Written and Illustrated by: Paul Pope
Colored by: Hilary Sycamore
Lettered by: John Martz
Published by: First Second
Reviewed by: <Kristian Horn
If there is any one artist whose work will make me run to a comic shop and purchase their work in person rather than waiting for it to arrive in the mail via Amazon.com it’s Paul Pope. Ever since I discovered his graphic novel 100% I’ve been in love with his artwork. Pope’s style at the time that I discovered it was so unconventional to me, so completely different than anything I’d ever seen, that I became enraptured with it from the moment I laid eyes on it. Pope’s art was a revelation and his talent spoke to me in a way that a comic book artist’s work hadn’t in a long time. Staring at his art on the pages of 100% I was dumbfounded as I peered across every page. There was a craziness to his work and a vitality that I felt had not displayed itself on the page of a comic book since the days of Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko. Pope’s work, to me, seemed alive on the page and from that moment on I considered him to be one of my favorite comic artists, scratch that, artists of all time. I worship at the altar that is Paul Pope’s talent.
So when I got an e-mail from my local comic shop asking if I’d be interested in having a copy of Pope’s latest book, Battling Boy, held for me for purchase I immediately responded in the affirmative. I’d known for some time that BB was coming out at some point and usually I’ll pre-order Paul Pope material sight unseen, but for some reason this latest book’s release date slipped by my radar. So after work I made a quick detour on the way home and plunked down the full price for the hardcover edition of Pope’s latest entry into the annals of comicdom and I have to say that once again Paul Pope has impressed the living heck out of me.
I’ll say right now that I devoured the book as soon as I had a chance to sit down and read it. It was one of those rare comic reads in which I found myself glued to the book and just grooving to every unconventional page of artwork and story. I finished the book quickly and meant to sit and write up this review right away but, alas, life got in the way and I found myself putting this review on the back burner. I know that other critics have had their say, and I know that all the reviews are out, and I know that many comic fans have already picked this book up…but dammit I loved Battling Boy and I’m going to let the world know about it come hell or high water!
My biggest thrill while reading Battling Boy was realizing just how much this book owed to the work of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It’s almost as if certain segments of the comic had been lifted straight out of older Thor or New Gods comic books. Sure, Paul Pope makes everything his own here but he certainly wears his superhero influences on his sleeve in this book and Pope produces a work of art that I think King Kirby would’ve been proud to have inspired. I’ve actually been very shocked when I’ve had the chance to read other reviews that claim that Battling Boy is something “new” or “fresh”. I believe that the proper adjective that everyone might want to use is “refreshing”. Battling Boy harkens back to a type of comic book story that is extremely entertaining in its simplicity. It’s not overly bogged down with too many details, it’s just concerned with detailing a rip-roaring superhuman adventure and that is exactly what Pope delivers here. It’s a new school of comic book craftsmanship that gives you an old school feel as you take it in. Paul Pope remembers what it’s like to just be taken on flights of fancy in the pages of a comic and with Battling Boy he gives us a journey worth embracing. Paul Pope’s Battling Boy is superhero comics as they were meant to be made.
As fun as the story itself is, and as much as it harkens back to a bygone era of comics, what is really impressive about Battling Boy is Pope’s artwork. I mentioned before that I felt that Pope’s style reminded me of Ditko and Kirby’s art style and to me that statement is made even more evident now that Pope has embraced the more fantastical world of superhero comics. If anything, Pope’s art in Battling Boy made me feel that his style was one part Kirby, one part Ditko, and one part the Bros. Hernandes all thrown into a blender and pulped together with maximum efficiency. Oh, I know that Pope has dabbled in superhero books before with Batman: Year 100 but with BB his style has reached beyond the grittiness of that work and achieved a sort of messy neatness that is beautiful to behold. Each page crackles with loose vitality and captures the fantastic spirit of Marvel’s early comic book years. Pope’s imagination and design sense knows no bounds here. Page after page impresses as Pope displays a character design sense that is born of a mastery of both fine and cartooning arts. Battling Boy may remind me of the Silver Age of comics but Pope’s artistry makes the book a very modern enterprise.
In the end, I have to say that I loved this book…as if you couldn’t tell already. It’s the type of comic that reminded me what it felt like to be young and discovering comics for the first time. When every character was a fresh new discovery and the world on the page was brimming with life. Battling Boy is something very exciting and it’s greatest achievement is that it encapsulates what was great about classic comics and brings them triumphantly in this new century. Bravo! I can’t wait until the next volume!