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‘Paper Girls’ 7: The Present is Not a Gift

PaperGirls_07-1Paper Girls #7
Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art and Cover by Cliff Chiang
Colors by Matt Wilson
Letters and Design by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Image Comics on July 6, 2016

So I’m going to drop the gambit of these posts being reviews. Let’s just assume I’m giving this second issue of the new arc 11 stars and move along. I know some reviewers fell out of love with Paper Girls as the first five issues progressed. I have not. The power trio of Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang, and Matt Wilson continue to enthrall me. Paper Girls’ new arc keeps the intensity going, introduces a new era, and offers great surprises. If you liked the first volume, you should definitely pick up the new issues.

Instead of reviewing, this will be more of an unpacking of the issue. I’ll take a look at the references, reveals, connotations, and symbols and attempt to make some meaning. From here on, consider yourself in SPOILER TERRITORY.

PaperGirls07_Gallery

Paper Girls #7 continues to muck about with the perception of 2016 to our three paper girls from 1988: is it a fantastic new world with amazing technology or a near dystopia of broken people and abandoned touch stones? Tiffany is celebratory that the world is even still here considering the wars and other apocalyptic news she’s used to seeing top of the fold. (By the way, the word “fold” ties together that time travel with the newspaper. Just saying.) Mac is down on the future, keeping to her cynical view. The reveal at issue’s end regarding what’s become of her in 2016 pretty much validates her attitude anachronistically. Erin, who is now looking into the life of her future self, sees a mixed bag. On the one hand, her future self never got married (pro!), but on the other, she takes drugs for anxiety (con!). If Vaughan and Chang’s 1988 was depicted with the nostalgic glow of dawn, the team gives 2016 the Sutro Instagram filter, creating a through-a-glass-darkly effect.

PaperGirls_06-1Chiang’s covers for the last two issues have brilliantly highlighted major themes of the new arc. For #6, he depicts the entrapment of routine with 40-year old Erin in a Matrix-y gray-green cubicle office, surrounded by repeated squares of screen, clipboards, sticky notes, binders and drawers, visually echoing Tiffany’s Editrix vision of playing Arkanoid and figuratively boxing Erin in.

The cover for #7 trades the green for an ominous dusky purple and the boxes for jagged cracks, repeated in the time travel lightning, the creeping weeds on the sides of the dead mall, and the cracks in the pavement of its parking lot. Dwarfed by these jagged lines are 1988 Erin and 2016 Erin. (Chrononaut Erin has not yet arrived to meet her fellow selves.) We usually see time as a straight line forward, propelled by the passing of minutes and the endless chain of cause and effect. But with time travel in the mix, timelines multiply off of each other like lightning, breaking into the potential futures.

1988 Erin mentions to 2016 Erin that she thinks this timeline is wrong and that she needs to go back to correct it, like in The Terminator. The reference is particularly  interesting considering the multiple sequels and reboots the franchise has had since 1984. While 2016 Erin states that it’s just a weird time for her, not post-apocalypse, the presence of Chrononaut Erin suggests that there is in fact work to be done to save the future. Her comfort with the technology and her ability to manipulate the Uber driver in the face of Godzilla-sized water bears suggests that this time traveling is now a thing she does. And she does it well. Who knows how many fractures of the time line have been created. Clearly at least three.

AwkwardErins.pngIn the meantime, 1988 Erin is sizing up her elder self, judging her drug use (prescription!) as indication of mental illness. 2016 Erin anticipates her younger self’s judgement and is emotionally relieved when the younger verbally validates aspects of the elder’s life. It is an existential question made concrete: Have you lived the life you wanted to as a child? Erin’s answer is a qualified “kinda.” 1988 Erin’s approval of the elder’s hair, shirt, and choice to remain untethered by marriage elicits a surprise hug, and the panel that follows, where the two strike the same embarrassed pose, is a highlight of the issue. Later, Tiffany and Mac set off to find their 2016 selves, and each of them are scared to see what they’ll be like. Mac’s house is closer, so they go there first, only to find that Mac died in 1992 of leukemia. Mac’s response is one of shocked detachment. She says they’ll be sure to update the subscription information, which offers an ironic understatement to strongly evoke emotional response from the reader.

