Paper Girls #1 garnered a huge amount of buzz when it came out in October and for good reason. Taking full advantage of an oversized issue, author Brian Vaughan built up his four main characters and their quiet existence as paper girls in 1988 Cleveland. That issue felt fully-realized with a little nostalgia and contained a story that played into Vaughan's signature talent for sharp juvenile dialogue. Unfortunately the subsequent issues have not quite lived up to the first's promise. The third issue finds the suburban neighborhood overrun with dinosaurs, deformed mutants, and a mysterious armored newcomer who talks in a delightfully garbled version of English. We are introduced to these sights through the eyes of a pair of high schoolers who watch in awe as a massive hole in the sky spills forth monsters (presumably from the past as suggested last issue). In a sudden dark swerve, the male student appears to decide to sexually assault the girl before the aforementioned newcomer arrives and vaporizes them both. While this assault is only hinted at, the predatory look on the boy's face as he uses as he describes 'always wanting' the girl is a hugely dark development with no apparent consequences. While it might play into the theme of women's rights played with in the first issue, it's a strange, out of place moment that seems willfully 'adult' .
The issue makes a similar, but more successful dark turn in the main plotline as it turns out that the gunshot from issue two wounded Erin, one of the titular paper girls. The rest of the issue involves the attempt to get Erin to a hospital in the midst of whatever it is that's going on. The sci-fi continues to be interesting if almost entirely unexplained, and the choice to make the scope of the story gigantic is a surprise considering the personal scale of the first issue. It would be nice to get some answers and a bit more focus on the significant plot development, but with luck that will come in the next few issues.
It is not intended as an insult to Brian K. Vaughan when I say that Cliff Chiang is what makes Paper Girls a good comic. Chiang's art is immediately recognizable for its thickly inked angular outlines and sharp character designs (I mean that literally, Chiang's work is full of sharp angles). Each character is rendered as a vibrant, unique individual beyond any characterization in the writing. This is an especially important aspect of the comic as Vaughan's frenetic pace often makes takes the focus away from the four main characters who have had little room to develop since the first issue.
Brian K. Vaughan is famous for his unwillingness to establish a consistent tone for his books, mixing tragedy, humor, drama, sci-fi, and violence at will. This remains true for Paper Girls which has some darkly violent moments mixed in with the Goonies-esque plot. This method unfortunately has dissolved the element of nostalgia and sentimentality that made the first issue so good. The disaster plot has become massive in scale so quickly that the discussions of paper routes, walki-talkies, and private schools were abandoned before we even got used to them. In the place of deft childhood characterization is a surprisingly dark but thinly-plotted sci-fi series. Three issues in, Paper Girls remains an intriguing and hugely enjoyable comic, but here's hoping it can get back to being something more.
Paper Girls #3 Writer: Brian K Vaughan Artist: Cliff Chiang Publisher: Image Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 12/2/15 Format: Mini-Series; Print, Digital