Paul Pope’s newest book, Battling Boy dropped last fall. In anticipation for the next volume, The Rise of Aurora West, arriving this month we here at Nerdophiles are giving it another look, and when I say we, I mean me, new blogger Cody Eastlick.
To be entirely honest, I chose this book for the first pick of a Graphic Novel book club I’m a part of. My original pick was going to be Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Seconds but that one being brand spankin’ new and heavily anticipated so, of course, out of stock everywhere. I turned around at the shop to find something new and this cover stood out to me. A boy standing confident atop a snarling beast. Battling Boy.
I had read Pope’s Batman Year 100 and though not being a huge fan of the Bat found the book to be entirely worthwhile. Pope’s art style has such texture to it. The clothes have stitching, the boots grip. Matched with the futuristic local of Gotham it provides a feast for the eyes. Battling Boy is no different. From the streets of Arcopolis to the region I now lovingly refer to as Nu-gard everything is dynamic. Not a single thing is flat. The landscapes are jagged, busy, covered in buildings or mountains, in a word: alive.
Very briefly, a synopsis: Battling Boy starts with the death of a hero, Haggard West a Batman style tech hero with no qualms about disintegration. He falls to a group of creepy mummy men and we move to Nu-Gard, a very cosmic Pope interpretation of Kirby’s Asgard and New Gods. This place is never named, nor any of its inhabitants. It is an archetype of comics. The great-alien-space-god-other. Battling Boy is then dropped on Arcopolis and must prove his mettle by fighting the various monstrosities he finds there and learn to be a hero, or die trying.
Just talking about the book gets me excited. Suffice to say, the book follows the archetype of myth to a T and is aware of it. It is clearly the origin story of most heroes, a very Superman vibe to be sure. And it is this facet of the comic that I love so much. It is the typical Hero’s Journey, Battling Boy himself (as we know our protagonist) might as well be named Young Hero and sports Luke Skywalker hair on the cover. And yet it bucks this trend in several ways. Rather than an orphan a la Batman, Superman, or damn near every other hero, Battling Boy has parents. He even calls on his dad for help! When have we seen heroes ask their parents for assistance? When his father returns home and decides it’s time for his sons time for ‘Rambling,’ the Nu-Gods rite of passage and the obvious journey our hero must take, Battling Boy is aware of it and questions whether or not he is really ready to go. Delightful interactions between son and father play with these notions of modern boy and mythic father.
The story is layered and throughout you can find mirroring of characters and events. The opening scene of normal Arcopolis kids playing soccer is matched by the first scenes we see of Battling Boy, himself playing a similar game with kids of Nu-Gard. Father and son have panels showing them in combat in similar maneuvers and making the same sounds. This use of the medium, where you can flip back and forth a few pages to look at the two side by side, is what its all about. It plays to the strengths of the graphic novel format, rather than be a story that happens to be illustrated.
Paul Pope has said in interviews that after all of his previous work he’s trying to take this in a more kid-friendly direction. That’s not to say the book feels like it was written for fifth graders, far from it. It doesn’t pull any punches but nor does it try to disgust or shock. There’s a den of evil reminiscent of Mos Eisley full of monsters, mummy men, and giant spider-people but it doesn’t show them doing anything overly vile or terrible. The kids being kidnapped in the opening scene are hinted at as having terrible fates but so far we don’t have any idea. It tells that heroic journey, with a young kid being moved towards his destiny, his adulthood and whether he’s ready or not he must do so. I can see this playing so well to kids of that age who are finding themselves more and more responsible. They’ve been provided the tools (Battling Boy is given an invisible credit card, an apartment, a monster manual, and 12 magical totem shirts) but how they make their way in the world is up to them. Their parents trust them to make the right calls. Battling Boy mirrors that time of adolescence in a super manner. A kid could pick this book up, feel that connection and be drawn in. Battling Boy doesn’t know what he’s doing exactly, and he might even be doing it for the wrong reasons but he’s trying, and that’s a message kids will get.
I can’t remember the last time I had such a strong connection to a comic that hit upon so many of my personal favorite ideas: superheroes, myth, father-son relationships, fashionable power-shirts, floating space-monster heads, an ass-kicking young heroine to match our hero. That last one? That’s Aurora West, daughter of Haggard West the ray gun toting Batmanesque now dead hero from the opening. She comes in, rays firing at the end of this first tome and her book The Rise of Aurora West is out Sept 30th.
Battling Boy is a great read, regardless of age. As a first entry this book does a bang up job of pulling you into the universe and playing with myth. Everyone would do well to pick up a copy and check it out. Check them both out! I cannot recommend this series enough, based solely off this offering.