Battling Boy Volume 1 graphic novel review

Paul Pope’s long awaited Battling Boy Vol 1 is a glorious mix of Jack Kirby and Studio Ghibli

Released in the wake of writer/artist Paul Pope’s revelation that DC turned down his pitch for a new series based on Jack Kirby’s iconic Kamandi: The Last Boy On Earth, allegedly telling him “We publish comics for 45-year olds,” it’s tempting to wonder how much of Battling Boy was born in that project.

Like Kirby’s post-apocalyptic adventurer, Battling Boy is a youthful hero in a ruined world of bestial bipeds, but influence is drawn from other corners of Kirby’s cosmic output – the son of monster-slaying deity, this Kamandi is less the survivor of a decimated human race and more a New God-in-training sent to a city overrun with block-stomping Kaiju monsters and vicious gangs of ghouls and animal men.

Its beleagured people are only too grateful for a hero following the death of pulp rocketeer Haggard West placing all of their hopes onto the unsteady shoulders of this new champion, and Battling Boy must learn to stand on his own two feet without his father’s literal dues ex machina to depend upon, discover answers to problems that violence won’t solve and find a balance between idealism and pragmatism.

Like all the best YA, Battling Boy is aimed squarely children beginning to explore their place in the adult world, with strong, dynamic characters and solid messages that run a gauntlet from stark Studio Ghibli realism to selfless Harry Potter heroism without missing a single beat in its tight narrative tattoo.

Pope, the critically acclaimed and occasionally controversial creator of the compelling Batman: Year 100, takes in all his influences and lends his hyper-kinetic, scrappy sorta-Manga style to building an energetic new world of collapsing water towers, sunset skylines and bold onomatopoeia slowly and steadily across this first volume. As if to disprove any alarmist whinging about the diminished attention spans of young people – Battling Boy will hold children enraptured, and will surprise adults too with its freshness and playful resuscitation of the Silver Age’s biggest and boldest traditions.

A demonic big bad is finally teased in the closing pages, but it’s the arrival of Haggard’s daughter to save Battling Boy’s bacon that really ends the first arc, as Aurora dons her father’s jetpack and zap-guns to bring diesel-punk justice to the city of Acropolis. Conflict and symmetry is immediately established – both heirs to a heroic tradition, Battling Boy forced to survive without his demigod father to prove himself worthy, Aurora living without him following his death. How can the godchild look like anything other than a privileged daytripper to the monster-blighted Acropolis that Aurora has trained her entire life to protect?

If your 10-year old (or the 10-year old in you) will long to be Battling Boy with his totemic T-shirts and boundless energy, then they’ll also see something to aspire to in Aurora’s pragmatism and Hermione-brand determination.

Masterful stuff, first announced as far back as 2008 – Battling Boy Vol 1 has been more than worth the wait.