Love and Rockets #27 (August 1988)

Love and Rockets #27

Beto’s got two stories in Love and Rockets #27, neither Palomar-related, both more concentrated on the art. The first is a two-pager about traffic. Automobile traffic and the false promises of automobile ownership. There’s some really detailed art, much different than anything Beto’s done (at least lately), with an emphasis on patterns and panel layouts. It’s a neat start to the issue.

His second story comes at the end, the dialogue-free A Folktale–oh, right, Beto’s using pseudonyms on both stories. The first is by Bob Dillon, the second is by Loup Garou (on the first page) and then Karl Barx on the last. It’s about a woman who’s (apparently) having a BDSM party, an old man peeing in the ocean, and the devil. There’s a teleportation orb; kids playing on the beach push the old man into the orb, he shows up at the party. Where the devil has just arrived. Only the women isn’t so taken with the woman as she is with a hooded man (with skulls in his eyes). The old man has crosses. There’s a lot going on. It’s eight pages. Lots of liquids, the implication the old man is God, all sorts of stuff. It’s a good close to the issue. Beto’s taking a break from worrying about the narrative.

In between is Jaime’s second part to the Maggie working for her Aunt Vicki story. Lots happens. Vicki is winning all the wrestling matches because Maggie being so standoffish with her is pissing Vicki off so she’s taking it out on opponents. Meanwhile, back in Hoppers (now, for the first time, I think, near or part of L.A.–Vicki’s getting Maggie a plane ticket, it comes up), Doyle and Kiko are sitting around talking about what’s going on with Maggie’s love life (i.e. Ray vs. Hopey). Jaime keeps going back to them for their commentary, as Maggie eventually gets fired and then goes on the road with one of Rena’s old wrestling partners in a hunt for Hopey.

Jaime does a bunch of character development on Vicki, a little on the Hoppers supporting cast–mostly Daffy. Maggie’s hunt for Hopey comes up empty but she does manage to get wasted a lot and go to the zoo. And maybe there’s some resolution for Maggie and Vicki, though Maggie’s almost completely unaware of how much their relationship problems are weighing on Vicki. It’s kind of like it’s Vicki’s story, with everything else just extra to set up whatever’s next once Maggie gets back to Hoppers.

One thing Jaime doesn’t do is anything with the recently deceased Speedy. Kiko mentions him, but doesn’t name him, and Izzy appears silent in a panel during a dream sequence. After the first page, which features Roy Cowboy (a Jaime character from the early days of Love and Rockets) as a wrestling announcer, and has a larger establishing panel, Jaime sticks to six or seven panels a page. He’s getting really good with the detail in these smaller panels. Scene pacing, implied movement between panels, establishing shots during scenes and conversations, all of it’s outstanding.

But it’s all a delay. The story ends with Maggie in stasis for a few months, not having to think about the future, getting to stay in Vicki’s house while Vicki’s on the Japanese wrestling circuit. It’s cute–and works thanks to the story being from Kiko and Doyle’s perspective, at least as far as Hoppers drama goes–but is hard not to feel like Jaime’s avoiding things. Like Maggie being the protagonist.

Love and Rockets #26 (June 1988)

Love and Rockets #26

Beto finishes up Human Diastrophism this issue; there’s a lot to talk about with it. A whole lot.

But first Jaime, who does a very different Locas than he’s being doing lately. It’s about Maggie going on tour with her Aunt Vicki, who’s won back her wrestling belt and needs to defend it. Maggie’s along as her assistant (of sorts).

The story opens with some developments for Maggie and Ray (they’re together in some capacity), though Ray is pretty sure Maggie would pick Hopey. Hopey’s entirely off page. She tries calling Maggie, which is one heck of an off-panel development. Daffy and Tom Tom (who’s been gone for how long) show up for some exposition and fun at the beginning of the story, then it’s Maggie on the road and Vicki’s wrestling insanity.

Vicki’s been in the book more lately, but nothing like here. Jaime humanizes her in a direct way, as opposed to the usually comedic ways he’s done in the past. Comedic and frightening. But here we finally get some insight into Vicki’s role as Maggie’s pseudo-mom, a role previously reserved (to some degree) for Vicki’s nemesis, Rena. Who gets a mention but no appearance.

