The latest Love and Rockets: New Stories – great as always, of course – is another complex, often off-putting, often compelling masterpiece from Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. I was fascinated by how many aspects of this latest issue could be seen as combinations and pairing. This latest L&R is in large part about dichotomies.
We have the once-common, now only occasional, pairing of Maggie and Hopey, which presents dichotomy enough with their contrasting personalities, but inside that pairing we have other interesting dichotomies: their past passionate relationship contrasted with their present calm friendship, their differing relationships with their spouses, their differing approaches to their return to Hoppers, the way that their current attitudes contrast with the Maggie and Hopey that we know from their earlier stories, and so much more.
Jaime gives us a series of stories that explore current teenagers, so we get the dichotomy between teenagers and people we met as teenagers, which triggers thoughts on the dichotomy between reader and subject. Jaime and Gilbert both explore the dichotomy between fantasy and reality, with long discursions into fantasy stories. Gilbert delivers dichotomies between the deeply dichotomous Fritz and her non-daughter Fritz Jr., between past and present, low art and high.
We literally get both love and rockets in this latest collection – and how much of a dichotomy is that?
The thing with a new Love and Rockets is that it always seems so easy to take in, so easy to read and enjoy, or at least it is for me. I’ve been reading these guys for most of my life, and I feel a warmth reading a story by these cartoonists that feels comfortable, like returning to a new collection by a favorite musician who has never let me down.
There’s another dichotomy: between creator and audience.
One of the bewitching things about reading a creator for many years is that you begin to fall in rhythm with them. You can anticipate their quirks and glory in the ways that they fit expectations with a specific grace note or gesture that you identify with them. In that happy, comforting structure can often be a roiling element of tension, of reflection and genuflection that causes the reader to see things differently from the way someone without a history might see them.
At the same time as a reader you get conditioned to expect something different, something unexpected or odd, a throwback to the previous or a flight of fancy that is a comforting discursion, a reminder that this ain’t all so series anyway so why not enjoy yourself?
The latest Love & Rockets: New Stories is one of those kinds of books. It’s comfortable and deeply pleasurable – and often startling — in the ways that master cartoonists Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez have done for over thirty years: the art is gorgeous, the storytelling clear and perfectly realized, the characters sketched acutely and smartly, with wonderful surprises and complex subtexts displaying themselves seemingly around every turn.
But even while we’re exploring the complicated and fascinating worlds of the main characters here – with a slightly heartbreaking story by Jaime that brings Maggie and Hopey together for a reunion, and a creepy and occasionally surreal story by Gilbert that’s about identity and freedom and horrific exploitation – we also get some totally breezy fun.
Both Gilbert and Jaime include long and completely outlandish adventure stories in the midst of the IRL type stories that dominate the issue, giving readers a wacky, giggly breather in the midst of the drama of secret daughters and dysfunctional teenage lives. Gilbert’s Arabian Nights pastiche is a giggle and a half, an insanely loose, seemingly improvised yarn that connects beautifully with his central story. Jaime’s sci-fi adventure tale has a vicious sharp-toothed alien warrior kicking ass and tearing off arms. She’s an avenging force for rancorous fury with the appropriate name of Princess Animus, malevolent and spiteful and full of an uncensored anger that seems to suffuse her whole being.
These seeming discursions, though, are to me the key to really understanding the stories that both Bros present this issue.
Jaime’s main story focuses on a reunion between Maggie and Hopey, the two longtime friends and lovers who were the key centerpieces of most of his L&R stories of the 1980s and into the ’90s. Jaime’s characters grow in real-time, so (as we’ve seen before in his stories) both are very different from the way they were before, another set of dichotomies that show how grounded our characters are – and how sometimes, only sometimes, that grounding makes them uncomfortable.
So the story of Princess Animus, all uninhibited free energy, represents a bold, wild, freeness that contrasts with Maggie and Hopey’s inhibited middle age. Animus is large gestures and bright energy; Maggie and Hopey are small gestures and controlled energy that paradoxically mean so much more their heroic counterpart.
Gilbert’s characters lately, especially his women like Killer and Fritzi (and particularly his hauntingly bland FJ) repeatedly seem to be trapped inside the layers of complexity that they’ve built up around themselves or that have been forced upon them. They’re not trapped by responsibility as much as by the tendrils that encircle their existences, of family and fame and exploitation. They’re not necessarily unhappy but they are burdened by the intricacy of their lives. These are intricate lives, entangled in a web that is difficult to escape, even when wading in a lake.
Contrasted to that is the wacky Arabian Nights yarn that Gilbert presents. It feels free, wild, uninhibited like Jaime’s story but more than that, it has the woman at the center of the story as the prime mover, the most powerful person in a world that (like Jaime’s story) seems improvised from page to page. It seems to represent the freedom that Gilbert’s woman wish they could have, or perhaps the freedom that Fritzi feels onscreen that contrasts with her lack of freedom offscreen.
As always seems to happen, the sets of stories presented in the 100-page Love and Rockets: New Stories seem at first to be a loose amalgamations of ideas and concepts that don’t necessarily connect with each other. But in may be the ultimate dichotomy of this comic, the stories presented here instead resonate with each other, provide feedback and resonance for the larger stories that these master cartoonists present.
Love and Rockets: New Stories #7 is often big and bold. But it’s the small moments and the implied connections that make it special.