The third volume in Gilbert Hernandez’s Love and Rockets series is nothing short of a triumph of graphic storytelling. The bulk of the book is taken up with a story called Poison River, which tracks some of the defining moments of Luba’s life: the foundation of her relationship with her cousin Ofelia and her stormy marriage to club manager and stomach fetishist Peter. Throughout the story the focus is attached to different characters – some from previous stories, some completely new – all of whom play their own part in turning the wheels of Luba’s life, whether they’re deeply involved lovers or ships passing in the night, leaving little more than a gentle wake of influence lapping at Luba’s prow. Poison River is a remarkable piece of literature, with richly envisioned characters, plotted and scripted to near perfection.
The second story in the book follows Luba’s lesbian daughter Maricela on her adventures in Los Angeles. Selling flowers on a street corner while her partner Riri cleans the house of a Hollywood player, her basic lack of English and illegal immigrant status are not doing a lot for her job prospects. When Riri gets invited to a Hollywood party though, the hopes and dreams of Tinseltown come between the plans of this simple couple from the country.
Even Maricela is something of a bit player in this ensemble drama though, with Hollywood’s bratty teenagers taking centre stage. Under the veneer of fortunate rich kids with little to think about but bands and sex, however, lies a hidden horror of race hatred and gang violence, which Hernandez weaves into the story.
Although not as compelling as Poison River it crosses back into Palomar and its characters, and remains an entertaining and thought-provoking story, even if you can’t help but think that Gilbert should leave the Californian teen-scene to brother Jaime.
It’s still more than well worth the price of entry though. Poison River is simply a classic, reiterating the point that the Hernandez’s books should be taking pride of place on the shelves of any literary fan, whether they normally read comics and graphic novels or not.