Art-wise, Jaime’s really going for some comic strip style pacing here. Holy crap, I just realized there’s a cameo from Vincente and Saturino (Palomar). Anyway, the comic strip style pacing. It’s an awesome mix of action and detail. Jaime’s moving quickly, but never rushing through detail. Quite the opposite, in fact. This story’s probably more detailed than Jaime’s been lately. When he’s doing six panel pages (three rows of two), he’s able to do a lot more with the visual pacing, to force the reader’s attention. It’s an almost entirely “for fun” outing, but with some phenomenal visual storytelling.

And now Human Diastrophism.

This final installment would seem like a postscript or epilogue, if it weren’t where so much of the impact occurs. It certainly seemed like Luba’s mad rush of self-destruction and terrible choices peaked earlier, but not exactly. Here’s where her behaviors finally fully explode; it just looked like she was exploding before. Beto brings back something from earlier for the deus ex machina on it, from the second chapter. Beto’s page numbering for the story is straight through all installments (it ends, here, at page 100). The story certainly deserves a full-read through on its own.

But it’s not just what the final installment doesn’t resolve, it’s what it introduces. It’s what subplots turn out to be more important and how they echo with earlier things in Beto’s Palomar stories. There’s a callback to the first one, no less. And then references to some other characters.

It’s a twenty-page story. With maybe three main plot lines and then a bunch of supporting ones. There’s character development going on between panels, not in focus, like Carmen and Heraclio coming to terms with Guadalupe being his daughter. Beto does a lot of visual echos between Luba’s men, Archie and Heraclio in particular, but also echoing Tonantzin off Diana. In some ways, it’s the culmination of all the Palomar stories since the first one (set ten years before or whatever). But it also refers to that story.

So while it’s independent–the character development of Luba’s daughter, Marciela, almost entirely happens in this story, the serial killer story line is contained to it, lover boy Khamo is entirely contained to it–Human Diastrophism is all about Palomar. About the only thing it doesn’t have to do with is the boys who grew up and moved away.

Of course, all that discussion and it doesn’t even touch on the end of Human Diastrophism, which is entirely unexpected but also perfectly in line with the story (and Beto’s Palomar work). It’s devastating, but removed, then Beto zooms back in, only just the reader. The reader is in on a terrible truth.

It’s the best work in the comic so far. Complicated but simple. It’s never hostile. Beto never makes it difficult to follow. He never tries to trick the reader. He just demands patience and attention. Human Diastrophism is exceptional. It’s full of so much sadness, but never once does Beto get melancholic or saccharine. It doesn’t seem possible he’ll ever top it. We shall see.

Love and Rockets #25 (March 1988)

Love and Rockets #25

Before starting Love and Rockets #25, I kind of wondered if Penny would ever be back. Jaime’s been bringing back a bunch of the old Locas characters, but no Penny. Sure, her last appearance was problematic as heck and Jaime doesn’t really do the stylized stories she had, but it seemed weird she wasn’t back.

She’s back. In the second story, Hopey and her new sidekick, Texas, end up in the Costigan mansion where Hopey, Maggie, Penny, and Izzy stayed around twenty issues ago. It’s such a different kind of comic. Jaime’s not moody anymore. The art’s great and the comedy’s great, but there’s no moodiness. It’s kind of sad. Jaime’s gotten to be such a good artist with the smaller panels, he doesn’t have those full-page (or half-page) luciously designed panels anymore. There’s no more visual pacing, which is what he did with Locas back at the start. Back when it was Mechanics.

Anyway. Hopey and Texas are broke and hungry and hit up Penny for some room and board. Penny’s living the bored life of a billionaire’s trophy bride. Jaime plays her–and the strip–mostly for laughs. Maggie shows up in a flashback, which is also heavy on the laughs, but does do some character development (or revelation) on early days in the Hopey and Maggie friendship.

It’s a good story. With a great punchline.

However, it comes after the penultimate chapter of Human Diastrophism, Beto’s truly awesome Palomar tale. There’s Luba’s interal struggle with aging, there’s her daughter Maricela being fed up with life in Palomar (particularly under Luba’s roof), a lot with Luba’s daughters actually. And it finally all ties in with Tonantzin and the letters. Amidst it all the monkeys are going crazier and crazier.

