New Love (1996) #2

It’s a very religious issue. Creator Gilbert Hernandez does four saint pin-ups, each with a text paragraph describing their lives and sainthood. Beto calls the series “A Gallery of Humanitarians and Beloved Martyrs” and leans so heavily into it, the angry atheist protagonist of the final feature story is a big surprise. The pin-ups are the issue’s only recurring element, and they set some of the mood, which Beto further explicates with the final pin-up’s saint and story placement.

But while there’s religiosity at play—including in the story about some prehistoric humans (well, with some caveats)—Beto also includes some secular humanitarians. The first strip of the issue is about the iron lung; in a nine-panel grid (minus one for the title), Beto establishes the medical need for the device, how it works, problems in its development, and then the eventual success. It’s history comics in a page. Very impressive stuff and more successful than the later “Beto’s Notes” version of Moby Dick, which is a fine strip, but the iron lung strip is didactic; the Moby Dick one is instead a neat trick.

The issue has three feature stories.

First, there’s another “Letters from Venus,” which has Venus learning more about her parents—and how other people, specifically Aunt Fritz, see them. There’s also a nice “growing up” anecdote in there, albeit one with a lot more family drama than it’d be if Venus’s mom weren’t a Love and Rockets character.

It also takes place just after life on Mars has been discovered, something Venus muses about in her thought balloons as she roams around a festival where everyone’s in a costume. It’ll be interesting to see if Beto’s including that otherworldly detail as a throwaway or if it’ll actually figure into the strip going forward.

Beto does an eight-panel, two-by-four layout on most pages. He’s got fantastic pacing, and Venus is a great narrator. The art does require a lot of attention. Beto’s got no time for stragglers, with the big twist being a tiny movement in one of the panels.

It’s quite good.

And in no way prepares for the next story, the prehistoric human one. Specifically prehistoric men. Except they know about things like brain chemistry—without understanding it, they just know about it—and their world is full of strange creatures, like giant teddy bears and model airplane-shaped birds. Two guys are jealous of another’s fishing and hunting prowess; they also aren’t thrilled with him because he’s from another tribe.

The story’s thoughtfully paced and somewhat gruesome. There’s religiosity to it, although just at the base level. As a parable, it’s excellent.

The last story is where all the built-up religion comes out. The story is set in a toy land, where a jack in the box and his music box ballerina argue about his bad mood. The jack in the box, Bolo Cereal, is sick of racist, misogynist Republicans who claim they’re Christian without following any of Christ’s teachings. So wind-up ballerina girlfriend Fléchette suggests they go to church and see if it makes Bolo feel any better.

It does not and leads to a tragic, then mildly baffling, conclusion. The art’s fantastic on the story, but the art’s fantastic on the entire issue. There’s such a wide range of settings—modern-day California, prehistoric whatever, toy land—with Beto telling each story a different way, it ends up just being a showcase of Beto’s varied talents.

The Venus story could’ve been longer—but only because Venus is such a good protagonist—otherwise, there’s nothing to gripe about. New Love #2 is great comics.