Hypnotwist/Scarlet By Starlight is the latest in Gilbert Hernandez’s series of spin-off graphic novels, which feature Fritz, an actress from his Love and Rockets strips, acting different roles in various B-movies. It’s a brilliant premise, allowing Hernandez to explore a range of short stories, though they usually involve lashings of sex and crime.
This is a bit different, not least because it’s a double-feature: two shorter stories collected in one book. Scarlet By Starlight starts off like a classic B-movie sci-fi, with Fritz starring as a feline alien temptress, luring a human space explorer into sexual relations.
Fritz’s character, called Scarlet by the humans, is native to the planet she’s on, cohabiting with her partner and two kids. There are other inhabitants of the planet, stunted humanoids that the human visitors think of as little more than monkeys. The feline species, however, are more humanlike, but only appear to have rudimentary language and basic technology. Clearly the visiting humans are on some kind of scientific mission of discovery, but humans being humans, they’ve soon caused chaos and messed everything up, mostly by engaging in their basest instincts.
Hypnotwist is very different, a silent surreal journey through what appear to be hallucinations, brought about by Fritz’s character putting on a pair of magic shoes. This story is a bit harder going, not in terms of content but just because it’s as odd and nonsensical as a strange dream. Personally, I didn’t enjoy it as much as Scarlet By Starlight but they’re certainly very different stories.
Recommending it is a little difficult. I read Hypnotwist first and didn’t really enjoy it, which is an exceptionally rare thing to happen in the ongoing relationship between Mr Hernandez and myself. I’m glad I read it first, though, because then I read Scarlet By Starlight and my faith was restored. This is a brutal, fascinating slice of intelligent science fiction, dressed up as a B-movie and liberally sprinkled with magic horror dust. Hernandez hasn’t held back on this one, and its twists and turns are absolutely spot on. Take a moment to think about it and there’s commentary on all sorts of things going on here.
It’s literally a book of two halves, then. Even if you’re a Hernandez aficionado, I challenge you not be challenged by Hypnotwist. However, I’m sure you’re going to love Scarlet By Starlight and it’s almost certainly worth buying for that alone. However, there are better places for those less familiar with Hernandez’s work to start, either with his Love and Rockets series, or with another title from the B-Movie series, such as The Troublemakers.