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Month: September, 2012

Love and Rockets: Maggie the Mechanic

I mentioned earlier, briefly, that I had picked up the first Fantagraphics collection of Love and Rockets. I finally finished it and thought I’d give it a couple words. As far as my comics-reading tendencies go, I don’t generally like slice-of-life, indie comics. It seems like such a waste of the medium to add crude drawings to your boring stories. I think I had associated Love and Rockets with those types of comics based on their very indie reputation.

I was wrong.

First, Love and Rockets is really comprised of two separate stories intermingled with occasional one-offs. But the primary core is Jaime Hernandez’s Hoppers 13 (or Locas) stories center around two, young Latino women named Hopey and Maggie and their assorted friends. The other half is Gilbert Hernandez’s Palomar stories about a fictional town and its busty mayor, Luba. The Fantagraphics trades have separated these two “worlds” out; I’ve picked up the Locas stories exclusively. For its part, Locas isn’t necessarily realism. The world of Hoppers resembles ours, but there are also sci-fi elements that differentiate it (although Jaime has apparently shed these sci-fi tendencies as the years have passed). In Maggie the Mechanic, we’ve got mini-arcs involving Maggie repairing a rocket ship in a dinosaur infested netherworld, the friends getting lost in H.R. Costigan’s (the richest man on the planet who just happens to have horns) 100+ room mansion, and Maggie and Rena Titañon (a world famous female professional wrestler) getting lost in an underground tunnel after a terrorist attack in a billionaire land squabble. But the relationships of the characters are real; they bicker, make up, make love, and change through their experiences. They even age and gain weight. But because this all happens in a not-quite-real world, it never feels lame.

Second, Jaime’s art is amazing. It’s crisp, clean, cartoony, dramatic, and detailed. The girls are beautiful, but in a way that defies comic logic; they look like women, even when Jaime is drawing what are essentially pin-ups. They aren’t irrationally proportioned, overly buxom, or suggestively posed. They look…natural. And since he’s drawing off his punk roots, they’ve got edge too. Even Penny Century, who is supposed to represent that traditional comic female, is always beautifully and realistically presented. I’m particularly fond of the front-on crowd scenes that he often uses to open chapters:

Spot the all the references loaded into this scene!

Finally, I’m in love with these characters, and Maggie in particular. They are so tenderly, carefully realized that it doesn’t feel like you are reading a plot; you are hanging out with people as they live life. “Plotty” things happen, but at its core, this is about friendship and love. When the gang thought Maggie was dead, I felt bad for the characters; I don’t do that normally. I think its because Jaime has such a clear vision of who these women are that their interactions are reassuring and comforting. I like seeing them together and I want them to be happy. How freaking ridiculous is that?

Punk Rock Jesus #3

(Writer & Artist: Sean Murphy)

I had fleeting dreams that this mini would turn into a monthly series, but this issue really pushes us over the edge. While the six-issue running length promised the transition of the cloned Christ into punk rock hooligan, the first two issues kept us pretty firmly planted in his baby years. Here, Murphy turns on the warp speed and, through a series of temporal shifts, moves us to Chris at the age of 14. Gwen, his mother, is a complete wreck who has unsuccessfully attempted to escape the J2 complex in every conceivable way. This issue pushes her to the edge and, ultimately, out into the world.

This is a packed issue, and you can feel the burden of getting the story set up for the final three issues. As a result, this is probably the weakest issue, and probably the biggest negative is that because he is so focused on getting the story moving, Murphy doesn’t take as much time to really give himself fun, expressive set pieces. It feels like there is more character work here than in other issues, but that doesn’t mean he holds back completely. There’s a great one-page montage of Gwen’s escape attempts that is both funny and deeply disturbing. We also get some great Cola (the friendly polar bear) moments. But Murphy saves his best for last, as Gwen is finally on her own in a skyscraper treatment center:


We also get a great final page cliffhanger that refocuses just what this series is about. It certainly has moved into a realm I would have never expected. Again, for a book that should be one-dimensional, Murphy keeps playing with expectations to keep us on our toes. I can’t wait to see how he brings it home.

Drive Angry, The Snowtown Murders, and 30 Minutes or Less

I have been slacking so hard on my 2011 Films list, but I’m trying to pick up steam. So this will be sort of a rushed review of three movies. Maybe it’s all they deserve, maybe it’s an injustice.

