Paul Pope

Mak­ing comics for teens cool again with Bat­tling Boy

Comic Heroes - - Contents - Bat­tling Boy is out now through First Sec­ond and art cat­a­logue Mon­sters And Ti­tans: Bat­tling Boy On Tour is avail­able through Im­age Comics. The Rise Of Aurora West is pub­lished in Septem­ber.

Hav­ing had his fill of the Dark Knight, Paul Pope tells Stephen Jewell why he’s launch­ing am­bi­tious new graphic novel se­ries Bat­tling Boy and work­ing with Brad Pitt

Af­ter putting his unique stamp on the dystopian vista of Gotham City in

Bat­man: Year 100 and on New York in his cre­ator-owned Ver­tigo se­ries Heavy Liq­uid and 100%, Paul Pope was de­ter­mined to ex­plore a less fa­mil­iar lo­cale. Set in the ar­che­typal city of Ar­copo­lis,

Bat­tling Boy has been de­scribed as “a new gen­er­a­tion su­per­hero” by En­ter­tain­ment

Weekly and has been pur­posely de­signed by the Brook­lyn-based car­toon­ist as a four-colour gate­way drug – or su­per-sol­dier serum if you like – into the glo­ri­ously vi­brant world of comic books.

“As I was fin­ish­ing my last books for DC, I re­alised that I’d been do­ing so many books set in New York, which were more or less re­al­is­ti­cally done,” he re­calls when Comic He­roes meets him at a bar just around the cor­ner from his New York pub­lisher First Sec­ond Books. “Es­pe­cially as I’d been work­ing on Bat­man and get­ting so en­gaged in the mythol­ogy of the hero and the story and su­per­hero ori­gins.

“Around the time I was fin­ish­ing that, I started work­ing with Michael Chabon on a big budget film adap­ta­tion of his novel The Amaz­ing Ad­ven­tures Of Kava­lier And Clay, which was about two im­mi­grant comic book writ­ers in WW2 Amer­ica. As I re­sult, I spent most of 2006 ba­si­cally wait­ing for de­ci­sions to get made. We ended up cre­at­ing this kind of think-tank to de­cide things like where the story was go­ing. What we were re­ally do­ing was tak­ing the hood off the car and try­ing to un­der­stand the me­chan­ics of what makes a su­per­hero story work. Af­ter that ex­pe­ri­ence, when I met the people from First Sec­ond I was think­ing of this germ of an idea for a su­per­hero. I wanted to do a kid char­ac­ter be­cause I’ve got teenage neph­ews, and it started from there.”

For Read­ers Of All Ages Re­leased late last year, Bat­tling Boy is es­sen­tially aimed at a younger au­di­ence,

al­though with its wry trib­ute to the canon­i­cal oeu­vre of comic book pi­o­neers like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko it also res­onates with more sea­soned read­ers.

“It just de­vel­oped or­gan­i­cally like that,” ex­plains Pope. “The ini­tial idea was to do a su­per­hero story where he fights mon­sters from clas­sic fairy­tales. But I also wanted to do a kid su­per­hero, who wasn’t just an­other ver­sion of Bat­man or Iron Man be­cause I’d iden­ti­fied that there aren’t re­ally any new or fresh comics that are done for a kid read­er­ship.

“I’d done teenage side­kicks be­fore with Bat­man and Robin – as most of my su­per­hero work has been Bat­man-re­lated. I wanted to ap­proach Robin as a se­ri­ous char­ac­ter and get into the psy­chol­ogy of what it re­ally means to be a side­kick. There are dif­fer­ent cod­i­fied ver­sions of that kind of char­ac­ter – Cap­tain Amer­ica has Bucky, Bat­man has Robin, or at this stage sev­eral Robins, and even Iron Man has pro­tégés. Think­ing about it more deeply, the thing that makes the kid su­per­heroes cool is that they are kind of he­roes of po­ten­tial­ity as they re­ally haven’t achieved any­thing yet. I like that a lot and it ap­peals to chil­dren. I don’t have any kids my­self but we were all kids once and I can re­mem­ber how that felt.”

