As several people have already mentioned, 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of Love and Rockets, the seminal, groundbreaking comic series by Gilbert, Jaime and Mario Hernandez. It’s an impressive feat for any cartoonist to maintain a series for so long (even given the various format changes L&R has gone through) and it’s all the more impressive when you consider the number of masterpieces the Hernandez brothers have put under their collective belt during that time period. The Death of Speedy. Poison River. Human Diastrophism. Wig Wam Bam. Heartbreak Soup. The Love Bunglers. Most cartoonists would kill to produce just one of those books. And they’re still going strong with no drop in quality.
In honor of their anniversary I thought I’d take the time to list some of my own personal favorite sequences from the series. This is by no means to be a definitive list — there are so many outstanding moments from this series that trying to narrow it down a mere six is a bit of a mug’s game. These are merely six moments that immediately came to mind when I thought of the idea for this post. I could have come up with 100 more easily. All you Los Bros fans out there can feel free to list your own favorite moments in the comments section.
Oh, and lots of spoilers exist below, so if you haven’t read the series yet and want to jump into it fresh. I’d stop reading here …
1) The death of Speedy Ortiz from “The Death of Speedy.”
The situation: Speedy Ortiz, at the end of his rope, finally confesses his feelings to Maggie. Maggie, however, is at the end of her own rope and tired of guys like Speedy jerking her around, and she tells him so in no uncertain terms. Suffice it to say Speedy doesn’t take the news well. And when next we see him … well, we don’t really ever see Speedy again …
Why I love this so: The way Jaime fills the panels with as much black as possible, Maggie’s body language, especially the way she collapses in the second panel. The way Jaime cuts from Speedy to the hospital to a police car on patrol several hours later, forcing the reader to make an association between the panels (we never find out how Speedy actually dies, though it’s not too hard to guess). Comics — at least American comics — didn’t force the reader to work like this before. The idea that you might have to put some effort in your reading, that something was expected of you, was fresh and invigorating and remains so decades later.
2) Tonantzin kills herself in “Human Diastrophism.”
The situation: Palomar giant slug seller and all-around beauty Tonantzin becomes obsessed with issues of colonialism and western imperialism. Traveling to America with Khamo, she douses herself with gasoline and sets herself on fire in protest. Khamo attempts to save her, only to be horribly burned himself.
Why I love this sequence so: A lesser cartoonist would give a more straightforward, dramatic approach, putting Tonantzin front and center and showing us directly her decision to commit suicide, perhaps even giving us an interior monologue. Beto is too good for that nonsense, instead relaying her death via a TV news broadcast that’s being watched by a young woman (who in turn just happens to be with a photographer who visited Palomar years before). For readers who have followed Tonantzin’s adventures to see her relegated to a short, tragic segment on the evening news — her name is never even mentioned and her body is shown in silhouette. It’s up to the reader to determine who the person being immolated is — is painful dismissal of someone they’ve come to care about. It was a shocking, perhaps even audacious, move on Gilbert’s part and showed he was decidedly playing for keeps.
3) The demonic dog from “Ghost of Hoppers.”
The situation: In a flashback sequence, a young, drunk Maggie stumbles outside and sees a big, black dog lying on the grass. Then the dog proceeds to get up on it’s hind legs rather menacingly …
Why I love this so: Brrrrrr. This is one of the creepiest sequences that Jaime’s done yet, and that’s saying something. If nothing else, this bit proved that he was just as capable at horror as he was at humor, straight drama and just about every other genre under the sun.
4) Ofelia is attacked and raped in “Poison River.”
The situation: Having left her leftist friends behind to take care of an untoilet-trained Luba, Ofelia hears shots and attempts to investigate, while the young Luba hides in the bushes. She should have just kept walking in the opposite direction.
Why I love this so: Well, perhaps “love” is not the most accurate choice of words here. Still, while it’s a harrowing sequence, there’s no question it’s masterfully done, especially in the way Beto cuts from Luba hiding in the bushes to showing us just enough of the horrors that lie a few feet beyond. Beto has never been one to shy away from blood and sex, even in his earliest comics, but this was something altogether different — Poison River was a demarcation point that showed how willing Hernandez was to risk the reader’s disgust or confusion. Even today it remains a tough sequence to read and it haunts me like very few comics do.
5) “I’m sorry” from “The Love Bunglers.”
The situation: A prepubescent Maggie has caught her father in the arms of another woman. Naturally, she feels guilty about it — an attitude her mother does little to correct.
Why I love it so: Honestly, “The Love Bunglers” is such a major accomplishment I could point to just about any page and include it here. Many, no doubt will highlight the (honestly earned) tearjerker of an ending, but there’s something about this particular set of panels that sticks in my brain. Perhaps it’s the way it shows where Maggie’s constant feelings of guilt, insecurity and shame came from. Maybe it’s the way that “I’m sorry” is echoed once more in a pivotal part of the story a few pages later. Maybe it’s simply the way Xaime pulls back here, letting the black silhouette of Maggie’s mother turn into a void that threatens to swallow poor Magpie. Regardless, this is one of my favorite bits from one of my favorite Locas stories.
6) The end of “Love and Rockets X”
The situation: At the end of his saga of life in Los Angeles circa the early 1990s, Beto jump cuts from panel to panel, quickly giving us glimpses of the characters lives unfolding until he pulls back to the Earth and stars in all their glory.
Why I love it so: I had never seen anyone attempt a finale like this before, where the characters have no clear resolution to speak of (indeed in some cases it seems like only more misery lies ahead) and the ending consisted of moment to moment to moment with no opportunity to linger or dwell. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone do anything like this since either. It’s a daring sequence and it underscores perfectly Gilbert’s themes of life at times overwhelming its protagonists, of their failure to communicate and connect with each other and of the peace and grace that can sometimes be attained, however temporarily. Like most things Beto touches, it’s pure gold.