There’s a phenomenon in stories that we call ‘Early Installment Weirdness.’ Keep that in mind… Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Love and Rockets #1 awaits!
Writer: Gilbert Hernandez/Jaime Hernandez
Penciler: Gilbert Hernandez/Jaime Hernandez
Inker: Gilbert Hernandez/Jaime Hernandez
Letterer: Gilbert Hernandez/Jaime Hernandez
Cover Color: Peppy White
Cover Logo/Letters: Todd Klein
Editor: Gary Groth
Publisher: Fantagraphics Publishing
Cover Price: $2.95
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $80.00
Previously in Love and Rockets: In the strictest sense, I suppose, the editor credit should have an asterisk next to it, as this comic is actually a reprint/reworking of an issue independently published by the Hernandez Brothers in 1981. In any case, Fantagraphics’ Gary Groth starts this issue with a half-page editor’s note consisting of flat-out effusive praise for the story, the art and the creators, comparing their work to ‘Krazy Kat’, classic ‘Popeye’ and Windsor McKay’s ‘Little Nemo’. That’s high praise from anyone, but it’s especialy high from Gary Groth. Though my first memories of ‘Love and Rockets’ are of moving slice-of-life stories with complex interactions and emotions, this issue starts with a giant monster!
The creature, known as Bem, has escaped captivity somehow, and the enormity of the situation is so terrible that a young woman named Leonore (who refers to her “dreams” of the future) awakens in a cold sweat with dreams of it. As it crosses the ocean, headed directly for the Ovo Islands, Leonora isn’t the only one anticipating its arrival… enter Luba!
Luba Guadalupe Camimira Doralis is a key member of the Hernandez Brothers cast and, years later, is at the center of a massive multi-generational family saga. How can this be the same character?
Even Gilbert Hernandez isn’t sure, so we’ll go with “Early Installment Weirdness.” Either way, Luba is prepared to defend her island with the ol’ human sacrifice trick whiile, elsewhere, Leonore’s boyfriend, Detective Castle Radium gets involved. This issue intersperses the chapters of ‘BEM’ with other stories, so before we discover what Radium tracks down, we meet a couple of other important characters in L&R, Maggie and Hopey.
Working as an apprentice Prosolar Mechanic (and riding a hoverbike?), Maggie wakes up, gets a haircut that she hates and reports to work, where her boss is dragged into a strange villain’s scheme to get his own army of robots. Maggie saves the day with quickthinking, and her boss, hunky Rand Race, offers to help her become her own full-fledged mechanic. As for Castle Radium, detective, he discovers the remains of a murder, following the clues to find… BEM!
But is it really BEM? Or is it street thug Cha Cha Charlie, wearing a costume reminiscent of 1953’s ‘Robot Monster?’ Turjns out, its’ the second option, but poor doomed Cha Cha trusted too much in the real BEM, and what seemed to be an escape hatch turns out to be a suicide button, leaving him smeared all over the walls. It’s a horrifying sequence, made even more so by just how beautiful it all is. Gilbert’s use of blacks makes every panel stunning, and you can kind of understand how impressed editor Groth was in this book and its creators. It’s just plain stunning. Brother Jaime chimes in for a couple of pages with the first appearance of another major player in the ‘Love and Rockets’ saga.
Look at the facial expressions that Penny has throughout that single page of work. You can clearly extrapolate much of her personality from these few panels, and I clearly remember reading this issue for the first time and wanting to know more about her as a character. The weird melding of magical realism with science fiction is at the heart of this book, and while things eventually focus less and less on those wild aspects and more on the characters, Penny’s desire to be a superhero never really goes away. As for Bem (and the giant monster who we suddenly discover is NOT Bem at all, in a shocking twist), that story gets intense and more than a little explodey, as Luba and Castle Radium’s chapters combine into one.
In the aftermath, Leonora describes Castle Radium’s life as “like a bad car wreck… Screech, boom tinkle, then it’s over” and it’s perhaps the most perfect description I’ve ever heard of adventure fiction. When asked about why Bem never showed up, she explains teh truth of her dreams: Bem was always there, the whole time… hiding in the body of Castle Radium! It’s a shocking moment that fits perfectly with the dreamlike nature of the story, leaving Love and Rockets #1 with a weirdly meaningful, hard-to-parse but totally gorgeous 5 out of 5 stars overall. This issue is the begininng of a truly impressive artistic feat, and every page has something beatiful for readers to goggle at or be mystified by, and it absolutely deserves its full marks.
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LOVE AND ROCKETS #1
This entire issue is an artistic tour de force and, while it can be hard to follow, it's well worth the time and effort of doing so.