When The Rise of Aurora West was announced shortly after the release of Battling Boy I was instantly intrigued. Frankly I couldn’t get enough of the universe and so the fact that Paul Pope was already planning to release more was frankly impressive, but also desired. Make no mistake though; The Rise of Aurora West isn’t a sequel, but rather a prequel. Actually that’s not right, it is in many ways running parallel to Battling Boy and while that series introduced us to the world, Aurora explains how that world came to be. Two noticeable differences about Aurora are that Paul Pope doesn’t illustrate the book, but instead has handed over the reins to David Rubin. Rubin’s style is clearly influenced by Pope and made me wonder just how many artists have been inspired by him. Often times I forgot that the art wasn’t Pope’s until I would see something that was recognizably Rubin’s twist. Let’s just say that Paul Pope has managed to find and introduce to his audience someone like Paul Pope; because that is the thing about Pope’s style, you want more, but he’s only one man with only so much time in a day.
Unlike BB, Aurora is in all black & white which might be a strange transition for most. It’s also only 5x7” which means it’s the size of your average Manga trade paperback. As strange as it may sound the black & white style with that size makes it far more personal. In some ways it feels as if we’re reading the diary of Aurora rather than following her adventures. It’s the perfect format for Rubin’s style and as it draws you in closer to the page and in a way closer to the world making for an immersive reading experience.
The other addition to the creative team is writer JT Petty. I don’t know how the writing worked between Pope and Petty, but they work wonderfully together. Again, you really won’t realize that Paul Pope didn’t do everything himself on this book because the creative team doesn’t its damndest to make sure that it looks and feels like Pope’s solo book Battling Boy.
If you read Battling Boy (which you should because it’s incredible!) then you already know the fate of Haggard West, Aurora’s father. Yet knowing that the creative team takes us on a journey through Aurora’s life and the final days leading up to Haggard’s end. It ends where BB begins. Along the way we see how this once great city became infested with monsters that steal children for a purpose that we still don’t understand.
Aurora is 100% the star of the book, but she’s actually quite different from how she is in Battling Boy. The events of this series and BB shape a new personality for her and it’s only because this story came second that we truly understand the transformation and man-oh-man does it make her story in BB all the more tragic.
Most significantly is how well Petty and Pope handle Aurora. She’s not a total bad-ass character, she’s not a damsel; she’s a girl, and I say “girl” because she hasn’t grown up yet. She’s a convincing young teenager that has been traveling the world with her parents for most of her life and then fighting monsters and training with her father for the other half. Her approach to situations is believable because she’s still full of hope and excitement and lacks wisdom. She is the opposite of her father, but her personality brings out the best in Haggard.
While the story follows Aurora, it is still heavy-handed on Haggard’s appearance. This is wonderful because his character was so short-lived in BB that you really wanted more with him. You wanted to know the character and the creative team does just that. I don’t think a “Haggard West” solo book is needed after this because through Aurora’s eyes you see his character journey. He’s not just a Batman clone which is what I’m sure a lot of people thought of him from his first appearance. He has elements, but he’s actually a far better character because he’s flawed and because he doesn’t have all the answers no matter how hard he tries.
The big thing about this story is that yes it does take place before Battling Boy, so why not lead with this story first? In my opinion, it wouldn’t have worked being the lead story. It uses much of the foundation from BB and that’s what makes it successful. Without knowing where it goes already the emotional impact of the story isn’t as deep. That isn’t to say that if you were to start with The Rise of Aurora West that you would be lost or not feel as rewarded by the end of the story, but if you’ve read Battling Boy first you’ll be frothing at the mouth by the time you’re done reading. There’s still time left before I hand out my book of the year award, but The Rise of Aurora West is going to be difficult to beat.
Writers: Paul Pope, JT Petty Artist: David Rubin Publisher: First Second Books Price: $9.99 Release Date: 9/30/14 Format: TPB; Print