waterbearVaughan gives a bit of symbolism in the form of the gigantic water bears. Chrononaut Erin mentions that size is relative, like time, and so as objects approach the time fold’s event horizon, they grow incredibly large. Erin brought an otherwise microscopic entity with her through the fold, but its size didn’t adjust back after the jump. Perhaps she wears tech that helps her size down again. Sidenote: water bears are officially known as tardigrades, which evokes Tardis. These tardigrades are now bigger on the outside. I also suspect that this particular microscopic organism was chosen for it’s visual similarity to the Cronenbergian Tardis that Heck and Naldo traveled in.

As for the symbolism, the theme that gets highlighted by the supersized tardigrade is the powerful effect of small things on an infinite timeline. The butterfly effect, you know? A little stowaway on Erin’s time travel boat becomes an epic monster and danger to humanity. In this way, Vaughan takes a semi-humorous oddity–water bear Godzillas–and ties it to the comic’s meaning. He’s been doing this from the beginning, making the details work to connote explanations for the story’s mysteries.

If you came for the translation of the chrononaut language, I shall not disappoint. The translations are after the decoder key below.

Paper Girls Time Traveler's Language Key Updated for 5

  1. HEY!
  2. DONT DO THAT!
  3. HOLD ON WOULD YOU KEEP SAYING STUFF PLEASE?

I continue to be pleased that the translation isn’t necessary but always adds flavor to the scenes it’s featured in.

Four new songs added to the Paper Girls Spotify Playlist:

  1. “There Will Still Be Time” by Mumford and Sons
  2. “Comfortably Numb” by Dar Williams and Ani DiFranco
  3. “I Thought the Future Would be Cooler” by YACHT
  4. “The Terminator Theme” by Brad Fiedel
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‘Paper Girls’ #4: Forever is Now

PaperGirls_04-1Paper Girls #4

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art and Cover by Cliff Chiang
Colors by Matt Wilson
Letters and Design by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Image Comics on January 6, 2016

Paper Girls #4 continues to be mysterious, genre-mixed, and sometimes surprisingly dramatic in its weirdness; beautifully and evocatively illustrated and colored; and marvelously fun to try to decode the references to figure out. I remain completely enamored with it.

The routine of suburban middle-class life is an existential hell according to Paper Girls #4. It’s a repetitive game falsely pushing us to the next level, challenging us day to day, year to year, to tackle greater responsibilities, but not offering much true novelty. The looping soundtrack lulls us into a dream-like state of passivity. Life does to us rather than us doing life. We strive for the final boss in one prolonged sitting, no extra lives, our arrival meaning the realization that winning or losing both lead to the same black screen. “Why didn’t I stop when I got stuck on level 28?” Aye, there’s the rub.

PaperGirls04_Gallery

Contrasting the video game-like Sisyphean struggle of daily life’s routine, the paladins of the future, morally cleansing Stony Stream on the backs of dinosaurs, have a mission. They are willing to make drastic, life or death decisions in the name of whatever god or ideology they follow. Thus, there seems to be a conflict between existential freedom and moral tyranny. Besides the deadly “wash” being perpetrated on Stony Stream in the style of some apocalypse ala Revelations, Erin’s Catholic dream iconography has been threatening and horrific.

PG4Tiff28Morality comes up again with the reveal that the mutant teenager killed by Alister was Heck’s boyfriend. Mac, who had previously used the word faggot casually to disparage another character, produces an immature and condemnatory, “Eww.” She later calls Heck and Naldo perverts. KJ calls her out on her homophobia, saying Mac sounds like her racist uncle. Heck dismisses it, saying to KJ, “Don’t worry about it. You guys are from an effed-up time.” I appreciate the direct address of the era’s (or at least Mac’s) prejudice.

