Paper Girls (Vol 5) by Brian K Vaughan (writer) & Cliff Chiang (artist)
This is the fifth volume of Brian K. Vaughan’s PAPER GIRLS, and the larger story is really starting to take shape. The early volumes were quite elliptical and disorienting, so it’s great to be able to understand the various storylines and the larger world-building that is revealed, and get to know and like the four main protagonists even more as they are thrown into a series of tense adventures across time.
[SPOILER TERRITORY AHEAD – DON’T READ UNLESS YOU’VE READ VOLUMES ONE-FOUR]
Finally we get to delve into the far-future world inhabited by the old-timers, with the sleek and beautifully-colored futuristic cityscapes that were just hinted at in previous volumes. The girls find themselves in a far future city that is surprisingly close to home, on a mission to seek out answers and help as they are being pursued by multiple factions, since for some reason the outcome of this time-traveling battle apparently rests on their fates.
The story addresses the familiar time-travel contradictions of how the past and future can be altered when it should already have happened, taking a fresh tack by denying the common quantum explanation for multiple time-lines. It’s an interesting approach, and central to the entire story structure, so it’s good to see that Vaughan is thinking through his story carefully.
We learn much more about the back-stories of Wari and Grandfather, with some surprising reveals, and once again Vaughan refuses to use the simplistic dichotomy of “good” and “bad” for his characters. They each have their own motives to pursue the girls for different ends, and both seem to believe in the justness of their actions. This level of moral complexity is something that distinguishes the entire series. While the reasons for why the old-timers are after the girls is unveiled, its still unclear whether they or their rebellious younger rivals are right or wrong.
The narrative weaves between different groups, times, and adds color to some of the events of the past volumes. Things are certainly easier to follow now, and the plot is really gaining urgency. What is more, the interactions between the girls and their older selves are both funny and moving at times.
The artwork by Cliff Chiang remains precise, clean and skillful, and the coloring by Matt Wilson and letter by Jared K. Fletcher are also distinctive and add to the visual feast. It’s a pleasure to read and the full-page panels are always used as dramatic reveals.
Much like Vol 4, I found this volume to be a lot of fun to read and am now eagerly awaiting the next installment.