Sunday, 27 April 2014

Maria M. Book One by Gilbert Hernandez Review


Set in 1950s America, Maria arrives from Latin America to seek her fortune with her “milky, silky smooth” skin and enormous bust, leading to a series of exploitational gigs like posing for nude pictures, starring in pornos, and stripping. Eventually she becomes the gun-loving wife of a prominent gangster whose son Gorgo falls for her and, using his skill at fighting and killing, makes sure nobody ever exploits her again - but what will happen between Maria and Gorgo? 

At this point in his 30+ years in comics, Gilbert Hernandez simply can’t create a bad comic. His latest books like Julio’s Day and the new Love and Rockets strips with his brother Jaime are all superb examples of the comics medium. Maria M. Book One is also a compelling comic that flies by, but I wasn’t as enamoured with the story as I was with his previous books. Gangster moll, gangland shenanigans - it’s been done before, not by Hernandez but elsewhere in pop culture, so while I enjoyed his rendering of the story, I don’t feel that it’s the best example of his recent, highly original work. 

The pacing though is perfect. Hernandez knows exactly the right amount of space to give a scene before moving on to the next one so there’s never a wasted panel. Because of this he’s able to put so much into the book without it ever seeming that he’s rushing or not doing justice to a particular moment - it’s all measured out so well. 

It is very sexploitational with Maria M. being a ridiculously proportioned male fantasy - watermelon-sized boobs, tiny waist, always parading around in bikinis or low cut tops - but the format of the story is supposedly a sleazy pulp rendering of Maria’s life so it’s meant to be this way for the targeted male audience (not to mention the pandering graphic hyper-violence for that stereotypical male double whammy of sex and murder). That said, I’m sure female readers will be rolling their eyes a lot during this one! 

I’ve read a lot of Hernandez brothers comics but almost nothing of their most famous work, Love and Rockets. Maria M. is apparently a spin-off of a story from those earlier comics but even if you’re unfamiliar with the series, this book can still be enjoyed on its own. And I think it’s fantastic that Hernandez’s work is syncing up so that there’s a link between his decades of comics.

Big-boobed women feature quite a bit in Hernandez’s books so it was surprising to see Maria’s “filmography” included a lot of books I’ve previously read - I thought Maria’s “type” was a quirk of the artist, not the same character! Hernandez’s comics are very layered and meta in a way few comics - or books of any kind for that matter - rarely are. 

Maria M. Book One is an entertaining, never dull, and fast-paced comic that’s well-drawn and really creatively presented. If you enjoy non-superhero comics, Gilbert Hernandez’s work is always worth checking out, and Maria M. is no exception.

Maria M. Book One

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