Following up Marble Season, his appropriate-for-all-age exploration of childhood, Gilbert Hernandez offers a more literal take on "all-ages," following a quietly rebellious character from bully-challenged boyhood through health-challenged middle age. Though too bleak to recommend to youngsters, this book speaks to teens, though they might not love what it says.
We meet Bobby as a child in the 1960s and leave him as a prematurely hobbled man in the 1980s, but this book is ultimately a melancholy celebration of the teenage years. This is achieved by gloriously lingering on Bobby's high school days, when his confidence and love life peak, and also by reflecting how the defining traits of teendom (rock 'n' rolling, contrarianism, sexuality, parental issues) are lifetime concerns.
While Hernandez's brother Jaime has been doing remarkable work bringing closure to the characters he introduced decades ago in the siblings' revered Love and Rockets comic, Gilbert is doing stunning work with fresh scenarios. Bumperhead features disheartening reflections on aging, loneliness, family, failure and mental illness, but also celebrates survival, resiliency and the power of punk rock.
One of the signatures of the brothers Hernandez has been a sprinkling of Marquez-style magical realism, and this time that comes in the form of an iPad that receives Internet from the future. The characters accept this wonder matter-of-factly, another reason this book captures teenhood: Kids that age are hard to impress.