Again, creator Jaime Hernandez completely surprises with Penny Century. The content, anyway; the quality is always a safe bet.
This issue is set in summer 1966, in Hoppers, where Isabel is a little kid whose best friend is going to Mexico for the summer, and she’s got nothing to do. Thanks to older sister Chabela’s boyfriend not liking babies, Isabel finds herself taking over Chabela’s babysitting duties. The baby in question? One Margarita Luisa Chascarillo, whose still young enough to be carried, but toddler enough to walk around on her own with some agency.
Real quick–seeing as how Jaime’s set the characters in time, it’ll be interesting to see how he addresses them aging as adults. This story, Home School, is done in a style similar to the “Lil’ Ray” strips Jaime started in Love and Rockets (and has continued in Century). It’s got a lot of Peanuts energy, and it works beautifully here, the first time a girl’s gotten the spotlight.
Isabel initially finds Maggie (she’s still Perlita at this age) incredibly annoying and bullies her, similar to how Chabela bullies Isabel. Jaime never makes the comparison too direct, instead letting the behaviors echo across the relationships. Of course, things change for both pairs of girls as Isabel discovers being cruel isn’t worth the reward, and Chabela realizes life doesn’t revolve around her shitty boyfriend.
At least, not when there’s a child in trouble.
While the overarching story is about Isabel growing up over this particular summer and taking responsibility for someone else (forever, as regular readers know), there are also some great subplots running throughout. First is Isabel’s smoking. With no one to hang out with, she hides out in the dugout at the park and smokes squares.
Second is the neighborhood white owl, which Chabela convinces her was sent by witches to curse one of the neighbor ladies. Isabel spends her nights petrified as the owl hoots.
It’s a fantastic story. Jaime tells it so breezily I was shocked when it was the only story in the issue. It seemed like a feature, sure, but not the whole issue. There are some great sequences as Isabel and Perlita go from contentious to comrade, and lots of great action.
Other than the general style touches to compare to Peanuts (including a scared under-the-bed panel I’m not sure was ever close to being in a Peanuts but is very much the vibe), Jaime doesn’t do anything to tell the story like a three or four-panel newspaper strip. Instead, it’s far looser, with the passage of time sometimes just being told in Isabel’s changed outfits.
Again, it’s a particularly great comic in an already particularly great series. Jaime outdoes himself.
There’s a single page Ray comic in the color, back page “To Be Announced” strip. He’s having nightmares about someone in his apartment—suggesting the robbery last issue affected him more than narration suggested—and then the punchline actually ties into Maggie’s ghoul from last issue too.
Visually, at least. It’s a good, scary enough little horror strip, but the issue-length feature could cover it even if it weren’t any good. It’s such a good feature.