Comics creator and innovator Paul Pope takes a new stab at the age-old comics genre of superheroes in Battling Boy from First Second Books. Pope has a solid track-record in the world of comics from his early days producing for manga-giant Kodansha and Dark Horse as well as his own indie press. He specializes in very human science fiction, often tackling the issues of drugs and dystopian societies in fantastical worlds. Pope has picked up several Eisner Awards, two of them for his work on Batman: Year 100, showing a near-future police-state Gotham City with an even more mysterious, perhaps detached, Batman.
Battling Boy gives a whole new look at the world of superheroes while calling back to its roots. The Golden Age was packed with heroes with extraordinary powers from alien worlds, mortals blessed with the wisdom, strength, or magic of the gods, and human men with specially-created weapons enabling them to defend justice. All of these come together to bring about the origin story of the young superhero who would spontaneously, perhaps unfortunately, nickname himself “Battling Boy.”
Arcopolis is a Dieselpunk city on the edge of disaster, well suited for the world of superheroes. A terrifying gang of possibly mystical villains kidnaps children from the streets while enormous monsters appear from seemingly nowhere to rampage the city, a.l.a. Powerpuff Girls. Arcopolis’s great defender is wealthy genius vigilante Haggard West, who wields lightning guns, has a jetpack, a super-awesome car, and has trained himself into peak human condition. Unfortunately for the city, Pope explores an idea rarely seen in superhero worlds: a simple sniper taking a lethal shot.
Without its defender, the city turns to panic, but, across the cosmos in the city of gods, the son of the great vanquisher of monsters has come of age and needs to prove himself. The rite of passage is a Rambling: a quest to become a great hero. He is granted magic t-shirts, one of the more innovative takes, each with its own superpower based on the shirt’s image, giving Battling Boy a series of powers to explore one at a time. Like Superman, the first of all superheroes, Battling Boy is sent to a world alien to him that desperately needs his help. Unlike Superman’s polished Metropolis, Battling Boy must face additional obstacles in publicity-addicted city officials and haphazard police as well as the vengeful daughter of West.
The art of Battling Boy matches the story and themes well with a sort of ruggedness to the edges with richness to the color. It is refreshing to see a world of superheroes where damage is actually done and people face everyday difficulties from permanent wounds to bureaucracy. Pope’s world has only begun to show what it can become.
Five out of Five StarsPowered by Sidelines