Saturday, December 17, 2011

Penny Century

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Penny Century (Love & Rockets Maggie Series vol. 4) (Fantagraphics, 2010).

Love & Rockets is the only series that I don't mind purchasing and repurchasing in multiple editions, although a much, much tighter budget of late has left me far behind with this series. I like the way that Jaime Hernandez's stories read in different configurations. Approaching his little slices of life through flashback or in different sequences lets little details, the sort of which most readers probably miss the first time around, take new shapes and new levels of importance. I really love these paperback editions, about seven and a half by nine, and I even like that the books are unnumbered. This is probably the only book series about which I'll ever say such a thing.

Design nerd that I am, Jacob Covey's packaging on these books is so incredibly appealing, and it honestly doesn't matter in which order people read them. The stories certainly move forward, but at the same time making several looks back. When the two-part "Election Day" climaxes with Hopey learning that there has been a big, important development in Maggie's life that she's missed entirely, it's a punch in the gut that gives Hernandez the chance to turn time back and show what happened. He does this better than darn near anybody else in comics.

Although, while I'm on the subject of design, the only failing of these books is not enumerating where these stories originally appeared. I think that these are all the stories from the graphic novel Whoa Nellie!, the one-off comic Maggie and Hopey Color Fun, and the six or seven issues of Penny Century, in which the characters appeared between the two separate volumes of the ongoing Love & Rockets anthology, along with at least one story from a few issues into volume two.

I think that almost all of it was previously reprinted at least twice before, including in the large hardcover Locas II, a celebrated coffee table book which also contained other, later, material. The design nerd in me cares, and I suspect that budget-minded readers who don't wish to duplicate their purchases might want to know. Small, italicized subscript on the table of contents would answer anybody's questions.

You know, Judge Dredd: "Midnight Surfer," originally appeared in progs 424-429. It's not hard.

Anyway, the "Whoa Nellie!" story lets a couple of the series' minor supporting characters take center stage as Hernandez indulges in his fetish of women's wrestling. It's astonishingly well-drawn, and I love the way he chooses to let pages and pages of combat go on without any dialogue or sound effects, focusing exclusively on the fighting. "Maggie and Hopey Color Fun," presented here in black and white, returns to the main characters, apparently several months after the stories at the end of the previous volume in this series, Perla la Loca. There's a brief allusion to Maggie being missed at home, something revealed in greater detail later in the book, but otherwise, things are back to what passes for normal with our heroines. Hopey waits impatienly, but understandingly, for her flighty soulmate to get her shit together, and tempers her hormones in the meantime by trying to break up her brother and his current squeeze.

They remain on the periphery of Penny Century's life, as they attend a pool party thrown by one of billionaire HR Costigan's other ex-wives, Norma. As ever, the cast grows and swells with new additions. Norma and her daughter with Costigan end up on the lam at one point, trying to avoid an army of attorneys and policemen as Costigan hovers near death. Penny drives Maggie's former lover Ray crazy, does Hopey's hair, sends Maggie down a "horror highway," which is precisely where the flighty Maggie doesn't need to drive, and, either to hide out or to help Izzy with her anxieties, she moves in and mandates that they won't wear clothes anymore. We might accuse Hernandez of giving into another fetish in stories like "Inquiritis!," but, with art this nice, who'd be so churlish?

Actually, though, despite the prurient fun of stories like that, my favorite part of the book is the surreal "The Race," in which Maggie finally meets the little beast inside her "that makes ya fuck up every day of yer shit life," and finds herself woefully unable to cope. As ever, there's just a tiny hint of extra-normal fantasy at work in the stories, just enough for readers to accept that there's something very strange over the horizon or in Izzy's psyche, but never enough to overwhelm the wonderful, human reality of these beloved characters. Highly recommended for older readers.

No comments: