Love & Rockets #12:
Poison River

written and drawn by
Gilbert Hernandez
(Fantagraphics, 1994)

For years now, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez have kept complicated Love & Rockets storylines fresh, interesting and fairly easy to follow. But Gilbert, in his solo outing Poison River, stumbles a bit.

Poison River focuses solely on the character of Luba and fills in tremendous amounts of detail on her earlier years. If you'll recall, she first appeared in the first collection, Music for Mechanics, as a bare-breasted goddess wanna-be with plans to tame a giant monster. Later, she appeared as the hammer-toting bathhouse girl in Gilbert's Latin American town of Palomar, where she seduced and intimidated her way into the center of town politics and affairs. Her history remained something of a mystery, although a few hints were dropped along the way.

Now we know it all, and frankly, it was too much. Poison River gets bogged down in too much detail, too many characters and too much monotony. Unlike most Love & Rockets volumes, where the focus keeps changing every few pages, this one is all Luba all the time, and she just can't hold my interest that long.

The book begins with a wealthy man's realization that he's not the infant Luba's father. Her mother, Maria, is banished from the mansion along with her lover, the worker Eduardo, her maid, Karlota, and the baby. Their life is poor but seemingly happy -- until Eduardo's act of kindness to a hard-luck friend has tragic results, and Maria flees poverty to seek a new, wealthy lover.

As Luba grows into childhood, we meet her mean-spirited cousin Ofelia and discover Luba's fascination for snails. Violence changes her life again, and while still very young she's seduced, then married by a much older, navel-fixated conga player named Peter. From there her life turns into a kaleidoscope of drugs, gangsters, affairs, rape and sexual perversities. I was bored with it by chapter 7; unfortunately, the book has 17 chapters.

Although I've admired the Hernandez Brothers' mode of non-linear storytelling in the past, the effort gets bogged down here when it's all compacted into a single volume. The lack of a single sympathetic character in this story makes it even harder to get through; while a story on Luba's background was a good idea, this one should have been 100 pages shorter at least. (Things do pick up a bit for the final chapter, as Gilbert explains how Luba and her family arrive in Palomar via a forest commune.)

I'm a big fan of the Love & Rockets canon, but I'd be lying if I said I recommended Poison River. I'd say skip it and reread some of the other volumes in the set, or else sit back and wait for the new work the Hernandez Brothers are releasing. Only diehard Luba fans need read this one.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 10 August 2001

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