I was initially lukewarm about this issue—well, as lukewarm as one can get about an expertly executed, inspiredly plotted comic—but I’ve come around. Sort of. The issue’s got two big features, with the Luba one coming in at fourteen pages (give or take a splash page), which is the most space creator Beto Hernandez has given anything in the series so far. It also does a whole bunch, as Beto looses Luba on her family. They’ve been apart for most of the series, and the reuniting last issue was about seeing the little ones and husband Khamo.
In her story this issue, Luba discovers all the soap opera drama the adults have gotten themselves into while she’s been away.
Beto uses Luba’s daughter Doralis’s variety show for structure. Doralis is showing her mom the rough cut of a very special episode, all about Luba and her history. The story then slips into Luba’s daily experiences, like meeting up with Khamo for a quickie after he gets done informing on drug connections (a requirement of getting him into the U.S.). Luba also hangs out with her sisters, Petra and Fritz, and comes away exasperated at their lives. Next, she’s got a lovely scene with daughter Guadalupe, who’s very sweet but also bores Luba. Finally, Beto gets in a scene for estranged daughter Maricela; she’s on the phone with Ofelia (Luba’s cousin and life guardian). Their conversation rattles the fourth wall while the entire story fuzzies the narrative distances.
It’s an outstanding fourteen (or thirteen minus the splash) pages. Beto plays with history, memory, relationships, all of it. After letting the supporting cast run rampant, he firmly re-establishes Luba as the protagonist. Except it’s also the story where Doralis comes out to her mom, something the comic’s been plotting all of this Luba series and way back to Love and Rockets. Lots of culminating; Beto does a fantastic job with it.
So for the first couple of pages of the following story, there’s a lull. There’s no filler between the stories; it’s the end of this long chapter in Luba and her family’s life; immediately, it’s the fallout from Pipo’s perspective. Pipo produces Doralis’s show, and the gossip columns already know she’s coming out before the episode’s aired.
The story doesn’t have a protagonist; it floats (with intention) between Pipo and her supporting cast. Her son Sergio says he’s in love with Guadalupe but is dating Guadalupe’s aunt, Fritz. Pipo confesses a crush on Fritz to her new accountant, Boots (who’s kind of the protagonist, but also not). Pipo used to be married to Guadalupe’s husband, Gato, who’s also Pipo’s former accountant and hangs around to give Boots advice on things. Boots has taken it upon herself to find out who’s leaking the information to the gossip rags, which it turns out calls back to the New Love series.
It’s another very complicated story, with exceptional plotting from Beto, both visually and narratively. Even better than Luba’s feature, which doesn’t seem possible. Beto creates a singular comics montage system in the first story, with the second story then expanding on its potential. Breathtaking work.
So when the last interior comic is a one-pager about Guadalupe and Luba, a daughter and mom piece, it has a deflating effect. Beto got over the lull between features through masterful comics. Unfortunately, there’s no time to get over the second story in the one-pager. There’s just not room. Even though it’s a lovely strip for Guadalupe, who narrates.
The back cover color comic is Fritz and Sergio playing in the snow with her nieces, which leans into the color format more than Beto’s done with the color strips before. It’s delightful and charming, which is pretty much the reaction from the characters too.
The features are exceptional. There just isn’t any way to compliment them with one-page strips.
Beto’s also very prescient about digital backdrops in live-action media, albeit ten or fifteen years early. For the special, Doralis keeps explaining they’re using CGI to create the settings, which was magic through technology at the time—though, Star Wars: Episode One—but it’s now standard.
Truly great comic. Even if it sits awkwardly in the end.