Paul Pope is one of the great comic book creators working today, a major talent who keeps on surpassing himself. But even by those standards, Battling Boy, the first volume of a two-volume set, is a major achievement. It's a superhero-y, kaiju-y comic that moves so fast that it feels like it's barely under control, but is, in fact, being steered with total confidence and dazzling skill. That's Pope's real gift, the Astaire-making-it-look-easy thing, deceptively simple and messy on the surface, with depths that go all the way to the bottom of the universe.
Arcopolis is a sprawling and venal city under siege and gripped by terror. A gang of ghouls snatch children off the streets, huge monsters stalk the land, and the only thing keeping it safe is Haggard West, a flying science hero with a blaster that can fire three shots before it must recharge. He dies, in chapter one. He leaves behind a city without a protector and a daughter devastated by loss and determined to carry on the fight.
In another dimension, above the clouds and among the stars themselves, are the heroic pantheon of gods, whose bravest champion has a son, a boy who is only thirteen years old and must prove himself on a "ramble" — a solo adventure through which he will come of age. The boy — Battling Boy — is to be the rescuer of Arcopolis, or he will be slain by its monsters.
And we're off.
Battling Boy blends elements of the classic, mid-century-modern superhero comic with a seventy-five flavor stew whose ingredients range from giant monster movies to Bugs Bunny cartoons, Ben Ten to Watchmen. In each instance, he shows how much juice was left in these old ideas, waiting to be squeezed out by a master who had the knack. If you liked what Pope did in the magnificent Batman: Year 100, you're going to love this.
Battling Boy is published by FirstSecond, who produced a rather fine trailer for the book. It's had fantastic buzz — at events from Comic-Con to ALA to Burning Man, people have excitedly cornered me and waxed enthusiastic about the book, based on the early previews. It has lived up to that buzz and surpassed it.
The FirstSecond people were good enough to give us over 30 pages preview, really the whole setup for the story — you'll find them below.