Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Cliff Chiang
Colors: Matt Wilson
Cover: Cliff Chiang
Published: February 7, 2018
After having some of the plot clarified slightly in the previous couple of issues, the opening pages of issue #20 complicated what we thought we new. The issue opens on the Grand Father (the older version, last scene seven or eight issue ago) staring at a picture of the Prioress, who died in issue #18 when the ‘old timers’ robot was destroyed. This opening page (maybe) implies that the old version of the Grand Father remembers this event and that perhaps the timeline always plays out like this (because if it didn’t always play out like this then she would be in the future with him?). Anyways, the old Grand Father is alerted that someone (most likely our four protagonists) has arrived in their time who poses a threat. Back in the year 2000, Charlotte just shot the three ‘old timers’ who were threatening the five girls and who zapped Chris. Charlotte explains that Chris has been shifted to processing so that he can be returned to the year 2000 with his “memories returned to normal.” This is how the ‘old timers’ attempt to maintain the status quo, by ensuring that the effects of time travel do not disturb the timeline. While Charlotte (on the side of the ‘heroes’) says that the ‘old timers’ are trying to maintain the status quo, the Grand Father described it as maintaining humanity’s first draft. There’s not a “right answer” to this question, as years of science fiction and actual history haven’t provided a definitive answer. Undoubtedly humanity’s first draft is majorly f*****, but maybe not entirely. There has been some good stuff, but is there anything of enough value and quality worth preserving at the cost of its creation. While the time spanning scope of Paper Girls is huge, the stakes have always been small, and centered on the lives of KJ, Erin, Mac, and Tiffany. This issue doesn’t move away from that as it will be up to the four of them to consider how they want their history, their lives to occur. As Charlotte is talking to the girls, one of the ‘old timers’ she shot picks up his staff and incinerates her (also setting the whole church on fire) before Erin kicks him in the face. The fours girls and future Tiffany then decide to make for one of the downed robots and try to use it to jump back to 1988.
As they five of them are making their way back to one of the robots, future Tiffany explains to Tiffany that she wants to go back with them. She thinks that, “ … everything went wrong somewhere along the way.” She wants the opportunity of a second draft. At the same time Mac and Erin begin questioning whether KJ is still the real KJ, which is Mac’s thin attempt at calling her out over the recent discussions about her sexuality. KJ responds by describing exactly the first moment that she and Mac met at the paper agency. KJ’s memory of this moment provokes a very emotional response from Mac whose whole thing is being rather emotionless. She’s the one that isn’t supposed to make it to the year 2000 and maybe the one who has the most reasoning for wanting the future to play out differently, and yet her biggest problem with everything that she has experience is that KJ might be gay. In this little exchange KJ also very casually comes out to Erin who can only respond with a very nervous “Cool” before they’re on to the next thing. They come across a downed ‘heroes’ robot and Tiffany uses a staff she took off one of the men Charlotte killed to restart it. Just as they are about to use the robot the young Grand Father returns in a new robot intent on avenging the death of the Prioress. Unaware that it is our four protagonists piloting the enemy robot, he targets it for attack. Before the attack is complete though, the paper girls jump to the future, and specially the future of the ‘old timers’, which is the time setting from the opening pages of this issue and a place the young Grand Father cannot travel to.
While the idealogical sides of the War of Ages has been laid out, the paper girls still only really know one side of the argument and even that was in the context of an elderly cartoonist who had very few reservations about shooting innocent people. There’s a lot on each of the girls minds right now with each having experienced some sort of contact with their future (either meeting their future self or through a time warping vision). From the first pages of issue #20 the old Grand Father is aware of the girls arrival in his time, so they will most likely meet and he will have the opportunity to present his case, and the girls will have some time to process. If a couple of the upcoming issues were a bit slower and dealt the accumulating emotional stakes of the past ten or so issues, that might not be the worst thing for the book as a whole.
The art in this issue was outstanding as always. It is going to be very exciting to see what Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson’s vision of the future is, as just the pieces at the beginning and end of the issue are already great. The old Grand Father is wearing a Wu-Tang t-shirt, and his assistant has on a pair of Adidas sandals. A couple Apple products have also shown up in previous issues, which hints at some odd retro future that will be a very interesting setting for the next coupe of issues. There wasn’t a ton of action in this issue but the giant time traveling robots continue to be fantastic, with the young Grand Father’s silver robot appearing and taking up a whole page just before the paper girls escape to the future. The inside of the robots, again, have very different aesthetics (sort of squishy, pink, and organic versus clean and industrial) that indicate some sort of divergence between the far future and the far far future. Based on what we’ve already seen the next issue might be worth picking up just for the art alone, to see what sort of sleek , industrial, retro future Chiang and Wilson create.
(Subjective) Score out of 10: 7