Battling Boy is the most important piece of work in the superhero genre in over a decade. Its importance to the genre is felt with its premiere, but until it’s widely available it won’t have had a chance to resonate within the comic industry. When it does it will be put up (or should be put up) on the shelf with such works as Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. That’s how important this story is to the superhero genre. It completely changes the expectation of independently produced superhero stories as it never once relies on a reference or an homage to anything that’s come before it. I’ve read and reviewed plenty of indie superhero titles and try as the creators may; there is one thing that basically unites a vast majority of them: they homage pre-established superheroes or an exact copy of their archetype, their world, even their history or usually all of the above. Often the creators are just presenting the reader “their take” on Batman, Spider-Man or an established team book from either of the “big two.” It’s not that this is necessarily bad for the industry or genre, but it does wear on a reader looking for a superhero title outside of that formula. I would have to struggle to count the series that aren’t just copies of other titles because they’re so few and far between.
My point with all this is that Battling Boy is unlike any other superhero title I’ve ever read. Perhaps others will read it and see some early influences of the Golden or Silver age of comics within the pages, but then that argument could be made for those other classic tales I mentioned in my opening paragraph as well. Battling Boy is fresh and interesting while paving its own way through the overcrowded capes genre.
The story begins in the city of Acropolis with children playing soccer in the street. The ball gets away from them and one little boy is sent to get it. He’s afraid to go down the dark alleyway because night fall is approaching and soon the monsters that have overtaken the city will be out. Sure enough the boy is captured by a member of the Ghoul Gang. They swarm the boys as the mother of our first captured son comes down to try to save him. Thankfully the cities hero Haggard West arrives and instantly kills one of the gang with his light-bulb-esque guns. He eyes the leader Sadisto and Sadisto eyes him right back. Sadisto calls out to his gang to put “Plan H” into effect. I’m going to jump ahead even though this opening scene is important and sets part of the stage for the story, but it’s so damn good I think you’ll want to read the rest for yourself.
Moving on to the Hidden Gilded Realm we watch as a man returns with the head of Tharalaxus. He’s greeted by his wife and brother. He asks how his son is and his wife and brother inform him that “he chafes at the chains of childhood.” Today is a special day for his son and soon the trio is standing in a room containing the cosmos. The parents are there to pick a planet to send their son for his “Turning Day.” It’s very much like a Spartan ritual in which the boy will be tested. Earth is picked for him and out Mother/Wife makes the remark that they send so many heroes there, to which the father says that it is a planet built for heroes.
After that we see a similar scene of children playing with a ball, but this game is different from the soccer match earlier. Battling Boy is sent to retrieve the ball that’s gotten away from them and he runs into his father who is there to retrieve him. Battling Boy thinks that he’s there for his birthday which is tomorrow, but instead he’s there for the turning day. This scene is great because father and son’s reunion not only teaches us the boy’s name, but we learn that it’s not just a nickname… it’s a term of endearment from father to son. When he cups his sons face and says, “my Battling Boy” it’s soft and delicate, not aggressive and fearsome like the name implies. Eventually we get to the task at hand which is to bring Battling Boy to Acropolis. His task is to save the city from the monsters that have taken it over.
Now monsters, villains and superheroes are not wholly original on their own, but the characters and world that Paul Pope creates with them are. Battling Boy is given some tools to help him: a credit card with no limit, an apartment, a cape-cowl thing and t-shirts. I know you’re thinking t-shirts? Really? Yeah t-shirts with different animals and creatures on them to help him in different situations; it’s simple, but also incredibly clever. That’s the thing about this world it’s very clever. Your gut tells you that these heroes of the Hidden Gilded Realm are just a take on Norse Gods and maybe part of them are inspired by it, but they’re so much more than.
Their world and customs are their own and something that Pope has created. The city of Acropolis has a fitting name as it consumes all the land available to it, but butts up against water on three sides and mountains on the other. Nothing is left out of this world. There’s a military presence, a political aspect and of course the family aspect. Family is a large theme of this story and while Pope doesn’t hammer you over the head with it, he makes sure that you understand the importance on both sides of this story.
Pope’s art is some of his best. I’ve enjoyed his covers over the years, but I’ve been dying to see a fresh body of work that included his interiors. He does not disappoint with this story. His skills as a storyteller have grown to masterful levels. His detailed style which I’m sure some find to be too much is rather perfect for this story. The action is large and impactful and has a real sense of destruction to it. The cities, though different, come across as massive living entities that happen to house our characters and their people. The art is stunning and the paper stock only serves to make it more impressive. While I absolutely loved Pope’s artwork, Hilary Sycamore’s coloring brings it to a new level. Her coloring truly creates the world. The characters are living and breathing because of her coloring. The battles and fierce and destructive because of her coloring; she is the perfect complement to Pope’s artwork.
I’ve ranted enough about this book, to the point that it turned into gushing, but when I finished reading this book it completely changed how I looked at the genre. The thing is it didn’t ruin the genre for me because personally I’ve found superhero titles to be stale for a while now; rather Battling Boy gave me hope. I’m hopeful that other creators will see that you can still create new worlds and characters and that the same molds and structures don’t need to be followed month after month. I expected great things going into this book, but I didn’t know that it was going to be this incredible.
Writer/Artist/Creator: Paul Pope Colorist: Hilary Sycamore Publisher: First Second Book Price: $15.99 Release Date: 10/8/13 Website