There are two main strands to the work of Gilbert Hernandez. On the one hand you’ve got his amazing extended Love and Rockets work, based around characters from the fictitious Mexican town of Palomar; and on the other you have his graphic adaptations of fictitious B-movies. Of course, the two aren’t mutually exclusive – the B-movies all star Fritz Martinez, sister of Luba, the matriarch from the Palomar stories.
Maria M. takes this a step further, pulling a plot previously published as a part of Love and Rockets story Poison River and extending it into a Fritz movie. Maria Martinez, the heroine of this story is Luba and Fritz’s mother, played in this version by Fritz herself. Love and Rockets fans will feel everything slotting comfortably into place, despite the fact that Hernandez is clearly playing tricks on us with his incestuous but frankly brilliant circular reference. Those who don’t already know the back story can still enjoy a sophisticated take of a beautiful woman caught up in a violent, sexy world of mob violence.
The action and dialogue are cut incredibly sparingly, with not a single panel wasted. It’s an economy of style that can feels a little over-tight, almost claustrophobic in places, yet feels right for the interpretation of a story into this B-movie context. The irony is that although Hernandez is clearly creating an homage to this style of movie, he’s also impregnating it with his own artistry, creating a far richer piece of work than such pigeon-holing might suggest.
Love and Rockets fans shouldn’t be without this, but anyone else with an interest in sharp, sexy, violent but sophisticated stories can still enjoy it for what it is: a B-movie homage that takes the genre above and beyond our expectations.