LOVE AND ROCKTOBER | Comics Time: Love and Rockets Vol. 2 #20

Love and Rockets Vol. 2 #20
featuring “Venus and You″
Gilbert Hernandez, writer/artist
Fantagraphics, 2007
56 pages
$4.50
Out of print at Fantagraphics
Buy it as featured in the Luba hardcover from Fantagraphics
Buy it as featured in the Luba hardcover from Amazon.com

(Programming note: As I did with Jaime, I’ll be reviewing Gilbert’s contributions to the final issue of Love and Rockets Vol. 2 and (when I get to them — still a ways to go!) the first three issues of Love and Rockets Vol. 3 on their own. Click here read about the Jaime half of this comic.)

In order to read this story, I had to turn to my massive Luba hardcover, which I believe collects all of the post-Palomar Palomar-verse stories in chronological order. I sorta wish I’d realized this going into my read-through of all Gilbert’s work, since it’s obviously how I prefer to read this stuff. But for the purposes of a review-a-thon like this it wouldn’t have made much sense to consume this material in one giant hardcover. I wouldn’t have been able to do the whole gigantic work justice in one go, especially compared to the more manageable chunks in which I read the rest of Los Bros’ work; besides, no way could I have maintained my schedule by reading the thing in two days.

But flipping through the book to get to the final post-Palomar story (to date, I believe), which remains otherwise uncollected, I discovered that the stories immediately leading up to this one are “Blackouting” and “Doralis.” If those titles don’t mean anything to you I won’t spoil it, but they were the two big audible-gasp, dropped-jaw, cover-gaping-mouth-with-hand moments from High Soft Lisp and Luba in America. “Devastating” just about covers it, though not quite–they’re the big black holes into which their respective storylines drop. Where could Beto possibly go from there?

The answer is “a happy ending,” of course. At long last he returns to Venus, Petra’s daughter and one of the least damaged, most well-adjusted, most self-assured characters in the whole post-Palomar oeuvre. Now a teenager, she’s virtually everything her mother and aunts never got to be. She has a healthy, fun-sounding sex life with her boyfriend, who also happens to be her best friend of many years’ standing. She gets along great with her mother and both her aunts despite their estrangement. Her personal segment of the extended family seems quite secure — Petra has remarried to a guy who sounds swell, Petra herself put on a bunch of marriage-security weight and sounds happy herself, Venus and her kid sister get along. Venus is smart, funny, quick-witted, kind-hearted, a pretty unabashed nerd, beautiful…just a real kick-ass kid. It’s an uplifting note to end on after all this darkness.

Most uplifting at all is Venus’s power to process and contextualize her family’s story healthily. In her interactions with her mother and aunts, we see she’s able to admire their admirable qualities — and for all the horror we’ve been shown, all three sisters have plenty to admire about them, their simple survival not being the least of it — while not letting their bad sides taint her. (If that takes a bit of denial on her part, so be it.) For example, she’s revealed in this final strip to be her Tia Fritz’s number-one fan. She’s seen all of her aunt’s movies–with the possible exception of the surreal faux-porn flick from her pre-movie-star days that’s currently causing a lot of buzz. Venus dismisses it as basically unimportant compared to Fritz’s latest release, which Fritz herself wrote and directed. We the reader can see the symbolic resonance of the clip from the strange pseudo-porn movie — a man emerges from a mist-enshrouded forest to have sex with a nude Fritz, her breasts swollen by pregnancy, only to transform into some sort of beast in the middle of the act, then disappear into the background, leaving Fritz naked, disoriented, and alone. It’s her life as a sexual being, basically…and Venus doesn’t give a fuck, because she prefers the movie where Fritz is the writer-director-star. I get the feeling that Venus is equipped to be a multi-hyphenate for her own life in a way that few of the characters we’ve met have been.

Indeed, in our final glimpse of her, she asks her late family and friends — Grandma Maria, Gato, Sergio, Dolaris — to watch over the three sisters, and then provides these guardian angels’ answers to her prayers herself, same font, same caption style. Writer, director, star. I wish her all the luck in the world.