It's all about what happens under the surface.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the comic art of both Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez is that so much of the stories they present is subtle and elusive. Their stories are so often about much more than meets the eye. Their stories on some level are clear in their main narrative thrusts – the story of two girls dealing with family turmoil (to oversimplify Jaime's story) or the story of a group of girls trying connect to their family's past through a film (to oversimplify Gilbert's story). Neither of the main pieces in this 100-page collection of new stories is introspective, but neither one works in the same way that your favorite Avengers comic works.
Like so much in life, the really important aspects aren't the things that we're reacting to but the way that we react to that item and the way that reaction shapes our view of the world. Jaime's story this time is all about reactions, all about the way that a shocking event shapes family and children and the way that people come together.
It seems that Al Castor, the stepfather of tween (or early teen) Tonta, has shockingly been killed. At first everyone thinks that a random burglar has killed Al, but as the story evolves and we learn more about these characters, it becomes more and more possible that Tonta's mom may have killed her 3rd or 4th husband (Jaime's not clear on this point and it doesn't really matter anyway). The murder is shocking because, well, murder is always shocking aside from this week's episode of CSI, but the murder also isn't shocking because, as we learn when family and friends come together and move apart from each other in the most fascinating and real ways, shit falls apart, people are cruel and sometimes you just want to scream –as these girls do – "Fuck summer!"
But as always with a Hernandez story, even the basic plot doesn't describe all of the delightful human tangents of the tale that's presented. There's a wonderful sidebar about Edgar Rice Burroughs and the town of Tarzana that involves a woman who might be a symbolic representation of the girls' wish for freedom, and there's a sweet subplot about the swim team that represents an escape.
Jaime's characters all have incredibly vivid faces. Despite the fact that they're all drawn with elegant clean simplicity, they seem like they can walk off the page and into your life. The scene on page 89, with the swim team rooting each other on to victory, is so open and real and bright and charming that it made me feel the same joy that our characters feel. But of course we're used to elegant storytelling from Jaime, and if he wasn't such an accomplished cartoonist that success would be a noose for him. But instead with every page we see his mastery on display – several wonderful scenes of static characters in cars are wonderful, and the jungle woman lights up her scenes, and on and on I could go praising every page in this virtual clinic of storytelling.
And as always, Jaime doesn't make it easy for the reader to pull out all the elements of the story that make it work because there's so much gorgeously wonderful subtlety going on with the story and the art. Jaime's comics have always had an element of poetry to them, with his carefully considered lines and the elegant way that events are implied. His work begs to be reread because so much truth comes through with rereadings, so much subtlety of events and beautiful symmetry. He gives us many questions and few answers, just like our everyday existence, and just like a good poet will do, and we're tremendously satisfied with what he gives us.
Gilbert's story also turns on family and community and stories that are implied and below the surface. But Gilbert takes a slightly different tack than his brother does by bringing a wonderfully postmodern Nautilus shell of an idea: Hollywood actress Killer tracks down a long-lost bit of film noir starring her great-grandmother Maria that in turn tells the story of her long distant relative Luba, who has been the center of dozens of Gilbert's stories.
There's so much to unpack in Gilbert's stories – how fiction matches life in how we perceive legendary people; the idea of history echoes through the years and events reoccur, how the further that someone moves out of their ancestral home, the more that home pulls them back into the very things that seem most lost to time. There's some wonderful symbolism to the hammer that you see on the cover, and a lot of family business that will intrigue the new reader and excite the longtime reader.
Again, it’s the elegance of the storytelling and the economy of explanation that really makes Gilbert's stories stand out against his peers. Characters are given space to think, breathe and react, sometimes in grand ways, as when Killer throws away the symbolic hammer, and sometimes when they find closure in their lives, as in Killer's comment that wraps the story: "Had a dream, but I forgot it already. Can't wait to get in front of a camera again!"
Gilbert has been using subtlely different approaches to all his stories lately, and this tale is no exception. The choices he makes are smart and inventive but they also appear at first glance to be almost carefree and free in ways that Jaime's clear command of the page does not. There's an amiable looseness to Gilbert's storytelling that belies the depth of character and turmoil that he shows.
Both artists also draw all figures straight-on in simple, well considered page grids with the main characters of the scene shown straight-on rather than from the sorts of angles that other artists might use to emphasize certain aspects of the story. There are no storytelling pyrotechnics here, no tricks to cheat on the story. Both creators earn our reactions though smart, straight-ahead storytelling that shows clear grasp of rules.
Love and Rockets New Stories continues the very long line of great Hernandez Bros comics. These guys are still amazing. You need to buy this book.
One day, Jason Sacks hopes to write a review that's nearly as good as an average Hernandez Bros comic. He's the Publisher of Comics Bulletin. Follow him @jasonsacks.