Oh, and the serial killer story seemingly gets resolved, although there are still a bunch of unanswered questions.

Beto moves the story at a rapid pace. Panel to panel, he changes from one set of characters to another, then back again, making a pattern. He slows down for big sequences, like the serial killer stuff (as well as the hint of a red herring to be revealed, presumably next issue), but also with how the Tonantzin letters tie in to everything else. He brings subplots to the foreground, sends them to the background; there’s not just Luba’s oldest daughter running away, there’s Luba delivering her other daughters to their fathers, which is this other visible subplot–the characters stand around in the background talking about it–but Beto doesn’t have any time for it. He’s precise with what dialogue the reader gets to “hear,” what thoughts the reader gets to read. It’s exceptionally good stuff.

I can’t help but think a) Human Diastrophism is the best thing Beto’s done so far in Love and Rockets (and it’s definitely the best multi-issue story arc), but also b) there was an utterly lost chapter–Beto meandered through the second or third installment. Only to turn around and create this phenomenal story. I think it was the second chapter.

It’s a great issue. Beto makes the comic. Jaime, especially with the relative silliness of the Hopey and Penny story, is the dessert.

Love and Rockets #24 (December 1987)

Love and Rockets #24

Beto gets one story this issue, Jaime gets three but really two. It’s an interesting three stories; two are Maggie (and Ray) stories, one is a Hopey story. The Maggie story is about, well, The Night Ape Sex Came Home to Play. Maggie, Daffy, and Kiko (how long has it been since Kiko has been in an issue–has Kiko ever been in an issue) are trying to get into a show with little success, then run into Joey and Tony. Who’ve been around for ages.

Joey (Hopey’s brother) has been holding onto Hopey’s letters for Maggie–which Hopey’s usually writing or avoiding writing in her stories–so Maggie wants to get those. Everyone also wants to go check out Ray and Doyle’s new apartment. Maggie doesn’t want to go because the Ray stuff is still unresolved.

It’s a fast, sometimes funny, character building four pages. Jaime does a lot with the supporting players–as well as some world building (there’s some acquaintance who knows Izzy)–and it leads perfectly into the second story, which is Hopey’s.

The band is finally breaking up. Terry has found a new band (so, after teasing it issues ago, Terry never did get around to seducing Hopey) while Monica and Zero are getting together and running off, leaving Hopey with a broken down car. It’s another four pager, with Hopey ending up buddies with Texas, who’s possibly a musician too (or wants to be) and also has nowhere to go and no money to get there. It’s beginning of a beautiful friendship. And, even though Hopey’s occasionally really nasty, it’s very nice to get to see her not playing second-fiddle to a band story. It’s been a while since she’s gotten to have so much personality.

Then comes Beto’s Palomar and it’s another fantastic installment of the serial killer story, Human Diastrophism. Turns out Luba’s verbally (and physically) abusive behavior to her oldest daughter is rubbing off, horrifically, on her youngest. Meanwhile Tonantzin’s still worrying Diana and Carmen (and, by extension, Heraclio and Pipo). Of course Pipo’s still fooling around with Khamo, Luba’s favorite toy boy. Beto introduces–it can’t be for the first time so I missed it–a mystery enabler for Tonantzin’s behavior; she can’t read the letters from her prison pen pal herself, so someone else is doing it.

Humberto the artist is posting his violent sketches–of the killing he saw–around town as he zonks more and more out, his eyes becoming saucers like the terrible monkeys.

Archie confronts Luba, tragically, over Khamo. Soon after Luba finds out about Pipo and Khamo and plans some kind of response (possibly violent but probably not really, Luba’s not actually terrible). Luba even tries–and fails–to bond with Maricela after hitting her in the last chapter. Meanwhile Maricela’s romance with her secret girlfriend is discovered.

There’s more serial killer victims, there’s some romance for Chelo, there’s a bunch of other stuff. Including some tourists who may have killed one of their friends and that body is either missing or in with the serial killer’s victims.

Speaking of the serial killer’s victims, the story ends on one heck of a cliffhanger involving one of them.

It’s a fantastic story. Beto keeps it moving, he keeps up the character development, humor, tragedy, all of it. Great stuff. And the perfect way for the issue to end.

