LOVE AND ROCKETS
No. 1 Sept. 1982
The first issue of Love and Rockets is six parts Beto (or ’Bert as he’s credited here) and five parts Jaime. Beto shows a flair for long, rambling narrative–five of his six chapters are parts of Bem, which features giant monsters, the Amazonian Luba, mind control, a film noir private eye, psychics, boyfriends, girlfriends, and gorilla suits. It’s enthusiastically weird but completely different from Jaime’s approach to mise-en-scène. Jaime invites the reader to enjoy the inventiveness, Beto keeps the reader distant from it. Since it’s the first issue and Beto’s other story actually feels more like one of Jaime’s–and I frankly can’t remember if his style changes–it’ll be interesting to see what happens.
Obviously, the idea of going through all of Love and Rockets isn’t new. But when I got into L&R, the new editions hadn’t come out yet. The original collections were still in print, not the story-centered stuff, which really just tried to bring L&R to manga reading teens. I hope it worked but I don’t think it did. At the same time, these collections dropped anything not Maggie and Hopey or Heartbreak Soup.
But some of the beauty of Love and Rockets is in the process, in how Jaime and Beto develop as creators. For example, Jaime uses a comic strip punchline device for Locas Tambien, keeping the action off page and having Maggie and Hopey talk about it. I’m hesitant to establish any kind of style to talk about these stories, but at the same time, I don’t think rambling between them without structure is going to be much fun.
So, Bem. Giant monsters, big boobs, hard sci-fi, film noir p.i., relationship troubles. Five chapters of it. And then there’s Bem. Bem is an entity, who may or may not occasionally wear giant gorilla suits (implying a humanoid shape), who causes reality to rearrange. He’s a “horror,” which is kind of like a really scary supervillain. And it’s a weird story. Beto gets the reader into it initially with a girl having psychic disturbances because of Bem. Each chapter builds towards a different point, introducing people who want to capture a giant monster who’s coincidentally escaped. Luba (with the big boobs) is an evil Amazon, basically, who wants to rule the world. The giant monster has gotten smart though (it’s an insect, but now a smart, talking one). The film noir detective has nothing to do with the monster at this point, because he’s busy hunting down Bem. Beto brings it all together eventually, by extreme coincidence.
But the coincidence doesn’t matter because Beto treats his characters as objects to be regarded. The reader is supposed to identify with the characters’ situations more than with the characters themselves. Beto keeps a distance.
In Beto’s second story, Music for Monsters, he doesn’t have as much distance. I didn’t even realize it was Beto. I just thought it was Jaime doing a different style; I don’t think the two protagonists gets named (at least not often enough for it to stick) and one of them acts a lot like Penny Century. I figured it was Jaime and it’s not. It’s Beto doing a fun story. Bem isn’t fun, Bem is occasionally funny, but it’s serious.
For Mechan-X, the second chapter of this first issue (Maggie and Hopey’s origin story!), Jaime goes for fun. Meticulous, conversation-based, sight gag-based, sci-fi infused fun. It’s all about Maggie going back to work as a mechanic. Hopey makes her do it (Maggie’s not doing well with her other jobs). At the job, Maggie meets hunk prosolar mechanic Rand Race. She also gets held hostage by a bad mechanic. Or at least Rand’s nemesis, who seems like he should be a bad mechanic. Before it’s over, Jaime also introduces Penny Century. Remember her for a paragraph.
Next up is Barrio Huerta, which is a Spanish language single page story, subtitled Hoppers 13. Until this point in the comic, Love and Rockets may have had some Spanish dialogue, definitely Spanish surnames, but depressing slice of life in almost all Spanish language (and the English dialogue being nonsensical)… it’s something else. Jaime uses language to force attention.
Then comes a one page Penny Century story. Penny’s daydreaming about being a superhero. It gets her fired. Her literally devilish gentleman admirer tries to console her, but she just wants to be a superhero. It’s Jaime mixing all kinds of style–superhero, glamour, romance–along with this wonderful character moment for Penny.
Jaime then does old dark house style for How to Kill a … by Isabel Ruebens, which is about an author (Isabel Ruebens presumably) having trouble figuring out something she’s writing. She has a hallucination. It’s very moody, very effective. Jaime does really well with dark. He doesn’t go for so much detail with it, content to let the absence of detail encourage the imagination.
Finally, there’s Locas Tambien, which only runs four pages but since it’s got a flashback and the aforementioned comic strip punchline style, it sticks out. It’s sort of Maggie and Hopey’s first adventure together. It’s not a particularly strong narrative; Hopey and Maggie hang out with Izzy, who’s annoying to Maggie. Then Joey sort of freaks out. Jaime tries to spin it as a non sequitur ending but he’s stretching it. It doesn’t matter–he goes out on an awesome punk rock panel (literally)–but it’s interesting to see the attempt.
It’s an incredibly lean comic book. There’s no wasted panels much less wasted pages. Both Jaime and Beto fill the page with panels–it’s a bigger page too (8.5“ x 11”), which gives them some more room. They also both let big visual events happen in small panels. There’s such detail in those smaller panels too, it helps the reader get lost in the story.
Bem’s the most finished effort in the comic. It’s the most successful too. Then Mechan-X, then Music for Monsters. The rest of Jaime’s stuff is a mix of strong and very strong, but he’s a little bit too distracted by his imagination. He’s letting the fun get in the way. You can’t really hold it against him. It’s a lot of fun.
