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Friday, August 30, 2013

Guest Review: Battling Boy by Paul Pope

Release Date: Oct. 8, 2013
Publisher: First Second
Age Group: Middle Grade
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Series: Battling Boy #1
Pages: 208
Buy: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound
Description: Goodreads
The adventure begins in the new graphic novel by comics legend Paul Pope.

Monsters roam through Arcopolis, swallowing children into the horrors of their shadowy underworld. Only one man is a match for them - the genius vigilante Haggard West.

Unfortunately, Haggard West is dead.

Arcopolis is desperate, but when its salvation comes in the form of a twelve-year-old demigod, nobody is more surprised than Battling Boy himself.


Paul Pope’s art is wonderful, that’s the first thing to realize about Battling Boy. The comic has a very unique visual style that is a treat to the eyes. The organic and craggy, yet flowing artwork that is Pope’s signature comes out full force, in direct contrast to much of the mainstream comic’s super polished and sterile look. The artwork has such personality that it gives each character a kind of visual vitality, lodging in your mind.

The characters are at once recognizable and distinct. Haggard West as Arcopolis’s resident hero fighting the good fight against legions of monsters pulled from mythology and popular culture; Battling Boy’s father, a god or hero who resides on a divine techno Asgard and Battling Boy himself, with his honest expressions and youthful outlook.

In his arsenal, Battling Boy has his traveling cloak and magical t-shirts, each with a different animal that allow him to tap into their knowledge and power; from the T-rex to the field mouse, in addition to his invisible credit card and prepaid apartment.

The setting is a continent spanning urban jungle called Arcopolis, under siege by monsters, the classic setup of a new hero inheriting from the old, and the relationship with local authorities, all of it has a fun twist. The mayor and his cabinet are just as concerned about Battling Boy’s PR as they are about the city’s monster problem, setting up a parade and a float with Miss Teen Arcopolis while Aurora, Haggard West’s daughter, isn’t too keen on her father suddenly being supplanted by some new upstart.

The ideas that make up the story come from established comic conventions to give a basis and structural support for the story but are infused with a sincerity and vigor often absent from modern versions. Battling Boy’s story combines the classic Cambellian “call to adventure” with the origin story of the superhero. Battling Boy is literally just a boy, albeit the son of a god, but his childhood mirrors that of most kids his age and his reluctance to leave home to go live on some alien world is relatable. Thankfully Pope avoids the angst and moping that can be all too common in such a scenario and focuses on the reality. If you were fighting a monster, what would you do? Call Dad! 

The comic subverts the usual narrative of a hero coming into a situation as competent and powerful, what makes it interesting is not that it is a traditional hero story, with the hero just winging it, but that it does not indulge in an ironic or postmodern attitude, becoming a straightforward and earnest take on the idea, which is as refreshing as it is entertaining. 

The story ends on a big cliffhanger as the monsters have struck a decisive blow against Arcopolis; the monsters have figured out Battling Boy’s weakness, Miss Teen Arcopolis has been kidnapped and he has just met up with Aurora. I’m definitely ready for volume 2.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Guest Review: The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth

Release Date: Aug. 27, 2013
Publisher: Graphix
Age Group: Graphic Novel
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Pages: 192
Buy: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound
Description: Goodreads
Some mysteries are too dangerous to leave alone . . .

Nate's not happy about his family moving to a new house in a new town. After all, nobody asked him if he wanted to move in the first place. But when he discovers a tape recorder and note addressed to him under the floorboards of his bedroom, Nate is thrust into a dark mystery about a boy who went missing many, many years ago. Now, as strange happenings and weird creatures begin to track Nate, he must partner with Tabitha, a local girl, to find out what they want with him. But time is running out, for a powerful force is gathering strength in the woods at the edge of town, and before long Nate and Tabitha will be forced to confront a terrifying foe, and uncover the truth about the Lost Boy.

This graphic novel is a well done, slightly haunting childhood adventure; the intro is a fairly standard adolescent lead in about a boy moving to a new town, but the story wastes no time getting started and the mystery begins in earnest as Nate is drawn deep into the mystery behind the disappearance of Walter, the titular “Lost Boy” and the hidden machinations that lurk in the town’s shadows. Strange talking bugs, malevolent foliage and discarded toys begin appearing and give the story an uncanny atmosphere; replicating that feeling of childhood unease where the imagination offers just as much fear as comfort.

The back story unfolds through a series of flashbacks interspersed with the present; jumping between Nate’s present and Walter’s past, it can sometimes take a second to realize which time period the story is in as Nate and Walter appear similar. Each, however, have distinctive clothing that sets them apart and the narrative is tightly bound with the art so you are never lost for long.  

The main characters are the standard workhorses of young adult literature; Nate and Walter being alienated young boys who happen to be the two sides of the same coin while Tabitha is the typical plucky, tomboyish girl next door. Thankfully the dialog is fresh enough that the idea doesn’t feel tired and you are eager to find out where the story is taking these likeable, if not particularly noteworthy, kids. However my favorite characters were the supporting cast; between Haloran, Tom Button and the Baron, they tilt the story into the outskirts of Lovecraft country, and while town is never named, it could easily fit in some sleepy part of New England.

The art fits perfectly with the story, the stark black and white lending a melancholy vibe that compliments the writing. The style appears simple, but the craftsmanship and skill of the Ruth’s illustrations are evident as the emotion and mood of each scene come across crystal clear. The anthropomorphic presentations of creatures like grasshoppers and birds are drawn in a manner that definitely plays up the creep factor, presenting human traits and motivations that are more sinister or at least ambiguous than the usual Disneyesque fare. 

I found the story enjoyable and entertaining despite being marketed to a younger crowd as it was grounded in a tried and true structure that benefited from a (mostly) interesting cast and atmosphere that wrapped up a solid and well written narrative. The work also contains a variety of shout outs and subtle humor that give it an appeal to all ages, a picture of Vincent Price in the background is definitely noticeable and the quip about pigeons in the opening lines links to Walter’s last name, but also is indicative of how he is treated in the story, giving it a deeper significance than it first appears.  

The story is self contained and wraps up the immediate plot, but definitely has a sequel hook, I would definitely recommend this graphic novel  if you enjoy Lovecraft-lite or childhood adventures, you can’t go wrong with The Lost Boy.