Review of God and Science: Return of the Ti-Girls
Hernandez, Jaime. God and Science: Return of the Ti-Girls. Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2012. 136 pp. $19.99.
Jaime Hernandez's God and Science: Return of the Ti-Girls reprints the superhero serial originally published in Love and Rockets: New Stories vols. 1 and 2, with an additional thirty pages added to the narrative. The subtitle is a bit misleading: the Ti-Girls do "return" within the diegetic world of Jaime's Locas stories, but readers are familiar with them as comic book characters from an obscure series published by "Cooperman Comics" and collected by Maggie Chascarillo. In this story, the Ti-Girls come out of retirement to help defeat the threat of a now-super-powered Penny Century. Rival superteam the Fenomenons pursue Penny as well, and Jaime fleshes out a long history of female superheroes in this world. Though the concept of superheroes has appeared in the Locas stories from time to time, God and Science marks Jaime's longest sustained superhero narrative and signals a turning point in the series as well.
Though readers have not seen the Ti-Girls, the Fenomenons, or most of the other female heroes before this story—outside of Maggie's comics—several members of the team will look familiar to readers. Espectra, for example, seems to be an older version of Maggie's pro wrestler cousin, Xochitl Navas (Maggie even comments on the resemblance). Android hero Cheetah Torpeda had previously appeared as a superhero in Jaime's "Rocky and Fumble" stories, and her name was also used for the strip club where Vivian "Frogmouth" Solis works. And Space Queen is an integral part of Ray Dominguez's fantasy sex life. Alarma, a member of the Fenomenons, has been a semi-regular character in the series since 2002, and Maggie's long-running suspicion that Alarma may be a superhero initiates this story's plot.
As a superhero narrative, God and Science also emerges as a love-letter to the comics of the so-called "Silver Age" that Jaime and his brothers grew up with. The influence of Silver Age creators like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko—normally in evidence with Jaime's art—appears stronger here. And due to that Silver Age influence, the plot resists easy summarization. Story logic and basic physics are suspended here: Penny develops convenient new powers seemingly at random, vast distances through space are travelled in mere moments, conflicts are resolved with convenient memory wipes, and even Santa Claus appears to serve as deus ex machina toward the story's conclusion. In fact, characters often make the metatextual comment, "Who can figure comics?" to explain away some of the stranger occurrences. Additionally, Maggie comments on the fact that Penny never seems to age over the course of the series, as if she were a character cut out from a comics page.
Most significant, through God and Science, Jaime also offers an alternative comics history dominated by female superheroes who all develop powers through a natural "gift" that all women share, but only some get to see develop into superpowers. The history of these female superheroes goes back to the 1950s, and it is as convoluted as any of the superhero comics with sixty years of continuity behind them. This alternative history makes a strong comment on gender roles in superhero comics: women are the natural superheroes of this universe, while men have to get their powers externally, through scientific accidents or pure luck.
God and Science resolves several ongoing subplots in the Locas series. We find out that Angel's talents at nearly every sport she tries are the result of her "gift" of superpowers. In several recent episodes, Maggie, Hopey, and others have questioned the nocturnal behavior of Alarma, Maggie's mysterious neighbor. Their suspicions that Alarma may be a costumed crimefighter are confirmed. But most significant, this volume resolves Penny Century's decades-long pursuit of superpowers—a pursuit that led her to marry the superrich Herv Costigan and, in this story, to offer her unborn child to the sorcerer Vakka Boome in exchange for supernatural abilities.
Of the thirty pages Jaime has added to this collection, some have significant impact on the thirty-year history of the Locas series. In particular, Jaime provides a new five-page coda that establishes Penny Century's revised status in the world of Locas. Penny's quest for powers, and the general chaos that she brings into the lives of her friends, may no longer affect those friends, and her entire presence in these characters' lives seems to have been wiped from their memories. When read in the light of Jaime's outstanding recent stories, particularly "The Love Bunglers" and "Browntown," that coda, and the collection as a whole, gives a sense that Jaime has purged the fantastic elements from the series in order to pave the way for the emotional impact of those new stories, which themselves seem to resolve many longstanding subplots. Jaime has always established Locas as a flexible world in which supernatural, science fiction, and fantastic elements can mingle comfortably alongside the realistic drama of Maggie, Hopey, and Ray D.'s lives.
It is too early to speculate on what Jaime has in store for the future of Locas, but with the finality of this story's conclusion, it certainly feels like this is not only the return of the Ti-Girls, but the final appearance of them as well. In fact, all of the Locas stories that have appeared in Love and Rockets: New Stories give the sense that the series has entered a significant turning point, where Jaime is wrapping up long-term plots and the main characters are moved into a stable status quo as they enter middle-age: Maggie finally owns her own garage; she and Ray D. are now together; and Hopey is now a mother in a stable relationship with her partner. As a result, readers who have followed these characters for decades are now receiving payoffs to their dedication.