Penny Century (1997) #4

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After the last issue’s full-length feature, creator Jaime Hernandez is back to the Penny Century anthology feel with this issue. The issue has two narrative arcs, split over five strips (plus a color strip and then another “To Be Announced”). The first and last strips are single-pagers, bookending and tying the arcs together neatly.

The comic opens with a very naked Penny Century hanging out at Isabel’s house in Hoppers. Since we last saw Isabel in the present, she’s shrunk back down to regular size; Penny comments on the return to normal but not how it happened. Penny’s invited herself to Isabel’s to be a houseguest while she deals with a personal crisis. Only it took her a week to mention the crisis to Isabel; otherwise, they’ve just been watching TV and drinking wine, with Penny walking around naked all the time.

Much to the neighborhood men’s delight (and embarrassment).

There are some ties to last issue’s flashback to Isabel’s childhood, like Isabel now living in the sort of haunted house and it turning out Penny grew up, for a while, in that house, something Isabel didn’t mention in her flashback sum up. While the series doesn’t seem connected, it’s always connected, whether through express detail or visual cues.

The first strip—the one-pager—has Penny inexplicably setting out a bottle of wine. It seems like Jaime’s making an art observation about certain parts of her anatomy having lines similar to a wine glass. Or martini glass. The wine bottle gets explained later, and it’s a great detail, but it’s a very peculiar opening.

The second story is one of the features. It’s ostensibly a Hopey story, only it opens with Negra suffering through mom Norma’s latest party. Jaime does reveal—thankfully—Norma’s shithead boyfriend is less a danger than a dunce. Hopey’s bartending, and she’s getting the guests too drunk, Negra’s sick of her mom sucking up to rich people, and Norma’s having a personal crisis of her own. Sort of. I mean, she’s having a personal crisis, but it’s not exactly her own.

In fact, it’ll turn out to be very similar to Penny’s crisis.

After the party, Hopey’s got to figure out a ride home, and Maggie’s not around. Has anyone seen Maggie since the possible ghoul in her back seat two issues ago? Unclear. It’s a six-page story and excellent.

Then it’s another naked Penny and Isabel story. Isabel is apparently down for the nudism, except when they have to go to the grocery store for more wine. Penny reluctantly gets dressed but only barely. This story is where she talks to Izzy about her crisis, their history with the house, and so on. It’s an excellent Izzy and Penny story; it just happens to technically be six pages of nude good girl art by Jaime.

The “To Be Announced” strip is next; it’s a page about Lil’ Ray fighting tree elves who maybe stole his ice cream. It’s weird, slight, and short enough. The weird makes up for the slight.

The next strip is the adult Ray story, which is the longest feature at seven pages. It takes place the night of the issue’s day, with a bummed out Ray falling for a stripper who doesn’t know he exists, then helping out Negra and a friend; they’re stranded thanks to no gas. The story also has Ray discovering Hopey’s in L.A. and potentially Maggie, which probably made the story read longer than the seven pages because—confession time—my greatest fear for Penny Century is Jaime getting Ray and Maggie back together. Because Ray, as this story—where he narrates–confirms, is a dick.

He could be a lot worse, obviously, and he behaves well with the teenage girls, but his rumination’s on how he’s been wronged by the women in his life… nope. It’s particularly strange because there’s so much less self-awareness than in his first story of the series when we found out about his almost life-long obsession with Penny. Not to mention their occasional booty calls.

It’s a good story, some great art, incredible storytelling from Jaime. But damn, I hope Ray keeps his toxic ass away from the Locas.

There’s an interesting nod to another of the series’s strips, “Space Girl.” Jaime introduced Space Girl and her nemesis, Cheetah Torpeda, in the Color Special and then brought the characters along here; Ray’s strip club of choice is called Cheetah Torpeda, and Space Girl is one of his other childhood crushes, it turns out. Jaime’s also got a few references to brother Beto’s works in this issue. Such a lovely tapestry.

The last black-and-white strip is the one-page conclusion to the main arc, with Penny and Izzy having another talk about her crisis. It’s simultaneously genial and haunting, even before Jaime announces a milestone in the Love and Rockets lore.

The color strip brings back party girl Mini Rivero, who Jaime also introduced in Color Special. It’s a crossover strip with Space Girl. It’s a quick bit of fun.

My personal fears for the soap opera story aside… it’s an excellent comic. Jaime’s firing on all cylinders.

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