Except it turns out Jaime’s not done. He’s got the second part to the first story, six pages this time, with Ray deciding he’s going to finally confront Maggie about liking her. On the way he meets Doyle’s weird stripper girlfriend and, after having thought he missed her, runs into Maggie. Jaime doesn’t really give us a Maggie and Ray scene, instead lets Daffy finish off the story, which is fine, she was there for the start.

It’s a neat pair of stories, separate but joined; there’s some great art in them, of course, but none of it seems very narratively ambitious. Jaime’s getting pieces into place, Hopey, Maggie, Ray. There’s nothing about Speedy being dead, which is–initially–very, very weird.

Jaime’s second part to the Locas story (or third, whatever) also means the issue doesn’t end on Beto’s quizzical and disturbing finish to Palomar.

As Beto becomes more stable in his storytelling, Jaime’s still exploring. Not the content but how to tell the stories. It’s interesting.

Love and Rockets #23 (October 1987)

Love and Rockets #23

Right off, Beto makes up for last issue’s Palomar installment with this one’s. It’s the third part (and not the conclusion) of Human Diastrophism, which–among other subplots–has a serial killer loose in Palomar. Last time Beto sputtered around, trying to figure out how to pace the various plot threads–the serial killer seems to be working at the dig where Luba’s lover (and unknowing father of two of her children) is working, with Beto also doing stories about Luba’s kids, plus Tonantzin’s circle of friends being very worried about her. The same players move through both plots, but they’re not connected. Not even by the serial killer; yet.

Beto’s art style is a little different. He’s more distant in his composition, figures are smaller, backgrounds are sometimes emptier. It’s like he’s figured out the narrative distance, going a lot more for comic strip visual gags and blocking. He’s working at a much faster pace, whther it’s the action of Luba’s kids jump-roping or transitioning from Archie (Luba’s current until her ex showed up boyfriend) going to work at the dig to him working alongside Luba’s new old lover. There’s also lots of silhouette, as the town starts killing off the monkeys.

Beto’s also doing a lot more character work, particularly on Luba, but also with Pipo (which means establishing a lot about her since she’s never been as active–not since the first Palomar story); plus Heraclio gets to come off like a complete ass. This issue’s installment feels full, packed with content to unravel while reading. Beto’s art informs on how to read it, how to process the information. The words all become very important, along with the composition, the expressions. The pacing of dialogue as it relates to the composition and expressions. Even if the previous issue’s installment hadn’t been strangely undercooked, this issue’s Palomar would still be spectacular. Out of nowhere–not just nowhere, but after a misstep–Beto’s reaching new heights of ambition and success. It’s awesome.

Jaime then has the impossible task of following Beto. Not just following Beto, but presumably concluding The Death of Speedy Ortiz. The story takes a much wider lens on Hoppers 13 than Jaime employs; it’s not a Maggie story, it’s not a Ray story. Licha–Maggie’s gangster (but now altrusitic, community minded gangster) cousin–has a big part. Her biggest part in the series to date. Esther’s around causing trouble, with the Dairytown gangster mad she’s dating Speedy, then Speedy’s local squeeze out to get whoever else he’s seeing (thinking it might be Maggie), but then Speedy’s Hoppers 13 gang friends mad about him beating up a friend last issue.

That beatdown was literally done as a sight gag, so it’s kind of a surprise.

Meanwhile Izzy is having her first episode in ages, ’Litos (and Ray) are trying to keep the Hoppers 13 guys cool about Speedy–not to mention Ray’s mom sick of him sleeping on the couch.

Finally there’s some resolution to the Speedy and Maggie relationship, which has so much dramatic impact it replaces the actual danger Speedy’s in.

Then there’s a haunting finale before a flashback to when Maggie was a freshman in high school, at a wedding between one of the Hoppers kids and a Dairytown girl. Everyone’s there, young Speedy, but also Letty, Maggie’s pre-Hopey friend who tragically died. In a short flashback strip ten issues ago.

Jaime does a bunch. There’s some great, great art, there’s some way too goofy comic strip visual action–bing, bang, boom stuff; oddly, Beto does all that comic strip sight action to perfect result in Palomar, Jaime just doesn’t make it work in Locas. It’s weird. It’s also perfectly successful in the first few pages of the comic and then Jaime loses his grip on it.

And Maggie’s still barefoot for some reason.

