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Citizen Rex #1

Posted: Monday, August 3, 2009
By: Thom Young

Mario and Gilbert Hernandez
Mario and Gilbert Hernandez
Dark Horse Comics
Citizen Rex is a new miniseries by Mario and Gilbert Hernandez, two of the three brothers who started the groundbreaking Love and Rockets as a self-publishing venture 28 years ago before it was picked up by Fantagraphics in 1982. I've been a fan of their work ever since I came across issue #4 of Love and Rockets in 1983.

While the credits in Citizen Rex indicate that the "Story & Art" are by Mario & Gilbert Hernandez, I think it's reasonable to assume that Mario wrote most (if not all) of the captions and dialog while Gilbert drew most (if not all) of the illustrations. Undoubtedly, though, they collaborated on what the story would be and how it would be depicted.

In the back of the issue, Mario provides an afterword in which he says that he wrote the story's opening narrative "a good twenty years ago." Indeed, as I read this story it took me back 26 years to those days when I first came across the Hernandez Brothers' work. However, unlike revisiting most comic books of our youths and discovering that they may not be as good as we thought they were when we were younger and had underdeveloped critical thinking skills, this story that seems as if it should have appeared in Love and Rockets #2 in 1982 is every bit as good as I remember those old stories to be.

In those early days, Love and Rockets was mostly filled with off-the-wall science fiction tales that intersected with the culture that the Brothers knew growing up in Southern California and being enmeshed in both their native Hispanic culture and the Los Angeles punk culture of the late 70s and early 80s--with such bands as X, Black Flag, The Germs, and Circle Jerks. Those were the days!

The only thing in Citizen Rex #1 that clearly indicates that it's not a long-lost story that Mario and Gilbert worked on 27 years ago is that the protagonist, Sergio Bauntin, writes a Web column (presumably weekly) called "The Three O'Clock" under the nom de guerre "Bloggo." Web columns and blogs, of course, weren't around 27 years ago--having started only about 15 years ago.

As a writer, Sergio Bauntin is very much a young man (probably in his early 20s) who favors contemporary word usage to traditional; in his writing, he uses spit as the past participle of the action rather than spat, et cetera. He also doesn't seem to make much (if any) money for his Web articles (I can identify with that part) and he relies on his wealthy father to pay for many (if not all) of his living expenses.

The story could easily be set in 2009, and Mario even mentions in his afterword that the story isn't so much science fiction as it is "a family drama" in which people are "trapped in a whirlwind of large human events." However, what classifies the story as science fiction, though, and what makes the setting the not-too-distant future rather than "the world outside your window" is that it is populated with personal robots and androids (robots that look human, not artificial people).

Mario concludes his afterword by noting that Citizen Rex is an "exercise in human / robot allegory." I'm not exactly sure what he means by that, but I can say (without spoiling the issue for those who want to read it but have not yet done so) that the plot involves robots, androids, prosthetic limbs (and perhaps other forms of prosthetics as well), and a youth culture that is enmeshed in it all.

It's sort of Brett Easton Ellis's Less than Zero meets Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep as envisioned by two of the three Hernandez Brothers.

I have only one minor qualm about this first issue. There isn't a strong punk or bohemian sensibility to the story like there might have been if Jaime (the other brother) and Gilbert had come up with this story 26 years ago. However, Mario is the oldest of the three brothers, and I don't believe he was involved in the LA punk scene of the early 80s--and this story is essentially his as far as I can tell.

Nevertheless, I recommend Citizen Rex to anyone who enjoys either Love and Rockets or science fiction stories set in the not-too-distant future in a world that is much like the one outside your window save for a few discrepancies.



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