By Spencer Irwin
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
The cast of Paper Girls continually look to time travel for salvation, as a cure-all to whatever ails them. The problem is that time travel caused almost all of their problems in the first place, and only threatens to cause more in the future. Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, and Matthew Wilson make this clearer than ever in Paper Girls 24, an issue that paints time travel as something that’s actively destructive and malicious.
They start slow. The flashback that opens the issue shows how Wari convinced Doctor Qanta Braunstein to bring her and Jahpo back to the future with her, in an effort to save Jahpo from his murderous fathers. Wari admits to Erin and the Tiffanys, though, that Jahpo’s life in the future just turned him into “a little dekfek” — I’m assuming that translates to “asshole?”
Things escalate significantly from there, though. Mac hopes to use future technology, only available to her because of time travel, to cure her leukemia. Turns out, though, that Mac doesn’t have leukemia at all — instead she has 4DC, a rare, uncurable form of cancer that only affects time travelers. Instead of providing salvation for Mac, time travel is actually the cause of her malady; time travel is literally, actively killing her. This puts the issue’s cliffhanger in a whole new perspective. Erin sees the map her (presumably) future self left her as salvation, as her ticket home, but the pattern established by the rest of the issue says otherwise. Uh-oh.
Wilson’s colors subtly support that pattern. Scenes where characters look to time travel for salvation — such as the moment in Wari’s apartment, above, or the flashback to Wari and Braunstein — are bright and well lit, but the scene where Mac discovers the truth about time travel, what it’s actually cost her, is dim and poorly lit, bathed in shadow and depressing blues.
In fact, the room and characters are continually covered in shadow despite the presence of two rather significant lighting sources. One of those light sources — Mac’s chair — is specifically powered by the future technology meant to save Mac’s life, so its inability to provide any actual light seems to be a parallel to how useless it is to Mac in the long run. Time travel provides a bright, shiny, hopeful light, but in the end it’s done nothing to save these girls; it’s only thrown them further and further into chaos.
If it sounds like I’m personifying time travel, well, Paper Girls 24 grants some validity to that idea as well.
We’ve seen Jahpo use time travel to oppress people for a while now, but if he’s acting on the orders of these creatures — and if time travel itself comes from them — then that puts a malevolent face to the very act of time travel itself. Oof. One thing’s clear: this spells nothing but trouble for the paper girls.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?