Written by Paul Pope & J.T. Petty, Illustrated by David Rubín
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction, Superheroes, Graphic Novel, Young Adult
Publisher: First Second
Publication Date: September 2014
Paperback: 160 Pages
The extraordinary world introduced in Paul Pope’s Battling Boy is rife with monsters and short on heroes… but in this action-driven extension of the Battling Boy universe, we see it through a new pair of eyes: Aurora West, daughter of Arcopolis’s last great hero, Haggard West. A prequel to Battling Boy, The Rise of Aurora West follows the young hero as she seeks to uncover the mystery of her mother’s death, and to find her place in a world overrun with supernatural monsters and all-too-human corruption. With a taut, fast-paced script from Paul Pope and JT Petty and gorgeous, kinetic art from David Rubin, The Rise of Aurora West (the first of two volumes) is a tour de force in comics storytelling.
Stand alone or series: Prequel to Battling Boy; First in a two-volume arc starring Aurora West
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the Publisher
Format (e- or p-): Print Book
Why did I read this book: I confess that prior to receiving this ARC in the mail, I hadn’t even heard of Battling Boy or The Death of Haggard West (the first standalone prequel graphic novel). But I was instantly intrigued by the art, the concept of the world (overrun with monsters?!) and the promise of a female lead character superhero arc. Plus, I’ve been on something of a graphic novel kick lately, so was even more eager to dive into Aurora West’s origin story!
Arcopolis is no longer a safe place. Especially not for children.
Just a few short years earlier, the city of fell prey to monsters – once it becomes dark outside, creatures roam the streets, scavenging and stealing children for some unknown purpose. Between the monsters and the city’s youth, there is Haggard West, scientist and superhero. And aiding the Superman-esque entrepreneur and hero, there is his teenage daughter Aurora West.
Like many in Arcopolis, Aurora’s family has been intimately and irrevocably changed by the appearance of monsters. When she was just a small girl, her mother was murdered by the creatures, leaving the West family with a huge gaping hole at its heart. Since then, Haggard has dedicated his life to stopping monsters by prowling the streets at night and using all the power his scientific mind (and subsequent wealth) can provide. Aurora has also been dedicated to her father’s cause since her mother’s death, learning how to fight dirty, strategy and tactics for finding monsters, and ultimately, how to kill them.
On her last patrol with her father, however, Aurora notices a symbol from her past – a memory that leads back to her childhood, her mother’s death, and possibly the answer to why the monsters are in Arcopolis in the first place. It is up to Aurora to unravel the mystery of her past if there’s any hope for the future.
Technically The Rise of Aurora West is the second prequel in the Battling Boy series, but it’s the first graphic novel I’ve read in this universe. Despite being the third book written in this particular series, I had no problems picking up the general storyline and worldbuilding nuances – this seems as good a point as any to dive in to the world of Battling Boy. And you really should dive into the world of Battling Boy, because The Rise of Aurora West is pretty freaking awesome.
The core concept of the world – thuggish monsters appear out of the blue, kidnapping children – is a strong one because it poses so many intriguing questions. Where did these creatures come from? Why do they want human children? How are they even operating in such unison, given how clumsy and cartoonish they behave overall? The answers lie in a deeply buried memory from Aurora’s childhood – namely a symbol and an imaginary friend who might not have been so imaginary after all. The gradual realization that Aurora’s childhood “friend” might in fact be responsible for her mother’s death and the orchestration of the larger kidnappings is a powerful one – Aurora’s horror at the realization that her Mr. Wurple was a real, ancient entity and possible murderer is palpable.
Beyond that main core conflict, this world is so compelling because there is an intimate sense of loss that pervades the comic. Aurora has lost her mother and her childhood to learn how to fight, survive and protect those around her; she and her fellow superheroes in training can’t go to the movies to relax, or be out after dark for fear of what might be lurking in the shadows. There are a few great exchanges between Aurora and one of her classmates and friends as they try to wrap their minds around a world where evening curfews and hand-to-hand combat classes were not necessities.
On that same note, the main reason why Aurora West is so successful rests with its heroine. More specifically, it’s Aurora’s determination, self-realization, and how this same determination and persistence colors her relationships with others – in particular, her father. As a heroine, Aurora is a trained fighter and a physically adept young woman; she’s been trained to fight and survive since her childhood, so this isn’t exactly novel or surprising. More than that, however, Aurora is inquisitive – she doesn’t stop asking questions even though the answers might be uncomfortable, or even squarely put blame for Arcopolis’ collapse on her own shoulders. When she’s told to let her theory about Mr. Wurple go, to abide by the rules, to listen to her father, Aurora isn’t afraid to make the tough decisions and pay the consequences. This is pretty freaking cool in a heroine – especially a superheroine in training.
At the heart of this curiosity and stubbornness, there is an overwhelming desire for Aurora to prove herself, especially to her father. One of the first things we learn about Aurora and her family is that her father was crushed by her mother’s death, and that Aurora is repeatedly told not to dredge up those memories as they could compromise the great Haggard West’s emotional stability. This sentiment is balanced beautifully by images of Aurora as a child, clearly haunted and devastated not just by the loss of her mother, but of her father at the same time. As her father tells a wide-eyed preschool aged Aurora, “There’s nothing in my life now but justice and discipline. NOTHING. There isn’t space for anything else. Do you understand?”
The duo’s arc in this book (and I assume in The Fall of Haggard West) is so incredibly poignant because of this shared loss – and, underneath all the pain, shared love between a father and a daughter.
Despite all of these positives, there is one significant drawback to Aurora West. I’m not sure if this is because my copy was ARC as opposed to a final book, but my only complaint regarding the text is how busy every panel of the book appears in terms of artwork. The art is all thick bold black lines, messy monster battles, raw and heavy emotions transcribed in black and white ink. I don’t mind the noise so much because there is so much at stake in Aurora West, but the overall feeling reading the comic is a bit over-crowded. That said, perhaps the final version will be on a larger page or more spread out.
Ultimately, The Rise of Aurora West is a surprising powerful, emotional tale about the bond between a leader and a sidekick, a father and a daughter, rooted in one young heroine’s journey of self-discovery and realization.
In other words: I thoroughly enjoyed this book and cannot wait for volume 2 to come out soon. Absolutely recommended.
Notable Quotes/Parts: You can check out an excerpt over at Tor.com:
Rating: 7 – Very Good, leaning towards an 8
Reading Next: Night Witches by L.J. Adlington
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