Battling Boy by Paul Pope
The more graphic novels I read from First Second publishers, the more impressed I am: Paul Pope’s fairly recent Battling Boy (2013) is yet another excellent release from :01. Paul Pope, known for his distinctive art style, mainly writes for an older crowd with books I enjoy but am not willing to hand over to my 8- and 11-year-old children. However, Pope changes direction, if not his wonderful art style, with Battling Boy, and I hope I can talk both my kids into reading it soon. I know they’ll love the story, but I’m curious to see how they respond to his unique art.
The story is a great one and is comprised of two main sets of good characters directed toward a third set of bad characters. Basically, the story is of Arcopolis, which has been taken over by a wide variety of monsters. The story begins by showing the great hero Haggard West take on the monsters in what apparently is an ongoing battle that is not unlike Batman’s vigilante war on crime in Gotham. Very soon in the story, Haggard West dies, leaving behind a very angry young teenaged daughter. She decides to pick up where her father has left off. She and her father’s former assistants make up the first group of good characters.
The second set of good characters is introduced by a quick change in location: On my favorite page of art in the book, we see an Asgardian-looking city very colorfully drawn against the blackness of outer space. And we then meet a Thor-like father who, in addition to making me laugh, takes his young son and sends him to Arcopolis for his thirteenth birthday and leaves him there alone to fight the monsters and prove himself a worthy demi-god. This son is Battling Boy, and he is NOT happy to be left alone by his father. And Haggard’s daughter is not happy to see her father replaced so quickly by somebody else, particularly a kid!
And really, that’s just the beginning. I don’t want to give anything away other than this basic premise, which is perfect. It’s both an engrossing coming-of-age AND a funny parody of Thor. The art prevents this book from looking anything like a typical superhero story, and Pope’s pacing is quite odd, really. I can’t figure it out, but he seems to put some of the expected beats in unexpected places, and I really like that. I also love when Battling Boy figures out how to activate some of his powers — when you find out, you’ll see how much appeal it will have to kids and teenagers.
This book is getting good reviews, and I picked it up because it was flying off the shelves at my local comic shop. The buzz was good, and I was just too curious to not get my own copy. I’m glad I did. I do wonder if the art will appeal to kids — Pope’s art is one-of-a-kind, and we need more of that in the world of comics, but distinctive art styles can be polarizing. People tend to either love or hate Pope’s art. Obviously, I like it. Personally, my only problem with the book is that I didn’t get enough closure to satisfy me. I didn’t realize it was part one of a story and that part two is not out yet. The good news is that it’s slated for release later this year. Still, it’s a good read. I look forward to book two, as well as more books from Paul Pope in general. And I certainly now look forward to anything First Second puts out. Be on the look out for more First Second reviews in the near future.