Friday, December 21, 2012

I Reads You Review: LOVE AND ROCKETS: New Stories #4


WRITERS: Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez
ARTISTS: Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez
COVER: Gilbert Hernandez
ISBN: 978-1-60699-490-0; paperback (2011)
104pp, B&W, $14.99 U.S.

Love and Rockets: New Stories is the third incarnation of the comic book series, Love and Rockets, which is the creation of Los. Bros, the brothers Gilbert Hernandez and Jaime Hernandez (with brother Mario occasionally contributing). Published by Fantagraphics Books, New Stories is a reboot of Love and Rockets as an annual, graphic novel-length package, resembling both a comic book and a literary magazine (designed with bookstores in mind). For me, Love and Rockets is the best American comic book series published to date.

Originally published in 2011, Love and Rockets: New Stories #4 offers six stories: two by Gilbert and four by Jaime, all under a cover by Gilbert. Jaime concludes “The Love Bunglers,” with Parts Three, Four, and Five. Maggie fidgets with Ray Dominquez’s art and wonders why he doesn’t return her phone calls. She is vexed by Vivian (“Frogmouth”), who is hooking up with Reno. Maggie’s niece, Linda, joins Ray in helping Maggie open a new business with classic Mechanics character, Walter a.k.a Yax. Maggie struggles with Angel’s departure for college, and Calvin’s action leads to a surprising turn in the lives of two of the characters. Hopey and Maggie reunite. “Return for Me,” a sequel of sorts to “Browntown” returns Maggie to Hoppers for a new life, as narrated by Letty.

The cover story is Gilbert’s 35-page “King Vampire.” The B-movie, meta-fiction-like story focuses on two teenagers, Cecil and Trini, who want to join a local vampire club. When real vampires show up, things take a deadly turn, and Cecil meets a vampire queen (who looks like Luba). In Gilbert’s “And Then Reality Kicks In,” Fritz reunites with an old beau for their own version of Before Sunrise.

I have not read Love and Rockets for the entirety of its 30 years of existence. I think that I started reading it in the middle of 1985. Since reading my first L&R, I’ve rarely been disappointed, but I have often been stunned and/or surprised, which I am after reading Love and Rockets: New Stories #4. It is possible that this series keeps getting better, and New Stories #4 makes a case for that. The primary reason, at least I think so, is Jaime’s work in New Stories #4.

Over the years, Love and Rockets fans and readers (including myself) have believed that Gilbert is the great writer of the two brothers and Jaime the great artist. New Stories is gradually debunking that, on Jaime’s side. Since the third issue of New Stories, Jaime has delved deeper into his characters, using autobiography, character drama, and analysis to unveil new and hidden aspects of his characters. He engages emotions and psychology as never before. New Stories has found Jaime at the peak of his storytelling powers.

Meanwhile, Gilbert impresses with his mastery of dialogue writing for comic books. From the self-possessed banter of “And Then Reality Kicks In” to the witty and precise chit-chat of “King Vampire,” Gilbert divulges interior motives and exterior conflict. In “King Vampire,” the art is not merely black and white; it offers the interplay of black and white as both contrast and balance. The match of light and dark and of cold and warm gives this story layers, shifts in genre and tone.

I was never sure. Is “King Vampire comic horror, as in a B-movie? Or is this surreal terror, as in a bloody, gothic tale of monster/human relationships played out to its inevitable (tragic?) conclusion. This is some of Gilbert’s most complex writing.

Love and Rockets: New Stories #4 is one of 2011’s very best comic books. Plus, it has an all-star, all-cartoonists letters column, including letters and notes to Los Bros. from Steven Weissman, Adrian Tomine, and Zak Sally, among others.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux


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