Penny Century is the penultimate book in the omnibus series of Jaime Hernandez’s work from before the second run of Love & Rockets; it is all stuff that came out subsequent to the end of the first run, however, and lacks the ongoing narrative coherence of the earlier work. There’s some lovely stuff in here, some great stories, including a women’s wrestling epic (one of his favourite themes) and a childhood story in a more cartoonish, Peanuts influenced style (another recurring Hernandez trope). ‘Whoa Nellie’, the wrestling story, relates the fights with extended, purely visual sequences, a new approach for Hernandez, in which the panel gutters become artfully confused with the ropes of the ring; these sequences of stark, disciplined visual storytelling, as proscribed in subject as in technique, perfectly convey the allegorical drama of the sporting arena, and are the high point of the book for me.
It’s a treat for existing fans to have a new handful of stories concerning their favourite characters, and revealing more of their histories, but I’m not sure I’d necessarily recommend this to anyone else. The book reads more like a collection of disparate pieces than any of the earlier omnibuses, and although Hernandez is by this stage a master storyteller, one of the giant figures of the field, there’s little here that really moved me in the same way as, say, his ‘The Death Of Speedy’, or his brother’s Beyond Palomar book. I loved this book, from cover to cover, but if you’re new to his work, his earlier output is more likely to grab you and hook you.