What the world does not need now is another review of Battling Boy, and so I am not going to write one. Because I don't need to, thanks to my friend Charles Hatfield, who wrote pretty much everything I have to say on the subject over at TCJ.com. This is a good thing for several reasons, the first being that he writes a mean good review ("mean" in this case signifying "awesome"). Second, I am lazy. Third, I want to go read Battling Boy again, and then force my kids to read it so I have an excuse to read it a third time over their shoulders. So, I'm just going to quote Charles:
Battling Boy is a paean to the world-building powers and reckless energy of cartooning. Dynamic, brash, stuffed with surprises, yet also knowingly crafted, tightly braided, even subtle, it is Pope’s best balancing act yet between the joys of rampant mark-making and the responsibilities of story.
What he said. This book feels always one false move away from being out of control, off the tracks and in pieces on the floor. But it doesn't make a false move, or ever truly come close—instead leaving you teetering over the edge of the coaster pretty much the whole way, unconscious of the remarkable engineering keeping the whole rickety enterprise erect and, appearances to the contrary, safe as houses.
For all his eloquent praise of the book, CH did mention two disappointments. First, the book, published in First Second's standard format, is perhaps too small to let Pope's electric lines truly hum. I get that, and there were times my aging eyes were wishing for a magnifying glass . But I also understand what First Second was thinking in going with this smaller size—looking at the new comics-for-smart-younger-readers marketplace Battling Boy is competing in (Amulet leaps to mind), keeping the price of the volume under $20 is a smart move. And have no fear, aging fan-boys and -girls, there will surely be a deluxe, oversized, hardcover edition for our demographic down the line.
Charles' other concern is a tougher one to counter: the book just…. ends. No one likes a cliffhanger more than me, but here it feels more like the tape ran out. Pope's relative lack of experience in plotting 400-page serial arcs and managing the gaps between installments might be the culprit here. But you know what, as long as we get volume 2 soon, all will be well...
And here is where I start getting edgy: when is the next volume coming? This first had been teased for a good long time before we got to hold it in our over-eager hands. And not bound by the demands (increasingly unenforced though they might be) of traditional serial comic book formats, it is hard not to feel anxious about the uncertain wait for volume 2. And it is harder still not to fret that Pope might really mean it when he says this is to be a two-volume project. Really? We're just getting started! Surely we need 3... or maybe 10?
Alright. I'll breathe deeply and return you back to the calmer hands of Charles Hatfield. (But PP, if you're listening: how about we compromise? 5 volumes?)