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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Monday, November 10, 2014

TI-GIRLS, TI-GIRLS, BURNING BRIGHT



I've followed the works of Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez from their first Fantagraphics publications, and I still re-read both Jaime's "Locas" stories and Gilbert's "Palomar" works from time to time whenever I want to immerse myself in comics done at the uppermost level of accomplishment.

That said, I often have not liked their attempts to write other stories outside those respective universes. I suppose I could be accused of being one of those fans who wants a creator to keep doing the same things he's always done, but I don't think that's accurate.  Liking Miller's DAREDEVIL didn't make me wish he'd never done SIN CITY, etc., so I think in many cases the Hernandezes' attempts to trail-blaze new concepts simply haven't been as well realized as their first two innovations.

GOD AND SCIENCE: RETURN OF THE TI-GIRLS sort of-kind of takes place in Jaime's "Locas" universe.  The early stories originally included a few SF-trappings even though they took place in what looked like modern urban California. Gradually most of those trappings went away and the series became firmly grounded in the present day, though strange phenomena still took place.  Maggie, one of the series' principal stars, might read about superheroes in comic books, but there were no superheroes as such in her world, though occasionally Mexican wrestlers acted out such larger-than-life roles.

TI-GIRLS, however, rewrites the Locas-world so that it's evident that superheroes have always been around in some form, even if their doings rarely impact on the lives of ordinary humans like Maggie. The story begins when Angel, an athletic friend of Maggie, takes it into her head to become a superheroine, in part because one of the women in Maggie's apartment house seems to be one. Jaime's story does not admit to easy summation, but suffice to say that Angel finds herself meeting dozens of superheroines and supervillainesses.  Despite a complaint by one of the heroines that it's hard for women to get ahead in a world that's predominantly oriented on white males, the only time the reader sees any male heroes or villains in the story's present is a short sequence in a bar full of seedy, costumed guys, and only one among them seems like a half-decent fellow. It may be that Jaime concentrated on females with some idea of redressing old wrongs, or he may have just wanted to draw a lot of female characters of varying body-types-- something he and his brother Gilbert do better than anyone in the field.

When I read the original serial in LOVE AND ROCKETS: NEW STORIES 1-2, the story seemed random and unfocused.  For the reprint volume Jaime added 30 new pages which went a long way to providing closure to the story, though there are still plenty of surrealistic moments where strange things happen and the only response is, "who can figure comics?" For instance, Santa Claus appears in the story briefly, to little purpose except so that Jaime could indulge in a little whimsy not connected to the usual fantasy/SF tropes of superhero comics.

One reviewer said that there were two forces at work in Jaime's story. On one hand, he creates a lot of characters meant to have emotional resonance, even if their backstories are only sketched in. On the other, there's constantly an air of, "but this may go away at any moment."

Not until my third reading of TI-GIRLS, though, did I find an angle on it by which I could appreciate Jaime's accomplishment.  TI-GIRLS is in essence both an homage to 1960s Marvel Comics and an inversion of the company's priorities.

There have been any number of tedious homages to Marvel's groundbreaking works, the worst being Alan Moore's witless 1963 imitations. But while Jaime's inspirations go beyond the Marvel artists of the sixties, he 
puts his finger unerringly on Marvel's appeal.  Where Marvel specialized in alternating skull-bursting fisticuffs with soap-opera melodrama, Jaime's homage provides the same wild action but tempers the fight-scenes with brief melodramatic snippets that aren't intended to be developed continuously like a soap; they're just there for a quick "dose of reality" amid the crazy fantasy.

I don't think I'll re-read TI-GIRLS quite as often as I do the signature works of Jaime and Gilbert. But it's not a misfire like certain standalone Hernandez works, some of which I wasn't even able to finish.

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