The underground comix movement of the ’60s and ’70s gets the most attention among comics lovers and historians, but it would be a tragic mistake to overlook the incredible variety of independent work created in the 1980s. At a time when mainstream comics were variously exploding and imploding, independents charged ahead, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing spectacularly, but always taking huge risks.
One independent series that stands with the best is Love and Rockets from Los Bros. Hernandez. The series began in 1981, the product of brothers Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez (later, another brother, Mario, would join in on the fun intermittently throughout the years). It’s a bit difficult to describe exactly what Love and Rockets is—perhaps it’s easiest to say that it’s a little bit of everything. Drama in one place, biting satire in others, more than a little superheroics (with, naturally, a unique take), surrealist fare—all of it makes an appearance. Love and Rockets is not just one thing. The brothers create short stories and ongoing serials that operate independently of each other and sometimes interlock. Don’t be worried if that all sounds more than a little confusing; after more than a quarter century of stories, Love and Rockets has become a sprawling work, so big, in fact, that the Fantagraphics website includes a “How to Read Love and Rockets” page to help readers.
With that in mind, it’s hard to say what new readers will make of Love and Rockets: New Stories #1. The trade paperback is an event in the comics world for longtime readers, and rightfully so. The Hernandez brothers are excellent at what they do. The smooth lines of their artwork flow effortlessly from page to page, and they are talented storytellers (check out Gilbert’s excellent Sloth for another example of his work; it’s a self-contained tale). And their influence throughout the industry cannot be denied.
That said, new readers may be hard put to find an easy jumping-on point here, but there are great rewards for those who do. Fantagraphics is promoting Love and Rockets: New Stories #1 as the first of a series of new work in the annual format (a larger format familiar to longtime comics readers), and as such it serves a unique purpose. The book begins and ends with the story of Penny Century, a very offbeat superhero story that has been ongoing in the series for years. That story takes up the bulk of the book, and in between, the brothers present some solid, entertaining, and very thoughtful work. It’s a strong book, and it shows that the Hernandez brothers haven’t missed a beat in all this time. (But let’s be honest: A guide to catch new readers up on what’s going on for some stories would be helpful; it would allow the work to be more accessible to new readers and help old readers fill in some of the blanks they may have forgotten.)
There’s gold in all of the work of the Hernandez brothers, though, and if Love and Rockets: New Stories #1 inspires new readers to check out the vast backlog of material available in the series (there are several collections that make it easy, if expensive, to get caught up), then that’s a good thing. Love and Rockets is always a treat.
Reviewed by John Hogan on July 10, 2012