By Cameron Hatheway
Paul Pope's Eisner award-winning Battling Boy garnered heaps of acclaim last year, and with good reason. The story of the son of a god saving a city ripe with criminals and monsters was action-packed and memorable, captivating readers with Pope's dynamic style and storytelling. While he's hard at work on the second Battling Boy volume, another graphic novel set in the same universe is debuting next month starring one of the characters from the first book, Aurora West.
Daughter of Acropolis' late science hero extraordinaire Haggard West, Aurora was seen very briefly in Battling Boy coping with her father's loss, then following in his footsteps and taking up the mantle. In the prequel, The Rise of Aurora West, we follow her a few year prior to Battling Boy's arrival. She's learning the tricks of the science hero trade from her father, trying to balance her fencing and martial arts lessons with her schooling. While she still has her father and nanny/bodyguard/trainer Ms. Grately in her life to guide her, one of the main mysteries in the prequel revolves around what really happened to her mother all those many years ago. Rose West died the same night Haggard destroyed the monsters entrance to the city, and it was also the same night Aurora lost her imaginary friend Mr. Wurple.
The evil Sadisto and his Ghoul Gang are still running rampant kidnapping children left and right, planning something big for Haggard West. They're building a big machine designed for chaos, hiring a plethora of the misshapen monsters of Acropolis to steal parts for the price of live tadpoles. As a matter of fact, it seems Aurora has an unlikely connection with one of the Ghouls in particular, and doesn't realize that the memory has been suppressed.
Pope and JT Petty wrote the story for the graphic novel, and the entire thing is illustrated by Spanish artist David Rubín. While Pope's style is definitely reminiscent of Jack Kirby and Alex Toth, Rubín's style is very reminiscent of Pope's and in a good way. It doesn't come off as imitation, but it definitely had me doing a double-take on the first read-through. It was a little disappointing to have the entire book in black and white—Hilary Sycamore's coloring in Battling Boy was delightful—but at the same time the intricate, stylized art shines through even stronger because of it. I will say however that the Ghoul Gang looks a little softer in Aurora West than the more nightmarish versions in Battling Boy. Keep an eye on Rubín by the way; his adaptation of Beowulf with Santiago García will be getting an English translation this year, and his art in the pages I've seen looks absolutely phenomenal.
The universe Pope has created was definitely expanded with this prequel, and readers can slowly start making connections between the past and present in the series, with hints of an exciting future. Aurora definitely has what it takes to follow in her father's footsteps jetpack, and by the end of the book she has a pretty good idea who/what killed her mother, and wants revenge.
Like its predecessor, it's still a great all-ages title steeped in science-fiction and bits of horror fantasy. Aurora is one of those heroines I'd love to see younger readers dress-up at comic conventions as, decked out with jetpack and ray guns. Now that I think about it, it'd be a great father/daughter cosplay; Haggard and Aurora West.
Entertaining as it is exciting, The Rise of Aurora West will definitely be a must-buy when it comes out later next month. I wouldn't be surprised if like Battling Boy it will get an Eisner nomination and win next year.