Any character in Love and Rockets stands a decent chance of being my favorite on any given day, because they are designed to be contemplated, and I’m the contemplative type. Today I’m thinking a lot about Tonantzin, one of the stars from Gilbert’s Palomar stories. She’s a stunningly hot small-town girl, so her rebelliousness first manifests itself by dressing provocatively and using sex to self-actualize. But her mind, heart, and psyche are all as dangerously overdeveloped as her body and sensuality, she gets swept up in a series of increasingly destructive obsessions, first with America and Hollywood, then with native culture and political protest, then with the danger of militarism and the possibility of nuclear annihilation. We can see that they all provide her with an emotional and intellectual way out of the confines of Palomar and her own body — indeed things start getting really bad when she’s taught to read — but because he never really describes it as such, we never realize how far she’s willing to go until it’s too late. Ultimately she comes to believe the only truly free intellectual and political act is to destroy the body she came in. It’s an unforgettable and utterly unique portrait of how good ideas and good people can nevertheless combine into something very bad. It’s a lesson that life entails losing vibrant, lovely people you neither want nor expect to lose. It’s a tragedy for a young woman and the people who love her. It’s a commentary on the hopelessness of the political climate of the day. Today I find myself wondering whether if she’d grown up in Hoppers instead of Palomar, and had punk and the Locas as a release valve instead of abnegative protest, would she still be alive today? On the flip side, would Speedy Ortiz still be alive if he’d grown up in Palomar instead of Hoppers, in a place where it was easier to form romantic relationships and harder to form ones based on a shared propensity for collective macho violence? This is the kind of thing you could do all day long with character after character after character from both Gilbert and Jaime. They’re drawn to be viewed from all angles.
Love and Rockets, the great serial comic by Gilbert, Jaime, and sometimes Mario Hernandez, is celebrating its 30th anniversary at the San Diego Comic-Con International this week. Inspired by Tom Spurgeon, this week-long, daily series of posts will highlight some of my favorite things about Los Bros Hernandez and their comics. For more information, click here.