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Battling Boy Paperback – October 8, 2013
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From School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up–With the death of hero Haggard West, Acropolis has become defenseless against vicious gangs of monsters and demons. Fortunately Battling Boy, sent here from another world to complete a rite of passage and become a hero, reluctantly offers to save the city and is immediately thrown into battle. But unlike other superheroes, Battling Boy struggles with a plethora of other, more subtle problems, such as an overbearing superhero father unwilling to help him; a city council that creates an embellished image of him; and uncontrollable superpowers from his magical T-shirts (yep, magical T-shirts). Action scenes are intense and well plotted, as when Battling Boy must jump from rooftop to rooftop in an effort to avoid a giant car-crushing monster. Although short on exposition, the story is well balanced with tongue-in-cheek humor and epic battles, but heartfelt sincerity and humility when the dust settles. Pope perfectly matches the over-the-top and fantastical tone of the piece with gritty 1980s-style artwork, toxic coloring, and jagged inking. The side story featuring Haggard's vengeful daughter, Aurora, trying to take her father's place is far less compelling than the main story, but will hopefully be fleshed out more in the upcoming sequel to this amazing epic.–Peter Blenski, Greenfield Public Library, WIα(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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Top Customer Reviews
Battling Boy! Battling Boy!
Fighting monsters `stead of playin' with toys!
He's a space prince come to save the world
There a Batman character who's also a girl
The boy's got a cape that's big and red
He's basically young Superman - yeah!
Battling Boy! Battling Boy!
Nothing rhymes with Battling Boy!
(To the tune of something awesome and `80s rockin' with a montage of Battling Boy punching bad guys and then looking sheepish in the final shot)
Paul Pope's Battling Boy sorta reminded me of 80s kids cartoons but the similarities in this book go beyond those shows and mines references across the cultural spectrum from the 1960s Batman show to the Golden and Silver Ages of comics. You have Battling Boy who lives in the Hidden Gilded realm (basically Asgard) and whose dad is unnamed but is pretty much Thor. As part of his coming-of-age ritual (he's a pre-teen) he has to undertake a "rambling" which is where he's taken from his home to another world on his "turning day" and made to overcome obstacles to prove he's a man (kind of like Hercules' Labours). Thor takes Battling Boy to a city called Arcopolis that's under siege from crazy monsters and he's left with a suitcase of interesting magical objects and a red cape that makes him look like a young Superman.
There's also a Batman-ish figure in Arcopolis called Haggard West (a tribute to Adam West?), a cross between Batman and the Rocketeer and whose car is called the Westmobile(!). The main villain of the book is Sadisto, kind of like the Joker but looks like the Grinch wearing a ninja outfit with a hint of Mumm-Ra. But despite the numerous references to more familiar cultural figures, Paul Pope manages to make Battling Boy feel fresh and his own thing.
Pope captures what being a boy who discovers he has superpowers really well. First off BB really seems like a boy - his personality is at times overconfident which leads to mistakes, innocent, which leads to situations he doesn't want to be in, and he can become scared and run back to his dad for protection (like he does when he faces his first monster). Being young, he's not as articulate as he would like to be and his natural politeness makes it hard for him to communicate how he truly feels - in one brilliant scene when Arcopolis' mayor is trying to use BB as a political tool, BB becomes frustrated and wordlessly scrunches up a metal paperweight with his bare hands before remaking it anew. It puts across his unique strength and otherworldliness while also letting them know he will not be their puppet all at once.
One of the most inspired choices Pope makes is giving BB a dozen t-shirts with animal totems on them, with each shirt bestowing BB with that animal's attribute, eg. King Lion or Curious Orangutan or the Sly Silent Fox. It's similar to Bravestarr's powers ("Strength of the Bear! Speed of the Puma!" - there are those 80s kids cartoon references again!) but work really well here as we see BB figure out how to use these powers, failing to control them at first but slowly learning to.
The book is fleshed out further with the excellent character, Aurora West, the daughter of Haggard West, the Batman/Rocketeer figure of Arcopolis. Haggard dies early in the book and, as a subplot to BB's main arc, Aurora, though only slightly older than BB, begins training to become the new hero of Arcopolis. So this book contains the origin stories of two heroes in one, both of whom are loosely analogues of arguably the two most famous superheroes in history. It's fantastically realised and fun to see, especially if you're a superhero comics fan like me.
In terms of the audience for this book, Sadisto is kind of a disturbingly drawn figure and his unsettlingly vague mission of abducting children for an unknown purpose (it's implied they are abused) might make this not the most appropriate read for younger readers, but I think it's alright for young teens to pick up and it's definitely sophisticated enough for adults to get a lot out of it too.
I just wrote a lengthy list of things I loved about this book and, though they're harmless observations that won't spoil the book for you, I deleted it anyway because I want the little touches Pope throws into the mix to be as much a pleasant surprise to me as they will be to you.
Combine the many small but brilliant touches into the 12 Labours of Hercules-esque storyline, the characters of Battling Boy, Aurora West, and Sadisto, and Pope's AMAZING art, and you have one helluva book. As much as I've written about this book, there are lots of other things I haven't mentioned - Battling Boy contains multitudes. If you love superhero comics, you'll really get a lot out of this but even if you're not well-versed in superhero stories, it's still a really fun story that anyone can enjoy. For me, I think it's the best work Pope's done yet, and is one of the most enjoyable and original superhero stories I've read in ages. I had a blast and look forward to Vol 2 as BB and Aurora West team up to take down Sadisto and the remaining monsters of Arcopolis.
Pope's writing style is very simplistic and (particularly when it comes to his dialogue) has a certain naivete. I used to consider it a weakness, but I've grown accustomed to it. It's very direct and simple. Characters say what they feel. There's a lot of shouting. There isn't much nuance to it. If you didn't know better, you might think this was written by a very bright middle schooler. But it works. There's a marriage of story and art here that I can't honestly say would be improved by a more sophisticated script.
The area that could really use improvement here is the plot. I'm not usually very concerned with plot, but it's sort of a problem here. I don't get the impression that this was some meticulously planned opus, but rather that Pope more or less wrote the story as he went along, based around a loosely framed outline. The story jumps from scene to scene. It's very fragmented. There's not much in the way of segues. By contrast, Adam Warren's series Empowered is also a one man show that has sort of an improvisational feel to it, but as you sit and read it, it just flows. Every panel has a purpose. It feels like if Warren had all the time in the world to plan it out it would have pretty much turned out the same. That's not the case here. Most importantly, though, this isn't a proper story. It's barely a proper setup for a story. It's fun to read, but at the end of the day it feels like a series of loosely connected scenes that would have benefited from more thorough planning. I know there's at least one more volume on the way, and maybe more after that (though hopefully Pope has the restraint to keep the story finite, given his sluggish pace; I'd like to see the end of it), but it would have at least been nice to see one concrete, cohesive story arc here to set up future volumes, and this book fell just short of that.
Cool premise, fun to read, and the best art on the planet, but it's not quite a story.