This volume contains a variety of stories, including some one-page shorts from Gilbert and another of his Errata Stigmata tales, as well as Jaime's "Out of Space," which features a young woman named Rocky and her robot Fumble in a sort of "girl and her dog" tale done sci-fi style. Gilbert's stories are somewhat surreal and impactful, setting forth a style that he would rely on for much of his later work. It also has another installment of Mario's "Somewhere in California..." this time featuring a tale of film-making and foul play.
However, what is most monumental in this book is Gilbert's "Heartbreak Soup," a long tale that is part telenovela, part magical realism. In his first extensive look at the lives and events in Palomar, I was puzzled, amazed, shocked, horrified, bemused, and enchanted by the goings on in town. Luba, a newcomer who has opened up a bathhouse, has people intrigued, gossiping, and in arms about her business, attitude, and many children. Her rival is Chelo, who has her own established bathhouse and who also has an intimate relationship with the sheriff, which gives her some leverage in local dealings. Also the story follows Heraclio, Israel, and the rest of a gang of adolescents as they swagger, brag, and grope to gain understanding and experiences, casting a different perspective on the town. Readers are also privy to a cavalcade of other characters, including Toco, a young, troubled lad, the strong-willed sisters Pipo and Carmen, and the local Casanova Manuel and his many conquests, which lead to many a conflict and eventual heartbreak and tragedy.
What is amazing to me about this story is how quickly and seemingly effortlessly Gilbert draws the reader into a fully realized world. It is so easy to feel familiar with the characters, not to say that they are all cardboard stereotypes. Palomar is a magical, strange, fascinating place to visit, and its inhabitants are endearing, maddening, and frighteningly real. Also amazingly, this story plants many seeds that would produce fruit even decades later.
Jaime's stories in this volume include the slightly superhero-themed "Maggie vs. Maniakk" and "100 Rooms" where we see and learn more about the Locas crew, focusing mainly on Penny Century and her relationship with gazillionaire H.R. Costigan. There are extravagant parties, super-villainous bodyguards, and romantic intrigue as Maggie hides out in a vast mansion and shacks up with a mysterious stranger, but what strikes me most are two things: how fleshed out the characters are and how relatable these happenings are despite the fantastical setting. Like his brother Gilbert, Jaime here demonstrates that he is expert at cutting to the chase, making his characters instantly accessible, and telling complex and compelling tales in deceivingly short order. And this is not even mentioning another Jaime tale, "Toyo's Request," a touching, gritty story where we learn more of the mythology behind Maggie's family friend, the world champion wrestler/international activist Rena Titañon. With this book, the hits just keep on coming.
My rating: Comics world-building at its best. An absolute classic: