Yeah, there’s lots of stuff to talk about, like how many people are reporting their receipt of Exploding Kittens, even unto the far corners of the earth¹, Kate Beaton getting a cartoon in the New Yorker² (her first solo placement), and Christopher Hastings announcing the wind-down of Dr McNinja. Go browse those in your free time, because we’ll be talking about something else today.
And likely several days after that, as Gina Gagliano at :01 Books has been busy with the review copies, as I have a literal stack of them that have arrived here at the ol’ Fleenplex in the past couple of days. They’re for books that will be releasing in the Fall season, and I get to read ’em and tell you what I thought. Given that this is :01 we’re talking about, I don’t think that you’ll be surprised to learn that the three I’ve pulled so far are really good, which lead to the minor dilemma of which one to write about first.
Ultimately, I chose Battling Boy: The Fall Of The House Of West for a couple of reasons: I really liked its predecessor, Battling Boy: The Rise Of Aurora West; I really like how this book continues its subversion of the Hero’s Journey trope; and I really, really like how Ms Gagliano summarized the book in the cover letter she sent:
With Battling Boy, [Paul Pope] rewrote the hero trope with a kid main character; with Aurora West, he’s telling the story of a teen girl. Expanding the terrain of who can be a hero — and a superhero — is one of the things that he’s best at, and this story is full of action and adventure and also punching.
I love that and also punching line, not least because it shows that Gagliano is the best at getting people to want to read books. But I love the first sentence even more, because it gets to the heart of what Pope’s doing with the the BB series³: finding new ways to tell the story of heroism and what it takes — what it costs — to be one. And quite frankly, Aurora West is the better story to explore that theme.
I described Battling Boy as Paul Pope at his Paul Popiest and his Jack Kirbiest but it didn’t get into my brain the way that the Aurora West books have; it’s good (damn good), but it’s several stories we’ve seen put together: godling (however old he is as his people measure such things, he’s 12 or 13 emotionally) must undergo his rites of adulthood and go out into the wide cosmos to defeat evil.
Doesn’t matter much what evil or which, just do that and his society will accept him as a man. He settles on a city in a world beset by monsters and at whatever point in time his Labors are done (there’s a clear parallel to Herakles in that there are 12 magic garments — specifically, t-shirts, on account of he’s not earned his Kirby outfit yet — to let BB channel great power) he’ll leave. We’re just at the beginning of his story and it’s being told in a fresh way, but it’s a template we’re all familiar with.
The Aurora West books, on the other hand, are different. Aurora isn’t destined to greatness because she comes from godly power, but because she’s pissed at the monsters that killed her mother. So is every other teen that made it past puberty and is relatively safe from the nightly thread of kidnap, but they’re mostly resigned to the monsters that prey on the city’s children. Her only advantage is that she hasn’t been taught to deal with monsters (who are presented as half supernatural ghouls, half mobsters) by locking herself in when the sun goes down.
Her father, Haggard, is the (soon to perish) protector of the world (that BB has yet to visit) partly because he worked hard his entire life to become such, and partly because somebody has to do the job and ain’t nobody else stepping up. Daughter and father are bound by a sense of familial duty and different reactions to the absence of their mother/wife. He puts as much of the grief away as possible to concentrate on the crusade; she is driven by a need to know which particular monster killed her mom and to take individual vengeance. They aren’t talking to each other about the things they most need to, which makes both of them less effective than they should be, and more paralyzed by the fear of further loss than they will admit.
Along the way, Aurora is training to help her father as protector; she thinks he’s cramping her progress, he thinks she’s too reckless, but the key thing is that he’s training her. BB’s parents essentially threw him over the corner of reality and said Don’t screw up or you’ll die, we’ll see you when you get back. BB is leaning to stand on his own out of complete necessity; Aurora is learning about herself, her father, and the importance of sharing your burdens.
Along the way, she learns that even earthbound, mortal heroes must be more than mortal, bigger than life, with a manufactured myth about them that is as important — maybe moreso — than the reality of the great struggle. She learns that heroes are built on a kind of benign deceit, one that lets them do the job without breaking; sometimes it’s fostered on the lies they tell themselves, sometimes on the lies that they are told because the truth will render them unable to fight on. She learns how fear-borne nightmares can destroy, how love is a strength and a weakness, and how benevolence and protection must be undergirded by ruthlessness.
BB see his quest as an especially challenging game. The Wests are fighting a protracted war of attrition and barely holding onto a stalemate. It’s a narrative that’s thematically richer and deeper; call Aurora West the Lord of the Rings to Battling Boy’s The Hobbit, or maybe Harry Potter books 4-7 vs books 1-3.
BB:TFOTHOW (story by Paul Pope and JT Petty, with gorgeous, scratchy, menacing B&W art by David Rubín) will release on 13 October; that’s enough time for you to track down BB:TROAW and read it through a couple of times. You should also go find a copy of BB and see where Aurora is headed once she’s on her own. I have a feeling that the godling will become a lot more interesting once he and Aurora determine that their goals are complementary: she needs raw power, he needs guidance and wisdom, they both have plenty to learn from the other, and a dual Hero’s Journey would be a neat way to really turn all the usual tropes on their heads.
As always, many thanks to :01 Books for the review copy.
Spam of the day:
You can get the buns from the store(commissary is what the inmates call store ), or you can trade or gamble.
¹ The game itself is fun, leading to much in-your-face triumphalism and a three-Nope chain when were were playing it yesterday between EMS calls.
² Scroll forward from the landing page; it was the sixth cartoon when I looked, but there’s at least one sponsored cartoon advertising Bojack Horseman in there.
³ Considering it’s now one book for the titular Boy and two for Aurora West, I’m wondering if Pope doesn’t feel as I do and find that West is the more interesting and compelling character.