by Michael Stock, Sina Grace, and Tamra Bonvillain
The title for this new series from Image Comics has enough of an obvious connection to the fabled Pandora’s Box that it could almost push readers away from the series. Sometimes these puns and connections are too forced and can dissuade readers from giving a book a shot. Here though, Michael Stock has a clever and charming first issue in a series that looks to be fun and intriguing with an endearing cast of characters. Penny and her mom are instantly likable in this first issue. Paired with quality art from Sina Grace and Tamra Bonvillain, Penny Dora is a solid first chapter.
Stock introduces readers to the town that Penny and her mother reside in. Grace depicts a layout of a perfectly gridded neighborhood as Stock explains that every aspect of this area was predetermined, calculated and accounted for. It is a familiar setting, but Stock manages to give it some character as he explains that the only way the houses differ is through their mailboxes. Sina Grace depicts a group of various mailboxes including a rather impractical but fun mailbox that looks like a cookie jar. With this type of familiar introduction, it would seem as though Stock was layering on the mundane only to explain that the protagonist, Penny, was the one anomaly that existed in the town. But Stock avoids this trope, and instead dives right into the family inside. It’s near Christmas, and Penny cannot wait for the day to arrive. A ten year old girl, Penny lives with her mom and the early scenes with her do a fantastic job of introducing readers to the personality of the lead character. An unmarked, but fully wrapped present arrives on her doorstep days before the holiday, and Penny adds it to the pile by the tree, waiting until the holiday to open it.
Stock’s capturing of Penny and her mom is impressive. There are no real in-depth conversations or events that transpire over the first two-thirds of the book. However, off-hand mentions of Penny’s father, her interests, and the general interactions between her and her mother are all fantastic moments. Stock’s writing of a second round to the Christmas present unwrapping and the heart-warming scene that follows were the tip of this caliber of writing. Sina Grace and Tamra Bonvillain do well to carry the story throughout these routine events. At times, the art feels a bit sparse and a majority of the pages leave panels arranged over a mostly empty, and often times white background. While the individual panels are well crafted, these overall page constructions do feel a bit thin at times. Grace shies away from heavy, strong ink lines. Instead, the final product to the art style here is a bit looser and scratchier. It provides a nice characterization through the art, and helps add a bit to these sequences. Likewise, Bonvillain’s colors match the art style and writing of this standard town and its routine interactions between mom and daughter. Bonvillain’s color palette is simplistic, but rightly so, and the combination of Bonvillain and Grace is a good pairing.
Once Penny invites her friend, Elizabeth, over to hang out and share with her the items she received on Christmas day, the tension and anticipation for what may be in this mystery box rises. Penny, having opened the unmarked package to find an old, and empty, wooden chest, attempts to hide the box. Having been instructed to discard it, as it was likely junk, Penny soon discovers the box has a lot more to it. When Elizabeth finds the box and attempts to open it, the following pages of Penny frantically trying to stop this action and separate Elizabeth from the box are well crafted. Stock’s writing and the art to go with it make for a great series of panels in the first issue. While the conclusion of the first issue is one that is mostly comedy, the creative team behind Penny Dora have teased the series well enough in its opening chapter. It is certainly going to be fun to see what lies ahead.