Who doesn't need another hero when they're besieged by monsters and the former champion of humanity has been 86'd by dire machination?
Who doesn't need a new work by that rockstar of comics, Paul Pope, especially when the work is simultaneously a celebration of and a gleeful subversion of hoary old comics tropes and, as if in addition, a rollicking coming-of-age adventure for both its young male protagonist and its young female co-protagonist?
If you've previously thought of Pope's brand-new Battling Boy from First Second Books, because you'd heard the industry rumors or whatever, you might've formed some vague idea of what the title could imply. Hell, you might've thought no further than, "Hey, I hear Brad Pitt has optioned the movie rights for this thing." But probably, like me, even if you were familiar with the artist's previous creations, you underestimated the multi-layered narrative Pope would conjure, the arcane details he'd include to give his marvel-filled fantasy an undeniable (and delightful) verisimilitude.
That's the other thing: "The artist." And, yes, Pope has a sockdollager visual style that retains the power of King Kirby even while transcending the early influence of that giant's oeuvre – Pulp Hope, indeed – but I'd make a case here, by way of appraisal, that Pope could never draw another goddam line and still be a powerful force in the arena of comics. Because the man's writing skills, especially as honed in his long-ranging THB series and recently brought to bear in crafting this putative "children's" series, are equal to his imagination. And his imagination is "wild" in the way that the Big Bang was wild – and no less generative of worlds.
What also surprised me is that this first Battling Boy book is just that: The first in a series. I'd assumed it was a self-contained thing, and was slightly taken aback to learn that it goes on and we must await further thick installments yet to come. Still, that the series will continue is also reason for celebration – because a story this enjoyable, with such compelling characters and vividly depicted settings and challenging conflicts to resolve, that's a story you don't want to end anytime soon.
And that whole optioned-by-Brad-Pitt thing? Well, duh. For anything more cinematic than the 25-page opening sequence of this Battling Boy, you'd have to go to the movies themselves – and the visuals wouldn't be as gorgeous. Writer, artist, director: Paul Pope's been variationing many minutiae of this Battling Boy opus since he began telling stories with words and pictures. And now the reading public can reap the rewards of where his labors have led: Straight to the furious heart of genre wonderment and childhood's danger-fraught glories.
Copyright © 2013 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.