'Lucha Libre' is Good, or, Hoopla Gumbo

I picked up the first issue of 'Lucha Libre', a new prestige format 4-part miniseries from Image.

It's not the greatest Luchador comic I've ever read - that honour goes to the magnificent 'Sonambulo' by Rafael Navarro (http://www.sonambulo.com/) - but it was good. Now, it's no secret that I'm a big wrestling fan, and the whole image and style of the luchador (especially the masked luchador) has a healthy appeal for me, so I'm biased.

But there's something else in this one, and I think I've nailed what it is.

The Beatles song, 'For The Benefit of Mister Kite' was written in the style of an old carnival poster. Promising thrills, chills, sensations... a million different sights, all guaranteed to raise a smile, a leer, a grimace of disgust, or terror, or pity... thousands of sights to amaze and dumbfound, all under the one tent!

And I realized, that's one of the things I love in my comics - and not just there.

I love it when a whole bunch of elements get thrown in together. You end up with all of these strange, cool elements all thrown together, and you get to see how they interrelate. Usually, with fantastic fiction, you get one thing (it's just like the real world only there's werewolves, or it's just like the real world only there's aliens, or whatever...).

Sometimes, you'll get two disparate elements like Vampires vs Werewolves, or Cowboys vs Dinosaurs ('Valley of the Gwangi', how I adore thee!), or Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein...

But I really love the stuff where they just toss it all in there and stir it about, a process I, for the sake of argument will call 'making Hoopla Gumbo'. Crafting Hoopla Gumbo is the ability to take a bunch of these weird, disparate elements and see how they mix, without taking away the magic of each individual ingredient.

Now it's not always good. Look at the Marvel and DC Universes. You've got aliens, ancient lost civilizations, dark magical dimensions, robots, dinosaurs, spies, mutants, cavemen, talking monkeys, gods... all sorts of fun stuff. The problem there is that the stuff's been stewing for so long, it's turned into a colourless grey, undifferentiated mass.

Occasionally, someone will come along, like Morrison and his Seven Soldiers, take the stale old ingredients and realize that two-fisted cowboys, space gods, magicians, hidden pilgrim witches, evil faeries, undead soldiers, subway pirates and so forth can make a tasty gumbo

rather than a bland gruel, but yeah. That's the sort of stuff I'm talking about, where all the ingredients come together without them overpowering or deadening each other.

Northern Californian fantasy writer Tim Powers specializes in it. In 'Last Call', he crafts a story about a bunch of professional gamblers in Las Vegas, but he throws in Bugsy Siegal, Arthurian Myth, Chaos Theory, Magical Rituals, a Moon Goddess, and enough odd, quirky characters for three or four novels. In 'The Anubis Gates', he uses time travel, evil clowns, Egyptian sorcery, Victorian Orientalism, secret societies, Penny Dreadfuls and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, among others.

So anyway, I was talking about 'Lucha Libre' #1.

Okay, to start with, I was gonna buy this. Honestly, the adventures of five Luchadores kicking arse and taking names... I'm such a mark for this stuff. But it was the write-up on page 2 and 3 that really got me interested.

First of all, it opens with a map of Eastern Los Angeles. They start talking about the place, building it up, not just as some place you can find on GoogleEarth, or walk around, but as a setting for adventures and folklore, and all the while, without turning it into Middle Earth.

It's still the same place. It's no weird Angeleno theme park. It's still a real place, but there's something else there. There's magic and mystery. They serve Hoopla Gumbo there, but you're only getting a sniff on the wind at the moment.

On the second page, you get your first taste, in just two paragraphs:

"You get it, man? Life in LA ain't like the movies. There's no volcano suddenly erupting in the middle of Wilshire Boulevard: no buses jumping from one freeway to another; and there's no Jackie Chan running on the roofs of Chinatown. No terminators searching for Sarah Connor; no C4 under Danny Glover's toilet seat; and no Michael Douglas shooting at Burger King customers with a riot gun. These are just ridiculous inventions of uninspired screenwriters.

"Forget all that crap and accept the truth..."

And THEN, we get the mysterious dinosaur roaming the backstreets, the bickering alien couple in the UFO next to your car as stuck in gridlock as you, the werewolf gang, the Luchadores Five, the Pom Pom Ninja chicks, the Communist panda... and more...

The wonderful thing about all this is that they spend so much time making the place seem real, that the fantastic elements, instead of just turning into so much noise, really stand out. Everything keeps its flavour, and by placing the magical next to the mundane, they let the reader experience that magic more fully.

This isn't a perfect comic by any means. Some of the stuff falls flat, and it can be a bit of a mixed bag. It starts with the adventures of The Luchadores Five, which takes up over a little over half the issue. There's a lot happening, a bunch of stuff is introduced, and I'm really hanging out to see what happens next. There's a short general article giving a brief overview of Lucha Libre itself (which mysteriously features El Santo, the man in the SILVER mask, in a RED mask. Hrm... but other than that, is quite good, albeit brief), a couple of one-page gag strips featuring Profesor Furia, a morally bankrupt wrestling instructor (which I found somewhat weak, and yet at the same time, adding nicely to the book's anthology feel), some posters, and a back-up feature, 'Los Luchadoritos', about a group of young Mexican kids who idolize wrestlers, and dream of being Luchadors one day. Again, each one is pretty much a one page gag strip, but still, I like anthologies, and its nice to see the mix of artistic and writing styles in the book.

Unfortunately, one of the problems with Hoopla Gumbo is that sometimes, the taste won't live up to the smell. An intriguing premise will lead to a lacklustre pay-off. That's the risk you take. I'm intrigued enough by the smell of this one to sit in for the next course.


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