Saturday, May 19, 2007

Chicanos #5

Chicanos #5, March 2006, IDW Publishing
writer: Carlos Trillo
artist: Eduardo Risso
translator: Zelijko Medic
letterer: Tom B. Long
editor: Kris Oprisko

Before I realized that Free Comic Book Day was on May 5th this year, I picked up Chicanos #5 to read on that day, otherwise known as Cinco de Mayo, for obvious reasons. Two weeks later, I'm finally reading this beautifully illustrated issue (which is a given with Eduardo Risso's name on the cover), yet from the standpoint of its story, Chicanos is not what I expected. To utilize a saying that could easily connection this review to its intended ethnic connections, I judged this book by its cover, depicting an . . . angry gentleman swinging a baseball bat with off-panel bloody repercussions. So, I thought this book was about the Mexican mafia or something, a Spanish Sopranos, perhaps. Just like when I picked up this issue, and found myself reading ten days' worth of FCBD material in its stead, boy, was I misdirected!

This issue of Chicanos is about a mousy detective that recollects her investigative origins as a young neighborhood snoop, and though her intentions were innocent enough, her gossipy mother used the information she acquired against the community, resulting in some pretty violent consequences. That baseball bat beating on the cover, for example, was the result of two neighbors mutually discovering that they were each sleeping with the others' wife. In another instance, a father shoots his daughter's boyfriend before they ran away to elope, as our makeshift Encyclopedia Brown (whose name is Alejandrina, by the way) overheard them planning. In the last circumstance, she follows her very father to a whorehouse, after which his wife smashes his legs so he could never leave the house again. While this first half of the issue spotlights a Hispanic community, the social plague of gossip is a universal phenomenon by no means tethered to any given culture, and though the violent aftermath is strangely comical, our heroine's reflections are less Cinco de Mayo and more Personal History Month -- which May is, for those keeping track.

Interestingly, after Alejandrina's recollections, another story effectively begins, unless writer Carlos Trillo simply decided to abandon one train of thought with this character hastily to pursue another. The result is less choppy than one might suspect, and in the second half, Alejandrina's friend Marita tries to shake her out of a self-depreciating funk by encouraging the mousy detective to adopt a stronger image. Such an opportunity presents itself when Alejandrina suffers from a purse-snatching, but surprisingly she chases down the mugger and slugs him -- a bold move, but not entirely effective, as he pulls a knife and is shot by a passer-by cop just in time. Unfortunately, despite her status as a private eye, Alejandrina's is arrested for the pistol in her purse, diminishing that fleeting moment of self-confidence. Oh, her stint in custody is brief thanks to Marita's producing her gun permit, but her affinity toward the female cop that arrested our weak-kneed gumshoe is indicative of Alejandrina's shaky luck. Really, everyone around her seems to hit gold except her, and that's how this issue ends. I hope Trillo revisits this character if only to give her a happy ending! By offering her humble origins and a look into the challenges of her young adult life, Trillo manages to invest his readers rather quickly, and these characters are commonplace enough to remain believable, if not completely sympathetic. Well done.

As a succinct look into Alejandrina's life, Chicanos #5 is a very satisfying self-contained yarn that entertains visually and emotionally, just as a good comic book should. I didn't need to read the previous issues to dig it, though I would certainly read them now. I particularly enjoy this series' title logo, with a magnifying glass lens as the "o" in "chicano," a notably original element for a cover that just reprints an interior panel. Nevertheless, as a self-proclaimed lesson in a different culture, like most lessons in different cultures, the real thematic drives here offer insight into the whole of humanity. Sometimes, the greatest mystery is simply trying to discover who we are!

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