PAPER GIRLS — A grand 80’s sci-fi story thus far, and why you should be picking it up
By RUSSELL BERGER
As a long time reader of comics, I’ve come across quite a few books that land on the fantastic side of the CB spectrum of quality. Although I’ve been a long time DC Comics fan, and one to the point that I wouldn’t read much of anything other than the brand that stands for the “standard of comics” — including Vertigo, — but that changed when a friend suggested that I branch out into this little comic book company known as Image Comics.
I followed my friend’s advice (thanks Troy,) and I branched out picking up a few books like SAGA, OUTCAST and DESCENDER. All fine books, especially SAGA and DESCENDER, but then over the horizon came a solicit that REALLY caught my eye,
SAGA writer BRIAN K. VAUGHAN launches a brand-new ONGOING SERIES with superstar Wonder Woman artist CLIFF CHIANG! In the early hours after Halloween of 1988, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls uncover the most important story of all time. Stand By Me meets War of the Worlds in this mysterious young adult adventure, starting with a spectacular DOUBLE-SIZED FIRST ISSUE for the regular price of just $2.99!
PAPER GIRLS appeared to me to be a very promising book, as it had a creative team of ALL-STAR proportions with BKV and Cliff, both of whose work I’ve loved. See, every now-and-then you know that something’s going to be great. Like some people can tell when a NBA rookie is going to climb the mountain high enough to kiss MJ’s Jordans, or that the next rising QB could be able to lace-up TB12’s cleats. Well, reading that solicit was one of those moments for me, and I wasn’t disappointed…
See, how I tend to decide whether I’ll continue to read a new book is heavily based on how good the #1 is. If it wasn’t a great #1, but had potential, I give that book a total of 3-issues to pull me in. PAPER GIRLS had me locked the first issue.
Almost directly out of the gate we were introduced to our main cast of characters; Erin, MacKenzie, KJ and Tiffany. We find that Erin is the new girl to the group, and they — Mac more so than the others — aren’t so nice to her, or with her joining their group. It automatically set up a plot point to be touched on over the first arc, and that being the four coming closer together as a group and friends.
BKV’s writing — from having done books like Y: THE LAST MAN and SAGA — showed he had a wide range of character voices. This book plays off very different from his previous works, and it felt like a breath of fresh air. Combine that with Cliff’s art, which I was turned on to and instantly loved from his run with Brian Azzarello on WONDER WOMAN for DC Comics during the NEW52, and the two complement one another extremely well. They were able to really deliver this 80’s vibe, through writing and art/character design. I can see — in hindsight — where there would be a bit of a nostalgia hook for those who grew up in the 80’s, and with the recent success of “Stranger Things” it has that tie to draw readers who might not be comic book readers.
Something done well, and has bled through the entire series so far, is how BKV made us (at least myself) as readers unsure of who exactly the good guys and bad guys are. In the first arc we got that with a group — was four until one was 86’ed — of black ninja attire donning “Teenagers,” that of whom were a bit disfigured and integrated with tech, and a group of “knights” wielding advanced weaponry, riding pterodactyls and led by a father time-like — Grand Father — character.
Despite the “Teenagers” saving Erin’s life, they still had this aura of not being completely good characters, as is Grand Father who doesn’t necessarily seem like a completely bad character, but trying to get some form of order put in place. In my opinion, they’re perfect displays of “gray” characters, who have good motives but do bad things to accomplish said motives. In this current age of story telling, we’re seeing more “gray” characters popping up, because they’re almost more relatable. People want to identify more with characters who do anything for a good reason.
In end, the first arc laid the foundation for what the basis plot pusher would be… time-travel.
Jumping right into the second arc, you instantly get more of a sci-fi “thriller” feel come over the story. Our main cast of characters — minus KJ who’s ominously missing — find themselves in the future where they ironically came face-to-face with Erin’s future self. Imagine walking up, or just walking down the street one day, and then BAM, you’re staring an older you in the face. Between that, an alternate-Erin parachuting into the same day as Erin, Mac and Tiffany– yes, you read that correctly, she parachuted into the “present” time, and two gigantic… uh, “worm” looking monsters fighting one another like something out of Godzilla, I could hear Ken Watanabe’s character – Dr. Serizawa – saying, “Let them fight,” it hits you in all the right spots you want as a reader who enjoys sci-fi.
