Heartbreak Soup: A Love and Rockets Book, by Gilbert Hernandez
While this wasn’t quite the beginning of Love and Rockets, it is when the series began to take its familiar shape. While Jaime’s work retained its SF elements all through the first part of Locas–resulting in an awkward shift when he dropped them–Gilbert’s Palomar work was realistic from the get-go, apart from the occasional twin sibling vanishing into thin air. I hesitate to call this soap opera, as it retains a high standard of emotional honesty unknown to that genre, but you could make a case to the contrary very easily, with all the intrigue flying around. And this in a village of 300 or so somewhere in the ass-end of Mexico, no less–people really are the same wherever you go. The stories in this volume are notable for any other of things, but most of all for the introduction of Luba, perhaps the most complicated character I’ve ever seen in a comic. I’m buying and re-reading these compilations not just to acquire a complete L & R collection, but also to see if I can finally figure Luba out. Leave it to Los Bros. Hernandez to create an entire lineage of women with bazooms literally the size of their head and still make them fully realized characters.
Essential Punisher vol. 4, various writers/artists
This volume sees Frank Castle enter the era of comics he was born for: the 1990s. The Punisher was unusual in that the Dark Age saw him improve, at least somewhat. At the very least, he’s not calling Daredevil a liberal anymore. Greg Rucka and I are of one mind on this: injecting that sort of politicizing into the character simply makes him teeth-grindingly hateful. Mike Baron’s writing gets a lot less reactionary in general actually; when he has Frank allow the words “some of my best friends are black” to come out of his mouth, I get the distinct impression it’s for the express purpose of making him sound like an idiot. The characterization is still all kinds of weird here, with its attempts to cast Frank as a normal guy who just so happens to be a mass-murderer. These comics may seem weird in general to anyone raised on Ennis’ run, actually–while in its waning days by this point, this is still very much the battle-vans-and-Microchip era. Punisher even gets his own version of the Batmobile at one point, which he ends up totaling literally two pages after it’s introduced. I know a marketing sop when I see one. The art is overall decent; being an Essentials volume, this collection is in black and white, and I didn’t notice it being over-inked. Also, the final image in the book is, hands down, the single weirdest scene in any Punisher comic, ever. Frankencastle is frigging Punisher MAX in comparison. And it is amazing.
Sleepwalk And Other Stories, by Adrian Tomine
Despite his talent, Tomine is often overlooked among Nineties indie-comics creators. This, I think, is due largely to his restraint; he lacks the surrealism of Clowes, the self-flagellation of Brunetti, or the hyperactive frustration of Bagge, just to give three examples. Subtlety was little-valued commodity in the Nineties, no matter what facet of the medium you look at. Instead, Tomine’s Optic Nerve specialized in short “stories” in which not much of anything happens, but are no less effective for it. The characters aren’t tormented so much as quietly desperate, especially in their interactions with exes; I get the impression Tomine is one of those guys who has the same break-up over and over. Sometimes it really is the quiet one you need to look out for.
Superman: Exile, various writers/artists
The last of this week’s meager offerings is a story that, while very good, started an unfortunate trend in Superman comics, that being the endlessly rehashed story of “Superman is plagued with self-doubt”. This sort of thing has become the modern age’s Kryptonite-nerfing, and the resulting stories tend to be just unforgivably bad–just look at Grounded. Or better yet, don’t. (There will be a reckoning, Jay. Oh yes.) Looking at this initial offering, however, it’s easy to see how the idea took hold. This is a well-handled story, executed by people who genuinely understand and respect the character. (Some of them would later be responsible for killing the guy, but we’ll forgive them that for the time being.) Kal-El’s crisis of faith is, for once, perfectly understandable–he’s lately been forced to commit an act entirely contrary to not only his worldview, but his essential nature, and it’s almost literally tearing him apart. In fact, Superman skipping town actually reaffirms his worthiness–on the brink of a full-blown psychotic break, the most powerful being in the world displays the moral fortitude to place himself out of harm’s way. Had he not done so, well, we’ve all seen how that can go. For once, I’m reminded why I like Superman, rather than reeling in agony over how so few people can write him worth a damn.
Another shocker? Mike-freaking-Mignola works on this storyline. His contribution isn’t major–he doesn’t even draw an entire issue–but what he does get benefits nicely from his usual flair. Also, Mongul and Warworld make their first appearance. So there’s that.