In last year’s Battling Boy, Aurora West was the scene-stealer, so it’s fitting that she’s getting her own story, serialized through First Second. The daughter of Arcopolis’s late science hero, Haggard West, the gritty Aurora has a room full of secrets and a calling to kill the monsters that have overrun her city. In The Rise of Aurora West, creator, writer, and artist Paul Pope collaborates with writer, JT Petty, and artist, David Rubín, whose style meshes well with Pope’s. Rubín’s cleaner panel layouts and characters stand out at times, but the original character designs for Aurora and Haggard are maintained, and the action and backgrounds retain the fluidity that makes Pope’s art so exciting.
Aurora’s story begins when she is a young teenager, spending her days in school learning martial arts from family housekeeper, Ms. Grately, and studying monster-fighting techniques alongside her father at night. When they discover the brainless minions of Medulla the Squid Witch burgling an electronics manufacturer, it leads them to a larger plot involving the hooded and mummy-wrapped monsters of Sadisto’s gang. It all has something to do with a machine that Sadisto is building, but the brains behind the master plan and the purpose of the machine remain a mystery.
While Haggard interrogates, investigates, and slays with single-minded purpose, Aurora obsesses over a symbol scratched in the dirt by one of Medulla’s minions. It’s familiar to her, but only vaguely. Her memory jogged, she finds the same symbol—a “chop,” which is the signature of a monster, usually taken from a mark on that monster’s body—carved into the wall of her library at home. Ms. Grately informs her that Aurora carved it herself when she was four years old. It was the symbol of her forgotten imaginary friend, Mr. Wurple, who arrived during a visit to Alexandria and left the night Aurora’s mother died. Her mother’s death nearly destroyed her father, leaving him so devastated that for a time, he allowed the monsters free reign over Arcopolis, and there’s no way Aurora can talk to him about what happened.
From this point on, Aurora’s resurfacing memories chase the monsters’ unfolding machine mystery through Arcopolis. Aurora is struggling to become her best self as a hero, and in order to do so, she must find out what happened to her mother without her father’s help. Driven to be good, Aurora is a curious and smart young woman who is coming of age in a world of anger, fear, and violence. This adds complexity and creates a heart for her story, making it more than a new take on the adventure serial format. The Rise of Aurora West has high emotional stakes for Aurora, Haggard, and the people of their city, as everyone’s lives are affected by the monsters that the Wests fight to eradicate. Luckily, the book leaves room for humor and lots of intrigue: the detailed world of Arcopolis is full of twists and turns, nowhere more so than in the Wests’ house with its hidden walls and rooms. The creativity in the science and monsters, in particular, are a constant delight.
If only this expansive world had been given a larger, full-color format to display its superior level of detail and creativity. The coloring in Battling Boy worked to highlight the action, establish the other worldliness of the city, and separate the myriad elements that interact in Pope’s art. The Rise of Aurora West deserves the same treatment. However, it is hard to read as quickly as the plot urges the reader to move forward. Crowded into 5 x 7.5-inch pages, the panels are filled with words, speed lines, and layers of monster and uniform, all rendered in greyscale. Not only can this cause plot details to be lost, it makes it hard to distinguish between the members of Sadisto’s gang, who had different colored cloaks in Battling Boy. Correctly identifying the members of the gang becomes particularly important to this story, and one missed detail in an action sequence or a skipped speech balloon can cause the intricate plot to unravel quickly.
Even in this format, The Rise of Aurora West is a bracing piece of the fantastic. It will retain fans of the Battling Boy world with a compelling mix of new backstory and connections to that which is to come. This volume should also attract new readers, and in fact, the format may make the book even more appealing to readers of manga who wouldn’t otherwise pick up an American title.
Battling Boy: The Rise of Aurora West
by Paul Pope, JT Petty
Art by David Rubín
First Second, 2014
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14