Love and Rockets: New Stories #1

Written by Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez, and Mario Hernandez
Art by Gilbert Hernandez and Jaime Hernandez
104 pages, black and white
Published by Fantagraphics

In late 1991, a good friend of mine handed me a stack of Love and Rockets comics with the comment, "You have to read these." I’ve been a fan of the Hernandez Brothers’s comics ever since then, with the only real constant being that I never would know what to expect next. Now they’ve finally left the single-issue comic format behind, releasing Love and Rockets: New Stories as a thick annual format, giving each of the brothers more room in a single release. And the end result? Well, let’s just say that once again, they’ve shown that I really had no idea what to expect.

Jaime Hernandez sticks with his "Hoppers" world of characters; while those stories are often headlined by Maggie and/or Hopey, here the focus shifts elsewhere, bringing back one of the oldest stories of Jaime Hernandez’s from the entire run of Love and Rockets. Those who haven’t read those early issues, peppered with superheroes and science-fiction, might be surprised by Jaime Hernandez’s revival of Penny Century’s mad desire for superpowers, and what happens when she finally receives them. What struck me about this story is how much Jaime Hernandez’s stories of women’s wrestling are really not that much different from him tackling superheroines. I’m not talking about gaudy costumes or special code names, but rather about the sorority of the women involved in each of these organizations and the long histories that the characters have with each other. Sure, it’s great to watch Alarma swing robots over her head, or Angel go from Maggie’s roommate to a domino-mask wearing superhero. But it’s the interaction between all of these characters—most of them brand-new—that really enthralled me. If Love and Rockets: New Stories #1 was my first exposure to Jaime Hernandez’s comics, I’d assume that his past stories starred all of them as well.

And of course, it almost goes without saying that Jaime Hernandez can draw women like no one else can. I absolutely adore his art, bring full-bodied characters to life in a way so realistic I can sometimes almost swear I see actual motion on the page. Something as simple as a smirk on Angel’s face as she tilts her head at Alarma looks so natural and alive it’s just a joy to read. My only complaint is a selfish one; even with 50 pages worth of material, "Ti-Girls Adventures Number 34" doesn’t come to a conclusion in this book, which means we have to wait a year for the next installment. After getting spoiled by re-reading the original 50 issues all at once thanks to the re-issued collections, all I really want is to see the rest of this story now.

While Jaime Hernandez went back to his roots for Love and Rockets: New Stories #1, Gilbert Hernandez has said goodbye to his familiar Palomar group of characters, instead telling a handful of short stories. "Papa" and "The New Adventures of Duke and Sammy" are Gilbert Hernandez’s longest two contributions to Love and Rockets: New Stories but they’re also his strongest. "Papa" brings its protagonist on a three day journey across the countryside, peppered with mud slides, strange children, and potentially disease-ridden tacos. It’s an odd story, one that meanders through a landscape that always feels slightly off-kilter and unnerving. It’s the sort of story that Gilbert Hernandez is really good at but is often put aside in favor of his long-running characters, so it was nice to see him stretching his artistic wings here. It’s a little puzzling in places to figure out exactly what Gilbert Hernandez is aiming for here, but that’s part of the appeal as you puzzle through each turn of events. In sharp contrast, "The New Adventures of Duke and Sammy" is very up-front and to the point, casting Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis as interstellar travelers on one wild turn of events after another; it’s silly and crazy and over-the-top fun, and it’s hard not to crack a smile with each new oddity that Gilbert Hernandez throws into the mix.

Gilbert Hernandez’s other stories are a strange collection of shorts. Some like "Victory Dance" and "Never Say Never" seem to have a muted punch by their short length (6 and 4 pages), like each were needing another half dozen pages to really stretch their legs and show the reader what they’re all about. Gilbert Hernandez and Mario Hernandez’s collaboration "Chiro El Indio" passed me by entirely, conceptually, feeling like a strange collection of clichés and non-sequitur dialogue lines all strung together. Last but not least, Gilbert Hernandez’s "?" seems designed to be little more than a mood piece, provided that mood is to unnerve the reader. (If so, it worked.) The one thing all of Gilbert Hernandez’s stories have in common, though, is Gilbert Hernandez’s excellent art. Gilbert Hernandez has a heavier line than his brother, not that it’s a bad thing. As strange as it may sound, I love that Gilbert Hernandez can draw an average person so well; his stories are primarily populated by normal, every day characters that look like someone you’d see walking down the street. Of course, when Gilbert Hernandez needs to draw something out of the norm, he’s good at that too, and his renditions of Martin and Lewis really make "The New Adventures of Duke and Sammy" work in no small part because you almost instantly recognize who the duo are based off of.

Love and Rockets: New Stories #1 is a handsome book; I love that it’s the same dimensions as the recent 7-volume series that brought together the original 50 issues of Love and Rockets, but at the same time still has its own look and feel. (Is it too much to hope that we might eventually see the remaining Love and Rockets comics in this format too? I know I’d buy them in a heartbeat, and they sure would look nice in-between my copies of Amor Y Cohetes and Love and Rockets: New Stories #1 on my bookshelf.) And really, only the Hernandez Brothers could make a book subtitled New Stories feel both so old and familiar, and yet so brand-new. It’s going to be a long wait until #2 next summer, but I’m willing to be patient for something this nice.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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