This issue is kind of strange because both Jaime and Beto are in the middle of stories. Parts Three, Five, and Seven. There’s nothing stand alone at all about it, except maybe the sketchbook pages at the end, but even those sketches refer to the stories in progress.
Jaime’s up first with Wig Wam Bam (Part 3). It opens with Danita’s kid, Elias, discovering Ray sleeping off getting beat up in the shed behind Danita’s parents’ house. Danita’s going to take over Ray’s apartment since he can’t afford the rent. Well, actually it opens with the promise of getting to see Izzy, who’s been mentioned, but hasn’t appeared in a while. Not since her solo story, but it wasn’t in the current time period. So it’s been a while since Izzy’s been around.
Jaime doesn’t disappoint. Izzy’s been collecting the milk carton missing ads of Hopey and making a wall collage. Meanwhile Daffy and Itsuki, working at the supermarket, talk about Maggie returning in front of Danita, sending her into some hard self-examination about Ray and her and Ray and Maggie.
Then there’s a flashback to Daffy as a teen first hanging out with Maggie and Hopey and then–big surprise–turns out Maggie isn’t actually back. The story ends–well, one of the endings, confirming no one knows where Maggie or Hopey are right now.
There’s a lot of other stuff–mostly with Danita–but Danita isn’t exactly sympathetic. Ray isn’t exactly sympathetic, try as Jaime might to make Ray sympathetic, it just never comes off. Ray’s just inert, especially in this time frame. He’s mooching off Danita. Maybe.
But the entry is far more successful than last issue’s, simply because Jaime’s not trying to throw as many characters in it as possible. Daffy’s a good character, Izzy’s a great character. Doyle being absent helps the story. Jaime’s able to take his time with scenes and conversations; nothing’s rushed. It’s a good story. Even if Ray and Danita’s romantic troubles are somewhat less interesting than drying paint.
Nice art throughout, of course.
Then comes the five pages of Love and Rockets (Part 5). Beto has gotten the party started. Everyone is there except Steve and his homies. Including Maricela and her crush, Kris, only Kris only has eyes for Sean who’s still interested Bambi because Bambi puts out even if she is clingy and has a neo-nazi boyfriend now. There’s some great pacing, a way too long conversation about Iggy Pop, some Beto trashing Hollywood, and the band getting messed up on a variety of drugs. It’s awesome how much Beto’s able to fit into the five pages. Love and Rockets kind of feels like filler–and is far less serious than it’s gotten in the past–but it’s still some very strong work.
This issue’s Poison River chapter is only three pages longer–eight–but seems like a lot more. Luba’s getting questioned because Peter’s ex is trying to set him up as a commie, leading to everyone deciding Luba’s mom is too beautiful to be her mom (the cops get her jewelry box, her only family heirloom, open). It’s awkward and kind of heartbreaking, everyone crapping on Luba, even if she hasn’t been much of a character the last couple issues. It’s her origin story, sure, but Beto’s concentrating on the things going on around her.
Including whatever hints he’s trying to make about Peter’s ex, which aren’t quite as gross as they could be but are certainly (possibly somewhat unintentionally) transphobic. All the usual character sensitivity Beto’s shown in the Palomar stories or even in the first few chapters of Poison River is gone here. Lots of caricatures, lots of exploitation. Lots of cheap exploitation. It’s callous.
It’s also full of tension and drama and terrifying and rather well-executed. Archie even shows up, in the saddest introduction ever, making his future with Luba even more heartbreaking.
Also back is the Pedro the racist comic book character detail, which Beto used in previous issues but skipped for a while. Or at least seemed to have skipped because it wasn’t memorable. Here it’s a big deal.
Poison River isn’t back on track by any means, but Beto’s narrative plotting is outstanding and it’s compelling. Even if it’s mean-spirited and cruel.
Not a great issue (comparatively), but far from a concerning one.