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Monday, November 7, 2011

I Reads You Review: LOVE AND ROCKETS: New Stories #3

LOVE AND ROCKETS: NEW STORIES #3
FANTAGRAPHICS BOOKS

WRITERS: Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez
ARTISTS: Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez
COVER: Jaime Hernandez
ISBN: 978-1-60699-379-8; paperback
104pp, B&W, $14.99 U.S.

Love and Rockets: New Stories is the third incarnation of the comic book series, Love and Rockets. Created by brothers Gilbert Hernandez and Jaime Hernandez (with brother Mario occasionally contributing), Love and Rockets is, in my learned opinion, the best American comic book ever.

Published by Fantagraphics Books, New Stories is a reboot of this phenomenal comic book as an annual, graphic novel-length package that resembles both a comic book and a literary magazine (designed with bookstores in mind). First published in 2010, Love and Rockets: New Stories #3 offers fives stories: two by Gilbert and three by Jaime.

New Stories #3 opens with “Scarlet by Starlight” by Gilbert. This 36-page story focuses on three humans exploring alien terrain. It seems as if these humans live on the same planet as this strange jungle world, but are from a civilized area. They are studying a family of furry creatures. One of them, the female named Scarlet, bears a striking resemblance to Rosalba “Fritz” Martinez (Gilbert’s High Soft Lisp character). When one of the humans begins a relationship with Scarlett, trouble ensues. Gilbert’s second story, “Killer * Sad Girl * Star is related to “Scarlet by Starlight” and stars Dora “Killer” Rivera.

For his three stories, Jaime returns to the lives of his “Locas” cast. The main story is the two-part “The Love Bunglers” and finds Maggie and Ray out on the town for Ray’s art exhibition. They talk about the crazy world of dreams, and Maggie asks Ray for a huge (and shocking) favor. The third story is “Browntown” a new installment in Jaime’s beloved “little kids” flashback series (albeit a darker, more grown up take on that series). Ten-year-old Maggie (called by her birth name, Perla) and her family move away from Hoppers to a desert ghost town called “Browntown.” Perla discovers an ugly family secret and her brother, Calvin, deals with a predatory bully.

The first two issues of Love and Rockets: New Stories offered the usual idiosyncratic comix for which Los Bros – Gilbert Hernandez and Jaime Hernandez – are known. Indeed, Gilbert is at his eccentric best with the two perplexing tales here. Well, they’re perplexing until you realize that this quote: “It always comes down to what people are willing to accept and what they aren’t, huh?” is the thematic spine of Gilbert’s two stories.

Jaime eschews idiosyncratic for comics that could be called modern fiction. “The Love Bunglers” explores how bedtime dreams and their dreams which are ambitions or wishes are expressions of fears and longings. There are two pages (the giant flower sequence) in “The Love Bunglers Part One” that express fear and longing with lovely poetic art.

Readers and admirers, myself included, often think of Gilbert as the better writer of the two brothers and Jaime as the better artist. With only a few exceptions, Gilbert has been the best writer in American comic books over a three decade period. No one has produced more beautiful art for black and white comics the way Jaime has over that same period, a period in which he has been the best comic book artist in North America.

“Browntown” is one of the stories in which Jaime shows that he can write as well as draw comic books better than most and as good as the very best. It’s a riveting story of teen angst, marital infidelity, and sexual abuse that unveils a world that adults can’t or won’t see – a world in which children try to manage adult and real world tribulations on their own.

“Browntown” is an incredible story with a sense of realism and gravity unseen in most comic books. “Browntown” alone makes Love and Rockets: New Stories #3 one of the best comic books of 2010.

A+

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