Penny Century (1997) #2

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Penny Century didn’t appear in Penny Century #1 (at least, not in the present action), but this issue starts with her. It’s a direct follow-up to last issue, with Penny—who seems to have a beauty salon somewhere between L.A. and Hoppers—getting Hopey gussied up. It’s a one-page strip, followed by the further adventures of Ray in Hollywood.

The Ray story flashes back to his tween-age years in Hoppers when he hung out with older kids one summer and helped them break into houses. In the present, someone’s broken into Ray’s apartment and made off with his TV and laundry money, so his reminiscence has some immediate context.

It’s a quick story—four pages, opening with Ray’s staccato narration about his day—and foreshadows how creator Jaime Hernandez will be doing a lot with blacks this issue. There are some nighttime panels (in the flashback), and Jaime does a glorious job with shadows.

He also doesn’t try to make Ray particularly likable. He ends up being more likable than the least likable characters this issue, but Jaime’s not sugar-coating the character.

The next strip is another one-pager, with Li’l Ray playing with the television dial and discovering the UHF setting. It’s a cute strip in how it ties into the TV from grown Ray’s story, but also showing him in his more innocent days, not breaking and entering. Like the last issue, the strip’s called “To Be Announced,” Jaime’s establishing some regulars in the anthology format.

The feature story is next, and it’s very irregular, however. It reminds a lot of that first issue of Love and Rockets, which has a haunted house story (later revealed to be an Izzy story).

It starts as a regular Locas strip, with Maggie joining Penny and Hopey in the beauty shop to see how fixed up Penny’s got Hopey. Maggie’s got to drive home alone, and Penny tells her to take a “haunted highway,” leading to some teasing and good humor before the actual car trip.

Jaime writes it with that second-person narration he used for Maggie’s story last issue, with the narration directly engaging her in conversation and questioning her decisions. Only it’s not cute and comedic; it’s Maggie having a lengthy panic attack as she freaks out about being in possible danger. Jaime draws it like a Hitchcock movie (shades of Marion Crane), and it’s phenomenally effective stuff.

Especially since the ending’s a cliffhanger.

The story’s also almost entirely at night, so Jaime does a lot with inky blacks. It’s a beautifully illustrated story; Jaime’s visual pacing is perfect.

Then there’s another one-pager. A snowman wants to borrow an umbrella from his friend, a groundhog. It’s a funny, seven-panel strip, done entirely for laughs (or smiles). Though Jaime does love his shadows in it.

The next strip stars Negra and her mom, Norma; it’s the first time we’ve gotten to see how Norma treats Negra when there aren’t witnesses, and it’s not great. Negra’s in a fairly bad, borderline but quickly approaching that line abusive. It’s three pages, and literally half of it is disturbing.

The penultimate story’s a four-pager about what Hopey and Penny were getting together to go and do. Izzy’s got a book signing in Hoppers, and they’re going to be supportive. Plus, Izzy wrote a whole chapter about when she and Hopey did peyote, and Hopey burned down a liquor store.

Izzy showed up in Maggie’s story in flashback (kid Izzy scares kid Maggie with stories). It nicely ties in with the opening strip; Jaime does a great job fracturing the narrative but never gets too far away from it the proverbial plot.

Turns out Izzy’s so nervous about the reading—and real success as a writer—she’s having a physiological reaction. Hopey doesn’t think it’s funny, but Penny finds the whole thing hilarious, leading to some great banter and a nice couple of punchlines.

The strip’s strange (including a cherub-like child with an adult’s intellect), with Jaime doing some creative panel composition to include the cast. It’s a good finish.

Except there’s also another color strip on the back cover. Space Girl—who we met in the Maggie and Hopey Color Special—bitching to her bartender about not being compensated for her super-heroics. Sci-fi good girl art with a twist. It doesn’t relate to anything in the comic itself, but it’s a good style preview.

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