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Review: Battling Boy / Author: Paul Pope / Artist: Paul Pope / Publisher: First Second / Release Date: Out Now
Three-time Eisner Award winner Paul Pope's new graphic novel channels the innocent days of early DC and Marvel. Its young hero (we never find out his real name, but he comes to be known as Battling Boy) is a youthful demigod from an Asgard-ish realm. On his thirteenth birthday, his beefy, Thor-like dad dumps him in a city overrun by monsters and tells him to get stuck in and sort it out. Godly or not, it's quite a rite of passage for a kid who's not even shaving yet.
The city, Arcopolis, has a '50s retro vibe, and so too does Pope's penwork, which is all knotty and contorted and full of massed shadows. This is an artist who's clearly never happier than when depicting a superhero punching out a hideous monster, and Battling Boy allows him plenty of scope to do just that. But he also tends to skimp on the backdrops, a bad habit which points to a wider problem with the book: namely, a sketchiness and thinness to the characters and the worlds they inhabit.
The story itself is pretty unremarkable. Intended to be part of an ongoing series, it sees Battling Boy struggling to grow into his role and overcome his self-doubt and lack of experience even as the desperate city folk look to him to save the day and cheer themselves up by organizing a parade in his honour. It's not a great intro, to be honest, and you're more likely to be engaged by Sadisto, a busily pro-active villain in a black hood and mummy-wrappings, and Aurora West, daughter of Haggard West, Arcopolis' recently deceased super-protector and keen to pick up where he left off (here's betting she'll be the series' breakout character). Pleasant enough, but this is a comic that triggers feelings of nostalgia without being very memorable in its own right.
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