As expected (and predicted), creator Gilbert Hernandez delivers a fantastic close to New Love. And even though I figured he had it coming, Beto makes a bunch of surprise moves and callbacks, making New Love a cohesive series instead of just an anthology.
First comes the “Letters from Venus” entry, which I’m tempted to call the best in the series. And not just because Beto takes everything back to Palomar in the end. Or has a scene where Venus discusses Kirk and Spock slash fiction with Aunt Fritz.
It’s a somewhat lyrical summary of Venus’s family life as it goes through a momentous change. Mom Petra and step-dad David are breaking up. So this story recounts some milestones in their relationship and marriage, specifically how the two families integrated. There’s not just Venus bonding with her (previously unseen) teenage step-brother, Rogelio, but also how the adults react to the children embracing them as parents.
Beto does a fantastic job, especially the hurried but never rushed character development. It’s mainly about Venus’s relationship with Rogelio and how it affects them. Of course, since Rogelio’s new to the strip, Beto carefully lets these revelations further contextualize the previous “Venus” entries.
I don’t think it’s the best “Letters from Venus” in New Love, but it’s very (albeit awkwardly) wholesome and good-hearted.
The next strip is the single page “Slugs of Palomar.” It’s awesome. There are some funny gags about the slugs and proper consumption; it’s also an exquisite way of leaning into returning to that strip. It’s a teaser, reminding Beto’s not just still interested in the series, but also he’s still really good at making it. There’s also a visual nod to a previous New Love strip, which will be a recurring thing as Beto wraps up the series here.
Next is a four-panel gag strip (about a mansplainer arguing and just asking questions), which is cute. But then the next strip is a killer “porno” one-pager, only with very regular-looking folks. It stars Roy and his girlfriend from New Love #4. There’s no story, just their apparently fun and fulfilling sex life.
Then is a two-page strip about a cartoon mole who wants to go up and see the sun for the first time. His girlfriend, a rabbit, doesn’t want him to do it. A duck and a bear are going to figure in. The ending takes a very black comedy turn, but the strip’s always quirky because the animals are anthropomorphic but with their junk hanging out. It’s a success.
Next is “Shout Ramirez and Her Very Best Friend Dinky.” They’re members of the Leaping Elite, which is basically adventurers who’ve been trained since childhood to leap great distances in single bounds. They’ve got super-thigh muscles to let them do it. Shout’s the brash loudmouth lead, Dinky’s her quiet and devoted partner; Dinky’s also madly in love with Shout and hasn’t told her.
The strip takes a twist in the finale—where Dinky also looks like another Beto character, but it’s not clear if they just look similar with the same expression or if there’s an intentional connection. There’s a definite intentional connection in their adventure, which has them trying to stop a rampaging love gremlin, the gigantic babies who first appeared in New Love #2. It’s all connected.
It’s a great story, showing off how well Beto could do a superhero strip if he wanted, with a genuinely disquieting conclusion.
After “Shout” is another one-pager, but six different two-to-six panel strips with the same protagonist and some commentary on his odd (and gross) behavior. It’s an excellent, quick bit of work from Beto.
Finally comes “Abraxas,” the other feature. There’s “Venus” then “Abraxas.”
“Abraxas” is a semi-sequel to a story of the runaway mobster’s moll and the hunchbacked gravedigger who loves her from New Love #1. However, there’s a slightly different vibe to the tale, which follows two suspicious characters who are in town for the “sighting.” They spy on their targets and bicker with each other about who’s being too flirty with who.
A lot of the strip builds up to the two big reveals, but then when the action kicks in, Beto does this beautifully fluid sequence. It’s moody, funny, bloody, and more than a little haunting. It’s the most ambitious story in the issue and the best.
But New Love isn’t over yet. There’s a one-page strip with Venus and her Aunt Luba talking about reading. It quickly becomes a conversation about comic books and Beto breaking the fourth wall to remind his readers to, you know, read more comics. The good ones. It’s a perfect finish to the series.
Outside the one lackluster issue—by Beto and New Love’s standards—the series has been outstanding and unexpected from the start. This finale, bringing it all together, is terrific. Beto makes incredible comics.