Review of

Written: 15 February, 1999

The new issue of Jaime Hernandez's Penny Century came out this month! I thought that the previous issue (#3), was the best comic issue released in 1998, so this new issue had a lot to live up to! Actually, I didn't expect it to live up to #3, since #3 was a full-length tale drawn in a different style (more like "Peanuts") while #4 seemed to be similar in style to #1 and #2, consisting of short pieces about Negra, her mom & her mom's boyfriend, and Ray. (By the way, what did I like best about #3? That it was more complex and literary than it appeared. It looked like a Harvey comic at first glance, but was filled with interesting bits like the owl in the tree, and raw realism like the abusive way the children were treated. It can be analyzed because its deep, but it still looks and reads like a fun comicbook, so fun that it's hard to put the comic down!)

Okay, now for #4: First of all, the art as usual is stupendously good. Jaime is a master of comics art. In my opinion, he's the finest artist in comics today who is working on a regular (albeit infrequent) series. Check out all these varied characters and how wonderfully they are depicted/defined. My favorite page art-wise this issue may be page 5 (aka page 4of "Loser Leave Oxnard"): great first panel with a beautiful Hopey looking over her shoulder at the sound of a crash, panel 3 with Hopey peering in curious upon Negra's mom (who apparently threw something through a window), final panel with a concerned Hopey walking away as Negra's mom calls for her (again, the words/sounds drift off the panel edge). (This scene comes out even better on second and subsequent readings. On a first reading, the reader is as confused as Hopey is. The dying person, we learn later, is H. R. Costigan.)

Whoops, then I turn the page and see several more panels with great Hopey renderings! Probably the best of these is panel 1 of page 7 (last page of first story) with Hopey sitting on the sidewalk... a feeling of a person simmering, frustrated, trapped where they do not want to be, is evoked from this single image.

Obviously I could go on and on and on about the art in this comic. Not only is it beautiful by itself, but it compliments and defines the characters and how they are feeling at that particular moment.

Story-wise, here's what happens this issue: Penny is walking around Isabel Rubens' house naked a lot this issue. Izzy is no longer a giant like she was previously. Hopey is the bartender at Norma's (Negra's mom) party. Norma fires Hopey for getting her guests drunk. Norma's perverted boyfriend (remember him asking Norma about Negra while he was having sex with Norma in a previous issue?) takes off his clothes and jumps in the pool naked and then pees in the water. (Reaction in this scene is priceless. Norma acts like he's a rebellious child that she madly loves, so she reacts to this with "How could you? Tee hee!" while her guests are disgusted.) The party is ruined and the guests leave, and Norma is in tears (where did her boyfriend go, I wonder?). Hopey needs a ride home and calls Guy Goforth (who remains in silouette or off-panel this issue -- have we seen him before?). The middle story has Penny and Izzy talking in Izzy's house, both naked. Penny's husband, Costigan is dying. A one-pager "To Be Announced" uses those devil men in Hawkman-like costumes that Jaime had drawn on a back cover (I think) around nine years ago! The final story is a Ray story (one hates to project an author's characters onto the author, but Ray's stories are so compelling that I can't help but wonder if he is the author's stand-in for himself in a way). Ray falls in love with a stripper named Velvet, who I assume will become a regular character in future issues. Ray gives Negra and her friend a ride when their car breaks down. Ray sees Hopey and Guy Goforth in Denny's, and it looks like Guy is proposing to Hopey (hopefully we'll get Hopey's version of this story eventually!!). At the end of the issue, Penny leaves for Waxahachie, TX while the news announces that H. R. Costigan has died!

About the cover: This is a great cover. It looks like a mother and daughter posing for a photo on a terrace overlooking a river and small town. It also suggests the kind of portraits that people have had done for centuries -- Da Vinci's Mona Lisa is similarly styled. The terrace suggests an exclusivity, being above things, being removed from the town below. The mother, behind her shades, is beaming happily, while her daughter looks off unsmiling, as if this all means nothing. The shades of their skin are different, amplifying the differences between them, daughter's skin tone being more tan (she's outside more than mother? her skin is an "earth tone"?). Mother is wearing a bikini and high heels while daughter is wearing what could pass for dad's work clothes (white T-shirt, tennis shoes, and dark baggy pants which are such a contrast from the bare legs of mother). Finally, this is all topped off by mother's odd hat: a wide straw-type hat to keep the sun away with flowers in it. (Mom wears the shades and hat to keep the sun off while tanned daughter does not.) The hat also balances the composition nicely; it draws us to their faces. And the whole thing is drawn a beautifully simple style. Check out those arms: totally realistic, but they are basically outlines -- no more detail is needed to make them look more realistic and anatomically accurate. This is a deceptively simple cover full of meaning for those willing to look.

This comic is satisfying on every level: art-wise, story-wise, characterization-wise, simple entertainment-wise, laughs-wise, erotic-wise, mundane-wise (naked Penny & naked Izzy are contrasts of erotic and realistic), literary analysis-wise, etc., etc. There's even super-heroes here!