It’s a good comic. But in widening the scope of Speedy Ortiz, Jaime kind of changes what it takes for the story to be a success. It also can’t compare to Beto’s Palomar entry, which is breathtaking.

Love and Rockets #22 (August 1987)

Love and Rockets #22

Both Beto and Jaime are in the second chapters of multi-issue stories in Love and Rockets #22–including a Jerusalem Crickets (starring Hopey and the band) two-page entry. It’s strange because it doesn’t quite work out like usual. Meaning Beto doesn’t knock it out of the park.

But he’s second. I’ll wait this time for him.

Jaime’s Jerusalem Crickets two-pager has Hopey finally writing to Maggie. The strip’s funny, humanizes Terry some more, and is generally cute. Jaime’s a lot less focused on Terry and Hopey previously being romantic than Terry towering over Hopey and it being kind of a sight gag. It’s a cute opener.

And is most interesting because Maggie’s not thinking about Hopey at all anymore in Locas, which continues The Death of Speedy Ortiz–Jaime’s now playing with the promise of the title, moving various pieces around the board. Ray’s still in love with Maggie, still doesn’t talk to her (because he’s got to hang out with the boys). Esther and Speedy are fighting, Blanca (who Speedy has sex with whenever he’s mad at another girl) is out stalking Speedy’s new mystery girlfriend, Esther’s gangster boyfriend is in town, and Maggie is still mad crushing on Speedy.

There’s a lot of great art, with Ray and the boys’s night scene full of wonderful silhouette. The sun sets during the story, which Jaime tracks across pages subtly but definitely. As time progresses, the tone gets more and more dangerous. Jaime follows Ray and Maggie, with Speedy getting the last two pages. Maggie’s barefoot the whole time, which is never a plot point, but a recurring detail. It’s awesome.

Jaime also plays a lot with plaid in the silhouette (the Dairytown gangsters wear plaid), and a lot with depth. He’s keeping with seven panels on most pages, but very ambitious with his exteriors in those smaller panels.

Izzy has a one panel, foreboding appearance. She’s gardening, which is again strange. Smiling last issue, gardening this one.

It’s a very successful entry, setting the issue up for a great Palomar. Which then turns out not to be so successful. Mostly because it doesn’t seem like Beto’s Palomar knows what he wants to do with it. He’s got all sorts of things going on and doesn’t really want to concentrate on any of them.

The first sign of misused pages is the title page. Beto uses a whole page for it. One out of fifteen. Then he spends the next page and a half on some dorky American surfers bickering over what kind of music to play on their boom box on the beach. Then it’s a check-in on Diana and Tonantzin, but not a scene, just establishing Tonantzin is still nuts and Diana is still worried.

Teenage Humberto’s interest in art–facilitated by Heraclio, who’s happy to have someone around to appreciate it–gets a page. Humberto will come back a bit later, but it’s not really important yet. It’s well-executed, well-written, but kind of a time waster. Then it’s off to Luba’s daughters and their problems; eventually there’s the reveal the oldest daughter is gay and hiding it, while the other one going to school has a book stolen by the monkeys.

Mind you, last issue ended on the haunting image of a dead child and a serial killer. Now it’s a little kid with a giant book, so big she has to carry it over her head. It’s the most outlandish, cartoonish thing Beto’s ever done in Palomar (or so I recall).

When he does get around to Chelo investigating the murder from last issue, there’s more fighting with the newly appeared mayor, but nothing substantial. It’s nowhere near as disturbing as the possibility Martín’s reaction to it is going to be terrifying. And then Beto introduces a girl who has a crush on Martín, as she’ll be important in the end.

Luba shows up just long enough to break Archie’s heart, the surfers come back, Luba’s daughters have a scene, there’s dancing, then there’s the serial killer ending….

Every page has three rows of panels and it’s rare for any of the plot lines to get more than two full rows and a single transition panel on another, sometimes crossing page breaks. It’s packed. With too much information, too much plot developments, too little character.

It actually reminds a lot of that picnic story Beto did about ten issues ago when he also didn’t seem like he knew what he really wanted to do with the pages.

The ending with the serial killer is terrifying, there’s a lot of good art, but it’s not substantial at all.

I don’t know if the comic’s been this uneven, quality-wise, between the brothers before.

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