Most books tend to slow down, and start to drag after their initial arc, but PAPER GIRLS kept its foot on the gas. The tempo of this arc was faster than the first’s, kind of like how sweet and sour play off of one another, I found that the steady pace of the first five issues helped the “racing against the clock” vibe we got in these five.
A few elements that gave the arc depth behind the face value of its heavy sci-fi appearance were the “thriller” approach that I noticed. It worked in nice due to the quick tempo of the story, and played off of what I had said previously about BKV writing the characters to be “gray” and/or hard to decipher on whether or not they’re in fact a good or bad guy. That was blatant with the alternate-Erin. Right off the bat with her, you think she’s evil and is coming to kill ‘88-Erin, but then she does “everything” to help her, Mac and Tiffany. Though, as the story unfolds and we see her doing everything she can to undermine future-Erin, it’s clear she’s a true villain.
And let me add here, if you ever find something that has carved in it, “Don’t trust other *insert your name here,*” DON’T!
BKV also a deep down look inside the characters in these five issues. Showing ’88-Erin what she would eventually turn out to be while simultaneously showing future-Erin what she had lost over the years. Almost like a reflecting glass type of story, a second chance, and ultimately that was even more so in Mac’s case as she found out about her grim future. And we see Mac vulnerable. Definitely a one-eighty from the first arc, which gives her character some character development, and in end result, that’s what I think this arc was really about.
Anyone who knows me, knows I get into a lot of “Ancient Aliens” type of things, and so when this arc wrapped up in the last page of issue-ten and we’re shown a gigantic grassy hill with Nazca looking lines on the side, you could say I was a bit ecstatic.
There are VERY few books out there that consistently give us A+ level stories in and out every month that it’s on the shelf, let alone one that pushes the quality up two notches, and the third arc for PAPER GIRLS did just that as the girls found themselves in what looks like some kind of “Predators” proving ground. Cliff’s art, in these five-issues, was the STAR. His style seemed to capture the location and characters better than the last two arcs, which isn’t an insult, but a high compliment for him stepping up his game. When an artist shines, the entire book does shines.
There was one thing in particular that I really found interesting in this arc, and that was the MASSIVE foreshadowing that occurred in issue-13. Foreshadowing in general is something that I as a writer loves to do, and so when I see it in another book/story, it catches my attention quite easily. This case got me for the fact that one of the few things that were foreshadowed in KJ’s vision had come true, which makes me inclined to believe that the rest will follow. From seeing Grand Father and Erin together as he’s about to shoot someone, Mac and KJ kissing and Tiffany seeming like she’s in danger, they’re – BKV and Cliff – are setting up an intriguing future for the next arc and the book overall.
One thing that we can track from arc to arc (to arc) is how quickly the paper girls are “growing up,” and becoming strong women. You can see how their naivety has been scraped away from them like the skin on a knee that scraped across the pavement, and a more durable scar forms in its place. It makes them relatable. It makes them more capable of surviving this journey as they continue forth, and boy-oh-boy, with the last page – and end to the third arc – reveal of where Tiffany ended up when once again being thrust through time, they’re going to need to be as capable as anyone ever could be.
Now, if you were to jump in a DeLorean, get it going 88mph and shoot back in time a year before I started picking up PAPER GIRLS and told me that I’d be picking up a book about a group of paper girls, I’d laugh at you. I guess you could say that I was a bit CB close-minded, but like any reader who likes comics or even just books in general, you need to branch out your horizon and delve into stories that you might not normally venture into. This book, which I might not have picked up if for a friend pushing me out of my comfort zone, has quickly become a top-3 book for me that I pick up every month it’s on shelves. If the least you take home from this is to at least broaden your reading horizon, I take that as a win, but I hope that you give this title a shot.
PAPER GIRLS #16 hits shelves of a local comic shop nearest you October 16th, and starts the new arc “Y2K,”
The mind-bending, time-warping adventure continues as intrepid newspaper deliverer Tiffany is launched from the prehistoric past into the year 2000! In this harrowing version of our past, Y2K was even more of a cataclysm than experts feared, and the only person who can save the future is a 12-year-old girl from 1988.