Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Cliff Chiang
Colors: Matt Wilson
Cover: Cliff Chiang
Published: September 5, 2018
These last four issues of Paper Girls (issues #20 -#24) have been rather challenging to write about. There have been a few snippets that clarify small details about the how time-traveling works or what the agendas of the opposing sides in ‘The War of The Ages’ are. But then there’s a scene where the leader of the ‘old timers’ (The Grandfather) has a conversation with a multi-dimensional sphere floating in a tank of black liquid with security camera type things for eyes, and you have to consider whether any of this is worth parsing. The answer is yes, the reviews must go on, but be warned dear reader that in a series full of time traveling and giant robot fighting nonsense, this issue really is extra. There are three groups of events playing out a few pages at a time in what felt like a bit of longer issue. First there’s the continuation of where issue #22 ended, with the two Tiffany’s and Erin meeting Wari and hearing the story of how she got from the far far past (where the girls first met her) to the distant future. This story is one specifically one of those moments that makes you wonder ‘does this matter?’ Apparently after the girls left Wari back around 12,000 BCE (which according to Wikipedia means Before the Common Era) a scientist from the distant future showed up and took Wari and her son Jahpo to the future with her. This story opens the issue before cutting to Wari sitting in her apartment with the three girls. At the end of the previous issue Wari said that Erin had just been there to visit her a few days prior and the bulk of this issue revolves around trying to figure out how that is possible and what the contents of that visit were. The girls prod Wari, her floating robot, and search the house for clues about what Erin left from her visit.
During the course of their search Tiffany and future Tiffany have a shocking moment when they watch the black President of the United States give a speech on TV. Tiffany has had the most direct and prolonged view of what her future self could end up like, and has been unimpressed by most of it. There were was a shift at the end of the previous issue when they were fighting Wari’s robot and future tiffany told Erin to protect Tiffany and preserve her future. Their joy of seeing a black president is a sort of continuation of this moment as the hope they collectively have in the future is picking up. Tiffany has learned to maybe have some compassion for the person she might become, and future Tiffany has hope that maybe now her younger self won’t give up on her dreams as easily. Soon after their moment the two Tiffanys head off to find Mac and KJ leaving Erin to find whatever it is that they’re looking for in Wari’s apartment. Erin makes pretty short work of this after they leave and figures out that Wari’s robot is holding onto a map which should lead the girls back home.
In our discussion of issue #22 we left a bit of Mac and KJ action on the table waiting to see if there was more resolution to that story in the next issue. Remember that KJ told Mac about what she saw between the two of them and how that intertwined with KJ’s developing understanding of her own sexuality. Mac responding in a mean and physically aggressive manner, and then it was kind of done as the two headed back into the hospital to find a doctor that might cure Mac’s Leukemia. At the end of the issue, for reasons that aren’t entirely obvious, KJ makes a desperate move and abducts a doctor, forcing him to treat Mac at knifepoint. There’s hint in the final pages that it’s beginning to dawn on Mac how important their friendship is to KJ and maybe the realization that expanding that definition or evolving it in some way does not replace the fact that KJ cares about her. That’s a bit of editorializing and we don’t really get any suggests for or against that interpretation in this issue as the KJ and Mac stuff revolves mostly around her treatment. Still being menaced by KJ the doctor begins to scan Mac and find that she doesn’t contract leukemia, but a rare disease that affects only those who have traveled through time. Upon figuring that they are time-travelers the doctor becomes hostile and turns on them. A scuffle ensues and in the process the doctor anesthetizes KJ before Mac manages to knock him out. Mac drags KJ out onto the roof and radios the others to meet back up. There’s sort of a switch here at the end with Mac taking care of KJ, but like mentioned previously, there’s not too much in this issue to support the idea that Mac’s feeling towards her are beginning to turn (yet).
The final thread in this issue focuses on the Grand Father responding to his groups’ (W.A.T.C.H.) invasion of 1988 that began in the last issue. We come in on the Grand Father talking to the aforementioned giant swimming space ball with tentacle camera eyes. This is larger hint than we’ve had yet at weird space/time goings on and that maybe this war is slightly more just idealogical. When one of his generals rushes in, updates him on the invasion of Stony Stream and then pushes back on his plan to take the whole fleet through the folding to 1988, he responds with, “Do you think these things picked me to listen?” It suggest that higher powers are controlling or invested in what the humans are doing in the time stream and that the Grand Father’s actions might not be entirely his own. His final decree is to send all available forces back to Stony Stream to prevent the incident with the Paper Girls from ever occurring and ‘process’ all the people in the town who might be affected by what they see. But even this begs the question that we started this discussion with, does this moment matter? Does the giant inter-dimensional space ball matter? The only answer to that question is we just don’t know yet. The next issue will end this current arc and the Paper Girls will presumably be shifted to some other time beginning a new arc and which will raise it’s own set of questions (that we won’t get answers to).
Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson once again delivered an issue with just supreme art that makes this book a joy to read every month. There maybe wasn’t a single standout moment or panel in this issue, but they managed to use the colors and the art to make strong delineation between each of the three story lines. When the story is focused on the girls in Wari’s apartment all of the walls and many of the objects are white, so that those pages have a glaring brightness which throws the each of three girls into sharp contrast.The focus is on them. The pages in the hospital are bathed in a dark blue light that is broken up by small brightly colored objects in each panel that draws your focus around the page (a pair of shoes, a spray canister, the light in a window). Finally almost all of the pages concerning the Grand Father have the giant time-traveling ball in them or in the background. This casts a green light over all of these panels and lends them a certain creepy or supernatural feel. Not that this issue in any way confirms their bonafides as great comic book artists, but this issue is a great example of how Chiang and Wilson can play with the structure of an issue to imbue it with a little something extra.
(Subjective) Score out of 10: 7