by Gilbert Hernandez
(DC Comics, 2006)
As Sloth opens, teenager Miguel Serra has just awakened from a year-long coma. Apparently, the coma was self-induced, a medical impossibility. It's the tip of a fascinating iceberg, from lover of surrealism Gilbert Hernandez of Love & Rockets fame.
Once awake, Miguel's movements are painfully slow, hence his new nickname, "Sloth," which is also the name of his three-person band. The other two people in the band are his best friend, Romeo, and his girlfriend, Lita, whom he suspects may have had an affair while he was asleep. As Miguel resumes his relationship with Lita, the trio investigates the truth behind the eerie urban legend of a mysterious Goatman who allegedly haunts a nearby lemon orchard, where three bodies were found buried in the last two years.
Mid-story, the three characters undergo an interesting switch, or, more accurately, a triangulation of reality. Any more hints would ruin a fine twist to an eerie, excellent story that's equal parts magical realism, teenage romance and nourish supernatural thriller, all in one wonderful package.
Hernandez portrays suburbia as not only unsafe but a place where things can go horribly wrong, with murder, drug running and suicide rearing their ugly heads. The result is an existence more morbid than death itself, which makes self-willed comas less of an escape and more like a survival mechanism. The Goatman, an obvious metaphor for the mystery that can't be destroyed by modern civilization, is Hernanadez's answer to an overly industrialized, fast-paced society that is killing our true spirits through the suffocation of our humanity. At the center of this work are the three teenagers, who are a mixture of the innocence, dark desires and sexual confusion typical of adolescence. The characters in his stories tend to create interesting illusions, albeit fragile ones, to escape from brutal reality, as do the lead characters in Sloth by literally willing themselves into comas.
As hoaky and cliche-ridden as it seems, though, Hernandez truly believes in the power of love to redeem our existence, in spite of the existential despair we face in a world that is stifling our souls. He captures a unique emotional reality that reflects dread, sorrow, joy, innocence and, sometimes, hope. Our physical bodies are not prisons because our souls are always free. We can escape those cells anytime we want to and find our true identities.
Sloth is completely removed from the characters and locale of the Palomar universe. Next to Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan, Sloth is the most coherent, nontraditional story that I have ever read, with the narrative taking unexpected turns that leave you hanging on the edge of your seat, while somehow leaving not a single plot thread dangling in the process. Hernandez's fluid, unadorned drawing style combines very well with this compelling and unusual tale. The clear, black-and-white lines are as beautiful as they are masterful.
Sloth is, like Charles Burns' Black Hole, a dense, multi-textual classic that's meant to be read not once but many times, because that's how much it pulls you in. It's as creepy as it is captivating, with the most oddly satisfying ending to an equally odd love story. For fans of Love & Rockets as well as those wanting a peek inside the mind of Gilbert Hernandez, Sloth is not to be missed.
25 April 2009
Send us your opinions!