Amparo Uribe is not a cat person. Then again, you probably wouldn’t be either, if a talking cat stole your life and your very name, before trapping you in a fantastic otherworld where humans exist only at the whims of a capricious, animalistic populace.
Surviving in the strange “Bright World” isn’t Amparo’s only problem though – the felonious feline in question is also living Amparo’s life better than Amparo ever did, improving on their grades at school, repairing the strained relationship with Amparo’s family, and worst of all, putting moves on the beautiful Iolanthe. But how can Amparo make it back to the real world when they don’t even know their own name – and will anyone even want them back now there’s a ‘better’ Amparo in their place?
This is the core conflict at the heart of Stan Stanley’s The Hazards of Love – Book 1: Bright World, a beguiling dark fantasy centred on the genderqueer troublemaker Amparo, collecting Stanley’s original webcomic in print for the first time. Or at least, it all starts out that way – the series eventually expands into a sprawling epic spanning years and involving multiple characters, spanning both worlds, and delving into a richly detailed and mythologically inspired universe.
This first volume is very much focussed on Amparo’s arrival in Bright World though, initially finding themself working for socialite Miss Mimi, before falling under the control of El Ciervo – a deer-shaped void who claims to be a doctor, but whose medical credentials are highly suspect. Renamed Fawn by Ciervo, Amparo struggles to learn the rules of their new reality, while seeking some way home.
Yet even before being mystically transported to a bizarre world where humans are at the bottom of the social ladder, Amparo is struggling to find a place for themselves. A Latinx teen from Jackson Heights in Queens, Amparo is used to being written off by the adults around them, few if any of whom know how to deal with them. Refreshingly though, that mostly seems to be because they’re too smart for their own good, prone to speaking and acting without care for consequences, rather than outright discrimination for their gender identity.
That sharpness is Amparo’s defining trait though, be it dealing with school faculty on Earth or the almost totemic creatures in Bright World. Whether they remember their name or not, Amparo remains wickedly quick-witted – if foul-mouthed – and able to talk their way out of trouble more often than not. The Hazards of Love is “heavily influenced by the ephermera of the Mexico in which Stan grew up” (per the creator bio), but it’s also clear the power of myth and story plays a huge part too – the idea of the cunning human outsmarting the gods is a timeless narrative in mythlology, and one that Stanley cleverly leans into, manipulates, and even sometimes subverts here.
There’s also a sense of Alice in Wonderland at work here, not so much in the obvious matter of Amparo being trapped in another reality, but in the way Stanley uses twisted, nonsensical logic to explain the rules of Bright World. At one point, El Ciervo tells Amparo that while there’s no chance for them to return home, of course cats (like the one who sent Amparo to Bright World) can cross between worlds – they’re cats, after all, and that’s reason enough. Similarly, the economy of Bright World is largely centred on human memories and fragments of souls being used as currency, and a clever barterer can walk away with a person’s very existence.
The most striking element of The Hazards of Love is Stanley’s art, which brilliantly parallels the mundanity of Earth with the heightened reality of Bright World. With Amparo one of few humans in Bright World, readers are treated to backgrounds and crowd scenes filled with delightful and terrifying creatures tapping into Mexican and Latin American folklore – anthropomorphic chupacabras, serpents, quasi-deities, demonic figures, and more. It’s a feast for the eyes, and with the series collected here in colour for the first time, even more so – the strangeness of the otherworld pops from the page in a myriad of vibrant hues.
For all the weirdness though, at its heart this is a love story, and one rooted deeply in queer identities. Iolanthe in particular is on a journey of her own, going from unsure if she “swings in [Amparo’s] general direction” to being the only person close enough to them to realise they had been replaced. Iolanthe’s growing comfort in her sexuality is accompanied by significant growth from the quiet, sheltered library girl readers first meet, and it’s a joy to behold. While the webcomic roots lead to some pacing irregularities – the online version updates twice weekly, and that cadence can still be felt in page transitions at times, particularly early on – The Hazards of Love pulls readers into its compelling, strange reality as easily as Amparo is pulled into Bright World.
The Hazards of Love – Book 1: Bright World is published by Oni Press. On Sale 30 March 2021.