Penny Century (1997) #5

Penny Century 05

This issue’s distinctly creator Jaime Hernandez’s work, but some of the moves he makes remind entirely of brother Beto’s.

The first strip, for example, is a first-person one-pager about Ray getting in a social faux pas at a party. Jaime shows half of Ray’s face in a reflection; otherwise, it could easily be an autobiographical sketch, something Beto’s done in the past.

But the bigger Beto-esque surprise comes in the Locas feature, which Jaime splits into two parts. Most of the comic (except the Ray opener) is set soon after H.R. Costigan’s funeral. He died at the end of last issue, and this issue catches us up with everything since. Sort of.

The feature starts with Hopey waking up and volunteering at her local polling center. There’s a quick introduction to the other poll workers, and Hopey, wearing her sunglasses inside all day, contrasts them nicely. It’s slice of life stuff, right up until Maggie shows up to visit Hopey. Maggie mentions Hopey’s roommate—who called to her off-page at the story’s start, but who we’ve never met. Jaime will be introducing a lot of people we haven’t met, but the characters all know in this story….

Hopey tells Maggie all about Costigan’s strange funeral, where she was the only person from the comic. Neither widow Penny nor ex-wife Norma nor daughter Negra is at the funeral with Hopey.

The visit is tense—Hopey’s mad Maggie didn’t go with her to the funeral, but Penny hadn’t actually told Maggie about the funeral (or going with Hopey)—and Hopey goes back inside to listen to platitudes from the normies. She’s clearly in a very bad mood.

Jaime finishes the strip with a somewhat bewildering “Concluded in this issue” tag. Where he’s going to go with it is a big surprise.

But, first, he catches up with Norma and Negra. They’re on a road trip through the desert, staying at crappy motels, eating junk food, and actually bonding. It’s the first time Jaime’s really shown Norma as a loving mom; usually, she’s more concerned with her newly acquired wealth and wealthy friends, but here she and Negra are away from all that noise.

Except, of course, Norma has taken them on this impromptu road trip to keep the estate lawyers away from Negra. She’s H.R. Costigan’s daughter, after all, and her whole life is about to change.

The strip also establishes Negra never even met Costigan, which explains why he never mentioned her in Love and Rockets proper. I think.

Also—I forgot—we get some backstory on Costigan; Hopey and Maggie overhear the poll workers talking Costigan trivia, going back to World War II. It’s interesting as Costigan’s been a Love and Rockets character since the first issue, and Jaime’s taken years to reveal the backstory; heck, it took him years to reveal the horns weren’t demonic.

After the Norma and Negra strip, it’s back to Locas, starting with Maggie (and readers) finally getting to meet Guy Goforth, the big oaf who’s trying to romance Hopey. They all go for donuts on Hopey’s break, which leads to Maggie teasing Hopey about her suitor. And then Hopey loses it, unloading on Maggie.

During the barrage, we find out something about what happened a few issues ago with Maggie’s nightmare drive and her imagined (or not, still unclear) stalker, but also how she’s been ghosting Hopey since and Penny’s been their information go-between.

Penny’s always present in Penny Century while rarely being on-page.

Hopey’s day of work ends with a ride home from the poll supervisor (so she doesn’t need Maggie’s offered ride and proverbial olive branch) and the introduction of her roommate. Visually, no names. The roommate turns out to be a character from the comic’s opening strip, the Ray one-pager, so while Ray, Hopey, and Maggie are all in the same physical location, they keep missing each other.

Penny calls and dishes to Hopey about everything going on with Maggie, which includes shocking information for everyone—reader and Hopey alike—leading to an old-school bonding scene between the two of them. Except Jaime’s just revealed their entire relationship since Love and Rockets ended is different than what he’d been implying. It’s a stunner of a reveal, so big one of the supporting cast even comments on it.

It’s a turbulent strip—the second part is eight pages, and Jaime got like four major dramatic moments—and a really good one. Great art, especially on Hopey, who has lots of visual reactions to the events unfolding, often with the sunglasses obscuring her expressions.

Then we finally get a Penny appearance, which is an almost Watchmen, Doctor Manhattan on the moon riff. Or it might just be a Doctor Manhattan on the moon riff featuring a couple surprise costars for Penny. Great good girl art from Jaime.

The back cover color strip is a Lil’ Ray outing; nuclear bomb drills. It’s a fun, quick, but haunting strip.

It’s a humdinger of an issue, with a humdinger of a reveal. Penny Century’s been unexpected as far as content to this point, but it’s never been so wildly unpredictable. If it were any other comic, it might be cause for apprehension, but with Jaime, it’s cause for (perhaps cautious) enthusiasm.

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