba comic), but it’s an earnest occasion. Especially since both Bros had done some amazing work in just the last few issues, when they weren’t steaming to the end. Or, at least, you didn’t know they were. Love and Rockets goes out high.

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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 #3 (Fall 1983)

Love and Rockets #3

Fantagraphics; 1983; $2.95; 68 pgs; available collected.

Love and Rockets #3 opens with a Jaime story. It’s just called Love and Rockets. A car stopped on the train tracks, its driver reminiscing about a lost love. Then the lost love thing takes a comic book-related twist. And then Jaime goes crazy with the intensity of an oncoming train and the driver’s endurance. The two-page story then has two additional twists… in the last two panels. Jaime turns it all upside down and inside out in a panel. And that last twist simultaneously grounds the story and makes it even more ethereal.

Love and Rockets‘s second page has a lot of black. There are nine panels on the page and only one of them doesn’t use silhouette to focus on the driver in her car. The next story, Beto’s Sopa De Gran Pena–you know, Soap’-uh deh Grawn Pen‘-uh–Heartbreak Soup opens with a white on black title panel then some more dark blacks. It also has all the violence Jaime teased. Though Beto shows the effects of the violence a lot more than the action of it. It’s for humor, after all. Tip in’ Tip in’ is just getting his butt kicked by another girl who doesn’t want him. It’s only his eighty-seventh such rejection.

Three pages into the story, on the bottom panel–after establishing a narrator to Soup–Beto brings in its protagonist. Carmen.

Carmen

Carmen is maybe ten. She lives in Palomar, she tells the reader (so Beto’s gone from an in-story but uninvolved narrator to the protagonist breaking the fourth wall). Palomar. “Where men are men, and women need a sense of humor.” At the bottom of every page, Beto has pronuncations for the characters’ names. It’s also a good way to keep track of how many new characters Beto is introducing per page.

Seven on the first page, for instance. Because Beto moves to around nine panels a page (somewhere between eight and eleven), and he uses the foreground and background to bring characters in. It’s a beautifully drawn story. Beto loves his detail. There’s Carmen’s sister, for instance. Her younger sister, Lucia, not the older one. Lucia never talks and never gets to do much. Instead so just glares wickedly. Sometimes at the reader. It’s this fantastic visual detail.

Beto’s visual transitions between panels are something else. Something else good, but something else. He completely reorients the reader, sometimes with every panel on the page. The perspective has changed, time has changed, the characters sometimes are changed out. It creates a rapid pace for Heartbreak Soup. An urgency for the reader (and some of the characters), but not at all for the majority of the characters. And not really for Beto. He’ll slow down and linger, even when he’s doing radical cuts between panels.

It’s awesome.

Foreground and background actions.

The story continues, focusing mostly on Carmen and her older sister, Pipo. Pipo is fourteen and “all women” (ew). She has multiple suitors, with Manuel being the cute one and Gato being the kind of creepy one. The story is set when Pipo and Carmen’s mother is out of town. Pipo’s in charge, which leads Carmen to letting drunken melancholic Tip in’ Tip in’ (the guy who got beat up at the beginning) stay with them. Most of the rest of the story builds around that subplot. Though the teenage boys just hang out. New-to-town Heraclio learns about town and so does the reader. But he and his friends are mostly loitering, which also has Luba–from Bem in the first issue–showing back up. Chelo is the town’s bañadora (she washes the town’s men, who either can’t bathe themselves or just don’t have tubs?). There’s nothing creepy about it though. At least not yet.

Luba is the town’s new bandora. Their growing competition is a subplot. A quiet one, but one Beto returns to again and again. It helps him establish the town and gives him a surprising, touching grand finale to the chapter. Because Heartbreak Soup is to be continued.

Next up is Maggie vs. Maniakk, which has a Fourth Worlder monologuing at the start. Then it gets to Maggie and Hopey and Penny and company. Penny wishes she was a superhero (still) and it turns out Maggie was a superhero for a day.

Turns out she was sidekick to Ultimax, a washed up superhero who she has to convince to come back and save the world after she lets Maniakk out of an alternate dimension. It’s a fast, funny story with some great panels. Jaime will move the story forward not just in a panel’s narration from Maggie, but also in the dialogue. It’s great. He keeps up the pacing when it gets to the fight scenes too.

