“Read the book. Help the people. You already know what to do…slay the monsters.”
Paul Pope is a comic creator who has essentially calcified the notion of first-look recognition. His art of splashing squalor threatens with deadly surreality to burst through the portal of the page and drown the reader in quintessential glory. Once you read one comic by Paul Pope – your will forever recognize his work with a skip of the heartbeat. He is the only creator in the industry I would unabashedly call an auteur – as practically all of his works are solo efforts, though he is known to occasionally work with colorists. His words are typically sharp and unflinching, and as they steadily push to the very heart of his narratives, he scores the mind with the understanding of a story best told as a comic. His Eisner-winning work with DC and imprint publisher Vertigo (100%, Heavy Liquid, Batman: Year 100) is verging on unparalleled, not because his work is unquestionably better than that of other creators, it’s that his work is unquestionably in such an alternative direction, all else is made tangential. In my mind, the comics he makes aren’t exciting because he makes things that others won’t, he just makes things that they don’t.
That said – he works as most solo creators do: kind of slow. I, obviously, have no right whatsoever to question his schedule and have no intention to, but as a fan of his work, it can be rough. But, on to the point: approximately 6 years ago, I saw this page of a semi-discussed, even barely rumored comic that Pope was working on:
Safe to say – my heart hiccuped a few times and up until recently, still did whenever I dug this back up.
Originally announced in 2006, Paul Pope’s Battling Boy finally begins a terrifically epic quest in early October of this year. Through means of luck and exuberance, I was given a copy of the advance reader’s edition (AND A SHIRT) of the first volume. The story follows a boy at the cusp of the end of his childhood – and following the tradition of his world, must be sent “a-Rambling” to prove himself heroic and brave. The protagonist, only wishing to be referred to as “Battling Boy” must learn how to weather the weight of responsibility – and to do so is sent to the faraway land of Arcopolis, a city under siege by monsters and villains who run wild at night, as a curfew keeps the innocent safe – a war zone. Equipped with a red travelling cloak he is reluctant to wear and 12 magical t-shirts, each adorned with a different beast that grants him powers to compliment his own set of superhuman abilities, Battling Boy is dropped with little to no guidance by his father into a world on the edge of destruction. It has all the makings of a beautifully classic bildungsroman – but Pope can’t stop there. No, Battling Boy is a dusty package containing stained and disintegrating love letters to adventure stories and their archetypical heroes.
Hints of previously undertaken Ramblings rattle through the pages depicting Boy’s homeworld – mentioning scores of heroes that had their adventures unleashed towards a small blue and green pebble, “…a world built for heroes” in a vast nebulous helix of worlds, all entwined. The masked vigilante and original savior of Arcopolis, genius Haggard West dies in combat, leaving a desperate wound in a city so parched of hope, they eagerly turn to a 12-year old demigod, much to his surprise. The maniacal leader of a gang of monsters with names like Coil and Nail rallies the underworld-dwelling creatures to follow his step, inspiring fear in the guise of leadership.
Battling Boy is brimming with such cunning slights of hand and mind that caress the already understood stories of similar adventures, all the while – driven by Pope’s unique approach – is something wholly new and sparking with promise.
Never secondarily – the illustration is some of Pope’s finest – clawing with hazily described landscapes and heaving into animalistic character designs, the style never relents. Teeming with extravagant lettering hastily dropped into panels, seemingly as an homage to bygone days of the power of stylized pulp – the art is masterfully all over the place, never being tamed, merely focused, by the conventional panels. He brazenly interrupts any sense of a controlled flow with drastic background colors, sensationalist postures for his characters, and an almost lackadaisical consideration for keeping lines straight – it’s raucously beautiful, as is all of Pope’s work.
Do your imagination and sense of wonder a solid and take a gander at Boy’s journey into adulthood and the trials he will have to go through to get there. Battling Boy is available October 4th, 2013 from First Second Books. You can view more of Pope’s work here.
If you need an whetting of the palette, which I encourage wholeheartedly, pick up Paul Pope’s Death of Haggard West One Shot, out today – which ties into the hero’s role in Arcopolis – before Battling Boy begins his Rambling.
My pulls for 7/10 are:
- Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem #2 by Steve Niles, Matt Santoro & Dave Wachter
- The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys #2 by Gerard Way, Shaun Simon & Becky Cloonan
- Batman #22 by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo
- Superman Unchained #2 by Scott Snyder & Jim Lee
- East of West #4 by Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta
- Hawkeye #12 by Matt Fraction & Francesco Francavilla
- Death of Haggard West One Shot by Paul Pope
(top image contains cover art of Batman #22, Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem #2, Hawkeye #12, and Death of Haggard West One Shot)