PG4GrandFatherAs far as plot goes, this issue introduces one of the paladins’ leaders, an old-timer, literally, in a Public Enemy t-shirt and a guru-like third-eye forehead marking. He has an apple eye phone (a play on Apple iPhone and connection to the anachronistic Apple Nano Erin finds in the first issue). The eye opens when the call comes in, an incredibly surreal set of panels which call back to Erin’s first dream, reconnecting her rotting apple of innocence once again with telecommunications. He uses the Brit slang bloody hell and talks as we do, not like the paladins whose speech seems cobbled together from various eras of time, from Chaucer to the future version of texting slang. In addition, his tee suggests he identifies with Erin’s era (and anti-authoritarianism), either because he originates from it or he’s a big fan. This could be a clue as to why the paladins are cleansing this time in particular.

A female paladin named Cardinal calls in to report that Alister has been “unmoored.” Those responsible have “ghosted” along with some stragglers. The boss man, addressed as Grand Father, orders an Editrix be sent. With the prefix “edit,” I wonder about the experience Tiffany has wrapped in its Beholder-like tentacle. She experiences her life as a series of barely changing scenes with time passing only as a slow lengthening to her hair, the change of season, and the sapping of joy in her quest to beat the NES game Arkanoid. Is this an accurate representation of her life, devoid of family notably, or a deliberately edited one to exsanguinate her sense of meaning? She escapes with her life but left with the sense that her life has thus far been a waste. Thus, the Editrix acts as something akin to Harry Potter’s dementors.

PG4TiffEditrix

Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson ink and color Tiffany’s near-death experience with evocative detail. The passing of months shows in clothing and hair, house decorations, and holiday-connected color changes. Tiffany’s emotional response to the game is likewise effective in relating the narrative of her game-focused life without any text except the game level. She begins fully engaged in the game, and remains so through the many months it takes her to beat the game. Her joy at the victory is short-lived, replaced in the next page’s panel with a set, affectless focus. She continues to play out of routine, maybe a desire to repeat the happiness of winning. Ultimately, she’s not engaged enough in her own life to adopt a new goal. It is easier to avoid choice and change.

Vaughan’s choice of the game Arkanoid has some interesting possible parallels with the sci-fi elements of the story. The opening text of the NES version establishes a narrative around the brick-breaking game: “THE TIME AND ERA OF THIS STORY IS UNKNOWN. AFTER THE MOTHERSHIP “ARKANOID” WAS DESTROYED, A SPACECRAFT “VAUS” SCRAMBLED AWAY FROM IT. BUT ONLY TO BE TRAPPED IN SPACE WARPED BY SOMEONE……..” The end of the game resolves this with: “DIMENSION-CONTROLLING FORT “DOH” HAS NOW BEEN DEMOLISHED, AND TIME STARTED FLOWING REVERSELY. “VAUS” MANAGED TO ESCAPE FROM THE DISTORTED SPACE. BUT THE REAL VOYAGE OF “ARKANOID” IN THE GALAXY HAS ONLY STARTED……”

PG4ErinRight

It’s like they’re talking about me!

So in both Arkanoid and Paper Girls, the question of time and era is muddled. Clearly the mutant teens the paladins, their dinos, and the new guru are from different eras. Heck references Calamity, which reset the marking of years, which may or may not be connected to the dreaded C-day Grand Father doesn’t want to repeat. The Cronenbergian Tardis (which now calls to mind Robert Mapplethorpe’s  contemporaneous photography thanks to Heck sticking his arm in its entry sphincter up to his elbow) seems sized to be an escape pod, an analog perhaps to Vaus in Arkanoid. They certainly seem like they are scrambling away from something bigger and more powerful, and the paladins could have a mothership. They also seem trapped in 1988, scavenging tech parts from various communication devices to fix whatever problem keeps them from escape. Perhaps we’ve even already met Paper Girls’ DOH, if the Public Enemy t-shirt is indication that Grand Father might have warped space-time to show up in 1988 Ohio.