Right from the start, Love and Rockets amazes.
Cornboy clear has some kind of interesting history. Pamela Corkey gets a creator credit on the cover and a “from an original screenplay by” credit on the inside front. Joshua Dysart gets credited as writer on the cover and “graphic novel by” on the inside front. Edison George gets an “art” credit both places. In other words, there’s some kind of story to it. Not to mention it’s from Dynamite Entertainment (with co-publishers), but come on… something without a variant cover? What’s Dynamite doing with it?
I read Cornboy because of Dysart. He’s done a lot of little stuff over the years–not much in the way of licensed comics, which is good, but definitely these odd ball projects with histories (he also scripted Neil Young’s Greendale comic for Vertigo). Other than it having a Dysart script, I didn’t really have much interest. Not to knock the concept–a teenager who is half corn has to contend with scientists wanting to cure the planet with his high fructose corn syrup blood.
Okay, not really the high fructose corn syrup thing, but you get the idea. Dysart’s kind of perfect for it since he did write Swamp Thing for a while and Ethan the Cornboy does have a similarly green hue.
Cornboy runs around ninety-six pages, which means it could roughly have been four issues, depending on ads. It doesn’t seem like it was done as a limited series though–even with occasional time jumps (my copy had a misprint so I kept wondering if I missed an explanation about Ethan losing an eye to science). It’s got a solid flow about it, at least until the third act when the government comes in and there’s no humor to it.
Because Cornboy is a bit of an absurd gross-out comedy. It definitely starts as one, with some rather risqué scenes. George has a lot of fun with them. As the book progresses, George has a lot less energy and a lot less fun. It’s often very nice art, but there are only four or five regular cast members and if they aren’t in a lab, they’re running around outside. The biggest action in the book is a car going over a hill.
Going into Cornboy–maybe not when I bought it back in 2011–but reading it, I knew Dysart was just doing the scripting duties. There are some good scenes and the characters are reasonably strong, at least until the all start acting silly but George’s style doesn’t do anything absurd. It’s like he forgot how to do a visual gag by the end of the book, which does it no favors.
It also doesn’t help none of the characters are likable. Ethan is underdeveloped–or undercooked (wokka wokka)–his love interest, Renee, is intentionally unlikable. The villains, who should be played for laughs, are too thin played as actually dangerous.
Cornboy is a strange book. It’s wholly competent, somewhat ambitious, but it runs out of energy way too soon. I’m assuming that stall out, given it’s a narrative issue, is from the source screenplay. Or I’m wrong and it’s all Dysart’s fault. I doubt it though. But who knows. Only the Cornboy knows. But not really, because he’s not a superhero.
Act 1 Feb. 2016
After hearing about Providence, waiting for Providence, finally reading Providence, I quickly determined it was a book I’d want to read again. Not serialized, but in a sitting. Or, at most, two. Though, based on how long it took me to read this Act 1 collection–which consists of the series’s first four issues, of an eventual twelve–reading all of Providence will probably be an eight or nine hour commitment. One I look forward to sometime in the future.
Providence is so dense, its back matter so important, it’ll be interesting to see if there’s anything special about the final collection. Act 1 is a very traditional collection of an atypical book. Fairly sure the back matter for the third issue had writer Alan Moore raging against the idea of narrative reality over narrative verisimilitude. It’s a little bit in a lot of back matter, probably a couple sentences, but it sticks out. The back matter, being the journal of the protagonist, New York Herald reporter Robert Black (née Schwartz, which matters more than I remember), is where Moore does the most work these four chapters. There’s a lot going on in the actual comic, but Moore is asking the reader to think about it all again. He even gets playful in how he uses the back matter; it’s an integral part of Providence. Moore paces out Black’s journal entries to create tension and interest and relief. Black isn’t a likable protagonist. He’s a sympathetic one, but he’s a jerk. Moore doesn’t care. He’s an interesting jerk.
Going back to read the first four issues of Providence, in a marathon session, when the series isn’t even finished does bring some perspective. It definitely makes one more appreciative of Moore’s dedication to the project. There’s some hilarious stuff in the back matter, which either got lost the first time I read it or I’d forgotten it. Providence, in its first act–the collection does end on an excellent note–has a leisurely pace. Black’s a tourist, the reader’s a tourist. It’s a survey into the possible (something Moore juxtaposes against Black’s story ideas in his journal). There’s no danger, something I remember from reading it in floppies. At this point, even as Black writes about being the sap in a mystery in his journal, there’s still the possibility for some kind of escape, some kind of rescue.
Artist Jacen Burrows does a fantastic job, of course, but I particularly noticed his execution of the setting. Providence takes place in 1919. Everything Burrows visualizes in the modern age hums with excitement. Everything he visualizes in podunk New England is different. It’s more familiar (just with slightly different inhabitants). It creates a very different contrast in the second half of Act 1.
Moore’s approach to the back matter, how much work he does with it–whether making the protagonist more relatable, revealing more about the protagonist, revealing more about events, guiding reader expectation, riffing on story ideas or concepts–it’s Providence’s secret. The back matter, the thoughts of the protagonist, are what Moore wants the reader to keep in mind, not necessarily the events as Burrows visualized them. Or at least Moore wants the reader to question everything. It’s patient, thoughtful, enthusiastic writing. Of course it’s great.