Review: Paper Girls #4

Paper Girls #4Paper Girls Issue 4 picks up on a phone ringing. An older man in a Public Enemy t-shirt answers, and while he appear to be a normal guy in an ordinary bed in an unremarkable bedroom, the functioning eyeball in the center of his phone’s rotary dial points to the contrary. This is confirmed when we meet the woman on the other end of the line, a warrior who identifies herself as Cardinal and reports the discovery of her fallen peer Alister (aka “Space Idris” in my previous review) who met his demise at the end of Issue 3. Public Enemy instructs her to “call down an Editrix” which, judging by her stunned reaction, doesn’t bode well for our titular paper girls who were last seen in the company of the opposing forces. In defense of his decision he simply states “Can’t risk another C-Day.” As per usual we have new (throw away?) characters and new questions, but ultimately little headway in terms of development for our titular paper girls.

I don’t typically read comics issue-by-issue so I’ve tried not to be too judgmental of the pacing thus far, but at this point in the series I’m becoming less interested in piecing together the greater mystery of what’s happening in the Paper Girls universe and increasingly eager to see the girls develop as characters in a more fulfilling way. So far the majority of the character focus has been on Erin, we’ve gotten a brief glimpse of Mac’s life outside the group, and this issue gave us a peek at Tiffany, but not much of one. I’m assuming KJ will be next – fingers crossed that her background involves actively using her field hockey stick as a weapon instead of for sport.

(Spoilers ahead)

When we catch up with Mac, Tiffany, and KJ they are navigating the sewers with their deformed teenage companions from the future, one of them carrying Erin’s semi-conscious body, en route to somehow heal her gunshot wound. They identify themselves as Heck and Naldo, and Heck indicates that the “old-timers” like Alister killed his boyfriend, which evokes an “Ew!” of disgust from Mac.

Mac’s open revulsion at Heck’s sexuality harkens back to a similar homophobic display in the first issue and she is again kept in check by her friends. A few months ago Elana and I privately discussed some of the criticisms of Mac’s use of a homophobic slur in the pilot, a moment that seemed natural to me because a) It’s 1988. Heck shrugs off her attitude because the girls are “from an effed-up time” and as a child of the 80’s myself I remember that it was a pivotal era, not only in my own development but in our cultural development, in terms of sussing out what words are and are not acceptable insults. Adolescence could also be accurately described as “an effed-up time” and Mac is a 12 year-old girl who’s still learning, and b) her friends correct her by openly disapproving of her prejudice – it’s not an action that’s defended to the readers, rather it’s a character flaw on display. Elana rightly pointed out that it’s not necessary to include a homophobic slur to bolster historical accuracy or illustrate that homophobia is wrong, but that it could be an important piece of character development if it proves that Mac herself is queer. It’s an interesting, complicated point of consideration, and we both hope it gets explored in a meaningful way as the series goes on.

The sewer crew are soon intercepted by the aforementioned Editrix, a hovering, multi-eyed tentacle monster, which grabs Tiffany and throttles her into unconsciousness. Everything literally goes sideways in this moment as the pages flip and readers have to turn the book to keep reading, watching Tiffany as she relives a childhood spent obsessively playing the video game Breakout. When KJ comes to her rescue and she regains her senses she describes the experience as hell. I suspect this serves more as a metaphor for the situation they’re in – the futile, repetitive nature of war, perhaps the inevitability of another “C-Day”, whatever that will prove to be – and less as insight into Tiffany as an individual. I do wonder what significance there may be in her choice of game – are we on the verge of a narrative breakout? Did everything go sideways because shit’s going to hit the fan and things will start coming together in Issue 5? I can hope!

When they finally emerge from the sewers Mac voices her distrust in Heck and Naldo, and is again reprimanded by KJ when she refers to them as “perverts.” But Mac argues “…whether those two are into dudes or not, they’re still teenage boys. Even my brother says they can’t be trusted and he is one” and I still share her skepticism, at least for now.

Again, I like to think if I were reading a collected volume I’d be more satisfied with the way things are being laid out and I think ultimately a binge-reading would be great fun (it’s why I always recommend buying this title in trade), but at the rate we’re going I’m ready for some solid movement instead of the Lost-esque constant mystery-building. That’s not to say I’m not enjoying the ride, however; this issue had some fun moments and an added visual punch with more greens and oranges than we’ve seen previously. I’m definitely curious to know more about the dude in the Public Enemy shirt, known formally as Grandfather, and I love that a group of tweens are the neutral party in a war between teenagers and adults. Overall I’m still on board, and looking forward to what’s up next.

Story: Brian K. Vaughan Art: Cliff Chiang
Story: 7 Art: 9 Overall: 7.5 Recommend: Buy in trade

Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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