Monday, September 23, 2013

Book Review: Battling Boy by Paul Pope

The right of passage. The test of manhood or bravery or worthiness. History is filled with such rituals, and to some extent, it continues today in ceremonial occasions like the Boy Scouts' Order of the Arrow and through more common matters like getting a driver's permit. Paul Pope's story, Battling Boy is such a story. Battling Boy (that is the only name he is given in the story) is part of a small community of god-like people who live in a dimensional gap between worlds. As the kids of his realm approach their 13th birthday, they are sent away to other worlds to survive and utilize their skills. Battling Boy's father is a champion of the realm, a defender of worlds. Battling Boy is expected to follow his father's lead and so he is sent to a world- and specifically, to Arcopolis - a city that is being besieged by monsters. The city is reeling from the loss of their own heroic protector when Battling Boy arrives.
Battling Boy's father introduces his new home- the city.
 What makes Battling Boy an interesting heroic figure is that while he has strength and a degree of imperviousness, his t-shirts are the source of the rest of his power(s). Each shirt is embedded with animal attributes- one with the elephant, another a fox, one with a mouse, another with a tyranosaurus. There are several shirts, so Battling Boy must choose wisely which shirt will suit his needs for that day. Being other-wordly, Battling Boy is also equipped with a cape, a small suitcase of survival gear, a bank account and the keys to a fully furnished apartment! He also has an emergency link to his father. Otherwise he is completely cut off from his old life and home as he tries to discover what he is capable of physically and intellectually.
 The city, which geographically makes Los Angeles look like a suburb, is at a loss of how to deal with the monsters which wreak havoc on them night and day. They come in a variety of sizes and different capabilities and methods of operation. The worst part is the monsters are abducting the children of the city, and no one knows why or what becomes of the children.
Sadisto and his minions grabbing some kids.
 During the course of the story, we encounter a mayor who seems deeper than just being a stock politician, a daughter trying to live up to her heroic father's legacy, an emerging leader among the monsters (who for some reason reminds me of Cobra Commander!) and an open-ended  conclusion that leaves us with more questions.
 Pope's artwork is clean and tight, but not smooth which works well in depicting the misshapen, grotesque and fantastical monsters, rough fights that destroy lots of drab scenery, a battle-worn father who is confident yet cautious, and a city that is losing all hope.Through the coloring, Pope creates a desolate landscape and a sky in perpetual twilight for the city. No bright colors on the buildings or sky. Battling Boy's home world is depicted as a smaller, cozier, more intimate space. A great contrast between the comfort of home and family and the feeling of being out in the world on your own. I wasn't sold on the look of the book at first, but Pope's style quickly won me over, coupled with characters that aren't run-of-the-mill and a story that makes you want to see more! And while I have a good idea what the answers to some of the questions are, I learned things aren't always what you would expect them to be in this story.
 Battling Boy is 202 pages, full color for $15.99 and is published by :01 First Second. Pick it up at your comic shop, book store or library!

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