2008, Fantagraphics Books, 100 b&w pages, $14.99
Never read anything from the Love and Rockets series before? Feel like you should, since it and its creators, the brothers Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez, regularly receive the top accolades from comic critics? At the same time, feel kind of daunted because this thing has been running for several decades and has a ton of history and multiple ongoing storylines?
Join the club, brothers and sisters. I'll fess up: until this week, I hadn't read a single page of the Hernandez brothers' work, even though I hold myself out as somebody who knows a thing or two about a thing or two.
Well, Jaime and Gilbert (with a little help from brother no. 3 Mario) have just the item for me (and you, too): the recently-released Love and Rockets: New Stories #1, the first in a new series of annual graphic novels. The book is very accessible to new readers (although I am sure the longtime fans will get more out of it), since the stories are self-contained and give you everything you need to know to follow along. And you happily will follow along, as this book is both a lighthearted piece of entertainment and, as befits the Hernandez brothers' status in the industry, a master class in comic book storytelling.
Jaime writes and draws a two-part, fifty-page story about a group of superheroes who attempt to stop the crazed rampaging of Penny Century (she's the one pictured on the book's cover). It's pretty much old-school superhero antics, but refreshingly stars a group of people who don't typically show up in main roles in old-school superhero comic books:
Just to point out two, in particular: on the far right is Angel, a self-described "fat ethnic chick" who has no superpowers but does have a lot of courage under fire, and second from the left is Espectra, an elderly Hispanic housekeeper/superhero with ghost powers. It is all too rare in pop comics to see elderly and/or fat and/or minority women leading the charge to save the world, which makes this book stand out all the more.
This story is just plain fun, and Jaime's cartooning skills really help move the action along. Check out this sweet sequence:
Gilbert contributes seven different stories/strips. Unlike Jaime's section, Gilbert's artistic style and choice of subject veer wildly from one story to the next. My favorite was his tale of two Vegas crooners, Duke and Sammy, who are whisked off to another planet where they encounter alien lifeforms, newfound superpowers, and death without losing their senses of humor or mussing their perfectly-styled hairdos:
I didn't love all of Gilbert's stuff -- there's one experimental piece that didn't do much for me, and the story that Mario wrote is a little silly -- but I must say that I am happy that both Jaime and Gilbert are involved in this series. On their own, these stories might have felt a little slight, but the collection produces something greater than its parts. The brothers' love of comics shines through in this book, and you can't help but enjoy the ride.
You can buy this book here, and Fantagraphics even has written a helpful guide on how to read the rest of the Love and Rockets series.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.