The tale be­gins with brash 12-year-old demigod Bat­tling Boy fall­ing spec­tac­u­larly to

I also wanted to do a kid su­per­hero, who wasn’t just an­other ver­sion of Bat­man or Iron Man

Earth, where he is soon em­broiled in the fight against child-snatch­ing vil­lain Sadisto. He then en­coun­ters budding teenage vig­i­lante Aurora West, who has taken up her fam­ily man­tle af­ter her su­per­hero fa­ther Hag­gard West is killed in ac­tion.

“In my mind, the su­per­hero story is al­ways the ori­gin story and once that’s es­tab­lished you can tell other sto­ries within that spec­trum,” rea­sons Pope. “But I wanted to do some­thing dif­fer­ent and that’s why Hag­gard West dies. It was im­por­tant to iden­tify this char­ac­ter as the clas­sic Amer­i­can ar­che­typal su­per­hero – but who is then im­me­di­ately killed. It’s al­most like you tak­ing the nee­dle vi­o­lently off the record

in or­der to clear some space to make a new su­per­hero, who would tra­di­tion­ally be a side­kick but now has no one left to lead them.”

While Hag­gard West takes his name from She au­thor H Rider Hag­gard, Bat­tling Boy’s fan­tas­ti­cal home realm is rem­i­nis­cent of both Jack Kirby’s Fourth World and Marvel’s sci-fi makeover of As­gard.

It was im­por­tant to iden­tify the char­ac­ter as the ar­che­typal su­per­hero – then kill him

“I didn’t re­alise that there was so much of the

Fourth World in there un­til the book was com­ing out,” ad­mits Pope. “When I was for­mu­lat­ing the idea, I wanted a very pan­mytho­log­i­cal story told us­ing all the clas­sic su­per­hero tropes, so it would re­quire Hag­gard West, a side­kick and a pan­theon of gods. I wanted them to be very generic; Bat­tling Boy’s fa­ther is not Thor, he’s a war god but his name is ‘Dad’. I wanted to pull back as far as I could with those things. I’m also a fan of Fellini so there’s some Satyri­con in there and Mike Hodges’s

Flash Gor­don is an­other in­flu­ence.”

Get­ting Heavy

Apart from the far-out es­capades of Sil­ver Age ti­tles like Jack Kirby’s New Gods and fa­mous pulp nov­els such as John Carter Of Mars and

Doc Sav­age, Pope also delved into his collection of ’70s Heavy Metal mag­a­zines.

“They had sto­ries by Moe­bius and Richard Cor­ben – some pretty over-the-top, ratch­eted-up, strange, es­o­teric ma­te­rial,” he says. “I was think­ing about it, re­mem­ber­ing that I could read this stuff as a kid. Just to iso­late Fan­tas­tic

Four, the Sil­ver Age sto­ries are re­ally grim in a way, with Doc­tor Doom be­ing this man en­cased in ar­mour, whose pretty burned up be­cause he blew him­self up in a botched ex­per­i­ment. There were all these heavy ideas but they were done in such a way that when I first read those is­sues, at just six, seven or eight years old, they felt more like this huge op­er­atic story as op­posed to a per­sonal tragedy about some­one be­ing dis­fig­ured. We hear about those kinds of atroc­i­ties all the time now in the news so we have to find a way to process them in a larger sense, where the atroc­ity is not the end of some­thing but ac­tu­ally part of a big­ger, more in­vis­i­ble nar­ra­tive that we don’t see. That’s why people keep com­ing back to the hero story.”

With their con­vo­luted con­ti­nu­ities, though, most main­stream ti­tles are now frus­trat­ingly in­ac­ces­si­ble to new read­ers, who aren’t up to speed with the in­tri­cate de­tails of the lat­est cross­over event.

