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Battling Boy reinvents comic book superheroes for younger readers

Categories: Books

Battling BoyPaul Pope's new tween superhero Battling Boy is the son of two warrior gods. His parents sent him to another world that's under attack from monsters, thugs and criminals. (Paul Pope/First Second Publishing)

Comic creator Paul Pope has high hopes for his latest work, Battling Boy: it's his first foray into fiction for young adults and his goal is to hook a new generation of comic book readers.

Oh, and there are also plans afoot to bring it to the movies, courtesy of Brad Pitt's production, Plan B.

What kind of hero could hold the weight of such pressure on his shoulders? In this case, it's a 12-year-old still figuring out what it means to be a hero.

Battling Boy is the son of two warrior gods and is sent to the Arcopolis, a world under attack from monsters, thugs and criminals. It's his first adventure away from home, a fantastical floating city with some parallels to Asgard, as interpreted in the Thor comics from Marvel.

Arcopolis previously had its own superhero — a Rocketeer-type captain named Haggard West, who is unceremoniously murdered at the beginning of the new series. Motivated by revenge, his daughter Aurora decides to take up her father's mantle. Still, like Battling Boy, she has a lot to learn.

Pope — who cites Jack Kirby, Moebius and Hayao Miyazaki among his artistic influences — wanted to write a new kind of superhero origin story. The alt-comic writer and artist is no rookie to the genre, having worked on franchises such as Batman, Spider-Man and Adventure Time.

"I thought about it long and hard, and I thought of a superhero who's a kid, who protects other kids," he told CBC News recently, while in Toronto to launch the new series.

The story eventually spawned more mythological, fantasy-fiction elements, including Battling Boy's Asgard-like home. The end result is something with an all-ages audience in mind: Pope says it has more in common with Harry Potter or the Twilight books than he had originally planned.

Battling Boy"I thought of a superhero who's a kid, who protects other kids," Paul Pope says of his new 12-year-old hero, Battling Boy. (Paul Pope/First Second Publishing)

"It's still, at its heart, a superhero story, though," he qualifies.

Indeed, longtime comics aficionados should recognize tropes and situations in Battling Boy that have been a part of comics since the genres Golden Age during the 1940s.

Battling Boy and Aurora break free from the superhero template because Pope wrote them as kids, rather than mature adults or surprisingly adept teenagers. Battling Boy yells at a monstrous beast called the Humbaba — its mouth full of sharp, slobber-drenched teeth — as any kid would at the first sign of trouble. When things get bad, he calls his father — who happens to be fighting a monster on another planet at the time — for help. Aurora shouts at her TV when she sees news of Battling Boy, the stranger seemingly stealing her murdered father's spotlight.

Even the titular hero's relationship with his family could be considered a reversal of popular comic book tradition, considering the typical origin story of most well-known heroes. (Batman's parents are dead. Spider-Man's parents are dead. Iron Man's parents are dead. Superman was adopted after the death of his parents. And so on.)

"The thing that's attractive about kids as characters is that, if anything, they represent potential," explained Pope.

"We don't really know what they can do. They don't really know what they can do. And it's not a given that they're going to achieve and success in what they're trying to do."

So it's ok if Pope's young heroes have not learned all their lessons by the end of Battling Boy since three more volumes are planned, continuing next with The Rise of Aurora West, co-written by Pope and J.T. Petty and featuring art by David Rubin. It's set for release in July 2014.

AuroraYoung Aurora is motivated to avenge the death of her heroic father. The Battling Boy series will continue in July 2014 with The Rise of Aurora West. (Paul Pope/First Second Publishing)

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