Founded in 2006, "First Second" is an extension of Macmillan Publishers which focuses on publishing and distributing creator owned graphic novel series which offer ideas and characters different from what many in the "big two" offer. Their library of graphic novels and the list of well known creators whose work is published by then continues to grow every year; perhaps their biggest name is Eddie Campbell, who drew Alan Moore's "From Hell" from 1989-1996. "First Second" has often used the New York Comic Con (NYCC) as not only a place to have a visible booth and give more promotion and visibility to their books, but to launch new graphic novels on one of the biggest stages in comic books. Last year, Zack Giallongo's exceptional "Broxo" debuted at the NYCC. This year, Paul Pope was on hand to sign copies of his newest creation with the publisher, "Battling Boy".
"Battling Boy" does more than tell the origin story of its titular hero, but it also establishes a world in which Paul Pope will soon embellish upon to tell the stories of other characters. On an earth very much like ours, the city of Arcopolis have been plagued by no end of monsters and other monstrous super-criminal types over the years. The apparent ringleader of them, Sadisto, is a disturbing sort who employs a band of fellow black hooded minions and who seems to focus on kidnapping children after dusk. The city's original defender, Haggard West, falls in battle against Sadisto at the first part of the story, leaving his daughter Aurora and her trainer, the one legged Ms. Grately. The city barely has time to mourn when another monster, the gigantic Humbaba, emerges to devour any vehicle in sight. At the same time, a godly pantheon overlooking the cosmos sends the son of its chief god on the rite of puberty of their race - a dangerous quest against the challenges of one of the worlds below. Reluctant to go, Battling Boy is sent on his way with a guidebook of monsters, a magic cape, and an array of t-shirts which bestow different powers as his arsenal.
Fortunately for readers, the story takes quite a few different turns from there to spice up expectations. Despite not being the titular hero of the story, Aurora West hardly fades into the background as she decides to take up her father's mantle and attempt to avenge his death. Lacking any godly powers or mythical weapons, she has to use the tools her father invented as well as her own training, wits, and some vehicles to prevail. And while Battling Boy quickly runs afoul of Humbaba, his choice to ultimately rely on aid from his godly father for victory and then lie about it to the mayor and citizens of Arcopolis for fame quickly backfires on him and everyone else. Things quickly come to a head when Sadisto leads a gang of monsters on an attack on a parade for Battling Boy, and he quickly has to admit his mistake and ally with Aurora to prevail. Yet is Sadisto truly the mastermind of the monsters, or just the head stooge for an even darker figure?
Paul Pope both writes and draws this story, while Hilary Sycamore handles the colors for the work. Pope's style looks much different than most "superhero" artists yet manages to strike the right chords and details for such a story when needed. He is at home drawing vast and weird landscapes as he is drawing emoting children or disturbing monsters. It was wise to use Aurora and Battling Boy in the same story, as it offers two different perspectives on the angle of a child accepting the responsibility of puberty and ultimately adulthood. Aurora is forced to mature faster than planned due to tragedy while Battling Boy has perhaps been coddled by the gods and is initially quick to shirk his responsibilities or seek easy intervention. Yet in the end both come to be allies against a mutual evil, where teamwork prevails. Sadisto makes for an effective primary antagonist as he seems to be a cross between a Boogeyman who scares children in fables and a costumed super-villain from Batman's rogues gallery. The story captures the imagination of a child without abandoning the notion that there are scary things out there. The tone of the work is a mix of horror, humor, and action, which is appropriate and makes it a delight to read without the sense of it being one note or heavy handed.
There is due to be a second "Battling Boy" volume next year as well as "The Rise of Aurora West" which embellishes more on the aforementioned heroine. On the whole, this 208 page graphic novel is the start of something wonderful and offers readers a brilliant new hero epic which is unlike any other out there.