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Battling Boy Paperback – 25 Nov 2013
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There is no one in comics like Paul Pope: gifted beyond all reason, he is an artist of immense protean talents and a deep soulfulness.In Battling Boy, Pope has spun a smashingly beautiful adventure about a not-so-powerful boy-god sent down from the higher dimensions to save a crumbling city from the monsters that afflict it. Rapturously inked and drawing upon what feels like the entire tradition of pulp storytelling, Battling Boy is a thunderclap of a book--a kaleidoscopic mash-up of the highest order where kaiju mix it up with science heroes, and where a girl named Aurora takes up her fallen father's jet-pack (and his weapons) and nearly steals the whole show. Friends, this book is a number one stunner and the second installment cannot come soon enough. -- Junot Diaz, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Paul Pope's delightful and original Battling Boy is the adventure of the year!--Jeff Smith, Eisner Award-winning author of Bone. Full of energy, precision, and pure kick--not to be missed.--Scott Westerfeld, author of Uglies. Pope is set to soar to glory. --Wired. A new generation hero.Entertainment Weekly --Various
About the Author
Paul Pope is the acclaimed author-illustrator of Batman: Year 100, Heavy Liquid, and 100%. Known for his frenetic, high-energy artwork and action-packed, genre-bending storytelling, Pope has won three Eisner Awards. He lives and works in New York City.
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Battling Boy! Battling Boy!
Fighting monsters `stead of playin' with toys!
He's a space prince come to save the world
There a Batman character who's also a girl
The boy's got a cape that's big and red
He's basically young Superman - yeah!
Battling Boy! Battling Boy!
Nothing rhymes with Battling Boy!
(To the tune of something awesome and `80s rockin' with a montage of Battling Boy punching bad guys and then looking sheepish in the final shot)
Paul Pope's Battling Boy sorta reminded me of 80s kids cartoons but the similarities in this book go beyond those shows and mines references across the cultural spectrum from the 1960s Batman show to the Golden and Silver Ages of comics. You have Battling Boy who lives in the Hidden Gilded realm (basically Asgard) and whose dad is unnamed but is pretty much Thor. As part of his coming-of-age ritual (he's a pre-teen) he has to undertake a "rambling" which is where he's taken from his home to another world on his "turning day" and made to overcome obstacles to prove he's a man (kind of like Hercules' Labours). Thor takes Battling Boy to a city called Arcopolis that's under siege from crazy monsters and he's left with a suitcase of interesting magical objects and a red cape that makes him look like a young Superman.
There's also a Batman-ish figure in Arcopolis called Haggard West (a tribute to Adam West?), a cross between Batman and the Rocketeer and whose car is called the Westmobile(!). The main villain of the book is Sadisto, kind of like the Joker but looks like the Grinch wearing a ninja outfit with a hint of Mumm-Ra. But despite the numerous references to more familiar cultural figures, Paul Pope manages to make Battling Boy feel fresh and his own thing.
Pope captures what being a boy who discovers he has superpowers really well. First off BB really seems like a boy - his personality is at times overconfident which leads to mistakes, innocent, which leads to situations he doesn't want to be in, and he can become scared and run back to his dad for protection (like he does when he faces his first monster). Being young, he's not as articulate as he would like to be and his natural politeness makes it hard for him to communicate how he truly feels - in one brilliant scene when Arcopolis' mayor is trying to use BB as a political tool, BB becomes frustrated and wordlessly scrunches up a metal paperweight with his bare hands before remaking it anew. It puts across his unique strength and otherworldliness while also letting them know he will not be their puppet all at once.
One of the most inspired choices Pope makes is giving BB a dozen t-shirts with animal totems on them, with each shirt bestowing BB with that animal's attribute, eg. King Lion or Curious Orangutan or the Sly Silent Fox. It's similar to Bravestarr's powers ("Strength of the Bear! Speed of the Puma!" - there are those 80s kids cartoon references again!) but work really well here as we see BB figure out how to use these powers, failing to control them at first but slowly learning to.
The book is fleshed out further with the excellent character, Aurora West, the daughter of Haggard West, the Batman/Rocketeer figure of Arcopolis. Haggard dies early in the book and, as a subplot to BB's main arc, Aurora, though only slightly older than BB, begins training to become the new hero of Arcopolis. So this book contains the origin stories of two heroes in one, both of whom are loosely analogues of arguably the two most famous superheroes in history. It's fantastically realised and fun to see, especially if you're a superhero comics fan like me.
In terms of the audience for this book, Sadisto is kind of a disturbingly drawn figure and his unsettlingly vague mission of abducting children for an unknown purpose (it's implied they are abused) might make this not the most appropriate read for younger readers, but I think it's alright for young teens to pick up and it's definitely sophisticated enough for adults to get a lot out of it too.
I just wrote a lengthy list of things I loved about this book and, though they're harmless observations that won't spoil the book for you, I deleted it anyway because I want the little touches Pope throws into the mix to be as much a pleasant surprise to me as they will be to you.
Combine the many small but brilliant touches into the 12 Labours of Hercules-esque storyline, the characters of Battling Boy, Aurora West, and Sadisto, and Pope's AMAZING art, and you have one helluva book. As much as I've written about this book, there are lots of other things I haven't mentioned - Battling Boy contains multitudes. If you love superhero comics, you'll really get a lot out of this but even if you're not well-versed in superhero stories, it's still a really fun story that anyone can enjoy. For me, I think it's the best work Pope's done yet, and is one of the most enjoyable and original superhero stories I've read in ages. I had a blast and look forward to Vol 2 as BB and Aurora West team up to take down Sadisto and the remaining monsters of Arcopolis.
The premise is pretty straightforward: a super boy is sent to another world to combat a large number of monsters who are terrorising a futuristic city. Pope takes this premise and runs with it though.The way battling boy's powers work is cleverly done, and as already shown in this volume: it will make him have to think twice how to approach his enemies, and in turn should lead to more interesting encounters for the readers. Some settings and characters are introduced which I can't wait to see fleshed out in future volumes. I hate being spoiled in reviews, so I'll keep it at that.
As for the art: I don't know why, because the style itself hasn't really changed from his other work, but somehow it totally works for me here.The artwork is indeed "high-energy" if I may steal the description from the back of the comic.But while the action scenes do look exceptional, the rest of the comic looks just as amazing in my opinion. I loved the scenes where he arrived at Arcopolis for the first time. I guess he lives up to his name, because I have been converted by Pope.
If I had to compare this comic to another, I'd say Jeff Smith's "Bone". Not because their storylines are simmilar (because they aren't, although both deal with characters being dumped into a 'new world') but simply because both can be read & enjoyed by children and adults alike, and both do the all-ages thing so well. It remains to be seen if Battling Boy has the longetivity of Bone, but I already know that the 2nd volume is going to be an instant-buy for myself.
Paul Pope builds a world well, with attention to small things. His use onomatopea is unparalleled and dialogue is great.
I do have one gripe with this book: Instead of ending it just stops, just when it gets even more interesting. Paul better have a next chapter in the works!
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