On the motif of clowns, who have shown up at least thrice now: 1) one of the teen hoodlums in issue #1 was a dressed as a clown for Halloween, 2) one of the yards had that clown-head sprinkler by Wham-O, 3) in this issue, Erin references the sixth bucket of The Bozo Show’s final game. Bozo the Clown was the star of the show aired on WGN out of Chicago during the late 80’s. Each of these clown references is a deliberate choice in the writing and art, so what is it pointing to? My theory is that it is meant to evoke a fourth clown in the form of Stephen King’s It which was published in ’86 and incredibly popular by ’88. The title being It hunts seven children as prey by disguising itself as their worst fears, usually a clown. Paper Girls‘ seven children: Erin, Mac, Tiff, KJ, Heck, Naldo, and the deceased Jude. It’s structure alternates between two time periods; I wonder if we’ll see the destination of the pod trying to save Erin and if it will be a different time. The themes of King’s novel end up being about the power of childhood memory, childhood trauma, and the ugliness lying beneath the facade of small-town values and life. Already the comic has dealt with the power of memory through Mac’s stepmom and with trauma through the shooting of Erin. The corruption of small-town values has been hinted at. For instance, Erin’s family has been actively trying to win over her xenophobic neighbors.

These patterned details act as a kind of cypher to decode the mysterious workings of the plot machinations. Or maybe they’re fun red herrings. Only time will tell. I, for one, anxiously await the future.

If you’d like to check out the expanded decoder for the chrononaut’s language (brought to you by the letter X) and panel translations of Heck and Naldo’s dialogue, check out Michael’s post from yesterday.

Three new tracks added to my Paper Girls inspired Spotify playlist. “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper (1983), “Don’t Believe the Hype” by Public Enemy (1988), and “Arkanoid” by Martin Galway.


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‘Paper Girls’ #3: Death is Forever

PaperGirls_03-coverPaper Girls #3

Written by Brian K. Vaughan
Art and Cover by Cliff Chiang
Colors by Matt Wilson
Letters and Design by Jared K. Fletcher
Published by Image Comics on December 2, 2015

Paper Girls #3 opens with genre-subverting humor but then pours on the suspense and action. Brian K. Vaughan adds a race against the clock to the other odd time-oriented elements, prompting hand-wringing anxiety while also building in absurd, often hilarious, references to 1988 in weird and apt juxtapositions. Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson continue to provide brilliantly nuanced and multi-layered visuals for Vaughan’s unique mix of the strange and the mundane.

The last episode ended with gunfire and the cliff-hanging question of who might have been shot. Of course, that’s not where the new issue picks up. Vaughan wisely pulls us slowly back into the world. After all, it’s been a month, and the emotional effect of the injured party’s reveal has to be rebuilt. So instead we get establishing shots to reorient us with the scene. The pterodactyls circle in the sky like vultures. Then we see close-ups of a teen taking off his cyborg mask (a tongue-in-cheek connection to our mummy men who turn out to be cybernetically modified teenagers), awestruck by the massive portal in the sky. He amusingly thinks he must be tripping until a classmate calls out to him and confirms that she sees it too. Vaughan takes these two high school teenagers and flips their trope–when he attempts to act on his crush on her in the face of certain annihilation (and the elimination of his rival), she rebukes him as the scuzzy dirtbag that he is. Then they hear the creepy “huhh huhh huhh” the girls have been hearing over the walkie-talkie and a man in heavy cybernetic armor lands his pteranodon on the field before them. He calls them “Scruddy teenagers” and shoots them with his staff, turning them into pink dust.

To check out the rest of my review, in which I attempt to put the pieces (and myself back) together, click through to PopOptiq.

