If the first issue is any indication, Luba is going to be an anthology series. Now, obviously, the first issue may not be any indication. I think creator Gilbert Hernandez stuck to the anthology format for all of New Love, the first Love and Rockets sequel, and a Luba prequel. Venus, who Beto focused on for lots of New Love (she even got her own strip), has more to do in this issue of Luba than any of Luba’s kids or grandkids. And Beto’s continuing the arc from that series for Venus; she’s still recovering from mom Petra’s divorce from her stepdad.
Luba takes place sometime after that series, with Luba in the United States with guardian Gorgo (“The Old Man”) trying to make sure her family’s safe to come over. Specifically, husband Khamo, who doesn’t actually appear in this issue. Luba talks about a recurring dream she’s got with Khamo, and he’s constantly on her mind, but otherwise, he doesn’t appear.
The first story is a very Beto piece with Luba—stark nude, with hammer, in her dream sequence to start—having an uncanny experience, then telling Gorgo about it. Gorgo has called in a favor with the mob to get Luba’s family out of danger. When Luba goes to meet with a contact, it’s at the location of the recurring dream. Beto winds past and present threads together (Gorgo and Khamo) while it’s all building to the future. It’s a great opening, haunting but not in a bad way.
The next story catches up with Luba’s family while she’s away. She hasn’t told anyone what she’s doing (exactly), just broad strokes. It’s a big cast, with Fritzi and Venus getting the most to do (with some great Ofelia asides) before Guadalupe arrives on the last page and sort of takes protagonist.
Now, obviously, this comic’s entirely incomprehensible to anyone who’s not a Love and Rockets (and probably New Love) reader. Beto packs in the dialogue; it’s only a four-page strip, and there’s a complete arc for Venus and partial ones for Fritzi and Casimira. There have got to be at least a dozen lead characters in this issue. My only “complaint,” which the Internet completely alleviates (and wouldn’t have on Luba #1’s publication in 1998), is there’s no family tree. Beto does not care about new readers; it’s an awesome, actually justified flex, but it’s also a lot.
Casimira’s arc is just this issue; she’s worried about her mom, Luba, and Beto’s established why. It’s just this semi-arc is in the middle of a New Love sequel for Venus. And then Guadalupe’s story is a callback to Love and Rockets: Volume One, but maybe tying in New Love details. I’ll bet these read so good in trade.
The next strip is a one-pager where Gorgo reflects on his life protecting Luba and her family (starting with Luba’s mom). It’s a short mood piece and more tightly constrained work from Beto.
The following strip is four pages about Guadalupe introducing her friend Pipo to an ex-boyfriend, Igor, who Pipo then seduces. It’s a comedy strip—Igor’s in a sort of band with best pal, Steve, who’s musically inept and entirely unaware of it. The strip’s from Igor’s perspective, with a single aside for Guadalupe—it’s a great one, too; Beto observes literary snobs aren’t better people than non-literary snobs; it’s the loosest comic in the issue, all for fun.
The next strip is another very measured one, two pages about Doralis, one of Luba’s daughters, who’s got a popular television variety show and uses it to tell the story of younger sister Casimira losing her arm. It’s basically a check-in strip for Luba’s daughters, Doralis and older sister Maricela; they’re both queer and closeted. The Casimira bit is full of personality and less internal conflict. This comic is full of short strips you can’t believe are only a couple of a few pages. This one’s the most impressive in that regard. Beto’s a master at compact comics narrative.
The final story is a three-pager with Guadalupe narrating. It’s about Fritzi and Petra visiting Luba, who’s still working on getting the family safely into the States. This story’s the closest Beto gets to giving the reader relevant backstory (Guadalupe recounts Ofelia’s injuries, which Love and Rockets readers remember, knowing more than the characters). About a page and a half are Luba and her sisters visiting, then the full last page is Guadalupe’s narration getting the spotlight. With appropriately corresponding visuals. It all ties into Luba being away from her family too long, which is the issue’s not at all opaque theme.
It’s a simultaneously sublime and jam-packed story in a sublime and jam-packed issue. It’s an excellent start to the series; sincere and thoughtful.
There’s a one-page color strip on the back cover. No dialogue, just Ofelia and Fritzi playing with some of the kids. It’s charming. And slightly uncanny to see Beto’s characters in color.