The Troublemakers

By Gilbert Hernandez (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-56097-922-7

There’s fiction, there’s Meta-fiction and then there is Gilbert Hernandez. In addition to being part of the graphic and literary revolution that is Love and Rockets (where his incredibly insightful tales of Palomar and the later stories of those characters collected in Luba gained such critical acclaim) he has produced stand-alone tales such as Sloth, Grip, Birdland and Girl Crazy, all marked by his bold, instinctive, compellingly simplified artwork and a mature, sensitive adoption of the literary techniques of Magical Realist writers such as Carlos Fuentes and Gabriel García Márquez: techniques which he has added to and made his own.

Now he has acknowledged such influences as Roger Corman, John Cassavetes, Elmore Leonard and Jim Thompson as he continues to break new ground and reprocess the cultural influences that shaped all us baby-boomers. In Luba we also glimpsed the troubled life of her half-sister Rosalba “Fritz” Martinez: a brilliant, troubled woman, lisping psychotherapist, sex-worker, belly-dancer and “B-movie” starlet of such faux screen gems as Three Mystic Eyes, Blood is the Drug and Love From the Shadows. Fritzi has unfeasibly large breasts.

In 2007 Hernandez “adapted” one of those trashy movies as the graphic novel Chance in Hell – although Fritzi only had a bit part in it – but here he places her fully at centre stage in an incredible crime-caper of cross and double-cross that works astoundingly well as a gritty, grimy hard-boiled pulp fiction thriller.

Generation X waster Wes has a dream of singing in his own rock club. His dirt-bag drug peddler pal Dewey Booth has $200 grand and isn’t stupid enough to share it. Nala was a stage magician before she took to hooking and she knows her incredible body won’t last forever.

They’re all doing a cautious dance with Dewey’s cash as the prize when hard-as-nails grifter Vincene shows up and the plot starts to boil over. Wes knows Vincene from long ago: she once kidnapped Nala and stole her car and stage act and Dewey isn’t nearly as dumb as everybody thinks he is…

This explosive mix won’t end well and the big question is: after all the bodies and collateral damage is sorted out who’s going to get the dough and who’s going to get bodybags?

Raw, gripping and thoroughly engaging, this perfect pastiche of the genre still has Hernandez’s signature brash sexuality, clever dialogue and sly elements of rock and roll surrealism to elevate it above the vast body of such fiction, and straight crime fans will enjoy this as much as any Palomar devotee. Every adult who loves the Big Thrill should snap this up immediately…

© 2009 Gilbert Hernandez. All rights reserved.