Mario writes Maniaak’s Kirby-esque dialogue.

The story does, however, establish how mean some of Maggie’s friends are to her, which is going to come back in a bit.

Of course, nothing can prepare for Beto’s one page story. It’s a wonderfully done twenty-four panel (on a single page, usually with the same “shots”) weird little thing. Showcases Beto’s understanding of how dialogue works when being read against certain visuals. Amazing economy.

Then is another installment of Somewhere in California, by Mario. The last issue’s installment of this strip had a rather final ending, so a continuation is a surprise. The tone is a little different–and it’s much easier to follow on a casual read–but it still is a big story. The revolutionaries from the previous installment are still around. They’ve just trashed a movie director’s house. One of the revolutionaries slash terrorists has a girlfriend. Her ex-husband and his cleaning crew is hired to take care of the messed up house. Turns out the ex-husband is a failed screenwriter. There’s a lot of story. But most of it turns out to be about the protagonist failed screenwriter–Brian–ingesting some kind of lizard egg and the creature is growing inside him.

The blasé way Mario handles the lizard living inside the guy is the coolest thing about California. The ending is overcomplicated and the flashforward doesn’t work great, but it’s still a strong strip. Especially since it seems the flashforwards aren’t important (at least the first story’s wasn’t so why would this story’s be any different).

Back to Jaime (and Maggie and Hopey). Locas Tambien. It’s a two-page strip. It’s great–twenty-four panels over two pages, covering Maggie and Hopey going grocery shopping. It references Rand Race, who otherwise doesn’t make an appearance, but also establishes Maggie and Hopey’s friends think Maggie is dumb. Hopey doesn’t get much action after the first eight panels, instead Jaime uses her as a reaction touchstone for the reader.

The many panels.

Very cool.

There’s another La Chota strip. She’s a waitress. She beats up the cook. It’s all in Spanish. Maybe Spanish. But not a dialect Google likes to translate.

And then another creepy weird–but gorgeously illustrated–Beto one-pager. It’s about life in the Lower Side. Beto implies a lot in the three sentences of narration, which is cool. It’s just very, very weird.

Everybody knows Maggie’s aunt used the ropes.

Finally, another Jaime. It’s twelve pages–Toyo’s Request–and it’s a direct sequel to last issue’s Mechanics. Though it’s about world champion wrestler and revolutionary Rena Titañon. Only from the perspective of an ex-boyfriend. Rena is a great character–she’s doing a noirish detective story in the flashback, along with a bunch of action. Then the action increases to include airplanes and bombs and old wrestling rivalries. It’s a lot of fun with some excellent art.

It also introduces young Duke; old Duke was Maggie’s boss in the first two issues.

Jaime runs out of time to tell the full story in the flashback, hopefully he’ll come back to it.

So #3 introduces quite a lot. However many characters in Heartbreak Soup, not to mention Palomar in general. Then Jaime’s building up the characters from the Mechanics, particularly Maggie, but also the supporting mythos.

And the weirdness of Somewhere in California, which has more danger than anything else in the issue. After Jaime’s first two-page story, anyway.

It’s great.

Love and Rockets #2 (Spring 1982)

Love and Rockets #2

Fantagraphics; 1983; $2.95; 68 pgs; available collected.

Love and Rockets #2 has Mechanics. Mechanics is a forty-ish page story by Jaime. Maggie is in foreign Zhato on a job with Rand Race, Duke, and Gak. Gak might not even have any lines in the whole story. Most of the story–at least at the start–is text. Maggie’s letters back home to Hopey. While Hopey was her boring life waiting for the bus, she can read about Maggie fixing a rocket ship. Said rocket ship has landed next to a dinosaur.

It’s fantastical. It’s also not. Because bureaucracy. Jaime illustrates the letter, which goes all over the place. Single panels of a scene, said scene covered in the text. Sometimes seven a page. Mechanics has a deliberate, but fluid pace when Jaime’s using the letters to guide the visuals.

