Today, Drew and Ryan M. are discussing Paper Girls 2, originally released November 4th, 2015.
Drew: How early in a narrative can you usually predict the ending? Usually, when we describe a narrative as “predictable” we mean that derisively, but most stories have prescribed endings — oftentimes, the genre of the story is enough to hint at the ending: how does a romantic comedy end? How about a murder mystery? What about a sports movie? There are obviously countless examples that subvert those expectations, but those play by the same rules — the ending can be flipped, sure, but the potential endings are still reduced down to a small handful of options. Unless, of course, that story “defies genre,” evading any of the pigeonholes that would dictate its ending (or at least evading them long enough for you to get sucked in). That’s exactly the case with Paper Girls 2, where the deepening mystery thwarts any expectations about what might happen next.
Which I guess is my way of saying I tried to pigeonhole this thing way too early. “It’s like The Goonies, but they’re all girls, and they’re fighting ninjas from the future,” seemed like a solid premise, so imagine my surprise when this issue featured a woman attempting suicide, fearing the rapture.
That’s a shocking image, and one that’s utterly divorced from the banality of late ’80s suburban setting. Shattering that sense of safety is a powerful way to emphasize the apparent scope of what has just happened. So powerful, in fact, I can’t help but be reminded of a similar image Vaughan used in the first issue of Y: The Last Man, where a police officer commits suicide in the wake of the sudden death of every male on Earth. It’s an efficient way to demonstrate the hopelessness in the wake of what’s apparently an apocalyptic event.
Actually, thinking of Y: The Last Man also reveals the foolishness of my initial assessment of this series’ premise. As high-concept as Brian K. Vaughan tends to be, it’s rare that his villains reveal themselves first thing. More importantly, while there are almost always villains, the primary conflict tends to be the struggle against the strictures that make the heroes outcasts. Those rules might be defined by the character’s parents, society as a whole, or be more situationally dependent, but they tend to be a big deal in Vaughan’s work. So the fact that we haven’t yet grappled with those (though I do think Mac’s status as papergirl trailblazer might have something to do with it) tells us that we don’t even know the premise of this series, let alone how it will end.
Which is thrilling. Heck, I can’t even guess what will happen with that gun (which Vaughan expertly Checkov’d earlier in the issue). Was Alice hit? Was Mac? Or one of the other girls? We don’t know enough about the rules this narrative is playing by to know for sure. I think it might be a safe bet that the paper girls are all safe, mostly because we don’t know them enough for their death to have any real emotional weight, and I trust Vaughan not to kill off a character for pure shock value. That’s not to say that they couldn’t be wounded (which gooses the stakes without feeling totally cheap), but I’m more worried about Alice. Of the few “rules” we know about this series, it’s that the paper girls stick together. They certainly could join forces with an adult, but I suspect that might work against the agency they demonstrated in the first issue. Perhaps more importantly, though, the art really works to separate Alice from the girls.
Artist Cliff Chiang blocks this scene brilliantly, keeping all of the girls grouped tightly together, in direct opposition to Alice’s drunken looseness. I’m most impressed, though, with Matt Wilson’s deliberate color work. The rest of the issue is bathed in blues and reds, but he surrounds Alice in a sickly yellow light, making her somehow more alien than the dinosaurs circling in the sky. Wilson is careful to keep all of the figures washed in cool blues, but Alice is almost always wreathed in this yellow. The notable exception is the final panel, where that yellow takes over. Maybe it’s the flare of the gunshot, maybe it’s just a subjective flourish as the girls react to whatever just happened, but it’s incredibly effective.
Ryan, I’m loving this series, but I’ll admit that I have a soft spot for everyone on this creative team. Is this working as well for you? Do you have any wild theories about where this series is going? Or, at least, are you willing to take that bet about Alice’s fate?
Ryan M.: Holy moley, it could be anything. There is a big metal hand that appears at the scene of the masked man’s death, so I’m thinking that Inspector Gadget nemesis Doctor Claw has escaped from the cartoon and commissioned a time machine that has broken the space-time continuum and now a band of men with the plague are collecting phones to try and create their own time machine. Meanwhile, the rift has made a bunch of people fade away Marty-McFly’s-hand-style. Phew, did that theory include everything? No, I didn’t mention the motionless Wolfman. Okay, I admit I don’t know what the hell is going on, but I am invested.
I don’t know that a unified theory of causation is possible at this point in the story. Right now, it is a mash up of weirdness with Erin serving as pop-culture savvy audience surrogate. Just as I am analyzing each of the elements of the mystery through the lens of modern genre, so is she. Erin compares the disfigured robed man to Rocky Dennis and uses the plot point of Star Trek IV to explain time travel. It can get awkward when characters in a genre piece don’t have the words to explain their world because the idea of zombies or werewolves don’t exist. On the flip side, having characters be too immersed in the world can play as too flip or detached. Erin is not arch or commenting for irony’s sake. Instead, she is using her knowledge of speculative fiction to explain the bizarre things happening around her.
Erin also references the speech that the newspaper gives new papers girls. “We aren’t the news. We don’t report the news. We just get the news where it needs to be.” What the hell kind of credo is that to give to a child in your employ? It seems like an unnecessary and dismissive reminder for kids that you pay to rides their bikes in the around the pre-dawn neighborhood. Maybe it’s a holdover from the newsboy strikes of the 1920’s or something. I’ve never heard of someone using their job as a delivery person to get a sideline as a reporter. At McDonald’s are you warned that you don’t raise cows, you don’t slaughter cows, you just serve burgers? Erin uses it as a reason to back out of the strange happenings and let the adults handle it, even though all the adults have disappeared. It’s a decidedly juvenile attitude and reflects her appropriately sheltered and safe childhood. It doesn’t even occur to Mac to let the adults handle it because adults have let her down. And that brings us to Alice. I agree that she could be fatally wounded by the gunshot, especially since she not one of the crew. I’m kind of hoping that Alice disappears just as the gun goes off, if only to spare Mac the trauma of Alice’s death.
Drew, you covered the horror scene in Mac’s house with Alice, but something I really appreciated about the issue is the contrast it offered between the home lives of Mac and Erin. Erin’s entryway has an oriental rug and a decorative vase. Mac’s has dirty carpet and laundry baskets and boxes everywhere. The girls instinctively know that Erin’s house is the kind of place where you take off your shoes as soon as you come inside. Rather than overhead lights, Mac has a floor lamp in the corner with a bare bulb. Erin has a bowl full of full-size Hershey bars and there are bars on Mac’s windows.
Vaughan and Chiang have given us some sense of each of the girls, but the juxtaposition of the homes further illustrates who they are and how they became that way. We have yet to see Tiffany or KJ’s house, but I am as interested in those revelations than in understanding the where the hell the monster birds cam from. And that’s saying a lot because those birds are bitchin’.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?