In this graphic novel by Paul Pope, monsters run rampant through Arcopolis, eating the children, and the city’s hero Haggard West has been killed. Enter twelve year old demigod Battling Boy who, along with Haggard West’s sidekick and daughter Aurora, rises up to save Arcopolis.
Battling Boy is a fast paced, exciting coming of age superhero story. The young demigod is kicked out of his home to prove himself in a rite of passage that will make him a hero. Armed with the ability to harness animal powers depending on the shirt he’s wearing, Battling Boy has to defeat the Arcopolis monsters and save the city’s children in order to earn the status of adulthood and the respect of his father, a very Thor-like figure. The story hints at a far richer mythology behind that rite — perhaps even more challenges after the monsters are defeated, and sets the stage for what could be a pretty epic series.
The coming of age element is prominent — in his first battle, Battling Boy is unable to think quick enough to win on his own and has to call his father for help. His father, battling his own monster on another planet helps him out but then warns him not to call for help again. In a clear allegory for the moment young adults face when beginning to feel the demands of adulthood, Battling Boy must face the realization that his father will not always be there, and that he must learn to face his monsters alone. Pope takes this to the next level when local politicians begin using Battling Boy as a figurehead, and the demigod must learn about the hypocrisy and compromises that also constitute the adult world.
Along with the coming of age is an interesting twist on the Chosen One mythology — Battling Boy is certainly a “Chosen One” from the point of view of the city he has to save, yet from his family’s point of view, he is merely fulfilling one task among many. He is not necessarily the only one who can stop the monsters in Arcopolis — Aurora certainly looks like a more than capable hero on her own — yet he still has a mission he needs to fulfill.
Aurora’s story seems more the typical origin tale — grieving over her father’s death and desiring to avenge him and continue his work, she uses his arsenal to take over his role. I actually find her more intriguing than Battling Boy, and part of me wishes the book were about her instead. She isn’t a demigod; she’s an ordinary human girl who had been trained by her father to protect the city, and who now feels the burden of fighting on without him. While this is a task that will prepare Battling Boy for a lifetime of such missions, this is Aurora’s whole world, and so her stake in it feels much more personal and immediate.
Paul Pope is known for his frenetic artwork and action-packed storytelling, and Battling Boy certainly fits into that mold. It’s a fun, fast-paced superhero story, and a start to an exciting series.
Thank you to Raincoast Books for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.