I'll 'Paper Girls' reminds me of the worst type of girl to be interested in. She keeps hinting that if you hang on a little longer, you'll get the rewarding experience of a meaningful emotional connection, but each day brings the nagging feeling she's not worth the trouble. Is she smart and witty or pretentious and cruel? Why do you feel like she's purposefully keeping you at arm's length? When will all the time travel make sense (well, that one goes mainly for 'Paper Girls'). On the other hand, you know, as much as you wish you were less shallow, that you are largely interested because she's so pretty. To take this analogy to its logical conclusion, issue five finds me cutting myself loose to pursue more stable, fulfilling comics who like me for me (perhaps that Archie compendium your mom keeps trying to set you up with). I had hoped this fifth issue would see Brian K Vaughan ending his purposeful obfuscation of the plot in favor of some much-needed character development (I still don't know which girl is which). Alas, we instead get a continuation of the confusing sci-fi plot, building up to, but never earning, a shocking final twist (every issue of Paper Girls ends with a shocking twist). We also get indications that the robo-teenagers, and hippy bad guy represent the division between socially active youth and totalitarian adults. This last bit feels a bit tacked-on (as Vaughan's social commentary often does), and serves as a final reminder that the story is willing to focus on anything but its characters.
I have been told by a number of friends (ok, internet commenters) that such criticisms of plot ignores the adrenaline rush of the action-filled plot and fast-paced humor. I would be more inclined to agree if the action sci-fi side of the plot was more entertaining. It's true that this issue see pterodactyls, alien-weapons, time-travel, and gunshots, but none of it adds onto any central plotline. The motivations of the central four girls is never elaborated on and hence their increasingly manic actions read as stupidity. Further, this issue sees the life and death stakes of the previous issue alleviated rather quickly, and two characters we have hardly met killed violently in a manner that is surprisingly vague. In other words, the book has some fun pieces, but it's not cohesive.
As I mentioned before, 'Paper Girls' is a great-looking book courtesy of Cliff Chiang and colorist Matt Wilson, and that continues in this issue. Chiang's angular stylization somehow simplifies shapes into easily digestible outlines without losing the fine details that make images specific (the unique hairstyles of each girl's hair, the metal grooves on a pistol, etc.). Meanwhile Matt Wilson chooses to color the book in soft pinks, blues, and purples, making a clear impression of location and time of day. These artists give the book the impression of a uniqueness and character sorely lacking in the writing.
The twist on the final pages of 'Paper Girls' is a doozy, thrusting the book into a brand new setting with entirely different stakes. But having never understood or cared much about the previous chunk of the story, it's hard to see this issue as anything but a good jumping off point.
Paper Girls #5 Writer: Brian K Vaughan Artist: Cliff Chiang Publisher: Image Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 2/3/16 Format: Print, Digital