Film #22 – Drive Angry
(Writers: Todd Farmer & Patrick Lussier, Director: Patrick Lussier)

Speaking of only deserving a paragraph, this. This was one of the most soulless, boring, and uninspired films I’ve ever seen. While the film tries to tread the same territory as Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, it fails to recognize the crucial core of the grindhouse films they both seek to elevate. Those films were so awesome because they took their ridiculous plots incredibly seriously. Tarantino recognizes that the things most people laugh at in those films are the result of a lack of money, not a lack of intelligence or even skill. Thus, Death Proof is, at its core, a serious movie. Sure, it is funny and over-the-top, but you can tell it’s genuine. Drive Angry, in contrast, just tries to play up the ridiculous and never seeks to create anything like an actual story. And it isn’t funny, it’s just forced. This is the reason Nicholas Cage is a punch-line.

Film #23 – The Snowtown Murders
(Writer: Shaun Grant, Director: Justin Kurzel)

This wasn’t on my list but I’m going to retroactively add it. I really enjoy serial killer films, and I like them even more when they aren’t horror films. I’ve always been fascinated by serial killers on a psychological level and I also love the detective side of it (hence my love of Zodiac, David Fincher’s best film). This is the story of Australia’s most notorious serial killers. Plural. It is the group aspect that makes this story unique. Over seven years, John Bunting, Robert Wagner, and James Vlassakis (with others throughout) killed 11 people and stored them in acid-filled plastic containers. This film takes James, a naïve and abused teen, as its focus and illustrates how he was able to come under the influence of John Bunting. This is an art-house film, and as a result, it eschews any of the normal conventions we would expect in this type of film. Only one or two of the murders are actually shown, and even then, only obliquely, while others are merely implied. It’s an impressionistic film that paints Jamie’s world without actually defining it (I’m not sure we even get his name until half way through). In conjunction with the sometimes impenetrable accents, it can be difficult to figure out what exactly is going on: who people are, what their relations are, etc. But what is clear is how evil works and how aimless it truly is. Real credit goes to Daniel Henshall whose portrayal of John is both mesmerizing and terrifying.

Film #24 – 30 Minutes or Less
(Writer: Michael Diliberti, Director: Ruben Fleischer)

This comedy is loosely based on the truly morbid and stupid case of Brian Douglas Wells. With such weird source material and with comedic aims, this really just feels like a missed opportunity. This could have been a truly dark and macabre film (think Observe & Report), but instead it just goes for ridiculous. One core problem is that the plot and character motivations are soooo arbitrary and “necessary” that you can only really enjoy the film through little things. I’m not asking the film to make total sense, but certain things are so bizarre (that Aziz Ansari would help Jesse Eisenberg rob a bank without question or worry when their whole fight had been about how Jesse doesn’t take anything seriously) that you really have to struggle to keep watching. Luckily, there are a number of truly funny moments. The bank robbery, in particular, was awesome and a perfect mix of dark, surreal, and slapstick. It’s the only point where the film really hits its stride, in thanks to Aziz’s Tom Haverfod-esque performance. For his part, I just don’t think Eisenberg can carry a film in which he isn’t supposed to be borderline autistic. He’s just so awkward on screen that I can never buy him as the care-free slacker that he is supposed to be. He’s just a grating person on screen. Final notes: Danny McBride’s character sucks so much that he isn’t able to save it, while Nick Swardson has some genuinely hilarious lines as the idiot-with-the-heart-of-gold-and-giant-repressed-Danny-McBride-gaycrush (hyphen).

Love & Rockets

Metro’s quarter started yesterday, and with that, I’m going to be exceedingly busy. I have some posts stored up on my iPad that I just…well, I just haven’t posted them. I had visions of getting pictures for them, but then I never did. So. We will see. For now, a page from Jamie Hernandez’s Maggie and Hopey story, “Mechanics.” I picked up the first Love & Rockets trade, “Maggie the Mechanic”, on a whim at the local bookstore and have absolutely loved it. I’m trying to take my time with it, and I need to pick up the other volumes before they sell them. Hernandez’s art is so crisp and perfect; he draws women unlike anyone else I’ve seen. They are natural, feminine, beautiful, and strong. They look like women, whereas most comic artists draw pin-ups.

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