Break from Batman: Paul Pope’s Battling Boy and The Best Comics of September 2013

It’s Jack Kirby’s Kamandi meets Moebius meets manga meets Heavy Metal and everything else colorful and awesome. It’s Battling Boy, Paul Pope’s first original graphic novel since the excellent Batman: Year 100 and it’s the focus of this month’s Break from Batman.

The opening pages of Battling Boy are taken directly from this summer’s The Invincible Haggard West #101, which was a fun one-shot designed to look like the final installment of a long-running series when in fact it was a prologue intended to get readers excited for Battling Boy! It’s in these first few pages that we are introduced to the city of Acropolis, which at first looks like any other city. There are even children playing peacefully in the streets and when the street lights flicker to life the kids all know that it’s time to head home for dinner. But that pleasantness quickly fades when another page turn reveals the true reason why the younglings need to hurry back to their houses– monsters come out at night.

These creepy creatures known as the Ghoul Gang are all heavily cloaked in garb that looks like a cross between mummy wrappings and Ku Klux Klan robes and it’s not until much later in the book that we actually see what they look like underneath, but that doesn’t matter now. What does matter is that frightening figures with names like Coil, Nails, and Sadisto have begun casting nets to ensnare the children and helpless parents can do nothing but scream and beg. At least, that is, until the heroic Haggard West arrives and readers are treated to one of Paul Popes most thrilling and frenetic action scenes yet. It ends badly for our hero though and that’s where the real story begins, the story of Battling Boy.

While the death of Haggard West is sure to play a vital role in stories to come it actually doesn’t add much to the book at hand. Surprisingly, Battling Boy isn’t a complete story but is instead merely the first part in a much, much larger adventure that we will hopefully see told across several more graphic novels. Besides the first act involving Haggard West, that character and the family he leaves behind almost feel like an afterthought as soon as the blond boy in the white t-shirt shows up and turns the tale into something much, much different. While Haggard West had a very pulp tone about him what with a Rocketeer-like backpack, Buck Rogers-esque raygun, and a secret base akin to the Batcave, the world of little Battling Boy is much more similar to that of Marvel’s Thor or DC’s New Gods.

Battling Boy is the story of the son of a war god who, on his 13th birthday, must set out to complete a heroic labor. His father gives him a suitcase filled with necessities like a protective cloak, a set of t-shirts featuring totem animals that will each give him unique powers– why he doesn’t just put every shirt on at the same time is never addressed– and sends the boy on his way to the city of Acropolis, which just so happens to have recently lost a hero. There, Battling Boy is left on his own to venture forth and commit some great deed so that he is considered a man– or a God, actually. It doesn’t take long for Battling Boy to discover that Acropolis is absolutely overrun with monsters and so the slaying can begins… It begins clumsily, but it does begin! It’s apparent to Battling Boy himself that he’s in over his head and what remains of volume 1 is his coming to terms with the enormity of his situation and the price of fame that comes with trying to be a super hero.

Like Batman: Year 100, Battling Boy features eye-popping color (this time by colorist Hilary Sycamore) and Paul Pope’s stylistic, high-energy artwork with terrific use of unique sound effects and motion lines. Nothing about this book feels static and when I look back on reading it I never envision illustrations on a page so much as I see a fast-moving cartoon much like the motion comic video I posted above. It’s really quite astounding how kinetic these panels can be. And it’s that signature art style and vibrant color that will be the book’s biggest selling-point, no doubt. Paul Pope never fails to deliver the best in expressive characters, sequential storytelling, and a look that’s instantly identifiable as his own.

The big flaw, however, with Battling Boy is that it’s over so soon. I went into this book not knowing that it was only the beginning of the Battling Boy story and so the conclusion or lack-there-of was quite abrupt. The TPB is more like an extra-extra-extra-over-sized first issue than anything. So when I only had about 30 pages left I started to panic– how in the heck can this possibly be wrapped up? It can’t. It doesn’t. The story, honestly, feels like it’s just getting started at around the 145 mark (it’s 203 pages long)… and it is. I believe that there will be a number of readers who will feel disappointed at the open-ended-ness and lack of any resolution especially since neither the front nor back cover braces the reader in any way for the fact that they aren’t getting a finite graphic novel (after reading this, now you know and you should enjoy things much more). As I said, it’s basically a very big, very bold issue #1 and I sincerely hope that a 2nd volume arrives sooner rather than later. This is an incredibly fun first chapter of a fantasy/adventure/superhero story that’s accessible to readers of all ages.

Battling Boy is available on October 8th and is published by First Second. 

The Best Comics of September, 2013 (That I read)

It’s the end of the month and that means it’s time for us all to come together and take a break from Batman by sharing our favorite comics that took place outside the Gotham City limits. Here’s my own list and I encourage everyone to write their own favorites in the comments section at the bottom of the page so that we can spread the word about quality books. On a side-note, what did everyone thing about the penultimate issue of Locke & Key? Maybe it’s because I was looking forward to that one the most and my expectations were too high, but I found it to be pretty anti-climactic.


