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What It Takes To Be A Hero

Aurora West, hero in training.

Editor’s Note: We at Fleen were invited to participate in a virtual book tour for The Rise of Aurora West, which means we’ll be discussing elements of the plot. For those that are concerned with such things, here be spoilers.

Paul Pope garnered a lot of well-deserved praise last year for Battling Boy, which I believe I described as Paul Pope at his Paul Popiest and his Jack Kirbiest. For those that haven’t seen it, it’s the story of a young godling (emotionally/physically around 13 years old, but who knows how gods calculate such things) sent on his rite of transition to adulthood (i.e.: becoming the protector for a world beset by monsters). It’s the first of a series, a classic Hero’s Journey, and it’s great fun.

It’s not why we’re here today.

We’re here because Pope (along with co-author JT Petty and artist David Rubín) have released a “parallel” (for reasons that will become apparent momentarily) prequel called The Rise of Aurora West which released yesterday, a review copy of which made it into my hands some time back courtesy of Gina Gagliano of :01 Books. It’s a far more interesting book to me than its predecessor, which I mean as no slight to Battling Boy.

Here’s the thing: in any Hero’s Journey, the Hero comes to the people that are in dire straights and puts things right; in some cases, the Hero falls in love with said people and adopts their ways to some degree, but it’s always about the Hero leaving and returning to wherever he (it’s always a he) came from. What about those people before the Hero came along — were they helpless and hopeless? That’s what TROAW concerns itself with, and it turns out the people were struggling and hurting, but they were not without their own champion.

Haggard West (what a marvelous name, reminiscent of H Rider Haggard) was¹ your basic adventure hero in the Doc Savage/Buckaroo Banzai/Tom Strong mode, and he and his wife and daughter travelled the world seeking out mysteries and righting wrongs. When the infestation of child-stealing monsters descended on Arcopolis, he became the protector as well, and it was all still adventure until the monsters killed his wife. Young Aurora West is still a child, Haggard wonders who will protect her (in general as the monsters prey on children, and in particular as he is the greatest enemy the monsters have) and the city. He falls into a funk and does the only thing possible: he makes her into an inversion of Batman.

Think about it for a moment — what if Bruce Wayne lost only one parent, and was raised not by Alfred but by the surviving parent — driven to vengeance — determined to protect his child by building up skills and also by making young Bruce harder than he could ever be otherwise. What if the quest to eliminate evil didn’t come from within, but was taught and you just kind of go along with it because you don’t really remember a time it wasn’t like that? What if Batman isn’t a holy calling, but the family business?

And what if, as a teenager, you find yourself disagreeing with aspects of the mission?

Aurora isn’t her father; she has empathy for some of the lower-level, pathetic minions of the monsters, something her father won’t allow himself to feel. He doesn’t allow himself to feel much, hardening his heart so that he can be as demanding of his daughter as is necessary to train her in the ways of violence and vengeance. Only when he’s sure that she has the skills that he needn’t worry about her safety (he lost the love of his live, he cannot bear another loss, not that he’d admit such) can he relent.

Aurora isn’t her father; she wonders where the monsters come from, and why they are the way they are. He doesn’t care about motivation, beyond figuring out what their next plot might be, and which weapons will be most effective. He confronts monsters in a destructive dance, like a graceful sledgehammer; she would rather sleuth than confront.

Aurora isn’t her father; she remembers an imaginary friend, one that hasn’t been seen since the night her mother died, and discovers not having an imaginary friend any longer may not have been because she was suddenly forced to grow beyond having imaginary friends. Maybe it’s because the imaginary friend fled the scene of the crime.

Aurora may be more like her father than she thought.

Somewhere down the line, in the pages of Battling Boy or Aurora West, she’s going to point out to a godling that he may have been sent to be the savior of Arcopolis, but it’s already got people that protect it and love it and will stay around when godlings go home to their parents. The monsters may fall, but Aurora will always be part of Arcopolis. She’s not innately powerful, she’s not able to beat the foe into rubble, but she’ll not blunder in without thinking or regard the defeat of the monsters as an item on a checklist to earn the recognition of her people. She’ll help them whether they ever acknowledge her or know her name, because it’s the family business and because it needs doing and because she can.

Aurora West is a Hero, and she doesn’t need a Journey to prove it.

Thanks once again to Gina Gagliano for the review copy, and for inviting us to be part of the blogtour; other stops can be found here. And because all the folks associated with Battling Boy and Aurora West love us and want us to be happy, they’ve sent along some lovely art by TROAW artist David Rubín of one of the bigger bads from the book: Medula the Witch. Because there is nothing better (in the sense of totally insane) than a monster-lady with a Tommy Gun and a penchant for chaos. Be sure to check it out full size.

Spam of the day:

You should think about whether you would like a garden that is growing almost wildly or perhaps a garden which is highly structured.
Frictional forces within the accretion disk generate huge numbers of energy, which is radiated as either visible light, radio or X-rays.

I prefer gardens that provide for happy bees and produce edibles, and definitely are not so densely overgrown as to produce their own gravity wells.

¹ Was because in the early acts of Battling Boy, Haggard West falls to the monsters; this is a prequel, after all, so we see him before his defeat.

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