“Episode Four: Disappearing Acts” is the fourth issue of Penny Palabras, and the most straightforward so far. There’s still mystery, but the mood is less astral, and more down to earth. We’re thrown immediately into the “real world” effects of being haunted, as the wickedly smart Penny is expelled from school. It’s hard to keep up straight A’s and make it to class on time when a Straw Man torments you day and night. Last issue gave us a bit of a break from the antagonists, and for a moment almost had a sense of wonder, with its musings on time and strong white backgrounds, but issue four is dour, and drags poor Penny back into a charcoal hell.
“Aim for the phone poles Mom, aim for the phone poles.”
We haven’t seen Penny this low before, toying with fairy tales of both the best and worst case scenarios in her mind, only stalling herself for time before she tearfully accepts the truth – she has to leave. As a huge fan of superheroes I’m used to characters keeping secrets, lying to and distancing themselves from those they love to protect them, but there are no capes here, just a persevering young girl functioning on coffee and nicotine.
She is not without allies though. She has a friend in the ghost of her old librarian, who helps her in some big ways. The first almost seems too good to be true. While Penny was packing her things, the Ghost Librarian fortified an old home, supposedly her old home, with powerful incantations meant to dissuade any supernatural intruder. Even the Librarian herself can’t risk crossing the fence. It’s a great gift that really has things looking up for Penny. Now Penny Palabras has never been an action-packed series in the comic hero slugfest sense, but this is the site of the fastest hitting scene in the series so far. For four pages, this quiet little tale is mayhem. The Straw Man, defying all odds, crosses the yard with ease, getting a hand on Penny so quickly she can’t even pull the Spectacular Revolver in time. We often see only the evidence of his deeds, or hear about them later, so to see him so ever-present in this episode is harrowing. Before he can do any more evil, the Ghost Librarian intervenes, crossing the boundary, and (sacrificing herself, I assume) springs whatever trap she set, zapping them both away.
Visually, the series has never been one to skimp on the details, with shadows of hair on faces, or creases in clothing for example. The visual artist puts just enough touch on it to keep it realistic without losing its individual aesthetic. The extra splotches of lightness between the harder lines become a bit distracting in this issue though. They’re always there to some extent, but this time around they almost feel over-compensatory in a way. It also increases the out of focus doppelganger effect (as I’ve lovingly been calling it) where at times characters seem to have a spirit about to jump out of their skin. Maybe that’s an intentional reflection on the line about us all being ghosts, in a way. As I mentioned earlier this installment hits the darker shades and borders harder, pulling you into a grimmer tone vs. the extra white in last issue, and it’s extraordinarily effective, but I wonder how many more tricks they have up their sleeves to keep the diversity up. Questioning the future doesn’t impact the issue in the present though, and we have two more issues in this series to get our answer.
My rating: 4.5 /5