Then, on page five, which is “Day 12” of Maggie’s trip, Jaime goes into regular comics. For Maggie and Rand Race getting amorous. It’s sexy, it’s funny, then it’s dangerous, then it’s sweet. There’s a lot of action, with Jaime not just scaling up for the activity well, but also using the sequence to reinforce things in Maggie’s letters. It’s awesome.

It’s also where the narrative format changes. Jaime relies on regular comic storytelling. The long narration returns occasionally, usually to set up a new chapter (Mechanics has six chapters). Or Jaime will go through the letters to Hopey and check in with her and the rest of the gang for a page or two. The contrast between normal life and Maggie’s adventuring is measured and rather well-done. So far, Mechanics is a world of infinite possiblities. Rocket ships, dinosaurs, wrestling champions, and dictators too, unfortunately.

Jaime’s got a big cast for Mechanics. And he keeps introducing new characters. The new characters often end up doing more than the regular characters, even Maggie.

The time in the jungle–Zhato’s got jungles–starts wearing on everyone, leaving Maggie isolated. Rena, the former world wrestling champion turned adventurer and revolutionary, gets a flashback to herself. Maggie’s there to chronicle it.

Jaime’s presentation of the story is wondrous. Gary Groth has another column introducing the issue–I couldn’t read it, I just can’t get into the tone–and he jabbers about the story’s excellence. He’s not wrong at all. Mechanics is a masterpiece. And it’s just issue #2.

But Mechanics isn’t the only story in Love and Rockets #2. There are three more.

First up is Radio Zero, which is about a young woman named Errata Stigmata. Hopefully you’re paying attention to her name because stigmata’s going to come into play later. Not a lot, but a little. Enough you should’ve been paying attention.

Brother Mario writes, Beto draws.

Errata has this crazy bad day, with explosives, intrigue, protests, all sorts of stuff. It’s a strange story with a strange setting. It’s futuristic, it’s self-aware, it’s erratic. There’s a lot of action but Mario and Beto keep it focused on Errata, who gets thought balloons and talks to herself.

It’s good.

Also good, also by Mario–this time story and art–is Somewhere in California. It’s this bad luck coincidence story involving revolts against foreign powers, interdimensional exploration, and some dope dealing. It’s set in a cheap apartment complex with a big cast.

Mario (with Beto co-scripting) does a great job. It’s complicated but never too complicated. The climax is oddly ineffective, with the payoff panel being strangely underwhelming. But otherwise pretty good stuff. Mario juggles a lot and keeps it all controlled but never hampered.

The last story is Music for Monsters by Beto. It’s about Inez and Bang, who were in the previous issue. It’s a very short story–four pages–with the characters encountering killer snowmen. It’s funny, with some great art.

Both Radio and Somewhere were ten or more pages. So Music for Monsters has a lot less room. Turns out Beto can do rushed action just fine.

It’s a great comic. Mechanics alone would make it great no matter what came next. Just happens the backups are all strong too.

Dark Horse Presents 100 5 (August 1995)

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Only in Dark Horse Presents can you open with Art Adams and close with Paul Pope.

The Adams Monkeyman and O’Brien story appears to be some kind of homage to Plan 9 from Outer Space. So maybe Adams’s terrible dialogue is in line with that approach. Regardless, it’s fairly awful.

Then Hernandez has an utterly fantastic story about a bunch of carnies reunited. It opens with one thing, moves somewhere else. It’s just great. Second story in and they’ve already made up for Adams and set the issue apart in terms of quality.

Hedden’s Frankenstein, P.I. is well-drawn and mildly amusing.

Oh, then there’s a Milk and Cheese from Dorkin mocking alcoholism. If these strips were only a page, they might be a little less putrid.

Pope (with Smith) closes with a THB. It’s beautiful looking, but even more–Pope finds a profound moment in his action. Just great.

CREDITS

Monkeyman & O’Brien, I Was the Alien; story and art by Art Adams; lettering by Lois Buhalis. Los Malcriados; story and art by Mario Hernandez. Frankenstein, P.I., Butcher’s Night Out!; story by Rich Hedden; art by Hedden and Mike McPhillips. Milk and Cheese, Alcoholics Unanimous!; story and art by Evan Dorkin. Panfried Girl; story and art by Paul Pope and Jeff Smith; lettering by Lorie Witte. Edited by Bob Schreck and Scott Allie.

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