[This article contains spoilers throughout]
The ending to “The Love Bunglers” is but one ending among many in Jaime Hernandez’s Locas saga; all of them pretending to a certainty derived from an earlier age of innocence.
It is 1988 and Hernandez is writing and drawing the second part of “The Valley of the Polar Bears”. Hopey has left Maggie to go on tour with Terry’s band. Maggie has found new happiness in the arms of Ray Dominguez. They walk arm in arm into a happy future. The words of an imperfect prophet suggest that she could be coming to “the end of her whirlpool”.
A few hundred pages on and it is 1996; the faithful reader now faced with the closing pages of “Bob Richardson”. Maggie and Hopey suddenly meeting for the first time in “years” at the back of a police car after a series of setbacks; finally together again as they once were 50 issues prior. The perfect ending.
Each of these moments as final as a relationship, wedding, or birth in our own lives; everything apt to be corroded by time.
These periodic assertions of finality are recapitulated in “The Love Bunglers”. Here old past times are recreated…
[1985 —> 2011]
…and ancient paths retread.
[1985 —> 2011]
The pair of lovers (Maggie & Ray) stuttering, burning brightly, fizzling out, and then rekindled over the course of a few chapters and over 20 years of comics. If likened to a piece of music then a kind of ritornello with elaborations bordered by tuttis where the orchestra plays as one.
This symmetry is reflected in the construction of Jaime’s story and the positioning of “death” in between the story of the two lovers. The first is a kind of foreboding where Maggie’s brother, Calvin, traumatized by abuse, and with a mind to save his sister, beats his tormentor to a pulp. That figure is later seen tortured by obsessive ruminations over the validity of his actions; these thoughts now carried to their natural conclusion of eternal vigilance over his sister. He is a ghost walking the streets, lost in shadow but ever ready to reiterate the past and its tragedies. A personification of his sister’s own state of mind.
In the latter half of “The Love Bunglers”, Letty, Maggie’s childhood friend, becomes an unwitting sacrifice to that tragedy — first pushed into the background by Maggie’s despair at her father’s unfaithfulness and then slowly rebuilding an old bond with her friend. There is space enough to wonder why she has been thus displaced, whether this can be put down to Maggie’s new found wariness or simply her mother’s shame at the preceding events; now spreading like a disease through her family, all of whom are kept close to the nest in light of the recent affliction that has unfolded.
Both of these episodes present themselves as answers to Maggie’s insecurities, always alluded to at various points in Hernandez’s long running series but now brought to the fore. As Ray Dominguez lies bleeding on the ground towards the close of the story, his skull crushed by a brick wielded by Maggie’s deranged brother, Hernandez offers his readers an encapsulation of this pattern of self-flagellation. Ray’s vegetative thoughts of Maggie seguing into Maggie’s own recollections; a gentle push into reconstruction and reminiscence on the part of the author.
Panel 1. It is 1997 and Hernandez will soon be embarking on his much lauded homage to Charles Schulz in “Home School” — clean, elegant lines, wiry hair, and brick walls.
In “6 Degrees of Ray D. Ation”, Ray meets the young Maggie for the first time. There is a hammer hanging over Ray’s head held by a young Maggie, just as so many years later her brother will hold a brick over Ray. He is a willing victim, a deer caught in the headlights. She, his unwitting “scourge”.
Panel 2. Maggie moves back to Hoppers after her parents separate. A friendship is rekindled and Maggie emerges from her shell.
Panel 3. A pose which mirrors that at the end of “The Death of Speedy”.
The school year is coming to a close and Ray has managed to get an art scholarship and will be leaving town. Soon Letty will be dead, a crutch taken from Maggie.
Panel 4. “The Return of Ray D.” (1986). A moment between panels and between pages. Maggie has just been kicked out of her friend Danita’s house and has been wandering the cold streets at night. “Three-thirty in the morning an’ my bed is fifteen miles away…” Ray has been away for 3 years and they meet unexpectedly at a doughnut shop. He only recognizes her after the fact. Maggie remembers that she once started a rumor that they went out “cause I liked him. Like I liked Race…and Speedy…”
Panel 5. “The Death of Speedy Ortiz” (1987). Ray has just seen his friend, Litos, shot in the face, and he is sitting together with Maggie in a hospital. ”Why are you the only sane person here?” she asks. A moment of quiet as Maggie rests on his blood stained shirt, and then she leaves him to meet Speedy who will be dead within moments.
Panel 6. A Mess of Skin (1987). Hopey has left Maggie to go on tour with Terry. Left to her own devices back in Hoppers, Maggie accidentally jumps into a car thinking it is driven by Doyle and sees that it is being driven by Ray. They hook up to Daffy’s consternation. All this before that joyful and ephemeral conclusion mentioned above.
Panel 7. Maggie is posing for Ray but she’s stiff and lifeless, finally delegating her duties to Danita who soon shacks up with Ray. It is the beginning of the end for the couple, all this belied by a strained smile, happily ignored by readers of the time hoping for a reunion with Hopey.
Panel 8. “Ninety-Three Millions Miles from the Sun”. The end of the affair. Maggie says a final goodbye to Ray before Hopey puts her through another trauma and she disappears for the duration of “Wigwam Bam”.
This before that other blissful and temporary end which closed the magazine sized issues of Love and Rockets. The end of an era. The magazine’s circulation dropping from its heydays, partly due to the Hernandez Brothers fascination with convoluted narratives, dead ends, and indefinite resolutions.
Panel 9. “Life Through Whispers”. Doyle meets Maggie for the first time in years, and he’s worried that she’s seen him with his new squeeze. We never see her expression until this moment. Her visage is a mask of stern resignation, so far from the girl that grew up in Hoppers, the demons still clinging to her soul. The memories of happier times now tainted by experience.The one time mechanical “prodigy” now doing maintenance in an apartment block.
Ray’s expression is filled with an unaccountable sadness, staring and not daring to speak. The heady days of youth now extinct, the colorful costumes of the past long forgotten, life settling into a predictable landscape of drab buildings, anonymous clubs and darkened streets. When Jaime demonstrates his love for the feminine form in one of Ray’s life drawing classes earlier in the story, the entire process is viewed with a sense of bemused distraction by Ray. It seems almost like a casting away of “youthful” ways, a disdainful glance at a game from another age. This is a bleak middle-aged, lower middle-class existence conveyed not by picturesque chaos but by Jaime’s increasingly somber environments and restrained linework. Nowhere is this spartan existence more visible than in “The Love Bunglers”, the artist’s expressive line held in check like the lowering of a narrator’s voice.
In the fourth to final page of “The Love Bunglers”, Maggie looks into the mirror having found out that Ray has been in a near vegetative state for almost 2 years — a direct reference to the two pages of retrospection that have preceded it. What happens in the moment between those two panels is, of course, a mystery.
Perhaps a moment of resolution; perhaps the desire to remember clearly everything that has gone on before. A clean slate from which to draw the best of memories and less of the pain. If Maggie’s problems can be placed down to her memories, then it might be said that Ray finally gets his girl because he has forgotten so much.
In the end, the attacker (that personification of psychological damage) is somehow forgotten. The author reasserting the points of connection between Maggie and Ray, tearing them down and then rebuilding them. Ray’s mind in a constant state of questioning, his memories containing real and feigned histories.
His lover’s face is placid, understanding, and yet indecipherable — the cartoonist inviting his readers to recall the couple’s years of bitter struggle, before accepting the lies of a pleasant but capricious present reality.
This is part of an impromptu roundtable on Jaime and his critics.