PaperGirls3_Gallery

If you’d like to check out the expanded decoder for the chrononaut’s language (we got B, J, and ?), click on through to yesterday’s post.

Three new tracks added to my Paper Girls inspired Spotify playlist. “Walk the Dinosaur” by Was (Not Was) (1988), “Skating” and “Great Pumpkin Waltz” from A Charlie Brown Christmas.


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The Fringe Binge, Part II: Season 5

Fringe_season5poster_fullWhen Fringe was looking at cancellation late in season 4, a season that most people didn’t think they’d get, they presented a plan to their producers for a half season to finish the story. Then they teased that final arc during season 4 when they jumped forward to 2036, a time when the Observers have invaded and become fascist rulers. Two FBI agents are searching for the lost original Fringe team who have been discovered in amber.

This episode felt out of place in season 4, but it sets up the entire premise of season 5. The now reunited Fringe team, and the FBI agent who found them, are attempting to enact a plan to rid themselves of the Observers.

fringe_1I suspect this is a divisive season for fans of the show. I personally liked it, but the departure from previous seasons could alienate. The new style is different enough that the intro has changed entirely, keeping only the structure and the score. The show goes from being roughly a crime procedural to a hero’s journey adventure drama. There are no more “monster of the week” episodes–all the fat has been trimmed. Now there are only episodes that build to the execution of the plan. Episodes consist of a mini-mission to find a component along with character and relationship development.

The new setting is all concrete jungle or rural emptiness. There is a definite 1984 vibe with signs up that show an Observer and the phrase “The Future is Order”. Later on, counter signs showing the picture of a martyred rebel say, “Resist.” The future is a little bit retro–styles from the 1940’s seem to be in fashion, creating an allusion to WWII’s fascists as well as 1984. Furthermore, many of the Fringe team’s allies are still around, like Broyles and Nina Sharp, but they’ve aged 21 years while Olivia, Astrid, Peter, and Walter haven’t aged a day since 2015.

resist

Like with season 4, the threads of theme are strong and multilayered. At the forefront, the relationship between parents and children. Peter and Olivia become reunited with their daughter but then have to deal with losing her. Peter and Walter’s relationship continues to develop and open up. And there are new fathers and sons who continually expand the audience’s understanding of our core characters. But there are also themes of sacrifice and redemption.

The episodes of this season regularly reference back to previous Fringe cases, giving the final season a strong sense of closure through the circularity. While the team no longer investigates Fringe events, they are now forced to use evidence from those Fringe cases to move forward in their plan. They become the terrorists, now that they’re on the other side of the law.

Season 5 is definitely darker emotionally than the other seasons, but that enables an ending to the show that is deeply satisfying and bitter-sweet. Sure, the science of time travel gets all timey-wimey, but I’m not watching Fringe for the practical science.

 


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High Concept, Mixed Execution – Trillium by Jeff Lemire

TRILLIUM-PROMOb-600x911Trillium is a creator-owned comic published by Vertigo. For that alone, it gets my respect. Jeff Lemire also earns my respect for his high concept sci-fi, which mixes portals through time and space with a star-crossed (literally?) lovers story. Here’s how the publisher describes it:

It’s the year 3797, and botanist Nika Temsmith is researching a strange species on a remote science station near the outermost rim of colonized space.

It’s the year 1921, and renowned English explorer William Pike leads an expedition into the dense jungles of Peru in search of the fabled “Lost Temple of the Incas,” an elusive sanctuary said to have strange healing properties.

Two disparate souls separated by thousands of years and hundreds of millions of miles. Even though reality is unraveling all around them, nothing can pull them apart. This isn’t just a love story, it’s the LAST love story ever told.