“I know my­self that when Bat­man: Year 100 came out, it was be­ing pushed at an adult au­di­ence,” says Pope. “I read adult comics – we

all do be­cause we’re adults – but I knew from my neph­ews, from the time when they were ado­les­cents or pre-ado­les­cents, that they could read the old Sil­ver Age comics and deal with the no­tion that Spi­der-Man’s un­cle is mur­dered and un­der­stand that that’s what sets the story in mo­tion. A lot of the stuff I was do­ing was too much for a kid to deal with, though, so I wanted to re­turn to a more in­no­cent – but still se­ri­ous – ap­proach to those kinds of sto­ries.”

Si de­kic k’s Si de­kic k

While Pope is hard at work on the next

Bat­tling Boy salvo, Septem­ber will see the first of two spin-off graphic nov­els, fo­cus­ing on his part­ner-in-crime­fight­ing, Aurora West.

“Bat­tling Boy needed a foil, some­one to off­set him, and I also felt like there needed to be more of a fem­i­nine pres­ence in the books,” says Pope. “What’s in­ter­est­ing is that Aurora’s story is more about vengeance while his is about dis­cov­ery but he’s also very aloof be­cause he’s a god among hu­mans, so he’s not that in­vested in the prob­lem. He’s in­ter­ested in ful­fill­ing what­ever mis­sion it takes to get back to where the gods come from. I thought they would make for an in­ter­est­ing team be­cause they have that kind of light/dark­ness to them – a clas­sic pair­ing like Han Solo and Luke Sky­walker or Bat­man and Su­per­man.

“Then if you look at it more deeply, his power is mag­i­cal and from a sort of demigod source. He can rely on his in­vul­ner­a­bil­ity and he can lit­er­ally call down a light­ning bolt from the gods. Aurora can’t do that: she’s left with this ar­se­nal of weapons and a man­sion but no guid­ance. They’re also like quasi-sib­lings, who are des­tined to be to­gether, which I thought was an in­ter­est­ing chal­lenge.”

Co-writ­ten by film­maker JT Petty and drawn by Span­ish artist David Ru­bin, The Rise

Of Aurora West rep­re­sents the writer/artist’s first ma­jor foray into artis­tic col­lab­o­ra­tion. “As part of the larger five-year Bat­tling Boy cam­paign, there’s a pretty big story and my edi­tor Mark Siegel asked me if I wanted to do some more sto­ries,” says Pope. “I re­gret­ted killing Hag­gard so fast. There was a story we could tell and that was his story. We knew that Aurora was go­ing to be­come a pretty im­por­tant char­ac­ter in Bat­tling Boy’s story since she’s not quite a side­kick but more of an ally, an equal hero, even though no one knew about her un­til the book came out. Mark asked me if I wanted to ex­plore that in a sec­ond se­ries, us­ing her and her fa­ther be­cause there is clearly a prob­lem in Ar­copo­lis be­fore Bat­tling Boy ar­rives.”

Thi nk­ing Big Sc reen

Bat­tling Boy has been op­tioned for a film by Brad Pitt’s pro­duc­tion com­pany Plan B, and Pope is op­ti­mistic that his teen hero will even­tu­ally hit the big screen. He’s been col­lab­o­rat­ing closely with Watch­men screen­writer Alex Tse.

“I’ve been work­ing on the adap­ta­tion as I’ve been work­ing on the graphic novel and there’s now a ninth draft of the script. I’ve also writ­ten a prose novella, which is the en­tire story, which we’re us­ing as the ba­sis of the graphic novel which will also be­come the film if it ever hap­pens. Right now, we’ve taken it off the ta­ble be­cause it’s just too time con­sum­ing for me to do both. It would be a big budget film if it hap­pens in the way that we’re think­ing, so the stu­dio needs the se­cu­rity of know­ing that there is a built-in au­di­ence for it. That’s re­ally what we’re do­ing now, build­ing an au­di­ence for the book and then we can think about the film be­cause it’s ul­ti­mately an adap­ta­tion of the comic book rather than an orig­i­nal.”

“Jeez, what was in that hooch?!”

Sep­a­rated at birth: Thor

and Bat­tling Boy Snr.

Side­kick Aurora is get­ting her own book.

It’s Bat­tling Boy

meets Grav­ity.

The T- Rex t-shirt is

awe­some.

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