Creator Gilbert Hernandez starts the issue with the “Letters From Venus” entry, the second feature (as in the second half of a double feature). At six pages, it’s the second-longest story. Besides the A feature, “Venus” is the only other story longer than a page. Beto’s got two and a half other single-page strips in the issue. The half because one of the stories is a montage sequence.
“Venus,” both the story and the character, introduces the cast of characters to the issue. Venus won’t be around for most of the main feature (for good reasons, I’ll mention in a moment), but her observations kick everything off for the comic. Her story starts with Sergio—Pipo’s football star son—arriving to drive Venus home. Venus has been hanging out at Pipo’s for the day, but she’s too busy to take her home. Of course, once we find out what Pipo’s too busy doing, it seems like she could’ve run the kid home, but whatever.
Instead, heartthrob Sergio will take her home; he just needs to stop along the way a few times. The first time is in a bad neighborhood, the second time is with some New Age goons, the third ties back to Pipo, then finally Venus gets home. As usual, Beto does a fantastic job using Venus as the protagonist and narrator, and the story’s chill. It’s got some “growing up” moments–like realizing “just because they’re nice to you” white ladies can be garbage racists—and it’s gritty but genial.
Then comes two of the one-pagers. First, we get a recap of Doralis’s popular television show—I wonder how New Love read without having read Love and Rockets; Doralis’s rise to TV fame was a significant subplot in that comic. Then the next one-page strip is a scene with Fritz and Petra hanging out with Doralis and realizing her TV show isn’t just a variety dance show anymore, but sort of an investigative reporting dance variety show now. It’s a nice strip, with Beto extending the traditional comic strip beats out to nine panels.
The feature story is called “Mama’s Boy” and is about Sergio and Pipo. And what people think of Sergio and Pipo, with Beto using documentary interviews as a framing device. Along the way, we find out Sergio’s side of the opening “Venus” story, but Beto also plays with the timeline a bit. For instance, the opening story has Sergio interacting with Fritz and Petra, but this feature story does a lot to retroactively inform those interactions.
Beto maintains a triple-layered narrative throughout the story (thirteen pages but really twelve and a cover), occasionally dipping into a fourth flashback layer. They all progress chronologically, with it eventually becoming clear the “Venus” story takes place in between one of them. There’s more character work for Pipo than Sergio; Sergio’s got to remain somewhat obtuse not to give away the narrative device too soon.
It’s also a really sexual story, with Beto using gag nudity for emphasis. But basically, everyone’s got the uncontrollable hots for Sergio and Pipo, and they’re mostly happy to put out.
But there’s also a subplot about Pipo vindictively targeting a TV critic who doesn’t like her show, which might give the most guidance to sorting out the three action streams and how they fit with each other.
The story’s more about Beto’s inventive plotting and less about the characters, but it’s still quite good. It’s just not as effective as the “Letters From Venus,” which has the more sympathetic protagonist. There’s nothing unsympathetic about Sergio; he’s just beefcake.
The issue doesn’t end with his story, either. Beto brings it back for a one-pager with Venus and her family (mom Petra, dad, little brother), waiting for Fritz and Doralis to come over. Nine panels and it ties back to most of the stories in the issue, including the one-pagers, as they inform Venus’s perception of Doralis compared to the adults’ take. It’s a really nice way to finish the issue, which otherwise would read like a somewhat random anthology. It’d just Luba’s Friends and Family without the closer; with it, the issue does encapsulate the opening, Sergio-related theme.
Reading the issue is kind of just like reading Love and Rockets, which is also completely wonderful.