The Graceful Aging of Punk- A Review of Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez's Love and Rockets #5

There’s an odd sense of “you can’t go home again” in Love and Rockets #5. It’s odd because both Gilbert and Jaime are telling stories about going home. Whether it’s a tale of Fritz’s daughter Rosy house sitting or the story of Maggie and Hopey returning to the scene of many of their youthful crimes and finding their old stomping grounds not quite as welcoming as they remembered, Los Bros Hernandez’s latest issue is about looking back more than it is about moving forward. As they approach 4 decades of comics (2022 will be the 40th year of L&R comics,) Love and Rockets finds itself wanting to remain the bastion of punk comics but more and more resigning itself to being the survivor of a bygone day of comics, music, and life.

Gilbert, who outside of Love and Rockets is still pushing the boundaries of taste (see his Blubber and his Garden of Flesh, a retelling of Genesis,) seems almost restrained in this new version of the series. For quite a number of years, his stories have focused on Fritz and her family who have ties to the old Palomar but are quite a bit removed from it. Fritz has two jobs; she was a psychologist but that seems to have taken a sideline to her acting career, particularly her porn acting career. One of her daughters have followed in her acting footsteps but her other daughter, Rosy, seems to want nothing to do with that career. So when she has to stay at her mother’s house, surrounded by the artifacts of that career, she’s forced to see herself as her mother’s daughter.

Rosy in her mother's house (art by G. Hernandez)

Exploring the third or fourth generation of this family, Gilbert’s latest characters feel groundless and disconnected from anything that’s come before. Rosy is not Palomar, she’s not Luba or Maria. She’s not even Fritz, with her complicated work history. If anything, this story shows almost just how unformed Rosy is and that’s refreshing in Gilbert’s work. Here’s a character who is trying not to be defined by who her family is. Other of his characters have tried to achieve that but Rosy feels like she may be the one to break away from the ghosts of her ancestors. Images of Fritz are interspersed throughout this story, either pages showing scenes from one of her movies or giant postered walls that depict mostly topless Fritzes (though interestingly Gilbert leaves any images of Fritz’s breasts undrawn.) Rosy watches the movies and stares and the wall-sized images but it’s a detached viewing-- not of her mother but like that of a work of art. Maybe Rosy can appreciate what’s been created but there’s no connection to it as she tries to figure out what her mother’s past means for her future.

If Rosy is looking to figure out who she will be, Maggie and Hopey are trying to remember who they were in Jaime’s story. Concluding a story that began back in 2014, Jaime follows his two star characters at the end of a night where they attended a punk reunion and relived the nights of their youth. This story has been a bittersweet one because we want to remember Maggie and Hopey as the kids they were. Seeing the adults they’ve become feels like some kind of betrayal of those youthful loves and indiscretions. It’s two o'clock in the morning, all the punks have gone home but these two more-than-friends find themselves on these familiar streets, harassed by an all-too threatening man-child who is now more at home in Huerta than they are.

Fuck! Eugene! (art by J. Hernandez)

Once upon a time, Hopey would have fought back against their harasser, pushing him into a fight. Now, she’s looking for an escape from him. The older Hopey’s reaction is more mature and understandable now but it’s not nearly as romantic or punk. Jaime’s story is really about just how much these two characters have grown up and gotten older. They’ve both got people waiting at home for them; Hopey even has a son. But for as much as they’ve moved beyond being rebellious teens, there’s still a spark even while in danger of seeing them together. They know each other so well that it’s natural to think that they should be together forever but how long has it been since Jaime has really told a story about them together. For the past 20 or so years, we’ve been them pass in and out of each other’s lives as they’ve lived their own, separate lives.

Jaime punctuates where Maggie and Hopey are now by alternating the story of this night with a story about their teens and hanging out in a drug dealer’s home all the time. This look back into the bygone days paints an image that’s no less dangerous than what they’re experiencing now but shows the two of them as either too brave or too dumb to really understand the dangers they’re putting themselves into. But they were young and in love in a way that they aren’t now. There’s a feeling that these youthful stories may be an answer to anyone who thinks that Jaime’s stories have become old and stodgy but they’re also great reminders of both how far we’ve all come and how little changes even after decades.

A touch of that old Maggie & Hopey (art by G. Hernandez)

When you look at the history of this series, Maggie and Hopey have spent far more time apart than they have together. These glimpses of both past and present add significant events to their story even as the story ends in very unpunk ways. After a brief emergency room visit for a bruised knee, Hopey is picked up by her wife and they head back down the highway for their home and their son. To her wife, Hopey is “Espy,” her own personal nickname which signifies a life separate from Maggie’s. In the story from their teens, Jaime ends it with Maggie and Hopey kissing and hugging, captured as one of those perfect, never-ending youthful dreams. In the present, Hopey leaves Maggie telling her that her wife doesn’t blame Maggie. In one way, they’re together forever but in another way, they’ve outgrown each other, two people who were once madly in love but who know are something different. Not better and not worse; just different.

In both Gilbert and Jaime’s stories, we see characters defined by a past, porn or punk, and trying to reconcile it with who they want to be and who they want to be with. Rosy can trace her roots back to Palomar but that’s not who she is. Maggie and Hopey were punk but now they’re middle-aged. What does any of that mean? Neither Hernandez brother really provides any answer in this issue as they seem far more fascinated with questions than answers. For all of these characters, they have an image of what their lives should be but this issue is about what their lives are. Maybe it’s that difference that really defines who we are?

Love and Rockets #5
Written and Drawn by Gilbert Hernandez and Jaime Hernandez
Published by Fantagraphics