I probably shouldn’t even try to review this, to be honest.
There’s such a thing, after all, as being too attached to something — and Love And Rockets, arguably the seminal independent comics series of all time, has been part of my life since I first discovered it at age 12 and allowed brothers Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez (heck, third brother Mario was even part of the mix back then) to expand my definition of what comics could both achieve and be well beyond my then-current preconceptions of the medium. And while there have been times when my interest in it has ebbed and flowed, it’s always been there. From its first magazine incarnation to the “solo” series that followed in its wake to its second iteration in standard comic-book format to its most recent version as a series of annual (or thereabouts) graphic novels (all published, as they have been since the beginning, by Fantagraphics Books), I’ve grown up — and now find myself growing old(er) — with Maggie, Hopey, Luba, Fritz, and the rest of this series’ heartbreakingly human cast of characters. But in recent years, something hasn’t felt quite right.
It’s not the stories or art, don’t get me wrong — while I can’t imagine that readership for the graphic novels is anywhere near as large as the series used to enjoy as a periodical, those who haven’t been following it of late have missed out on some of the best stories Gilbert and Jaime have ever produced. It wasn’t until the announcement was made a few months ago that the upcoming fourth volume of Love And Rockets would see it return to its original magazine format, though, that I realized what had been missing, and while it’s tempting to say that this switch is more an appeal to nostalgia than anything else, in truth I think there’s something more — something greater — going on here. It feels like the time is right for all of these characters to come home.
Not that they really can, of course. Or, perhaps paradoxically, that they ever even left. One of the great things about what Los Bros. have done over the nearly 35-year span of this series is that they’ve allowed each and every member of their now-sprawling casts to change, evolve, and essentially lead real lives. They may age more slowly than you and I, sure, but they’re not frozen in time by any means, and it’s been fascinating to see how they all fall into patterns of behavior most of us can recognize and relate to, then occasionally break or find themselves thrust out of them by choice or circumstance, only to (usually) drift back into them with ever-increasing knowledge of exactly what they’re doing each time it happens. And seriously — would you have it any other way? I mean, the whole Maggie/Hopey “thing” will probably never be resolved — but who the hell wants to see them part company for more than a short while, anyway?
At some point in life we start to value the comforts of the familiar, it’s true, but that needn’t necessarily mean that creative stagnation has to set in for Gilbert and Jaime. It just means that this next phase in both of their respective narratives seems to be arcing toward a sort of return to roots, a new look at what’s made their work so singular and special from the outset from a new, more mature, more settled perspective. And if that prediction holds true, than the return to a magazine format will make sense not only from a commercial perspective, but from a creative one, as well.
Some of that may be wishful thinking on my part, I suppose, but these guys haven’t let me down yet. And while it’s more than fair to say that the first issue of the “new” Love And Rockets isn’t without its flaws — Jaime’s opening strip is strangely flat, emotionally speaking, and in truth neither brother does much in order to acclimate potential new readers to their surroundings — it’s just as true to say that this all somehow feels inherently “right” in ways that a simple format switch alone can’t explain. Aging, one way or another, is the unifying thematic thread throughout the stories presented here (except for Jaime’s surreal sci-fi tale at the end — don’t ask me what that one’s about, but I still loved it), and while it may sound wretchedly pretentious to say it like this, one gets the distinct impression that, after wandering off and exploring other options, Love And Rockets is ready to be a magazine again.
I hope a lot of readers that have drifted away from it are ready to come back, too. This issue is one of those things that has the very real potential to bring folks back into comic book stores who haven’t been there in a long time. Certainly sales at my LCS were brisk — there were only four copies left by the time I got there around 2:00 in the afternoon last Wednesday, so that’s a good sign. And who knows? If going back to the oversized periodical works for Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, maybe folks like Dan Clowes and Peter Bagge might find themselves tempted to do the same?
Okay, no “that may be be —” disclaimer required this time : I know that’s wishful thinking on my part. But what the hell? I already feel a good 20 years younger thanks to this comic. What harm can come from allowing myself to dream again? And if there’s one thing that Love And Rockets #1 proves above all else it’s that dreams, at least occasionally, do come true.