I’m a big Hernandez Brothers fan–as well as a scholar of their work–and I’m always excited when I new book comes out from one of the brothers…or in this case, the annual Love & Rockets: New Stories volume. I feel mixed about this latest volume, though, and while I’d like to give it my wholehearted endorsement in its entirety, I nonetheless feel hesitant. Jaime’s contributions are definitely the highlight. His ongoing saga of Maggie and her relationship with Ray stand head and shoulders above everything else in this book. Great stories, well-crafted art, and inventive visual layouts. The same could be said for Jaime’s contributions to the last couple of L&R volumes, in fact. In fact, Jaime’s parts of the new L&R have picked up with the last couple of volumes, the two where he returns to the more realistic narratives surrounding Maggie, Angel, and Ray. Volumes 1 and 2 were okay, and I enjoyed the Tri-Girls adventures well enough. But Jaime’s storytelling skills, while certainly evident in the more fantastical comics (such as in the very early Hopey and Maggie stories and the recent Tri-Girls adventures), are showcased most clearly in the more realistic narratives. The Maggie and Hopey, or Locas, stories are a wonderful, ongoing saga that some have likened to a soap opera…or since Jaime is Latino, a telenovela. (I’ve always disliked associating either of the Hernandez brothers’ work with telenovelas, especially because there’s the overt and obvious Hispanic connection. Just because Jaime and Gilbert are Latino, does that mean we have to associate their art with popular form that is blatantly associated with Latin America? Their comics are so much more than that, and they are done a disservice by being reactively associated with the popular television form, with little consideration of more developed intentions.)
Where I feel more uncertain about the latest L&R volume is with Beto’s stories. A part of me feels like I should be giving Gilbert more of the benefit of the doubt, indulging him in his more experimental side. After all, this is much of what he has been writing since he wrapped up his Palomar/Luba stories. If we have any part of the Palomar world in his work over the past several years, it’s been through Luba’s granddaughter, or with her half sister Fritzi. But most of Gilbert’s work has been delving into the more surrealistic side of his art, something he didn’t do much of throughout most of his L&R run. In fact, he told me in our 2007 interview that he was definitely going to explore the more experimental side of his writing. He’s certainly done this, and I think with mixed degrees of success. Many of his original graphic novels, such as Sloth or Chance in Hell, are intriguing and complex examples of comic art and storytelling. But although I hate to say this–since I love Gilbert’s work overall–I haven’t been really impressed with much of his most recent comics. I feel this way about the most recent graphic novels, to a point, but this is specially the case with the L&R stories. Case in point in the present volume: “King Vampire.” It’s interesting, but it really doesn’t do much for me. The story is okay, but what bothered me this time around with Beto’s work is his representation of Killer and Fritzi (or who I take for Killer and Fritzi). This is strange, because in the past Gilbert’s big-breasted women and his flirtation with sex and violence never bothered me at all. It’s not that it bothers me this time…I just feel that much of what I saw here had been done before. The sex and violence in his comics is starting to come across as more of an obsession than necessary narrative turns. At the same time, this prevalence of sex and violence is accompanied by less linear and a much more disjointed form of storytelling (which is okay in and of itself, but coupled with the sex/violence, it tends to give the stories more of a feeling of gratuitousness). I was looking for something different in the more recent L&R stories, a possible new direction for Beto’s work. Perhaps that’s my fault in expectation, not so much Gilbert’s in execution. Still, even so-so Gilbert is much better than most of the comics out there.