Trillium #2


New Reader Friendliness: Medium

Writer and artist Jeff Lemire found an even more creative way to present his followup to the upside-down premiere issue that followed the journey of a scientist from the year 3797 for half of the comic and a WWI vet turned explorer when you flipped the book on its head. Now that the two characters are sharing the same time and space, Lemire uses opposing pages to showcase the language barrier between this man and woman from vastly different eras. On one page the speech of the man is clear as day but on the next it’s entirely jumbled and only the woman’s dialogue is legible. It was really cool way to tell the story and what a story it is! Time travel? Aliens? Ancient ruins? This is good sci-fi.


Superior Foes of Spider-Man #3


New Reader Friendliness: High

One of the C-list villains is taken to a meeting of Super Villains Anonymous. Hilarity ensues. This is such a funny comic, I really recommend it to anyone who wants to add a few laughs to their Wednesday pull-list. You don’t have to know anything about Spider-Man, his rogues gallery, or whatever else is happening in the Marvel Universe to get a kick out of this. This is Season 2 of The Venture Brothers quality stuff.


Brain Boy #1

Dark Horse

New Reader Friendliness: High

Dark Horse isn’t known for its superhero comics but I think they have a real winner on their hands with this revamp of a 50 year old character from long defunct Dell Comics. This is the story of a telepath turned secret service agent and it’s both funny and thrilling. It’s a book that took me completely by surprise with its energetic, engaging story and terrific dialogue. The only blemish is that our psychic protagonist (who hates to be called “Brain Boy”) showed off some telekinetic powers at the end of the issue in addition to the mind-reading. I felt that this was too much. “Brain Boy” is interesting enough to me as just a psychic who has to guard foreign diplomats and adding that extra ability may have overpowered him and made his daring escapes too convenient.


Todd, The Ugliest Kid on Earth #5


New Reader Friendliness: High

Earlier this year, this simple tale of a sweet Butters Stotch-esque kid who is so ugly he must wear a bag over his head had a short 4-part mini-series. Those four issues were uproariously funny, way over the top and, most importantly, good enough to warrant a full ongoing series. This is the first part in a new arc that lampoons not just Comic-Con but Charlie Rose. It’s really weird, but I can’t seem to put it down.


Sex Criminals #1


New Reader Friendliness: High

It’s kind of hard to explain this one without giving everything away so I’ll just say that it has a funny and likeable female protagonist, a story that relies heavily on sex and comedy, there are some super powers on display, great artwork on every page, and it’s written by the same author of Marvel’s Hawkeye. This was really great surprise this month and I highly suggest you go pick it up without reading the official synopsis since it does spoil all of the wonderful twists that our main character, Suzie, faces in this comic.


Powerpuff Girls #1


New Reader Friendliness: High

It’s probably been about 10 years or so since I’ve watched an episode of Cartoon Network’s Powerpuff Girls, but I’ll be damned if my brain didn’t instantly recall all the character voices and original score of the series upon reading page #1 of this book. Writer and artist Troy Little basically gives fans of Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup what feels like a lost episode. It looks EXACTLY likes the cartoon and it SOUNDS exactly like the cartoon in every possible way. It’s fun, funny, and a great read for all ages, boys and girls alike. You will find yourself adding the show to your Netflix Instant Queue the second you put this issue down.


Eternal Warrior #1


New Reader Friendliness: High

The writer of Batman/Superman did a comic about one of the most bad-ass characters from Archer & Armstrong. Hell yes, you should be reading it! If you’ve been reading the fantastic series that this book spins-off from then it’s a no-brainer, but even if you’ve never touched a copy of Archer & Armstrong I think you’re going to dig the stampeding elephant action and millennia spanning adventure that this comic has to offer. A new Valiant comic is always a safe bet it seems.


X-O Manowar #17


New Reader Friendliness: Medium

It’s a bit of a filler issue, but it allows the story to breathe and new fans to catch up. There’s a nice recap on the inside cover of everything you’ve missed– which is a lot and it’s epic in every way shape and form– and the majority of the issue is made up of flashbacks to Aric’s childhood in Dacia and a tour through all the various troubles currently stirring the X-O Manowar world. Basically, we have a pissed off Visigoth who has traveled across space and time, commandeered an alien space ship and the universe’s most dangerous weapon/armor, and he’s decided that he wants to re-establish the land of Dacia once again and the rest of the world needs to just deal with that. It’s one of the most bad-ass comic books you can buy.


Quantum and Woody #3


New Reader Friendliness: Medium

From one of the most bad-ass comic books you can buy to one of the outright funniest, the new series Quantum and Woody is 3 for 3 in my opinion. This issue starts off with the world’s worst superheroes fighting a nightmare-monster made up of clowns, spider-legs, and needles but moves along at a hurried pace into some touching father/son and brother/brother character moments. This is a wildly unpredictable series and it hasn’t failed to make me legitimately laugh out loud yet. I even snapped a picture of a panel and texted it to a friend along with the message “You need to buy this book!”


Saga #14


New Reader Friendliness: Low

It’s Saga. It wins pretty much every award and if you haven’t been reading since issue #1 then now is a terrible time to hop-in, but trust me– it’s good. Really good.