Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Cliff Chiang
Colors: Matt Wilson
Cover: Cliff Chiang
Published: October 3, 2018
What do we owe the future or what do we owe our future selves? In the strictly technical sense the future is always theoretical, a thing that is just out of reach and hoped for. In the more personal sense the future, once it arrives, is a thing that we don’t always appreciate in equals parts to how much we anticipated it. But Erin, Tiffany, Mac, and KJ are in a unique position where their future is is no longer a thing imagined, but tangible and visible. They’ve seen the thing they might become or even how they might die, and now have the responsibility/opportunity/chance/curse of trying to fulfill or avoid what they’ve seen. They don’t yet know if their lives are fixed lines or if their trajectories will yield to gentle prodding, but they can find that out for themselves. This issue picks up the hospital rooftop just as KJ is coming to from her anesthetization in the previous issue. Dawn has broken over the horizon casting everything in a warm yellow light as the breeze blows Mac’s hair from her eyes slightly more than usual. This is the moment, that when they merely discussed it, tore them apart not two issues (a few hours in the context of the story) prior. We talked then about the rejection that was communicated, mostly without words, in those few panels as Mac shut herself off from KJ with as much venom as she could muster. But here she is gentle and understanding, responding to KJ’s anger that they’ve traveled to the far past and distant future and yet remain unable to ‘fix’ anything. But as much as their journey has showed each of them what they might lose in the future, it has illuminated what they have in the present, true friends who stand by you in this and any year. It’s a beautiful moment between two friends punctuated by a kiss, the one KJ saw in her vision. It’s deeply sweet, a little awkward, but most importantly something they both want to participate in. They might not be sure what it means but there is no regret in their faces or in their words. There are no words actually, not stammering or explanations, just the two of them alone until they aren’t.
The two Tiffanys burst onto the rooftop and the action kicks off as they are confronted by police who followed them up there. The officer demands that they surrender and fires a few warning shots past them to show that he is very serious. Future Tiffany in an act of bravery, mirroring the one from a previous issue where she told Erin to save her younger self instead, runs towards the policeman jumping off the rooftop and onto his hover-bike. They grapple in mid-air for a moment before their tussle damages the bike which then explodes. It’s a shocking and unexpected scene, one that maybe didn’t have to happen, but maybe it did. Before future Tiffany took off she told her younger self to never settle. Tiffany is the only character we’ve gotten flashbacks of, and these have been to moments of her playing video games or expressing an interest in engineering and space travel. She had hopes for something big and adventurous and yet her future self ended up very far away from that, in a place she knew her younger self was disappointed in. As the three Paper girls stand on the roof shocked at what has just happened, one of them asks “what did Tiff die for?” Her last words would suggest that she acted in order to give her self the opportunity to not lose sight of her aspirations. Her actions were a refutation of the idea that the future always turns out the same and and they we can’t do it differently. There is a certain symmetry between what she does and the moment between Mac and KJ. For them the future happened as KJ saw it previously, but not because it was supposed to but because that’s what they wanted in that moment. For future Tiffany she’s trying to tell her younger self, do not lose sight of he person you want to become. It’s not about things looking like you imagined or happy endings, but more about not giving into apathy and cynicism. When that happens you get moments of anger like we saw from Mac or the defeatism that defined future Tiffany when we first met her.
Before the final scene of this issue, and this arc, begins we get a few panels of the Grand Father and his team in 1988 trying to clean up the time-traveling mess that started when the Paper girls took off in that time machine on Halloween night. Apparently the unraveling of the time line is increasing the longer they are away which could trigger a world ending event. He makes an interesting comment that time manipulation does not affect the time continuum itself, but is dangerous for the life forms who observe time. It’s an interesting distinction between time and those who observe it although its importance is not yet clear. Back in the future, Tiffany, Mac, and KJ meet up with Erin who has determined, from the map they found in the last issue, that it specifies meeting at a certain time and place in order to go back home. Erin thought that she made this map in the future for her past self to find, but when they get to the top of the building they find Erin’s evil clone. They last met her about 15-ish issues ago when they had to escape from her in a mall. According to her the four Paper Girls are the critical piece in the ‘War of Ages’ who can reorder the timeline if they make it back to home and bring it victory for the Grand Father and the ‘Old Timers.’ Clone Erin is desperate to prevent that and so uses her fancy backpack to split up the four girls, sending them to four separates times and places. It’s precarious position for the four of them who have, until now, always moved from one time to the next together. There’s a lot of problems to solve before they can get back 1988, but we’ll have to wait for those answers until issue #26 comes out in March.
While there is a certain horror at having the Paper girls spilt up for, presumably, at least the next five issues we should all be very excited for the four different landscapes that Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson get to great. From just getting a single page of each of the girls in their new location it looks like things are going to get wild. Chiang and Wilson have done some truly amazing work up to this point, but the action has been set mostly in cities or suburbs, very domesticated places. At least two of the new locations we will see in coming issues look extra-planetary and the opportunity for these two artists to really flex and incorporate some of the weirdness that has been been lurking at the edges of this book for a while is very exciting. It was mentioned a little bit previously but their work in the scene between Mac and KJ was so good. As painful as their fight was and how their faces communicated everything you needed to know in that scene, the tenderness and understanding in their kiss and the way they look at each other before and after is so wonderful. It puts at the fore the friendship of four young women that is the heart of this book.
(Subjective) Score out of 10: 8