There’s a lot going on in Trillium. There’s a riff on colonial fiction and attitudes of the turn of the 20th century, the “jungle” narratives and assumptions of savagery. There’s also an invasive, adaptable virus decimating humanity, creating levels of the colonization theme, but also supplying the motivation for characters to take risks and act impulsively, if not irrationally. There’s the back stories of trauma and loss that both Nika and William have – hers the loss of parents, his the experiences of World War I. Then there’s the portal through time and space that brings them together, the psychotropic flower that allows them to communicate and then bond, and the rewriting of time that they bring about. Finally, they have to find each other again and save the last of humanity from the virus.

trilliumThe execution of all of this is mixed. Nika and William are drawn so similarly, I predicted their relationship would be long-lost relatives or even dopplegangers rather than the lovers they are revealed to be late in the book. The artwork in general is sketchy, with visible jaggedness and an unfinished quality. I wasn’t a fan of it. But Lemire inventively uses symmetry and mirroring to show parallel aspects in the two timelines and re-orients the image in the boxes to suggest the flip-flop of narrative when the timelines get crossed.

Not until the end was I engaged with the two characters, but at least by that time, I was drawn in enough to appreciate the sweet, thematic conclusion. Recommended for high concept sci-fi fans who don’t mind a humorless story.


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An Enigma Wrapped Inside a Tardis Wrapped Inside a Time Capsule – A Review of The Bunker Vol. 1 by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari

bunkercoverToday, the first trade paperback of The Bunker, chapters 1-4, hits the shelves, and if you’re a fan of Lost, The X-Files, or the mixed up machinations of trying to save the world using time travel, you should pick it up.

The Bunker’s premise: Five college friends decide to bury a time capsule out in the woods, but when they go to dig the hole, they hit metal. The door to an underground bunker. It has their names on it, and inside they find letters written to them from their future selves describing the horror the world becomes and their roles in getting it there.

These letters shake their world, their individual senses of self. They move forward and grow away from each other as they attempt to make sense of the secrets their future selves have set before them. Each step and decision takes them closer to the annihilation of humanity unless they can figure out which parts of themselves to turn away from.

The Bunker is full of heavy questions of morality, trust, and fate. But it’s also edge-of-your-seat exciting as the twists of the story unwind before you. It is engaging on levels of both character and suspense.

The art is rough-edged and a little dream-like. It matches the story well in this regard–the five friends live in a surreal understanding of the world after they discover the bunker, but it is a world of hard choices. Can the deaths of a few save millions? And if it can, are those deaths a worthwhile cost?

the-bunker-page-4-or-5

I am anxious to see what the next volume holds. Hopefully I won’t have to wait too long to find out.


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An Enigma Wrapped Inside a Tardis Wrapped Inside a Time Capsule – A Review of The Bunker Vol. 1 by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari

bunkercoverAt the end of July, the first trade paperback of The Bunker, chapters 1-4, will hit the shelves, and if you’re a fan of Lost, The X-Files, or the mixed up machinations of trying to save the world using time travel, you should pick it up.

The Bunker’s premise: Five college friends decide to bury a time capsule out in the woods, but when they go to dig the hole, they hit metal. The door to an underground bunker. It has their names on it, and inside they find letters written to them from their future selves describing the horror the world becomes and their roles in getting it there.

These letters shake their world, their individual senses of self. They move forward and grow away from each other as they attempt to make sense of the secrets their future selves have set before them. Each step and decision takes them closer to the annihilation of humanity unless they can figure out which parts of themselves to turn away from.

The Bunker is full of heavy questions of morality, trust, and fate. But it’s also edge-of-your-seat exciting as the twists of the story unwind before you. It is engaging on levels of both character and suspense.

The art is rough-edged and a little dream-like. It matches the story well in this regard–the five friends live in a surreal understanding of the world after they discover the bunker, but it is a world of hard choices. Can the deaths of a few save millions? And if it can, are those deaths a worthwhile cost?

the-bunker-page-4-or-5

I am anxious to see what the next volume holds. Hopefully I won’t have to wait too long to find out.