“Dad,” is a word you read a lot in Paul Pope‘s new graphic novel, “Battling Boy,” published by First Second. Our original hero was Haggard West, the proud dad of Aurora West, and the defender of the City of Acropolis on good ole planet Earth. And then there’s Battling Boy’s dad who is not from anywhere, not anywhere close anyway. As Battling Boy says himself, this is a “place which hangs suspended above the silver spinning lightning cloud.” It’s up to Battling Boy to help save Acropolis, a city under siege by all kinds of monsters. If you’re sensing that this is a way cool superhero story, one with a fresh new energy we could all use more of, then you’d be right.
“Battling Boy” is Paul Pope’s baby and that is exciting news. Paul Pope is the ultimate dad in this graphic novel, yes he is. Some Paul Pope fans just know the guy from his amazing artwork. Other fans just know him from “Batman: Year One Hundred.” And then there are fans, myself included, who have been following his work for years. Pope has always loved the urban, the offbeat, and the other-worldly. His work is immersive, hypnotic, and just plain knock-your-socks-off cool. He loves and respects the comics medium and carries on the tradition of masters like Milton Caniff and Jack Kirby.
Have you ever seen the 1974 Stanley Donen film, “The Little Prince”? It springs to mind when I think of how masterfully Paul Pope has delivered a sense of wonder in this comic, similar to Gene Wilder having us believe he’s a fox–without the aid of even a hint of whisker or fur, just through sheer talent and skill. He just is a fox. That’s the kind of magic we don’t see nearly enough of from superhero comics.
Why should superhero comics, in general, be so predictable? Demographics seem to hold the key, right? Comics most in tune with a formula seem to always sell the best while, in fact, quality has no need for test marketing and never goes out of style. You cannot test market how Gene Wilder conjures up a fox any more than you can test market how Paul Pope conjures up a fox.
Paul Pope has always had that magic touch. He is in tune with his senses and what the reader will enjoy without having to force it. We begin with a bouncing soccer ball in the very first panel of this story. We proceed to see the ball bounce out of sight and one boy being coaxed by his pals to retrieve it. Some more panels in, and we find the boy’s mom calling out for him. We next see the boy and, above him, some odd bits of tattered cloth. Then, just a bit higher, a strange limb comes into view. Finally, a monster sits on a wire above, about to pounce on the boy. What seemed a gradual pace, keeps moving faster.
This monster is part of a gang which is part of a whole network of monsters. Haggard West, a burly figure with an aviator’s cap and an arsenal of gadgets, arrives to save the day. But it will be up to his daughter, Aurora, to live up to his legacy. Later on, we come across a similar scene with a bouncing ball. This time, it’s a fireball and we’re on some other planet. This is where Battling Boy steps in. He is 12 years old, ready for his rites of passage. It has been decided that he will go to planet Earth and save the City of Acropolis from its monsters. It’s a tall order but somehow Battling Boy will need to find a way to do the right thing. It is the sort of story that Paul Pope can tell very well and perhaps one that he will inspire others to tell as well.