Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Love And Rockets #1

I’ve read the Hernandez brothers’ stuff sporadically and in a very haphazard way. Some Love And Rockets here, a bit of Sloth there, that Speak Of The Devil series last year – and though I’ve enjoyed some of it, other parts have left me going, “Is that it?” If I’m going to give these guys the proper appraisal their reputation demands, I’m going to have to stop being a dilettante about it and do this seriously. Love And Rockets from the start, one issue a week with time to consider them in between. And at the end I’ll I have an answer for “What do you think about the Hernandez brothers?” when I'm asked at all the secret critics’ parties where we laugh about how we make people watch boring French movies and then Roger Ebert gets drunk and dips his scrunchy old-man balls in the punch again.

So: Love And Rockets volume one, issue one.

The cover. This is a cover that I want to think says this is going to be a series about strong, varied women. I can’t help but think that what it’s really telling me is I’m going to see a lot more big tits. Perhaps this is because I’m a bad person.

Stretched over the whole issue, broken up by the other strips, is Gilbert’s BEM, in which a variety of characters try to track down horrible monsters. Detective Castle Radium is hunting BEM (I guess Bug-Eyed Monster?), who has just escaped from jail and is the subject of the prophetic dreams of Leonore (later Lenore). Meanwhile, several characters are gathered on an island where a giant insect-monster is headed, each planning to take control of the creature for their own ends.

I was right about the tits.

The overwrought dialogue reads like badly translated manga and at first I’m not sure if it’s parody or amateurishness. According to Gary Groth, “The strip is an attempt to satirize pop culture icons through a wilful distortion of traditional narrative devices that have since become cliches in comic books.” I’m not sure what that actually means, but the competing girls all trying to play Ann Darrow to the monster’s Kong and the ha-ha named Harold Penis suggest parody. The relative lack of humour – okay, the bit where the monologuing detective reminisces about his lost love’s cooking and dedicates his capture of BEM to the memory of her curry is pretty funny – makes me question that. It isn’t helped by dialogue like this, from an overexcited newsreader:

Officials in the matter have stated that it took the lives of several guards and inmates before its glide into freedom. It was reported last seen highballing it north toward Cape Kitsch! The judge and jury responsible have been already flown to a secret hideaway for their assured safety.”

It’s trying to send up a stock sci-fi character, but it’s still just badly written. Also not helping are the moments when the art fails at communicating the story – there’s a fight scene between Detective Radium and someone who may be BEM in which Radium’s shirt gets torn off too suddenly and without explanation a few panels before the villain collapses, again too suddenly and without explanation.

The ending when it comes comes out of nowhere, but since everything else came out of nowhere it does kind of fit. The flow of BEM can’t be ruined by a sudden, pat ending because there is no flow. Things happen, the end.

I feel like I’m harshing on someone’s juvenilia here because I know that Gilbert does better work later in his career, so I’ll move on to Jaime’s work, namely: Mechan-X starring Maggie and Hopey. Now, I know these characters from some of the later stories, when they’re ordinary Hispanic lesbians living ordinary lives and making occasional jokey references to their old dreams about weird shit. These early stories are the weird shit that was rationalised into dreams, where Maggie rides a hover cycle to her job as a mechanic in a Speed Racer sci-fi world where ProSolar Mechanics are celebrities. The Rockets part of the title really meant something back in issue one.

Jaime’s art takes maybe two panels to get into gear and is gorgeous from there on out. His characters have this distinctive Archie-for-adults look to them, retaining the occasional cartoonish pose for effect, and his heavy black inks are well-balanced. Lovely to look at, sure, but not so fantastic to read. Maggie is shown up by a ProSolar mechanic named Rand Race who is the dullest piece of white bread in the issue. Then the story ends out of nowhere and is followed up by a one-row strip that’s either in Spanish or Nonsense, I’m not fluent in either, and I suspect exists just to fill the bottom of the page and give Jaime another chance to draw one of the huge-uddered women both Hernandez brothers are so fond of.

Jaime also does a few self-contained shorts throughout the issue, including one starring Penny Century. A minor character introduced at the end of Mechan-X, here she’s dreaming of being a superhero and being able to fly, but not even a horned devilish figure who offers her the world can make that dream come true. Just when she realises that, she opens the window and:

The flying bastards are everywhere. This is the one moment of pure, unadulterated joy the issue gave me. Even without reading it as a comment about the ubiquity of superheroes in comic books it’s just a nice piece of dream-shattering whimsy that nevertheless reads like a dream. Jaime draws another, druggier dream-like strip called How To Kill A, but that one didn’t hit the mark nearly so well.

Am I being too harsh on this issue? Is this the equivalent of digging through somebody’s teenage notebooks and judging them? Come back next week when I read issue two and maybe find out or maybe just nitpick for a bit.

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