Beto’s back to Palomar in Love and Rockets #29. Well, he’s back to some kind of Heartbreak Soup, maybe not Palomar. He’s got the first chapter of Poison River, which recounts this terrible tale of migrant workers. Eventually. It opens with a housekeeper thinking she’s rescuing a baby from the father burning it with a cigar. Or worse. It’s unclear. Beto doesn’t have any exposition in the story. He often doesn’t have any dialogue. For example, when the man’s wife (and presumably the baby’s mother) returns and gets booted out of the house, it’s all without dialogue.
Then Beto introduces Eduardo and Juan, two ditch diggers. They’re hungry, it’s hard to find work (and the boss lays off at least one person a day). Eduardo has Juan over for dinner; now, Eduardo is the one who took the baby in the opening scene. He’s now living with the mother. Or more like the mother is living with him. Eduardo’s also got another woman, Karlota. It’s unclear who he’s supposed to be with; though it definitely seems like Karlota.
There’s jealousy, drunkenness, disaster, and Eduardo ends up in charge of the baby. Baby Luba.
Beto throws in that revelation in the second to last panel, long after he’s proven the Palomar-free Heartbreak Soup story. His art’s fantastic, the pacing of it and the panel composition. A lot happens in the panels’ backgrounds in the story. Lots with recurring visual motif, lots with expression. Never with exposition. Beto’s got a lot to say in Poison River, a lot to talk about, but he never gives the reader a vocabulary guide. He’ll have these single panel scenes, then multi-panel sequences, sometimes flashbacks; there’s a severe narrative distance. Eduardo’s the protagonist, but the story’s not from his perspective. Not most of the time. Probably.
And it maybe has an Izzy cameo. What’s Izzy doing in Mexico? Well, Jaime’s story for the issue is Flies on the Ceiling: The Story of Isabel in Mexico. This story has come up in the comic before, with Hopey wanting to read about it in Izzy’s diaries, but it’s not like Hopey shared her findings with the reader. There has been some back story on Izzy, especially tying her into the version of Isabel from the first issue of Love and Rockets; Jaime repeats some of that distinct imagery here. But then he tells a very different, utterly heartbreaking tale. Frankly it’s hard to imagine Hopey would find anything to laugh about.
In Mexico, sometime after having an abortion, Izzy is shuffling through a town. A single father asks for her help getting his son to eat dinner. Izzy starts rooming with the pair and in a nine-panel page of fantastic montage, becomes a member of the family. The son likes her, the father is crushing on her. Eventually Izzy even smiles.
After an old woman ominously speaks to Izzy on the street, Izzy confesses her past to the man. He loves her anyway. Just as much. Izzy’s happy. Until one day she has a vision and has to leave the man and the boy, locking herself away in a one room apartment; there, the devil confronts her. They’ve–why assume the devil is a he, the devil tells her–been following her. They love her suffering.
It becomes this hard story about Izzy’s emotional and mental breakdown; with flashbacks to her abortion. She’s traumatized, over and over again.
It’s an emotional roller coaster of fifteen pages. Tragic, beautifully illustrated (Jaime does these super-thin background lines, focusing the foreground against them). The whole story plays out on Izzy’s face, panel to panel, with the occasional haunting or disturbing image. It too is an awesome story. And probably Jaime’s best done-in-one and maybe best overall since he’s moved to the nine-panel a page layout, which he uses for the entire story, save the title page. It’s a rending tale.
So, great issue. For maybe the first time in the series, Beto and Jaime are handling some of the same themes between their stories in one issue.