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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.

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