A long time in coming (it was first announced in 2006), Battling Boy is a mash-up of superheroes and mythologies that is a splendor to behold. It follows the adventures of Battling Boy, the son of a war god, who finds on his thirteenth birthday that he has to go "a-rambling" and find his way in the universe. He is sent to a planet over-run by monsters and has to figure out how to contend with them on his own. He was not set on his journey without some materials, and he has a cape made of special material as well as a dozen different t-shirts with totem emblems on them. Each shirt gives him special powers and weaknesses according to its emblem.
|Pretty strong, though the arms are kind of useless.|
The world he is on is inhabited and part of what he has to contend with is navigating the environs of Arcopolis and its human inhabitants, which include a conniving mayor and his board of advisors. They set BB up with a new name Arco-Lad (he hates it) and some public relations appearances:
Everything set up in this book just has a energy that I find admirable. The characters and situations play off of superhero conventions, but in fresh and modern ways both narratively and visually. His monsters are also excellently composed of elements of classic creatures like vampires and werewolves, more like the Universal Monsters meet Brothers Grimm than some of their contemporary translations. I see so much potential in this book and hope that there is at least one, but even better multiple, sequels where everything can develop and be fleshed out.
Battling Boy was created by Paul Pope, a multiple Eisner Award winning talent known for his series THB, 100%, Heavy Liquid, and Batman Year 100. He began his career drawing for the Japanese manga publisher Kodansha. He won the National Cartoonist Society’s Reuben Award for his comic strip "Strange Adventures" as well as a Master Artist recognition by the American Council of the Arts in 2010. In addition to all these honors, he has been a extremely high profile artist, working for the fashion company Diesel on screenprints that went into clothing designs. He speaks about his work on Battling Boy and his comics career in these interviews in video and print.
Jacky Kirby and Moebius, and as seen in the excerpt above, both of their sensibilities show through in his work. His monsters are truly monstrous and frightening, the action bold and grand, and his people look like real, opinionated, cool, deceptive, wonderful, sweaty, tired, inspired, fearful, bold, and hopeful people. My only real criticisms of this book are that it ended too abruptly and that I wish the pages were larger to display Pope's artwork more fully. So the worst thing I can say about this book was that I wish there was more of it. Now.
All of the reviews I have read of this book so far have been raves, and I expect it to be included in many "best of" lists come year's end. In a starred review Publishers Weekly raved, "the book is more than just eye candy, matching its style with substance and tackling all-too-human problems (despite a cast of mostly otherworldly characters) like the fear of failure and the pressures of legacy." In another starred review Kirkus Reviews called it simply "A masterful nod to the genre." Kazu Kibuishi summed up his opinion, "It is my favorite thing that Paul Pope has ever done, and I’ve been a fan of his for a very long time."
Battling Boy is published by First Second, and they provide a preview and much more here.
Thank you, Gina, for the review copy!