But it really does deserve all that praise, because the most recent instalment in the annual series features a couple of moments that are as technically brilliant and as profoundly moving as anything the series has seen in the past. It’s not easy to get to that level of emotion without collapsing under the weight of your own portentousness, but the Hernandez brothers have managed it.
Jaime’s work in Love and Rockets New Stories #3 is particularly brilliant. There are barely enough superlatives to talk about how good The Love Bunglers and Browntown are, but I’m going to take a crack at it, all the same.
No slight to Beto – he’s off doing his own stuff and comparing the brothers’ work is a mug’s game. All I know is that Browntown made me sob into my cheeseburger, and Scarlet by Starlight didn’t, and I really want to talk about the emotional kick.
(Spoilers ahead, and if you haven’t read the new Love and Rockets, stop now. Diamond screwed over my local comic shop and it took weeks and weeks for the book to arrive. In that time, I couldn’t resist dipping into a couple of fantastic reviews and spoiled some fairly key information for myself, which was stupid. Don’t be stupid.)
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1) Seeing 13-year-old Maggie crushed by horrible, invisible guilt as she sits alone at the kitchen table – saying she’s sorry for the fifth time – was just heartbreaking. It’s not just that this poor girl blames herself for destroying her family, it’s that it sets off a cycle of guilt that sees her blaming herself for everything over the next 20 years.
2) There is a direct line from young Maggie sitting in the kitchen alone to the imaginary slaps that she conjures up on herself in the final issue of the first series. Her guilt is almost never justified, but it still weighs her down, and her whole life story can be seen as a reaction against these various shames.
3) Just as well Maggie doesn’t know the truth about her little brother Calvin then, because then the guilt would have been unbearable. His fierce protection of his sister is a terrible secret that could have seen Maggie try to help her little brother, but it’s still a relief when he lets her live in ignorant bliss.
4) That one panel, where a smiling teenage Maggie tells young Calvin to go away, is a universal brother/sister moment. Fortunately, most of us don’t have to go to Calvin’s lengths to look after our stupid siblings.
5) One of the most horrible things about all this is that it’s the only time the Chascarillo family are an actual and proper family unit, and that time will always be tainted by its awful end.
6) So Maggie goes off and has adventures, and the beauty of this new revelation is that all of her past actions have a new resonance – a new depth. If Maggie lives under this awful guilty burden for most of her life, it explains her fears of commitment, her youthful tendency to run away, even her entire career choices. (Does she become a mechanic because of that parade, or does she run away from that God-given skill to avoid becoming that person?)
7) And yet – 30 years after her family fell apart and she’s learned to live with her own guilt and isn’t stopping it get on with her life. The 42-year-old Maggie is moving forward, sorting out a new bit of business, taking charge of her own destiny with more will than ever before.
8) She’s not fighting against life anymore, she’s accepted some of her shortcomings and taken hold of her own demons. She’s walked with ghost dogs and knows there is no tree.
9) It’s there in her face, in each perfect little new line. The Magpie has grown up.
10) It ain’t all wine and roses – there is a recurring nightmare that haunts Maggie’s future. But she’s getting there.
11) I’ve been waiting for Ray D and Maggie to hook back up for half a goddamn decade, and I’m really glad they didn’t. What’s that about?
12) No, seriously. What’s that about? They were a gorgeous couple, one of the most relaxed pairings in any fiction. Maggie was always one side of Jaime’s brain mouthing off, and Ray’s internal monologues are the other side of his head, and the pair together were so damn charming and complimented each other perfectly. They broke up years and years ago for no good reason, and over the past few years have orbited each other lives, without coming in for a landing. When they finally do, it’s not the right time, or something. And that’s okay.
13) Of course, there is always a chance for Maggie and Ray D. They’re getting older, but they’re still young. There is a whole lot of life to come, and loads more adventures to be told, and it’s incredibly easy to see the pair together in their dotage, living out their last days in each other’s arms. They’re both terrified of being alone and that might be the time of their lives to get back together.
14) And lurking in the background is poor, poor Calvin. Jaime’s drive for no wasted line is even more evident on Calvin’s face than his sister’s, and his impeccable talent for body language reveals more about Calvin than a thousand thought balloons.
15) Speaking of body language, what about that way the man dropping off the rent to Maggie thrusts his head forward and arms out, in that universal sign of angry challenging? That’s some terrific movement going on there.
16) Maggie blames herself for destroying her family, but Calvin’s story is the real tragedy. By the time the Chascarillo parents split, he’s been all hollowed out by his terrible experiences, and gets his nasty payback against his own personal monster. There is no triumph here, no righteous vengeance, just a sad and complicated little life.
17) If there is no triumph in Calvin’s retribution against the boy who ruined him, there is a small piece of pride – a taste of tiny triumph – in the way he looks out for Maggie, all those years later. He doesn’t always get the scene right, but he hopes to see enough to make sure she’s all right.
18) Christ, for a second there, as the climax of the book came, I honestly thought Calvin was going to do something horrible to Ray. I had the same sense of horrible dread watching the last episode of the most recent Mad Men, but like the TV show, moving on is the key, even if it leads to more of the same mistakes.
19) Maggie rejects Ray because of her own complications, and Reno is another little one. His first kiss is revisited, but he is another character with a whole other life, which can b glimpsed when he shows up at the gallery with that lunchlady painting. It really felt dreamlike for a moment, like a ordinary moment in an ordinary day twisted just a little, and it was good to see Maggie shared this discombobulation.
20) “I thought we hated him.”
21) “Talk talk talk. All they do is talk.”
22) Dad making a big deal out of nothing when Maggie tries to climb into his lap.
23) I first started reading Love and Rockets in 1992, and it’s just got better ever since. This level of quality work, this world of love and pain and strength and rebirth and rockets that Jamie has created over the past three decades is extraordinary enough. But to still have enough fire and passion and thoughtfulness to produce a piece of graphic genius like his work in L&R #3, that’s something else altogether. Something wonderful.